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Authors: Lori Wilde

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One True Love (Cupid, Texas 0.5)

BOOK: One True Love (Cupid, Texas 0.5)
3.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


One True Love





To the memory of my grandmother, Glenna Osborn Reid. I drew on the stories of her girlhood growing up in Texas in the 1920s while writing
One True Love


Chapter One

Whistle Stop, Texas. May 1924

on the worst day of my life.

There he was, the most handsome man I’d ever seen, standing at the bottom of my daddy’s porch clutching a straw Panama hat in his hand, the mournful expression on his face belying the jauntiness of his double-breasted lightweight jacket and Oxford bags with sharp, smart creases running smoothly down the front of the legs. An intense, magnetic energy radiated from him, rolled toward me like heat waves off the Chihuahuan Desert. I felt an inexplicable tug in the square center of my belly.

His gaze settled heavily on my face. There were shadows under his eyes as if he’d been up all night, and there was a tightness to his lips that troubled me. A snazzy red Nash roadster sat on a patch of dirt just off the one-lane wagon road that ran in front of the house. It looked just as out of place as the magnificent man in my front yard.

My knees turned as watery as the mustang grape jelly I canned last summer that hadn’t set up right, and suddenly, I couldn’t catch my breath. I hung on to the screen door that I was half hiding behind.

“Is this Corliss Greenwood’s residence?” he asked.

“Yessir.” I raised my chin, and stepped out onto the porch. The screen door wavered behind me, the snap stretched out of the spring from too many years of too many kids bamming it closed. Without looking around, I kicked the door shut with my bare heel.

He came up on the porch, the termite-weakened steps sagging and creaking underneath his weight.

Shame burned my cheeks.
Please, God, don’t let him put one of those two-tone wing tips right through a rotten board

He was tall with broad shoulders, and even though he was whip-lean, he looked as strong as a prizewinning Longhorn bull. A spot of freshly dried blood stained his right cheek where he must’ve cut himself shaving. He’d shaved in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week? His hair was the color of coal and he wore it slicked back off his forehead. His teeth were straight and white as piano keys, and I imagined that when he smiled, it went all the way up to his chocolate brown eyes, but he wasn’t smiling now.

Mr. Fant had caught me indisposed. I must look frightful in the frayed gray dress I wore when cleaning. The material was way too tight around my chest because my breasts had blossomed along with the spring flowers. Strands of unruly hair were popping out of my sloppy braid and falling around my face. I pushed them back.

Another step closer and he was only an arm’s length away.

My heart started thudding. His masculine fragrance wafted over to me in the heat of the noonday sun, notes of leather, oranges, rosemary, cedar, clove, and moss. Perfume! He was wearing perfume. I’d never met a man who wore perfume before, but it smelled mighty good, fresh and clean and rich.

My daddy always said I would have made a keen bloodhound with the nose I had on me. A well-developed sense of smell can be good for some things, like telling when a loaf of warm yeast bread is ready to come out of the oven, and inhaling a snout full of sunshine while unpinning clothes from the line, but other times having a good sniffer could be downright unpleasant—for instance when visiting the outhouse in August.

“Is Corliss your father?”

My throat had squeezed up, so I just nodded.

“I’m John Fant.”

I knew who he was of course. The Fants were the wealthiest family in Jeff Davis County. Truth be told, they were the wealthiest family between the Pecos River and the New Mexico border. The Fants had founded the town of Cupid, which lay twenty-five miles due north in the foothills of the Fort Davis Mountains, and they owned the Fant Silver Mine where my father worked. Three years ago, when John had returned home with a degree from Maryland State College, his father, Silas Fant, had turned the family business over to his only son.

The screen door drifted open against my calf and I bumped it closed again.

He arched a dark eyebrow. “And you are . . . ?”

“Millie Greenwood,” I managed to push my name over my lips.

“How old are you, Millie?”

The way he said my name sent a shiver shaking down my spine for no good reason. It seemed a nosy question and I was within my rights to go back inside and shut the door in his face. It wasn’t proper for a young lady to have a prolonged conversation with a good-looking bachelor on her front porch without a chaperone present, but I answered him anyway. “I turned eighteen last week.”

He flicked a glance over my shoulder. “Is your mother home?”

I’d sent my brothers and sisters off blackberry picking so I could clean the house after Mama took a BC powder and went to bed to sleep off one of her migraines, but I didn’t want him to know I was basically alone. “She’s inside.”

“May I come in?”

“I’m not allowed to invite strangers into the house.”

“I’m not a stranger, I’m your father’s boss.”

That was true enough. I hesitated, uncertain of what to do next.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some very bad news,” he said in a soft voice. The expression in his eyes was far too kind. “This isn’t the sort of thing that should be discussed on the porch.”

I went sick all over when he said that. This time, when the screen door hit me in the behind, I didn’t close it, but instead held it wide open. “C’mon in.”

A fly came in with us, buzzed lazy circles around the sitting room. My chest was so tight that I was having trouble breathing and my head pounded hard. Was I going to have to take a BC powder myself?

I waved at the sofa. “Please have a seat, Mr. Fant, while I fetch my mother.”

He didn’t sit, just stood there, holding his hat.

I slipped down the short hall to the bedroom my mother and father shared and knocked lightly on the door. “Mama, I called. “Mr. John Fant is in our sitting room.”

Less than a minute later, the door wrenched open. My mother wore only a thin chemise and her hair was all mashed up on the side. Her face was ghostly pale, the way it got every time she had a migraine, but what scared me to death was the look of pure terror in her eyes. “John Fant is here? In our house?”

Mutely, I nodded.

The blue vein at the hollow of her throat pulsed fast. She ran her fingers through her hair and moved into the hallway.

I rested a hand on her shoulder. Her skin felt so cold. “Mama, you need to put on a dressing gown.”

“Yes, yes,” she murmured, disappeared into the bedroom only to poke her head out again. “What was I looking for?”

“Dressing gown.”

The lump in my throat grew bigger with each passing second, and I struggled to keep my mind from leaping to conclusions, but dread settled into my bone marrow. I clenched my hands into fists, closed my eyes.
Please, God

Finally, Mama came back out, trying to cinch the belt of her faded pink floral dressing gown, but her hands were shaking so hard she couldn’t manage it.

“Here,” I said, and tied it for her.

“Thank you, Millie,” she whispered, and cupped my cheek with her palm.

I took her hand and led her to the sitting room. Mr. Fant was still standing, still held that silly Panama hat that he was turning around and around in his hands.

He nodded at my mother, his face somber. “Mrs. Greenwood.”

Mama drew a shuddering breath so deep that I felt it in my own body. “Mr. Fant.”

“Please, sit down,” he invited like it was his house instead of ours.

Mama sagged against me and made a soft mewling noise like a newborn kitten. I guided her over to the threadbare sofa. She wilted onto it and I perched beside her, making sure to sit on the grape jelly spot, permanently embedded into the fabric, so Mr. Fant couldn’t see the stain.

He pulled up a Hitchcock chair from the corner of the room and sat down in front of us.

Mama was plucking restlessly at the lapel of her dressing gown, like she was picking off lint. I touched her hand so she would stop.

Mr. Fant’s grim eyes met mine.

I curled my fingers into crabapple knots against my thighs.

He leaned over and laid his big palm on my closed fist. I was surprised to discover it was calloused like a workman’s. I expected a man of Mr. Fant’s status to have palms as smooth as a baby’s backside. If the situation hadn’t been what it was, I would have been both alarmed and excited by the feelings that his touch stirred, but considering the circumstances, I was just plain numb.

“Mrs. Greenwood, Miss Greenwood.” He stopped, cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I have some tragic news.”

“Just say it!” I blurted, unable to stand the tension one second longer.

“There’s been a cave-in at the silver mine,” he said gently. “I’m so—”

“No!” my mother wailed before he finished speaking, clutched her head in both hands, and began rocking to and fro. “No, no, no!”

I felt my mind break away from my body and drift up toward the ceiling. I was outside myself, watching the whole proceedings from afar. You could have slapped a scalding hot branding iron against my bare foot and I wouldn’t have felt a thing.

“I deeply regret to inform you,” he went on stoically, but the pain in his dark eyes gave him away. This event had touched him profoundly. “That Mr. Corliss Greenwood has lost his life.”

father three days later.

John Fant paid for the funeral and those of the three other men killed in the cave-in. The entire Fant family came to the services, except for the children of course. I thought it was real nice of them to drive the twenty-five miles.

Mama was inconsolable. She’d been crying for three days straight and she could barely stand on her feet in the heat, even though the funeral director had erected a canopy over the gravesite. She leaned heavily against me throughout the preaching, handkerchief pressed to her face.

The preacher announced that we were ready to receive condolences from those paying their respects. I arranged my three brothers and three sisters in a stair-step row starting with the youngest, Daisy, who was four and kept asking when Daddy was coming home. I straightened the navy blue bows in her braids and wiped my six-year-old brother Pete’s nose with the back of my sleeve. I wet my palm with spit and slicked down Jimmy’s cowlick, gave Jenny a stern look because she was wriggling, smiled at Lila who was so shy she couldn’t look strangers in the eye, and clamped Willie on the shoulder. Willie was next in age to me, sixteen, and now he was the man of the family. Then I went to the end of the line to keep Mama propped up.

The senior Mr. Fant leaned heavily on an ivory cane that contrasted sharply with his black suit and black bowler hat, and he solemnly shook the hand of every single Greenwood child, even Daisy, who looked confused by the whole thing.

Mrs. Fant’s mouth was pulled tight and her eyes were so sad, as if it was
daddy who’d died. She wore black gloves like a real lady and her handshake was light as a hummingbird’s wing. She skipped the younger kids, only stopped by Willie and me. I had a feeling that shaking so many hands would have been too much for her.

Penelope Fant Bossier came next. She was older than John by a year or two and she moved with such grace I felt like a dirt clod next to her. Rumor had it that she’d gone to a fancy finishing school back East and you could see it on her.

Her husband trailed behind her. Beau Bossier was barely taller than his wife, and stocky. He had thick wrists, a square jaw, and looked like he’d be good at hunting. He kept alternately tugging at his tie and mopping his ruddy face with a silk handkerchief.

And then there was John.

I gazed into his eyes and my heart skipped a beat.

“Millie,” he murmured, his warm voice full of sympathy, and his big, strong hand enveloped mine. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, John,” I said, shocking myself by using his first name.

My siblings gasped and stared at me openmouthed as if I’d tooted in church.

I don’t know why I said it, except he’d been in our house and sat with us while he delivered the worst news you could give someone. And he’d just called me Millie, not Miss Greenwood. I guess it gave me a false sense of intimacy. A working-class girl like me didn’t address an upper-crust man by his first name without being invited to do so, and even then, such familiarity was still frowned upon. Better to beg his forgiveness for taking liberties and calling him by his given name.

But then John smiled.

Apparently, he hadn’t minded, so I didn’t apologize, which was quite bold of me in front of everyone. On a day like today, breaking the rules of decorum could be forgiven without having to say you were sorry.

He dropped my hand and turned to my mother. “Mrs. Greenwood, there is no way to ease the suffering for what you have lost, but your husband was killed while in my employ and you are entitled to be compensated for the loss of income.”

“What?” Mama whispered.

She hadn’t been thinking beyond her own grief, but I’d already started worrying how we were going to make ends meet without Daddy’s paycheck. We had a garden, a flock of chickens, two hogs, and a cow, but it required seed and feed to keep a farm going.

John withdrew a folded piece of paper from the pocket of his lapel and passed it to my mother.

I leaned over her shoulder as she opened it. She gasped, spread her fingers over her throat.

It was a check for five thousand dollars. More money than Daddy would have made in ten years.

Mama clutched the check to her chest. “Thank you, oh thank you. That’s such a huge weight off my shoulders.”

John shifted, glanced over at me, his eyes carefully hooded.

I couldn’t read what he was thinking.

“It seems like a lot of money right now, Mrs. Greenwood,” he said. “But you’ve got seven children to provide for.”

Mama nodded.

“As further assistance to your family,” Penelope spoke up then, “I’d like to offer your eldest daughter a job in service as a maid to my family.”

A job? Me? Working for the richest family in the Trans-Pecos region? My pulse galloped.

BOOK: One True Love (Cupid, Texas 0.5)
3.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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