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Sins of Summer
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Format:ebook (Digital original) $6.99 $8.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 26, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Books by Dorothy Garlock
A Gentle Giving
Love and Cherish
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
The Listening Sky
This Loving Land
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Wind of Promise
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1994 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved.
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com
First eBook Edition: September 2009
* 1 *
"We're almost there."
The man lowered his head and spoke to the girl, although he knew that she could not hear him. Five miles back he had taken her from her horse, placed her in front of him in the saddle, and opened his sheepskin coat and wrapped it and a blanket around her. They had been traveling since daybreak, stopping only a time or two to rest the horses and to eat the meat and biscuits he had stored in his saddlebags.
It was quiet and bitterly cold.
The snow seemed to go on forever. The wind worked softly, smoothing out the snow around the gray spiky trunks and naked branches that edged the road. Flakes touched the man's whiskered face and stayed there. The creases in his coat and the blanket wrapped around the girl became a web of white lines.
Around a little bend the road flattened out and buildings came in sight. The weary man sighed with relief.
A track of rutted snow and mud led to a weathered-plank, two-storied house, a barn, outbuildings, and a few shacks. Black smoke oozed out of chimneys. This was the Callahan Lumber Company headquarters, not unlike a dozen other operations in the Bitterroot Range of Idaho.
The man glanced with curiosity at the house as he passed it on the way to the barn. It was big and square with tall, narrow windows. The front door looked as if it were seldom, if ever, used. A large covered porch ran along the back of the house. Light came from the back windows.
The horse, sensing the end of the journey, walked faster, whinnied softly, and stopped at the barn door. The man shook the girl. She looked up with questioning eyes. Without speaking, he lifted her to the ground, dismounted, swung back the heavy door and motioned her to go ahead. He followed, leading the horses. It was dark in the barn. Before he closed the door, shutting out what little light the late afternoon provided, he lit a lantern.
The girl hugged the blanket around her and waited while the man quickly unsaddled the horses, wiped them down, put them in a stall and forked them some hay. Leaving the bundles he had taken from behind the saddles in the stalls with the horses, he went to the girl, adjusted the shawl that covered her head, and, with an arm around her shoulders, guided her out of the barn and across the snow-covered ground to the house.
Standing at the window, Dory was trying to decide if she had enough time to make a quick trip to the outhouse before Jeanmarie awakened, when the riders rode into the yard and stopped in front of the barn. The saddle of one horse was empty, while the other carried double. Was someone really hurt, or was it a couple of no-goods hoping to get into the house by pretending to need help? If that was the case, she would send them packing with a load of buckshot in their rears. That stupid trick had been tried before.
Dory was always apprehensive when men came to the homestead. Only the most reckless dared to come when her brothers were not at home. As she watched, a man stepped out of the saddle and reached to lift someone down. The person was small and wore a… skirt that came to her shoe tops. Forevermore! A woman! She went into the barn. He followed with the horses.
Dory's heart thudded with excitement. It had been months since she had talked to another woman. The last time she had been to town was before Thanksgiving, and here it was April. She waited eagerly for the barn door to open. Would they go to the bunkhouse seeking shelter for the night, or would they come to the house?
When they crossed the yard toward the house, she backed away from the window. She heard them on the steps to the porch, stomping the snow from their boots, and she opened the door when the knock sounded. A man with a dark stubble of beard on his face stood with his arm across the shoulders of a young girl. Her face was red with cold.
"Come in. It must be near zero."
Dory swung the door wide, stepped back for them to enter then quickly closed it against the biting cold. Warm air struck the man's face—air filled with the scent of freshly baked bread. Two lamps lighted the cozy, well-equipped kitchen. A black iron range dominated one end of the room, a cobblestone fireplace large enough for a six-foot log the other.
"I'm Benton Waller."
"Are you lost?" Dory lifted straight dark brows.
"Not if this is the headquarters of Callahan Lumber Company." He pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to her. She glanced at the writing and handed it back.
"This is the Callahan homestead. The mill is farther north—five or six miles." Her eyes went to the girl and back to him. His eyes were the color of polished pewter and she couldn't help being intrigued by their unusual color and the keen intelligence they projected. "You must be the donkey engine man from Spokane," she said with sudden realization.
"I've been hired to set up the steam donkey. I wrote that I'd be here between the tenth and the fifteenth."
"I hadn't heard you were bringing your family," she said, glancing at the girl, who hovered close to the man's side, her head barely reaching his shoulder. She was young, slight; her face stiff with cold. "Come over to the fire. There's nothing worse than a late spring blizzard."
The girl ignored the invitation until the man, with his hand against her back, urged her toward the roaring fire.
"We'll warm up a bit and go on up to the mill."
"You were promised family quarters?"
"He said there would be a cabin—"
"—The cabin Louis had in mind isn't fit for a girl. He's at the mill and won't be back until tomorrow," Dory said, not bothering to hide her frank appraisal of the girl and the tall, lean man who stood with his back to the fire. He had removed his hat the instant he had stepped inside the door, revealing thick black hair. His face was too blunt-edged to be called handsome. Despite his casual manner, she felt the tension in him and knew instinctively that he was a hardened, cautious man who had had his share of bad times.
"Mrs. Callahan, my daughter is cold and tired. I'd be obliged if you'd tell me where we can settle in."
"Miss Callahan. Louis, Milo, and James are my brothers— the sons of the Callahan who founded the company."
Ben caught the slight sarcastic note in her voice, and he studied her face. It was oval with a small straight nose, wide generous mouth, large green eyes surrounded by dark lashes. Tall and capable looking, she was not exactly pretty, but the short, untameable, sable brown curls that covered her head like a woolly cap gave her a gamine appeal.
"It was Louis Callahan who asked me to come here."
"Damn Louis! He should know a girl can't stay in one of those shacks. Lordy mercy! I could throw a cat through the wall of any of them. He didn't say a word about your bringing your family. Then again… why should he? I'm just a woman with barely enough brains to stay out of the fire." She stopped abruptly as if regretting her unguarded comments.
The fact that she swore didn't shock Ben as much as the bitterness in her voice when she spoke of her brother.
"He didn't know I was bringing my daughter. I just said I wanted private quarters."
The girl tilted her head so that she could see her father's face. The shawl had slipped back showing light, straw-colored hair. An anxious frown drew her brows together over cornflower-blue eyes. She put a hand on his arm and shook it. He looked down at her and spoke slowly.
"It's all right."
"Of course, it is," Dory Callahan said quickly. "She can stay in here with me. There's a bunkhouse out next to the barn. Wiley's out there. He'll show you where you can bunk for the night. Tomorrow you can talk to Louis."
"Thank you." Ben turned to the girl and pulled the blanket from around her. The coat she wore was much too big for her small frame. While he unbuttoned it, her eyes never left his face. "Stay with the lady." Again he spoke slowly. "Stay here." He pointed to a kitchen chair.
The girl put her forefinger against his chest, then pointed to another chair. "You?"
He shook his head.
She pushed his hands away and rebuttoned her coat. She shook her head vigorously and pulled the shawl back over her head.
Ben looked up and caught Dory staring at the girl. "She can't hear." He spoke impatiently, yet softly as if the girl could hear him. "She's afraid I'll leave her."
The poor little thing.
"Then stay with her for a while. Hang your coats there by the door." She smiled at the girl. "It's been a while since I've had a female visitor. What's her name?"
"Odette. She doesn't talk much," Ben said, shrugging off his sheepskin coat.
"When she has to. She was very sick about eight years ago, and when she came out of it, she couldn't hear. I'm trying to teach her to read my lips."
"Can she understand me?"
"Some. She understands most of what I say, but she's used to me. She can read and write. She's no dummy." He said it defensively as if he'd had to establish that fact before.
Dory wanted to know more about this strange pair, but his tone told her it was time to change the subject.
"Would you like coffee and a slice of fresh bread?"
"My mouth has been watering since I stepped inside the door."
When he smiled, lines in his whiskered cheeks formed brackets on each side of his mouth. His teeth were straight and white and free of tobacco stains, but Dory sensed that he was a hard man and not the type to be traveling around with a daughter the size of this girl.
Where was his wife?
"How far did you come today?"
"From Cataldo Mission."
A small girl appeared in the doorway, knuckling sleep from her eyes.
"Ma… ma, who's that?"
"Sweetheart! You've had such a long nap." Dory bent to lift the child up into her arms.
"Who's that?" the child asked again.
"Someone to see Uncle Louis."
"I gotta pee-pee—"
"Shhh… honey. Excuse me," Dory said and left the room with the child peering at them over her mother's shoulder. Her hair was short, curly and bright red. Yet the resemblance was so strong Ben had no doubt that they were mother and child.
He looked down to see Odette staring after the woman and little girl, then quickly trying to smooth her hair back with her palms. She pulled the collar of her dress out over the heavy sweater she had worn beneath her coat.
"Are you hungry?" he asked silently, his lips forming the words slowly. She smiled and nodded. He smiled back. "Say it."
"Hungry." Her lips formed the word silently.
"Say it," he insisted and pointed to his ear.
She grinned impishly, then said, "Hungry. You?"
"You bet." He pinched her chin with his thumb and forefinger. "You little imp. You like me to nag you to talk," he said affectionately.
Dory, with the child in her arms, stood in the doorway watching the exchange between Ben Waller and his daughter. It surprised her that such a rough-looking man would be so patient and gentle with the girl. The Callahan men didn't have a patient bone in their bodies, much less a gentle one—except for James. He was young yet. Give him time and he might turn out to be as hard as Louis and Milo.
"This is my daughter, Jeanmarie," Dory said with pride as she lowered the little girl to the floor. The toddler headed straight for Odette and took her hand.
"What your name?"
Odette quickly looked at Ben. He silently repeated the question while the child looked from one to the other.
"Odette." The name came hesitantly.
"I'm three." Jeanmarie held up three fingers. "Soon I'll be four." She unfolded another finger. "I had a kitty cat, but… it run off. You got a kitty cat?"
Odette looked puzzled.
"Come here, chatterbox." Dory scooped up the child and sat her on a high stool at the table. "She'll talk your arm off," Dory said to cover the silence. "She gets pretty wound up when company comes. We seldom have visitors and never see another woman unless we go to town. I can't promise that she'll get used to your daughter and stop pestering her."
"I don't know if Odette has ever been around a child."
Dory hesitated for an instant on her way to the cupboard to get cups and plates. He didn't know if his daughter had ever been around a child. That was strange. What kind of man wouldn't know that about his own daughter? The girl might not even be his daughter. She certainly didn't resemble him in any way, although it was easy to see that she adored him. Dory gave a mental shrug. Regardless of who and what they were, their coming was a break in her dreary existence.
"Sit down. Mr. Waller, would Odette like milk in her coffee or coffee in her milk? Sometimes I color Jeanmarie's milk with coffee. It makes her feel grown up."
Ben repeated the question and Odette answered aloud.
Dory Callahan flipped a loaf of bread from a pan onto a smooth board. The sleeves of a flannel shirt were rolled to her elbows. It sloped down over well-rounded breasts and was tucked neatly into the surprisingly small waistband of a heavy wool skirt that hit her legs a good six inches above her slender ankles. She wore black stockings and fur-lined moccasins. She was not a small woman, and yet she was feminine.
Ben could not help wondering about her child and why she had made a point of making it perfectly clear that she was Miss Callahan. Unmarried. Yet the child was her flesh and blood. A man would have to be blind not to see it.
"What your name?" Jeanmarie asked.
"My name is Jeanmarie. I'm almost four." She held up four fingers. Ben didn't know what to say to that so he didn't say anything. "I got a doll," she said looking expectantly into Odette's face. "Uncle Louis broke her leg. Uncle James fix it. Want to see my picture book? It's got a monkey." Jeanmarie giggled behind her hand. Odette remained silent. After a long pause, Jeanmarie looked at her mother and her lips began to tremble. "She don't like m-me—"
Dory set the coffeepot back on the stove and took the chair next to her daughter. She put her palm on the child's face to turn it toward her.
"Listen to me, honey. Of course she likes you. Who wouldn't like a sweet, pretty little girl like you? The reason she isn't talking to you is that she can't hear what you're saying to her."
"I talk loud."
"It doesn't matter how loud you talk, sweetheart. Her ears have been hurt and they don't work."
"Did she fall down?"
"No, honey. She was very sick."
"Is she sick now?"
"No. But when she was, it broke something in her ears."
"They broke?" The child tilted her head to look at Odette, then quickly scooted off the stool and around the table. "I kiss… make 'em better." She threw her arms around Odette's neck, pulled her head down and kissed her first on one ear and then the other.
When Odette got over her surprise, she smiled with pure pleasure and murmured. "Thank you."
With her pixie face wreathed in smiles, Jeanmarie climbed back up on the stool and turned the full force of her gaze on her mother.
"Is him her uncle?"
"He's her papa." Dory sliced the hot bread, passed it to Ben and Odette and moved the butter dish to within their reach. "Help yourself to the butter and jelly."
"I ain't got a papa," Jeanmarie said. "But I got Uncle James."
Ben noticed that this announcement had no effect at all on the mother, who smoothed jelly on a slice of bread, cut it, and put it on her daughter's plate.
"Don't know when I've tasted better bread," Ben said.
"Could be you're just hungry," Dory replied. "My mother was the best bread maker in the territory. She claimed the secret to making good bread was to dissolve the yeast in potato water. In the winter she'd load a dishpan full of warm bread and take it to the cutters up in the woods. Before they started the winter cut they would make sure a path was cleared for the sleigh. Sometimes, even then, Mama had to walk a mile through deep snow. She loved the woods and—"
Her voice trailed when she realized she had been chattering like a magpie. Weeks went by when the only adult conversation she had was with old Wiley in the bunkhouse and an occasional grunt from her brothers, who took turns coming back to the homestead on Sunday.
Ben liked sitting across the table from the woman, listening to her voice. He sensed her loneliness. He was strangely comfortable with her, although he could feel the sharp edge of her curiosity about him and Odette.
Silence, broken only by the child's chatter, stretched while they finished off most of a loaf of bread. Then the thump of heavy boots came from the porch, followed immediately by the opening of the door.
The man who stood in the doorway looked down the table at Ben, then advanced a step into the room and slammed the door shut behind him. He was a big, deep-chested man wearing the clothing of a logger: pant legs stuffed into the tops of his boots, a mackinaw, and a wool cap. Snow lay on his shoulders and clung to his wiry beard. He took another step, his eyes, hard and piercing, holding on Ben.
"Who the hell are you and what'er you doin' in my house?"
* 2 *
The greeting was as shocking to Ben as a splash of cold water. A chill crawled over his skin, but he met the man's angry gaze without a flicker of the emotion that tensed every nerve inside him. He pushed himself away from the table and stood.
"For God's sake, Louis! He's the man you sent for," Dory said before Ben could speak.
"Yes," Ben said. "I wrote that I'd be here between the tenth—"
"—And… the fifteenth." Louis rudely interrupted. He threw angry, suspicious words at his sister. "What's he doing in here?"
"I invited him in." Dory stood, her face red with anger and embarrassment.
"Hired hands are not invited into my house," Louis shouted.
"Your house?" Dory retorted, her voice low and quivery. "One fourth of this house is mine and I'll invite in who I please. Nothing in Papa's will gives you the right to say who comes in and who does not."
"I'm head of this family. You'll do as I say, or—"
"Or what, brother dear? James won't let you throw me out. We're two against two."
"That don't mean shit!"
"You're back a day early," Dory said lightly, then added with heavy sarcasm, "Did you hope to catch me having a high old time with old Wiley?"
"It wouldn't be the first time you've had a high old time," he sneered.
"You're pitiful, Louis. Mean-minded and pitiful."
"Thank you for the coffee and bread, ma'am." Ben felt an acute dislike for Louis Callahan, and the need to leave before his fist connected with the man's face. He reached the coat rack in two strides and unhooked Odette's coat as well as his own.
Odette followed Ben and stood close beside him. She could tell by his movements and his facial expression that he was angry. Something had gone wrong. Something Ben would tell her about later.
Louis seemed to notice Odette for the first time. "Who's this?"
"His daughter, you stupid, bull-headed dolt. You didn't tell the man he would have to share quarters with twenty or more horny timber beasts."
"Stay out of this," he snarled. "This is company business."
"I've got a one-fourth say."
"You got nothin' to say. He should've told me he was bringin' womenfolk."
"Blaming him! That's typical of you, Louis," Dory said scathingly.
"We'll be moving on." Ben's terse voice broke in. "If it wouldn't be asking too much, I'd be obliged if we could stay in the barn until the storm blows itself out."
Dory came around the table. "I apologize for my brother's rudeness. Let Odette stay with me and Jeanmarie until you're settled in another job."
"Don't worry about Odette, ma'am. I have the offer of another job down on the Saint Joe, less than a day's ride from here."
"Malone!" Louis shouted, making Ben wonder if the man ever spoke in a normal tone. "Is that goddamned Malone after you?"
Ben ignored the question and helped Odette into her coat.
Louis Callahan took off his mackinaw. "Waller, I was a bit hasty," he admitted grudgingly.
"Only a bit?" Dory's green eyes were large with mock concern.
"A man can't be too careful about his womenfolk in this country," he said with a meaningful look at his sister. "We'll fix up quarters for you and the girl."
"We'll be moving on." Ben steered Odette to the door. "About the barn?" He left the question hanging.
"Wait. It's best we talk this over," Louis said, pulling the cap from his head, which was bald except for a fringe of thick graying hair around the edges. "I ain't a man to go back on my word. I said you'd have private quarters and they'll be decent."
"I've never worked for a man who considered me unfit to step foot inside his home."
"You'd understand if you knew the circumstances here."
"Your family affairs are none of my business. I came here to do a job and move on."
"There's no womenfolk at Malone's," Louis said quickly.
"There are," Dory declared stridently. "You're lying and you know it."
Both men ignored her.
"We've been where there were no women before." Ben was settling his hat on his head.
"Stay. Dory would be company for your girl. And I'll pay half again more than you asked."
Dory suddenly let out a peal of contemptuous laughter.
"Hush up," Louis snapped.
"Why would you pay more than I asked for in the first place?" Ben asked.
"Because I need that engine working and a flume built," Louis said, glaring at Dory as she continued to laugh.
"I'll tell you why he's suddenly desperate to keep you." Dory's eyes sparkled with laughter. She didn't appear to be at all cowed by her huge older brother. "You said the magic words—you said you'd work for Malone over on the Saint Joe." She burst out in laughter again. "That was enough to make Louis roll over and play dead."
"We need to talk in private," Louis growled.
Ben looked down at Odette's tired, pinched face. He couldn't let his pride stand in the way of what was best for her. If the man was willing to pay half again the money he had offered, and with what he had already put away, it would be enough to set up a carpentry business for himself. Settlers were moving in by the droves, and there was bound to be a great demand for furniture, doors, window frames and flooring. He liked the mechanical work with the donkey machine, but he liked woodworking better.
Hell, he didn't have to like the man to work for him.
- On Sale
- Sep 26, 2009
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Grand Central Publishing