Authors: Cynthia Woolf
Copyright © 2013 by Cynthia Woolf
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Published by Cynthia Woolf
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is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
For Jim, my wonderful husband. I couldn’t do this without you. I love you.
For my critique partners, Michele Callahan, Karen Docter, Kally Jo Surbeck-Owren and Jennifer Zane, thank you ladies. Your thoughts and assistance have been invaluable in writing and finishing this book. You’re the best.
Thanks to my editor, Kally Jo Surbeck-Owren. How lucky am I, my editor is also one of my critique partners. Thank you so much for all you do and both hats that you wear for me.
March 14, 1871
Dear Mrs. Selby,
It is my understanding from your last correspondence that you have found a bride for me. Enclosed with this letter is a draft in the amount of one hundred dollars to cover both your fee and the train ticket for a certain Miss Ella Davenport. One way from New York City to Denver, in the Colorado Territory.
Thank you for your assistance in this matter.
~ ~ ~
Margaret Selby placed the letter into Nathan Ravenclaw’s file. His file was thicker than most. She sighed. He’d been more difficult to help than she’d originally thought he would be. He was a successful rancher, it was true, but because of his half Arapaho Indian heritage, he was outcast from both the white and the Arapaho communities. Especially when it came to marriage prospects. They might begrudgingly accept him in business, but not to marry their sisters or daughters.
She wasn’t certain she was going to be successful until young Ella Davenport came into her office. Ella was a beautiful young woman with chocolate brown eyes and dark brown hair. In a cruel twist of fate she’d been horribly disfigured in a carriage accident and was now a recluse from her society because of those scars.
Margaret thought these two young people could, perhaps, help each other to heal. She felt this one deep in her bones. This was the right match for both of them.
She placed the draft in her reticule and then readied herself for the short walk to the bank. Her black coat was made of fine wool to withstand the harsh winter wind that whistled between the buildings. She pulled the bright blue scarf over her fiery red hair. Her glorious hair that held not a trace of gray in it, despite having reached the age of thirty-five. The scarf was the only splash of color in her entire outfit, even her gloves were black. She blew out the lamp on her desk and closed the door behind her.
Her philandering husband had been kind enough to bequeath her this beautiful building before he died in the bed of his mistress. He hadn’t managed to give her children, which he never forgot to tell her was her fault, but he left her with a place to run her business and to live. She supposed she should be grateful for that.
Her apartment was on the second floor of the three story building. The third floor she rented to a young couple for two dollars and fifty cents per month. One quarter of the market rent of ten dollars a month. As part of their rent, the young man did upkeep on the building. It was a beneficial arrangement for all concerned.
She hurried the two blocks to the bank. A storm was fast approaching and she wanted to be safely tucked in her apartment before it enveloped the city.
Miss Davenport was due in the office tomorrow afternoon to pick up her tickets for the trip to Denver. In the morning, if weather permitted, Margaret would go to the train depot and buy the tickets Miss Davenport would need to get her to Denver, in the Colorado Territory.
She entered the bank at close to closing time. It was quiet. The local businesses had not ended their workday and she timed it specifically for that reason. She went to the first open teller, deposited the draft and withdrew the money for the train ticket.
Shoving the money into her reticule, she braced for the cold walk back home.
* * *
The storm passed in the night leaving a dusting of snow and clear blue skies. Ella Davenport dressed with care for her final meeting with Mrs. Selby. Her black wool skirt and matching jacket were fitted perfectly. She eschewed the bustle that was popular, preferring instead a simple A-line skirt. She had her blouses made with a high, straight collar to hide her scars. Her blouses were all plain white. Nothing to attract attention to her face. Even here at home, she was conscious of her facial scars. Today she would go out wearing a heavy veil. It was easier to wear the thick lace than to see the look on people’s faces when they saw her disfigurement. At first horror, and then pity. She hated it.
Today she would get her train tickets for the trip west to the Colorado Territory and Mr. Nathan Ravenclaw.
She went down to the breakfast room. It was one of her favorite rooms. The soft blue walls above the chair rail with the dark blue flowered wall paper below appealed to her need for calm. She knew that Cook prepared her favorites for her. Eggs, sausage and mushroom toast.
Joshua was already there dressed in one of his suits. This one brown, the same caramel color as his eyes. Her brother was a handsome man in a quiet way.
“Good morning, Brother.”
“Good morning. You look particularly fetching this morning.”
“It’s my final meeting with Mrs. Selby. I get my tickets today.”
Joshua put down his paper and stared at her. “Are you certain this is the right course of action for you? There are dozens of men who would be happy to marry you.”
“You mean they would be happy to marry my money. Or, worse yet, to marry me out of pity. I don’t want a marriage based on either one of those things. Mr. Ravenclaw knows about my scars, but Mrs. Selby said he carries scars of his own because of his heritage. Being half Arapaho Indian has outcast him from both the whites and the Indians. Though they might not be visible he still has them.”
“Have you thought about the fact that if you marry this man, you’ll then be outcast as well?”
She finished filling her plate and sat down on her brother’s left. It had become her habit to sit there so he wouldn’t have to look at her scars while he ate. He’d never asked her to do it. Her scars didn’t bother him for the most part, though she occasionally saw pity in his eyes. Then it was gone as quickly as it came.
She sat down, filled her fork with the savory mushroom toast and then set it down again, her appetite suddenly gone. “Have you not looked at me lately?” She circled in front of her face with her hand. “Do you not see the scars on the left side of my face? Do you not see that I have my collars made especially high to cover the ones on my neck? If these are the ones you can see, have you never wondered at the ones you can’t? Not only those on my body, but those inside? Am I not already an outcast?”
Resigned to her decision, he nodded. “Well, if you’re sure, I will support you. If it doesn’t work out you can always come back here. You will always have a home here with me.” He took a deep breath. “I want to have your trunks shipped to you so you don’t have to deal with them when you change trains. From the research I’ve done, the trip takes seven days and you’ll have to change trains at least twice.”
“I know. I’m prepared. I have one valise with me with a change of clothes in it. I’ll put those on just before I reach Denver. I believe that’s the last stop. Mr. Ravenclaw will meet me there. I’ve had cook prepare some bread and cheese to take with me and I have cash to buy food wherever it’s possible. I understand that there are women who make money selling box lunches to train passengers in some of the towns we’ll be stopping at. I intend to take the tickets Mrs. Selby gives me and upgrade them to a sleeping car. There is no need to be primitive before I have to be.” She smiled. “Listen to me rattle on.”
Joshua smiled back. He always told her that her smile transformed her face. That it was so beautiful no one noticed the scars, only her rare beauty.
He set his coffee cup back in the saucer. “I haven’t seen you this excited since,” he shook his head, “I don’t remember the last time.”
“I am excited. I’m finally getting on with my life. The accident is not going to be what defines me.”
“I only wish they’d caught the man who sabotaged the carriage. You could have died just as father did.” She watched the color rise up his neck as he tried to keep his anger in check before he slammed his fist on the table. “I’m sure you were meant to.”
“Probably, but I didn’t. I’m sure it was MacGregor or one of his henchmen who sawed through the carriage axels. They had to be trying to kill us. He’s always wanted the business. Ever since Father bought him out and the business boomed. He wanted back in, but Father said no. You remember that.”
“Yes, I remember. I also remember he tried to court you before the accident and kept coming around until you told him to stop. Did you believe that he might be responsible?”
“It occurred to me but that’s not why I didn’t want his suit. I mean, my God, he’s father’s age,” she said, incredulous that he would even have thought she might be interested. “You’re going to have to be extra careful, Joshua.” She placed her hand on his arm and squeezed. “He’s going to try to kill you, too.”
He patted her hand. “Now, we don’t know that.”
“If we don’t know it, why do you have James and Robert? They’re your bodyguards. Mine too, if I stayed. I should be safe now that I’m leaving.”
“I’ll be fine. Eat your breakfast and check your hair again. It’s falling on one side.”
“What?” She got up from the table and went to one of the many mirrors that lined the north dining room wall. They made the room seem bigger than it was.
“There’s nothing wrong with my hair, you ornery cuss.”
He laughed. “Now, now. Such language coming from my sweet sister.”
She laughed now, too. “There is nothing sweet about your sister and you know it.”
“So you say.”
He had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his beloved face. She would miss him more than she could say. Though she’d never told him, she was pretty sure he already knew it. They were as close as a brother and sister could be. The carriage accident that took their father and scarred Ella had only brought them closer together. Just the thought of their father, gone only a year, still hurt. Her heart literally ached when she remembered him and all they used to do together. She still shivered at the thought of her near demise.
Joshua had been at her bedside every day while she was in the hospital recovering from all the surgeries and then he’d stayed with her when she came home. He never winced when he looked at her, though she was sure he wanted to. Everyone did, at least the first time. Friends with empathy at all the pain she must have gone through, strangers at the ugliness of her transformed face.
The veil helped when she traveled outside the house. People were less likely to be horrified by her visage if it was shadowed by the veil. That was another reason for the sleeper cabin, a Pullman car if she could get one, to save other people’s sensibilities. Price wasn’t an object. She could afford what she wanted, but she wasn’t willing to buy a husband. She much preferred the idea that a man was willing to accept her knowing about her scars. Even willing to pay for her hand in marriage. Though some would say she’s a bought woman, she didn’t think of it like that. It was a contract between two people and a hope for her future. One she didn’t have if she stayed in New York.