“You’ll do exactly what I tell you to do!” Louis Smith wiped the spittle from his mouth with one hand, and sloshed Scotch from his glass as he slammed it down on the dining room table with the other. “You belong to me. And don’t you ever forget it!”
Emily leaned back in her chair, knowing from the look on her husband’s face that this could easily turn into another beating. One of many she’d endured over the past three years. “I will do what you tell me, Louis. I’m just not sure what you want.” She tried to keep the pleading tone out of her voice which could easily trigger a backhand slap across her mouth.READ MORE
He leaned over and grabbed her arm, dragging her halfway across the dining table. She kept her expression blank and briefly thought of what long sleeved dress she could wear to Marigold Fenster’s tea the next afternoon to hide the black and blue marks that would surely result. Thinking of normal things kept her mind from dwelling on what might happen if Louis’s hair-trigger temper snapped.
“It’s very simple, you stupid ass. When you go to that Fenster thing tomorrow, make sure you find out who she’s sleeping with. I need something to dissuade her from asking too many questions about her money.”
How she hated this. And, God forgive her, hated him. Snooping on her friends to help Louis continue to cheat them caused her stomach to roil. She couldn’t do it anymore. The time had come to dig up the box she’d buried behind the gardener’s shed last year. The jewels and cash in there would get her far away from Louis and Galveston.
“I’ll ask her, but she is somewhat closed-mouthed.”
He yanked her farther until his nose and hers were only inches apart. “Well, you find a way to open it.”
The blue spider veins on his nose and cheeks were out of place in a man so young. But at thirty-seven, the hard life Louis had led, drinking, carousing and God knows what all, had taken its toll. How had she ever thought this man would take care of her? Perhaps the fact that he kept his violent streak well hidden until their wedding night had something to do with it.
Pushing those unpleasant memories to the back of her mind, she said, “I’ll try.”
He shoved her back so hard she slammed against her chair, tumbling to the floor. He stumbled as he moved around the table and stood over her. “You’d better do more than try.” He leaned in further, the stench of his alcohol-laden breath causing her to turn her head aside. “Remember, bitch, I can kill you just like that.” He snapped his fingers. “And make it look like an unfortunate accident.”
He kicked her in the ribs, then laughed as he dusted off the sleeves of his jacket and straightened his tie. “Get out of here. I can’t stand the sight of you. You’re such a weak, sniveling little girl. Still hoping your daddy will come back to life and make it all right.” He walked unsteadily to the table and sat, taking up his glass. “Get out, I said!”
Emily scurried out the door, closing it behind her with a sigh of relief. Sore ribs and a bruised arm was nothing compared to what Louis was capable of. She walked directly to the back of the mansion and straight out the door. The last of the evening sun cast the gardens into a soft, mellow hue. Her fingers itched to paint the scene, but she had something more important to do. And Louis had busted up and thrown away all of her art materials the prior week anyway.
Retrieving a small shovel from the wall of the shed, she cast a furtive glance around the area before circling the small building. Panting heavily from fear of discovery, she counted thirty-two steps from the left side of the structure, six steps forward, then stopped and began to dig.
The next afternoon, Emily took the chauffer’s extended hand and stepped out of the automobile. She smiled brightly at Martin. “Thank you. You may return for me about five o’clock.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The man tipped his hat and returned to the car as she started up the steps. She took her time, pausing as if she had found something on her heel. As she fiddled with her shoe, she watched from beneath the brim of her hat as Martin pulled away from the front of Marigold’s house. The sleek vehicle entered the combination traffic of carriages and automobiles and soon disappeared from sight.
Holding her head high, as if she had no further business than a stroll around the block, Emily turned and walked down the path away from the Fenster home and made a right turn onto the sidewalk. The strong smell of ocean air mixed with the scent of her fear spurred her on. She had exactly fifteen minutes to walk the mile to the train station, buy her ticket and board the train heading to Oklahoma City in Oklahoma Territory, where she would transfer to the train for Guthrie.
She arrived at the ticket office flushed and out of breath, but in plenty of time. With the ticket clutched firmly in her hand and the letter from The Harvey Houses snug in her reticule, she tapped her foot, anxious to be gone. Hopefully the job they’d offered her three weeks ago was still open. If not, she would find something else.
The wait for the delayed train was torture. She purchased a newspaper and held it up to cover her face as she sat on the bench praying the train would come before someone recognized her. Since Louis kept her mostly home and away from forming any close relationships, the chance was slight, but still there.
Emily closed her eyes and whispered a prayer of thanks at the sound of train wheels screeching as it slid to a halt outside the small building. She gathered up her things and quickly climbed the stairs to enter the train. She made her way through two cars before she found a seat. Settling onto the bench, she checked the watch pinned to her shirtwaist. Right about now Marigold would be wondering where she was. But it would be more than two hours before Martin arrived at the Fenster’s house for her.
She jerked as the train started up and then slowly moved into a smooth rhythm as it proceeded out of the Galveston station. The fluttering in her stomach turned from nervousness to excitement. She’d done it! She’d taken her life back from Louis Smith.
Smiling brightly, Emily watched the town fall behind her. In front of her was her new life. All she had to do was remain hidden.
Three months later
Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory
Hunter Henderson climbed out of the motorcar taxi, fumbling as he tried to pay the driver without dropping his crutches. He shoved his change into his pocket and picked up his satchel, throwing it over his shoulder. The taxi pulled away, spewing dust behind it.
A place he hadn’t seen in years. Thirteen, to be exact, had passed since he’d called this place home. He walked out of this house at eighteen years of age, two days after he graduated high school, and never looked back. Oh, he did drop the occasional letter over the years, but since he was always on the move, there was no way to receive return letters. For all he knew his entire family could have up and moved to another state.
Except the man who’d driven him from the train station said Senator Jesse Cochran and his wife, Tori still lived at this address. Senator. When he’d left, Uncle Jesse was merely a lawyer. What other changes would he find? Hunter wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his denims and shifted the crutches under his armpits. Slowly shuffling along, he made his way up the path, thankful there were no steps to climb. He remembered quite a bit about this house, where he’d lived for about four years.
Even before he’d seen anyone, the memories flooded back. Things he hadn’t thought of in years. Tori making the Land Run back in ’89 dressed as a man. Rachel running away from home, back to Kansas, forcing Uncle Jesse and Tori to go after her. Ellie, his baby sister, run over by a wagon soon after they’d settled on their piece of land. And watching it happen, unable to stop it. Like all the other times in his life when he was useless. It all came rushing back in a flash.
Except for the one memory he’d taught his brain to suppress. The one that only rose to torture him while he slept. No matter that it had happened eighteen years ago. If he allowed the memory to slither like a snake into his brain the venom would crush him. Not until he found retribution would he allow the picture he’d shoved to the back of his mind to emerge again. And vanquish it forever.
“Hunter? Is that you?” Tori stood not more than six feet from him, poised in the open doorway, apparently on her way out.
“Yes. It’s me.”
“Oh, my goodness.” She covered her cheeks with her gloved hands and burst into tears, leaving him feeling more helpless than he had in years. “You’re home.”
Home. Yes, he guessed he was.
Later he would not remember what had happened between the time Tori had thrown herself into his arms, almost knocking his crutches out from under him, and when he found himself sitting in the library, surrounded by family.
Everyone was talking at once. Uncle Jesse and Tori’s kids were grown now, having been mere babies when he’d left. Seventeen year-old Paul was the spitting image of Uncle Jesse. Twins Priscilla and Henry at fifteen were taller than Tori. Benjamin, who’d been a babe in Tori’s arms the last time he’d seen him, was a gangly thirteen year-old, with spectacles and a serious demeanor.
He shuddered at the memories of his own thirteenth year. Then pushed them from his mind.
And Uncle Jesse. Hunter watched him as he teased and joked with his family. This was the man who’d kept them all together when they’d arrived in Oklahoma and he married Tori. Their rock. But as much as he loved and respected his uncle, Hunter had never confided in him the burden he carried around like an albatross. Perhaps if he’d stuck around . . . but he’d been itching to leave, start his quest. Prove to himself he wasn’t as worthless as he thought. Something that still eluded him.
“I see you have crutches there with you. Care to tell us what happened?” Uncle Jesse’s grin was familiar and welcoming.
Hunter grew serious. “About two months ago, I was on an assignment for the Rangers when I was shot three times in my right leg.” He paused when Tori and Priscilla gasped. “The bone shattered and the doctor put me back together as best he could, but he advised me to find another line of work.”
Uncle Jesse shook his head. “Sorry about that, son. I know the Rangers meant everything to you.”
Just those few words of comfort almost undid Hunter even more than the doctor’s painful announcement. It wouldn’t do to unman himself further by allowing the tears burning at the back of his eyes to make an appearance. He shrugged, indicating indifference, when he was breaking up inside. “I’ll get by.”
“May I hope you’re home for good?” Tori touched his hand in sympathy, something else he wasn’t prepared to accept.
“Let’s just say right now I have nowhere to go.”
“Nonsense,” Jesse waved his hand. “You always have somewhere to go. This will always be your home.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it, but I do need to find some type of work. I just don’t know what else I could do.”
Uncle Jesse slapped his thighs and stood. “That’s not something we need to worry about now. Just get yourself healed first.” He reached for Hunter’s satchel. “Right now I think we should get you settled in your room.”
“Can he sleep with me? I want to hear all about the Texas Rangers,” Henry asked.
“Are you forgetting you share a room with Benjamin? And Hunter doesn’t need to be inundated with questions.” He turned his attention to Tori. “We can put Paul in the boys’ room, and give that bedroom to Hunter.”
Hunter rose and shifted his weight onto his crutches. “No need to worry about shuffling anyone around. I can get a room at a boardinghouse.”
“Nonsense. You’re not going to any boardinghouse when your home is here.” Tori tapped her finger on her lips. “I know. We have that empty room at the back.” She looked at Hunter. “It’s for a live-in housekeeper, but we’ve always had someone who just comes in a few times a week. You can use that room.”
Feeling better about not causing too much disruption to the family, he nodded. He winced as he took a step forward, his injury still so new he forgot about it most times. Except like now when the pain shot up from where the bullets hit him, all the way to his hip.
“Do you have pain medication?” Always astute, Tori touched his arm.
“No. The doc offered me some, but I don’t want to get started on that stuff. I’ve seen too many otherwise smart men become dependent on it.” Including his close friend, Jeremy.
“I’ll send Paul into town. Michael has his own pharmacy. He can give you something for the pain that isn’t addictive. Probably not as powerful, but it will take the edge off.” Uncle Jesse spoke over his shoulder as he led the parade to Hunter’s new room.
His uncle flung open the door and ushered him in. The room had obviously not been used for some time, if at all. Faded green and white wallpaper covered the top half of the room, with wainscoting on the bottom. A bed stood against one wall, with an old dresser across from it.
“I’m sorry about the state the room is in. We can re-decorate and get some new furniture in here.”
Hunter smiled at Tori. “Don’t worry about it. It’s the cleanest, nicest place I’ve slept in years. Since I’m not real sure what my next step is, I don’t want you to go to any trouble.”
“You’re family. Not trouble.” Tori’s eyes filled with tears and she gave him an awkward hug, the crutches in her way. “And I am so glad to see you. You have no idea.”
He had maybe a slight idea. His aunt and uncle had always been about family. Uncle Jesse’s start in life had been rough, born to a prostitute and raised in a brothel. Tori had lived most of her life as an only child with a cantankerous older aunt. After a rocky start together, these two heads of the family had created a warm, loving home for him and his brother and sisters. And soon filled the place with four children of their own.
“All right, everyone out now.” Jesse made a shooing motion to the four adolescents who continued to stare at Hunter as if he were some type of hero. “Give Hunter a chance to rest. Paul, take your bike down to Michael’s pharmacy and ask him for something for the pain.” He grabbed Paul by the shoulder as the boy turned to leave the room. “Oh, and tell him we will have the whole family here for dinner Sunday, so there’s no need for him to rush over to see his brother.” He winked at Hunter. “Believe me, son, the family has grown by leaps and bounds and they can be a lively bunch. You need to rest up before they descend upon you.”
Three weeks later
“I got fired.” Hunter slumped on the chair in front of the fireplace.
Tori lowered the newspaper she’d been reading to stare at him. “Which job was this one?”
“The bartender job at the Blue Bell Saloon.”
“A customer got pretty rowdy when I told him he was too drunk to buy any more drinks. Big John took exception to one of his employees discouraging drinking in his saloon, so he fired me.”
The saloon job had been one in a string of employment attempts he’d failed at in the three weeks since he’d been home. Every day it was becoming more and more apparent he had no place in the world. Once he’d taken off his Ranger badge he’d felt lost. That small medal symbol represented him, as much as his job. Not all rangers wore badges, but when he’d had his made from an old Mexican coin, he wore it with pride, and never took it off.
“I hear Bruce is looking for some help down at the bank.”
“No.” Just the thought of setting foot in a bank tightened his stomach muscles. He’d always carried his money around with him, and when that wasn’t possible, he kept it in a locked box within reach. He’d never crossed the threshold of a bank, nor would he ever.
“Maybe it’s time you took Michael up on his offer to work at the pharmacy.”
Hunter ran his fingers through his hair and shifted in his seat, wincing at the abrupt move. “I don’t want charity from my family.”
“Oh, I don’t think Michael has any idea of not getting his money’s worth from you.”
It had reached a point where he had no choice. He hadn’t lasted as a bartender, a cook, a retail store clerk, or the lousy factory job he’d taken when he first came home. He’d been stupid to even think he could stand for hours on end.
Sure, he had plenty of money from his years of living frugally, but a man needed a purpose in life. He needed to get up each morning excited about the day, what he would accomplish with his hands and brain. What he could do to make his world a better place.
And there was still unfinished business that he would not give up on. Once he was on his feet, he would resume his search.
“All right. I’ll go see him in the morning.”
He made his way to the back of the house and entered his room. It actually felt good to have a permanent place to return to at the end of each day. One day he would get a place of his own. He’d ignored the not-so-subtle nudges his sisters had been making since his return. It was obvious they both wanted to plan his wedding. That would never happen. The last thing he needed was a wife who he could lose in a flash and break his heart. One he would not be able to protect from the ills of life. His heart had been ravaged enough, and not by a woman.
Best to stay single and be responsible for no one but himself.
After a quick wash-up, he changed his shirt and headed back out. He’d left off the crutches about a week ago, but he still had a decided limp and pain when he stood or walked too long. Another reason he didn’t do well on the jobs he’d had. But he was not the type to sit all day.
Not feeling up to a family supper tonight, he walked to the Harvey House restaurant at the train station. From what he’d heard, they had some decent food and even pretty young women working as servers. He could use a little bit of cheering up, and nothing would work better than some fine female scenery while he ate his steak.
The new Santa Fe Depot on the east side of the tracks housed the restaurant. Unlike other depots, this one had been constructed with red bricks. A two-story section stood at the center of the building, with one-story wings on either side. Right now the area was busy with the arrival of a train. Those who were home for the evening strode away from the depot, newspapers tucked under their arms, and those in between trains headed to the restaurant.
The delicious scents of roasting meat and baked bread reached him before he even opened the door. A man greeted him, bowing as he entered. “Good evening, sir. Did you wish to dine with us this evening?”
“Yes, sir. Just myself.”
“Very good. However, we do require gentlemen to wear jackets.” He hurried on when Hunter turned to leave. “We have jackets here for our customers’ use, and we would be happy to supply you with one.”
Hunter stopped and grinned as his stomach let out with a rather embarrassing growl. “I guess I’d better take you up on your offer.”
“Very good, sir. Just one moment, please.”
Hunter looked around the restaurant while he waited for his jacket. Several young women dressed in black shirtwaist dresses, adorned with a white bib and apron hurried from the kitchen area to tables filled with customers. The tables were covered with white linen cloths and silver table service. It was no wonder they required jackets. The restaurant reminded him of the fine establishments where he’d eaten in Dallas. He never expected to see such a place in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
“Here you are, sir.” The man from the front desk held out a black jacket which Hunter slipped on and then followed him to a table near a window that revealed another train pulling into the depot.
He studied the menu, pleased at the tempting choices, when he heard a slight “Oh,” and before he looked up was immediately doused with a copious amount of very cold water. Jumping up, he sucked in a breath and looked up from his wet clothes. “What the . . .”
His jaw dropped as he peered into two of the most beautiful crystal blue eyes he’d ever seen. Eyes that grew wider by the second as the young waitress stared at him in horror. Eyes that soon filled with tears that held fast to her lids, as if waiting for permission to slide down her flushed cheeks.
Bev R., Amazon Review wrote:
5 stars! This book just moved to my favorite Callie Hutton book.
Anne, Amazon Review wrote:
I loved it! . . . there were some pretty good twists and turns this story was very well written. Callie has a winner here!
This one was very uplifting! Anyone who has suffered through an abusive relationship will identify with this book!! Emily is on her own with no family an abusive husband no money she makes a run for it!! While in her new life she meets Hunter a disabled ex-Texas Ranger just coming home after several years. He sees that she's hiding something but waits for her to trust him enough to confide in him! Before that can happen Emily disappears!! All he knows is it involves a man dressed in black and she didn't look happy about going! His senses tell him to go after her!! What he finds in Galveston! Stuns him but all he knows is he's not leaving without her! The twists and turns in this story will keep you from putting this book down !! If I could give it more than 5 stars I would!!