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Authors: Montana Marriages Trilogy

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BOOK: Mary Connealy
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Red’s tone made Cassie wonder how much was known publicly about her finances. Obviously far more than Griff had ever told her. Griff had always told her a woman shouldn’t concern her weak mind with money matters.

Red went on. “Now they’re mortgaged. I can’t afford to pay off your loans. I’d end up owning horses I don’t need, a house miles away from my place, and fancy furniture that won’t fit in my soddy. The bank can take ’em.”

“How did you know about the loan?” Cassie struggled to keep up. Every word he spoke was news to her.

“It’s a small town.” Red shrugged. “And I work at the bank some, washing windows and such. I hear talk. Besides, it’s no secret. Everyone knows.” He reached for her, pulling back as he studied her stomach. He ran one finger over his puffy lip, glanced at her for a second, and then said, “I’ll have to…to lift you onto Buck. Excuse my…my
familiar
…uh…touch.” He very carefully, looking alarmed, put his hands under her arms and lifted her so she sat facing sideways on his saddle. He settled her gently.

“Uh…try hooking your leg over the horn.”

Cassie shook her head, confused at what he was asking her to do. “I…I don’t ride …”

“I don’t have a sidesaddle. You’ll just have to learn to ride Buck like this or straddle the horse. Except, if you do that, your skirts’ll…um…they’ll…well …” Red’s face turned a color that matched his hair. “You’d best just figure on sittin’ sideways.”

With another nervous glance that met her eyes, he gingerly took hold of her right leg and swung it around the saddle horn. Again he was gentle and Cassie thought of the sharp scrape of Wade Sawyer’s saddle horn when he’d slammed her onto it. She grabbed at the saddle horn through the layers of her gown.

Red untied Buck and swung himself up behind the saddle with a single graceful leap. He pressed against her back as he shifted the reins from one hand to the other. He brushed her arms and sides. He looked around her and his chin nudged her hair.

When he got so close, touching her, close enough to smell the earthy scent of dirt and sweat, Cassie realized what she’d done by marrying him. She thought of a husband’s manly needs. Her stomach quivered at the humiliation that lay ahead of her. If only he wasn’t as demanding as Griff had been. He’d left her alone at first, because he said she was too young. But for the last year, scarcely a season had gone by that Griff hadn’t come to her bed. Griff had explained that it was her duty so she’d endured it.

Then she remembered what else Griff had said. A woman was unclean when she was with child and he wouldn’t be with her until after the child was born. She barely suppressed a sigh of relief. Surely she had time before Red claimed his rights. Maybe by the time the baby was born he’d forget what his rights were.

Red shifted his weight and made a clucking sound to start his horse moving. She shifted forward so he wouldn’t be so close, but he caught her. “Hold still. I can’t see when you lean that way.”

Cassie obeyed quickly, hoping she hadn’t annoyed him.

“It might be a good idea to stop at the bank and talk this out with Norm. He’ll move to claim the property, but I don’t want him to think we’re not willing. It’ll ease his mind some if we tell him we expect it.”

Red steered Buck around to the back door of the bank. Red slid off, reached up, lifted Cassie down, and led her into the bank through the back door. “It being Sunday, the bank isn’t open, but that Norm always has something that can’t wait until Monday.”

She’d never been inside the bank. She’d always either stayed home or remained in the carriage when Griff had bank business. A door was ajar next to the safe and Red walked toward it, but Cassie hung back.

“Norm, I can always trust you to be working on the Lord’s Day.”

“Now, Red, don’t start,” a deep voice replied. “I never catch up.”

“Can I talk to you a minute?” Red asked.

“Come on in my office.”

Red rounded the counter then leaned back to look at her. “Come on, Cass. I’m in a hurry. I’ve got chores.”

As always, Cassie obeyed because a woman must always obey her husband, but she couldn’t imagine why she needed to hear this.

“Hey, Norm. Cassie Griffin and I just got married.” Red reached across the desk and shook hands with the formally dressed older man who rose from his chair.

Red was dressed in coarse brown pants and a shirt made crudely from flour sacks. He was liberally coated with dirt from his grave digging. But he greeted Norman York like they were close friends. Griff had always called him Mr. York.

“Congratulations, Red. Congratulations, Miz Griffin, um, Miz Dawson, that is.”

For the first time, Cassie realized she had a new name.

“Sit down.” Mr. York gestured to the pair of heavy wooden chairs that faced his desk.

“No thanks, Norm. We’re in a hurry. Stock’s waiting.” Red got right down to business. “Now, we’ve heard about the mortgage. The one bay is in the stable and the other un’s out at Griff’s place. Seth fed him enough for a couple of days. We’re turning over ownership now. I’m not going that direction, so you’ll have to bring him in yourself. Reckon the whole place is yours now, so handle things any way you want.”

“Griff’s furniture …” Cassie began to protest.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Dawson.” Norman York became very formal. His grammar improved along with his posture. “Your husband mortgaged everything—the house and its contents. I really can’t allow you to take anything out of it. Of course the dress you’re wearing is yours to keep. Although I think there’s a bill at Seth’s to settle up on it.”

“But, there are personal things, my great-grandmother’s pearls …”

“Those are included in the mortgage, Miz Dawson.”

“I…I inherited them. They have been in my family four generations. Griff wouldn’t mortgage them!”

Mr. York went to a cabinet and pulled a file drawer out. He sorted through papers until he found what he was looking for. He handed it to Cassie.

She read it with ever-increasing shock. “My mother’s cameo? And the…the
frames
my grandparents’ portraits are in? But the portraits, surely I can have them?” Cassie looked up from Mr. York to Red, humiliated. She struggled to gain control of herself. It didn’t matter. Her heirlooms were all just foolish vanity. Surely that is what Griff thought.

She glanced back at the note one last time and lost her composure. “My Bible?” She looked up at Mr. York. “No, a Bible has no monetary worth. But it’s been passed down for generations in my family. It’s precious to me. No one else would ever want to buy it.”

Mr. York fiddled with his string tie for just a second as if it had been pulled a bit too tight. “The thing is, Miz Dawson, that Bible came from Germany a long time ago. I told your husband the same thing, that no one wants an old Bible except the folks who have their names written in it, but Griff knew that huge old book was a New Testament of something called a Gutenberg Bible. It’s worth quite a bit. I will have to ship it back East to sell it, but it alone is mortgaged for over two hundred dollars.”

“Two hundred dollars?” Red exclaimed. “For an old Bible?”

“I know it’s crazy for any book to be so valuable.” Mr. York nodded. “Your husband—uh, that is, your former husband—tried to convince me it was worth far more than the amount I agreed to. We could build a church with that. A big, beautiful church. If things settle up right, the Bible is the first thing I’ll save back for you. But you can see that I can’t just give it back. I will get the photographs for you but not the frames.”

“My family Bible is mine. Griff had no right—”

“The fact is, Miz Dawson,” Mr. York cut her off with considerable force, “a woman’s possessions become her husband’s on the day they marry. Now you may not understand that, but it’s the law. Griff had every right to mortgage that Bible. And if you didn’t want him to, you could have lived without your silk dresses.”

“Norm, that’s enough,” Red said.

Mr. York quit glaring at her and turned to Red. A look passed between the two men, but she couldn’t gather her wits enough to analyze its meaning. She was struck speechless by the venom in Mr. York’s voice. He blamed her for her fancy clothes. He probably blamed her for every beautiful thing Griff had bought. Her whole world shifted at that moment as she realized that the cutting comments she’d overheard about the china doll and the rather stiff way Muriel had always treated her came down to the perception that she was the one who demanded everything be so fine. Mr. York clearly believed that. Did Red?

This was a fight she should never have started. She swallowed hard and felt doubly stupid for having argued with the man while she was so ignorant of the law and of a man’s rights. Finally, she folded her hands, searched deeply for the china doll, and regained her self-control. She spoke demurely, her eyes lowered. “When you get the Bible, would it be all right for me to copy the names out onto a piece of paper? I’d like to keep a record of my ancestors.”

When Mr. York spoke, his voice had none of the unkindness that it had before. “That’ll be fine, Miz Dawson. I’ll have the Bible here when Red comes to town next week. He can bring it out to you, and when you’ve finished with it, send it back.”

Red looked at her. “It’s time to go. I’ll take care of the bill at Seth’s now. I know there’s a bill at the lumber mill and one at Harv’s. Anywhere else in town?”

Mr. York said, “The doc, the stable…check the blacksmith.”

Cassie listened to the list and felt the weight of all she owed press down on her shoulders. She swayed slightly and held herself upright by sheer force of will.

Red nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”

“It’s not your responsibility, Red. No one expects you to stand good for her fancy…that is…for Griff’s bills.”

“I pay what I owe, Norm.” The tone of Red’s voice pulled Cassie back from the edge of a faint. There was something cold in Red’s voice.

“I didn’t mean to imply you don’t pay your bills, Red.” Mr. York pulled a kerchief out of his breast pocket and mopped his brow.

“Good, I’m glad to hear you know better’n to say different. When I married Cassie, I reckon I married her bills. I knew that going in.”

Married her bills?
Cassie couldn’t quite make sense out of that. Married her bills?

“I know, Red.” Norman York held both hands in front of him. “If I come out ahead on the mortgage, you have my word I’ll put it to his other debts. But I don’t think there’s gonna be much.”

“Mort’ll take the spring,” Red warned. “You’ll have to be careful or he won’t pay for it. Too bad there’s not a second bidder.”

“Maybe Linscott will come in on it.” Mr. York watched Red closely as if afraid of him. “He’s got adjoining land.”

Cassie would do well to remember that Red was a man people feared.

“Yeah, but it’s too rugged between Tom Linscott’s land and that spring. He couldn’t use it.”

“Probably not.” Mr. York sounded thoughtful. “But he surely does hate the Sawyers. More importantly, Tom’s not afraid of Mort.”

“Throw in that Tom would usually rather fight than get along.” Red nodded.

Cassie thought the name Tom Linscott was vaguely familiar. She had a mental image of a huge, dangerous black stallion and a fairly young man with overly long white hair who’d struggled to control the beast and nearly run Cassie down in the street one day as she’d followed a few paces behind Griff. Linscott had apologized and seemed genuinely sorry and worried at her fright. Then Griff had lit into him and all of Mr. Linscott’s kind concern deserted him as the two had exchanged unpleasant words. It was one of the last times Cassie had been allowed to come to town with Griff.

“Yep, making Mort pay through the nose for that spring will suit him. I’ll see him before I talk to Mort.”

“Mort’s probably moving his cattle in on it already. And he wanted Cass, so he’s mad.”

“He really wanted the spring, not me,” Cassie said faintly.

Mr. York nodded. “I’ll watch him.”

“Wade wanted me.” Shuddering, she wasn’t aware of saying it out loud.

Red turned to her and laid one hand gently on her shoulder. “I know, Cassie. I saw. That’s why I stepped in. No decent woman would be safe around him.”

Cassie remembered the evil in Wade’s green eyes and recoiled from the memory. She forced herself to focus on the banker. “If my dress is not paid for, Mr. York, perhaps I could return it.”

She turned to Red. “It’s not useful for every day, and if I’m to have only one dress …”

“We can check with Seth. You’re a little thing, but with the waist let out …” Red shrugged and shook his head. “I doubt Muriel will fit in that thing, and no woman in town wears silk anyway.”

“Maybe one of the girls at the Golden Butte—” Mr. York stopped talking when Red turned toward him. Cassie couldn’t see Red’s expression, but Mr. York mopped his brow again.

Cassie wondered who or what the Golden Butte was.

“Let’s go, Cass. We’ve got a few more stops.”

Cassie followed behind Red. He strode out the back of the bank with Cassie trailing along.

C
HAPTER
4

W
ade shoved past Anthony Santoni as he emerged from the Golden Butte. Santoni was just going in. Wade sneered at the worthless man who lived off his wife and openly betrayed her in the Golden Butte.

Across the street, Wade saw Red and the china doll walk past the alley that opened between the bank and the general store. Swallowing hard, Wade’s hands trembled as he wished for the guts to reach for his gun and separate the china doll from her new husband. She’d been in Wade’s hands. He looked down at his shaking fingers, which flexed and burned with the memory of holding her. And having her torn away.

At least his father had failed. That was one bright spot in this mess. Red had thwarted that fat old man today, and Wade couldn’t help but enjoy that. Except his father’s failure had been his own because now the china doll was beyond his reach.

Wade touched the tender bruises on his face. His father’s plan had been sickening, but at least she would have been at the ranch. Now she’d be with Dawson instead.

Thinking of his china doll with that dirty odd-job man, living in his decrepit house on his poor excuse for a ranch, made Wade want to hurt someone. His hand went to his Colt revolver.

BOOK: Mary Connealy
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