That evening in my room at the Silver
Palace, I occupied myself with more mundane matters, such
as dressing for dinner. Wishing I had a larger, more varied
selection, I took my green silk out of the trunk and laid
it on the bed. I would wear my
pearls tonight. They always looked new and elegant, and the
misty shade of the gown would complement my coloring, especially
the dark chestnut of my hair and the flecks of green in my
When I'd finished dressing, I was pleased
with my appearance and ready to venture again into the dining
room, which was no longer an unknown territory for me. I
waited until six o'clock and then walked down the stairs to
the first floor. Moving through the bustling lobby, I searched
for a familiar face but didn't see anyone I knew. That was
all right. With every solitary entrance, I would gain more
confidence in moving through my days as an independent woman.
As I settled myself at my table, a
less secluded one tonight, I felt as if I were at home. You
are, I told myself.
in this town now.
No sooner was I seated than Jeremiah
appeared at my table with the brown-haired rancher of last
night. I noted that my lawyer's companion was wearing his
camel vest again, although his shirt was a deeper shade of
blue than the one he'd had on yesterday. And how I could be
so certain of that?
Forcing my gaze away from the rancher,
I said, "Good evening, Mr. Brown." To my dismay,
my feelings of insecurity came rushing back, along with a
shyness I thought I'd left behind years ago.
"Good evening. Will you join us
at our table, Miss Marsden? My friend is Mr. Emmett Grandison.
I'd like you two to get acquainted."
"I'd be happy to," I said
and looked up at the man who had observed me intently on two
occasions. Since he stood so
close to me, I could study his face at leisure. He certainly
was handsome in a rugged, thoroughly western way. I felt myself
especially drawn to his eyes.
I couldn't decide whether they were
gray or blue. Most likely they changed their color as his
mood or position shifted. Tonight, he stood under an elaborate
crystal chandelier, and they held glints of gold. I imagined
they could also grow as dark as a stormy sky, but I had been
staring at Mr. Grandison far too long. Jeremiah Brown was
waiting for me to rise.
"I've already ordered my dinner,"
"It doesn't matter. The waiter
will find you." He pushed
back my chair and, with his hand on my shoulders, gently steered
me to a larger table in the center of the room.
"There," he said. "Emmett
is your neighbor, Miss Marsden. His ranch adjoins your property."
So the man I'd been admiring was the
antagonist who coveted my land. His interest was in Trail's
I was unprepared for the pang of disappointment
that struck like an unexpected thunderbolt, but I rebounded
instantly. Mr. Emmett Grandison couldn't possibly have known
my identity or my reason for coming to Silver Springs yesterday.
He had looked at me with admiration then, or so I fancied.
No sooner had I completed this though
than another, less flattering one formed. Now that this man
knew who I was, he might think of me as a naïve woman
from the other side of the country who could be cajoled out
of hundreds of acres.
on it, Mr. Grandison,
I thought. In a pleasant, even voice I said, "You'll
be close by. That's good to know. You must call me Mara, Emmett,
and you too, Jeremiah. I feel as though we're already friends."
I summoned a smile for my newfound
neighbor. I was certain that Jeremiah had given him what few
details he knew about my background, but I resolved to be
careful about revealing anything more.
Jeremiah said, "Mara and I drove
out to Trail's End today, Emmett. She made it more of a visit
than I would have liked. I think I still have cobwebs on me."
"Did you ever go inside the ranch
house, Emmett, living so close to it?" I asked.
For a man who I assumed wanted to meet
me, Emmett Grandison hadn't uttered a single word yet. Now
he said, "Was never any need to, Miss Mara. My own ranch
keeps me busy."
As he spoke, I tried to identify his
accent. It sounded Southern but wasn't quite a drawl. I wasn't
sure. My knowledge of different ways of speaking wasn't extensive,
and people came to the Territories from all over the United
States and other countries as well. Perhaps when I knew Mr.
Grandison better, I could ask him.
"When you're ready to sell Trail's
End, Mara, Emmett will take it off your hands," Jeremiah
said. "How soon will that be, do you think?"
I tried to hold on to my smile. How
sure of himself he was, this too-attractive rancher with the
gray-blue eyes. He must be wealthy already, although his way
of dressing didn't suggest affluence. At the moment he had
the smug look of a man who has completed a successful business
"Oh, but Trail's End isn't for
sale, Mr. Grandison," I said. "I've decided to fix
it up and live there. It's my home now."
* * * *
They didn't believe me. In truth I
surprised myself, for my present plans hadn't gone beyond
a second, more thorough exploration of the house. However,
I didn't care for the expression of incredulous surprise on
Emmett's face. I imagined I also detected a flicker of delight
in his eyes, but it left so quickly I might have been mistaken.
"But you decided to build a new
house, if you stay," Jeremiah said.
"I considered it, but renovation
might still be possible. Perhaps all Trail's End needs is
soap and water. And a hammer and nails."
"You can't be serious," Jeremiah
said. "A woman from back East on her own could never
take on such a project."
"Technically, I'm from the Midwestern
United States, and I might have to hire help. But I'm fairly
certain that in time I can transform the place into a home."
"It's a preposterous notion,"
Emmett, who had been so silent at first,
didn't hesitate to speak now."Jeremiah's right, Miss
Mara. You can't live alone in a derelict old house out in
the middle of nowhere. You saw it for yourself today. Besides,
a woman needs a man alongside her in this country." So
saying, he looked down at his plate, as if he had said more
than he'd intended.
Once Mr. Cameron had said something
similar to me. Even a former lieutenant in the Union army
had spoken in a less commanding tone. I had proved him wrong.
I would do the same with Emmett Grandison.
"You're my neighbor, Mr. Grandison,"
I said. "How could I be afraid with a man like you living
"I'm nowhere near Trail's End."
Emmett was working himself up into
a near rage. His eyes had more gray than blue in them. They
seemed to contain miniature storm clouds.
"My ranch is neighborin' to yours,
yes, but I'm a good hour's ride from Trail's End. More. Can
you ride a horse?"
"Of course, I can. I'm an experienced
"Can you fire a gun?"
"Not yet, but I'm going to learn.
Where is the town gunsmith located?"
Emmett banged his cup down on the table,
and coffee spilled out onto the white cloth. "Whoever
let you out to roam around unattended?" he demanded.
"You don't know the first thing about livin' in the West."
I struggled to hold onto my temper.
"I'll learn everything I need to know. Let's not argue.
I wonder when they'll bring our dinner."
Jeremiah said, "Whether you keep
the old house or have it torn down, it's fortunate for our
town bachelors that you plan a long stay, Mara. Women are
a scarce commodity in the Territory. We aim to keep the ones
Emmett stared at him. He had mopped
up coffee with his napkin. Now he held the wet cloth in mid-air
as if unsure where to place it. "Isn't
there a man back East waitin' for you?" he asked.
"I came out West alone, and this
is my home. But I already said that. You'll have to look elsewhere
for more land. Mine isn't for sale." I added, "I
understand you've been paying the back taxes. Jeremiah will
see to it that you're reimbursed."
I was braced for a thunderous rejoinder
from the stormy Emmett Grandison, but it didn't materialize.
Instead he said, "You have the
prettiest eyes I ever saw on a person, Miss Mara. They're
like the green grass growin' over on the ranch."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Grandison."
"You were goin' to call us Emmett
"Yes, of course. Emmett, then."
Our food finally arrived, and we suspended
conversation while we ate the meal. The mood grew progressively
lighter, and Emmett was soon in so convivial a mood that I
decided to tease him.
"Since you have the most prosperous
ranch in the Territory, Emmett, perhaps you'll see me a few
head of cattle so that I can start a herd. I'd like one of
your horses, along with the loan of a cowboy or two."
Hastily Jeremiah said, "In the
meantime, while you're making a final decision, we have a
few respectable houses right here in town where you would
be welcome. I can think of three fine ladies who would be
happy to have you join their households."
I couldn't imagine a more dismal prospect.
"I have a comfortable room in the hotel. I don't see
the need to be a paying guest in another woman's house."
"The Palace is a good, safe place
for you, but even in town, you'd better let me or Jeremiah
escort you," Emmett said. "You can't go strollin'
out like you do back East."
"I'm from the Midwest, remember,
and I'm not afraid." This
wasn't strictly true. I hadn't yet forgotten my most recent
fear. "There is something
though," I said. "On the train I heard some terrifying
stories about Indians. One of my fellow passengers assured
me that they live on reservations now."
"That's true," Jeremiah said.
"You might run into one who strayed away or a rough man
lonely for company. As a general rule, cowboys are respectful
of women, but Emmett's right. You can't go roaming around
Entering the spirit of the discussion,
Emmett added, "And there's the Swinging Lady Gang. Don't
forget them, Jeremiah. They're making themselves heard lately.
Outlaws, I'm talkin' about, Miss Mara."
"If this is an attempt to subdue
me by frightening me, it isn't fair," I said. "And
it won't work."
Jeremiah looked stunned. "We would
never do such a thing, Mara. We're only giving you an adequate
picture of a woman's life on the frontier."
"A slightly slanted one, I think."
"We don't want to see you carried
off by a gang of outlaws or, worse, captured by Indians,"
His eyes were like storm clouds still.
Thunder speaking with a drawl-that was Emmett Grandison. Fortunately,
gun belts weren't part of his attire tonight, as I wasn't
sure whether he wanted to court me or shoot me. Or perhaps
he'd prefer to strangle me with his coffee-soaked napkin.
During the rest of our meal, we conversed
civilly, and eventually I had the pleasure of seeing the dark
look leave Emmett's eyes. This man was an electrifying blend
of sunshine and storm. With a mere look, he made me feel more
alive than I had ever been. That was a desirable state, but
it was also a dangerous one.
It was time to end the evening. I needed
to be alone to reflect on the new emotions that made my heart
race and flooded my body with warmth.
"I'll say goodnight to you both
now. Thank you for your company. It's been a very enjoyable
"Shall I escort you back to your
room?" Jeremiah asked.
"Oh, no, thank you. I'll be fine."
With a smile and one last look at the
glowering Emmett Grandison, I rose and walked out of the dining
room, hoping my companions hadn't noticed the change that
had come over me. Usually I prided myself on being even-tempered
and serene, two qualities my mother said every lady should
possess. Tonight she wouldn't have known me