Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04] (29 page)

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
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Still there was no sign of Winona. Dianne thought for a moment. “I’ll be right back,” she told the others and made her way to the house.

“Did you forget something?” Charity asked as she climbed up the steps.

“Sort of,” Dianne replied. “I can’t seem to locate Winona, but I think she might be upstairs.”

“Poor child,” Charity said. “She’s really hurting. I thought we’d never get her to stop crying yesterday.”

“I’ll do my best to help her, but she needs Ardith.”

“I tried to talk to Ardith, Dianne, but she wouldn’t hear me,” Charity began. “She loved Levi so much that his loss has crippled her. She’s blind to everything but the way she feels.”

“I know. She’s like a sick person who wants to get well but hasn’t the strength to fight off the disease.”

“Do you think New York will make her better?” Charity had tears in her eyes.

“I can’t say. I’d like to believe that she’ll get there and realize that what she’s needed was here all along. I pray that she’ll see Winona’s love can make things better for her. Winona’s and God’s.”

“She’s so angry at God. She blames Him for every bad thing that’s happened.”

Dianne nodded, feeling a tinge of guilt. “I think we all have a tendency to do that. I suppose it’s human nature. A faithless nature.”

“He will be faithful, when we are faithless,” Charity said. “That’s in Second Timothy.”

“I remember hearing it. Perhaps from Ben’s preaching.” Dianne sighed and picked up her skirts. “I’d best hurry. George is anxious to go.”

Dianne made her way upstairs and down the hall until she came to the room that Ardith and Winona had shared. She knocked lightly and opened the door. Winona sat in the rocker near the window.

“Are you ready to go?” Dianne asked softly. She came to where Winona sat and knelt down.

“I don’t know why Mama had to go away. Does she think I don’t love her anymore?”

Dianne looked at the child. She clearly bore her Indian heritage in her dark eyes, black hair, and high cheekbones. She was a little chubby at this age but still quite pretty. “Your mama knows you love her. It’s the only thing that’s seen her through at times. Your mama is just sad right now, and she can’t seem to get any better. Hopefully she’ll be able to get better while she’s away—maybe see a doctor or get better rest.”

“She’s going to be too busy to rest. She told me so. That’s why I can’t go with her.” Winona turned away and looked out the window. “She’s not going to come back, is she?”

“Nonsense. I know my sister well enough to know she’ll be back. In fact, with so many people praying for her to get better, I feel confident she’ll be back before we know it.”

Winona looked back at Dianne with such an expression of hope that Dianne could only smile as she asked, “Do you truly think so?”

She nodded. “I feel it in my heart.”

“And will Uncle Cole come back too?”

Dianne felt as though she’d been slapped. “I … well … I don’t know. I hope so.”

Winona frowned. “But you don’t feel it in your heart?”

Dianne didn’t want to search her heart for that answer. She was terrified of what the response might be. “One problem at a time, Winona. Right now we need to go. The sooner we get on the road, the sooner we’ll be home.”

“That’s where Papa is buried,” Winona said softly.

“That’s right.”

“Do you think there will be any wild flowers left that we can put on his grave?”

“I don’t know. It’s been so long since I’ve been home, I couldn’t say. But I tell you what. We’ll look for them along the way. How will that be?”

Winona nodded and surprised Dianne by embracing her tightly—almost desperately. “You won’t stop loving me, will you?”

“No,” Dianne pledged. “I won’t stop loving you. And neither will your mama.”

Please don’t stop loving her,
Dianne whispered in her heart.
Ardith, please come home to this child and make her feel cared for again
.

They arrived at the Diamond V the next day, with a bitter wind howling down off the Tobacco Root Mountains, leaving the river valley and all its occupants chilled to the bone. Koko was delighted to see Dianne and the children. It was one of the happiest reunions Dianne had ever known.

“I’m so blessed that you have come,” Koko declared as everyone climbed out of the wagons. “I have prayed for your safety and your happiness.”

“Well, I’m safe,” Dianne said with a shrug. “I can’t give you more than that.”

“We have much to talk about,” Koko said, patting her hand. “And look, your children have grown so beautiful and big.” She reached down to touch Lia’s face. The child clung to Dianne’s skirts like she might be stolen away any moment. “You are quite the beauty, Miss Lia.”

Dianne felt a flutter in her abdomen. The baby was moving as if demanding to be introduced. “I have some news,” she said loud enough only for Lia and Koko to hear. She put her hand to her stomach. Koko met her eyes and stood.

“When?”

“I think March, by my own calculations. I haven’t been to any doctor. I told Faith and Charity. Oh, and Mara too. No one else knows, however, unless they’ve shared it with the others. Zane might know because of Mara, but Morgan took off so quickly after the wedding that I doubt anyone told him.”

“I see. Well, we will do all right together.” Koko smiled reassuringly. “You are a strong woman and have done this many times. You’ll do just fine.”

“I really have no choice but to do fine.” Dianne caught sight of Jamie and Elsa together and nodded toward them. “Those two seem rather cozy.”

“I know. It’s quite a comical tale. I’ll tell you over coffee. It’s cold out here and we really ought to get the children inside. I’ll have George make provisions for the freighters to sleep in the barn, and we’ll get you settled into your place. Come along.”

“I don’t know why you have to go all the way to Butte,” Jamie told Elsa. He had become very accustomed to her company. Their Bible reading was proving to be an inspiration to both of them, and Elsa could cook like nobody this side of his mother.

“Actually, we’re going to live outside of Butte, in another city called Anaconda,” Elsa said, as though that might change his opinion.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s too far away.”

“I don’t want to go, but Mara and Zane are being so kind to care for me. My father is sure to find out sooner or later that I’m here. At least in Butte, Zane has friends who can help him with the law. If my father shows up there with his demands, then perhaps it won’t be so bad.”

Jamie couldn’t help but reach out and touch her soft cheek. “I wish it were me protecting you.”

She nodded and leaned into his touch. “I wish it were too.”

“You two seem mighty intent on something,” George interrupted. He smiled broadly and laughed as the couple jumped apart. Jamie felt a sense of frustration at his uncle’s appearance but said nothing.

“Did you see the new horses I brought back with me?” George asked.

“Most of them aren’t new. Most are the Selby horses from town,” Jamie said. “I remember them from before.”

“But what about the sorrel? She’ll foal in the spring. The bay will as well,” George responded. “I figure them good beginnings to building the herd back up. In fact, I’m thinking maybe come spring we could go looking for a few wild horses. They’re good with the cows.”

“But we don’t have any cows,” Jamie protested. “At least not many.”

“We will come early summer. Your aunt has ordered five thousand head.”

Jamie couldn’t contain his excitement. “Honestly? Five thousand? That’s just like the old days.”

George laughed. “And you thought you weren’t going to have anything to do all winter with Elsa gone.”

Jamie felt his face grow hot. “I could have figured you’d find something for me,” he groaned.

Elsa laughed. “I’d better go inside and see if the ladies need help with supper.” She left quickly—probably to save herself further embarrassment. At least that’s what Jamie figured.

“So is it true love?” his uncle asked.

“As true as I know it to be,” Jamie answered, shoving his hands into his pockets. “What about you, Uncle. Have you ever been in love?”

While George’s face had registered pure amusement only moments before, now Jamie watched his expression change to a tense kind of reservation. What did it mean?

“I’d rather not talk about it. You’re the one who has the problem right now.”

“Being in love isn’t the problem. Her leaving for Butte, or rather Anaconda, is the problem.”

“Well, if it’s meant to be, it’ll keep. You’re going to have your hands full come spring, and before spring we’ll need to prepare. I’m figuring maybe we can build some corrals with the extra wood we had left over from the cabins. We also need to keep working on those horses. Two of those geldings are nearly broke—you’ve done a good job with them, and they’ll be valuable with the cows come spring.”

Jamie nodded. No one seemed to care that his best friend in the world was moving a world away. They only wanted him to focus on what was important to them. But he couldn’t get away from the question that haunted him. He found it hard to concentrate on anything else, even on the excitement of seeing the Diamond V become a real ranch again.

When would he see her again?

“Did you get the children settled in?” Koko asked as Dianne came into the cabin.

“Yes. Elsa and Mara said they’d see to them while I helped you finish cleaning up.”

“Nonsense. You are tired and need to get to bed early. Especially in your condition.” Dianne glanced to the far end of the cabin, where George sat by the fire whittling on a stick. She looked rapidly back to Koko as if in question. “I told him. I’m sorry if that was wrong, but you’re already half way along, or very nearly. You won’t be keeping it a secret much longer.”

Dianne sighed. “True. I just wish it weren’t happening.”

Koko looked at her oddly. “You don’t want another child?”

“Not like this. There’s so much anger and hatred going on between Cole and me. I don’t want to bring a child into that.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“Exactly!” Dianne said, her voice a little louder than she’d intended. “I have no choices. No one cares what I want. No one asks me how I’d like to have things.”

“So what do you want?” Koko asked, smiling ever so slightly.

Dianne calmed. Her aunt had become such a mother to her. She always seemed to know the right thing to say. “I want my life back the way it was. I want the ranch to function as it used to. I want to know that everyone is safe and happy. I want Ardith back with her child…. There’s so much I want, but again, it doesn’t matter. I have no choice. I’m pregnant with a child that will bring me nothing but heartache.”

“Don’t look at it that way. Perhaps God has given you this child as a tool of reconciliation. And Cole might already be on his way home in order to be here before the baby comes.”

“Cole doesn’t know about the baby.”

“What? You didn’t tell him?”

“I didn’t try to keep it from him either. The right opportunity simply didn’t present itself to share the information with him. We were fighting almost all the time, and when we weren’t fighting, I was too exhausted to care about telling him.”

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
13.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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