Authors: Robin Lee Hatcher
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction, #Love Stories, #Christian, #Idaho, #Christian Fiction, #Frontier and pioneer life, #Idaho - History - 20th century, #Frontier and pioneer life - Idaho
Morgan cast a sideways glance at Gwen. The slightest hint of a smile was curving the corners of her mouth. Well, he supposed
she had a right to smile, but she hadn’t won yet.
“A promise is a promise.” Nathan sat again. “Miss Arlington, I don’t mean to go back on my word. However, even you must admit
that things are different now. I want to give you and Mr. McKinley a fair shake, so here’s what I intend. I’ll give both of
you — and Tattersall, too, if he wants it — space in the paper to discuss your platforms and what you think the mayor should
be doing for Bethlehem Springs over the next four years. And then we’ll do a comparison interview with me calling the shots.”
That hint of a smile slipped from Gwen’s lips. Morgan knew she had to be disappointed by this turn. He, on the other hand,
couldn’t be more pleased. It meant he wouldn’t begin his campaign with the newspaper already aligned against him. He believed
he could trust Nathan Patterson to be fair.
“If in the week just prior to the election it appears you two are in a dead heat and splitting the vote might allow Tattersall
to win, then I will endorse whoever I believe is the strongest candidate.”
“Sounds fair enough,” Morgan said.
Leaning forward, his forearms resting on the cluttered surface of his desk, Nathan looked at Gwen. “I know that isn’t what
you were hoping for, Miss Arlington. Not even what you expected. But this I promise you: I will be fair and will remain open
minded throughout the campaign. What I want most is for the person who’ll be the better mayor to win. I believe that is what
you must want as well.”
Gwen’s posture was ramrod straight. “
you think Mr. McKinley would make the better mayor?”
“Not at this time.” Nathan smiled slightly as he shook his head. “I believe it’s up to you to win or lose the election.”
“I agree. And I intend to win.” She stood. “Thank you, Mr. Patterson.” She turned, her gaze meeting with Morgan’s. “Good day.”
Morgan didn’t move from his chair until he heard the door open. Then he felt compelled to rise and go after her. “Miss Arlington,”
he called as he stepped onto the sidewalk. “May I have a moment more of your time?”
She took three additional steps before she stopped, hesitated, then turned to face him. “If you wish.”
“I hope you feel Mr. Patterson’s decision is a fair one.”
“Yes.” She took a deep breath and released it. “I suppose it is, given the circumstances.”
“You must understand I didn’t know you would be my opponent when I decided to run for mayor.”
“How could you have known?” Gwen tipped her head to one side. Her blue eyes studied him. “Why
you running, Mr. McKinley? You’ve only lived in the area for a year or so, and even then you’ve spent almost no time in town.
What makes you think you know what will be good for the citizens of Bethlehem Springs when you’ve kept yourself a stranger?”
“That’s a good question. One I plan to address when I write my piece for the newspaper.”
“But you don’t want to tell me your answer now.”
“Well” — he shrugged his shoulders — “you
my opponent in this election, Miss Arlington. There’s no point giving you more advantages than you already enjoy.”
“It’s wise of you not to underestimate me, sir, for I intend to use every advantage at my disposal.”
“I never underestimate my opposition.”
“Not even when the opposition is a woman?”
Morgan couldn’t help himself. He laughed. “
not when the opposition is a woman.”
Gwen fought the urge to smile. She wouldn’t fall victim to this man’s attempts to appear friendly. He didn’t fool her. “If
you’ll excuse me, Mr. McKinley, I really should be going.”
“Of course.” Still grinning, he tipped his hat to her. “Good day to you, Miss Arlington. I believe the next few weeks shall
prove quite interesting for us both.”
It struck her then that as much as she disliked him, he had a certain charisma, an obvious charm. It was possible he could
use it to best her in the election. She would have to remain wary and alert. She would have to remind others that he’d made no
attempt to become part of the community until he wanted to win an election. How did they even know he would stay in Bethlehem
Springs once his resort was completed? He had no ties here, and from all she’d heard about his wealth, he could go anywhere
in the world. Why should they believe he would settle in Bethlehem Springs?
No, he was not someone to be trusted, and she would
lose this election to him. So help her, she wouldn’t.
Crinkled sheets of paper cluttered the table and the floor around Gwen’s feet. For more than an hour, she’d tried to write
her article for the newspaper — the one that would explain what she hoped to accomplish as mayor. Everything she penned sounded… well, silly.
With a groan of frustration, she rose and began to pace from dining room to parlor and back again, hands clasped behind her
“Maybe I won’t make a good mayor,” she said aloud.
“Of course you will.”
Gwen looked up to find Cleo standing in the back doorway.
“I’m here to help.” Her sister swept off her dusty hat and hung it on the coat rack near the door. “Just tell me what you
Gwen lifted her hands in a gesture of confusion — or was it despair? “I don’t know what I need, Cleo, but I’m certainly glad
The sisters embraced.
Looking over Gwen’s shoulder at the dining room table, Cleo asked, “What’s all that?”
“I’m trying to write something for the
.” Gwen stepped back from her sister. “Mr. Patterson is going to run an article written by each of the candidates. It’s my
best chance to state the reasons why I would make the better mayor, but everything I write sounds so… so trite.”
“I reckon you’re trying too hard.”
Gwen sighed. “Maybe I don’t have any good reasons. Maybe I’m kidding myself, thinking I’d be a good mayor. Maybe the town
doesn’t need me after all.”
“You’ve got plenty of reasons, and you’re not kidding yourself. You’re needed, all right.”
“Once the citizens of this town get to know Mr. McKinley, I may not stand a chance.”
“I swan.” Cleo made an unladylike sound in her throat. “What twaddle are you spouting, Gwennie?”
Gwen sank onto one of the high-backed chairs at the table. “He has a kind of charisma. He’s well spoken, well dressed, and
he has… I don’t know… He’s so sure of himself.”
“You don’t say.” Cleo sat down across from Gwen. “Sounds like you’ve had a chance to talk with him some since you met him
on the road.”
“Mr. Patterson introduced us at the South Fork Restaurant on Thursday night, but we didn’t say much more than hello.”
Not counting when I warned him I meant to trounce him in the election.
She picked up a pencil and began to sketch flowers on a sheet of paper. “Yesterday we met again at the newspaper.” She remembered
the sound of his laughter when he told her he didn’t intend to underestimate her. Even now she felt the sound deep in her
Cleo tipped her chair onto its hind legs. “Hmm.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing.” She brought the chair down again. “Just letting you know I’m listening.”
“Thanks,” Gwen said, disheartened. It was nice to have a sympathetic ear, but what she needed were ideas. Lots and lots of
Cleo stood. “Let’s take a walk.”
“I don’t have time for a walk. I need to work on this article.”
“No.” Her sister rounded the table and took hold of her arm, drawing her to her feet. “You need to take a walk.”
“Cleo — ”
“No argument, baby sister.”
Gwen rolled her eyes. Cleo was the older twin by only ten minutes but loved to pretend it was more than that. “Don’t bully
me, big sister,” she returned, feeling her spirits lighten a little.
“Put on one of those pretty hats you like to wear, and let’s take us a stroll. The weather’s fine. Doesn’t come any finer.”
Gwen knew that look on Cleo’s face. Nothing would change her sister’s mind. Cleo was like a dog with a bone when she got like
“Come on, Gwennie.”
“You win. I’m coming.”
Once the sisters were outside — Gwen wearing a pale straw hat decorated with a blue grosgrain ribbon, Cleo wearing her dusty
brown Stetson — Cleo linked arms with Gwen and turned her left onto Wallula Street and then right onto Shenandoah.
“You know, sis,” Cleo said, breaking the easy silence. “When you first came to Idaho, I never thought you’d stay. You were
so educated, so refined and cultured and all. But I was wrong. You love this place.”
“Yes, I do.”
“It isn’t perfect, but it’s ours.”
Gwen could have argued that point. She thought Bethlehem Springs was as close to perfect as any place could be. So much so
that she’d chosen to live in town rather than on the ranch with her father and fraternal twin. Bethlehem Springs suited her
as no other place had. She loved that the streets weren’t all straight lines, that they didn’t run north-south and east-west in perfect, square blocks. She loved that the new mixed with the old. She loved
that the stately sandstone municipal building was across the street from the livery stable with its faded red paint.
Cleo tilted her head toward the schoolhouse. “Did you know that Miss Thurber has been teaching the children of Bethlehem Springs
for the past twenty-eight years? In fact, she grew up here and went to school in that same building.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that before. We’re lucky to have her. She’s very dedicated. She told me she sometimes buys supplies with
money out of her own salary because the school budget doesn’t stretch far enough.” Gwen shook her head. “That doesn’t seem
right, does it?”
“It sure doesn’t.”
Gwen paused a moment on the sidewalk, her gaze still on the schoolhouse. “Don’t you think it looks a bit dejected?”
“A fresh coat of paint would go a long way in helping that.”
Gwen nodded. Yes, paint would help. But the school needed far more than that.
They continued walking. As they approached the firehouse on Bear Run Road, they were greeted by a man hosing down the driveway
in front of the station.
“How’s everything, Mr. Spooner?” Cleo called to him.
“Just peachy, Miss Arlington. Same for you and your sister?”
“Same for us.”
“That’s good. Nice day for a walk.”
“We couldn’t agree more.”
He nodded his head and returned to his work.
After they were out of earshot, Gwen said, “After church last Sunday, Mr. Spooner told me that they could have saved the Goodman
home if they’d had the new hoses. He said some of the hoses on the fire wagon didn’t carry more than a thimbleful of water
before the seams burst. The volunteer brigade’s been complaining for more than a year, but the mayor never did anything. If
he had, the Goodmans would still have a home.”
“Thank God there hasn’t been another fire since then. The whole town could go up in flames.”
in response. A few minutes later, when they turned onto Main Street, she pointed at the High Horse Saloon. “I heard Tattersall’s
got a room set up for gambling in the back of that place. It’s supposed to be hush-hush, but if even I’ve heard about it,
how come the law hasn’t done something to stop it?”
“Because Mayor Hopkins looked the other way.”
“Uh-huh. And who’s going to enforce Prohibition if it becomes the law? Won’t be Tattersall if he gets elected.”
Gwen stopped and turned toward her sister. “Bethlehem Springs does need me.”
Her sister grinned. “Isn’t that what I told you? Now you remember that the next time doubt comes knocking at your door.”
“I will. I promise.”
Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Morgan McKinley was a man of single-minded purpose, one able
to focus on a goal and pursue it without wavering from the chosen path. For as long as he could remember, he had been that
way, both in his personal life and his business life. It had served him well during his school years, later as he’d sought
healing and relief from pain for his ailing mother, and more recently, in the planning and construction of the New Hope Health
That’s why his persistent thoughts about Gwen Arlington troubled him so.
As he sat at his desk, supposedly writing something for the
, he recalled the sweet curve of her mouth when she smiled. He remembered the soft scent of her lilac cologne that had teased
his nostrils as they sat next to each other in the
offices. How could a woman appear so gentle and refined and yet be such a headstrong, opinionated, obstinate —
“Stop.” He stood and stepped to the window of his study.
The last thing he needed was to be distracted by a female. Any female. But especially this particular one. He needed to think
of her as he thought of Hiram Tattersall: just his opponent in this election. Think of her as he would any man who stood in
his way, any man who wanted to keep him from achieving his objective.