Silver Heart (Historical Western Romance) (Longren Family series #1)

BOOK: Silver Heart (Historical Western Romance) (Longren Family series #1)
3.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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Silver Heart

 

Longren Family Series: Book 1
 

Amelia Rose

Visit www.ameliarose.info

 
Dedication
 

To YOU, The reader.
Thank you for your support.
Thank you for your emails.
Thank you for your reviews.
Thank you for reading and joining me on this road.

Chapter 1

 

              Mr. Longren lost control of the wagon minutes after we left Virginia City behind.  Lightning and thunder split the desert sky, and a cloudburst opened up on the unpaved roads.  The horses were moving fast under the whip.  Mr. Longren had thought to get us to his homestead before the storm started in earnest.

             
The switchback road washed to a sheen of mud in minutes and the horses began to run, then to slip.  I clutched the sides of the wagon with both hands, my hat flying off my head, lost somewhere in the sage.  I couldn't help screaming.

             
Beside me, Mr. Longren played the reins, tugging first to one side and then the other for control until the wagon began to cant.  He never stopped talking to the horses, but he didn't shout. Nothing worked – the animals were wild, not afraid so much of the storm, it seemed, but of their own speed.  They'd startled each other and couldn't stop. 

             
Sage whipped by on either side, and fern-like trees.  Rocks clattered up under the floorboards of the wagon, which swayed wildly from side to side.  We rounded a hairpin turn, careening, and suddenly, all of creation seemed spread out below us, the drop as severe as any the train had skirted bringing me from the valleys up the foothills into the desert.

             
Lightning split the late afternoon sky, bright against dark clouds.  Thunder followed close on its heels, a low rumble dragged out through the valleys.  Despite the rain, the ground still smelled summer hot and the sage smelled strong.  The wagon jolted and slid in the mud again as the horses plunged.

             
Mr. Longren didn't waste anymore time with words. His teeth were clenched, the muscles in his jaw standing out, his dark hair uncovered and soaked with rain.  Still, he held the reins loosely, now pulling gently on both, not yanking the horses back but exerting steady pressure.

             
I could hear him, then, in the break between the rolls of thunder.  As the animals finally started to slow, he was speaking again.  His voice soothed, in opposition to the terrible speed, the pounding rain, and the slick mud track. 

             
My knuckles were white against the boards of the wagon. The conveyance was so small and open, nothing like a carriage or the street cars in Boston. I'd been afraid I'd fall out of it before the storm started and the horses bolted.  Mr. Longren looked like the most stable thing in the wagon; I longed to grab hold of him, but I'd known him for only an hour.

             
After only one hour, his voice didn't soothe
me
.

             
This wasn't how I'd anticipated coming to my new home.

             
One of the wagon wheels caught on a rock and sent us veering to one side.  I screamed, hard as I tried not to, afraid of terrifying the horses further.  Hutch Longren didn't speak but somehow, the crack of the breaking wheel stopped the horses.  The wagon began to drag, the forward momentum slowed by the sheer weight they were now trying to pull.  And through it all, my future husband spoke slowly, calmly.

             
I could hear him better then.  His words were a mixture of gibberish, just sounds meant to be soothing, and the horses' names, and the sort of things people say when being reassuring during an emergency.

             
"It's all right, Sophie, Scamp.  It's all right, it's just a storm, you're not hurt."

             
I thought he could have addressed the same remarks to me.  I'd likely have not believed them any better than the horses had minutes before but now, at last, they were slowing, tiring, dragging the damaged wagon, and plowing to a stop in the mud.

             
And then we were still, the rain coming down on the roof of the wagon, a wayward wind blowing it into our faces and inside the small covering.  My heart pounded so hard, it took my breath, and my hands refused to relinquish their hold on the boards of the wagon.

             
For just an instant, we both sat still and then Hutch Longren began to laugh.  I turned and stared at him, and that made him laugh harder, the wind stirring his soaked hair, brushing it back from the clean lines of his cheeks.  His blue eyes flashed and I thought he was laughing at me, and began to become angry, until he stopped, wiped his mouth on the back of one hand, and nodded at me.

             
"Welcome to Virginia City, Maggie Lucas."

 

              The rain let off not long after we got stopped.  I tried to effect repairs, tucking wisps of straw colored hair up into pins, but my hat was long gone and my hair so wet I couldn't imagine I was doing any good.

             
My new traveling dress, with the shirt-waist jacket trimmed in velvet and the close-fitting skirt my sister Elizabeth had said would be more comfortable for the journey, were wet and clinging and now the rain had stopped, the air around us was heating up again.

             
Hutch Longren had seen to the horses the minute he'd ascertained I was alright. Sliding on the mud, he made his way up to them, speaking calmly, rubbing their necks, checking to make sure both were unharmed before he made his way back to the wheel.  He draggedtools out of the back of the wagon, and commenced working on it.

             
I had no idea what he was doing, and there was no way I could help.  My father was the only man in our household and he neither mended wagon wheels nor welcomed a woman's help in most of the tasks he considered better left to men.  So, I slid from the seat of the wagon into the mud, slipping a little before I found the right way to squelch through it, and then I started up the road with no more plan than seeing what was near me.

             
There wasn't much to see.  The road we were on led from Virginia City to Mr. Longren's home in Gold Hill. It wound through sage brush and rock, through scrub and foothill, and one turn looked much the same as the next.  On top of the mountains in front of us, I could see derricks and wooden structures, mining detritus, but every bend in the road simply showed another bend in the road, more sage, more foothills.

             
I felt utterly lost.

 

              The idea had been for me to come from Boston to Nevada to meet Mr. Hutch Longren, childhood friend of my Uncle Roy's and someone my Mother had kept track of through the years.  She'd been 12 years older than Hutch Longren, a sort of second mother to him when he and my uncle ran wild in the Boston streets.  Eventually, they'd all grown up and gone their separate ways but they'd stayed in touch by letter, if not by visit.

             
Which was how it was my mother came to know when Mr. Hutchinson Longren's wife of many years died in 1874 of the cholera, leaving him alone with no offspring and a mine rapidly playing out.

             

              Ellie and Hutch had married for love.  We would be married for convenience.  I tried to remember that as I watched him work, his shoulder muscles flexing under his soaked shirt.  He wore a simple blue work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and denim trousers the miners were reported to wear.  I thought of the men I'd seen on the streets in Boston.  The men who courted my sisters and I came dressed in suits, ties, and hats, their sleeves long and cuffed, and their shoes shined.  I had anticipated the West would be different, but I had not expected –

             
The desert was very hot.  I fanned myself with my hand, wishing I still had possession of my hat.  If I were to be honest with myself, Mr. Longren looked quite handsome and capable as he worked the wheel, tanned forearms rippling with strength.  If this was the custom in this part of the world, I didn't find myself overly offended by it.

             
But I was here as helpmate, caretaker of his house.  I would remember.

             
I'd been trying to remember ever since we left the train station.

 

              Five years my senior at 30, I'd picked Hutch Longren out of the crowd at the railway station quite easily once the steam engine thundered into Virginia City. 

             
Everything this day was magical.  My week-long journey across the country was coming to an end and I was sorry.  I'd come across territories and new states, through the country still recovering from the recent war.  I'd seen Indians and a cattle drive, seen the cities dwindle, becoming smaller and newer.  I'd felt my old life become lost.

             
Even the railway was new.  Only in recent years had the railway begun to carry passengers.  Built to carry supplies to the miners and shopkeeps along the towns of the Comstock Lode, it still operated primarily to haul goods rather than people.  The one passenger car was packed, with two spinsters sisters who glared at me every time I observed them because I had the temerity to put down my window and sit turned, watching as the land unfolded around me, from low pines to vistas of sage.  My Great Aunt Agnes, who accompanied me as far as Reno, stopped me from sitting twisted and staring out the window.  Once she left the train, I was on my own for one or two short, wonderful hours.

             
I sat with my knees under me, kneeling up and staring out, my gloved hands on the window frame.  I wanted to see where the train was taking me.  This was to be my home.  I was 23 years old and traveling, for the first time, and for only a short distance without a chaperone.  It was an unexpected pleasure, such freedom, and I meant to savor every instant.

             
There was, after all, no telling what awaited me at the end of the steam engine's line.  Hutch Longren was my mother's brother's childhood friend.  He was a stranger to me.

             
But finding him was easy.  He stood head and shoulders around the men nearest him, and his shoulders eclipsed much of the wall behind him.  I hoped to have a moment to observe without being observed.  My new life had begun across the country one week past.  Hutch Longren represented the future.  I wanted to know what that future was.

             
But, he'd spotted me moments after I spotted him.  Not so difficult perhaps, as the only other passengers left in the train car by then were the pair of glaring spinsters, and an exhausted woman with three small boys who'd worn me out as well.  Surely Mr. Longren wouldn't expect me to travel with my own brood of children. I was traveling to meet him for the purpose of marriage, as Mr. Longren had need of a wife and I had need of a position of sorts.  Father was growing older, more silent and more tired, and had too many daughters at home whose situations needed sorting out.  My two older sisters, Victoria and Elizabeth, had already married, leaving me, Emma, and Virginia. 

             
The flutter in my heart wasn't fear.  Since losing my mother, I'd felt adrift.  Her care had principally fallen to me, the daughter she'd trained as a midwife with her own nursing knowledge, and without her, I'd lost one of my best friends and confidants, though I'd had little enough to confide.             

             
One look at Hutch Longren and I hoped that last had come to an end.  Even across the station, I could see his blue eyes and a scar on one cheek that didn't detract from his looks.  It was then, in the station, the minute our eyes locked, that I began to remind myself my place here. No daydreams of romance.  I'd lived 23 years and watched my friends marry at 17 and 18, as I remained in my family home.

             
Daydreams were for my younger sisters.  I was practical.  The fact that Mr. Longren was comely was a pleasant enough fact but of no substance.

             
So I reminded myself, standing in the rain, watching his shoulders and arms as the rain soaked through his shirt.

 

              Mr. Longren fixed the wagon wheel, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the horses were calm.  Everything was right in the world, except for me.

             
I'd spent a week traveling by steam engine in the company of my great aunt, who sniffed her disapproval at my unwedded state, my soon-to-be wedded state, at the loss of my mother, the choice of my husband-to-be, the state of the world in general, the steam engine in particular, and every pot of tea delivered at every stop in every city.  When she fell ill in Reno and chose to remain there with distant (and not overly pleased) relatives, I was less concerned about the propriety of traveling alone and the fear that somehow, without ever getting off the train, I'd get lost, and more that she would effect a recovery before I'd be free of the city and on my way.

             
She hadn't, though the glowering spinsters in the passenger car had taken her place. I'd almost have welcomed their return, if it meant I was going home.  The sky above me, with the clouds blown away, was deep, rich blue and spread so far and wide that staring up at it made me dizzy.  The scents of sage and dirt were unfamiliar as my own streets of Boston might have been to Hutch Longren after so many years in the Nevada desert.  At home, there were theaters and markets, restaurants and streetcars, and here –

BOOK: Silver Heart (Historical Western Romance) (Longren Family series #1)
3.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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