Authors: Kit Morgan
Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Western & Frontier, #Westerns, #Historical, #Victorian, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Fiction, #Historical Romance, #Inspirational
Cutty was about to answer when Sheriff Hughes came trotting down the stairs. “Cutty, come on up, will you?”
Cutty audibly gulped and hoped Seth didn’t notice, then headed for the stairs. Sheriff Hughes didn’t wait for him, but turned and went the rest of the way up to the hall.
By the time Cutty reached the top, the sheriff was standing in front of a door. Cutty had to stop and give his heart to chance to slow down, its sudden rapid beating having nothing to do with the stairs and
to do with what was about to happen. He suddenly wondered if their mother had ever shown them a likeness of him, but the only portraits of the man he once was were hanging in his townhouse in London. A property that by now had probably been seized by Her Majesty’s taxmen and was his no more.
“We’ve presented the idea to Mr. Whitman and he’s agreed. Isn’t that wonderful? You’ll have a fine time of it until they’re married.”
Cutty glanced up at him with a crooked smile. Of course, the sheriff was referring to free meals and a roof over his head. Little did the man know it was so much more. He wiped his sweaty hands on his ragged trousers and braced himself. He thought he’d have a few hours to prepare for this moment, but no such luck.
Sheriff Hughes opened the door … and Cutty’s jaw dropped like a brick.
Two of the most beautiful young people he’d ever seen were sitting on a settee in front of a window, staring at him. “Dagnabit,” Cutty whispered to himself. His knees wobbled and he was suddenly light-headed.
Don’t faint, you fool! Don’t you dare!
he thought to himself. He swallowed hard. “Howdy,” came out as a croak.
Sheriff Hughes slapped him on the back, hard. It almost sent him sprawling, but he managed to get his feet under him and stay upright. “Cutty here’s had a hard time of it the last few months,” the sheriff explained. “Suffered some horrible injuries. But he pulled through. Folks around here are mighty proud of him!”
“Aye, they certainly are,” Deputy Bran agreed. “He’s made of good stuff, this one, and has a fighting spirit. For a while there we thought we’d lose him.”
The young man sitting on the settee got up, walked to Cutty and extended his hand. “Newton Whitman, at your service. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance Mr. … Cutty?”
Cutty turned his head and hacked a few times, then shook the man’s hand. “Just plain Cutty will do. That’s all anyone ever calls me. I never go nowheres, so what do I need a second name for?”
Newton chuckled at that and smiled. “An interesting way of looking at it, sir. I understand you’ve helped my cousin Constance and her husband a great deal.”
“You talkin’ ‘bout Ryder?” Cutty asked.
“Yes. Sheriff Hughes tells me Ryder Jones thinks very highly of you, as does my cousin. Though I must confess, I do not know my relations well as yet. We’ve only just arrived, and this is the first time we’ve met any of them.”
“Do tell,” Cutty mumbled. “But then, I guess you comin’ from another country, that could happen.”
“On the contrary, we never knew them because … well, they never knew about us. But that’s another story – one I’ll share with you one day, perhaps. Right now your only concern is my sister.” He turned to the settee and motioned for the woman to stand.
She did, walked over and curtsied. It was all Cutty could do to stay standing. She was beautiful!
He looked at Newton, took a step back, then stared at them both to get a better look. “You …” He coughed, cleared his throat and prayed they didn’t notice the tears in his eyes. “Yer a mighty handsome pair, ya know that?”
The woman smiled. “It has been said a time or two in our lives.”
Cutty swallowed hard and bit his lower lip to keep from choking up.
“May I introduce my sister Nettie. I’ve agreed to let Amon Cotter court her. Are you familiar with him?”
“Y-yes. Nice fella.”
“I’m glad you think so,” said Newton. “I don’t mind telling you I’m concerned about this Moresy character. You know of him too, I presume.”
Cutty grimaced, or rather, snarled. If it wasn’t so impolite, he’d spit on the ground. “Oh yeah. I’m familiar with Clinton Moresy. That low-down varmint causes nothing but trouble when he’s in town.”
“Yes, we’ve had our own unsavory experience with the man. Unfortunately, he seems bent on pursuing my sister, even though it’s been made clear to him that Mr. Cotter is her intended.”
“Mark my words, that worm’ll try somethin’,” Cutty said angrily. He cleared his throat again and tried to collect himself. The thought of Clinton trying to force himself on the beautiful creature standing before him, his own blood, made
“Those were the sheriff and the deputy's thoughts as well,” Newton informed him. “Thus, when Sheriff Hughes approached me with the idea of you acting as chaperone, I could not but accept. I hope the task doesn’t take up too much of your time.”
“Aw heck, I don’t mind. When’s the fella gonna come callin’?”
“This afternoon,” Newton said. “You will be available, won’t you?”
“Of course. I’ll just hang ‘round the hotel ‘til ya need me. If I ain’t here, I’ll be up the street watching the sheriff play checkers with Wilfred.”
“Give us a time and I’ll send Cutty over if he’s with us,” Sheriff Hughes told him.
Newton nodded. “I’ll do that.”
Nettie stood quietly and looked Cutty over. He could feel himself begin to sweat as he tried to keep his eyes focused on her brother. “Mr. Cutty,” she said softly. “Have you … have you always worn an eye patch?”
“Nettie, don’t be rude,” Newton scolded.
“I’m merely curious,” she told him, then turned back to Cutty. “Was it from your injuries? The sheriff told us you were badly burned rescuing our relatives.”
Cutty shrugged. “Better me get burned than those pretty gals. I’m just an old coot anyway – it don’t matter what I look like. But could you imagine Penelope, Eloise, or any of your other relations havin’ to wear an eye patch and most of their hair burned off?”
Nettie visibly grimaced and put a hand to her stomach. “No, sir, I cannot. Nor can I fathom the heroic deed you performed in saving them.” She gave her brother a sideways glance. “I know I speak for both of us when I say thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Even though we don’t know our relations yet, they’re still family, and one’s family is the most important thing in the world.”
Cutty took a step back, his legs weak again. “Yeah, I’m beginnin’ to understand that…”
Nettie paced the room. She was nervous as a cat, knowing that Mr. Cotter could call on her at any moment. What was she going to say? What was she going to do? What if he asked her about her upbringing? How was she going to explain how it turned out?
“Will you stop that infernal pacing?” Newton complained. “You’re going to wear a hole in the carpet if you keep that up.”
“I’ll do no such thing. I’m just … just … well, it’s easy for you to remain calm! You’re not getting married!”
Newton chuckled. “You’d think this was your first ball or something.”
She stopped pacing. “If only it was. Perhaps it would all be easier.”
“Then why not pretend it is?” he suggested.
“What are you saying?”
He got up from the chair he’d been sitting in and went to her. “Look, if it
your first ball you’d have met Mr. Cotter there, right?”
“So long as he lived in England and had been invited,” she countered.
Newton closed his eyes and shook his head. “Stop and think for a moment, please. Say the two of you struck up a conversation, danced several times, then perhaps he’d come calling on you the next day.”
She thought about it. Hmmm … she had already met Mr. Cotter, shared a few words and, sans the dancing part, was now waiting for him to call on her. Then again, having never been to a ball, she wouldn’t know if that’s how things went or not.
“Well?” Newton asked. “Am I right?”
“Yes,” she sighed, deciding not to argue. She sat in the chair he’d previously occupied. “I just wish …” Her voice trailed off.
She looked at him. “I just wish I
met him at a ball. I think it would make things much more romantic. Instead I met him in the hallway as I being was accosted by that horrid little vagrant.”
“Yes, but Mr. Cotter did come to your rescue, so to speak.”
“True,” she said with a nod. “But instead of having him come calling to take me for a stroll through Hyde Park with my ladies’ maid in tow as chaperone, the most I’ll get in this town is tea downstairs with an old mountain man serving as bodyguard.”
Newton laughed. “My dear, sweet sister, when are you going to realize you’re not in England anymore?”
“Oh, trust me,” she said sardonically, “I’ve realized it.”
He took a chair, put it next to hers, sat and took one of her hands in his. “Have you? We may never go back. I’m afraid all we knew in England is behind us. But don’t worry, Sheriff Hughes was telling me earlier of a dance they held out at the Triple-C Ranch. Apparently they do have such things.”
“Really?” Nettie said and leaned toward him. “The town had a real dance?”
“Yes, isn’t that wonderful? Of course, it wasn’t without its … diversions.”
Nettie sat back. “What sort of diversions?”
“Apparently at one of them, highwaymen showed up and stole several of the women in attendance, including the Duke’s wife.”
“It was their wedding – wait, that’s not right. A precursor to it, perhaps. At any rate, it was some sort of celebration and the Duchess was dressed in a wedding gown …”
“You’re not making any sense,” she said dryly.
“You’ll have to ask Colin and Harrison about it. After all, they were there. I’m sure they can tell you the whole story.”
“Story, indeed. Speaking of which, when did the sheriff have time to tell you any of this? I don’t remember him mentioning any such thing.”
“When I escorted him down to the lobby earlier.”
“Oh,” she said and bowed her head.
A knock suddenly sounded at the door. Nettie froze, then let her eyes slowly drift to it.
“That would be Mr. Cotter,” Newton informed her.
Nettie swallowed hard. “That or the mountain man, or whatever he is.”
Newton chuckled as he got up and went to the door. “For now, he is your chaperone, and will remain so until you marry, be that to Mr. Cotter or someone else.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. “If I’m going to be spending that much time with the fellow, I might as well marry him.”
He gave her a mock glare in return, then stuck his tongue out at her. Before he could open the door she returned the gesture. Newton bit his lip to keep from laughing, opened the door and stared into the piercing eyes of Amon Cotter. “Come in, sir.”
Amon glanced up and down the hall before he entered the room. “Good afternoon, Mr. Whitman.” He looked at Nettie. “Miss Whitman.”
“Is something wrong?” Newton asked and poked his head out into the hall. No one was there. He stepped back into the room and closed the door.
“Just keeping an eye out for …” He didn’t finish the sentence, or need to.
“Any sign of him?” Newton asked.
“None. But I’m sure he’s around.”
“Well, we have a solution for that,” Newton said as he waved to a chair, indicating Amon should take a seat.
“You’re going to have him arrested?” Amon asked with a grin.
“Nothing of the sort, but we do have a chaperone for you.”
“Really?” Amon asked and sat. “Mrs. Dunnigan?”
Newton gave him a wide-eyed expression, then shook it off. “Hardly. No, we’ve enlisted the aid of a Mr. Cutty.”
“Cutty? That grizzled old …” He laughed. “Actually, that’s a brilliant idea!”
“It is?” Nettie asked, bewildered.
“Yes. There’s no love lost between Clinton and Cutty. They can’t stand each other. Cutty won’t let Clinton near us.”
“You see,” Newton told Nettie with a smile. “I told you he’d be fine.”
Amon turned to her. “You doubt Cutty’s capabilities?”
“Of course not – he’s proven himself quite the hero. Which makes me worry for his safety if he and this Mr. Moresy don’t see eye to eye. That horrible little man won’t do something to hurt Mr. Cutty, would he?”
“No, I’ll keep an eye out for Cutty and he can keep an eye out for us. That’s how things are done around here. We watch each other’s backs.”
“Splendid,” Newton said. “I’m sure then you won’t mind if Mr. Cutty joins the two of you while I take care of some business.”
“What sort of business?” Nettie asked.
“I need to speak with our relatives.” He didn’t elaborate.
“I see,” she said. Her eyes flicked between Amon and the door. “Perhaps I should go fetch him?”
“Go ahead, we’ll wait,” Newton told her. “Better yet, why don’t we all go downstairs?” He looked at Amon. “Would you like a cup of tea, Mr. Cotter?”
“No, I think I’d like to take your sister to the livery stable.”
“I beg your pardon?” Newton asked as his eyes narrowed. “The … stable?”
“Yes, I brought the wagon into town and I have some things I’d like to show her. I made them, you see, and thought she might like to look at them, see if there’s anything there she likes.”
“Oh, that’s all right.” Newton went to the door and opened it. “Shall we?”
Amon stood and waited for Nettie to get up, then offered her his arm. She stared at it and realized she was holding her breath. She let it out slowly so as not to be obvious, then reached her hand out … and stopped.
“Is something wrong?” Amon asked.
She looked at him, her hesitation to touch him beyond her. There was no sane reason for it. “Nothing,” she said, swallowed hard, then wrapped her arm through his. A tingle went up her spine and she sucked in her breath. She then noticed he had an odd expression on his face. “Mr. Cotter?”
“Nothing,” he said, as if
been the one holding his breath.
They followed Newton out in the hall, down the stairs and into the lobby. Cutty was sitting in a chair near the front doors. He quickly stood. “Afternoon,” he greeted. “Miss Whitman, Mr. Whitman, Mr. Cotter.”
Nettie raised a curious eyebrow. The man was suddenly very polite. “Good afternoon, Mr. Cutty.” He cleared his throat at her greeting and she thought he might spit.
So much for formal manners,
she silently mused.
But he didn’t. “So what’s your fancy?” he asked.
Newton and Nettie looked at each other. Amon noticed and chuckled. “What he means is, what would you like to do?”
“Oh,” she said nervously and smoothed the skirt of her dress. “Mr. Cotter wishes to take me to the livery stable.”
“He what?!” Cutty sputtered, then coughed a few times. “What do ya want to take this gal down to the stable for, Cotter?”
Newton laughed and slapped Cutty on the back. “I’ll leave them in your capable hands, Mr. Cutty. I’m sure Mr. Cotter will see that he behaves himself in your company.”
“Answer the question, Cotter,” Cutty demanded, ignoring Newton’s remark.
Now Amon laughed. “There’s no need to take your post so seriously. I brought the wagon to town and have some things that I’ve made on it. I was going to show Miss Whitman what I do.”
Cutty sobered. “Oh, well then, lead the way. I’ll bring up the rear.”
With a laugh Amon nodded, and together they left the hotel.
* * *
Cutty shuffled along behind Amon and Nettie, his eyes darting here and there looking for Clinton Moresy’s sorry hide, but there was no sign of him. Good. He didn’t have a gun, only a knife which would be messy if he had to use it.
He followed the couple at a respectable distance, but close enough to hear their conversation. If he played his cards right, he could find out a lot of information about the twins and never have to say a word – Amon would do it for him.
The man didn’t waste any time. “How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Nettie turned to him then quickly faced forward again. “You should never ask a lady her age, you know.”
“Fine, I’ll ask your brother.”
“He’d never tell you my age! That would be rude.”
“No, but I’m sure he’ll have no problem telling me his age, and as you’re twins …” He raised a single eyebrow in triumph.
“Very clever,” she commented. “I’ll let him answer you, then.”
“Drat,” Cutty whispered as he trudged along. “She
be sensitive about her age.”
Amon glanced over her shoulder. “What was that?”
“Nothin’,” Cutty shot back.
Amon chuckled. “You’ll have to excuse Cutty, he talks to himself a lot. You get used to it.”
Nettie glanced over her shoulder as well, but with caution in her eyes. Cutty waved and gave her friendly grin. She reached a hand over her shoulder and gave him a tiny wave back, her face twisted in a crooked smile, before facing forward again. “What is it you brought to town?”
“Furniture, mostly” he said with a hint of pride.
“Furniture? You’re a laborer … I mean, craftsman?”
“Both. But I make my money off my woodcarving.”
“What kinds of things do you make?”
“Anything,” he said and looked at her. “If it’s wood, you name it, I can make it.”
“That’s rather boastful. What if I asked you to carve me a … let’s see … a full-size giraffe?”
“One of those animals with a long neck? I’ve heard of those. I’d have to see a picture of one, though.”
She stopped. “You’re serious,” she stated. “You can carve anything?”
“Anything I set my mind to. Come, I’ll show you.” They continued to the livery stable and went around to the back where he’d left his wagon. A canvas covered the buckboard. Amon took hold of one corner and looked at Cutty. “Care to lend a hand?”
“Sure thing, Cotter … I mean, Amon.” He grabbed part of the canvas and helped him pull it off.
“You can call me either one, Cutty,” Amon said. “Whichever you prefer.”
“Yeah, well, I know Clinton calls ya Cotter and I figured maybe ya didn’t like that. So I guess I’ll call ya Amon.” He looked at Nettie who stood off to one side. “And I’ll call you …” He rubbed his chin in thought. “Ah heck, I don’t know what I’ll call you yet.”
“‘Miss Whitman’ would do fine,” she said.
“Mmmm … don’t like the sound of that. ‘Sides, you won’t have that name much longer.”
She blushed, looked at Amon, then back to Cutty. “Very well, then. You may call me Nettie.”
“Isn’t that improper where you come from?” Amon asked.
“This isn’t England, Mr. Cotter, as we both well know. Take Mr. Cutty, for example. He doesn’t even have a surname.”
“Then why are you calling him, Mr. Cutty?”
She shrugged. “Habit. Besides, when we’re on a less formal basis I can just drop the Mr.”
Amon smiled at the joke. “You have a point. I like it.”
She smiled and blushed again. “Show me what you have in your wagon, sir.”
He turned and pulled a freshly-made chair, not even varnished yet, from the buckboard. “I’ve got three more – I made them for Mr. Mulligan.” He set the chair on the ground, then turned back to the wagon. “And this,” he said, putting his hand on a chest of drawers, “is for Mrs. White. After we’re done here I’ll drive out to their place and deliver it.”