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Authors: Elizabeth Lane

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Her Dearest Enemy

BOOK: Her Dearest Enemy
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“Before I agree to help you, I need
to be sure there won’t be trouble.”

“You can’t be sure.” She strained against him,
setting off heat waves where their bodies
touched. Whatever was happening, Brandon
could not bring himself to step away and let
her go.

“You can’t be sure of…anything.” Her voice
was breathy, her words tangled skeins of
logic. “You can’t just bend life to your will,
Brandon. Things happen, and sometimes you
have to let them. You bet and you lose, you
love and you get hurt, or you hurt others.”

“Since when did you become so wise,
schoolmarm?” His lips brushed the soft hair at
her temple as he spoke. “You don’t strike me
as a lady who’s done a lot of living.”

Or a lot of loving
, he thought. Lord, the
lessons he would teach this woman if things
were different between them!

Elizabeth Lane
has lived and travelled in many parts
of the world, including Europe, Latin America and the
Far East, but her heart remains in the American West,
where she was born and raised. Her idea of heaven
is hiking a mountain trail on a clear autumn day.
She also enjoys music, animals and dancing. You can
learn more about Elizabeth by visiting her website at
www.elizabethlaneauthor.com

A recent story by the same author:

ANGELS IN THE SNOW

(in
Stay for Christmas
anthology)

HER
DEAREST ENEMY

Elizabeth Lane

HER
DEAREST ENEMY

Chapter One

Dutchman’s Creek, Colorado, 1884

I
t was late afternoon on an October day when sunlight
pooled like melted butter in the hollows of the
land. The children of Dutchman’s Creek savored its
warmth as they trooped down the path that led from
the one-room schoolhouse to the wagon road. They
laughed and chattered, their feet swishing happily
through the thick carpet of dry leaves.

In the west, rising from foothills brushed with
pine and aspen, the jagged peaks of the Rockies jutted
against the indigo sky. The mountains were already
white with snow; but here in this high valley
the beauty of the day was like a last, lingering kiss,
bittersweet, as only Indian summer can be.

A vagrant breeze swept through a clump of big-
toothed maples, swirling leaves into the air like
flocks of pink-and-crimson butterflies. The schoolhouse
door, which the last departing child had left
ajar, blew inward, causing Miss Harriet Smith to
glance up from the half-graded stack of arithmetic
papers on her desk. What she saw through the open
doorway made her heart plummet like a mallard shot
down in flight.

There was no mistaking the identity of the angry
figure striding up the path toward the schoolhouse.
Brandon Calhoun, who owned the bank, the hotel
and, so it was whispered, the saloon, was the tallest
man in town, with shoulders like a blacksmith’s and
rough-hewn features that captured the eye of every
woman he met.

Under different circumstances Harriet might have
been flattered that the most powerful man in Dutchman’s
Creek had come to pay her a call. But she
knew exactly what was on Brandon Calhoun’s mind.
She had been dreading their confrontation all day.
Now that it was at hand, she had only one regret—
that she hadn’t taken the offensive and bearded the
lion in his den. After all, she had her own concerns,
her own pride. And, truth be told, she was as worried
about her brother Will as he was about his precious
daughter Jenny.

Harriet’s nervous fingers tucked a stray lock of
dark brown hair behind one ear as she watched his
approach. Dressed in the slate-gray suit he often wore
at the bank, he walked leaning slightly forward, like
a ship battling its way in a storm—no, she thought,
more like the storm itself, raging up the path, his elegant
black boots plowing through the fallen leaves,
creating chaos in their wake. His brow was a thundercloud,
his mouth a grim slash in his chiseled,
granite face. All he lacked was a fistful of lightning
bolts to hurl at her with the fury of Jove.

As if this debacle were
her
fault!

Harriet’s heart drummed against her ribs as she
settled her reading spectacles on her nose, dipped her
pen in the inkwell and pretended to write. Her pulse
broke into a gallop as he mounted the stoop and
crossed the threshold. Fixing her gaze on the scribbling
pen nib, she forced herself to ignore him until
he spoke.

“I want a word with you, Miss Smith.”

“Oh?” She glanced up to see him looming above
her, his face a study in controlled fury. Slowly and
deliberately, Harriet removed her spectacles and rose
to her feet. She was nearly five feet eight inches tall,
but she had to look up to meet his withering blue eyes.

“You know why I’ve come, don’t you?” he said
coldly.

“I do. And I’ve spoken with Will. There’ll be no
more sneaking out at night to meet your daughter.”

“You’ve
spoken
to him!” Brandon Calhoun’s
voice was contemptuous. “I caught your brother in a
tree, last night, talking to Jenny through her open
window! If I hadn’t come along, he’d likely have
climbed right into her bedroom! If you ask me, the
young whelp ought to be horsewhipped!”

Harriet felt the rush of heat to her face. “My
brother is eighteen years old,” she said, measuring
each word. “I can hardly turn him over my knee and
spank him, Mr. Calhoun. But I do agree that he
shouldn’t see Jenny alone. We had a long talk last
night after he—”

“A long talk!” He muttered a curse under his
breath. “You might as well have a long talk with a
tomcat! I was his age once and I know what it’s like!
There are girls down at Rosy’s who’ll put him out of
his misery for a few dollars and others in town who’d
likely do it for nothing. But, by heaven, I won’t have
him touching my Jenny! Not him or any other boy
in this town!”

His frankness deepened the hot color in Harriet’s
face. In the eight years since the death of their parents
in a diphtheria epidemic, she had devoted all her
resources to raising her younger brother. She had
done her best to teach Will right from wrong. But
there were some things an unmarried sister couldn’t
say to a growing boy—things that required the counsel
of an experienced man. And there had been no
man available.

With a growl of exasperation, Brandon Calhoun
wheeled away from her and stalked to the window,
where he stood glaring out at the autumn afternoon.
Sunlight, slanting through the glass, played on the
waves of his thick chestnut hair, brushing the faint
streaks of gray at his temples with platinum. How old
was he? Old enough to have a seventeen-year-old
daughter, but surely no more than forty. There were
deepening creases at the corners of his eyes, but his
belly was flat and taut, his movements graced with
a young man’s vigor.

Harriet had come to teach school in Dutchman’s
Creek less than a year ago. Except for the schoolchildren,
she was not well acquainted with many of the
town’s citizens. But a woman at church had told her
that the banker’s wife had died six years ago and, despite
the fact that any number of ladies had set their
caps for him, he had raised his daughter alone, just
as she had raised Will. Maybe that was part of what
had drawn the two young people together. Will and
Jenny had met last summer and had been close ever
since. That they were becoming too close was as
much a concern to Harriet as it was to Jenny’s father.

Silence lay cold and heavy in the little classroom
as Harriet pushed herself away from the desk and
took a step toward him. Her legs quivered beneath
her, threatening to give way. She willed herself to
stand erect, to thrust out her chin and meet his blistering
gaze with her own.

“Believe it or not, I’m no happier about this situation
than you are,” she declared. “For years, I’ve
been planning for Will to attend college. He’s finishing
up his preparatory work by correspondence now,
so that he can enter Indiana University in the spring
to study engineering. If you think I’d have him jeopardize
his future by getting mixed with some girl
who doesn’t have the sense to—”

“Jenny isn’t
some girl!
” he snapped, cutting her
off angrily. “And as for sense, she’s every bit as bright
as she is pretty! I want nothing but the best for her,
and that doesn’t include your calf-eyed, tree-climbing
brother! By heaven, she deserves better!”

Harriet felt her anger rising as his words hung in
the air between them. So the truth had come out at
last. Brandon Calhoun was nothing but a strutting,
bombastic snob who placed himself above common
folk like Will and herself and judged his daughter
worthy of a Vanderbilt heir. Merciful heaven, what
grandiose delusions! He was nothing but a big fish
in a very small pond! If she weren’t so furious, she
could almost feel sorry for him!

“You’ve made your position quite clear, Mr. Calhoun,”
she said in a voice that crackled like thin ice.
“At least we seem to agree on one thing. I’m as anxious
to protect Will’s future as you are to promote
your daughter’s.”

Her subtle shift of verbs was not lost on him. His
cobalt eyes darkened and she braced herself for another
blast of hostility. For a long moment the only
sound in the room was the droning buzz of a horsefly
trapped against the windowpane. Seconds crawled
past. Then, as Harriet held her breath, his rigid shoul
ders sagged. He exhaled raggedly, thrusting his fists
into the pockets of his fine gabardine jacket.

“Jenny’s all I have,” he said. “She’s the only thing
in my life that I give a damn about. If you had children
of your own, you’d understand how I feel.”

If you had children of your own
. Harriet winced as
if he had caused her physical pain. She had put aside
the hope of having her own family when she’d taken
on the task of raising Will. Now, at twenty-nine, she
knew that time had passed her by. She had become
that most disparaged of creatures—an old maid.

Pressing her lips together, she gazed past him into
the blur of sunlight that fell through the uncurtained
window. She had always despised self-pity and refused
to indulge in it. But the wretched man had
known exactly where to jab and he had jabbed with
a vengeance. Harriet had no doubt that he’d meant
to wound her.

He cleared his throat, breaking the leaden silence
between them. “This so-called talk you had with your
brother. What did he have to say about his intentions?”

“That he loves your daughter. That he wants to
marry her.”

He sucked in his breath as if he’d been gut-
punched. “And how did you answer him?”

“How do you expect I would answer?” she retorted.
“I told him it was foolish to even think of love
at his age, let alone marriage! Getting involved with
a girl at this point could ruin his plans for the future—
indeed, it could ruin his whole life!”

“And did you resolve anything with him?” Brandon
Calhoun’s voice was flat and cold.

“Only that there’ll be no more sneaking out at
night to see Jenny. Will tends to be headstrong. As
his sister, I’ve learned that if I draw the reins too
tightly he’s quite capable of breaking them and going
his own way.”

“So the reality is, he’s eighteen years old and the
only control you have over the boy is what little he
allows you.” He shot her a withering scowl. “I
thought as much.”

Harriet fought the urge to fly at him and rip the
smug expression off his face with her bare hands.
“Whatever you’re implying, Mr. Calhoun, my
brother is a decent, responsible young man!” she
snapped. “Ask anyone who knows him!”

“I already have. Hezekiah Moon at the feed store
says your brother’s the best worker he’s ever hired.
He’s always on time, he has every account figured to
the penny, and he can load a wagon in the time it
takes the customer to have a smoke. But that doesn’t
mean I want the young whelp sniffing around my
Jenny!”

“So what
is
it you want?” Harriet demanded, suddenly
out of patience with him. “If you’ve only come
to grouse and complain, please consider your mission
accomplished and let me get back to work!”

He retreated a step as if startled by her sudden vehemence.
Then he swiftly recovered and seized the
offensive. “I wouldn’t have wasted my time in coming
here if I didn’t have something in mind,” he said,
shifting his weight uneasily, like a boxer. “Since you
don’t keep your money in my bank, I can only judge
your financial situation from what I see. You live in
a rented, two-bedroom shack next to the cemetery.
You don’t own a buggy or even a horse, and as for
your clothes—”

“My clothes are clean and modest and in good repair.”
Harriet’s fists clenched against the skirt of her
faded gingham dress. “If I don’t look like a page
from a fashion magazine, that’s none of your concern,
nor is the way I live! Aside from the matter of
Will and Jenny, you and I have nothing to say to
each other, Mr. Calhoun! Now kindly get out of my
classroom and leave me in peace!”

He loomed over her, making everything in the
room seem small. Blue lightning crackled in his
eyes. “For what it’s worth, Miss Smith, I own this
building and the land it sits on,” he said. “That
would make it
my
classroom. And I don’t intend to
leave you in any kind of peace until you’ve heard
me out.”

Harriet willed herself to ignore her liquid knees
and slamming pulse. She faced him squarely, her
chin up, her features composed, her eyes meeting his
in a steady gaze. But when she spoke, her shaking
voice betrayed her. “Go on, then. I can hardly throw
you out with my bare hands.”

One dark smudge of an eyebrow slid upward in
unspoken challenge, as if to imply he’d like to see her
try manhandling him; but when he spoke, his manner
was cold and formal. “Very well. I’m prepared
to make you and your brother an offer. I think you’ll
agree that it’s more than generous.”

“I’m listening.” Harriet felt as if the ground had
dissolved under her feet, leaving her with no solid
place to stand. He was so imposing, so damnably
sure of his power to turn her to quivering jelly. She
found herself wishing he would give her an excuse
to slap his insolent face. Of all the girls in town, why
had Will chosen to fall in love with the pampered
only child of a man like Brandon Calhoun?

He took a deep breath, the air rushing into his
powerful chest. “Here’s my offer,” he said, pulling a
folded paper out of his vest. “Leave town within the
week, the two of you, and I’ll pay your way to wherever
you want to go. If your brother agrees never to
contact Jenny again, I’m prepared to pay for his college
education. Every penny of it.”

Harriet stared up at him, shocked into silence by
his audacity. The offer was more than generous; it
was unimaginable.

She struggled to keep her wits about her, but her
head had already begun to spin—as he had doubtless
known it would. Over the years she had saved her
own money for Will’s education, living like a pauper
so that she could send every spare cent to the
Denver bank where she kept her savings. By now, she
calculated, she had enough to pay for three years of
college. Somehow, with Will working summers, they
would manage the fourth year.

BOOK: Her Dearest Enemy
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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