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Authors: Dreams Of Hannah Williams

Linda Ford

BOOK: Linda Ford
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Copyright

ISBN 978-1-59789-891-1

Copyright © 2007 by Linda Ford. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.

All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.

Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.

One

Quinten, South Dakota, 1893

Hannah Williams felt the ground shake, then heard noise like thunder off the hills, followed by the pungent odor of hundreds of overheated bovine bodies. By the time the air filled with dust, she stood with her nose pressed to the window, watching cows stream down the street toward the holding pens at the rail yard. She shivered at the sheer number of them, their bulk. If they happened to decide to crash to the sidewalk and push into her premises. . .

She glimpsed cowboys astride horses. Some rode beside the herd; several more brought up the rear. They seemed to know how to control the animals, though she couldn’t imagine how anyone could contain that tide of flesh.

As soon as the melee passed, she hurried outside. She didn’t intend to miss the thrill of watching the cowboys corral this wild herd.

A group of excited boys jostled her as she hesitated several yards from the penning area. An exciting tension trickled across her spine at the noise of the cows pushing and bawling a protest against these strange surroundings, almost drowning out the sounds of men calling to each other and to the animals.

Nearby, a man on a big bay horse waved his arm in a circle, and several cowboys rode around the edge of the herd, turning them steadily toward the open pens at the end of the street. The cows hesitated. The man jerked his hand upward, and one of the cowboys edged toward the lead cows balking at the gate.

Suddenly, several animals bolted and the whole herd stampeded toward her. She pressed back against the wall of the nearest building, sucked in her breath to make herself smaller, and prayed the animals would miss her.

The big cowboy bellowed at the others then galloped toward her. He waved his hat at the animals and turned them toward the pens. The lead cows again hesitated at the gate then burst through, and like a flood, the rest followed.

The man who’d saved her from certain destruction rode to the gate, pushed it shut, then called to the others who gathered round him. He sat tall and big in the saddle, he and his horse moving as one body. He wore a black leather vest over a dusty gray work shirt. Like the other cowboys, he wore a red bandanna knotted around his neck. He said a few words to the other men. The way a couple of them hung their heads, Hannah guessed they’d been scolded. Two cowboys reined around and circled the pens. The others headed down the street. Hannah expected they would be looking for a bath, a hot meal, and a cold drink, not necessarily in that order. As they cantered by, she couldn’t help thinking many of them looked more like boys than men.

“Ma’am?”

She jerked around to see the big man at her side. He doffed his hat. His dark brown eyes twinkled. “First time you’ve seen cattle moved through town?”

“First time I’ve seen cows so close. I thought I would be trampled. Thank you for saving me.”

He swung his leg over the saddle horn and landed neatly on both feet, then banged his black cowboy hat on his thigh, dislodging a cloud of gray dust. “You were never in any real danger. I made sure of that.”

This was the closest she’d been to a cowboy, and she studied him. “You’re the head cowboy?”

“You could say that. I own all these steers. Jake Sperling.” He nodded almost formally.

She’d heard the Sperling name. Biggest landowners in the area. A powerful family who controlled much of the business around the cattle industry. And this was Jake, the owner. She’d heard rumors indicating he carried his power and authority like a badge, expecting others to honor them as much as he did. In fact, she’d heard he acted like he was the cream on the milk.

“I’m Hannah Williams.” If she had to venture a guess, she would say he was not yet thirty, young to be in such a position. But then what did she know about when men in the West learned to control others? Maybe some were born to it. She only knew she intended to stay as far away as humanly possible from men who had such aspirations and ability. And opportunity. Living with her stepfather had taught her that lesson well.

But her curiosity overcame her caution. “What happens to all these animals now? Where do they go?”

He jerked to his full height. “Allow me to show you.” He turned back toward the pens, the horse clopping on his heels.

Hannah hesitated a fraction of a second, considering the need to get back to work, even more briefly reminding herself she wanted nothing to do with men who exuded authority. But she did want to see how the cattle were handled, and he’d offered. No harm in that. It’s not like she intended to give him any right to order her about. She fell into step beside him, hurrying a little to keep up with his long strides as she picked her way across the dusty street, carefully avoiding the steaming odorous piles left by the cows.

In the three weeks since her arrival in this cow town at the end of the railway, she’d glimpsed a way of life that appealed to her. Men were men. But women were given rights not expected back East. A single woman could even file a homestead claim.

Hannah smiled. She could imagine what Otto, her step-father, would have to say about that. Her smile flattened. How could Mother have married a man so diametrically opposite to Hannah’s father? Her father had been dead almost four years, but even though she was twenty-one and all grown up, Hannah still missed him so much. He would be happy to see Hannah finally had a way to be independent. He’d always encouraged her in that direction.

Jake went right to the wooden rails of the fence and leaned over, not a bit intimidated by the press of animals. Of course he wasn’t. He worked with them daily.

But this was the first time she’d been close enough to a cow to touch it—if she had such an inclination, which she most certainly did not. The animals were even larger and more frightening close up. One animal tossed its head, rolling red, wild eyes and spraying slobber. Hannah gasped and backed several feet from the fence.

Jake laughed. “They can’t hurt you. See.” He reached over and patted one on the rump. The animal snorted and pushed away, causing even more commotion in the herd.

“I can see well enough from here.”
And smell too well.
But determined not to show any weakness, she forced herself to the fence and leaned her arms on the rails as if feeling not a bit of trepidation.

The man grinned at her. “You should see it when a couple more herds arrive and all the pens are full.”

“I can’t imagine the noise.” She grimaced. “Or the odor. How long do you keep them here?”

“As soon as the buyers see them, we cut a deal, load them on the railcars, and ship them east.” He pushed away from the fence and stared hard at the station as if the building itself had done something to offend him. “I expected the buyers to be Johnny-on-the-spot. They better show up on the next train or they’ll have some hard explaining to do. I can’t afford to keep these steers standing around any longer than necessary.”

She chose to ignore his dire comments. “I can’t imagine how you get these wild things to march into railcars.”

“No problem. We chase ’em up the ramp. You just have to know what you’re doing.”

Three boys ran past, screaming like banshees. The cows crashed into each other in their attempt to escape this frightening racket. The far fence creaked a protest.

Jake clambered up the rails. “Look out, boys,” he called. “Hold ’em back.”

The two patrolling cowboys raced to the troubled spot and drove the cattle back.

Jake slammed his hat on his head. “Keep your mind on business. I don’t want to have to round up this bunch again. If they get out, you can bet it’ll mean your jobs.”

The two sketched salutes and looked scared half to death.

Hannah wanted to protest. They could hardly be blamed for some noisy children.

“Thank you for explaining it to me,” she said, her words much softer than her heart. She had a distinct dislike for people holding power over others. In her mind, each person—male or female, young or old—should make his or her own decisions in life. And under God’s control only. Not under the whims of another person who was stronger or had more power.

As she turned to walk away, Jake wrapped the reins of his horse around the top rail and followed. “Would you care to join me for dinner this evening?”

His grin invited her even more than his words, but she’d had her share of men with power—real or imagined. Otto had been more than enough. “I’m sorry. I’m a working girl. I seldom have time to get away.” She increased her pace. “In fact, I’d better get back.”

Jake slowed, let her hurry on, and then called, “Where do you work? When are you done for the day?”

She slowed, turned to face him, saw his wide smile, and almost wished she didn’t have to work. If only he were a regular cowboy and not the powerful owner, she might consider taking a few hours away from the demands of her job. “I really have very little time off right now. I’m just trying to get my business operating.” She wouldn’t tell him where she actually worked—in the burned-out hotel two doors from the general store, next to a law office on one side, a vacant lot on the other. Not that she thought he’d bother looking her up, but she couldn’t take the chance. The last thing she needed was someone who might be a prospective guest showing up before she was ready to reopen.

“I’ll see you around,” he said.

As she hurried back to the hotel, she wasn’t sure if his words were a promise or an order. Nor why it mattered.

She paused outside the Sunshine Hotel. What had her grandparents been thinking to name it that? The eternal optimists, always expecting sunshine and roses on their pathway. She hoped they were finding exactly that in California where they’d gone in search of more adventure.

When her grandparents had given her this hotel in Quinten, Dakota Territory, it had been an answer to prayer. A way to escape her controlling stepfather and establish her independence. She paused to silently thank God. But between her grandparents’ departure and her arrival, the hotel had suffered a fire in the dining room, leaving the room with a hole in the middle of the floor and most of the rooms smoke damaged. Without money to hire a crew to do the cleaning and repairing, Hannah had little choice but to do the job herself.

She’d scrubbed the front windows until they gleamed, scoured the mud and water stains off the sidewalk, and managed to clean the door. But only a new coat of paint would successfully hide the water damage.

She pushed her way inside and adjusted the
Closed for Repairs
sign so it could be read from the outside. After much elbow grease on her part, the lobby was almost presentable. She’d managed to remove most of the water and smoke damage, but again, only paint would fix the wall next to the dining room. “Mort,” she called. “Are you here?”

The long, cadaverous man who seemed to be part of the gift from her grandparents slouched into the room. “Where you been, miss?”

“I was watching the cattle being driven to the rail yards.”

“Now you’ll have to dust everything again.” He nodded toward the walnut table in the lobby she’d spent hours cleaning.

“Did you get the drapes down?” She’d given him instructions to remove the drapes in the back room where she slept. The smell was almost overpowering. She couldn’t afford to have them professionally cleaned or replaced, but perhaps hanging them outside for a few days would air them out. In the meantime, she’d tack a sheet over the window for privacy.

“Took ’em down. Hung ’em outside like you said. But if you ask me, the best you can do is burn ’em and buy new ones.”

“Yes, that would be nice, but I can’t afford it. Is there lots of hot water?” If she scrubbed the wall next to the dining room one more time, perhaps she’d get rid of the smoke stains.

“Boilers are full. Still got to clean the chairs like you asked.”

“Fine.” It was like moving mountains to get Mort to go faster than a crawl, but grateful for his help with hauling water and moving the heavier stuff, she wasn’t about to complain.

A little while later, she perched atop a ladder, scrubbing at the wall, her nostrils protesting at the smell. For the most part, the overpowering odor had disappeared from the room except when she got the walls wet.

As she scrubbed, she tried to plan when she could open. The work took much longer than she expected. So far she’d managed to do the lobby and the big suite of rooms in the corner upstairs, hoping, she supposed, at some point she could have guests and start to get a little money. Enough to pay Mort and buy paint would be a nice start. But somehow she had to first get enough to fix the huge hole in the middle of the dining room floor and replace the drapes in there. Nothing could be done to salvage them. And the sooner she got them all down and burned, the sooner she’d get rid of that acrid smell. But Mort moved at his own pace. If they weren’t so heavy, she’d do it herself.

She didn’t look up when the door opened. Mort must have gone out for something and decided to use the front door rather than go around outside again.

When someone smacked the bell on the desk, she practically fell off her ladder. A woman cleared her throat.

“I’m sorry,” Hannah said, righting herself. “We’re not open for business at this point.”

The woman tugged at her gloves. “Surely you can’t be serious.”

Hannah climbed off the ladder and headed for the desk. “We’ve had a fire. I’m still trying to clean up.” She waved her hand around to indicate the work in progress.

The woman gave a dismissive glance. “But I always stay here.” She drummed her fingers on the desk as if to let Hannah know she might as well quit stalling.

“I’m really very sorry, but I’m not prepared for guests.”

“You? Maude and Harvey own this establishment. Where are they?”

“My grandparents. They’ve gone to California and left me the hotel.”

“They left?” She looked about. “Well, I will miss them, but I wish them all the best.”

“You knew my grandparents?” Well, of course she knew who they were. That wasn’t what Hannah meant. It sounded like this woman knew them as more than businesspeople.

BOOK: Linda Ford
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