Authors: Heather Blanton
Movement and a glimmer of blond hair pulled Naomi’s gaze away from
Charles just as he seemed on the verge of making an announcement.
A tall, broad-shouldered man emerged from the shadows at the back
stoop and her heart stopped. Wide, haunting hazel eyes, a round face in a halo
of sandy-colored hair, a big, awkward smile …
She sucked in a breath as astonishment shot through her like an
Her heart leapt at the sight of him, but in the breath of an
instant, her emotions tumbled from hope, to grief, to a wistful joy.
How many years had it been since they’d seen John’s twin brother?
Shouts and squeals erupted from her and her sisters as they rushed up the steps
to greet him. Hannah reached him first, throwing herself into his big, beefy
arms. “Uncle Matt!” she gushed, using her pet name for him.
He swung her around, his booming laughter thundering across the
backyard. “Is this little Hannah?” he teased, setting her down and pushing her
to arm’s length. “Why, she’s grown into a beautiful woman.”
The sisters laughed, and Rebecca hugged him next. “Oh, Matthew,
it’s wonderful to see you again.”
“And you, Rebecca,” but Matthew’s attention streaked straight to
She took her turn and stepped into hug him as well. Matthew swept
her up and spun her around, laughing. “And the one my brother stole from me.”
Matthew squeezed her tighter and kissed her on the cheek. Holding
the smile, Naomi wiggled out of his arms and backed away, struggling to keep
her expression pleasant and ignore how familiar he felt. “It’s good to see you,
Matthew. You haven’t changed a bit.”
His eyes flashed at her double-meaning. “Nope, not one iota.”
In the pause, Naomi remembered their guests and couldn’t imagine
how awkward they must feel, especially Charles. “You’ve arrived in time for a
party, Matthew. Isn’t that always the case with you?”
“I don’t miss many on purpose.”
“Well, let me introduce you to our guests.” She turned and waved
for their company to join them. The men climbed the steps to the back stoop,
but the Flowers hung back. “These are our friends. Emilio,” The young man
nodded. “Ian Donoghue …”
“’Tis a pleasure, Matthew.” The two shook hands.
“Charles McIntyre.” She had the urge to hang on his arm, but
didn’t. Charles’ smile was as warm and welcoming as thin ice. She realized with
a punch that he had been about to ask her something or make an announcement
when she’d launched herself toward Matthew like a Chinese rocket. Her
inadvertent rebuff was rude, but seeing the man who is the identical twin of
your dead husband would rattle anyone.
Charles relaxed his smile and shook Matthew’s hand, but then his
brow furrowed. “I had no idea he had a twin,” he said, his drawl rich with
astonishment and something else, something not at all happy.
Matthew blinked. “Charles McIntyre? You knew my brother?”
Charles withdrew his hand and straightened. “I met him during the
“Don’t be so modest,” Naomi interjected, trying to heal what was
most likely a seriously bruised ego. She clutched his arm, thinking the action
would make him feel better and perhaps only leave Matthew a little confused.
“Charles saved John’s life at Chickamauga.”
Matthew sagged. “John told me about that battle.” He took Charles’
hand and shook it again. “I thank you for what you did. Wish you could have
done it again.”
“Yes, me too.” Clearing his throat, he shifted to Naomi. “Well, I
think I’ll be going. Seems you have a family reunion.”
“Must you?” Naomi pressed, hoping he could read her eyes. She
didn’t want him to go.
“I think it would be best.”
“Aye,” Ian said, his Scottish burr distinct in the awkward pause.
“I think we’ll let the family get reacquainted.”
Rebecca’s countenance fell a little, but she didn’t argue.
Matthew dipped his head apologetically. “I’m sorry if my arrival
has put a damper on things.”
“No, of course not,” Naomi said with more enthusiasm than she
“Good night,” Charles said, slipping on his hat. He untangled
himself from Naomi and touched her shoulder lightly. “I’ll stop by tomorrow.”
He filtered past her, followed by Ian, and then Emilio. “Oh, no,
Emilio,” Hannah snagged his sleeve. “You can’t go. We didn’t touch your cake.”
“It’s all right. Maybe we can have some in the kitchen later,
You need to see your family.”
Hannah brightened at that and nodded. Naomi respected the boy’s
decency, but a wave of disappointment washed over her as the group filed
through the hotel’s back door. As the former Flowers shuffled by, Matthew
clutched his heart melodramatically. “I truly am sorry to see you lovely ladies
leave. We’ll have to try this again.”
“Oh, forgive my manners.” Naomi gestured to the women. “This is
Lily,” the tall, curvaceous black girl nodded. “Jasmine,” the delicate Asian
Flower tilted her head. “Iris,” the big-boned, boisterous redhead raised her
chin. “And Mollie. They’re all leaving Defiance.” Naomi grasped Mollie’s
shoulder, “Oh, except for Mollie. She works here at the hotel.”
“Well, ladies, I’m sorry I have missed the chance to pass the
evening with you.”
“Don’t worry, there’s plenty of dance partners over in Tent Town,”
Iris responded, tagging Matthew in the ribs. “But we’re not on the menu.” The
other girls, all smiles, nodded.
were free and Naomi couldn’t be
happier for them. Wearing not a hint of makeup and new, modest dresses they’d
assisted in making, she believed the outward transition was complete. The rest
was between them and God, but she had hope for them. A lot of it.
Out of quips, Matthew held the door for them as they slipped into
the hotel. He didn’t, however, close it. He watched the ladies for a second
more, and then turned back to the sisters, pressing his hat to his chest as if
“Maybe it’s better that they left.” He shifted his gaze to Hannah,
an apology in his eyes. “I’ve got someone with me.”
A sinking feeling hit Naomi. It couldn’t be. Not on the same
night. She moved closer to Hannah and crossed her arms.
“The train doesn’t come any closer than Pagosa Springs,” Matthew
shifted on his feet and licked his lips. “There was a boy down there trying to
figure out how to get the rest of the way to Defiance. He recognized me right
had a little trouble. He was about eleven the last time I saw
Hannah’s expression froze. Naomi thought it a safe bet that she’d
stopped breathing, as well. Matthew stepped away from the door. The floor
inside squeaked and a figure stepped into the lanterns’ light. Naomi’s stomach
dropped. The young, handsome Mr. Billy Page emerged from the dark. He looked at
Naomi and Rebecca in turn without really greeting them, but his eyes quickly
settled on Hannah and stayed there.
A palpable tension enveloped the group, like the breeze that hints
at an approaching tornado. No one spoke and the stunned silence dragged on till
Matthew couldn’t stand it any longer. “Really, ladies, no one has anything to
say to this boy?”
Fleetingly, Naomi had the desire to slap her brother-in-law. This
was none of his affair, but she realized he was right—someone had to say
something, otherwise they might stare at each other all night.
“What are you doing here, Billy?” she asked, failing to mask her
dislike of the boy.
He studied Hannah a second more, as if hoping he might find
guidance in her expression. Met with only stoic silence, he raised his chin. “I
came for Hannah and my son.”
The answer did nothing to break the tension. Naomi glanced at
Rebecca over Hannah’s head. They both peered down at their younger sister.
Wearing an inscrutable expression, she took a small step toward
Billy. “I should let you see him then,” she said, her voice thin and delicate.
Billy nodded, almost imperceptibly. Hannah drifted past him and
Billy dutifully followed, clutching his bowler to his chest. Naomi, Matthew,
and Rebecca stood in complete silence until their footsteps faded.
Finally, Matthew let out a long, slow whistle. “If that reception
had been any chillier, I believe I’d have frostbite.”
Neither Naomi nor Rebecca laughed. Naomi, for her part, was
stunned to see the boy. Certainly, love could have driven him the fifteen
hundred miles to Defiance, but so could the desire to rebel against his father.
And every time Billy had done that, fear had driven him right
his domineering daddy.
Hannah walked slowly, calmly through the dim hotel lobby, holding
her head high and her shoulders back, but inwardly, she wanted to curl up in a
ball and cry.
She wasn’t sure if they
would be tears of joy or misery, though. From behind her, she could hear the
soft rustle of the bowler hat twirling in Billy’s hands. A nervous habit he
How could he show up now?
“You wouldn’t believe how I’ve missed you, Hannah,” he said as
they climbed the steps.
Her first response to his lament was a spark of anger. Anger over
the abandonment and betrayal.
… over the cowardice.
So many good things had come out of the situation, though, she
couldn’t hate him. It wouldn’t be right. She’d told Mollie once that if Billy
ever showed up, she’d forgive him because she loved him. Well, one out of two.
“Billy is a beautiful child,” she said, ignoring his comment. “He
looks the most like you, but I can see a little of your mother around his
She thought she heard a quiet, perhaps defeated, sigh from the man
in tow behind her. “I can’t wait to see him.”
Hannah plucked a lamp off the wall and led them into her room.
Silently, they padded up to the crib to gaze at her angel. Little Billy slept
contentedly, his knees drawn up to his chest, his diaper-covered bottom shoved
heavenward, and a thumb stashed securely in his mouth. Billy gasped and Hannah
stepped away. She hung the lamp on the hook near the crib as Billy reached out
and stroked the child’s soft golden tuft of hair.
He raised a fist to his mouth as if holding back a sound. His eyes
glistened and Hannah couldn’t deny that the father of her baby was moved by the
sight of his son. “He’s beautiful, Hannah. And I only see you in those angelic
She laced her fingers in front of her and bowed her head. A
maelstrom of confusing emotions swirled in her heart. She wanted to run away
from Billy, but knew he would take that as rejection. She needed desperately to
be alone so she could sort out how she was feeling, because she had no idea.
Tall and muscular, Billy still wore his ash hair trimmed short and
swept to the side. His smooth, handsome face, that deep, throaty laugh, and
those sky-blue eyes used to set her heart a fluttering. But now he seemed a
bit, well, too much like a greenhorn. His clothes were cut for city life. He
hung his bowler on the crib’s post, and while it looked well-worn, it was a
Fashionable back east, in Defiance only the meanest of men wore one, presumably
because they were spoiling for a fight. She didn’t get that impression from
Billy. Out here, he was just a dude.
Although, judging by her racing heart, she couldn’t deny that she
still liked that handsome face and sky-blue eyes. But there was something
different about him. He carried himself more seriously and less arrogantly. He
didn’t have that boyish swagger she’d been so enamored of.
“I meant it, Hannah. I came for you.” He tore his focus away from
Little Billy and sought her out in the flickering lamplight. “How do you feel
about me? Do we still have a chance?”
“I don’t know.” She didn’t think that was what either one of them
wanted to hear, but it was the truth. “You lied to me. You abandoned me. You
let your father smear me, and you ran away.” Billy flinched at the accusations
she fired like a Gatling gun. Hannah immediately regretted her tone, the venom
in it surprising her. “I’m sorry. I don’t normally say things like that. It’s
just that I honestly thought I’d never see you again and …” She didn’t finish
the sentence. He got the gist of things.
“Don’t apologize for the truth.” Billy rested his elbows on the
crib and shook his head. “I was sitting in a hotel in Paris three months after
you left, thinking about you. It hit me then that there wasn’t enough liquor
and there weren’t enough women in the world to make me forget you, but I was
still too scared of my father to do anything about it.” He smiled tenderly at
Little Billy. “Then one day at Harvard, I saw a professor of mine in the park
with his family. They were having a picnic. His son couldn’t have been more
than two years old.” Billy’s gaze misted over. “He was flying him around like a
bird, dipping and spinning. The little boy was laughing hysterically.” He
swallowed, as if forcing down tears. “The sound drifted over to me and I
realized …,” he shifted his gaze back to Hannah, “I realized I was never going
to hear my son laugh, unless I quit being a child myself.”
Unexpectedly, a traitorous tear rolled down Hannah’s cheek. Billy
must have seen the gleam in the dim light. He walked over to her and gently
wiped it away with his thumb. He rubbed the moisture between his fingers and
sighed. “I am so sorry for the pain I’ve caused you, Hannah. Do you believe
“Do you think you might give an old flame a second chance, maybe?”
Billy flashed a rakish grin, the kind that used to launch butterflies in her
Now, she found herself thinking of Emilio. His smile, the way he
doted on Little Billy, their changing friendship and the furtive glances of
late. She admired his knowledge of plants and the way he worked so hard all the
time. He was steady and, so far, trustworthy. And she knew for a fact that
had pushed back more than once against his domineering sister.
She swallowed, but didn’t answer Billy’s question. She didn’t know
what to say. Part of her wanted to hug him and kiss him and tell him how
thrilled she was that he had come for her.
Part of her wanted to shoot him. She was still angry with him, and
the revelation surprised her.
The silence stretched on too long. Billy shoved his hands into his
pockets and lowered his head. He hunched his shoulders, bit his lip, rocked on
his feet—the actions of a man planning his next words. “Well, I didn’t come all
this way expecting you to throw yourself into my arms.” He peered up at her
through long brown lashes, that grin making another appearance. “That is,
however, something to work toward. I’ve got nothing but time now.”
Resigned that this was going to be a long night, Naomi and Rebecca
sat by the fire, watching Matthew devour about half the party’s vittles. This
giant of a man ate just like his twin. Naomi nodded politely as he continued a
disjointed story of his early years in California, but her mind wasn’t on his
Looking at him only made her think of John, how she used to love
to hold those wide cheeks in her hands, or push his hat back and move strands
of straw-colored hair out of his eyes. She remembered how he could pick her up
with those tree-sized arms and carry her about as if she weighed no more than
an empty dress. Big and wide, with hands the size of bear paws, yet he could
hold her like she was as delicate as a china tea cup. Having John’s mirror
image sitting right in front of her made those memories too real.
But Matthew wasn’t John. John was
sitting right in
front of her.
God, please help me not to fall into confusion. He looks so
much like him
“You two haven’t heard a word I’ve said.” Matthew stopped the
biscuit about halfway to his mouth and bounced his gaze back and forth between
the sisters. “Tell me. What am I missing?” When neither Naomi nor Rebecca
responded immediately, he set the biscuit back on his plate, set the meal on
the ground and addressed Naomi. “The last I heard from you, you despised this
place and its debauched citizenry, and all you wanted was to get out. I moved
heaven and hell to get here with the intention of relocating all of y’all to
California, sure I would be doing you a favor. I have a house waiting for you
with a maid. Now, I show up tonight and you’re having a pretty cozy little
party here. Pardon me for saying so, but you don’t exactly appear to be in
Relocating them? A house with a maid? Naomi made a miserable
connection. “You didn’t get my second letter?”
“Nope. Wanna fill me in?”
“Matthew, I never expected you to come after us.” A growing sense
of guilt blossomed in her. “I didn’t ask you to.”
He snorted indignantly. “My sisters-in-law get stranded in one of
the roughest mining towns in the West and you didn’t think I’d come after you?”
He muttered a curse. “What do you take me for?”
Naomi flinched and stared into the fire. She’d been so angry with
God when she’d written that first letter. She had hated everything about
Defiance back then. Oh, how things had changed. She had told him everything in
the second letter. She’d even hinted at her friendship with Charles. “Matthew,
we’ve made a life here. It seemed the only choice we had.”
“We had to do something,” Rebecca interjected, defending their
decision. “Naomi won the hotel so we jumped in with both feet. We had to
Matthew pinched the bridge of his nose and pursed his lips. He was
never one to hold back and Naomi knew she and Rebecca were about to get both
barrels. He didn’t disappoint. “I’d say you’ve adapted pretty well here.” He
raked Naomi with an accusing stare. “My brother’s been dead less than a year
and you’ve got new
. I saw the way that McIntyre looked at you,
and you him. Want to explain that to me? And you
the hotel? Just
what kind of a place are you running here?”
Rebecca gasped. Naomi surged to her feet, fists clenched. “That’s
always the way of it, isn’t it? In desperate straits, a woman’s only got one
vocation to fall back on? If you weren’t John’s brother, you’d be sleeping on
the street tonight.”
“Now hold on, Naomi,” Matthew rose, towering over her like a
mountain. “Maybe I didn’t mean that exactly.” Rebecca stood, too, her dark
brown eyes flashing in the firelight. If she was mad, Matthew had truly
overstepped. He gently patted the air with his hands. “Girls, I didn’t mean
that at all, I just would like to know what the Sam Hill is going on here.”
Naomi huffed a deep breath and almost stomped her foot. Instead,
she fixed her gaze on Rebecca, seeking her sister’s calm. With a subtle dip in
her brow, she urged Naomi to settle down.
Stifling a growl, she turned her back on Matthew and fought for
composure. Anger in her voice would only make telling him the truth more
painful, and, mad as she was, she didn’t wish to hurt him. Control regained,
she crossed her arms and faced him again. “Charles had a woman who worked for
him. She tried to kill us.” The memory of that night in the hotel’s kitchen was
still an open wound. Naomi’s knees nearly buckled recalling it and she sat
down. Matthew and Rebecca followed suit, but he leaned forward, as if eager to
hear this story. “He tried to take the gun away from her and she shot him. He
was nothing short of a hero. I’m—we,” she corrected, “
are quite close
to him.” Naomi could see questions still burning in Matthew’s eyes. “He nearly
died for us, Matthew. I know I made unkind references to him in that first
letter, but he’s a changed man. He’s closed his saloon, given his girls seed
money to start over with, and even bought them tickets on the stage out
Matthew absorbed the news with an icy stare. He stood, trudged
over to the fire and rubbed his neck, as if the muscles were tight as banjo
strings. With his back to the girls, he said, “This Charles McIntyre. He owns
Naomi didn’t understand the relevance of the question or how
Matthew knew the name of the saloon, but she nodded. “Yes.”
He heaved a great sigh and plunged his hands into his pockets. His
wide shoulders drooped. “What you’re really saying is that the man who used to
run one of the wildest cathouses in the West is the reason you’re staying in
Naomi tried again to stem her anger and understand what things
must look like from Matthew’s point of view. “I told you, he stepped away from
all that. He’s turned out to be a decent man and a good friend. He’s even going
Matthew’s snort of disgust cut off the rest of her defense. He
spun on the girls, his features lined with anger and betrayal. “Men like him
don’t change, Naomi. Do you have any idea what kind of reputation he has?
Either of you?” Before they could answer, he rushed on. “I know the name.” He
pounded his chest. “
know the name and I don’t frequent saloons and wh—
Charles McIntyre is known far and wide as the best judge of—” he stopped,
searching for a word. “Female companionship. Not to mention, the Iron Horse
was,” he swallowed, as though forcing down the urge to vomit, “well, a den of
all types of iniquity.”
Naomi concentrated on the shadows beyond the fire, trying hard not
to let the words hit home. But they did.
Matthew softened his tone. “I’m sorry to be so blunt, Naomi, but
John was my brother. If he knew you and someone like McIntyre were together …
do you understand what people will think when they see you with him? What
they’ll think you’ve done?” He faded off, but she could feel his stare drilling
Silence brimming with frustration enveloped them. Rebecca rubbed
her temple and stood. “Matthew, perhaps you’d like to see your room now?”