Authors: Jade Laredo
Jenny beamed with pleasure. “We shall see you next Sunday.”
After Jenny and Sam departed
, Arabella locked up the schoolhouse and walked to
post office. She paused just outside the establishment door, and reached into her reticule, withdrawing an envelope, a letter to her Aunt and Uncle Claymore with news from Sundown. Opening the front door, she ushered herself into the one room structure with the rattling of a bell and greeted the postal clerk.
“Good day, Mr. Hauffmeyer.”
An old man, no more than seventy sto
od behind the counter, operating
a telegraph machin
e. As she surveyed the tiny room, she recalled Lena’s pennywise account of Sundown. It came as no surprise
the post office and tel
egraph office were the same.
Crossing the room, she stood before the counter, and waited patiently as the old codger decip
hered his message. When he
finished, he slowly turned and smiled at her apologetically.
“Howdy, Miss Gentry.” He rasped. With one hand supporting his back, he hobbled toward the counter and cackled. “Damnable rheumatism is acting up again.”
Arabella smiled. She thought the old man pleasant enough. Holding a letter, she nodded.
“I’ll need a stamp please.”
“That’ll be one cent.”
Arabella handed the man a penny. She watched as he attached the stamp to the envelope, and then dropped the letter into a mailbag. Leaning forward, he nodded his head.
“I have a letter for you.”
“For me?” She returned. With mouth slightly apart, she stood erect and then shook her head. “But … no one know
s my whereabouts, how could this
“The missive is postmarked Denver with no return address.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hauffmeyer.” She murmured, staring down at the letter pensively. Perhaps Ida and Ined Bump had thought to write. After the terrible hold up, she was sure the two old dears felt the need to console her.
Bitten with curiosity, she zigzagged out the front door. With careful hands, she opened the letter. Sunlight poured over the missive, illuminating exceptional handwriting, not the eclectic hen-scratch of an old woman. Scanning the salutation, she suddenly felt her heart constrict.
n God’s name did he find her?
scanned the boardwalk
with careful scrutiny
, making sure she had not caused any undue attention.
Nothing had changed.
Across the street, Emeril Hartley stood outside his mercantile with hands perched on hips. His son James hobbled dangerously at the top of a latter, trying
to move a sign as
two young women walked by, seeking the young man’s attention. In return,
his portly father barked at the young man
, berating him for no
t paying attention.
On the other end of the street,
Edward Martin, the
banker of Sundown, stepped outside his depository, lock
ing the establishment doors, he
turned on his heel and marched straight for the local Saloon.
Everything seemed normal, yet she could
not shake the wary feeling someone was watching her closely. With heart racing
turned on her heel,
up her pace and within minutes, she was finally home.
Arabella harried up the stairwell not even bothering to greet Lena. Once inside the privacy of her bedroom, she shut the door and crossed the room, slumping onto her bed. In her hand
, she held the letter, her only precious link to Luke Shelton.
By divine intervention, I have found you. Do not question yourself, how or why.
Please just know this. You have my heart and soul
it is yours to keep.
Arabella closed her eyes.
she died at that very moment the
n surely the feeling she felt was most certainly heaven. A sudden knock at the door made her heart skip
a double beat.
Like an enamored schoolgirl
, she shoved the letter beneath her pillow before the door opened.
u are.” Lena popped her head
. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?”
“I’m sorry, Lena.” Arabella rose to her feet. Reaching behind her neck, she worked quickly to releas
e each button while glancing
with an apologetic smile. “I was in such a hurry to get home and
out of this infernal dress
I didn’t hear you. It’s dreadfully hot, and I’m not used to this stifling heat.”
“All right, my dear.
” Lena smiled
I’m running a little late and gonna need some help
ur Poppa’s dinner
“I’ll be right there.”
As soon as
Lena closed the door, Arabella
released a ragg
ed breath. She adored the older woman, but sometimes she seemed a bit too intrusive, almost like the mother she sorely missed. She flew toward the bed and withdrew the
rom beneath her pillow, holding
it to her chest. She
was certain she would read it
t least a
hundred times before she coul
d finally convince herself it was from him.
Luke Shelton narrowed a patient gaze, observing the woman from across the street that just turned and hurried away. From a stealthy vantage point, he had not missed the look of surprise when she opened the letter, nor the rush of
alarm, which flashed before her eyes. After he stood there for a long moment with guarded pause, he finally turned away.
Already he felt his gut twisting. Worst yet, he felt his heart clench at just the thought of not seeing Arabella Gentry again.
“Mr. Hanly, can I help you find something?” A woman’s voice interrupted his thoughts. He turned away from the mercantile window, finding the lovely Genevieve Hartley smiling at him with a deadpan stare.
“I’ll take some peppermint sticks for my nephew.”
The young woman’s honey-brown eyes lit up, and her lips curled into a thoughtful smile.
He almost smiled back.
In another time, and another place, he would have thought the mercantilist’s daughter quite appealing with her disarming gaze and head of chestnut brown hair pulled back from a heart-shaped face.
Perhaps even then he might have thought of pursuing the young woman despite the desperate measures of her mother, but God help him, he just could not abide a meddlesome soul.
Luke switched his gaze toward an elder woman who stood but a few feet away, watching him with a cool stare. If Mamie Hartley had her way, she would have him trussed up on a silver platter with an apple propped in his mouth to serve to her daughter. He shook the mental image from his mind and grimaced. Forcing a smile, Luke let his gaze fall back on Genevieve who quickly circled the front counter, carefully removing the lid from a candy jar.
He watched her remove a handful of peppermint sticks and fold the hard candy in brown paper, and then tie the package off with a string. Handing his order, she offered him a reticent smile.
“Good Day.” He issued her a coarse nod and then walked away. On his way out the door, he passed Emeril Hartley, and his son Edward, who were both caught up in a heated familial dispute, the two men hardly noticed his presence.
Luke made his way down the boardwalk, passing a few establishments until he turned off toward a back alley. He soon heard the clang of metal against metal, which rang sharp and piercing. Lifting his gaze, he peered into a din of smoke and shadows where he sought the strapping figure of Matt Tinsley, the town farrier. He watched as the young man dipped a hot iron into a nearby swill. Steam hissed, rising slowly as it sizzled, while dissipating into thin air. Sensing his presence, the farrier turned his head, nodding a stern welcome.
“I’ve been waiting on you.” The farrier spoke up.
Luke chuckled. “Are you charging me by the hour?”
“Nah.” Matt smiled then jerked his head toward the entrance. “There was this man … goes by the name Rafferty, he was looking for you.”
Luke held a steady grin though secretly he seethed inside. The Pinkerton Agent was a constant thorn in his side. Hot on his trail for nigh two years, the relentless man never gave up. Twice, he came close to capture by the ruthless detective. Once near the border of Tejas in a little cantina twice the size of an outhouse, and then at a stage hold up headed for Dodge. Each time, he and his gang had narrowly escaped. Now the agent was dodging his alter ego. A feeling of dread overcame his mind. Perhaps it was time to move on to a safer location. Furrowing his brows, he felt like kicking himself. If only he had not held up that last stagecoach.
He would never have met Arabella Gentry.
Now things seemed complicated beyond reason.
“Something the matter?” Matt asked, removing his apron.
Luke forced a congenial smile.
“Nothing as wrong as a good home cooked meal.”
“You’re a lucky man.” Matt’s eyes suddenly turned soft. “Tell Miss Jenny I said hello.”
“Will do.” Luke nodded his head. Turning to his horse, he mounted in the saddle and gave a conspirator wink. “You should come by for supper some time.”
The other man laughed.
“Don’t mind if I do.”
mounted his horse and rode home as fast as he could. He
sauntered through the front door. As he suspected, supper was waiting on the table, and the boys were already digging in. Taking his seat, he listened as Sam rattled on about his first day at the schoolhouse.
“Miss Gentry says
Momma should be very
I know all my letters.”
“Your Momma taught you those letters.” Jake scoffed, piling a stack of peas on his fork. Taking a bite, he chewed before continuing. “You should be proud of your Momma.”
I am.” Sam chortled, rolling his eyes at his uncle.
Jake looked over at Jenny and smiled.
“What else did you do with Miss Gentry?” Luke asked, reaching for a basket of biscuits, he plopped one on his plate.
“We read some books, and then I did some counting on the aba … aba … whatever you call that thing.”
“It’s called an abacus.” Jenny encouraged.
“Sounds like you had a good time.” Luke replied, grabbing for a piece of fried chicken.
“Yeah.” Sam returned looking down at his plate.
n’t sound very certain.” Trig chuckled, tearing into his piece of chicken.
“What’s the matter, honey?” Jenny asked, putting down her tin cup.
Sam looked up and shrugged. “There weren’t any other children to play with …”
“And?” Luke stared at his nephew who fiddled with his fork, stirring the peas on his plate.
“I heard Miss Gentry crying when I was eating my lunch outside.”
“Are you sure, Sam?” Jenny posed.
m replied, shaking his head. “I
asked her what was wrong.”
“What did she say?” Luke asked, staring down at his plate.
“She just said she missed her friend, that’s all.”
Luke looked up and found Jake staring at him with derision. It took all the willpower in the world not to get up and knock the living tar out of his brother. He swore to himself the boy was lucky since Jenny and Sam were sitting beside them at the table. Pushing himself away, he gathered his plate, and marched toward the front door unceremoniously slamming it behind him.