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Authors: Karen Lopp

Shotgun Bride

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Table of Contents
SHOTGUN BRIDE

KAREN LOPP

SOUL MATE PUBLISHING

New York

SHOTGUN BRIDE

Copyright©2013

KAREN LOPP

Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the priority written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Published in the United States of America by

Soul Mate Publishing

P.O. Box 24

Macedon, New York, 14502

ISBN-13: 978-1-61935-
190-5

www.SoulMatePublishing.com

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

To my wonderful family

and the awesome critters in my critique group.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the editors of Soul Mate publishing and the cover artists.

Chapter 1

New York City, 1872

“Miss Barnes, you are needed in Mr. Sharp’s office.”

Kathleen winced as Lettie’s nasal twang whined from behind and grated on her ears. Lips pursed, she whipped the needle in a quick stitch and twisted a perfect knot with a jerk.

“I’ll be right there.”

Kathleen snatched a pair of scissors off the worktable and snipped the thread a precise one eighth of an inch. No way would she allow Mr. Sharp to deduct any of her pay for a smidgen of wasted thread.

“Hurry up, Miss Barnes.”

Kathleen bit down on her lip and stabbed the needle into a tattered pincushion. This unwelcome interruption cut into her production, and Mr. Sharp’s stinginess was legend.

“I’m coming.”

Kathleen jumped up so fast her rickety chair teetered on the hind legs. She dropped the delicate blue silk chenille over the table and tried to ignore the fake smile and bright eyes on Lettie’s pudgy face as she brushed past her.

Kathleen wrinkled her nose. The woman reeked of Mr. Sharp’s rank cologne. Another conquest for the balding tyrant of this miserable shop. Why he persisted in hounding her, she didn’t understand. Plenty of women had jumped into his bed in an attempt to further their careers. Since she was his highest, most creative, producer, his continued advances had moved far beyond annoying to a burning anger.

Kathleen’s head began to pound and she gritted her teeth. Perhaps if she gave in just once he’d leave her alone. But the consequences of sleeping with him lay before her as she wove her way to the front of the room. Three young girls sat huddled in a dank corner, their bellies swollen with child and sweat rolling down their once cheerful faces. Despair bent their shoulders and dark circles showed under their fear-filled eyes. She wouldn’t risk ending up like them, tossed aside as soon as that man’s itch was scratched.

Kathleen tugged at the collar of her dress as she stopped in front of Mr. Sharp’s door. The cooler air inside his office wasn’t worth fighting off his forceful solicitations. But what choice did she have? This wooden building with one small window, rough sawn floors, and a host of rats had become her prison. Mr. Sharp, her jailer, and, her only means of income.

She didn’t ask for much, just a little spot to call home, someone to share it with, and a measure of respect. Love would be wonderful, but she’d spent too many years watching the girls around her ‘fall in love’ only to find themselves the object of lust. Each discarded by the vultures that preyed on foolish young girls with no family to protect them.

A weary sigh slipped between her dry lips. Her dreams of success, happiness, and significance, all faded away in the endless cycle of working to eat, leaving nothing but her virtue. She clung to it with the passion a drowning person would cling to a raft.

Sweat trickled between Kathleen’s shoulder blades and slicked her palms. With a deep breath, she straightened her spine and pushed the door open. She darted a surprised glance around the office. No Mr. Sharp. Instead, a young gentleman dressed in a black business suit, crisp white shirt, and a bolo tie stood behind the cluttered desk. He gripped a worn brown leather satchel.

Suspicion reared its wary head and a frown tugged at the corners of her mouth. Men, in her experience, had been nothing but trouble. They all wanted something that belonged to her or wanted to use her for their own gratification. None offered to give her a darn thing in return. They only took.

“Good afternoon. You must be Miss Barnes,” he said. “I am Peter Turner of the Pinkerton agency and I represent the estate of Benjamin Simpkins. Please, have a seat. I need to ask you a few questions.”

Kathleen stood frozen, staring at the man as she digested his words. She relaxed her tense muscles, closed the door, and skirted around a pile of material to the nearest chair. “Of course.” She’d never heard of Benjamin Simpkins, but the Pinkerton agency had a good reputation. She’d hear him out.

Mr. Turner lifted out a small notepad and settled in Mr. Sharp’s swivel chair. “Are you the daughter of Frank and Ruth Barnes?”

Fingers curled tight, Kathleen leaned forward in her seat. Her mind flew to Judge Thompson. How did he find her and what did he want now? He couldn’t still be her guardian. Or could he? Surely she’d buried that part of her past. Eyes narrowed, she jutted out her chin.

“Just a minute,” she said. “Is that greedy, thieving Judge Thompson behind this?”

“No, ma’am, he’s not. That bas—, pardon me, that lowdown skunk is dead. He can’t bother you anymore.”

Kathleen hoped the judge enjoyed the fires of hell as she sank back into her chair and tucked a stray tendril of hair behind her ear. “Is there some kind of a problem?”

“No, not at all.” He smiled. “I just need to establish your identity beyond any legal doubts. It is rather remarkable you made it from Arizona to New York all by yourself and at such a young age, too. Don’t you agree?”

Kathleen arched one brow and smiled. “Not really. I was taught how to get along on my own and blessed with parents who drilled it into us how to never give up. Long and scary at times, but remarkable?” Kathleen shook her head. “No.”

Mr. Turner grinned.

She did not want him to take her smile as some form of flirtation. She shifted in her chair.

“I know it must have been a very trying and difficult time for you. I’m the one who traced your footsteps. It has taken nearly a year to find you.” He leaned forward and splayed his hands on the desk as sympathy laced his eyes. “I’m sorry about your family.”

The burn of tears threatened and Kathleen blinked them back. She refused to show weakness in front of a man. That only seemed to encourage them to boldness. “Thank you.”

Reclining back in his seat, Mr. Turner rubbed his chin. “Can you supply any proof as to your identity?”

“What kind of proof?” Her throat closed and she sought for air. Queasiness roiled in her empty stomach at the memory of the horrid scene of coming home from town to find the charred ruins of her home and the mutilated bodies of her family.

Kathleen bowed her head. Her thoughts flew back across the years and she failed to suppress a slight catch in her voice as a deep, hollow ache rose in her heart. “Everything burned.” The utter loneliness never seemed to wane.

“Let’s see.” Mr. Turner cleared his throat. “Can you tell me your mother’s maiden name, maybe where both your parents were born, the names of your brothers? Things like that.”

Why all these questions? Kathleen massaged her forehead and glanced up. “What’s this all about?”

“Ben Simpkins named Frank Barnes as his beneficiary in his will. I must prove your identity since you seem to be his only living relative.”

Kathleen tapped her foot and drew her brows together. “Fine, I’ll tell you what I can.”

Mr. Turner dug into his satchel, fished out a pencil, and flipped a page in his notepad. “Let’s get started. What was your father’s full name?”

She straightened up in the chair and rubbed a hand across her eyes. “Franklin William Barnes.”

“Your mother’s?”

“Ruth Anne Gibbens.” Kathleen blinked back tears as a shiver crashed through her. She would never be able to banish the sight of her mother’s charred corpse, a spoon still clutched in blackened bones.

“Samuel and David were my older brothers.”

Hours upon hours, she and her brothers had played, worked, and learned under a brilliant blue sky, seldom overcast and magnificent in its beauty. At night, the dazzling array of stars flung across the vast darkness of the universe, proclaimed the wonder of creation and tugged at her heart. These were just a few of the memories branded on her soul. Even the taunts of her big brothers mocking her inability to keep up evoked a smile. Anything to block out the pain of that day.

“Miss Barnes?” Mr. Turner’s concerned tone broke her musings.

Kathleen shook herself. “Yes.”

He studied her. “I can give you a minute if you want.”

“That’s not necessary. What else do you need to know?”

He scanned his notepad. “Do you know where your mother was born?”

“Right here in New York City.” Her mother had managed a successful tailoring shop. She’d worked for pennies and had naively allowed her ideas to be stolen.

He glanced up. “Is that what brought you here? Searching for relatives?”

Her chest squeezed the air from her lungs. How to explain she’d run away from the abusive Judge Thompson, her head full of dreams, to follow in her mother’s footsteps? And had failed. Miserably. All her dreams crushed.

“Miss Barnes?”

She twiddled her thumbs. Her mother had found love and security, while she’d found harassment and deceit. Her mother had lived a full life surrounded by those she cared for while she lived in a sea of humanity, isolated and alone. “Yes?”

“Know where your father was born?”

She blinked. “Somewhere out West. I’m not sure if he knew. His father was a trapper.”

“Tell me where you grew up.”

“Arizona Territory.” Memories enveloped Kathleen, rolling through her like a fog bank. She missed the wide-open spaces where she and her brothers ran free. Missed her father quizzing them about the call of wild turkey, the bugle of elk, and yapping coyote. She longed to return where the smell of pine and pinion were always in the air, not the stench of trash and sewage lining the streets and alleyways of the poor communities of New York. But mostly, she missed her family and the love they’d shared. Missed knowing someone out there cared about her.

“Where exactly in Arizona Territory?” Mr. Turner scribbled something in his notepad.

Kathleen scrunched a handful of her skirt as her shoulders drooped. “In the southern mountains. Cochise’s country.” Out where the crisp air carried sounds far and the cool nights left one refreshed after a hot day, not the smoky haze and the cramped living quarters of her tiny apartment.

“Must have been lonely for you.”

“Not at all. I loved it. The remoteness might frighten most people, but to me it had been home. A happy home, in spite of the inherent hardships of living so far from civilization.”

Admiration flashed in his eyes. “You’re a rare woman, Miss Barnes.”

He withdrew a stack of papers from his satchel and handed them to her. “Congratulations. This is your inheritance.”

Kathleen reached across the desk and took the offered documents.

“Just to let you know, there is a neighboring rancher, by the name of Mr. Baca, who wants to purchase your property. He’s been trying to find you since before I started looking.”

She stared mutely at Mr. Turner. “What are you talking about?”

“You are now the owner of a small ranch.” He stood and snapped the satchel shut. “Read over the information and if you have any questions or need advice, come by the office. If I’m not there, someone will help you.” Hat in hand, he stepped around the desk. “It has been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Barnes.”

“Thank you, Mr. Turner.” Kathleen stared at the closed door a moment before glancing down at the stack of papers in her clammy hands. She began to read, and felt her eyes widen.

An old friend of her father had left a small ranch in the northern part of New Mexico Territory to him or any surviving relatives. Goose bumps raised on her arms. No way would she sell. She’d lost everything in Arizona to Judge Thompson. Heat rushed up her neck. This inheritance would not slip through her fingers. She was not a child anymore, and no one was going to rob her again.

A small amount of money fluttered out from between the pages. Stunned, she quickly counted the bills, then stuffed the money into her pocket before Mr. Sharp could come in and accuse her of stealing.

Kathleen’s mind reeled with the shock of her sudden reversal. Without reading past the first paragraph, she gathered up the papers and quickly left, not wanting Mr. Sharp to find her alone in his office.

She stumbled back to her workstation, sank down, and automatically began stitching neat rows of deep blue flowers on the pale azure bodice of the garment.

The woman seated next to her glanced over. “Well, Miss Frigid, did you treat that good-looking gentleman warmly? You were in there an awfully long time.”

“Yeah, did he thaw you out some?” The woman’s friend never failed to open her mouth.

“I’ll bet the boss will expect the same treatment once he’s finished with that new secretary of his.” The two women snickered.

Kathleen refrained from responding, knowing it only encouraged them.

“If you don’t give him the goods now, you’ll have to quit.”

A slow, upward tug began at the corner of Kathleen’s mouth, the needle she held, frozen in mid-air. The money in her pocket combined with the stash at home would be enough to buy a train ticket and have a tiny amount left over.

Freedom
. She jumped up and dropped the unfinished dress on the table.

“Thank you for your advice, ladies.” Kathleen stormed off in search of the boss.

“Mr. Sharp.” Kathleen crinkled her nose at his cologne that never quite covered up his body odor.

His waxed mustache twitched as he stared at her bosom. “Ah, Miss Barnes, come to beg for my favors?”

He licked his lips and heat crept up her cheeks. “No, Mr. Sharp, I quit.”

“You can’t quit.” His face pinched with anger.

“I can, and I did. I want my wages.”

He wagged a finger in her face. “I don’t owe you anything.”

She crossed her arms and tapped a foot. “Yes, you do.”

He glanced furtively around the room at the sudden hush as every worker within hearing ceased their work and listened with rapt attention.

A flush of red crept up Mr. Sharp’s neck and veins bulged above the yellowed collar of his shirt. “Well, I don’t owe you for the time you just spent with that Pinkerton man.”

“Fine.” Kathleen released the breath she unconsciously held and flexed her cramped fingers. Indents from her nails lined each palm.

BOOK: Shotgun Bride
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