Authors: Caroline Fyffe
Also by Caroline Fyffe
Prairie Hearts Novels
Logan Meadows, Wyoming Territory, 1878
Where the Wind Blows
Before the Larkspur Blooms
West Winds of Wyoming
Under a Falling Star
The McCutcheon Family Series
Y Knot, Montana Territory, 1883
Mail-Order Brides of the West: Evie
Mail-Order Brides of the West: Heather
Moon Over Montana
Mail-Order Brides of the West: Kathryn
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Caroline Fyffe
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Anna Curtis
Dedicated to my darling daughter-in-law, Misti Chanel, who has filled our lives with love, happiness, and joy.
Union Pacific Rail Lines, Wyoming Territory, April 1883
alton Babcock lifted his .45 Colt from its holster and checked the chambers. As always, his weapon was loaded and ready, as was the gun that rested heavily on his other hip. Two loaded shotguns hidden on a bunk in the musty train car were extra insurance and within easy reach.
In three hours, the Union Pacific was due to stop at the Logan Meadows depot to take on water and exchange a few passengers. From there it would continue on to Seattle and then San Francisco, stopping at a dozen small, nondescript towns along the way. His journey was halfway complete.
Gazing out the small two-by-two window, Dalton took a deep breath and held the stale air in his lungs. The rough terrain, with the endless pines and large granite outcrops of rock whisking by outside, made a stark contrast to the three locked boxes behind him, filled with freshly printed one-hundred-dollar bills, said to total over a million dollars.
Thump, thump, thump.
The knock at the door was right on schedule.
Grasping the heavy steel-enforced window guard, Dalton closed it, then threw the lock. He went to the door at the front of the car. “Yeah?”
“It’s Evan, come to relieve you.”
Dalton recognized his coworker’s gravelly voice. “Echo, Echo . . .”
“. . . river black,” came the coded reply.
Each day of the week, the color of the code changed, in an effort to keep the First Bank of Denver’s assets safe until they arrived in San Francisco. One million dollars was enticing to outlaws and law-abiding citizens alike. The guards had been instructed to protect the cargo at all costs.
Dalton unbolted the lock, and then lifted the bar. Evan slid inside as Dalton stepped onto the small platform between the connected cars, the rush of cool air brisk. The door was not to remain unlocked for more than a few seconds.
“Get some grub and hot coffee,” Evan said. “Once we reach Logan Meadows I’ll need both you and Pat”—he gestured toward the roof, where the third guard patrolled—“on high alert.”
“On my way.”
The door banged closed.
Dalton passed through the cattle cars, watching where he stepped, then through the luggage and cargo cars, the chugging of the train now so commonplace it went unnoticed. Once in the passenger cars he nodded to anyone who looked his way. Taking a seat at a table in the dining car, he put in an order and waited for his fare. Twenty minutes and three cups of coffee later, he felt the urgency within that always unsettled him right before a scheduled stop. He’d return to the money car and take his position on the outside landing.
Picking up the pencil, he signed the tag for his employer to pay, then stood at the exact moment a forceful jolt rocked the train, knocking him off his feet.
Logan Meadows, Wyoming Territory, April 1883
usanna Robinson glanced around the newly constructed community hall, satisfaction warming her deep inside. Once construction had begun, the log cabin–style edifice had gone up in a month. It had several smaller rooms, as well as a kitchen. A stairway on the west side of the great room led to a narrow upper tier that ran the length of the building, allowing a person to watch the festivities from above.
A darn sight better than the large gray barn!
As the caterer for the much-anticipated wedding of Brenna Lane to the town’s schoolteacher, Greg Hutton, the Silky Hen Restaurant was responsible for today’s shindig. The groom’s family had ventured all the way from Pennsylvania, and everyone wanted Logan Meadows to make a good impression.
Susanna sighed and rolled her tired shoulders. She’d taken ten minutes to slip on an apron, freshly starched and ironed thanks to Tap Ling’s laundry service. She ran a hand over her hair to make sure no wayward tendril had escaped. The bride and groom, as well as most of the town, would arrive any minute. Candles and lanterns amplified the late-afternoon light, glowing beautifully atop the long table covered in snowy-white cloth. Platters of seasoned beef, pork, and chicken, as well as an array of salads, would tempt the choosiest of eaters. Freshly baked rolls abounded by the basketfuls. At the end of the table, the decorated cake added the finishing touch.
Mrs. Hollyhock’s quilting fairies had made white fabric flowers, which looked so real one was tempted to reach out and touch them, as well as streamers and doodads, which had transformed the open log room into something magical from a storybook. This would be a wedding to remember.
Susanna’s boss, Hannah Donovan, breezed into the room followed by Tabitha Canterbury, Hannah’s older cousin who’d arrived in Logan Meadows last November. Miss Canterbury, in her late twenties, had managed to persuade Frank Lloyd, her uncle and the bank’s owner, to give her a loan to open a bookstore on Main Street—as if the task were no riskier than baking a cake. Susanna admired the business-minded, unmarried woman very much. As regally as a queen, Tabitha carried a tray filled with coffee cups and headed for the kitchen.
Hannah glanced around, nodding her approval. “The room is gorgeous, Susanna! Brenna won’t believe her eyes when she steps inside—which should be in about five minutes. The ceremony was lovely. I’m still all aflutter.” A dreamy expression crossed her face, making Susanna smile. “Church was just letting out when Tabitha and I snuck out to fetch the last tray of coffee cups at the Silky Hen. Is there anything else I need to do?”
Susanna placed a calming hand on Hannah’s arm. “Yes. Take a deep breath and relax. Everything is ready. Daisy ran home to clean up and will be back any second.”
Hannah exhaled a long sigh of contentment. “I couldn’t have done it without you. You’re more my right hand than this,” she said, holding up her right hand. Susanna’s boss smiled, then hurried away.
ever be a bride? Susanna wondered with a smidgeon of uncertainty.
I’m only twenty-five, not yet a true spinster.
Since her arrival over two years ago, Albert Preston, the sheriff of Logan Meadows, was never far from her side. He took lunch daily at the restaurant where she worked, and sought her out more often than not for walks after Sunday service. She held their friendship close to her heart. It was the most special thing in her life. If she let herself, she would fall headfirst into his expressive dark eyes. And his laughter—he knew each and every way to make her smile, and did so often. But Susanna needed to play it safe. She’d rather have him as a dear friend than a used-to-be who needed to be avoided.
The sad truth was,
lasted forever. At least not in
family. If she never let them get started, then they’d never come to an end. Even if Albert might think he was in love with her now, the feeling wouldn’t last. No, as much as she longed to be a wife, her fear of what might come after the vows was too much to contemplate. A cooling of their love, resentment, Albert walking out the door. Because of that, each time his tone turned serious, and she thought he might be veering toward a deeper relationship, she steered him to a safer subject, like the new people in town, what so-and-so was planting this year, how the weather had turned.
Besides all that, there was no easy way to tell him about her mother. Being a lawman, surely he’d think less of Susanna if he knew they had survived on the money men left behind after a visit to their house. Her mother always sent Susanna away when a suitor came to call, but it wasn’t long before she understood the whispers the other children hid behind their hands.
Did Albert care for her? She believed he did—and deeply, if she indulged her imagination. He’d never kissed her, despite what her girlfriends thought. He’d been a perfect gentleman from day one. When she began to daydream of what might be, she reminded herself that his respectful actions extended to all the women he came into contact with.
Daisy Smith, Hannah’s other employee, dashed through the door. In her black skirt, white high-collared blouse, and devoid of any eyeliner or lip color, she presented such a demure appearance that one would never guess she used to be a saloon girl at the Bright Nugget. “Here they come!” she called in an excited voice. “They’re parking the buggies. Everyone to their stations!”
Susanna plastered on a smile and hurried to the front door where she’d collect shawls from the ladies and hats from the men. She had a job to do—and it didn’t involve mooning over Albert Preston.