Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Romance

I'm sorry I'm posting this late today. It's been a crazy week. I was sick, then my mom came for a visit while my husband was out of town, and my daughter got sick. Then my mom left and my husband came home, but then he got sick too. We took my daughter to the doctor and they are treating her for strep and my husband has a rattle in his lungs. So, I'm exhausted and forgot to post a Wednesday Romance.
But now that I've remembered, I thought I'd share this section from A Cold Heart. I know I've posted about this book before, but I don't think I've posted the first chapter, (although it may have been accessible on my website for a while.) Please ignore the little mistakes, as I have not had time to go through it today. I haven't decided if I will be posting the rest of this story as a Wednesday Romance or not. It depends on the response I get and what I decide I'm going to do with it.

“Oh, please help us find shelter soon.” Sadie Evans put a trembling hand to her cold face to shield her eyes from the snow. She desperately searched through the deathly white blizzard for any sign of shelter or protection from the bitter, winter elements of the west. According to her calculations, she should have reached the next station by now, but it was nowhere in sight. Nothing was. For all she knew, she now traveled in the wrong direction or had been going in circles. Unable to locate anything, she exhaled a loud scream of frustration and urged the team of horses forward.
The storm started an hour before, but the snow had been light and the winds nonexistent. Only in the last half hour did the winds pick up, visibility reduced to a couple of feet, and it was becoming worse. The small crystals of frozen water that Sadie usually viewed as beautiful diamonds in nature pelted her face with stinging fury. The thin, wet shawl she wore tightly around her shoulders did little to protect her as another gust of wind stabbed her flesh with the sharpness of hundreds of needles. Ice cycles hung from the reigns in her hand as well as every other part of the covered wagon. Glancing back, she tried to see if her sister was warm and protected. The snow swirled around so fast and thick that Sadie could see little.
Stopping the horses, she climbed into the wagon. The wind didn’t blow in the wagon and her skin tingled with the relief. Feeling her way through the dark she found her sister. Despite the four blankets she was bundled in, Ella Evans was nearly frozen solid. Panicked, Sadie removed Ella’s stiff blankets and put her ear to the four-year-old’s chest. Finding a heartbeat, however faint, a tear ran down Sadie’s face as she sighed with relief. She began rubbing the young girl’s flesh in order to warm her. Within seconds, her arms throbbed from the exertion. She considered snuggling up with her sister but knew her wet and frozen skirts would only serve to freeze the young girl faster. She again wrapped Ella in the blankets’ dryness. Taking the last blanket, she pulled it over herself, laid down next to the unconscious child and waited for sleep, or death, to overtake her.
Her body stiffened from cold and her will to endure, vanished. Breathing became difficult and her heart slowed. She closed her eyes and waited. Waited for death to claim her. Moments before it did, Sadie heard the voice of a man. Perhaps it was her father and she was approaching death. Sadie felt the wagon lurch forward. Caring little whether the horses were moving of their own accord or if someone was stealing the wagon – after all, Indians were said to roam these lands – she remained under her blanket. A prayer in her heart that she and Ella would not suffer more than they already had, she succumbed to unconsciousness.
~ * ~
Sadie’s eyes fluttered and she inhaled the warm, musty air. She lay on something soft and comfortable. Her body no longer tingled but felt warm under wool blankets. Gradually she became accustomed to the dim light and her eyes explored her surroundings. She lay in a very small log room. To her right stood a small night stand that contained various medicinal supplies and tonics. To her left stood an empty cot and a fireplace aglow with a warm fire. The two windows in the room were shaded and an elderly woman sat in the far corner.
Panic gripped her. Where was she and where was Ella? She tried to sit up, but her body was weak and she only managed to groan and attract the attention of the older woman.
“You shouldn’t exert so much energy, child,” the woman said.
Halting her attempts to sit, since her body wasn’t responding anyway, Sadie tried to address the woman. As she opened her mouth, her voice failed her, much like her body had before. The woman bustled to the bed and gave Sadie a drink of water.
“Sip it slowly. Nothing will be gained by drowning yourself.”
After a few sips, Sadie relaxed against her cot. Her moth not so thick, she attempted to speak again. “Where’s my sister, Ella?” Her words were raspy sounding but at least they came. “Who are you and…where am I?”
“You are safe here at Platte Bridge Station, child. This station is owned and run by the United States Army.”
Sadie sighed with relief and closed her eyes. She’d made it.
“My name is Mary Beth Stevenson. I stay here to mother the soldiers and tend to the sick. As for Ella, well she’s probably out playing in the snow again. Amit gave her a hat and some mittens. They’re a little on the big side and we had to tie them on with yarn, but they’ll keep her warm.” Mary Beth smiled.
Sadie’s tired minds struggled to keep up. Her throat began to tickle. “How….” The sudden onset of a severe cough deep within her lungs stalled her next utterance.
“Oh that cough is terribly low child but at least your fever is gone. Still, you should get some rest.” Mary Beth gave her some more water.
Sadie ignored the spinning room and pushed the caution aside. “How did I get here?” Her voice was a barely audible whisper.
Mary Beth smiled and retrieved her chair and brought it beside her cot. She sat down and picked up her knitting before she began. “Nearly five nights ago we had that terrible blizzard.”
“Five?” Sadie sat up and nearly passed out from the stinging in her head. Mary Beth helped her lay back down.
“You’re safe. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“But, five days? What…?” Her coughing returned and Mary Beth offered some water.
“I’m surprised you woke as soon as you did. The storm was the worst I’ve seen in a while and it came out of nowhere. They say that’s not uncommon around here, even in early October.”
Mary Beth pulled the blanket up around Sadie’s waist.
“Most of the boys on the watch crew that night came inside when it got bad. They figured no one would endanger the station in such weather. It never occurred to them that someone may be stuck in it.” She gave Sadie a wry smile. “Everyone came inside but Amit. He’s a special boy and seems to have a sixth sense at times.”
“Amit?” Sadie said his name and Mary Beth nodded and flitted to the other side of the cabin. Sadie liked the way his name felt on her lips. Such a warm, friendly sounding name. She wondered who this man was.
“After not too long he heard a scream, and I can only assume it was yours. He went to the front gates and not more than twenty yards from them he found your wagon.”
“I was that close? I couldn’t see a thing.” Sadie rubbed a hand over her forehead.
“He drove the team on in and when he reached the stables, he discovered you and your sister. He brought you both into me. We thought you were a goner. Only God’s saving grace allowed you to live after such an ordeal. Your sister woke the following morning and has been taking all the boys around here by her charm.” Mary Beth sat down and took up her knitting again. “That’s the whole of it. Amit and I think you both should weather out the winter here. After the first snow, it only gets worse, I hear. Then you can start off for California in the spring.”
Sadie’s eyes crinkled and her brow furrowed.
“Ella told me that’s where you’re bound.”
Sadie nodded as she tried to absorb the information. This Amit person must have been the man she heard before she fell unconscious. She closed her eyes and offered up a silent prayer of gratitude that she and her sister were safe. When she opened her eyes again, she saw Mary Beth standing over her with a glass in her hand. “Why don’t you have another drink, child, and then get some rest.”
The water was refreshing and before she knew it, Sadie could feel herself dozing off once more.
~ * ~
The mess hall rang with noise the following evening. Men laughed as they ate, not minding that they looked like sardines in the Mess Hall. Parker Brackston sat next to Tom, talking easily of days gone by.
“I sure do miss Mama’s cooking.” Tom smiled as he shoved a fork full of noodles into his mouth. “Amit does a fine job, but no one cooks like Mama.”
Parker nodded. No one, not even Mary Beth, could bake like Mrs. Harris. “I bet Miller Stoles doesn’t have it nearly as good.”
“Have you heard from him recently?”
“Last I heard, he was crossing rebel lines. That was six months ago.”
Tom nodded. “Hope he makes it out of there. Do you remember when we all had plans to do something big together?”
Parker laughed. “We never did decide what our business adventure would be.”
Tom shook his head and chuckled. “I sometimes still think about it.”
“Me too. B.H.S. Attorneys at Law.”
Tom howled with laughter. “I could never be a lawyer.”
A loud banging in the kitchen brought their conversation to a stop. The sudden crash of sound was followed by screams and more banging.
Parker was on his feet and climbing over the bench when Amit exited the kitchen, bare as the day he was born save an apron tied around his waist and the end of a mop fastened to his head. Parker groaned, sunk into his chair and buried his face in his hands.
Straddling a broom, Amit galloped around the room with spaghetti sauce smeared on his face like war paint. He whooped and hollered, banging the pan in his hand over the broom handle. The men in the room roared with laughter as Amit hollered, “Soldiers comin’! Soldiers comin’!”
Amit raced around the room for several minutes before retreating back to the kitchen.
“Oh! My side hurts,” Tom bellowed, wiping moisture from his eye. “I haven’t laughed that hard in weeks.”
“It’s not funny, Tom. Don’t encourage the men.”
“The men love Amit. He’s a good remedy for these dull days.”
“You’re egging him on and he’ll only be more impossible to handle. He won’t get anything done and I’ll be the one to blame.”
Tom shook his head. “He’s good for these men, and you know it. The only one who with the problem is you.”
Parker glared at his friend. “If anyone else had said that to me....”
Tom patted him on the shoulder. “Get some rest, my friend.” Tom stood and left Parker to brood.
~ * ~
Parker swaggered into the mess hall the next morning. Men crowded into the small room, squeezing onto the benches that sat beside the three tables. Forks scraped against metal plates and spicy sausage wafted through the air. The room burst with conversation and laughter as light streamed through the small windows.
Parker made his way to the back of the room and filled a plate. “Are you leaving for patrol this morning, Nichols?”
Private Nichols stood. “Yes, sir. As soon as Jensen is ready.”
“Good. I’d like a full report as soon as you get back.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Oh, and Nichols?”
“Sir?”
“Make sure Jensen doesn’t wonder off alone. We don’t need any casualties right now.”
Nichols nodded and Parker moved to another table and sat next to the corporal. “Morning, Tom.”
Tom nodded. “Have you heard what Amit’s been up to?”
Parker eyed his friend with suspicion. “Are you talking about the kitchen incident last night or this business with that girl and her kid sister?”
“Well I was talking about the girl, but now that you mention it, last night was pretty funny.” Tom chuckled.
Parker closed his eyes and tried to block the memory from his mind. Parker loved Amit but the boy was always doing something outrageous and last night was no exception. One of these days, Amit would do something that would get him into trouble or seriously hurt.
Parker shook his head. “What about the girl?”
“You heard she woke up a couple days back?” Parker nodded and Tom continued. “Rumor has it that she’s up and doing well. Huntsman said she’s the prettiest thing this side a heaven.”
Parker frowned. He didn’t need someone else to protect from the instability of the west. “Hope she doesn’t get in the way of things. When’s she leaving?”
“That’s the thing. I think between Amit and Mary Beth, they’ve talked her into wintering here.” A delighted smile brightened Tom’s face. “Sure will be nice to have a pretty face to look at on long, cold nights.”
Parker felt his temper boil at his friend’s comment. The last thing he needed was a pretty face to look at.
In that same moment all heads turned as the door swung open. The noise in the room stopped and was replaced by whispers. Parker caught a few and his neck grew hot.
“…pretty little thing.”
“I think I’m in love.”
Parker looked up and saw the beautiful girl. Her hair was the color of chestnuts that flowed long and full down her back. Her delicate features revealed no emotion as she walked with the grace and poise of an angel.
Parker shook his head and looked at his plate. His thoughts were turning as mushy as the men around him. His hands shook. He would not allow such a wisp of a girl to get his dander up.
Glancing to her again, he noticed Mary Beth and a young child assisting the young woman. An unwanted smile tried to steal across his face. This only served to anger him more; he was always in control. For this child – she could be no more than that – to turn his mind all sappy, nearly conquered his calm facade. Not to mention, the men would never get a thing done with the likes of her roaming the station. He groaned and prayed for her to leave the station soon.
~ * ~
Sadie stepped into the mess hall and pulled her tangled hair over her shoulder.
“Thank you for helping me, Mary Beth,” she said in a whisper. It was difficult for Sadie to swallow her pride and allow someone to help her. Leaning on Mary Beth, even in her weakened state, humiliated her. If it had not been for her growling stomach, she would have remained in bed.
Mary Beth smiled and patted Sadie’s arm. “You needed to get some air and eat. The exercise will do you good. You’ll see.”
Sadie concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, doing her best to ignore the interested male eyes focused on her. “They are all staring.”
“I’d be more surprised if they didn’t. There aren’t many women who come through here for more than a night or two.”
Lifting her chin, Sadie stood as tall as her petite form would allow. She walked through the room with as much dignity as she could, despite her desire to turn and run. She tried to ignore the fact that her dress was wrinkled and very worn. Though the blue color of the dress added a natural glow to her pale skin, her hair hung loosely around her shoulders because she had no energy to pull it back again. Mary Beth had attempted to put it in a loose braid, but the woman was no hair stylist and the wind in this God forsaken country had destroyed it on the short walk across the station. Sadie was amazed the wind could howl like it did here. Never in her life had she ever witnessed anything like it before. Needless to say, she doubted it would ever do any good to spend much time on her hair while she was here.
Rather than look at the men, she glanced to Mary Beth.
“Take one of the plates there and fill it with whatever you want.”
Sadie’s hands shook as she did as instructed, piling a few things on her plate.
“Don’t be shy. Amit always makes more than enough food. Take whatever you want.”
Sadie smiled and added an extra sausage patty to her plate.
After the women had sat down, Sadie watched as a handsome man approach. She cringed. She did not want his attention, nor anyone else’s. He stood a good head taller than her, though he was not overly tall. His hair was the color of gingerbread, and his eyes were a steel gray. His broad shoulders swayed as he strode toward her, and Sadie wondered if men cowered in his presence. His angular face was accentuated by closely trimmed sideburns and her face flushed as he neared. When he reached them, he sat across from them. Sadie expected him to say something, but he just sat there with his eyes boring into her.
Sadie squirmed in her seat, already having her feathers of confidence ruffled by her entrance, and she leaned over to help Ella cut her sausage patty into pieces. She could feel the man’s eyes upon her and it unnerved her. This dominating man held an invisible power over her and she wanted to crawl under the table and cry. Her cowardice angered her. As she finished helping Ella, she turned to meet the stranger’s piercing gaze and tried to smile.
“I appreciate you and your men allowing us to stay at the station, sir. We would certainly die if we tried to make it to California before spring.”
The scowl on his face continued but looked forced, as though he battled internally and was losing. Still, his ever present, unpleasant gaze made her uneasy and she took the bait.
“I’m sorry. Was there something you intended to say or are you simply the bearer of unpleasantness?”
The man audibly growled as his frown turned more genuine. “What’s your name, girl, and what’s your business here at Platte Bridge Station?”
Tears welled in Sadie’s eyes. She blinked them back and tossed her limp hair over her shoulder with as much haughtiness as she could. This man was rude and not someone she wished to associate with. “My name is Sadie Evans and this is my sister, Ella.” She smiled at her sister. “I’m sure you heard already that we’re bound for California to live with my aunt and uncle but were inconvenienced by the storm. So we find ourselves in the present company.” She swallowed, forcing her emotions down. “May I have the delight in learning the name of my conversation partner, or has your inappropriate staring and rude conversation affected your speaking abilities?”
“You have a lot of nerve, girl!” he bellowed as he stood and placed his hands on the table. He leaned toward her and looked as though he might move to strike her. “I’m Sergeant Parker Brackston and you will answer to me for any and all of your needs. Understand?”
A tear spilled onto her cheek but she ignored it. The idea that she was actually showing her weakness in front of this man burned her ego. “I am not one of your soldiers, sir, and I will not be treated as such.” Her voice was calm, though her temper flared under the surface. “Therefore, I would appreciate it if you addressed me as a gentleman would a lady.”
“I will not take orders from a child!” He shoved his chair out of his way, stepping back from the table. “You will do as I tell you just like everyone else around here. No exceptions. You will not disrespect me and walk around here with an air of superiority, turning every man’s head, distracting him from his work.”
“Pardon me, but I will not respect someone who will not respect me.” She met his stare. Their gazes locked and for an instant Sadie felt her heart flutter with unfamiliar emotion. There was something different about this man then any other she had met before. Unfortunately, his manner was maddening and she stilled the flutter of her heart before her thoughts could run away. A second later he plowed through the door of the mess hall, muttering something under his breath.
The room was quiet except for forks scraping against plates as everyone ate their meal and pretended not to have heard the confrontation between Sadie and the sergeant. Sadie began to eat her meal and marveled that her sister ate so well instead of talking incessantly. That was undoubtedly due to the fact that this simple meal far surpassed what they had been eating on the trail.
After several minutes, Mary Beth leaned closer to her. “That was very bold, dear.”
“What?”
“Speaking to Parker that way. He’s not accustomed to confrontation. When he gives an order, he expects it to be carried out.”
“Well, perhaps if he hadn’t been so rude. I’m not accustomed to such staring and being treated so cruelly.”
“Even so,” Mary Beth said with a knowing smile, “Parker won’t be pleasant the rest of the day.”
~ * ~
Mary Beth had been correct in her assumption of Sergeant Parker Brackston’s behavior. The remainder of the day he stomped around the station like a child throwing a tantrum. It didn’t matter to Sadie. Let him be angry. Her father didn’t raise her to tolerate being treated so rudely by anyone – especially by someone as egocentric as Sergeant Brackston.
Snow covered the ground and the wind blew making it too chilly to be out of doors for long, if avoidable. As it was the first day she had been out and about, she tired quickly and was relieved she did not feel up to doing more in the cold weather. Taking Mary Beth’s advice, she rested throughout most of the day.
Sadie longed to explore the station. She had stopped at several forts along the trail but had never stayed for any length of time. The idea of being at Platte Bridge Station thrilled her. Mary Beth informed her that though small, this fort served as protection for emigrants and the telegraph line against the Native Americans. It was also the last crossing of three along the North Platte River. That knowledge in itself sent a thrill through her body. After this, it would surely be smooth sailing, as her journey to California would be nearly at its end. At least she doubted anything would be as bad as traveling though such a terrible storm like she endured just before arriving at Platte Bridge Station.
She remained indoors mostly, though she did meet several soldiers during her brief outings for meals. With the exception of Sergeant Brackston, all had been charming and cordial. Just after her evening meal, she met up with Private Amit Stevenson. Amit was the son of Mary Beth and a very pleasant man. The first time Sadie had ever seen Amit she had been surprised. Mary Beth had explained prior to her meeting him that he saw things and often handled situations as a child might. She wasn’t certain what she had expected, but his appearance had surprised her. He was tall, though somewhat lanky and thin. His thick hair was blond and wavy and he had a strong jaw line. His eyes were the color of honey and his smile warmed her heart. Still, he appeared to be an overgrown boy rather than a man.
The first time she had seen him, the morning after she had initially woken up, she had been awake on and off all day. She awoke to see him sitting at his mother’s feet. Seeing her eyes open, he had jumped to his feet and saluted. Sadie had been shocked but a smile found its way to her face upon looking at the man’s smiling mother.
“Private Amit Stevenson,” he said proudly. Dropping his hand, he said with a relieved smile, “Amit is glad you are awake.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Sadie Evans.” She smiled easily at him. “I can’t begin to express my gratitude to you for saving mine and my sister’s lives.”
“Ah, shucks.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet. His face turned bright red and a giggle escaped his lips. Seeing a man giggle was something Sadie had never witnessed before but she found the gesture endearing all the same.
Today, as she left the mess hall, anxious for the warmth of her cabin and the relief of her bed she turned as she heard Amit call out to her.
“Miss Evans.” He stopped in front of her and held out his arm. “Amit must walk with you.”
“Thank you.” He was such a breath of fresh air and so chivalrous. “Did you have a nice day?”
Amit’s smile brightened his entire face. “Amit helped in the kitchen today.” He puffed up his chest in pride.
“Do you do that every day?”
“Yes. It’s Amit’s favorite job.”
“Do you have other duties?”
“Sometimes Amit does night watch.”
Sadie smiled, amused at his referring to himself in the third person. “Amit.” She hesitated. “I would like to look around the station. I’m tired right now and it’s quite dark but I thought I might like to look around in the morning. I would be thrilled to have your company and would welcome your knowledge of the area.”
Amit stared at her blankly and she wondered if she had done too much explaining along with her request. She decided to try again.
“Will you show me around the station tomorrow?”
A smile spread across his face and he nodded eagerly. “The station’s Amit’s home. Amit will show home to Miss Evans.”
Sadie smiled at him, glad he was excited to help her. Before she was able to say more, Sergeant Brackston bellowed from behind her. While she felt herself scowl, she was surprised to see Amit grinning like a boy on Christmas morning.
“Miss Evans. I warned you not to distract my men.” He marched to stand between her and Amit. “Private, aren’t you supposed to be helping in the stables?”
“Oh, the stables!” Amit exclaimed as he threw an arm over his hat. “Amit likes the horses.” He seemed barely able to contain his excitement. With a quick wave, he took off at a run to the stables.
Sadie could not suppress the smile that crossed her face at the man’s apparent glee. Any amusement she found, however, was squelched when she turned to see the brooding man standing beside her. Annoyance dominated his expression as he glared at her. Tired though she was, Sadie stood her ground.
“You don’t have to be so harsh with him. He was merely walking me to the comforts of my cabin.”
“And shirking his responsibilities.”
“What harm is there in seeing me to my cabin?”
“Plenty,” he growled. “Besides, he has more important things to see to.”
“Don’t feed me that, Sergeant.” She emphasized his title. “There are plenty of soldiers to help out. Tell me what the real problem is.”
Sergeant Brackston heaved an irritated sigh. “Fine, little missy. I don’t want some child coming in here and turning all these men’s hearts and heads to mush.”
“If you’re referring to Ella, I assure you, your concerns are unfounded. She’s young, yes, but the men are delighted by her. Why, she’s only a child. What harm can come from loving a child?”
He pulled her around the building, out of any direct light and pushed her up against the wall. The air was knocked out of her from his roughness, and her body slid to the ground. Sergeant Brackston lifted her back up by her arms. Her heart fluttered from his nearness as he leaned toward her. She could actually feel the warmth of his breath on her face as he spoke. “I’m not speaking of your sister but rather of you,” he growled.
“Me?”
“Yes, you!” he yelled in a whisper. “These men have seen no woman besides Mrs. Stevenson for over a month. And you waltz in here and –”
“I hardly waltzed anywhere.”
He released her abruptly as though touching her had burned him. He looked at his hands, seeming to collect his thoughts. “Just stay out of the way.”
“You mean, stay out of your way.”
Sergeant Brackston glared at her before storming off into the night, leaving her quite unsettled by the encounter. She gathered her wits and hurried to the warmth of her cabin where she saw Ella already settled in for the night on a bed of straw on the floor. Shrugging out of her coat, she hung it by the fireplace and started to ready herself for bed.
Mary Beth glanced up from her knitting. “Is everything all right, dear? You look a little flushed.”
“I’m fine, Mary Beth.” Sadie put on a brave smile. “Just tired, I think.”
“Well, get some rest. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
Sadie obeyed and climbed beneath the wool blanket. Closing her eyes, she tried to sleep, but with the sole company of her mind, she could only think of Sergeant Parker Brackston. He was, after all, very handsome. Back home in Vermont he would have had the girls swarming all over him. She wondered where home was for him and if he had always behaved as he did now or if something, some event, had molded him into what he as now. Where was his family? Or did he even have any?
Family. The word caused emotions to rise within her but she pushed them down before they could surface. She was still trying to heal from her physical pain – she would deal with her emotional pain later. Mustering all her courage, she withheld her tears and turned her thoughts to Ella and Private Amit Stevenson. Ella loved Amit and he seemed to return her fondness. A smile found its way to Sadie’s lips as she thought of them walking hand in hand around the station earlier. Such a pleasant memory, and with those thoughts, Sadie fell asleep.

(Fort Caspar aka Platte Bridge Station)

2 comments:

Lollipop said...

Oh, my goodness. I love it! Please write some more:)

Freyja Colborn said...

I read this when it was up on the website and loved it then. I was wondering if you were going to to something more with this story I hope so. I would love to see how the story plays out.