assie, do we have any books on reincarnation?”
Cassie Wynock, librarian at the Eureka County Library, looked up in surprise at the shriveled knot of a man who stood before her desk. “Bob, why do you want a book on reincarnation?”
“Danielle told me in another life she used to be an Egyptian slave girl, and it got me thinking, wondering if I had any past lives.”
In another life, Cassie would have been a wealthy woman of consequenceâa queen or, at the very least, a prime minister. Certainly not a librarian who spent her days catering to people like Bob Prescott.
Then again, Cassie didn't believe in nonsense like reincarnation. The only past that shaped a person was the life she'd lived, and the lives of the ancestors before her. Cassie's forebears had been among the first to arrive in Eureka County and had made their mark all over this land. The very plot where the library now sat had once been Wynock property, as had the school and the bank and just about everything else in town. Most people had forgotten that, but not Cassie.
“The New Age books are over here,” she said, leading Bob to the small section of shelves.
“Thanks, Cassie. Say, did you hear Jake Murphy's daughter's coming to town? Supposed to be arriving today.”
Cassie stiffened. “I didn't know Jake had a daughter.”
“Surprised the heck out of me, too.” Bob studied the shelf. He needed a shave, and the bristles of his beard stood out like salt scattered across his chin. “Now, which one of these books is gonna help me figure out my past lives? Danielle said knowing what we were in the past can help us figure out what we're supposed to do in this life.”
Bob was seventy if he was a day. If he hadn't figured out what to do with his life by now, why worry? But Cassie kept her mouth shut and returned to her desk. If he wanted to take life advice from a waitress at the cafÃ© where he ate breakfast, Cassie wasn't one to tell him different.
She tried to focus on putting together the next issue of the library newsletter, but her mind kept wandering back to the other bit of news Bob had shared: Jake Murphy had a daughter.
The idea caused a pain behind her eyes. Thinking about Jake always hurt. She'd made such a fool of herself over the man.
Cassie was not a foolish woman. She'd graduated at the top of her class at Eureka High School and had been poised to head to the University of Colorado to major in international studies when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
Cassie had done the right thing and stayed to nurse her mom while the rest of her classmates, including the boy she'd been dating, went off to college. When her mother died two years later, her father had been a complete wreck, so Cassie had stayed and enrolled in college at Montrose, commuting back and forth between the red brick campus and the Queen Anne home on Fourth Street where she'd grown up.
Montrose didn't offer international studies, so Cassie had let a counselor talk her into pursuing a degree in library science. She'd planned to transfer to CU in a couple of years and change her major, but that never happened.
Her father died, leaving her the house and not much else. The county had decided to build this library and had offered her the job, so she'd taken it. It wasn't what she'd planned for her life, but she'd made the best of it, and done a good job. She had no illusions about herself. She knew she was fast becoming a stereotype of the old maid librarian who lived alone with two cats. She'd dated some in her younger years, but the men who asked her out were of a type she secretly disdainedâsoft and studious, weak in a way that was too much like her father and his father before him. Wynock women had a history of being attracted to men without backbonesâthe main reason all the land they'd once owned was no longer theirs. Cassie wasn't going to follow in her mother's and grandmother's footsteps.
Then Jacob Murphy had turned her head completely, and played her for such a fool.
She'd seen him first at Hard Rock Days, an annual celebration of Eureka's mining heritage. Local men competed in feats of strength like racing, pushing loaded ore carts, and driving spikes in solid rock.
Jake had stepped up to take his turn swinging the hammer, a tall, lean man with coppery hair and beard. He'd stripped off his shirt to reveal rippling musclesâCassie knew she wasn't the only woman in the crowd who drew in her breath at the sight. She hadn't been able to take her eyes off him as he swung the hammer. One, two, three blows and the spike was in. He accepted the trophy with a crooked grin.
The moment was burned into Cassie's memory. The sight of him had haunted her dreams for the next few nights. It didn't matter that he was older than herâfifty-five to her forty-five. He was exactly the kind of man she wanted. The kind who never gave her a second glance.
And then the man himself had stepped into the library and walked right up to her desk with that same crooked smile and asked if she could help him find some books on local history. He'd cast a spell on her, one from which it had taken her months to awaken.
“Cassie, are you gonna help me out here or not?”
Bob's voice broke into her reverie. She jumped up from the desk and hurried to the front counter. “Did you find the book you wanted?” she asked.
“Nah, found some stuff about other people's past lives, but I don't give a damn about any of them. Maybe I'll ask Danielle what she recommends. In the meantime, I got this instead.” He held up the latest Dan Brown novel.
“Hello, Bob, Cassie.” A tall woman dressed like a gypsy in a patchwork skirt and peasant blouse emerged from the stacks and approached the counter.
“Afternoon, Madam Mayor.” Bob grinned, probably because he knew how much Lucille Theriot hated her title. One more example of how she didn't take the job seriously, Cassie thought. Look at the way she dressed. She looked more like a bag lady than the mayor of a small town.
“Lucille, what do you reckon you were in your past life?” Bob asked.
Lucille didn't even blink at this non sequitur. “I have no idea, Bob. I have enough trouble keeping up in this life without worrying about the last one.”
“But you do believe in it? Reincarnation, I mean.”
“I'm at the age where nothing surprises me.”
Cassie pulled forward the stack of books and began scanning themâ
Parenting the Adult Child, When Your Adult Children Move Home, Healing Broken Families
. She looked up and met Lucille's gaze with a questioning look.
The mayor flushed. “My daughter is moving in with me for a while.”
What was this, secret offspring week? “I didn't know you had a daughter,” Cassie said.
“She's been living in Connecticut with her father since she was a teenager. Now she's lost her job and wanted a change of scenery, I guess.” Lucille opened and closed the top book on the stack, fidgeting. “She needs my help. It will be a good opportunity for us to get to know each other again. And she has a son, a little boy.”
“I was just telling Cassie I heard Jake Murphy's daughter is coming to town, too,” Bob said. “You reckon she's here to stay?”
“I believe she's coming to look at the property she inherited,” Lucille said. “Reggie's picking her up at the airport right now.”
Reggie Paxton was the town's only lawyer, so Cassie guessed he'd handled Jake's will. “Did you know Jake had a daughter?” she asked Lucille.
The older woman shook her head. “Apparently he and the girl's mother split years ago and he hadn't seen his daughter since. But he left her everything in his will, so she's coming out to take a look.”
“If she needs someone to show her the French Mistress, I can help her out,” Bob offered. “I spent almost as much time up there as Jake.”
“She might not appreciate the fact that you were trespassing,” Lucille said mildly.
“A man shouldn't let a few obstacles get in the way of a dream,” Bob said, rubbing the side of his face. Cassie remembered Jake had given the old man a black eye once, when he'd caught him in the mine uninvited.
“One look at the mine and Jake's old place will send her running back to wherever she's from,” Cassie said.
Lucille shrugged. “You never know. This country can take hold of a person. That's what happened to me.”
“Plenty of people think they like it, until they spend their first winter here,” Cassie said. It took a certain toughness to thrive in these mountains, a toughness that had been bred into Cassie.
“We'll all get a chance to meet her,” Lucille said. “Danielle and Janelle are talking about holding a kind of memorial service for Jake over at the cafÃ© while she's here.”
“I thought they already had a service,” Cassie said.
“Not really. Some of Jake's friends got together and scattered his ashes, but we never had a real ceremony. I think it would be nice for his daughter.”
“Why should she care, if she hasn't seen him in years?” Cassie asked.
“If it were me, I'd want to know what my old man was like,” Bob said.
Cassie sniffed. “She should talk to me. I could tell her what he was like.”
“Not everyone feels the way you do,” Lucille said. She gathered up her books. “See you around.”
Lucille and Bob left together. Cassie gave up on the newsletter and stared out the window. She had a view from here of Mount Winston. This time of year the crown of the mountain was heavy with snow, shining silver in the afternoon sun. Her family had once owned a good part of the mountain, and neighboring Mount Garnet, too. They'd probably even owned the land where the French Mistress stood, though she'd never been able to prove it. Her great-grandfather had thought all that rock useless and had been happy to sell it to the miners who came looking for gold. Fool's gold, he'd called it, though he'd been the fool when so many of them found the precious metal and became rich.
The money in the family came from her great-grandmother, who'd had the foresight to open a restaurant and laundry to cater to the miners. Later, she'd added a general store and a hotel. She was the one who built the house Cassie lived in now.
Cassie came from a line of strong women who made a habit of falling for weak men. Jake hadn't been weak, but he'd definitely been wrong. Cassie should thank her lucky stars she'd discovered his true nature before it was too late.
The house struggled up the steep slope like an old woman in long skirts, in danger of falling over with one good shove. The exterior was unpainted wood, weathered the soft gray of pencil lead. The roof was rusted to the color of dried blood. A silver stovepipe jutted from the peak of the roof, a tattered scrap of cloth fluttering from it.
“Is that . . . a windsock?” Maggie asked, squinting at the once-red tube of fabric.
“Yep.” Reggie pulled a set of keys from his pocket. “I'd better give you these before I forget. The keys to the Jeep and the snowmobile are on there. House key, too, though I doubt Murph ever used it.”
Maggie accepted the keys and climbed out of the car, which was parked on perhaps the only flat section of ground on her father's property. Every other square inch slanted precariously. As she braced herself with one hand against the car door, a chill wind tugged at her clothes. “Whatever possessed him to want to live up here?” she asked Reggie as he joined her beside the car.
“It was probably just a matter of convenience at first. He needed a place to live and the house was here when he bought the place, though he's done a considerable amount of work on it.”
She stared at the shack. One end of the front porch was supported by a pillar of dry-stack rocks, while the other jutted into thin air. On closer inspection, the siding was of varying widths of wood held together with rusting nails, and no two windows were the same size. “He did?”
“It's a lot more sound than it looks,” Reggie said. “Why don't we go inside?”