My bad! I forgot to post the conclusion of the prologue to Darlin’ Druid on the 15th as promised. I am so sorry! For the past week I’ve been on overload, writing blog posts for other sites and dealing with a new health problem. In an effort to make up for my slip-up, I’m posting the prologue conclusion AND a portion of chapter one.
Prologue ~~ conclusion
Jessie screamed and recoiled, tumbling backward onto the wet grass. Trance broken, she huddled there, trembling with fear for several moments before she could bring herself to peek at the water again. Much to her relief, she saw only the candle flame and her own terrified image.
Scrambling to her feet, she emptied the bucket, doused the candle and stumbled across the field to the road. Then she hurried homeward, thoughts consumed by the twin messages she had received. The first was easy to decipher. To find the man of her dreams, the man she believed she was destined to love, she must travel west with her brother Tye, who intended to embark on the latest silver rush in far off Utah Territory.
The second message was less clear. Did it mean the owner of those mad, burning eyes also awaited her somewhere beyond the western horizon? Dear God, she hoped not.
Outside Omaha’s Union Pacific Station, Captain David Taylor awaited the westbound train. Tired of the wait, he paced to a corner of the building, crossed his arms and leaned back against the yellow frame wall. This new depot was a far cry from the rickety old Riverside Station he’d passed through some years ago, he mused. Built on landfill, the new structure stood near the Missouri River Bridge, which had recently replaced the slow ferry service David recalled with distaste.
Admiring the bridge, he did his best to ignore the passengers and baggage crowding the station platform. He loosened his collar and tugged his campaign hat lower against the hot noonday sun. Barely June but summer was already here, meaning Indian trouble and long days in the saddle. Even so, he’d be glad to get back to his Wyoming post. He wasn’t cut out for city life. Not that he regretted his trip to Cincinnati. He should have gone sooner, a lot sooner.
He scowled, recalling his Cousin Susan’s telegram. Mother failing. Asking for you. Come before too late. If you care.
If he cared? Aunt Martha was like a mother to him. Of course he cared. Still, he understood Susan’s rancor; he hadn’t visited his aunt since right after the war. He’d been trying to put his life back together, but that was no excuse.
Unlike her daughter, Aunt Martha hadn’t reproached him for staying away so long. That wasn’t her way.
Pain ripped through him when he pictured her lying frail and helpless in her bed. Then he smiled. Inside, she was as iron-willed as the day she had arrived on the River T twenty years ago. A widow with grown children even then, she had left behind a comfortable life and traveled alone to the remote Texas ranch, all in order to see him, her motherless eight-year-old nephew, brought up decent. And then she’d been told by her stiff-necked brother to go back where she belonged. Not that she’d listened, of course.
Aunt Martha had turned the River T into a real home, something his mother had never done, David bitterly reflected. Unlike that selfish hothouse flower, Aunt Martha had loved the ranch and the broad Texas prairie. If not for the war, he suspected she never would have left, but she’d refused to live under a Secessionist’s roof. Her adamant stand had led him to join the Union Army, an unforgivable sin in his father’s eyes.
Now, to please his aunt, David had promised to consider going home. But he doubted his father would accept his help, no matter how stove up the stubborn old mossy horn might be. Fresh guilt stabbed him. If he had been there to help run the ranch, maybe Pa’s accident never . . . .
A woman’s shriek rent the air, interrupting his ruminations and jerking him to attention. The sound had come from inside the depot.
“What the devil?” he muttered. Cutting a path between startled travelers, he shoved open the door and stepped into the building. The stuffy interior reeked of tobacco and sweaty bodies. Finding a gap in the crowd, David caught sight of a red-faced young corporal. The trooper bobbed and weaved, arms raised to fend off blows being rained upon him by a woman in a brown poke bonnet. Her weapon was a heavy looking black reticule.
“Scoundrel! I’ll teach ye some manners, I will!” she vowed in a furious Irish brogue. Swinging wildly, she sent the corporal’s blue cap flying.
“Take it easy, lady!” he cried. “I didn’t mean no harm.”
Wondering what offense the man had committed, David shouldered his way through the crowd until he stood directly behind the woman. Slim and a head shorter than himself, she wore a calico gown, the same drab color as her bonnet. Some settler’s wife, he assumed. But where was her husband?
“No harm, indeed! Stand still, ye heathen, and take what’s comin’ to ye,” she ranted. As she spoke, the yellow-haired corporal spotted David’s uniform and threw him a desperate look.
Feeling duty-bound to step in, David cleared his throat loudly and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but perhaps that’s enough. The corporal might be needed in one piece when he gets back to his post.” His remark drew laughter from several bystanders.
The woman snorted angrily. “Indeed? Well, I don’t give a fig whether the lout is in one piece or twenty!” So saying, she landed a solid whack on the corporal’s noggin that made him yelp.
“Get ’im, darlin’!” a man in the crowd shouted, egging her on.
Afraid the young soldier might retaliate, David reached out to grasp the woman’s arms, stopping her in mid-swing. “Ma’am, if you’ll just settle down . . . .”
“Let me go!” she shrilled, attempting to wrench free.
He should have complied with her demand, but some primitive instinct made him slip an arm around her and haul her back against him. A sweet scent of lilacs and woman washed over him, and he instantly grew aware of her feminine curves.
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