Authors: Lynna Banning
Is very hard decision, to stay or go. I will miss Billy,
Hawk's sister, she work very too hard. I could be much help. But my lady, she does what she think her
I know inside what
MacFarlane would want, and that is for her daughter Caroline to be happy in her life.
Why is this not simple? I ask the priest, but he have not an answer. I ask
Ilsa, and she weep and snuff her nose on her kerchief. Eli, he say women are foolish creatures, but Eli not so smart. He does not win me in checkers.
Me, I think it is mens who are foolish. Even
Hawk does not think sharp about this.
, I do not know to do what.
efore dawn the next morning Hawk again forced his aching body out of bed and into his jeans and shirt. It wasn't going to be pretty, but he had to settle some things.
The town looked deserted. The throngs of visitors who had traveled to Smoke River to hear Caroline's speech had departed for homes as far away as Portland. Jingo confided over a whiskey that he was making so much money hauling passengers north to Gillette Springs and beyond he was thinking about retiring to raise goats.
He stepped through the door of the sheriff's office to find Sandy slouched in the chair behind the desk, his hat over his face. The jail was empty except for one sozzled cowhand, sleeping it off in the back cell.
Quietly Hawk checked his messages, inspected the new Wanted posters, and read over his logbook where both Jericho Silver and Marshal Johnson had made entries. Then he sat down heavily in the chair reserved for guests and acknowledged that he didn't have the stomach for law and order today. His head still pounded and he couldn't think clearly.
Caroline was leaving tomorrow morning.
Just how had it happened, this thing with Caroline? How had he been blindsided by a slim, starchy lady with a single mission in lifeâturning a man's life upside down?
Hell, she didn't need to get the vote to tip his life on end. All she had to do was stand there looking at him with those soft blue eyes and take the pins out of her hair.
Oh, hell, he couldn't let her leave.
He couldn't stop her.
Damnation. He felt like something was eating him alive from the inside out. Part of him wished that bullet had killed him outright. Watching Caroline climb onto that stagecoach tomorrow and roll out of his life would be a helluva lot worse than taking a bullet in the back.
* * *
At eight the following morning, Hawk walked Caroline out to the stagecoach waiting in front of the house. She gestured at the porch where Ilsa sat studiously avoiding her gaze while she shelled peas and Billy and Elijah bent over the checkerboard, wolfing down Eli's fresh batch of cookies.
“It is very hard to leave, Hawk. It is even harder to say goodbye to you.” She turned to him and laid her hand against his cheek. “I will never forget you, Hawk. Never.”
She knew this would not be easy, but she had no idea how much it would hurt. She felt like a wild horse was trapped inside her chest, stomping its way out with hooves sharp as razors. She bit her lip to stop its trembling. She could love a man and leave him to carry on with her own life, couldn't she?
Well, couldn't she?
“Hawk, please, kiss me now, before the others come to say goodbye.” She stretched on tiptoe, felt him wrap his arms around her and lift her off her feet. He held her close for a long minute, then tipped his head to catch her mouth under his. His scent, of leather and wood smoke and mint, washed over her and her heart dropped into her belly and began to break into tiny, sharp pieces that hurt and hurt and hurt.
He lifted his lips from hers and set her on her feet. “You're more woman than I deserve, Caroline, but I want you anyway. I will always want you.”
Blinded by tears, she turned to hug Billy and Eli and Ilsa one last time, then took a deep breath and pivoted toward the waiting stagecoach. She let Jingo hand her inside and set her canvas satchel at her feet.
“I'll get yer trunk when it comes in at the train station, Miss Caroline, and I'll send it on to Portland, like you said.” He tipped his dusty hat to Fernanda and slammed the passenger door shut.
Caroline sat without moving, her eyes closed, her hands clenched in her lap. She couldn't bear to look out the window at Hawk, couldn't bear to see his drawn, tense face, and she did not want him to see her tears.
At last she heard the crack of Jingo's whip, and the horses jolted forward. She kept her eyes shut tight until the coach turned onto the town road, and then she stared straight ahead until Fernanda folded her into her arms and began to rock her like she would a child.
she murmured. “It will not hurt so much in time. But for now, you must bite down hard.
An hour went by. Then another. Caroline stared out the stagecoach window, her mind numb. The landscape changed from rolling green hills to sagebrush-covered flatland and then to meadows with knee-deep golden grass and clusters of cottonwood trees where the road ran along the river.
She thought of Billy's pail of worms and about her tumbling headlong into the river when she leaned out over the water too far with her fishing line and baited hook.
Then her thoughts settled on the young girl in the pink pinafore, Manette Nicolet, who made Billy blush and stammer. Would the girl grow up to take part in the affairs of Lake County? Vote as a member of the school board? Help elect a judge or even a senator? Oh, she did hope so.
In fact, she would write about this in her next speech, and she would do it right this minute. She withdrew a lined notepad and a stubby pencil from her pocket and began to write.
Wouldn't it be grand if every single speech she created could be sentâ
With a cry she stopped midsentence and stared down at the paper on her lap.
She leaned her head out the window. “Jingo!” she shouted, desperate to be heard over the noise of the coach and the hoofbeats of the team of horses. “Jingo, stop.
* * *
Inside his office, Hawk heard the thunder of horses' hooves and the rumble of a stagecoach. That was odd. The southbound stage wasn't due to arrive until tomorrow morning, so what wasâ? He rose from his desk.
Jingo's shout brought him to the open doorway. The team slowed in front of the jail and before it halted the passenger door banged open and a slim figure in a flounced green skirt stumbled out and began to run.
What theâ He started toward her. “What's wrong? Did you forget something?”
She threw herself into his arms. “Hawk, I am such an idiot! I can carry on the suffrage campaign from right here in Smoke River. Oh, why did I not see this before?”
“See what before? Caroline, what are you talking about?”
She laughed and lifted her face to his. “Oh, don't you see? I can writeâ” She stopped to catch her breath. “I can write newspaper columns for every paper in every town and city in the country. From right here in Smoke River!”
Hawk heard the words pouring from her mouth but none of them made any sense.
And then suddenly they did.
“You mean you're not leaving?”
She nodded and started to cry. “IâI'm n-not leaving.”
He stared at her flushed face and the tears sheening her cheeks. “You mean you want to stay in Smoke River?”
“You mean, uh, you'll marry me?”
“Oh, yes, Hawk. Yes!”
“Well, I'll be goddamned.”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “And I will be goddamned, too.”
He gave her a swift, hard kiss. “Honey, what has campaigning for the vote done to your polite Bostonian language?”
“Oh, I don't care what it's done. All I care about is that it's brought us together.”
Fernanda climbed out of the stagecoach and stood watching them, a sly smile playing about her lips.
. You are not so stubborn like I had think yesterday. You make your
* * *
The wedding took place the following afternoon in Ilsa's front parlor. Caroline wore a simple morning dress of yellow dimity and Hawk dressed in the tailored dark suit he wore only on special occasions. Both were in for a gentle surprise.
Judge Jericho Silver stood at the fireplace, a Bible in his hands, as they recited their vows and Fernanda and Ilsa wept in the background.
“I, Anderson Luis Rivera, take this woman...”
“Anderson?” Caroline suddenly whispered. “Your first name is Anderson?”
“Yeah. My mother's maiden name,” he murmured.
“I like it.”
“She used to call me Sonny.”
Jericho cleared his throat. “You two want to get married today or not?”
Caroline sobered. “Oh, yes. Let's see...I, Caroline Marguerite MacFarlane, takeâ”
Hawk blinked. “Marguerite?” he whispered.
“Yes. That was your mother's name, was it not?”
Again Judge Silver lowered his Bible. “Not sure we're going to get through this before midnight, folks.”
Following the ceremony, Ilsa presided over a table loaded down with a four-tier wedding cake surrounded by yellow roses and Fernanda served gallons of coffee to half the population of Smoke River, which included Jingo Shanahan, and even Jonas Overby, who turned out to be an undercover detective.
The men kissed the bride, all except Billy, who stole a kiss from Manette Nicolet instead and blushed until his bedtime.
Halfway through the afternoon Fernanda took Hawk out to the front porch and sat him down in the swing. “
Hawk, I say something now.”
Hawk looked up at her. “Yeah? I'm listening.”
“Is about your
. I know her for many years. Two things I say now. First is that your
she go with your young wife to keep her safe, not to run away.”
“Yeah, I figured something like that. Took me a few years, but I worked it out.”
“Second is this,
would be proud that you protect Caroline. And most proud that you find love with her.
Hawk rose and gently kissed the Mexican woman on both cheeks.
That night Caroline and Hawk quietly moved into the house next door to Ilsa, which Hawk, just as quietly, had purchased from the Monroes. That morning he had sent Fernanda to put clean sheets on the big double bed upstairs.
And that is how I, Fernanda Elena Maria Sobrano, came to live in the town of Smoke River, in the Territory of the Oregon, named by the
. God looks down and smiles on my lady and
Hawk. And me.
* * * * *
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