Authors: DeAnn Smallwood
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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To my brother Don and my very best friend,
Eva (foo baby). I love you two.
To my husband,
who is a man to cross the river with.
You would give Seth a run for his money.
In loving memory of my beloved angel, Jesse,
my special little daughter dog.
Thank you to my Soul Mate brothers and sisters for their invaluable help and encouragement. So nice to be a part of this group.
Thank you to my very special and absolutely gifted friend, Janet Zupan. Writing would not be so pleasurable without you.
Independence, Missouri, 1850
Callie was a liar. A darned good one. She didn’t set out to be one; it just happened and necessity demanded she perfect this dubious art.
She was twenty-two when she told her first lie. After that, it was like a pebble rolling downhill, starting slow, then gaining momentum.
The problem lay in remembering the embellishments. Just last week she’d named her imaginary fiancé Frank and, two days later, referred to him as Tom.
It wasn’t her fault she was reduced to lying. It wasn’t her fault she’d been born the weaker sex. Weaker,
Wasn’t she a crack shot? If women were allowed to compete, she would out shoot any man around.
Wasn’t she an expert horsewoman? Granted, she had only ridden at Miss Whitman’s Riding Stable For Young Ladies, but how much harder could it be to ride on the open plains? A horse was a horse.
She glanced at her reflection in the hotel mirror. Hair swept back in a severe bun pulling her eyes to narrow slits. She firmly tucked in place an errant strand of hair. Maybe this time having hair the color of crystal snow would be a benefit. Instead of her hair making her stand out in a crowd, it just might make her look older, mature.
. She smoothed her hands down the front of the drab brown, high neck dress. Was it too clingy? She narrowed her eyes, and, rising on her tiptoes, tried to see all five foot, three inches in the small mirror, knowing that no matter how she stretched, she wouldn’t be able to see her full body.
. Just like everything else, the mirror was placed at a man’s height, perfect for shaving.
She grabbed up the limp, black hat perched on the corner of the bed and placed it on her head, jabbing two long hat pins into it. Their one piece of adornment, a black bead on the tip of each pin, bobbed forlornly. She’d dare a wind to budge hat or hair. She pulled the veil down and hoped it added to the prim, prudish picture she wished to paint.
“I am Callie Collins. Soon-to-be bride of Frank Farley, banker and man of means. Frank has gone ahead to Oregon City where he has assumed the position as President of the Oregon City Bank. Naturally, I encouraged him to go ahead as his duty demanded, assuring him I was quite able to procure a wagon, load all our home-to-be necessities and contract for a position on a wagon train leaving immediately for Oregon City.” Callie repeated the words aloud to the room, committing them to memory. She paused and put a finger to her lips, lips much too rosy for the betrothed spinster.
Something wasn’t quite right with her story. Something.
What was it?
“Oh, how stupid of me. Of course. Frank Farley would never leave his beloved on her own to meet the challenges of the Oregon Trail.” She plopped down onto the one hard chair, momentarily defeated. “It’s not going to work. I’ve come so far, albeit on lies, but far nonetheless.” Her forehead wrinkled, marring the otherwise perfect complexion of Miss Callie Collins.
Then, as though attached to marionette strings, she jumped to her feet. “I’ve got it,” she cried. “I’ll say Frank hired a man to accompany me but he-he died of the yellow fever. Frank is depending on me and I can’t let him down. I have to join the next wagon train or it will be too late in the year to attempt a safe crossing of the Rocky Mountains. Everyone knows May is the perfect month to start the journey West.” A triumphant smile broke over her face. Anyone seeing her at that moment would have known her for what she was: a beautiful, young woman with a determined look in her eye.
It’s perfect. Now all I have to do is sell it to a wagon master, or captain, as she had discovered they were called.
“Oh,” she groaned aloud, her face clouding. “That’s not all I have to do. I have to buy a wagon, horses, or oxen to pull it, supplies, clothing suitable for the trail, a rifle, a . . .” She closed her eyes, suddenly overwhelmed with what a few weeks ago had seemed an easy solution to her problem.
“Callie,” she scolded herself. “You’ve come this far. Yes, it’s been a journey of lies and will continue to be a journey of lies, but you’ve put the first foot forward. This is not the time to have second thoughts. You will go downstairs to the hotel dining room and have a bracing cup of tea. Then you will proceed with your plans.”
She closed the door behind her and, head held high, sailed forth to brave the dining room as a woman sitting alone.
“Will that be all, Madame?” The waiter bowed to her, setting the cup, saucer, and teapot down. His eyebrows were arched, his reserved manner saying what he thought of a woman dining alone even in a fine establishment like the Independence City Eating Emporium.
“Yes, thank you.” Callie looked up and met his condemning eyes. Her spine stiffened. “You may go now. If I need anything else, I will let you know.” She gave him her best spinster smile, the one that barely moved her lips. It worked. He nodded, new respect in his manner, and left her to her tea.
She glanced around the tastefully appointed room, empty except for a family sitting two tables away from her. They looked worn and worried. She sipped her tea and, without any effort, listened to every word they said.
“We aren’t quitters, Jacob,” the woman said. “We just didn’t plan on things being so expensive.”
“I know, Phyllis” He put his large hand over hers. “But, if we don’t come up with some ready cash, we might as well forget joining a train this year.”
“I won’t accept that. I won’t. We’ve scrimped and saved and now we’re this close.” A tear rolled down her cheek as she bent her head.
“Ma,” started the gawky kid still growing into his large frame. “I’ll stay behind and get a job. You get the supplies and I’ll pay for them a little at a time. I’ll meet you and Dad later in Oregon. I can do it. I’m strong and used to working hard.”
The man looked over at the boy, his blond hair a shade lighter that the mother’s. With warmth in his eyes and in his voice, he said, “Thank you, son. Your Ma and I appreciate that, but you see, Oregon wouldn’t be anything without you there by our side. We’re a family and a family we’ll stay. We’ve got a few things we can sell and we’ll tighten our belts. We’re good at make-do.” He shook his head and stared down at his work-hardened hands.
Callie could imagine what was going through his head. They couldn’t tighten their belts much more and make the trip safely and he knew it. So did Phyllis and Caleb. This had been their dream for years and now it was slipping away. He should have planned better, worked harder. The blame and guilt rested heavy on his shoulders.
Callie leaned forward in her chair unashamedly eavesdropping. The family’s plight saddened her. She felt the woman’s despair as she tried to support her husband. Someone’s chair scraped back. Someone stood and approached the family’s table. Someone.
. She paused, gulping at the enormity of her next move.
Three heads turned. Three sets of eyes, each full of distrust and wariness.
“Yes,” the man said hesitantly.
“I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t help overhearing you.”
“Oh.” The woman covered her mouth with her hand.
“I’m sorry we were talking so loudly, Ma’am,” the man said coldly. “We’re not used to having people listen to our private conversations.”
Callie flushed. “I deserve that rebuke, sir. But if you could humor me another few minutes, I believe I have the answer to your dilemma.” Callie heard her words and hoped she was right. She hoped she did have an answer.
“Our discussion was private. We don’t need . . .”
The man’s words were stalled by his wife’s hand gently laid across his. “Jacob. We do need. If this young woman has any answers, I believe we should listen. Caleb, please bring another chair over for . . .” She paused.
“Collins. Miss Callie Collins.” Callie’s throat was dry.
“For Miss Collins.” The woman squared her shoulders, her gaze never leaving Callie.
The boy jumped to do as his mother had asked. The dad sat quiet, watching as Callie sat down on the edge of the chair.
“Again, I apologize. I, too, have a problem and from what little I heard of yours, I believe we can be of mutual assistance. I plan on joining the wagon train forming at the edge of town. I need a wagon, supplies, someone to assist me while on the trail, and”—her voice faltered—“and some advice. I don’t know what all you have for sale, but perhaps it would be of value to me. And, I would like to hire your son to assist me along the trail.” She hurried on, wanting to forestall any questions or objections until she had made a full offer. “I can pay in advance for his assistance.”
Nobody spoke. Callie took a deep breath. The silence stretched on, making the air around them heavy and laden with unspoken thoughts. She made herself breathe, not wanting them to see how badly she needed their help.
“Miss Collins.” The man spoke. “Am I correct in hearing that you, a lone woman, plan to make the journey from here, Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City? Unescorted? Do you realize, do you have any idea what you are undertaking?”
“No. I don’t realize what I am undertaking and as I understand, no one does. Not you, not any of the families camped and waiting. No one knows what the Oregon Trail will offer or put in our way. But one thing I do know, I plan on going to Oregon. I plan on joining the next wagon train, and I plan on succeeding. I think we can benefit each other but with or without your assistance, I will be putting a wagon in that train.”
She put her hand on the back of her chair as if to rise.
“Please stay, Miss Collins. I agree with you.” The woman looked at her husband, her chin tilted. “Jacob, please order us some more tea. Miss Collins and the Monroe family have business to discuss.”