Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04] (6 page)

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
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“Is he gonna go live with Jesus?”

“I don’t know. He might,” she said, struggling hard to quickly rein in her emotions.

The boys came bustling in behind Lia. “We saw a man with a bloody arm,” Luke said in complete awe. John and Micah nodded. It was clear that they were as impressed as their brother had been.

“I have some news for you all,” Dianne said, hoping to steer their minds away from the image of violence. “We’re going on a long trip.”

“Back to the ranch?” Luke asked.

Dianne saw the hopefulness in his eyes. She might have started crying for real were she not worried about her children. She wasn’t often given to tears, and when she did cry, it upset the children.

“No, not back to the ranch,” she explained. “Your grandfather Selby is sick, and your papa wants to go back and visit him in Kansas. Papa wants his mother and father to see you children and know what fine little people you are.”

“How long will we be gone?” Micah questioned. “Who will take care of Barky?”

Dianne smiled down at her son. He was the only one of the boys with hair the same color as her own—a sort of golden honey wheat. Lia also had this same coloring, but on her brother it was most striking. “I don’t know how long we’ll be gone, but I’m sure Aunt Ardith will care for the dog. We’re going to ride the train.” She tried to make it all sound wonderful.

“The train!” the boys said in unison.

“A real train?” Luke asked.

“A real train,” she assured. “Your papa has gone to arrange the tickets, and our job is to get ready. We must wash up the clothes and get them packed so that we can leave quickly. You must also clean your room.”

The boys frowned. “Do we have to?” Micah asked.

“Yes. We can’t leave without having everything in good order. Now you get to work, and Lia and I will start the wash water.”

“We’re going on the train!” Luke said as they turned to head for the stairs.

“Will it be loud?” John asked.

“Real loud,” Luke confirmed as if he knew firsthand.

Dianne shook her head and smiled in spite of her broken heart. Her children were her life’s blood. They never failed to make her day brighter.

By evening everyone in the house knew of the Selby trip. Cole had returned with a schedule and confirmation of tickets. They would leave for Dillon the next day. It seemed too soon to Dianne, but she said nothing.

“We’ll be perfectly fine here. Don’t worry about us,” Mara said, trying to assure Dianne. “Ardith and I can manage everything. Besides, Faith and Malachi are just down the road and Charity and Ben are only a few doors down.”

“That’s right,” Charity said. “In fact, if it makes you feel better, we can come and stay with the girls.”

“I doubt anything would make me feel better,” Dianne admitted. She glanced over her shoulder to see that Cole was caught up in giving Ben the details of their trip. “I don’t want to leave.”

Charity patted Dianne’s hand. “There, there. By the time you get back, your cabin will be ready. You’ll have a new home.”

“It will be better than sitting around here,” Ardith said. “I keep thinking about Mr. Stromgren’s proposition to come to New York. Travel might well be the best thing for all of us.”

Dianne attempted to hold her tongue but couldn’t. “Ardith, please don’t go doing something foolish. Wait until I return before making any hasty decisions. Please … I need you to care for the house and for the dog.”

“I can’t promise. I have to do what’s best for my family—just as you have to do what’s best for yours.”

“Never fear,” Charity said in a soothing tone. “Ben and I will take care of everything should Ardith become determined to leave.”

“Thank you.” Dianne met the older woman’s loving gaze and nearly broke into tears. Charity had long been a motherly companion, and sometimes she seemed to be the only one who unselfishly supported Dianne in her hour of need.

Zane came in about that time with a young man that Dianne thought looked very familiar. Mara jumped up and ran to the man. “Joshua!”

Dianne watched the brother-and-sister reunion with some interest. Would Mara leave them now? If so, that would leave Ardith and Winona all alone in the big house. Perhaps Dianne could use this as an excuse to forgo the trip to Kansas.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Mara said, her voice breaking with emotion. “I’ve missed you so much. Why didn’t you write?”

“I couldn’t for a while. There simply wasn’t enough time. I was working one odd job after another and generally fell into bed every night more tired than the night before. After a while, I just lost track of time. Then when I found myself free enough to send word, I wasn’t sure where you were. I wrote to Elsa, but apparently Pa burned those letters and kept her from seeing them.”

“Sounds like Pa. So what are your plans?”

“I’ve come back to stay for a time. I don’t know for sure where the Lord is leading me.”

Mara turned to Dianne. “Could he have a room here with us?”

All thoughts of using the departure of Mara and her brother as an excuse fled Dianne’s mind. “Of course.” She looked to Cole. “That would be all right, wouldn’t it?”

Cole got up and shook Joshua’s hand most enthusiastically. “It would be more than all right. It would be answered prayer. You see, I was somewhat apprehensive about leaving your sister and Ardith here alone.”

“Alone?” Joshua questioned, the confusion evident in his expression.

“I’m taking my family back to Kansas for a time. My father is dying, and we must leave immediately.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”

“Just call me Cole.”

“I’m glad to be answered prayer,” Joshua said with a smile. “I’ve been called a lot of things in the last forty-eight hours, but that’s not been one of them.”

“Well, be assured that’s exactly what you are. You can be the man of the house while we’re away. Now I won’t feel any need to rush back.”

Dianne opened her mouth in protest, then closed it quickly. Though she didn’t want Cole to think her unfeeling about his concerns or needs, the situation absolutely filled her with terror.

No need to rush back.

No need to come back at all.

Morgan returned to Virginia City with his hunting group the day after Dianne and Cole departed for Kansas. Zane greeted his twin with a seemingly casual indifference, yet each man knew he was happy to be in the company of the other.

“So how did you do?” Zane questioned after the other men had gone to clean up and rest.

“We got buffalo. That was what they wanted,” Morgan said with a shrug. He poured himself a cup of coffee and leaned back against the wall. “Mr. Stromgren couldn’t stop talking about Ardith. When we were here before the hunt, he heard her play the piano, and now he thinks she should move back East. He’s talking to her right now. He’s convinced she’s the kind of performer he needs to impress the high society of New York.”

“That hardly seems likely.” Zane poured his own coffee, then added a generous spoonful of sugar. Stirring slowly, he shook his head. “We know nothing about this man—at least nothing important.”

Morgan grinned. “He’s good with a rifle. Used to be a time that merited a man enough favor and, coupled with his horsemanship, could get him just about anything he wanted.”

“I suppose he’s a superior horseman.”

Morgan laughed. “Good enough. I don’t know, Zane. He appears to be well thought of. The other men in our party hailed him as well respected and recognized in certain social circles.”

“Yes, but which social circles?”

“Do you suppose Ardith would listen to advice from us anyway? She seems to be used to making her own decisions and choices. And who can blame her after all she’s been through?”

Zane couldn’t argue with that. “She is independent, and I know she hasn’t exactly had an easy life. Still, that doesn’t mean this can’t be yet another bad situation. I just wouldn’t want her to get hurt.”

“Neither would I,” declared Christopher Stromgren as he bounded into the kitchen. “I was on the back stairs and couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. Forgive me for eavesdropping, but this matter is of the utmost importance. Your sister has a natural ability—a gift. It should be shared with the world.”

“She has a young daughter,” Zane said, a bit uncomfortable with the man’s brazen temperament. “What do you propose she do with Winona while she’s impressing the world?”

“I was told that the girl could stay here with family until Ardith was established. There’s no reason the child couldn’t join us at some future time.”

“Join
us
? That makes it sound awfully cozy.” Zane narrowed his eyes and stared the stranger down. “I don’t know you, Mister, and yet you want me to accept your proposition to take my sister away from her home and child. I’m not sure exactly what arrangements you’re suggesting, but it doesn’t set well with me.”

“You misjudge me, sir. I’m certainly no molester of women. I have only the utmost regard for the weaker sex. Part of the reason I find your sister’s talent so fascinating is that it stems from such a pure and unspoiled heart. She is a breath of fresh air. Unassuming and lovely in her simplicity.”

It was Morgan’s turn to jump in. “Is that a nice way of saying she’ll impress your uppity society folk with her low-scale way of life?”

“Not at all.” Stromgren seemed indignant. His face flushed to a red only a few shades lighter than his hair. “You both seem to believe it my desire to make sport of your sister, while in truth I want only to honor her and bring her the fame and glory she deserves.”

“What’s all this about?” Ardith asked as she joined them in the kitchen. “I could hear you all the way down the hall.”

“Then you know this conversation is about you and whether you should go to New York,” Zane said.

Ardith’s features hardened. “Well, that’s really for me to decide, now, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t suggest it wasn’t. I merely questioned the reasonability of it and the responsibilities you already have to your daughter.”

“Winona is strong—like me. She’s also capable of understanding change. She’s endured a great deal of change in her life.” Ardith turned to Stromgren. “Why don’t you come into the parlor and I’ll play for you. I have some great new pieces to show you.”

“Wonderful!”

They turned to go, with Stromgren leading the way. Ardith paused at the doorway. “Stay out of this. This is my life, and I won’t have anyone interfering with my decisions.”

The twins stood silent for a moment after she’d gone. Zane shook his head. “She can sure get herself all worked up. Just like Ma used to do.”

“I was thinking the same thing.” Morgan put down his cup. “Look, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be back fairly soon. I’m taking a man to the Idaho Territory to hunt mountain goat. His name is Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt. He’s a rich man from New York, but lately he’s lived over Dakota way. He has a ranch there.”

“Ah, one of those city fellows playing on the frontier?”

“No, not as much as you might think. He really enjoys getting his hands dirty. I liked him. I think you will too. He’s very excited at the prospect of hunting the mountain goat. Guess he’s quite the sportsman.”

“Well,” Zane said, putting his cup aside, “I doubt I’ll be here. I need to get back to Butte. I’ve been working to line up some timber for Marcus Daly, but as soon as that’s settled I need to return. If you’re coming back through that way, why don’t you look me up?”

“Sounds good,” Morgan admitted.

“Hello,” Mara Lawrence said as she came into the kitchen. She struggled to hoist a basket filled with shopping goods to the table.

Zane came immediately to her side and took the basket. “Hello, yourself.” He smiled at her, thinking she was about the prettiest girl he’d ever known. “Looks like you bought out the mercantile.”

“I heard that you liked berry pie. We were out of lard and a few other things, so I thought I’d do the shopping and then get your pie started.” She swirled away from him in a blush of pink fabric. Pausing momentarily, she looked over her shoulder and smiled.

Zane looked at her oddly. Was she flirting with him? He was much too old for her to consider in such a way, but it seemed that’s what she was doing. He looked to Morgan as if for confirmation, but his twin only laughed and headed out the back door.

“Why don’t you sit here and talk to me while I put together the dough?” Mara called as she pulled a bowl from the cupboard.

Zane felt a sudden flush of heat under his collar. “I … ah … I have things to tend to, but thanks … ah … just the same.”

She placed the bowl on the counter. “Why, Zane Chadwick. You sound positively terrified. Surely you aren’t afraid of socializing with me.”

He swallowed hard. He wasn’t about to let her think him afraid, but in truth, he was. “I hardly think we have anything to be socializing about. You’d be better off talking to one of my sisters.”

Mara leaned back against the counter. “But it’s you I want … to talk with.”

For a moment Zane lost himself in her stare. She had beautiful brown eyes trimmed in dark lashes. Her cheeks were rosy and her lips … He shook himself from such thinking. “I … uh … I gotta go.” He couldn’t leave fast enough.

BOOK: Tracie Peterson - [Heirs of Montana 04]
11.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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