Read Cowboy Heart (Historical Western Romance) (Longren Family series #3, Kitty and Lukes story) Online
Authors: Amelia Rose
Longren Family Series: Book 3
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Of all the ideas I've had, this might be the worst.
I can hear my mother calling me, right now, “Kathryn Anne Collins, where in tarnation are you? You get yourself home right this minute, missy!”
My mother, Annie Collins, nee Longren, and probably soon to be Overton, doesn't take that kind of tone often—with anyone else. I just have a talent for bringing it out in her. I also cause her to say things like, "When your sister was 15, I wasn't still having to call
out of trees!"
Which is true, but only because Sarah never had as much spark as I do. That's what my father always used to say. "You just have more spark than she does; that's why you're my Kitty. You just go on being yourself."
Then we moved with my brother, Jacob, the whole family moving from Alturas, California, to Gold Hill, Nevada, to follow my uncles, Hutch and Matthew, to the silver mining, where my father opened a grocery and, when times became hard, someone robbed it and killed him.
But, I'm still Kitty. Only not in a tree. Now Sarah's just 22 and married and living in Redding, California, and I'm 18 and had this idea. Because I hadn't heard from her in a month, no letters, nothing, and then there was the thing with Johnny, but I didn't want to think about that…
I have enough to think about. Like about how, maybe, this latest idea wasn't my best; or how I'm going to find Big Sky Ranch.
All around me, the train station was packed. Coming from Virginia City, transferring in Reno and heading out through the desert into forest, heading up over a series of craggy mountainous cliffs past Susanville and further into California, I rode with cowboys and businessmen, and miners leaving Virginia City because the silver is leaving Mount Davidson. I rode with a couple who were freshly married and I tried not to think about Johnny but stared out the window until they got off the train in Susanville.
A lot of the people got off the train here. Around me, the station is packed. From what Sarah's written, back when she
writing, the way she promised to do, Redding isn't very big. Maybe seven, eight hundred people, which is about ten times smaller than Gold Hill and smaller than Virginia City. Seems like all those people were at the train station, though, milling around and not looking like they know where they're going either.
Sometimes that spark of mine leads to ideas that aren't quite as fleshed out as they ought to be. Like, fine, I've been jilted, Johnny's marrying Sissy Tompkins—her father's such a great catch, because Sissy sure isn't—and all that time he spent walking out with me when I could have been seeing someone else. What about my chances, Johnny? Except it was Johnny I wanted; Johnny I cried about for the next two weeks when Sissy Tompkins walked around Gold Hill like she owned the place and Rachel told me not to worry about it, Johnny wasn't worth it, I'd meet someone but that's fine for her to say, she's engaged, and I wasn't finding anyone and—
And I missed Johnny. He's a tall drink of water, my father would have said, all arms and legs and sharp angles, and his hair's always a mess and he never knows the right thing to say and he usually says the wrong thing and then he colors up like the sunset and becomes all tongue-tied. We’d been seeing each other for a year; I thought he'd ask me to marry him.
About that time, I realized Sarah's letters weren't coming regularly anymore, just at the time I really needed her, because she always had fellas around, taking her out, asking her to dances, picnics, walks, to see the sunset, go riding, and taking her to the fair when it came to town. She knew that stuff. Me, I'd only ever had Johnny because he was the first one who was worthwhile to come down out of a tree for and half the time, he was climbing the tree with me (I climb better than he does, no matter what he says).
Which was how I found myself in Redding, California, when Sarah had no idea I was coming to see her and William and I had no idea how to
Big Sky Ranch and no idea how
Redding itself would look.
The train station platform was full of people, women in hats leading small children and carrying babies and parcels, men in business suits and men in cowboy boots and hats, and everyone looking as overheated as I felt. August 1st and at least I wouldn't freeze before I found the ranch where Sarah was living.
For the first time, it occurred to me she mightn't be home, and a little chill stole over me. I could, of course, go back the way I'd come, only wild horses couldn't drag me back to my mother, not for a while. She was engaged to John Overton, overseer of the mine my uncles had owned until they bought a hotel in Virginia City. I liked Mr. Overton, or I had, until he'd thought to step into the void left by my father. We'd had words. We'd had a lot of words, and being told that a proper young lady doesn't talk back to her elders hadn't done anything but convince me I wasn't a proper young lady, and that wasn't anything most of us didn't already know.
Mr. Overton had plans for my mother and her dress shop, and she seemed in favor of them, so that was up to her. My brother, Jacob, safely at the university in Reno, was beyond his reach and already beginning a career as a mining engineer. Sarah had married and moved to Redding.
That left me and, apparently, Mr. Overton felt the need to exercise some fatherly advice and dictums and dictates and outright orders.
He wasn't my father. He would never be my father. And when Johnny disappeared, along with my chance to marry and leave my mother's house—my
house it had been for too long for me to suddenly consider it my stepfather's house, we hadn't moved, he'd just started putting down roots inside it—he started considering my options, none of which consisted of schooling or jobs I might want or even men I might wish to be married to. Mr. Overton knew a lot of miners; I also knew a lot of miners. There weren't any I wanted to marry.
Standing alone on the station platform, though, watching other people met by the people they'd come to visit or come home to, I felt lost as the train pulled out of the station belching smoke and whistling. I took a step back, trying to get out of the way of travelers moving swiftly, fanning themselves and talking with each other, and I tripped, dropping my reticule and knapsack in which I carried everything I'd brought, the gifts I'd wanted to send Sarah for her recent birthday and the novel I was reading and not much else.
I really hadn't thought this through. I'd just wanted to get away because Sarah wasn't writing and Johnny was marrying someone and that someone wasn't me, and because my mother was marrying and my stepfather was demanding and I missed my sister.
So, I came to Redding—without telling anyone.
I was lost. The train had pulled out of the station and left me behind. Panic surged as the train disappeared in the distance, the sort of panic that wells up when I realize I'm committed to an action I no longer want to be committed to. Now I had to do something, find where to go and get myself there. At least when I'd been on the train I hadn't had to think about what I was going to do next.
The trembling started then. That's what my father never knew. He talked about my spark and the way I was fearless and I was. I could nurse an injured raccoon, fish streams through the ice, hike a foothill, or race on horseback. I could and, far too often, did climb trees, pushing myself to climb higher and go farther and, more than once, coming out of the tree before I actually meant to.
But people scared me.
The trembling started then. I was going to have to stop someone, one of these people who were looking either purposeful and businesslike or one of those who looked as overheated, bedraggled and lost as I, and ask them how to get to Big Sky Ranch and where it was, then find a way to get there, and find out whether or not Sarah was there. There were strangers to talk to and directions to find and I wasn't any good at either of those things.
Once I'd done all that, things were only going to become worse anyway. Because then I was going to have to face my sister. She'd called me out of as many trees and dressed me down for as many misdeeds and asked me questions about my sanity and my common sense or lack thereof enough times. But I couldn't stay in Gold Hill and watch Johnny and Sissy.
The station master would be a good person to ask, but I've never been comfortable asking men much of anything. Not that the lady with the three children looked more approachable, or the couples walking arm in arm. My mouth, already dry from the heat, dried up further at contemplating talking to a complete stranger. Pressing myself against the overly warm boards of the west-facing station house, I watched as the platform become busier, people greeting visitors, women welcoming back traveling husbands, and small children of all ages and descriptions running just because they could. The choices of whom to ask for information became more slim with every passing minute and the sun was past its zenith when, in desperation, I took a deep breath and launched myself into the remaining melee—and directly into the shirtfront of a very tall, very, very handsome young man. I'm tall; he was taller. I looked up into his face.
"Pardon me! I'm so very sorry!" Crimson flooded my cheeks, making me warmer than ever. Just blushing makes me blush. Why had I ever thought traveling on my own a good plan?
"Please, allow me." He stooped, gathering the packages I'd been carrying, my knapsack and reticule. Had I been carrying anything else—a parasol, a chicken, a bag of books—I would have dropped those, too, and he would have stooped for them, smiling benevolently as if attacks by random, clumsy strangers didn't disconcert him at all, the way they totally disconcerted me.
Then he stood, smiling, holding out my packages, and disconcerted wasn't anywhere near strong enough a term.
He was taller than my uncles and broad under a suit coat and elegant vest, which seemed at odds with a very battered hat that shaded his face. He was clean shaven and fair, with sandy hair and dark eyes, a square jaw and strong, well-used hands that held my packages.
I instantly forgot how to talk, how to use my manners, how to collect my packages without managing to knock them all over the station again. The blush flared warmer. Common sense—what little of it I might have had left—fled.
"Thank you!" I managed that, at least.
He lifted his hat briefly. "A pleasure. I'm afraid I deterred you on a journey."
I'm afraid I nearly derailed you on yours
, I thought, but that was far more speech than I was capable of. I swallowed hard. As long as I was already speaking to a stranger, having managed two words so far, I might as well ask.
"It's not a true journey just yet. I'm afraid I'm a little lost. I need to find the Big Sky Ranch and I only just arrived."
He frowned. Even that looked good on him, but it didn't bode well. I wasn't asking him to guide me anywhere or even provide the means for getting there. Mostly, I just needed to know I'd gotten off the train at the correct station and that there was some way to get myself to the ranch.
Before he could speak again, I said, "Pardon me, I'll ask at the station master's. I do apologize for running into you and thank you for your assistance." I juggled the parcels I held and took a step back, meaning to take my leave and find the station master and, from there, my way to Sarah's new home. Instead, I caught the low heel of my boot on an uneven board and began to topple over backward, still clutching the gifts, the book, the knapsack and reticule.
He caught me. Strong arms caught hold of mine, steadying me, even as a rush of passengers late from somewhere trundled across the wooden walkway, faces astonished and disapproving, mouths pursed or wide as the women
and the men stared.
I had made my entrance into Redding.
"The Big Sky is about five miles outside the city to the west," he said when he had righted me, this time relieving me of my packages and placing them on the porch rail. "That's William Kennedy's ranch." He hadn't stopped frowning. "Are they expecting you?"
Of course not. Because if they had been, it would have meant I'd planned this out. There would have been a wagon or a buckboard waiting for me, or even just Sarah with an extra horse because we both loved to ride.