Dutchman’s Creek, Colorado,
March 2, 1899
Hannah felt the approaching train before she heard it. Her fingers groped
for Quint’s as the platform quivered beneath her feet. A mournful whistle
pierced the rainy distance.
“It’s coming!” Quint strained
toward the sound like a tethered hunting dog, eager to be loosed and
running. Hannah shivered beneath her shawl as the cold March wind whipped
along the platform. Any second now, she would see the gray-white plume
rising into mist above the bare cottonwoods. All too soon, the train would
be pulling into the station. When it pulled out again, Quint would be
waving goodbye from the window of the passenger car.
She gazed at his clean-chiseled
profile, memorizing every feature—the chestnut curls that tumbled over his
forehead, the tiny bump on the bridge of his nose, the alert hazel eyes,
fixed now on the distant curve of tracks where the train would appear. A
smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
It wasn’t fair, Hannah thought.
Quint was happy, and her own heart was on the verge of shattering like a
mason jar dropped onto a stone floor.
Hannah had loved Quint Seavers for
as long as she could remember. They’d been sweethearts since their school
days, and the whole town had expected them to marry. So why couldn’t he
have just let nature take its course? Why had he gotten this crack-brained
urge to run off and seek his fortune in the Klondike gold fields?
At first she’d hoped it was just a
whim. But the Klondike was all Quint had talked about for the past year.
Only one thing had kept him in Dutchman’s Creek. His older brother Judd
had joined the Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and gone off to the
Spanish American War, leaving Quint behind to tend the family ranch and
look after their invalid mother. But that was about to change. After four
months with the Rough Riders and five months in a Virginia military
hospital, Judd was coming home. He’d be arriving on the train that had
just appeared around the distant bend—the train that would be taking Quint
“Do you think he’ll be changed?”
Edna Seavers’ white hands gripped the woven cane arms of her wheelchair. A
cheerless wisp of a woman clad in widow’s black, she’d been wheeled around
in that chair for as long as Hannah could remember.
“War changes everybody, Mama,”
Quint said. “Judd’s been through a bad time with his wounds and the
malaria. But he’ll come around once he’s been home a while. You’ll see.”
“I wish it was you coming home and
Judd leaving.” Mrs. Seavers had never hidden the fact that Quint was the
favorite of her two children. “Why do you have to go anyway? You’re too
young to go rushing off on your own.”
Quint sighed. “I’m twenty-one,
Mama. You promised me that I could go when Judd came home. Well, Judd’s
coming. And I’m going.”
Hannah glanced from Quint to his
mother, feeling invisible. She’d been Quint’s girl for years, but Edna
Seavers barely acknowledged her existence.
The train whistled again, its
shrill voice a cry in Hannah’s ears. She shifted her weight, conscious of
the raw ache between her thighs. Her mother had lectured her about men’s
appetites and made her swear, with her right hand on the Bible, that she
would keep herself from sin. But last night with Quint, in the darkness of
the hayloft, her good intentions had unraveled like a torn sweater. She
had given herself willingly. But the act had been so awkward and painful
that when Quint had moaned and rolled off her, she’d been secretly
relieved. Later that night, in the room she shared with her four younger
sisters, Hannah had buried her face in her pillow and wept until there
were no tears left.
Pistons pumping, the engine glided
into the station. Half-glimpsed faces flashed past in the windows of the
passenger car. For an instant Hannah held her breath, as if she could will
the train to keep moving. Then the mail sack thumped onto the platform.
The brakes moaned as the line of cars shuddered to a full stop.
There was a beat of silence, then
a stirring inside the passenger car. A door swung open. The lone figure of
a tall man in a drooping felt hat emerged onto the step. Veiled by misting
rain he moved down onto the platform.
Hannah hadn’t known Judd Seavers
well. Eight years Quint’s senior, he’d been too old to be counted among
her playmates. She remembered him as a taciturn young man with somber gray
eyes and hands that were always working. In the years Hannah had been
coming around the Seavers place, he’d shown no more interest in her than
Now he walked toward them, where
they waited under the shelter of the eave. He moved slowly, heedless of
the rain that beaded his tan coat and trickled off the brim of his hat. A
battered canvas field bag, the sort that a soldier would carry, dangled
loosely from one hand. He looked old, Hannah thought. Old before his time.
Maybe that was what war did to people.
But why was she thinking about Judd? Minutes from now, Quint—her Quint,
the love of her life—would be gone. Certainly for months. Maybe for years.
* * * * * * *
Judd clenched his teeth against
the pain that shot through him with each step. Most of the time it wasn’t
so bad, but the long, jarring train ride had roused every shard of metal
that the doctors had left in his body. He was hurting like blazes, but he
wasn’t about to show it. Not with his mother and brother looking on.
The nurse had offered him laudanum
to ease the trip. Judd had turned it down. He’d had enough opiates to know
what they could do to a man, and he’d sworn he was finished. Still,
sitting up those long nights with the rhythm of iron wheels rattling
through his bones, he’d have bargained away his soul for a few hours of
But never mind all that, he was
home now, walking down the platform through the soft Colorado rain. Home
from the war with two legs, two arms and two eyes. He could only wish to
God that some of his friends had fared as well.
|From the book:
THE BORROWED BRIDE
By: Elizabeth Lane
Copyright © 2008
® and TM are trademarks of the publisher.
This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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