Authors: Jillian Hart
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Westerns
By Jillian Hart
Copyright 2013 by Jillian Hart
Cover Design by Kim Killion, Hot Damn Designs
E-book Formatted by Jessica Lewis, Authors’ Life Saver
Editing by Jena O’Connor, Practical Proofing
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Montana Territory, August, 1886
Callie Carpenter tugged at her sunbonnet brim, stepped around her four sisters and peered down the depot’s platform to get a better view. Any minute now the train would come chugging around the bluff and down the tracks, but this time she would be getting on it. Excitement ran through her, thudding fast and strong in her veins, and she clutched the ticket in her hand a little tighter. Oh, she couldn’t wait to start her adventure, her chance to find an entirely new life and (more importantly) true love.
“I’ll say it one more time. This is a terrible idea, Callie.” Emma, her oldest sister, shook her head, her mouth pruney, which you would expect from a self-declared and proud of it spinster. “You still have time to reconsider. Please don’t go off and marry a perfect stranger.”
stranger,” Callie corrected, going up on tiptoe, squinting through the bright rays of the hot summer sun. One thing she was sure about was Earl. He’d been thoughtful enough to send his daguerreotype so she knew he was handsome and upstanding looking. A pillar of his community. “He’s promised to be a very kind and faithful husband. And as he’s a doctor, he’s gainfully employed. Even you can’t find fault with that.”
“Don’t tempt her,” Maggie leaned in, red-blond curls framing her heart-shaped face. “You know Emma. She’s a fault-finding genius.”
“Not a genius,” Emma corrected with dignity, brushing a perfectly curled lock of blond hair out of her eyes. “I see things clearly with my mind, not my emotions. Unlike some people, I’m not prone to romantic fantasies.”
“We are.” Abby gave a dimpled smile. “Oh, here it comes!”
“I see it!” Callie didn’t care that her oldest sister didn’t approve, the others understood and that was support enough.
They’d grown up in the orphanage here in the tiny town of Holbrook, spending way too many years as children who wore handed down dresses and went to bed with stomachs that weren’t full. Oh, how she’d longingly watched the other kids at school who had real families and parents who loved them—mothers who tied ribbons in their hair and fathers who drove them to school. Well, now it was her turn. She was going to find her own family. She couldn’t wait to be a wife and ma, to know what love and family was all about.
The train rounded the corner, the noise deafening, the power vibrating the plank boards beneath her feet. The giant mechanical beast lurched closer, brakes squealing and smoke billowing, and coughed to a screeching stop along the platform.
It was here! Sparkling with excitement, Callie grabbed her satchel and reticule, her palms going damp, her heart rate kicking up. Her adventure was about to begin—but first, she realized with a painful twist in her chest, she’d have to say goodbye to her sisters. She’d never been parted from them before. Ever.
“If only you weren’t going so far away,” Dee said, the youngest of them, with her dimples and sweetness. “I’m going to miss you, Callie.”
“I’m going to miss you all so much.” She sniffled, torn between sadness and excitement. “But we can write. Oh, I just love you all.”
“Not more than we love you.” Abby squeezed in, arms out, and wrapped Callie in a hug. “Take care.”
“Stay out of trouble.” Maggie was next, hugging her quickly.
“Be good.” Emma offered a stiff hug. “If you get lost or kidnapped or find out that doctor lied to you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“It’s a chance I’m willing to take.” More teary than she wanted to admit, Callie stumbled backwards a step, savoring the look of her sisters clustered together. Tall, slender Emma, short and adorable Dee, elegant Maggie, fun Abby. Beautiful blond women, their skirts snapping in the summer winds. Callie’s vision blurred as she gave them a little wave.
“All aboard!” A man’s voice boomed out gruffly.
Oops! She swung around and ran to the steps where a surly conductor moved aside to let her through. He looked as if he’d seen far too many women with their time-consuming goodbyes and didn’t approve.
Well, she didn’t care. She was on a train! Her life was never going to be boring again. She tripped down the aisle, feeling the rumbling power of the idling engine vibrating through the car.
Spotting an empty seat, she rushed over and plopped into it. She didn’t have time to adjust her skirts before she was jerked forward and tossed back against the cushioned seat. The train surged forward. Her sisters! She only had time to give them one last finger wave before the platform fell away and they were gone.
And she was alone.
Missing them already, she untied her sunbonnet, stowed it and her satchel beneath her seat and plopped her reticule in her lap. She felt funny, like her ribs were cracking one bone at a time. In all the days of dreaming and the nights too excited to sleep imagining this moment, she hadn’t wanted to think about this, about leaving her sisters behind.
Needing to get rid of the sadness, she opened her reticule and dug inside for Earl’s daguerreotype. Her fingers brushed a piece of parchment that hadn’t been there before. She smiled, already knowing what she would find when she pulled it out and unfolded it. A note from her sisters.
Have fun! Enjoy the adventure! (written in Abby’s looping script).
Missing you as much as you must be missing us. Don’t look back, keep going forward (Maggie’s tidy handwriting).
Love you! I admire you for going. Be happy. (Dee’s block letters).
If you get into trouble, write and I’ll send money (Emma’s precise, tidy writing).
Your adoring sisters (Abby had written it, Emma would never be that demonstrative).
Callie sighed, touched. Well, that was just what she needed. Encouraged, she folded up the letter, slipped it into her reticule, smiling so wide she could feel her ears wiggle. It really helped to know that her sisters were behind her, even Emma. Their love would always be there, something distance could never diminish.
As the landscape swooped by at a dizzying speed, she pulled out Earl’s image, just to dream a little more. She soaked in the pleasant sight of him. His neat, precise haircut told her he wasn’t a messy sort. His dark hair could be any shade of black or brown, but she imagined it a warm chocolate to compliment the lighter shade of his eyes, which would be a stunning blue, of course. His nose was straight, and if you didn’t stare at it for too long, it almost didn’t look too big.
He had a nice chin though, with a handsome dimple in it, so over all, he was attractive. Better looking than the few men in the little ranching town of Holbrook, that’s for sure. And he was a
That was something to be proud of. He was also a widower, the poor man, who’d mourned his wife for several years. Now that his two daughters were getting older, they needed womanly guidance and, he’d admitted tenderly in his letters, he’d been lonely too. Callie was exactly the kind of woman he’d been hoping to marry.
He’d touched her heart with his confession, she recalled, running the tip of her finger around the frame. Somehow she’d come to know Earl so well through their months of correspondence, amazing how words in a letter could bring two people together. She studied his picture one last time before sliding it back into the depths of her reticule. Now her heart was filled with a different sort of ache. She was longing for him, for her husband and family to be.
“Tickets!” The conductor called out from the front of the passenger car, official looking in his uniform. “I need your tickets, please—”
But the door slammed open behind him and two rough-looking men strong-armed him aside, tossing him into the nearest seat nearly on top of two lady passengers. The sunlight slanting through the windows gleamed on a revolver, and Callie shivered. This was a train robbery. The lead robber’s eyes narrowed, mean and dark, over the top of the red bandana pulled over the lower half of his face.
“Ladies and gentleman, this here is your lucky day.” He strolled down the aisle, pulling a folded pillowcase out of his pocket and snapping it open. “Think of it as your chance to be charitable. Gimme your money and your valuables. If you don’t, I’ll just as soon put a bullet in ya.”