Authors: Ginger Simpson
Books We Love Ltd.
Copyright 2013 by Ginger Simpson
Cover art by Michelle Lee 2013
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Dakota Plains, 1867
Cecile’s gaze froze on the striking man leaning against the hitching post. Her heart seized with a gasp as she nearly stepped off the edge of the wooden walkway. She turned her attention back to delivering her father’s mid-day meal, but fixed a smile on her face and slowed her pace, hoping to catch the stranger’s eye.
He’d never been in Silver City before; she would have remembered his rugged good looks. Tight, dark denims clung to his masculine thighs, and beneath a black leather vest, open shirt buttons revealed a well-muscled chest. Her gaze slid boldly down his body, thoroughly enjoying the sight until the reflection of the sun off his silver belt buckle blinded her. She swallowed and averted her eyes. What had come over her? Such brazen leering. Goodness, she wasn’t a harlot.
At almost the exact moment that she walked past, he stepped onto the sidewalk and made eye contact. He touched the wide brim of his hat and smiled. For a second, his blue eyes held her captive.
Suddenly, the weight of the tray tripled, and her breathing quickened. Her cheeks warmed at the crooked smile that told her he knew she’d been staring at him. In her haste to escape embarrassment behind the bank’s doors, just a few steps away, she caught her heel in a large knothole in the wooden sidewalk. She tried to recover gracefully but fell flat on her bottom with a resounding plop, hitting the wood so hard it jarred her teeth. Her dignity suffered as she realized how pitiful she looked, with her father’s lunch spilled all over her. Luckily, most of the mashed potatoes and gravy landed on the ground, but the vegetables and ham slices filled her lap.
Before she could stand, he knelt at her side, plucking green beans from her dress. “Are you all right, ma’am?” His quivering lips failed at masking his desire to laugh.
She’d just made a fool of herself in front of the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Of course she wasn’t all right. What must he think?
Managing a weak smile and struggling for some semblance of composure, she accepted his proffered hand. While avoiding his gaze, she nervously smoothed wet wrinkles from her dress.“Yes, I’m fine,” she croaked. “Thank you for your help.” Her voice trembled in unison with her insides.
“Name’s Walt Williams,” he said, when she finally made eye contact. “I’m visiting my Aunt May. She owns the boarding house here.”
Lost in his azure eyes, Cecile heard very little of what he said. Aware of her bold stare she glanced down, trying not to be so obvious. The evidence of her accident jolted her memory.
“Oh, my gosh…Father’s expecting me!” Although reluctant to leave, she dared not dawdle. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Williams, and I’m sorry to be rude, but I have to hurry home to replace my father’s lunch. He must be wondering where I am.”
Again the stranger touched the brim of his hat. “Mighty nice meeting you, too, Miss...”
“Cecile, Cecile Palmer.” She offered a brief introduction while stooping to retrieve the tray, utensils and her mother’s good china plate that somehow remained intact.
Before taking her leave, she flashed a warm smile, hoping the memory of this incident would fade from Mr. Witman’s mind. She gave a little wave and started for home, tutting in disgust and pulling at the dampened material that insisted on clinging to her legs. The cloying gingham and the glob of potatoes on her shoe served as grim reminder of a ruined opportunity.
Why couldn’t she have met Walt after delivering Father’s lunch? Her thoughts refused to focus on anything else other than Walt Williams. What a grand name. Repeating it over and over again in her mind, she wondered if she’d ever see him again.
She kicked a splintered piece of wood and sent it flying. Why hadn’t she asked him more about himself? Where was he from or had he ever visited before? Had he come to town and she just didn’t recall? No way! She’d certainly remember someone with his good looks. With any luck, maybe he’d stay in town long enough to come to the upcoming Spring Fling. Her heart quickened again.
She had never actually met his Aunt May, but knew her by sight. She was a short, rather plump woman with silver gray hair usually pulled back into a bun. They had exchanged smiles and pleasantries across the aisles of the mercantile on several occasions, but Cecile’s father referred to the woman’s boarding house as being on the “wrong side of the tracks.” He forbade Cecile to step foot into that area; warned over and over again it was no place for a respectable young woman to venture. Cowpokes and drifters traveling through Silver City frequented the saloons nearby. Sometimes her father was far too judgmental.
So, how could she manage to run into Walt again? A mental picture of him flashed through her mind, and determination drove her thoughts.
“Afternoon, Miz Cecile,” a passing resident called, drawing her from her thoughts.
She gave a quick nod then grimaced. Afternoon? Another face emerged in her mind’s eye—her father’s, and he most likely wasn’t happy. Here she dawdled along thinking about Walt and her father still hadn’t had eaten. He’d be furious. She hastened her steps.
Her mother met her at the door, her brow raised. Eyeing the stains on Cecile’s dress, Mrs. Palmer shook her head. “My goodness, what happened to you? You’re a mess.”
Cecile handed her the tray. “You wouldn’t believe it. Let’s just say I had a mishap that involved father’s lunch and I need a replacement.”
Her mother quickly dished up a second platter of food. “It’s not as hot as the first, but at least it’s better than nothing at all.”
Cecile took the tray and headed back to the bank, vowing to be more careful this time.
“You’re late!” Harvey Palmer clicked open his pocket watch then glared at his daughter. “You know how I feel about punctuality.”
“I know, Father, and believe me, it won’t happen again. I would have been sooner but suffered a fall and…” She flashed him a pouting smile.
His gaze softened. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. Just enjoy your lunch and I’ll see you at home later.” She stood on tiptoe and bussed his cheek. He was often cranky but she always wrapped him around her little finger. After all, he often called her his little princess.
She made her way back home, her smile broadening with thoughts of Walt Williams. The heat from the midday sun seemed exceptionally warm as visions of his handsome face filled her mind. Before meeting him, her mind had been occupied only with thoughts of the Spring Fling and what she planned to wear. Her mother, a wonderful seamstress, worked on a beautiful new dress, and today would be Cecile’s final fitting before the dance. She pictured her festive frock, the dance, and his face, wondering, hoping that he’d get a chance to see her in her new gown.
The days passed quickly with no signs of Walt. On the evening of the Spring Fling, Cecile prepared for the big event, applying the final touches to her appearance. Standing in front of the mirror, she tied her auburn hair back with a ribbon matching her dress and pinched her cheeks soundly to give them just the right shade of pink. She danced around her bedroom, sweeping her skirt from side to side and twirling in circles like a small child until dizziness forced her to stop.
Mother had outdone herself on the yellow gingham dress with little daisies smartly placed around a large white collar. The fitted style and sweeping skirt accentuated Cecile’s tiny waist, and although the neckline revealed more skin than usual, surely, the dress still met her father’s strict modesty standards.
Thoughts of the dance buzzed through her mind, and among the sea of faces she imagined there, one drifted into clarity…Walt Williams…
“Please come to the dance. Please come to the dance.” Maybe if she repeated it enough, he’d somehow sense her wishes.
She paused to check her reflection one last time, pleased with what she saw. Her thoughts drifted to him again. Would he be there?
“Cecile, it’s time to go,” her father called from downstairs.
Trying to calm her racing heart, she took and long breath and descended the staircase. Her hopeful feelings grew, and a wide smile blossomed as she followed her folks out the door and down the walk. Crossed fingers were hidden in the folds of her skirt as she and her parents walked into the Town Hall.
The Spring Fling was a big to-do in
Silver City. All the families from surrounding areas gathered to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of planting time. Some lived far away, so for those folks, trips to town were few and far between.
The tantalizing aroma from the bounty of food on the heavily laden tables across the room wafted in the air. Cecile’s stomach rumbled, but she pushed aside thoughts of eating and stood on tiptoe, surveying the hall and hoping to see those blue eyes once again. When she realized he wasn’t there, a frown tugged at her lips. She sighed and tried to convince herself it didn’t matter. The evening was planned long before she laid eyes on him, and she meant to have a good time. Besides, she looked extra pretty tonight.
Already, she’d earned many compliments from a number of adoring young men. The fact that her father held the position of town banker didn’t hamper her popularity.
A handful of children in a corner of the hall caught Cecile’s attention. The games they played brought back fond memories of her younger days. Ah, to be able to play hide and seek, red rover, and tag again. Her gaze followed two little boys as they grabbed slabs of ham and homemade yeast rolls from the food table and scampered away. She shook her head and chuckled at their impishness.
Her attention shifted to the older girls gathered across the room. Although they acted aloof, they were clearly sneaking peeks at the group of possible suitors at the opposite end of the building. The young men strutted around like the Bantam roosters Cecile’s mom kept in their backyard. The whole place, it seemed, was filled with folks desperately trying to catch up on a whole year’s worth of socializing.
Spotting some of her friends, Cecile waved and walked over to join them. She stood idle as they chattered with excitement about who might ask them to dance. Her own thoughts kept drifting to Walt, and she scuffed her shoe against the floor, disappointed he hadn’t shown up. Her gaze continually drifted to the door each time it opened.
Her mood changed when the dancing began. A contingent of local townsmen combined their musical talents to provide the evening’s entertainment, and Cecile tapped her toe to the lively melody of the guitars, fiddle, and harmonica. A group of young men rushed across the floor like someone had fired a starting pistol for a race.
She leaned closer to one girlfriend. “Get ready, here they come!”
Before long, Cecile was breathless from continuous whirls around the floor with one young man after another. Pushing a stray curl from her face, she took a seat along the wall and enjoyed a moment to relax. As she scanned the room, she saw him enter. Her heartbeat quickened, and she held her breath as someone passed in front of her, obscuring her vision. Had she really seen Walt?
It was! Her gaze followed him and his Aunt May to the food table, where he deposited the pies he carried. Cecile’s heart pounded, and she realized she was staring at him again. She adjusted herself in her seat and feigned nonchalance, looking down in her lap and smoothing her skirt, all the while, hoping he’d notice her.