Authors: Clara Kincaid
Copyright © 2015 Clara Kincaid
McKenna Clara Kincaid
All rights reserved
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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead (unless explicitly noted) is merely coincidental.
It was the worst day of McKenna Jameson’s life. Still reeling after the death of her parents, her uncle shows up with ownership paperwork, confiscating the store right out from under her.
McKenna didn’t know what would become of them. She had four sisters at home and only enough money to last a year. She vows that she’d never marry, but then a handsome stranger, Cole Winters, stops by, proposing they go into business together in faraway Silver, Nevada. McKenna gives it serious thought, since opening a mercantile store in a gold rush town would be a very profitable venture. The only problem is that in 1875, it’s not proper for a woman to travel alone with a man. When Cole proposes they marry in name only, can she truly trust him? And is it worth the risk of losing her heart?
McKenna dusted the shelves, glancing briefly over her shoulder to assure herself that the two Johnson boys who entered didn’t make off with any more candy without paying for it. Tommy and Timmy were the terror of Halston, Ohio. Why on Earth their parents allowed them to run around like hooligans, was beyond McKenna’s understanding.
At that moment, her eyes were red and swollen as they’d been since her parents’ funeral last week. Their sudden death in a buggy accident had taken them all by surprise, but with four sisters at home, McKenna just didn’t have the option of staying home. Life did have to go on, didn’t it?
For thirty years, her parents had owned Nieman’s. In those years, there wasn’t a day that had gone by when at least one of them wasn’t in the store, until the last few years when they allowed her to take over in their stead so they could travel. Her parents Margaret and Nelson were loved by one and all. They donated to their church, helped feed the poor, and were a very loving couple. There wasn’t a day when her parents weren’t seen kissing in the kitchen. Of course, Mama always acted embarrassed, but it was apparent they were just as in love as the day they had married at the age of twenty.
McKenna moved toward the counter, just as Tommy lifted the glass lid of the container, which held the lemon drops.
“Can I help you boys?” she asked with her best attempt at a stern look. It was hard for McKenna not to smile at them. Tommy and Timmy were twins, both of them dressed alike in trousers and button-up shirts, which had seen better days. They were also quite dirty and had most likely just come in from wrestling in the dirt, like McKenna had often seen them do.
She gave them each a lemon drop with a sigh. “Now, go along home, boys.”
“We will,” they said in unison.
Just as the boys left, the bell over the door rang and two men walked inside. She’d seen them in here before, but she couldn’t quite place them as neither had ever really had a conversation with her. There was something about the taller man, which made her quite nervous, not that there was any reason to really. It was the way he looked at her; she was never able to hold his glance for more than a moment or two. Even when he made a purchase, she only smiled like a school girl would, except that McKenna was way older than that at twenty-two. Plenty old enough to have a husband of her own and not still be living with her parents. Strangely enough, that was exactly where her sisters also stayed; none of them had married, either.
Her sister Abigail was twenty-one, Cadence twenty, Penelope nineteen, and Kayla at only eighteen. They were exactly a year apart, proof of their parents’ love for one another. How else would you explain their mama popping babies out like that? Their parents were quite content that none of them had husbands yet. It wasn’t like any of them were plain or ugly. Their parents were just in no real hurry to see them leave the nest, even though it was 1875 and it was expected that a woman marry young, so as not to get the label of spinster.
Two ladies walked in and were checking out the fabric on one of the tables. Then two men in tweed suits entered, and McKenna swallowed hard since one of them looked vaguely familiar.
When they stood in front of her, the man with the bushiest eyebrows McKenna had ever seen said, “I presume that you’re McKenna Jameson.”
McKenna tried with all of her might not to react as she finally recognized her uncle standing next to the man. This was not good; not good at all. “I’m sure my uncle Abner told you as much. He’s standing right next to you,” McKenna pointed out.
“McKenna,” Uncle Abner said. “I’m sorry that I didn’t make it to your parents’ funeral last week. I’ve been abroad for some years. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“I see. Well, it’s not like you and my father have been close.”
“That hasn’t always been the case. Why, I even partnered up with your father when he bought this store thirty years ago. I’m sure he’s mentioned this before.”
McKenna braced herself on the counter with her palms flat against it. “What is it that you want, Uncle?”
The man next to him pulled out a piece of paper from the brown bag he carried and handed it to her. “He’s here to take what is rightfully his: this store.”
McKenna scanned the document, and it stated clearly that in the event of her parents’ death, her uncle owned the business.
She clutched the document in her hand, and she choked out, “Th-This can’t be right. The will hasn’t even been read yet.”
“It will be later today. We’ve just come from your father’s lawyer a Mr. Tibins. He had planned to tell you then, but your uncle wanted to stop by and tell you here, in person.” He sighed. “It’s only right.”
Right? There’s nothing right about this!
“I bet he did. I don’t understand why my uncle would inherit the business when my father has five living daughters.”
“I know this must be a shock, but—”
“You’re right about that, and I need time to think and consult with Mr. Tibins.”
“Your uncle is here to take charge of the business now. If you’ll only read right here, you’ll see it states that Abner has the power to immediately take over the business. He owns it, all off it, including whatever monies you have on the premises. And stock, of course.”
McKenna blinked back the tears that so wanted to fall, but she just wouldn’t allow them to, not in front of her treacherous uncle. “I’m not doing anything without a lawyer of my own.” She tucked a few strands of her red hair behind her ears. “Get out. The both of you, now.”
“Your uncle has the right to take over the business now,” the man insisted.
McKenna took a bar of soap and whipped it at her uncle. When it hit him, he lost his footing and fell against a nearby table, knocking a jar of dill pickles, which spilled on his head.
Serves him right to make demands.
Her uncle scrambled to his feet. “That wasn’t very smart, McKenna. I had planned to keep you on to work in the store, but now I want you out.”
When McKenna picked up another bar of soap and made a motion to throw it at the men, they raced for the door. “We’ll be back,” they threatened.
A woman in a pink dress asked, “Are you okay, dear?”
“No, I’m not, but I really hope this is a mistake. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ask you all to leave while I meet with my father’s lawyer.”
McKenna waited by the door while the customers left and her sad eyes met the murky blue eyes of the taller man. He appeared red-faced in anger, and she said, “I’m truly sorry if you’d planned to make purchases today.”
“I’m not angry at you, dear lady. I had to control myself before I punched that uncle of yours in the nose.”
As much as that would have made McKenna’s day, she was glad she was spared from the ordeal. Hitting her uncle with a bar of soap was bad enough.
When the customers had left, McKenna locked up and marched up Main Street until she reached the brick building on the corner, still holding the document tightly in her hand. When she went in, Mr. Tibins was speaking to the woman who worked at the desk.
“McKenna, I hadn’t expected to see you until later when I read the will.”
“I know, but Uncle Abner stopped by, and I’d like to speak with you in private about the matter.”
“Of course.” Mr. Tibins led the way through a door and motioned for McKenna to sit at the long table. The room had law books on the shelves, and the fragrance of leather permeated the room.
When McKenna sat down, she smoothed her satin dress into place, twisting the material around one finger, a habit of hers when she was nervous. She took in a breath and reached for a tissue, dabbing at her eyes. “I’m sorry, Mr. Tibins, but I’m quite distraught about what just happened back at the store.”
Mr. Tibins sat across for her, a concerned look on his narrow face. “What happened, McKenna?”
McKenna scarcely took a breath as she twisted her fingers around the tissue she held, sending pieces of it cascading to the floor. It was past the point where it would be of much use, and Mr. Tibins offered to take the tissue, handing her another one. He then absently brushed off the remnants, which had gotten on his brown suit after he’d tossed the tissue into the trash.
“Uncle Abner came to see me at the store.” She set down the document she had been given, sliding it across the table to the lawyer.
Before saying another word, Mr. Tibins read the document and sighed. “I really wished your uncle had waited for me to tell you. It’s unfortunately the predicament you’re now in.”
“So it’s true then? Uncle Abner really is the owner of Neiman’s?”
“I’m afraid so. Your father had been unable to contact your uncle as he was abroad for the last twenty years. Your uncle did put half of the money up when your father bought the business, and in the event of his death, your uncle inherits it. Your mother’s name has never been on the deed to the property. There is documentation to support your uncle’s claim.”
“What about the will? What does that say?”
“I really should wait to tell you until your sisters are here. It’s only fair.”
“Fair? You mean like ripping our family business right out from under us? Haven’t we already suffered enough with the loss of our parents?”
Mr. Tibins frowned. “I know how you must feel.”
McKenna was on her feet, palms down on the table. “You have no idea how I feel. How are we expected to earn a living? Keep a roof over our heads?”
“I’m very sorry, McKenna.”
“I’ll contest it. Surely there must be something I can do.”
“Please sit, McKenna.” Mr. Tibins stood and walked to the door. “Let me get the will.”
McKenna sniffled, blowing her nose on a tissue before Mr. Tibins walked back in with the woman who worked the front counter, Trisha. “I hope you don’t mind Trisha in here. I think it might help to have another woman in the room.”
McKenna wasn’t too sure what that meant exactly, but she braved a glance in Trisha’s direction. As the lawyer opened the folder, he cleared his throat. “There’s a note from your father in here. If you please, I’ll read it now.”
McKenna nodded expectedly.
My dearest children,
If the letter is read now it must mean that I’m no longer among the living. I’m so very sorry that as of the time of drawing up this will, I’ve been unable to locate your uncle Abner who owns Neiman’s upon my death. I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to locate him, going as far as traveling to London in search for him. I regret partnering with him, but there simply was no other way that I’d have been able to purchase the building or stock. Your grandfather was tough as nails and wouldn’t loan me the funds. Perhaps he might help you girls figure out a way to get by now.
I bequeath the house to you girls. You’ll find a safe in my room that has some funds, which might just help you start over, with perhaps enough to keep you going for a year. Please, McKenna, find yourself a husband, and assist your sisters to do the same. You all are blessed with your mother’s looks, so that shouldn’t be a problem for you. I know you’re dead-set against marriage, McKenna, but it’s your best hope for the future.
If your grandfather refuses to help you girls, please look to our neighbors Frank and Betty Nash. They are childless and simply adore you girls.
With love always,
McKenna slumped down in her chair. “Is that all there is? No stocks or bonds, cash at hand in the bank?”
“Only fifty dollars. I was instructed to close his accounts upon his death. I can give that to you now. I’d say your father would willingly give the shirt off his back if need be, which might account for the small amount of funds. Hopefully, he’ll have more back at the house.”
“So the house will be now deeded to all of us?” McKenna asked.
“Yes. I’ll take care of the paperwork for you.”
“And what about the cash at hand at the business?”
“It now belongs to your uncle. Perhaps if you spoke to him, he might give some to you.”
The door opened and slammed against the wall as Uncle Abner entered. “I hope you told my niece that she’s to vacate the store posthaste.”
“I was about to ask her for the keys,” Mr. Tibins said. “McKenna, can you please hand them over?”
“What about my personal effects?”
“I’ll send them along if I find anything that belongs to you. I don’t trust you enough for you to go back to the store.”
“What do you know about running a store anyway?” she asked.
“I’ll have you know that I’ve ran plenty of stores in London without any trouble, and I can certainly run one here in Ohio.”
McKenna stood, looking up at her uncle. “But why would you want to, is the question?”
Uncle Abner’s face became redder as he spoke. “Because, McKenna, it belongs to me.”
“And it matters not to you that you’ve taken away our only source of income, your own nieces?”
He frowned then said, “I do know a few lords back in London who are looking for suitable wives. Perhaps I could arrange marriages for you and your sisters. It’s the least I could do.”
McKenna swallowed hard. “I’d rather drown myself in the Ohio River before I submitted to marrying some undesirable man from London. I’m sure if they were honorable, they’d already have wives.”