Read Wind Song Online

Authors: Margaret Brownley

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General

Wind Song (5 page)

BOOK: Wind Song
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"It seems like an odd thing for a woman to do. Travel all the way out here alone. Couldn't you get a teaching post in
Washington
?"

"I was asked to resign from my teaching post there."

He pursed his mouth thoughtfully. "Why was that, Miss Percy?"

She cleared her throat. "Some people thought that my…teaching methods were…too progressive." Actually, she'd been asked to leave her post for misconduct, but she wasn't about to tell him that. Besides, was it her fault that the day she took her students to the Senate building was the very same day that pompous senator from
Rhode Island
got up and gave that horrendous speech against the idea of women having the vote?

After a half hour of listening to his shocking dissertation regarding women's lack of intelligence, she'd stood in the visitors chamber and, speaking out in her authoritative voice, told him exactly what she thought of him, his speech
, and
his ideas. Misconduct, indeed! She had done what any sensible person would have done under the circumstances.

Mr. Tyler studied her from across the table. Never had she been so conscious of her cursed sun-dotted nose and unruly red hair as she was at that moment.

Holding her gaze, he reached for the bottle of wine. "So why did you describe yourself as a respectable teacher if you were asked to leave your former post?"

She wasn't usually one to blush, but now she felt her cheeks flare red. She was grateful that he was too busy pouring the wine to notice. "My teaching methods were open to debate, not my respectability." No matter what the newspapers said.

He set the bottle down. "Since
Colton no longer exists, it would appear that you're without employment."

"It does appear that way, doesn't it?" The thought was so disconcerting, she quite forgot her mother's admonishments about her unladylike habit of chewing on her bottom lip. She'd been so intent upon the immediate problem of finding suitable accommodations, she hadn't fully considered her plight until now. Not only was she without employment, she lacked even the funds to pay for her fare back home.

Mr. Boxer had sent her a portion of her advance to pay for her train fare to
Kansas
, with the agreement that she would receive the second half of the money owed her upon her arrival. The advance was to cover expenses until she started collecting her salary.

She took a long sip of wine. "Do you by any chance know where I might find Mr. Boxer?"

"My guess would that he's in Hays."

"Oh, yes. Two or three hours away, depending on how much you value your life."

Humor warmed his eyes, but all too quickly the soft lights disappeared and his mouth tightened into a straight line. "At least that." He glanced at her plate and refilled her wineglass. "Would you care for anything more?"

"No, thank you," she said, puzzled by the way her host seemed to guard every word, every look, as if he determined not to give too much away. Clearly, he was a man who had much to hide. "Dinner was delicious."

He stood and cleared his plate. "You can spend the night here, if you like."

She gazed at the single bed that was pushed against one wall, and her heart started to pound nervously. "I appreciate your offer, but…"

He reached for her plate, his nearness bringing unexpected warmth to her quivering body. His masculine smell was mixed with an earthy quality that challenged her senses to a new level of awareness.

"You aren't going to bore me with explanations of having to protect your reputation, are you?"

She pushed herself away from the table. "My reputation?"

His eyes flickered down the length of her. Now as before, her trousers seemed to give him pause, but only for the instant it took for his usual indifference to assert itself across his features. "I can assure you that you will be perfectly safe here."

That was encouraging news, though she would have preferred that he not look so thoroughly uninterested, as if he couldn't imagine anyone compromising her virtue.

"Actually, it is my reputation that concerns me. You know how reputations are." She was prattling but couldn't seem to stop. "They have a way of following you wherever you go."

A dark shadow crossed his face, as if she'd touched a nerve. "In that case, I can put your mind at ease. No one but Matthew and myself will ever know where you spent the night. I can assure you that your reputation shall remain intact."

She hated feeling stranded or dependent on anyone. She lifted her chin boldly. "That's very kind of you but I prefer sleeping outside in the wagon. If you would be kind enough to lend me a blanket and pillow."

His gaze remained on her face as he addressed his son. "Matthew, please carry a bedroll outside for our guest."

Matthew slipped off his chair and pulled a bedroll out of a wooden trunk. He waited at the door for Maddie.

"Is there anything else you'll be needing?" Mr. Tyler's low-timbered voice suddenly struck her as too personal, too intimate in tone.

"No, thank you." Good Lord, now he had her talking in intimate whispers. "No, thank you," she repeated. This time she spoke with a loud, bold voice that brought another layer of fine dust sifting down from the ceiling. Brushing the dirt off herself, she realized that he spoke softly for practical purposes and the intimate quality of his speech was purely by accident.

Feeling foolish and a bit light-headed from the wine, she backed toward the door and purposely softened her voice to match his. "I'm most obliged to you, Mr. Tyler, for your hospitality. Dinner was delicious."

"I apologize for the way I greeted you earlier. I really did think you were someone else."

"I'm glad I wasn't…someone else, I mean." She groaned inwardly. What a ridiculous thing to say. Evidently, she was more exhausted than she had thought. "Good night."

"Good night."

She followed Matthew outside to the wagon and was greatly relieved when Mr. Tyler made no attempt to follow.

Without thinking, she slammed the door shut and grimaced. How much of the ceiling was dislodged this time she had no idea. Furthermore, she had no intention of finding out.

 

Chapter 4

 

It was pitch-dark outside, and although Maddie was having a difficult time gaining her night vision, Matthew seemed to have no problem finding the wagon. The boy might not be able to speak but, apparently, he had the keen night eyes of a cat.

The wind had died down completely, and the smell of fire was barely noticeable.

Rutabaga gave a soft neigh as they approached. "Thank you, Matthew. I can handle the rest." She took the bedroll from him and flung it over the sides of the wagon.

She would have welcomed the boy's company, but no sooner had he handed her the bedroll than he unharnessed her horse and led it away.

With a nervous glance around her, she placed one foot on the wagon wheel and heaved herself over the side. Unable to see a thing, she depended on touch alone to locate the bedroll and spread it out.

What a relief it was to free her feet from the confines of her lace-up boots. She wiggled her stockinged toes and placed the boots to the side. She felt in her trunk for her linen nightgown and shook it out.

In no time at all, she was undressed and ready for bed. She longed to brush her teeth, but it was so dark, she didn't dare trek to the water barrel.

She climbed between the quilted folds of the bedroll and focused upon the only star bright enough to shine through the layers of dusty night air.

The howl of coyotes sounded in the distance.

Sleep was a long time in coming. Her imagination tended to be active under normal circumstances, but never had it asserted such vivid control over her thoughts as it did during those next few hours.

The least sound convinced her that Indians were hiding in the shadows, ready to attack her person and to claim her scalp as a prize.

Her only comfort was the dull light shining from the window of the soddy. She felt a sense of loss when at last the light flickered out and its comforting glow was replaced with a thick black voice.

She'd never felt so lonely in her life.

After turning off the gas lantern, Luke slipped into bed next to his sleeping son.

Normally he had no trouble sleeping. His work in the fields was grueling. That, along with his household duties and his parental responsibilities, required him to exert his full physical and mental capabilities on a daily basis. He usually fell asleep the instant his head hit the pillow.

Not tonight. Tonight he found himself staring at the dark ceiling, thinking about his unexpected guest.

He tried to think of a word to describe her, but none came readily to mind. She was taller than a woman had a right to be and as slender as a sapling. Her face was neither pretty nor plain. Appealing, though. Definitely appealing. And her hair…what a glorious head of hair she had. Vibrant red in color, it was almost identical to bird's-eye maple wood when it was polished to it's highest sheen.

He wondered what she'd say if she knew he had likened her hair to a tree. She'd be insulted, no doubt, but he meant no harm by it. It was a compliment, actually. He'd been a woodworker before he became a farmer, and he felt an abiding affection for trees. The longer he lived on this wasted prairie, the more he missed the lush green woods of upstate
New York
, where he was born and raised. It was the only thing he missed about the place.

He should have insisted that she sleep inside. At the very least, he could have offered her the barn. As soon as that idea occurred to him, he realized why he had not thought to let her sleep in the barn.

The barn was a part of the past. He'd managed, somehow, to put the sod outbuilding so far out of his mind that he hardly remembered it was there anymore. Neither he nor Matthew had set foot in that barn for two years.

He folded his pillow in two and rolled on his side. Much to his surprise, a vision of flashing green eyes floated out of the darkness. Green as a forest in summer. His breath escaped him in a deep sigh of longing and regret. The woman wouldn't be half bad to look at if she'd pack a bit of meat on those bones of hers.

Not half bad at all.

At first she didn't know what had awakened her. She rolled to her back and listened, afraid to breathe. She tried to make sense out of the strange rumbling sound that seemed to be growing louder. Thunder, she thought, and wondered how she would ever manage to keep dry in the rain. What a fine kettle of fish!

Rutabaga snorted from somewhere close by. From behind the soddy came the neigh of another horse, followed by the squawks of chickens and the low mooing of a cow.

The wagon began to vibrate, and Maddie fought her way out of her bedroll and sat up. The sound of thunder grew louder, but curiously enough the sky was studded with stars, the dust now settled. Puzzled, she searched the darkness for signs of lightning.

The door to the soddy flew open and her eyes blinked against the bright light of a lantern.

Mr. Tyler ran out of the house, shouting directions to his young son. He ran past the wagon to the side of the house and began swinging his lantern back and forth, creating an arc of light around him.

Watching wide-eyed and bewildered through the slats of the wagon, Maddie slipped on her boots, scrambled over the splintered wood side, and dropped to the ground.

She stumbled toward him, the ground vibrating through the soles of her boots. "What is it?" she cried. "What are you doing?"

"Here!" Mr. Tyler yanked the blanket from his son and shoved it into her hands. "Matthew, go back and get another blanket!" To her, he shouted, "Don't just stand there--start flapping!"

Not sure what it was, exactly, that he wanted her to do, she shook the blanket up and down, much like she was shaking out a dustrag.

"Damn it, woman, shake it!" he bellowed.

"But…" Her mouth fell open as a dark mass suddenly descended upon them. A cold terror swept thought her as realization dawned. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of buffalo were headed straight toward them.

"Shake it!" Mr. Tyler shouted, his voice all but drowned out by the sound of frantic hooves.

Her eyes wide with disbelief and fear, she shook the blanket up and down with as much urgency as her quivering bones would allow.

BOOK: Wind Song
4.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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