So in light of being short on brain power, I’ve borrowed something that perfectly matches my mood that I found on some other lazy person’s blog. She gave me permission to steal it. Why not? She stole it herself from someone who stole it from someone else. That’s not dishonest, that’s A TEAM EFFORT.
Do you ever get those ‘Out Of Office’ replies to emails? Well, they’re annoying and boring aren’t they. Someone somewhere has gone to the effort to make them a little more fun. Here’s a list of auto replies that you might see in your email box some day.
1. I am currently out of the office at a job interview and will reply to you if I fail to get the position. Please be prepared for my mood.
2. You are receiving this automatic notification because I am out of the office. If I was in, chances are you wouldn’t have received anything at all.
3. Sorry to have missed you, but I’m at the doctor’s having my brain and heart removed so I can be promoted to our management team.
4. I will be unable to delete all the emails you send me until I return from vacation. Please be patient, and your mail will be deleted in the order it was received.
5. Thank you for your email. Your credit card has been charged $5.99 for the first 10 words and $1.99 for each additional word in your message.
6. The email server is unable to verify your server connection. Your message has not been delivered. Please restart your computer and try sending again.
7. Thank you for your message, which has been added to a queuing system. You are currently in 352nd place, and can expect to receive a reply in approximately 19 weeks.
8. Hi, I’m thinking about what you’ve just sent me. Please wait by your PC for my response.
9. I’ve run away to join a different circus.
“Mercy me, what’s wrong?” Her sister yelled from the chicken coop across the farmyard. “A snake? A spider?”
“No. It’s just…” Serenity moved her foot gingerly from the soft, steaming pile. “I misstepped. It’s got all over my good shoe. And my petticoat hem.”
With a loud moo, Marguerite slapped the pail with her tail. Milk slopped down the front of Serenity’s skirt, and she wailed again. “Oh, I planned to wear this to school in the morning. I must make a good impression on my students the first day.”
Nerves slipped up and down her spine like a meadow snake.Or what she thought that would feel like. What had she gotten herself into…thinking she could teach anybody anything?
As she stepped outside the old soddy, she held tight to the bucket and tried to settle her stress. When she was child, the family had lived inside, but now, the structure kept their animals safe from bad weather and wolves. And rain.
Rain? Her heart sank.
“I smell it,” she moaned.
“No wonder,” announced Amity who came over with her egg basket and gave a quick examination. “Marguerite is a good-size gal. She eats a great deal and well, you know.”
Serenity glared. “Not that. I smell rain.”
“Rain? The sunset is glorious. Not a storm cloud anywhere.”
Clucking her tongue, Serenity glanced toward the sun as it fell into the horizon flat as a griddle. She sniffed again. Soon’s she saved enough money, she’d be off to the Green Mountains of Vermont to visit Aunt Geraldine.
“No, it’s rain. I’m sure of it,” she said firmly. “And that’s all I need tomorrow. Twenty-two youngsters cooped up after a long summer.”
She shivered with downright fear as they walked to the stalwart wood farmhouse. “Those Sharpton boys would scare the stuffing out of the Christmas goose. Amos is only eleven but he’s taller than I am.”
“You’ll be a grand schoolmarm,” Amity insisted. “But I can assist you if you like.”
Serenity scoffed gently, for her sister wasn’t much older than some of the bigger boys. “Thanks, but I’d best earn that gold eagle all by myself. No sense in getting Papa displeased with you as well.”
Indeed, Papa acted like her decision to take over the schoolroom for a few weeks was a scourge instead of a blessing at a needy time. The harvest had been meager. Truth to tell, he wasn’t at all pleased about her travel plans, either.
She sighed. As they reached the back door, Papa and Timothy Larsen stepped out of it. So distracted by her spoiled clothes, Serenity hadn’t noticed their neighbor’s fine black gelding ground-tethered near Mama’s garden. He dipped his head and touched the brim of his black Stetson at her.
Upon sight of him, her heart rose to her throat before it tumbled to her toes. But she hardened it right up. Truth to tell, Timothy was a good man, young, handsome and prosperous, but last thing she neededwas a widow-man with two small girls to raise.
“He’s cold, Parson. That’s all we need to know. You’re a pretty li’l thing, China Doll. I’d sure like you under my blankets keepin’ me warm through this next winter.”
“Pick, li’l lady.” A tall, thin man pressed forward from the right. “I’ve got chores to home.”
“See here, I won’t stand for this.” The parson stumbled and nearly fell, knocking into Cassie.
“You’re leavin’, Parson. We get it done now, today, or she’ll be livin’ with one of us for months till you come back. Griff’s young’un’ll be born and she’ll be broodin’ with a new one by then.”
“She will if she don’t marry an old codger like you.”
An outburst of laughter send Cassie stumbling backward. Her stomach heaved at the sickening things they were saying.
Cassie recognized that awful voice. Mort Sawyer had arrived.
A huge black horse pranced right up through the middle of the mob. Mort seemed unconcerned if he trampled anyone under iron shod hooves and the men seemed to know it. They snarled and grumbled in protest, but they fell back far enough to allow the man through, like wolves giving way before the leader of the pack.
“Parson, let’s get it over and done.”
A howl of protest exploded from the other men
She heard the parson say, “I’ll not marry a woman to someone against her will, Sawyer. I won’t conduct such a travesty. This isn’t something you can dictate. You let her go right this. . .”
Mort grabbed the parson by the front of his black suit. “You’ll marry us, Parson or I’ll take her home and after she’s given me a son or two, she’ll agree nice enough.”
Mort shoved the parson back and he fell to the ground. A man who would do that to a preacher would do unspeakable things to his wife.
Darkness spun in front of her. A quiet voice behind her cut through the noise.
“I’ll marry Mrs.Griffin, if she’ll have me.”
Cassie’s head cleared and, as she twisted around to locate the owner of that kind voice, her eyes focused on Red Dawson. The man she’d hated more than any other on this earth ten minutes ago.
With a voice as out of place as a breeze in the midst of a tornado, Red asked, ““Whattaya say, Cassie, will you marry me?”
“Parson, it’s settled. We get it done now!” Mort roared.
Cassie still hated Red Dawson, although less than she had a few minutes ago. Or more correctly, she now hated other people more.
Unless Griff’s grave opened this minute and let her jump in, Cassie didn’t see as she had much choice. A minute passed as the chaos went on around her and the trampled grave stayed closed and, as if someone else spoke out of her lips, she said, “Yes. . .”
She almost said ‘Red’ before it occurred to her that Red must be a nickname. She didn’t know the name of the man who proposed to her. It was humiliating to ask him.
Somehow it seemed less humiliating to just say, “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
The cowhand named Obie spat on the ground. The glob landed at Josie’s feet. As she stepped back, Ty grabbed Obie by the collar and lifted him to his toes. “Mind your manners, Jones.”
Ty lifted him higher. “What did you say?”
“Mizz Bright’s no lady.”
Josie blanked her face, but she felt the sting of Obie’s words. After her father died, she’d learned to be tough. She drove hard bargains and wore trousers when she worked. She liked pretty things as much as any woman, but she’d traded lace for denim and hat pins for a Stetson. She liked the Stetson just fine, but sometimes she longed for the lace.
Right now, she didn’t care about either. She had to keep Obie from quitting.
Ty had no such concern. Using both hands, he hurled the man against the wall. Obie hit with a thud but came back swinging. Ty ducked, then landed a punch that sent Obie to the ground. Gordie cussed, then swung at Ty. The blow snapped back his head.
“Stop it!” Josie ordered.
Fists still flew and curses filled the air. Blood spilled from a cut on Ty’s jaw, but he didn’t seem to care. Josie knew better than to get between brawling males. Instead she went to the water trough on the side of the barn, filled a bucket and lugged it back around the corner.
She’d have gladly doused the three of them, but the fight had already ended. Obie was sitting on the ground, wiping blood from his nose. Gordie had dropped to his knees and was tossing up his breakfast. Ty alone had stayed on his feet, but he was destined for a black eye, maybe two.
Josie saw red. “I can’t believe you gentlemen!”
Obie glared at Ty. “Believe it, Mizz Bright. I quit.”
“Me, too,” said Gordie.
Panic welled in her middle. “But–”
“Get lost,” Ty ordered.
Gordie managed to stand. “She owes us wages.”
Josie felt ill. She owed them a month’s pay and didn’t have it.
Ty pulled a billfold out of his pocket, then looked at Josie. “How much?”
She shook her head. “I can’t let you do it.”
“Sure, you can.”
She bit her lip. “This isn’t your problem.”
Ty looked peeved. Before she could argue, Gordie named the exact amount.
Ty opened his billfold and held out the money. As Obie took his share, he glared at Ty. “You owe me for the smokes.”
“Sure.” Ty tossed a handful of pennies to the ground. “That ought to cover it.”
Obie sneered at him. “You’re gonna pay for this, Donner.”
“I expect so.”
More broke than prideful, Obie stooped to pick up the coins, then motioned for Gordie to follow him to the bunkhouse. With Ty shadowing them, the men packed their things and saddled their horses. She didn’t know whether to be angry with Ty or grateful. She needed help, but Obie and Gordie had given her nothing but grief.
As the men rode off, Ty started to chuckle.
Josie put her hands on her hips. “What’s so funny?”
In spite of the bruises, he looked pleased with himself. “I always did like a good fight. I guess I still do.”
“That was good?”
“One of the best.” His expression turned serious. “Those men disrespected you, Josie. I won’t tolerate that treatment for you or for Isabel. I have it coming. You don’t.”
Josie disagreed. “No one deserves meanness. That includes you.”
He grinned. “There you go again.”
“Being nice to worthless fools . . . You have a real knack for it.”
“In your dreams,” Cara had said to Kevin when he’d made that outlandish request, but he’d only grinned with mischief and said,
“something like that.”
Now, dressed in jeans and wearing leather boots Kevin had provided, Cara sat upon Dream Catcher, the five-year old mare who had been born at TCC’s stables when Cara had been living with Kevin.Growing up with horses on her parent’s estate, Cara had forgotten how much she loved riding.She and Kevin would take an occasional ride in their early years of marriage, before he’d been too obsessed with work to take the time.
The day Dream Catcher was born, Cara had rushed to the stables and the moment she’d seen the feisty little filly, she’d fallen a little bit in love. To sit upon the sweet mare and ride off into the hills of Maverick County with Kevin seemed almost like a dream.
The Texas sun lowered onto the horizon and burst hues of orange gold onto the valley as they rode in silence. There was a quiet settle to the land, a peace like nothing Cara had experienced for a long time.She’d been so caught up in the fast pace of Dallas, that she’d forgotten what it was like to be with nature. Kevin seemed to understand that, setting the slow pace and enjoying the scenery. There was an odd sense of comfort being here with him. She could almost forget his blackmail and his manipulation.
She slid a glance his way and let go a little sigh.Looking just as comfortable atop a horse as he was cutting a deal in his downtown office, Kevin acclimated well.Dressed in solid Wranglers, a blue plaid shirt and black Stetson, her husband dressed down very nicely.
“You’re staring at me,” he said with a grin.
“Oh, you’d like to think so.”Caught, Cara averted her gaze, hiding her own grin.
“I know so.See anything you like?”
Cara sobered at his question. “I don’t know, Kevin. Do I?”
Kevin clucked his jaw a few times. “You need to lighten up, Cara.Enjoy the scenery.”
“And you think you’re part of that scenery?”
“Me,” he said, lowering the brim of his hat. “No ma’am. I wouldn’t presume.”
Cara chuckled. Okay, maybe she should just lighten up. She didn’t like Kevin’s blackmail, but she could enjoy the ride. If for no other reason, she was atop Dream Catcher on a glorious late summer evening.
“I see a whole lot I like,” Kevin said quietly, after a minute.
Cara sensed his gaze on her and a burning heat crawled up her neck.She didn’t dare look at him.A lump formed in her throat. She didn’t trust herself to respond.
They rode in silence until the dirt path led them to a rise. “Wait here,” Kevin said mysteriously, and clicked his mare into a trot. He rode on about ten yards to the peak of the rise then turned toward her. “Okay, come on up.” He gestured with a wave.
Dream Catcher followed the path in a trot, until Cara met Kevin at the top of the rise. Looking into his eyes first then following the direction of his gaze, Cara gasped at the view below. “Oh, Kevin. This is amazing.”
A small well-kept cottage on the TCC property was lit outside by at least a hundred pillar candles.A table, dressed in white linen was set with fine china, crystal wine glasses and lilies of every variety.
“It’s beautiful.”Tears stung her eyes. Why couldn’t he have done something like this years ago when their marriage was shaky? When she needed attention. When she needed to know she was more important than his business. Oh, Kevin, she thought, why are you doing this now when it’s too late?Her questions plagued her, but she pushed them out of her mind.
Lighten up, Cara.
This is temporary.
“I’m glad you like it.” Kevin pushed his horse on and Dream Catcher followed him down the other side of the rise. When they reached the cottage, Kevin dismounted.He walked over to Cara and reached for her.She slid down the left side of the horse into Kevin’s arms. He held her, their gazes entwined as luminous candles lit the backdrop.
“You were always gorgeous in candlelight, babe.”
Cara smiled, the compliment warming her heart.
Kevin tilted his head, the brim of his Stetson grazing her forehead. She braced herself for the kiss, tightening up inside in anticipation.
Kevin brushed his lips slightly over hers in the lightest feather touch of a kiss then backed away. Cara blinked, a little surprised.
He took her hand. “Have a seat.” He guided her to the table and pulled out the chair for her. “I’ll see to the horses.”
She watched him take the reins of both horses and go behind the cottage. When he returned and sat down, a chef appeared at the table wearing a white coat and tall hat, a waiter standing just behind him. “I hope you enjoy the meal Mister and Missus Novak,” the chef said.
“I’m sure we will,” Kevin returned, with a nod.
Cara sat quietly while the waiter served their first course, a little pastry puff filled with light cheese and raspberries.She took her first bite and closed her eyes. “Oh…this is heaven.”
When she opened her eyes, Kevin’s gaze was on her, watching her enjoy the pastry with a gleam in his eyes. “The chef came highly recommended.”
Cara was again tempted to ask, why was he going to so much trouble?The question still plagued her, but she’d already decided that she would just go with the flow and see where that would take her, so she remained silent on the subject. “I can see why. He’s already got my vote for Chef of the Year.”
Kevin poured them each a glass of light wine.
Cara sat back in her seat and stared into Kevin eyes. “You can be so charming, when you want to be.”
“I want to be. Right now. With you.”
Why? Cara didn’t understand it, but the voice in her head told her to go with it and enjoy these last few days with Kevin.Soon enough, their marriage would be over.
When they finished all four courses of the main meal Kevin suggested they go inside the cottage for coffee and dessert. “The chef made us something special.”
“I should be full, but I can always fit in dessert,” Cara said, feeling the zipper of her jeans expanding a bit. She was slender and at five foot eight, she could afford to eat a decadent dessert once in a while.
Kevin stood and reached for her hand. With fingers entwined, they entered the cottage, climbing the steps, their boots scraping the wooden floors. Cara made a quick tour of the quaint cottage noting the rustic stone fireplace, cozy chintz sofa and several swag-draped pane windows. “It’s lovely here.”
“It was the groundskeeper’s home at one time. TCC let it go to ruin, practically. I renovated it and now it’s available-”
“For impressing your dates?” she blurted, in a teasing tone.
Kevin whipped around and grabbed her by the waist, bringing her flush up against him. “You have a mouth on you, don’t you?”
Cara pulled her head back to look at him fully. “You always liked my sassy mouth.”
Kevin’s gaze devoured her mouth. He cupped her head with one hand and pulled her close, his lips ever so close. “I still do.”
Cara’s heart pumped double time when he kissed her. He tasted of robust wine and warmth. He tasted familiar and fine. He tasted of all the sweet things in her life she missed. “Kevin.”
“I love it when you whimper my name,” he said between kisses.
“I didn’t whimper,” Cara protested mildly.Kevin cupped her derriere and tugged her in. Hip jamming hip, she felt his desire, rough against rough as their jeans brushed.
Kevin nibbled on her throat. “Really? Guess I’m gonna have to do something about that.”
Dying wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to a man.
Ask Jericho Cane.
He felt as though he’d traveled over six hundred miles of bad road and his soul was weary of the journey.
Jericho laid down the oily cleaning rag and began putting his Colt back together piece by piece until it was a lethal weapon again.
Wiping down the barrel, he pondered his need for vigilance and with that need, his close association with the devil.
Or so some claimed and it probably held more truth than not. A man who entered the world on Friday the thirteenth could expect to be more sinner than saint.
Small justification for his surly mood.
A sudden curse rent the stillness, bouncing off the walls inside the house at the edge of Genesis, Texas.
God must be having quite a laugh at his expense!
A genesis, a beginning? It was more like the end, a living death, a purgatory. Definitely not a start to anything good.
Nope, there was nothing funny about Genesis. Or his life.
Snapping the loaded cartridge wheel of the .45 shut, Jericho Cane laid it on the table and dropped his head. He’d seen the aftermath of Texas twisters and compared the chaos to his life. Once a strong, sturdy oak, now his roots had been ripped from the earth to lie naked and bruised.
The truth threatened to burst from him as though bullets from his Colt and scatter like seeds in the wind.
Damn the bastards!
They would destroy him without a flicker of remorse. And his enemies weren’t satisfied to riddle his security.
They wanted more.
Like the walls of Jericho that came tumbling down when the Israelites marched around them, so would he one day.
But not before a fight.
The muscles in Cane’s jaw tightened as he glared at his surroundings. The cleaned and ready six shooter never far from reach. The worn leather holster hanging from the back of a wooden chair. He wouldn’t leave the house without them.
The loud tick of the clock crept toward noon. It was hours before night fell and he could go out.
The room seemed to shift and her face faded. He fought the sensation, but couldn’t stop the invasion of the past. He was a boy again and the worn out form of his mother lay on the bed.
He scuffed the toe of his worn-out boots in the dirt as he neared the front door. He was late and she was going to be mad, ‘cause he’d been fighting again. It wasn’t his fault, though. Darn that Billy Jenkins anyway, making fun of Mama that way.
He shoved open the door, his excuse practiced and ready. But she wasn’t in her usual chair by the window. “Mama?” The kitchen was empty; so was the backyard. Heading down the short, shabby hall, his steps slowed. Something was wrong. He eased open the door of her room. She lay all stretched out on the bed, wearing her Sunday dress and her best shoes. The blue bottle she always kept close was lying on the bed, the white liquid pouring into a puddle by her side.
“Mama!” He shook her, but she wouldn’t wake up. He ran to the neighbors. Mrs. Harrison would know what to do. But she didn’t. The old woman tried to send him for a doctor, but Jaret refused to leave. The doctor wasn’t going to come to their house when they had no money to pay him. Instead, he’d stayed by her side and fought for the life his mother no longer wanted.
Clara pushed Foxfire to a lope, feeling the joyful stretch of the colt’s body between her knees.There was an old barbed wire fence between the ranch land and her grandmother’s property.But the wires were down in several places where the cattle had butted against the posts.It would be easy to jump the horse through.
They came up fast on the fence, with Clara leaning forward in the saddle.She was urging her mount to a jump when she caught sight of the gleaming new barbed wire at the level of the colt’s chest.
Some fool had fixed the fence!
With an unladylike curse, she wrenched the reins to one side.The pressure on his bit-tender mouth sent Foxfire into a frenzy.He reared and stumbled sideways.Thrown from the saddle Clara slammed to the ground.For a terrifying instant the colt teetered above her, hoofs flailing.Then he regained his balance, wheeled and galloped away.
Clara lay gasping on her back.Cautiously she moved her arms and legs.Nothing felt broken, but the hard landing had knocked the wind out of her.She took a moment to gather her wits.First she needed to catch her breath.Then she would need to get up and catch her horse.After that she intended to hunt down the addle-pated so-and-so who’d replace the sagging wire and give him a piece of her mind.
“Are you all right?”The voice that spoke was distinctly male, with a gravelly undertone.The face that loomed into sight above her was square-boned with a long, stubbled jaw.Tawny curls, plastered with sweat and dust, tumbled over blazing blue eyes.
It flashed through her mind that her virtue could be in serious danger.But the man leaning over her didn’t look lustful.He looked concerned—and furious.
Clara struggled to speak but the fall had left her breathless.It was all she could do to return his scowl.
“What in hell’s name did you think you were doing?” he growled.“You damn near ran that horse into the wire.You could’ve cut its chest to pieces and broken your own fool neck in the bargain.”
Summoning her strength Clara rose up on her elbows and found her voice.“What right do you have to question me?” she retorted.“Who are you and what are you doing on Seavers land?”
His gaze flickered over the straining buttons of her plaid shirt, then averted to his own muddy boots.The boots, Clara noticed, were expensively made.Most likely the rough-looking fellow had stolen them.
“Begging your pardon.”His voice was razor-edged.“Until you fell off your horse, I was on the other side of the fence—Mrs. Gustavson’s fence, if I’m to believe her, and I do.She’s hired me to make some repairs.”
Clara scrambled to her feet.One hand brushed the damp earth off the seat of her denim jeans.“Mary Gustavson is my grandmother, and this fence has been down for as long as I can remember.Whose addle-brained idea was it to put the wire up?”
Josephine Wylie marched back inside the livery, still madder than a dunked cat.If those two mangy curs had done anything to hurt Danny–
Her eyes lit on the fancily-dressed stranger, and she suddenly had a target for her anger.
He smiled and stepped forward.“I believe introductions are in order.I’m Ryland Lassiter.”
She ignored the hand.“You’re also a flea-brained fool.What in Sam Hill did you think you were doing?”
He stiffened, slowly lowering his hand.“I was coming to the aid of that stalwart young man at your side.”
Hah!Did he think he was going to win her over with his highfalutin talk and that toe-tingly deep voice of his?She planted her fists on her hip.“By going up against two gun-toting varmints with nothing but a pitchfork?”
“Now see here–”
She didn’t give him a chance to finish.“Mister, you might be the biggest toad in the pond where you come from, but that don’t mean beans around here.If you want to risk your own hide, that’s your business, but your blamed fool actions put Danny in danger too.That’s either pebble-brained stupidity or grizzly-sized disregard for others, neither of which I can stomach.”
“Nor can I.”The man’s words were controlled but she didn’t miss the flash of temper in his storm-gray eyes.“I also can’t abide bullies.When I arrived, Danny was already trying to face them down.I only–”
“What!”Jo’s heartbeat kicked up a notch as she swung around.“Daniel Edward Atkins, I’ve told you before, nothing’s worth getting shot over.If someone gives you this kind of trouble, let it go and we’ll get Sheriff Hammond to handle it afterwards.”
The boy kicked at a clod of dirt.“I’m big enough to hold my own.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder.“Danny, I got to know you’re going to mind what I tell you when I leave you in charge.”
He gave a reluctant nod, then glanced past her, reminding Jo they weren’t alone.
All morning she managed to avoid the haunting allure of a room shrouded by heavy draperies. Streaks of light cut through the darkness, brightening silky pink wallpaper and piercing her memories, awakening images of another time—another life.
Instead of taking the stairs, Maggie stepped into the play of light and shadows of a parlor where dust lay thick on every surface. Fine-boned furnishings maintained a delicate beauty beneath the musty odor and a floating shimmer of intricate webs. A piano, alone in a corner, held her transfixed. Ghostly whispers of familiar melodies echoed in the back of her mind.
She hadn’t seen a piano since she’d sat at her own. Her father’s actually.
Play something sweet for me, Maggie.
His image drew her closer, his long frame relaxed in the pink tufted chair, his eyes closed, his silver hair a soft wave against his forehead. Her fingers reached toward ivory keys as she settled on the cool rosewood bench. Her father’s favorite song trickled through her mind as her fingertips brushed the smooth surface, her light touch barely disturbing a silty film. Her hands moved silently over the keys, following the music playing in mind.
Well done, Button. Your mother could not have played any sweeter. It will be a lucky suitor who wins your delicate hand.
Her gaze fell to the scarred and calloused fingers poised over the keys. Sadness rushed her heart at the thought of her father’s disappointment. He’d loved her and had envisioned nothing but refined comfort for her future. He hadn’t meant to leave her unprepared for the harsh realities of her life.
A prickling chill crept up the back of her neck. The internal warning she’d been too naive to recognize at the age of thirteen pulled her from her thoughts. She glanced over her shoulder and spied a tall figure looming. She gasped, lunging up. As she turned her hip banged against the piano. A clash of heavy vibrations exploded across the room.
“Maggie?” His rich voice eased her fright.
His face moved into a spray of light, casting off the dark pallor of old memories. The purple smudges beneath his hazel eyes and the puffy gash above his eyebrow reminded her that she’d been heading upstairs. Her gaze collided with his bare chest and followed the dusting of crisp blond hair to denims riding low on his hips, the top button unfastened. His bare feet were the only part of his exposed body not baring bruises.
“What are you doing out of bed?”
“Lookin’ for my magpie.”
Mercerville, Pennsylvania, 1863
Lorena Rose peered through the slit between the faded damask drapes that covered the window in the upstairs hall of The Hedward Girls Academy. The last remaining young woman was being escorted into a carriage by her father. Well, not the last.
She glanced over her shoulder at the eight-year-old who sat alone in the roomy alcove used for reading and studying. Emily Sadler had stacked a pile of books on the worn divan beside her, and now focused intently on the one she held. The shelves behind her were empty.
The space that had once been filled with students and chairs and books was glaringly bare. Everything had been sold to pay debts.
Lorena’s stomach quaked as it had every time she’d thought of the financial crisis that had closed this school where she’d grown up, scattering the only people she knew.
This was home.
On the street below, Mrs. Hugh stood watching the carriage pull away. She held herself stiffly, her posture as perfect as that of the students she’d taught for the past thirty years. The woman turned, instinctively glancing up at the window where Lorena stood. She then gathered the hem of her brown serge skirts and hurried toward the door below, disappearing from view.
Lorena turned away from the window. “I’m going to see about our supper.”
Emily acknowledged her with a polite nod.
Downstairs, Lorena met Mrs. Hugh in the hallway that led back to her office and the kitchen beyond. “I see Jeanette has taken her leave,” Lorena said.
“Yes.” The lines radiating from the corner of the woman’s eyes had deepened over the past months. “Only Emily remains, and we still haven’t heard from her mother. My son is coming for me tomorrow.”
She raised her gaze to Lorena’s finally, steeling her expression.
“If I may have her mother’s address, I will continue to try to reach her,” Lorena offered. She and Emily were the last two castoffs.
Mrs. Hugh picked the only thing on the desk, and handed the folder to Lorena.
Lorena glanced at the headmistress hesitantly before opening it. She’d never seen one of the student’s files. There, in neat script were dates and numbers, detailing a history of the child’s time at the school. Emily had come here on April fifth of the year eighteen hundred and fifty five. Her approximate length and weight were recorded, as were eye and hair color. She’d been an infant.
Her mother was listed as Meriel Sadler, but the line for a father had been left blank. Payments had been recorded every six month interval for the past eight years. Mrs. Hugh had noted each bank draft signed by Mr. Roman Terlesky, even recording postmarks from various parts of the country and overseas.
Puzzled, Lorena looked up. “Is Mr. Terlesky her father?”
“I don’t believe so. He may be her stepfather or merely her mother’s…close friend. In any case he supplied her tuition all these years.”
“Has either of them visited her?”
“Her mother visited once or twice when she was very small,” the woman answered. “I doubt the child remembers her.”
Their abandonment stirred Lorena’s anger. Emily’s situation was painfully similar to her own. Lorena’s anonymous tuition had stopped coming when she’d been twelve, and she’d been forced to work in the kitchen and help with the laundry to pay her keep. All these years and she’d never known where she’d come from or who had abandoned her. “May I see my own file?”
Without hesitation, Mrs. Hugh turned to a crate and flipped through the meager stack of remaining papers. “You may have it. And the girl’s. I have no further need for them.”
Lorena opened this folder with more trepidation than she had the last. Her heart skipped a few beats and then raced.
In black ink, the same penmanship recorded the date she’d come to the school. She’d been two years old.
Nothing appeared on the lines that called for a mother and father’s name nor was there a date of birth. She stared at the blank spaces, her eyes dry and burning. “There’s nothing here.”
“We weren’t given contacts.” Mrs. Hughes moved a page to find her handwritten record on a piece of heavy stationary. “You were brought to the front door by a lad who said he’d been paid to deliver you. He produced an envelope that contained money to pay your keep for a year.
“After that, bank drafts came from an anonymous source.” She looked up at Lorena with regret in her eyes. “Until December 1853, at which time there was no check, no notice, no anything. We never heard from your benefactor again.”
Lorena had always known she’d been abandoned. That wasn’t news. But she’d imagined—or dreamed perhaps—that one day she’d learn who her parents had been. Even if they hadn’t wanted her or been able to care for her, she would know their names.
But this…. A soul-deep hollow ache defied her to ignore the humiliation. She wasn’t even a person if she lacked parents and a date of birth. She frowned in confusion. “Where did my name come from?”
“One of the teachers at the time,” Mrs. Hugh explained. “Miss Porter. Do you remember her?”
Lorena nodded. Miss Porter had died several years ago after working at the school for many years.
“Her mother’s name had been Lorena, and she always said your mouth looked like a pretty little rose.” Mrs. Hugh actually smiled. “You were a beautiful infant. One of the prettiest we ever had. Miss Porter took an instant liking to you, and she named you.”
“And my birthday?”
“Miss Porter guessed and selected a date she liked.”
With a stoic lack of emotion, Lorena thumbed through the pathetically few pages and the even more pathetically few notations. Her grades and academic achievements had been listed. She noted her first date of employment at age twelve, and her gradual promotions from the kitchen and the laundry to teaching in the schoolroom.
Her entire life consisted of a list of financial records and class grades. No birthplace, no parents, no name.
Her parents hadn’t cared enough to name her, and if they had, they hadn’t cared enough to see she kept it.
Lorena closed the folder and picked up Emily’s. “Thank you.”
She’d known, of course. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that she’d been delivered like a bottle of milk and abandoned to spoil or seek her own fate.
“The academy did its best by you, Lorena,” Mrs. Hugh said.
“Yes,” she agreed. She’d always had a bed to sleep in and meals three times a day. This place had been her entire life.
She glanced down at the brown folders.
“There is other family listed in Emily’s file,” Mrs. Hugh told her.
Lorena quickly reopened the folder.
“An uncle, I believe.”
She flipped a page over and found the notation. “Jules Parrish. Oregon City, Montana.
“I only wrote him last week,” Mrs. Hugh said. I kept thinking I’d hear from her mother.”
“Did you telegraph?”
“The best of the furnishings and supplies barely paid for these last weeks here,” she replied. “I was hard-pressed just to afford postage to notify all the parents.”
Lorena nodded her understanding. Most likely the woman had been spending her own money.
Lorena earned her keep, and a pittance in wages. None this past month, however. Since she rarely went anywhere or shopped, she’d saved nearly all her previous earnings, though.
Mrs. Hugh’s uncomfortable expression revealed her regret at leaving the young teacher and student on their own. She’d done everything she could.
“I’ll take care of Emily,” Lorena reassured her.
“The new owners will be here Thursday,” Mrs. Hugh reminded her. “You only have until then.”
“We’ll be gone,” Lorena replied.
“You haven’t had good fortune with a teaching position?”
“Not yet,” she replied. “I’m sure I’ll hear something or find a good prospect.”
She wasn’t as confident as she let on, but she’d never given in to fear in her life, and she wasn’t going to start now. Especially not now.
She prepared a supper of oatmeal, sweetened with blackberries from the bushes that hedged the back of the property. The pantry shelves held only eight jars of pickles, a bag of oatmeal and a few canned goods.
The three of them ate in silence, each occupied with their own thoughts.
Their beds had been sold and removed, so Lorena and Emily prepared pallets of folded blankets in the room that Emily had shared with another teacher.
“Your mother still hasn’t replied to our letters,” Lorena told Emily as she spread the last blanket. She wasn’t going to give her false hopes by assuring her they would hear something soon, because it was entirely likely they wouldn’t.
“She probably didn’t get them wherever she is,” Emily replied, her voice and expression void of feeling.
“I’m going to take care of you,” Lorena told her. That was a promise she could make to this child with whom she felt a strong kinship. Emily was being abandoned just as Lorena had been. Lorena knew exactly what being unwanted felt like, and she wasn’t going to let this girl think nobody in the entire world cared about her.
Lorena herself was terrified. She’d never spent more than an hour or two away from the safety of the academy. All she knew how to do was teach young ladies, cook and clean. She had no prospects to continue here in Mercerville. She’d written all the surroundings cities, even as far as Ohio, without success.
Since her conversation with Mrs. Hugh, she’d been thinking. Emily had at least one relative beside her mother. She deserved to know her uncle. Perhaps the man’s family would be ecstatic to learn about Emily. Lorena imagined a family welcoming Emily to their home.
And once Emily had been united with her family, Lorena could find a teaching job.
“You have an uncle in Montana,” Lorena told her.
Emily’s studied Lorena with solemn brown eyes. “I do?”
Lorena sat cross-legged on her pallet across from the girl. “I think we should go there.”
Emily appeared to consider that for a few minutes. “How far is Montana?”
Lorena stood and picked up the oil lamp from the floor. “I’ll be right back.”
Previously, chairs and a rug had occupied the space at the end of the hall, but now her bare feet padded on the wood in the empty silence. She found several rolled maps standing in the corner, located the one she wanted, and returned to her room.
She placed the map on the floor and unrolled it, using the lamp to hold one side and Emily’s book the other.
Emily folded back her blanket and leaned over the map opposite Lorena. Her dark braids fell forward with the tips grazing the paper.
“Here we are.” Lorena pointed, locating a far western spot in Pennsylvania with her fingertip.
Emily had studied American geography and history, and wasn’t altogether unfamiliar with the western reaches of the country. She searched the states and cities. “Here’s Montana, Miss Rose.”
The distance was a good two feet on the enormous map. They studied the vast gap for several minutes.
Their eyes met, Emily’s dark and filled with questions, Lorena’s blue and determined.
“How far is that?” Emily asked.
“Let’s figure it out using the scale,” Lorena answered in her teacher’s voice.
“We don’t have a ruler,” Emily mentioned.
“Do you have a bookmark?”
Emily reached for a slip of paper she’d had between pages.
Lorena painstakingly marked the paper with her thumbnail according to the line on the scale in the corner, and together they laboriously followed the marks that represented railroad lines.
After several minutes of tallying, Lorena sat back on her heels. “Seventeen hundred miles. Plus about another inch or two, because I’m not certain where Oregon City is.”
A trip like that was inconceivable to a woman and child who’d rarely left the safety of this house. At that moment Lorena knew desperation at its peak, but she kept her expression and her voice calm. “I have savings we can use for train fare and food. Tomorrow we’ll go to Jamestown and learn about the train schedule.”
She gave Emily a confident nod. “We will find your family, and then I’ll acquire a job.”
Emily picked up her book, letting the map roll back into a cylinder against the oil lamp. She set the book aside and crept back to her pallet. “Maybe my mother will come tomorrow.”
Lorena didn’t have the heart to support the girl’s hope with an encouraging reply. She moved the map and lamp aside and turned down the wick.
She lay down, darkness closed around her. This wasn’t the same secure cover of night she’d known before now. Uncertainty and trepidation created shadows of doubt that remained after she’d closed her eyes.
But she had no choice. Nothing remained for her in Pennsylvania. She had no connections to anyone in the entire country. No one needed her—no one except Emily.
And Emily had people somewhere.
She was going to do whatever it took to unite Emily with her family. Every child deserved a chance. And Lorena was her only hope.
This blog was originally going to be about The Leonis Adobe, a historical site almost right in my backyard – which is one of my favorite places in the world.But two things happened – one I couldn’t snare the photos from Leonis Adobe from their website and you know what they say about one picture being worth a thousand words.
And two, my cat Skittles had me laughing so hard the other day, that I had to share this with my friends.
For those of you with quirky animals, you’ll relate!
Now, let me explain, Skittles is my love, my companion and my sidekick.She’s always with me. For years, when I had the older style computer, when I sat at my desk and wrote, she’d sit atop the computer and sleep or hang her leg down the screen and paw at it.Nowadays, I have a flat screen 22-inch monitor and I’m sure she’s cursing in Cat Lingo about losing her favorite spot. She still glances up there, to see if she can fit. Smartly, she hasn’t tried the jump, because no way would it hold her. She settles for sitting on the desk, which totally obstructs the screen until I can coax her to lie down or jump off.
At any rate my tuxedo cat Skittles or as I call her, Skitties or Skits is also known by family and friends as the Devil Cat. She really likes only three people in the world, with a few exceptions.Me, my dear hubby and my daughter.Somehow, she forgot my son, whom she used to sleep with and now has decided he’s good for an exorcist-type hiss and attack by claws.(I’m not exaggerating!)
Skittles will never win a Miss Congeniality contest.
We can never figure out why she runs away from some people and hides under the bed until they leave, or decides for some strange reason, the visitor is worth that said exorcist-type hiss and strike at, from her vantage point under the dining room table. My sister and her entire family are afraid of her.In fact, once when I was out of town, I coerced my sister to come feed her. Oh, she didn’t want to do it, but she REALLY owed me a big favor.Her twenty-year old son came with her, armed with a giant squirt bottle and their stories of dashing from room to room, locking themselves into my laundry room until the coast was clear, had my hubby and I in stitches of laughter.
Their fear of the Devil Cat is real!
Now, mind you, my Skittles is so sweet and loving to me, that it took me quite some time to believe these stories. I’ve decided that she’s a Heckal and Hyde Cat too. Do cats have dual personalities?In my case, YES.
Skittles is spoiled. I’ll admit it. But my hubby is just as guilty as I am. When she was a kitten, he’d bend down to pet her as she ate her kitten kibbles.Now, she runs into the kitchen and cries, meows and nips at our legs until we acknowledge that she’s eating – and darn it, we’d better pet her. Her purrs of joy tell us we’re good Cat Parents.
She’s the only cat I know who loves to drink coffee … no I don’t feed it to her, but Lo and Behold, if I walk away from my coffee cup, I’ll find her there, lapping it up as if it were a pint of milk. (I drink my coffee black and so, apparently does she).
Skittles’ latest antics really surprised me! Since I’ve been exercising regularly, doing aerobics, weights and Pilates, if I’m on the ground, she’ll meow like there’s no tomorrow. “I don’t know what you want,” I’d say to her.It’s almost as if I’m on her level– ground level and she feels excited to have me there. For whatever the reason, she won’t leave me alone when I exercise. The other day, after many meows and a few leg nips, (btw-I do reprimand her for those) I thought I’d show her a thing or two.I put down my weights and picked her up instead. I dipped up and down doing my lunges, side sweeps and deep knee bends, thinking she’d hate this and leave me alone.
Well, I was mistaken.
She loved it!Her purrs came loud and clear. She stayed in my arms during the whole routine. I couldn’t believe it. The Devil Cat turned into the Exercise Kitty.And at 13 pounds, she certainly weighs more than the weights I’d been lifting. A win, win situation for both of us.
To that, my husband said, “Now, she’s going to expect it every time.”Like I can’t just put her outside if I wanted. <Big grin here>
So, my question to all of you is, do you have pets? And what eccentric antics have they exhibited?I know they have them. I’ve decided animals are much like people – and you know how quirky humans can be!
Check out my new Desire Cover! I really like it. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon now, but in bookstores in September. It’s part of the Texas Cattleman’s Club continuity!
And to one commenter today, I’ll be giving away a book of your choice from my backlist!Thanks for blogging with me. I’ll announce the winner later in the day!