Missouri, April 4, 1852
sunlit corner of the cluttered Waldo, Hall & Company freight office,
Cullen Montgomery sat tipped back on a chair’s spindly rear legs reading
the newspaper and scratching a rough layer of morning whiskers.
Peters slumped in a leather-reading chair and propped his legs, covered
in faded cavalry pants, on a crate marked textiles and bound for Santa
Fe. “What you learning ‘bout in that gazette?”
chuckled at what little real news the paper printed. Since he no longer
lived in Edinburgh or Cambridge, he needed to lower his expectations when
it came to the local press. Every word of the Independence Reporter had
been read and reread, and although he couldn’t find mention of a
scientific discovery or notice of a public discussion with a famous poet,
he knew Grace McCoy had gotten hitched last Saturday. Reading the paper’s
recitation was unnecessary. He’d escorted the bride’s widowed aunt to the
nuptials and knew firsthand that the bride had swooned walking down the
aisle. Virgin brides and widows. The former didn’t interest him, the
latter lavishly entertained him.
gave the last page a final perusal. “There's no mention of our wagon
train pulling out in the morning.”
old soldier took a pinch of tobacco between his thumb and forefinger and
loaded the bowl of his presidential-face pipe. “We ain’t got no more room
anyways. No sense advertising.”
day had turned unusually warm, and Cullen had dressed for cooler weather.
Sweat trickled down his back, prompting him to roll his red-flannel
shirtsleeves to his elbows. “Mary Spencer’s not going now. We can take on
one more family.”
dropped his feet, and his boot heels scraped the heart-of-pine floor.
“Dang. Why’d you bring up that gal’s name?”
not your fault she disappeared.” Although Cullen hadn’t said anything to
his friend, he believed the portrait artist he’d seen making a nuisance
of himself at the dress shop had sweet-talked the porcelain-skinned,
green-eyed woman into eloping.
maybe not.” The joints in Henry’s bowed legs popped and cracked as he
stood and stepped to the window.
pulled out his watch to check the time. Before slipping the timepiece
back into his vest pocket, out of habit he rubbed his thumb across the
Celtic knot on the front of the case. The gesture always evoked memories
of his grandfather, an old Scot with a gentle side that countered his
temper. Folks said Cullen walked in his grandsire’s shoes. He discounted
the notion he could be hotheaded, with one exception. He had no tolerance
for liars. When he unveiled a lie, he unleashed the full measure of his
displeasure. “We can’t worry about yesterday, and today’s got enough
trouble of its own.”
has it John Barrett needs money. Heard you offered him a loan.” Henry
wagged his pipe-holding hand. “Also heard he got his bristles up, saying
he wouldn’t be beholdin’ to nobody. Got too much pride if’n you ask me.
You get down to cases with that boy and straighten his thinking out.”
knew Cullen had tried. “If I can’t find a compromise, our wagon train
could fall apart before we get out of town.”
as wise as a tree full of owls, son. You’ll figure it out.”
newspaper had served its purpose so he tossed the gossip sheet into the
trash. Then he stood and stretched his legs before starting for the door.
rapped his knuckles on the windowsill. “Where’re you goin’?”
queue tied with a thong at Cullen’s nape reminded him that his shaggy
hair hadn’t seen even the blunt end of a pair of shears in months. “To
the barber. Afterwards, I’ll figure out how to get your wagon train to
Oregon. There’s a law office with my name on the door waiting at the end
of the trail. I don’t have time for more delays.”
bushy brows merged above his nose. “There’s more than work awaitin’ you.”
quote an old soldier: Maybe. Maybe not.” With the picture of a San
Francisco, dark-haired lass tucked into his pocket alongside his watch,
and the keening sound of his favorite bagpipe tune playing in his mind,
Cullen left the office to solve today’s problem before it became
Farm, Lexington, Kentucky, February 10, 2012
MacKlenna took the brick steps leading to the west portico two at a time.
When she reached the top step she slipped on a patch of black ice. Her
arms and legs flailed rag-doll like, giving her some kind of weird
location never intended for a human body. Forward motion ended abruptly
when she collided with the farm’s marketing manager exiting the mansion
wearing three-inch heels and her signature pencil skirt. Tucked under
Sandy’s rail-thin arm was Thomas MacKlenna’s 1853 journal. Both women
screamed. Sandy’s arms went up and the book hit the floor. And for the
second time in less than thirty minutes, Kit landed on her ass.
so sorry.” Sandy helped Kit to her feet. Then she picked up the
leather-bound journal, brushing ice crystals from its cover.
fault. I wasn’t paying attention.” Kit rubbed her sore butt.
Thomas’ journal, isn’t it? Did you read the proclamation to the staff?”
normally animated face brimmed with heartfelt concern.
mourning period is officially over. But I’m not sure it will make your
life any easier.”
unbuckled her helmet and tugged on the dangling chin strap. “I woke up
believing I’d feel better today, but I guess that’s my character flaw.”
the impossible is always possible.” Kit slipped her hand into the pocket
of her plaid bomber jacket and fingered a crumpled letter. “Sometimes the
word impossible means just that— impossible.”
squeezed Kit’s arm. “I know it’s hard, but you’ll get through this, too.”
removed her helmet and shook her hair, pulling out a few long blonde
strands and a clump of mud. “Days like today make me wonder.”
gave her another reassuring squeeze. “I wanted to ask you something.” She
opened the journal and pointed to a line in the proclamation. “This
mentions a great-grandson born on the fortieth day? Do you know his
read the line above the marketing manager’s manicured nail.
record of a birth. Daddy said old Thomas was senile when he died. He
probably imagined a grandson.”
wonder why no one ever made a notation in the journal.” Sandy snapped the
book shut. “Whatever. Oh, by the way, I left the sympathy cards that came
in this morning’s mail on the table in the foyer.”
salty tear slid from between Kit’s eyelids and down her face, leaving
behind a burning sensation on her wind-chapped skin.
pulled a tissue from her pocket. “Here, take this.”
wiped her face and silently cursed that she no longer had control over
on the farm misses your parents and Scott. We’re grieving with you.”
know.” Kit blew her nose. “It’s made the last six weeks easier.”
call me later if you want to go to lunch or talk or cry. I don’t have
broad shoulders like Scott, but I can listen.”
miss him bugging the crap out of me.” Kit scratched the scar on the right
side of her neck, something she often did when she thought of her
can bug you, if you want. Since I don’t have your dad to pester, I feel
sort of useless.” Sandy grasped the railing and made her way down the
stairs. “Hey, what happened to your stick?”
stooped and picked up her broken whip. “Stormy went one way. I went the
cupped one side of her mouth as if sharing a secret. “Don’t tell Elliott.
He worries about you enough.”
way news spreads around here, I’m sure the old Scotsman has already
heard. He’ll find me soon enough and ream me out.”
let anyone hear you call him old. That’ll tarnish his reputation.” A
crease of amusement marked Sandy’s face. “Hey did you hear what happened
to his latest fling?”
covered her ears. “TMI.” Half of Lexington’s female population gossiped
about the sexual exploits of the serial dater. The other half made up the
membership in the Elliott Fraser Past & Present Girlfriends’ Club.
eased her long legs into an electric cart, depressed the accelerator, and
then gave a beauty-queen wave goodbye.
former Miss Kentucky and marketing guru laughed. “A bit more wrist,
Kit glared at the offending wrist that had been broken four or five
times. She wasn’t the beauty queen type. She could ride a Thoroughbred
bareback, but put her in a pair of strappy sandals and she’d get stuck in
the mud. It wasn’t that she was clumsy. Just the opposite. Silly shoes
couldn’t compete with her penchant for practical footwear. She lived on a
farm for God’s sake.
entering the house, she ran the soles of her tall riding boots across the
blunted top edge of the boot-scraper. Then she turned the brass doorknob
and gave the heavy oak door pockmarked with Civil War bullet holes a
quick shove. It opened on quiet hinges into an even quieter house.
scent of lemon oil permeated the twenty-foot wide entrance hall. Even as
a child, she’d loved the smell. The room cast the appearance of a museum
with a vast collection of furniture from the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. Each piece darkened by countless waxings. Now that Sandy had
read the proclamation, the cleaning staff could remove the black linen
shrouds that draped the family portraits dotting the oak-paneled walls.
dropped her helmet, crop, and muddy jacket on the rug, and then pulled
off her boots, leaving everything piled by the door.
grabbed it from her jacket and stuffed the note inside her shirt pocket.
side cabinet held a stack of sympathy cards. She blew out a long breath.
People from all over the world sent condolences. Their thoughtful words
tugged at her heart, but she couldn’t read them right now.
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