Authors: Deann Smallwood
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Westerns
Table of Contents
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Victoria Vane
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in 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 publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.
Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Books by DeAnn Smallwood
Tears in the Wind
One Shingle to Hang
Writing as D.M. Woods:
Death Crosses the Finish Line
Death Is a Habit
To the memory of my beloved grandmother,
Tina Mae Duplice.
She met each challenge life threw at her
with spirit and inner beauty.
I was blessed to have her in my life.
She was the blueprint for Rose.
And as always to my husband, Marvin.
He’s there through my long hours
when I live in my mind,
and my writer’s ups and downs.
He’s the wind beneath my wings.
And to the memory of my darling Jesse.
You will live forever in my heart.
Thank you, Debby, and Soul Mate Publishing for your continued faith in me. Debby, my work, my books are always safe in your capable and caring hands. You make me believe in myself.
Thanks to Lynda Coleman, queen of editors. I covet your magic pen and ability to seek out all my errors and poor punctuation. You’re a real find.
And thanks to all my friends at St. Ann’s. Your faith in me is amazing.
1860 Wise River, Montana
Rose tucked the bank draft into her drawstring purse as she boarded the train. It wasn’t enough. But then, would any amount of money be enough to compensate for her failure? Her wide skirt brushed the sides of the seats, the hem collecting dust from the narrow, gritty aisle. It was beyond her to care.
Heaviness had entered her body the moment she signed the deed to the small homestead, selling it to the owner of the ranch bordering her few acres. King Ranch. Well, the name suited. The king did indeed rule, sweeping the Wyoming country with a heavy-handed scepter, a monarch with the money and patience to wait her out. Then, like a spider, it pounced and sucked her land into its web of acreage never to emerge.
She adjusted the hat with the ridiculous robin perched on a nest of russet-colored leaves. It sat atop her blonde curls, a foolish attempt to thumb her nose at defeat. She may be beaten, but she was still fashionable.
Rose sniffed, taking small comfort from the defiant act and took the seat by the window.
She rubbed the smudged window as the train pulled out of the station
then closed her eyes, blocking out the dusty town and her dreams.
One year. She had made it one year. Her sister Wisteria’s words replayed in her mind.
“If anyone can make a go of homesteading, it will be you, Rose. But you are a woman alone.”
Rose felt heat rise to her cheeks as she recalled how she’d scoffed at Wisteria’s worries.
If the devil kept score, surely she’d get points for trying. Trying and not complaining. Living in the small soddy where even the slightest task was backbreaking. And she’d loved it. That was the worst part
she’d loved it. Loved the independence, the small accomplishments, the reward of a beautiful sunrise after a storm, and the solitude.
A slight smile crept across her face. Her memories took her back so totally she could smell the sage and see the sun glinting off the backs of the cattle. She could feel the ever-present breeze ruffling her hair, and the sun coaxing out more freckles, dusting her pert nose.
Her throat tightened. She also could just as easily remember the bodies, bloating in the summer heat. Her herd, her entire herd, wiped out by tick fever. The scourge had rampaged throughout the valley, indiscriminately hitting both small and large ranches. The smaller ones, like hers, had gone under, unable to replace cattle and start again. The larger spreads absorbed the loss and plodded on. Ranches like the King Ranch profited, gobbling up the surrounding properties. What did it matter old-timers marveled they’d never seen the like? Marveling didn’t pay the bills or restock the ranch.
Rose gave a deep sigh. In fairness, she’d received a fair price for the land. But nothing could pay for the lost year. And it was for darned sure nothing could pay for the cold lump of utter defeat lodged beneath her breasts.
Both of her sisters, Wisteria and Petunia, had offered her their homes as refuge. Both were newly married, and although they assured her she would not be intruding, Rose knew she would be. Petunia, the oldest of the three, had married a wealthy banker late in life. They lived in Chicago, which offered her city life in all its splendor. She would die inch by inch, day by day, breathing the stale air and having no other purpose in life other than deciding what dress to wear for what occasion.
Rose opened her eyes and tugged off her once-white gloves, exposing callused hands and broken nails. Grimacing, she quickly sought back the gloves’ concealment. She was right to refuse Petunia’s kindness. She’d be like a thistle among roses.
She also knew Wisteria had understood her reluctance to join her and Ben in Montana. They were happily established in Wise River. Ben loved every moment of being reunited with his family, and he was practicing medicine. They had wasted no time in adopting Robin, Rose’s niece. Now, all the couple had to do was get her to call Ben ‘Daddy’ instead of the lisping, ‘En. Theirs was a happy nest with no room for a dispirited woman, one who lacked the will to move forward.
Losing her much-older husband had been a test, but it no way compared to this loss. Rose felt as though she were a husk of her former, determined self.
Still, when Wisteria’s letter arrived, Rose had quickly grasped the lifeline.
Rose, marvelous news. Our schoolteacher has decided to move. There’s an opening, and not only that, there’s an attached living quarters to the school. You’ll be able to maintain the independence that’s so important to you. Ben assures me that the position is yours if you want it. He talked to the school board and has been given permission to offer you the job. I’m not sure of the pay, probably not much. But it’s a start. Take it, Rose, and use it as a place to heal. I know it’s selfish, but to have you here in Wise River would be frosting on my cake. Actually, it would be seven-minute icing. Remember you and I fighting over the bowl and demanding Petunia not scrape it so clean?
Rose telegraphed Wisteria her ‘yes’ and here she was sitting on a train headed for Wise River, Montana. Even though she knew nothing about being a teacher.
The train chugged off, leaving Rose standing on the wooden platform, surrounded by a puddle of bags. She glanced around. Where was Ben? Wisteria? Hadn’t they gotten her telegraph? She hadn’t been thinking clearly when she’d sent it. Actually, she hadn’t been thinking clearly since selling the homestead, but she was sure she’d told them she was arriving today, Tuesday. Then she chided herself for giving in to the panic filling her. They had been detained. That was all. Simply detained. Ben probably had an emergency and they’d be here shortly. Rose fought back at her rising panic.
Resolutely, she picked up one of the smaller bags and turned toward the station house. One last time, she searched the area. No, no one waiting for her. The only other people were a man and a boy, loading a rather cumbersome trunk onto a wagon. They were at the other end of the platform, but Rose couldn’t help but notice that they weren’t working in harmony.
The boy appeared sullen and kicked at the trunk before trying to pick up his end. The man barked something at him, then shoved the boy aside and loaded the entire trunk by himself. Rose gave an intake of breath as the man’s shirt tightened across his back and muscles rippled. Her eyes were riveted as the man tipped back his black, wide-brimmed hat, and wiped his sleeve across his face. Thick, brown hair, the rich brownness of a mink’s pelt, fell across his forehead then
curled on his neck, a haircut long overdue.
Before she could move, the boy stalked past, throwing her a cursory glance. His sneer was emphasized by the coldness in his eyes. He was a big boy, and no doubt would someday equal the size of the man Rose assumed was his father. She guessed him to be ten or eleven years of age.
Shrugging off his belligerent demeanor, Rose opened the station house door. They were none of her concern. She had all she could handle with her own life. Hateful boys and tall, wide-shouldered men with rippling muscles had nothing to do with Rose and her present dilemma.
A harried man glanced up from behind a brass cage and smiled.
“Morning, Ma’am. Come in on the Eastbound, did you?”
“I did.” Rose smiled back. “Someone was to meet me, but it looks as if they’ve been delayed.”
“Got family here?”
Judging by the eagerness in the stationmaster’s eyes, Rose suspected her answer would be freely passed around.
“I do.” She purposely didn’t add more, mischievously enjoying herself.
He’d have to dig for information, and Rose had no doubt he would. It didn’t matter. She certainly had nothing to hide.
Curiosity won over the few seconds of silence. “And they’d be?”
“Who’d be?” she asked, innocently.
“Your family. You said you had family.” Exasperation laced his words.
“I did, didn’t I?”
The man sputtered, and Rose knew he thought she was either dumb as a stick or purposely avoiding his question.
“Ben and Wisteria McCabe,” she answered, not a bit sorry for teasing him.
“Dr. Ben McCabe?” His pleased expression said it all.
“Well, Ma’am, why didn’t you say so?”
“I believe I just did.”
The stationmaster coughed to hide his obvious impatience. “You say they were to meet you?”
“Yes, I telegraphed. They knew I’d be arriving today, Tuesday.” She started to say more, then caught herself. “I’ll just take a seat, I’m sure they’ll be along soon.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Said I doubt it.”
Rose tilted her head, and she felt the robin bounce precariously in the nest. The hat was ridiculous.
“And the reason would be?” Her back had stiffened, her chin came up, and she looked the man straight in the eye as her clipped words drilled him.
“Monday,” he said succinctly, seeming pleased that now he was the one making her dig for answers.
“I don’t see what Monday has to do with my question.”
“Well, Ma’am, today is Monday and your family isn’t expecting you until Tuesday.” A grin spread under his skimpy mustache.
“Monday?” Rose repeated weakly. It couldn’t be. How could she have made such a mistake? Her shoulders slumped.
“I imagine the doctor and his family are at the Harrison’s barn raisin’. Most everyone is. Gonna be a big feed and dancing later. Doc’s sure a part of the town. We’re lucky to have him.”
The man was a font of information, none of it an answer to her situation.
Rose cleared her throat. “Is it far?”
“To the Harrison’s? Several miles. You weren’t thinking of walking? That’d be crazy
Too far and too hot.”
Exactly what she’d been thinking. “All right. How far to the schoolhouse?”
The stationmaster wrinkled his brow. “A few blocks. Why?”
“I’m the new teacher.” She hated giving him more grist for his gossip mill. “I will be occupying the attached living quarters. If you could either direct me, or perhaps you could take me? I would sure appreciate it.” She blinked hopefully, plastering a sweet smile on her lips.
“Too far to walk—” He leaned forward, peering at her fashionable boots. “—especially in that footwear. And I can’t leave the station.”
Rose sighed. Her recent inattention to the life swirling around her had landed her in this mess. If she’d been her normal self, it never would have happened. But, as Petunia would say, no use crying over spilt milk. Only this milk wasn’t just spilt, it was soured and curdled.
“Say, Jesse, you could take her.” The stationmaster looked past Rose.
She whirled around, surprised to see the same man who had only a few minutes ago been wrestling a trunk onto a wagon, a wagon large enough to take her and her baggage to the schoolhouse. Heat rose to her cheeks, knowing he had to have heard all of the conversation. Her teasing the stationmaster and her deflation as she was brought back down.
Still, relief flooded over her. “That’s wonderful. If you could load my bags, we could be on our way.”
Not answering, Jesse brushed past her and placed a bill of lading in front of the stationmaster. Then he turned on his heel.
“Wait,” Rose cried. “You can’t just say no and leave me standing here.”
He gave her a steely look, his hazel eyes narrowed as gold flecks darkened. He was handsome in a rugged, chiseled way. His prominent cheekbones hinted at Indian ancestry. And if the situation had been different, she would have found his face and broad shoulders worth a second look. A flicker flared in her heart. Ridiculous. The grim man standing in front of her could not possibly be the cause. He was abominable.
“Why?” he growled.
“I . . . I . . .”
“You’re not my problem, lady. It’s not my fault you don’t know the days of the week. Schoolteacher
” he snorted.
“I do know the days of the week. And you are insufferably rude.” She’d walk the few blocks, ridiculous boots or not. Blisters would be welcome compared to taking help from this
this man. “I don’t need your help.”
“Yes, you do,” he said coldly and slammed the door behind him.