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Treasure At Trail's End--2005

Treasure at Trail's End

(not from chapter one)

 

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 eyes.

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. You belong 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," I said.

"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 End.

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.

Don't count 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 deal.

"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," he said.

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 nearby?"

"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 horsewoman."

"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 we have."

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 and Jeremiah."

"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 alone."

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," Emmett said.

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 evening."

"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

   
   
   
  Reviews
 

Ms. Bodoin weaves a delightful story that keeps you entertained and on the edge of your seat until the last page. I could not put the book down until the dramatic conclusion. This book is definitely a keeper. An engaging story that keeps you guessing until the end. Delightfully intriguing in every sense of the word. 5 Cups - Cherokee - Coffee Time Romance & More

"...a romantic, spirited and down to earth, old fashioned adventure."
Fallen Angel Reviews, 5 Angels

"Simply put, TREASURE AT TRAIL'S END is brilliant. A perfect western, romance, or mystery--it just has it all!" Beverly Forehand, Romance Roundtable Reviews

   
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