Authors: Sarah Jae Foster
LINCOLN COUNTY SERIES:
THREE HEARTS, ONE TOWN
A CHALLENGE OF THE HEART
A HEART FOR LOVE
SARAH JAE FOSTER
Published by River Valley Publishing.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Cover design by Scott Carpenter
Editing by Valerie Susan Hayward
Manufactured in the United States of America
Copyright © 2013 by Sarah Jae Foster
THREE HEARTS, ONE TOWN
SARAH JAE FOSTER
Ludenville, Wyoming, 1882
For Cameron Engel, it did not happen when her father abandoned her as a young girl or upon her mother’s recent death. Not even last week when Bud Jenkins broke into her home and tried to attack her because she’d turned down his father’s marriage proposal. It didn’t matter that Will Jenkins had six kids and owned a pig farm, or that he was three times her age. The one thing that caused this catapult into a new life was the deathbed confession of her mother. She had a brother. His name was Thomas Engel. He was twelve years older, and lived, according to the one letter he wrote to their mama, in Lincoln County, Kansas, a man who never knew she existed.
Cameron allotted herself one trunk and one carpetbag. Deciding what to put in them proved more painful than she thought possible. There was not enough room to pack all of her memories. She was giving up her childhood home, selling it to strangers. Even if she never located Thomas, the reason for her leaving all that was familiar was her determination to begin a new life. In all of her nineteen years, she’d never left Ludenville. Everyone always said that the Engels’ were a strong lot, and despite Cameron’s few weeks of falling into an awful state of despair over her mother’s death, she now felt a tingle of excitement. There had been no escaping the thrilling fear of riding on a train to Kansas to see what life held for her in the unknown. For the first time, the courage of her mother, Madeline Engel, her flesh and her blood, seemed to fall upon her like a blanket.
She gripped up her carpetbag and took a lingering gaze at the home she’d built with her mother. “Well, here I come Thomas Engel, ready or not.”
*** *** ***
Three days later a cheerful conductor walked up and down the tight aisle of the roaring train and announced they would be in Lincoln County within an hour’s time. The words hit Cameron and she swallowed hard, it was now permanent and very real. Without a choice, the once naive child of Paul and Madeline Engel would be no more. She was a grown up, and would handle grown up things.
Finally they arrived at the Lincoln County depot. Opening wide the door for a future destined for Cameron and her brother, or so she hoped.
She arranged with the station clerk to hold her trunk at the depot and he gave her names of the two hotels in town, with simple directions of how to get to each. For the first time in her life, she did not know where she was going to sleep. The idea of that didn’t frighten her, she was exhilarated—what an adventure!
Cameron lugged her heavy carpetbag over her shoulder and squeezed through weary and tired passengers awaiting luggage to be unloaded from the hissing train. Despite the late hour people milled about as if it were day. Just two of the streets were wider than the entire town she grew up in, with four corner lampposts lighting the way. Cameron searched her surroundings thoroughly and obediently followed the clerk’s instructions, crossing streets and passing several buildings before she recognized the name of the first hotel.
She hesitated before the painted sign that read Lacey’s Place and peered through the large window. The tunes being played on the piano drummed against her nose as it touched the pane. The women inside were barely dressed, flirting and sitting on men’s knees. Cameron decided she should move herself to check out the other hotel, which couldn’t be worse. Sleep was what she wanted, not to be man handled.
A couple strolled past her and the woman snickered, “Now there’s a real goodie goodie.”
Horrified, Cameron rushed off the boardwalk. She struggled with her bag, getting heavier by the moment, and steadied herself before investigating what the other hotel had to offer. The corner of Sable and Elm Street was what she was on the lookout for. Street names, dozens of buildings, the darkness, this was much more than she had ever dared to imagine. Not making eye contact with anyone seemed to be the wisest decision. Her earlier delight ebbed away and dread readily replaced it.
As she walked farther down the road, her nagging fear became stronger and her shoulder burned from the weight of the bag. The fact that there were no lanterns beaming in the corners of this part of town should have sent off a warning signal, but she’d already gone this far and finally stopped in front of the Half Moon.
Discouraged, she shivered. It was dark, dirty, unkempt, and...awful. Her eyes welled with tears. She was angry to have been defeated on the first night of her freeing adventure, on the first night of possibly being in the same place as her brother—a brother who was probably home somewhere, tucking his children into bed and sitting by the fire with a wife. A brother whom Cameron fervently hoped would take to her. She backed away, knowing it was her choice to stay here in this dreadful place or the bright, colorfully wild hotel several streets away.
Walking as fast as her weary legs would take her, she rounded the corner back onto Main Street. Keeping her eyes to the ground landed her smack into a man’s hard chest. She let out a small cry, and in surprise, dropped her bag onto the dusty street. What was going to happen to her now? Bud Jenkins lust filled gaze shot through her mind.
“I startled you.”
She heard her would be attacker’s voice but couldn’t see his face for the deep shadows and the low brim of his hat. Naturally she had to recall the words of a man on the train “...ruthless, lawless, gunslingers,” and after tonight, she would probably add murderer to the long list.
“I know it’s none of my business, but what in blazes are you doing walking alone in this part of town?”
The scolding in his voice caught her off guard—she wasn’t a child!
“Here,” he said softer. “Let me help you.”
He bent down, retrieved the bag and handed it to her.
She inhaled the night air, feeling like a fool. After a deep breath, she accepted her carpetbag from his gloved hand. “I was just on my way to Lacey’s Place, excuse me.”
“Well, you’re a bit lost I would say.”
“I’m not lost, I know the way.” She hoisted the bag, which she could no longer bear the weight of, and soldiered on.
She refused to look back to see if he were following, although a little bit of her hoped he was. Unless he was a great liar, she didn’t believe he’d hurt her. He could have already done that and without one witness about.
After checking into the hotel, Cameron climbed the wide flight of stairs and unlocked the room’s door. Once inside she massaged her sore shoulder. All the emotions of the night, added to the strain of travel, had drained her. Soon enough, the noise from the rowdy saloon below faded into the darkness of her mind. Nothing short of that iron horse of a train coming through the doors could move her.