The Listening Sky


By Dorothy Garlock

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In the 1880s, Jane Love comes to Timbertown, Wyoming to escape her heritage and begin a new job and an independent new life. But upon her arrival, she discovers that she and 19 other women were recruited, not to work, but to become wives of lumberjacks. Jane is appalled by the arrangement but agrees to a mock marriage with the town’s owner.























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First eBook Edition: September 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2228-2


Wyoming territory, 1882

Chapter 1

JANE Love's groping fingers found the pocket on her skirt and shoved the scrap of paper inside.

i know who yu we.


Hiding the crudely written words, however, did not erase them from her mind. Her heart hammered so hard that it was difficult to breathe. Without moving her head, she searched the crowd to see if anyone was watching her.

Standing in the dusty street of a run-down town with the group of women who had climbed down from the wagons after the thirty-mile trip from the stage station, Jane refused to allow any outward sign of the nervousness that was making her stomach churn.

Three families stood beside their wagons. Two of the mothers held babes in their arms, while older children clung to their skirts. A half-dozen men, bundles of their belongings at their feet, stood to one side waiting to be told where to go.

Jane's eyes were caught by those of a husky, dark-skinned man wearing a leather vest and a battered felt hat. He had been at the stage station when she arrived with the others from the train stop and had immediately singled her out for his attention.

He smiled and winked.

She tilted her chin and glared.

Last night in the dining hall of the station, she had hung her hat on a peg while she ate her supper. Later she had found the first note tucked in the crown.


yu cant hide.


She knew what the hateful message referred to—there was no doubt of that. The scribbled note had so unnerved her that she had hardly slept a wink all night.

The latest note had been pressed under one of the straps of the leather valise that held the sum total of her belongings. Had it been placed there by someone at the stage station, or after the baggage had been loaded and she had climbed into one of the lumbering wagons that had brought her and the other adventurous souls to this former ghost town in the northwest section of Wyoming Territory? Had the note-writer gone on with the train to some other destination? Or was he one of the people who had come here with her?

"Welcome to Timbertown. I'm T.C. Kilkenny." The man who spoke had stepped onto a bench so that he could see the faces of everyone in the crowd.

When Jane turned and looked up, she saw a big, wide-shouldered man with a lean, strong-boned face. A black flat-crowned hat sat squarely on his dark head in a no-nonsense fashion. Wide galluses held up duck britches, the legs of which were tucked into calf-high boots.

"Men, those of you who have families, get them settled in the cabins provided and then come to the store building and sign up. Your women and children are tired from the trip, so bring them to the cookhouse tonight for supper. Jeb Hobart is the building foreman." He gestured toward a stocky man who wore a billed cap and was smoking a pipe. "He will show you the way to the cabins. Each of them is furnished with a bed and a stove for heating and cooking. Our store is fully stocked, and you will be invited to run a tab which will be deducted from your pay by the Rowe Lumber Company, if you so wish."

Kilkenny waited while the families climbed back into wagons that were piled high with their possessions. The men started the tired teams moving down the dirt-packed road toward their new homes. Most of the lumbermen had requested a cabin on an acre or two of cleared ground. Wash hung from the lines behind a few of the town houses, and children playing on the doorsteps waved as the wagons passed.

After the crowd had moved away, Kilkenny spoke to the men who remained.

"I have a few things to say to those of you who are going to work on the town building, also the mill workers. Take your plunder to the space beyond the blacksmith and stake out a place to camp for tonight. Temporary quarters for the women are in the building next to the cookhouse. Ladies, I'll take you there presently.

"The population of our town is nearly a hundred people and there are that many others who live around it. At least thirty more will be here tomorrow, not counting the children. They will be the last addition to our town until spring, unless some folks happen to wander in and want to stay. So that we can live in a civilized manner, there must be rules. I am the town manager and part-owner of the land it sits on. Therefore, for the time being, I make the rules and enforce them.

"Drinking during a work shift will result in instant dismissal. No handguns are to be worn on the job nor in the saloon. I expect that you will have the normal number of disagreements among yourselves. If you want to fight, go out into the street and have at it in a civilized manner. A man who deliberately cripples his opponent will be fired on the spot. I will not tolerate biting, eye-gouging nor stomping. Other than that, I'll not interfere." These remarks were directed to the group of men.

Fight in a civilized manner? Jane suppressed the urge to roll her eyes to the heavens.

"Social functions will be provided so that the single men and women may become acquainted if they wish to," he added quickly. "Any man who fails to conduct himself in a gentlemanly manner toward the ladies will find himself in a peck of trouble. I intend to have a civilized, law-abiding community here.

"We have a well-stocked mercantile store. I expect a train of freight wagons soon. Prices will be fair. Each man who signs on to work for Rowe Lumber Company can run a tab. We have a blacksmith, a harness-maker, a wheelwright, and, of course, a livery. We'll soon have the hotel and rooming house usable. A bakery and an eatery will open to give us some relief from Bill's cooking."

A gray-haired man with a dingy white cloth wrapped around his waist lounged against the building with a screened door. At the remark about his cooking his toothless mouth spread in a broad smile.

"I expect a preacher soon, and we'll build a church. I'm hoping to engage one of you as schoolmaster. If our town continues to grow, a year from now we will elect a mayor, a city council, and a peace officer. You will notice that I do not call this place a lumber camp. We have two cutting camps. One to the north, one to the west. The sawmill is a mile upriver.

"We will rebuild this town. It will have all a well-run town has to offer. In a few years Wyoming Territory will become a state, and our town will have a chance to become a county seat. We are in the midst of one of the richest pine regions in the territory. With careful management of these resources, there will be jobs here for many years and this town will naturally grow and prosper.

"When the river freezes and work at the mill slows down, some of you will find work here in town as we continue to build. You will have credit to build or to fix up one of the more than a dozen abandoned cabins scattered around. Some are in not too bad a shape considering they've been vacant so long."

While the man was talking, Jane studied him. He seemed confident and well educated. He had shown compassion for the women holding their babes and the tired, crying children clinging to their skirts. He looked to be capable of backing up his intention to deal with anyone who broke the town laws. He was taller than average, with broad shoulders and a wide chest that tapered down to narrow hips and long, powerful legs. His hair was so black that it glinted blue. His high cheekbones and a wide, thin-lipped mouth told Jane that he was part-Indian even though Kilkenny was an Irish name and his eyes were a steel gray.

Oh, Lord! Had she made a mistake coming here?

Jane had been searching for just such a chance as this place offered. Maybe here she would be able to start a new life where her secret could stay hidden forever.

Being entirely on her own for the first time in her life and in Timbertown was the result of her having read a handbill tacked to the wall of a store back in Denver. The advertisement, dated July 30, 1882, had been printed a week earlier.

Wanted: People to populate the town of

Timbertown, a settlement in the northwest

section of Wyoming Territory.

Jobs available for hardworking timbermen.

Housing provided for families, rooms for

single men and women.

Single women wanted for cooking, sewing,

laundry and nursing.

Male or female schoolteacher needed with knowledge

of bookkeeping.

Backing available for qualified merchants.

Apply Carlson Hotel on Friday.

Buoyed by hope, Jane had applied. The solicitor, a stuffy man with a stiff high collar and small wire-rimmed spectacles, first asked if she were single, then asked about her health—because, he had said, Timbertown was in an isolated area. He looked closely at her after she spoke about her qualifications as a teacher and a bookkeeper. She told him that she could sew and knit and had had considerable experience nursing the sick.

Jane did not feel it necessary to explain that she had lived all her life in a Methodist Church home and that while there she had done everything from scrubbing the floors to keeping the books and writing to various organizations asking for donations. She did not mention that she had been expected to stay there and work for her board for the rest of her life, or that when she left the headmistress had slammed the door behind her after having called her an ungrateful chit and having predicted that she'd come crawling back within six months.

That had been six weeks ago.

The ride in the lumber wagon from the train stop, which was no more than a shack and a water tank, to the stage station, where they had spent the night sitting or lying on pallets, had already exhausted the women. And today the driver of the wagon had seemed to care not a whit for the comfort of his passengers during the thirty-mile drive from the station to Timbertown. His aim was to deliver this group and head back to the station to drink and play cards.

When the call came to load up, the driver had lifted her up into the last of a string of five wagons. She had taken a seat on the end of one of the planks that served as a bench. The slamming of the tailgate seemed to signify the end of one life and the beginning of another. For thirty miles she'd had to endure the stare of the man in the felt hat who rode alongside the wagon.

The excitement of finally being here in Timbertown was diminished not only by her fatigue but by the knowledge that some unknown person, who undoubtedly wished to make her life miserable, had been nearby, at least until she had climbed aboard the wagon. The hateful message left on her valise worried her. It meant that someone knew who she was and hated her for it.

She had not escaped from her shame; it had traveled with her.

Jane straightened her straw hat and with the palms of her hands tried to smooth some of the wrinkles out of her skirt. Her shoes were covered with dust, so her face must be too. She licked her lips and felt the grit. She cherished cleanliness and longed for a wet cloth to wipe her face and hands.

When a hand pressed her arm, Jane turned to see the drawn face of the young girl standing beside her. No more than sixteen, weary and frightened, she was very close to tears.

"What's the matter, Polly?"

"I'm so tired. And my back—"

"Sit down here on my valise. Honey, are you sick?" Jane asked when tears began to fill the girl's eyes.

"No. Just… tired."

Polly Wright had been with the group when Jane arrived in Laramie after having come up from Denver on the stage. They had shared a room at the hotel before they boarded the train for the middle leg of the journey. Polly had been very careful to slip the big loose nightdress over her head before she removed her petticoats. Her listlessness and upset stomach made Jane suspect the girl might be pregnant.

Jane knelt down and tucked her handkerchief into Polly's hand.

"Wipe your eyes," she whispered. "We don't want him to think you're sickly."

Polly sniffed back the tears and dabbed at her eyes. "I can't help… it. Will he send me back?"

"I don't know."

"I wish… I was… dead."

"No you don't. Nothing is that bad."

Jane patted the girl's shoulder and was about to stand when two big dusty boots planted themselves in the ground beside her skirt. Her eyes traveled up the long legs to the checked shirt and to the lean, sun-browned face with its piercing gray eyes. The memory of such eyes caused Jane to shiver again.

"What's the matter with her?"

"She's tired."

"Why is she tired? She hasn't done anything but ride for three days."

Jane stood. The top of her head came to the man's chin. Nevertheless, she looked up unflinchingly into, the eyes narrowed beneath heavy black brows.

"It was not a ride on a featherbed, mister."

"It was the best I could provide."

"I'm not disputing that. She'll be all right with a bath and a decent night's sleep."

"That I can provide."

"Thank God!" Jane murmured under her breath.

"What was that?" he asked, his lips twitching at the corners.

Jane felt her cheeks redden, but she refused to cower beneath his intense stare. Not for the world would she bow her head with this overbearing man and the entire group staring at her.

"I said, thank God."

"I thought that was what you said." He turned and walked away.

"Then why did you ask me?" Jane mouthed at his back.

Her eyes swept the group and caught the look on the face of one of the women who had held herself apart from the others since she had joined them at the stage station. She had arrived with a Mexican man, who had left immediately. Because the two had conversed in Spanish, Jane presumed her to be Mexican even though she seemed tall for a Mexican woman. She was large-boned and stood ramrod straight. Black straight hair hung down her back to her waist. The woman's gaze lingered on Jane's face for several seconds before she turned and watched Kilkenny as he made his way to the front of the crowd.

"Ladies, this way."

Twelve women followed T.C. Kilkenny. A tall, red-haired woman with green eyes hurried to walk beside him. Then a quiet, dark-haired woman picked up her valise and trailed along, as did another gripping the hand of a small boy. A slender, obviously pregnant mother holding the hand of a girl hardly out of diapers and a woman with a shy young daughter were joined by several young, strong women in their teens. Jane and Polly brought up the rear.

Jane insisted on carrying Polly's carpetbag as well as her own heavy valise. After going a short distance, she stopped to shift the heavy load to her other hand. Kilkenny was beside her as she straightened, and he took the valise from her hand, leaving the lighter bag for her to carry. He walked away without a word, causing Jane to wonder if the man had eyes in the back of his head.

His action was noted by the Mexican woman and the one with dyed-red hair.

Kilkenny led them to a low log building. The moment Jane entered the newly built building she knew that it was not meant to be permanent quarters. So many women could not live in harmony for long in such close proximity.

Along the windowless wall was a field bed. It extended the length of the building. Narrow grass-filled mattresses lay along the wooden slab. Neatly folded blankets had been placed along the foot of the communal bed. On the wall at the far end of the room was a shelf with several basins and pitchers. A square glass mirror hung above them. Sitting in the middle of the room was a large Acme heater with a shiny tin chimney going up through the roof. The heat radiating from it was a welcome antidote to the chill of the late afternoon breeze that came down from the mountains.

A bench stretched along the foot of the long bed. Upon this Kilkenny placed Jane's valise. Then he went to the far corner of the room to pull back a curtain and reveal a tin bathtub and two large tin water buckets.

"We have no shortage of water. It comes from a spring and is piped to a reservoir behind the cookhouse. The cook will bring you the first bucket of hot water, and later you can heat your own on the laundry stove." He gestured toward a small two-burner stove with another shiny tin chimney going out the side of the building.

"How nice," Jane said, again under her breath.

"The privy out back is strictly for ladies only."

"Where do we eat?" The question came from a girl with a mass of unruly blond hair, a slender wiry build and a constant smile. She was young and healthy and seemed to take everything in stride. She had said to Jane, "Call me Sunday. My mama had a young'un for every day in the week. I'm glad I wasn't born on Saturday."

"You'll eat in the cookhouse. The men will eat first, then cook will send his helper for you. Tomorrow I'll interview each of you. There is plenty of work to keep you busy while you're waiting for the job you were hired to do."

"Like what?" Jane asked.

Kilkenny's eyes honed in on Jane's face and stayed there for a few seconds before he answered. Her heart pounded, but her expression did not change. A facade of haughty dignity was far more effective, she had learned, than cringing uncertainty.

"Washing, cooking, sewing—"

"—How long do we stay… here?" Jane interrupted. Then before he answered, "Do you not have a rooming house or a hotel?"

"The hotel and rooming house are being repaired. Have you run a hotel?"

"No. But—"


"But it wouldn't be too difficult."

"I can't very well put you up in a hotel or rooming house with a hole in the roof, can I?" He raised dark brows and his eyes raked over her coolly. Someone tittered. "Any more questions?"

"Not tonight." Her tone was frosty.

"Very well. I'll leave you to get settled in."

He walked the length of the building with quick, purposeful steps. He paused in front of the Mexican woman and tipped his hat.

"Señora Cabeza."

"Hola, T.C."

He continued toward the door. The flame-haired, green-eyed woman stepped out in front of him.

"Mr. Kilkenny…" The name rolled off her tongue like a caress. "I don't wish to stay here. I'll buy one of the completed cabins."

His stare would have intimidated most women. This one appeared to enjoy it. She tilted her head and flung a mass of loose red hair over her shoulder. She was not a young innocent and did not pretend to be.

"We'll discuss it tomorrow when you have your interview."

He stepped around her and continued on, but as his eyes met Jane's his steps slowed. Jane's eyes looked into his, straight and clean, not boldly, but with assurance and a little amusement. He regarded her with an icy stare, but his expression in no way detracted from the splendor of his face. He was as handsome a man as Jane had ever seen. No wonder the red-haired woman was panting after him.

T.C. walked past Jane, taking with him a flashing memory of rich, dark reddish-brown hair framing a fine-boned face, stormy smoke-blue eyes shot with silver, and a tilted pointed chin.

She was… proud as a peacock. And a lady to boot. Why in hell would such a woman come here? He had not had the time to study the applications sent by his solicitor, but you could bet your boots he would as soon as he got back to his house.

And… what the hell was Patrice Guzman Cabeza doing here? Was his solicitor out of his mind? Patrice's husband must still be alive. No word to the contrary had reached the town. If she figured to be coddled and waited on here, she was in for a surprise. Everyone carried his own weight in this town. It would be a sight to see Senor Ramon Cabeza's wife bent over a washtub. And the redhead—if she had money to buy her own house, why was she here? Hell, at times T.C. wondered at the craziness of sending for the women.

With a few exceptions Kilkenny was pleased with the newcomers. He had hoped for more big, strong ranch or farm women. He calculated that even after the arrivals tomorrow, there would still be two single men to every single woman in town. And when the men came in from the cutting camps, the ratio would be more like four to one. He had hoped to reduce the number of single men; he didn't want to resort to bringing in "ladies of the night."

Men without women for long stretches of time, especially during the winter months, became quarrelsome. Unhappy, restless men were unproductive workers. Families built towns, families with children, churches, schools and law and order.

Kilkenny had deliberately furnished the women's barracks with only the bare necessities. He was counting on their nesting instincts to take over. After a week crowded in with other women, a place of one's own and a man to do for would become very appealing.

He had caught disappointment in the faces of some. The town did look like a flash-mining town, which it had been ten years earlier. Tents and make-do shelters stood along the street among the weatherbeaten empty buildings. But in a month or two all of that would be changed.

Kilkenny had no scruples about his matchmaking. After all, God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Women were created to mate with men to ensure the continuance of the human race. As the weaker of the sexes, women sought to be provided for and protected. And what better way to accomplish that than as wives and mothers?

He approached the group of new men waiting to speak to the foreman.

"Hey, boss man," one called. "That's a fine-lookin' herd a mares ya brought in."

"And I'm a rarin' to mount me one," said another.

T.C. tamped down the anger that boiled up in him. He looked at the face of each man before he spoke. It had long been a habit of his to look a man in the eyes and study him. He knew immediately that what he had here were two men showing off for a dozen others.

He folded his arms across his chest, spread his booted feet, rocked back on his heels and suppressed the desire to plant his fist in the man's face. He waited so long to speak that the men grew restless.

"You're going to get away with those remarks this time because there may be something wrong with your hearing and you didn't hear me the first time around. So I'm telling you again that if I hear of any of you referring to a woman in this town as a mare and being anxious to mount her, that man will spend the rest of his life eating without teeth, and he will ride out of here with his ass kicked up between his shoulders. Do I make myself clear?"

The last man to speak hung his head. "Ah… Milo said they was here for… that."

The man called Milo Callahan grinned inanely, showing a wide space between his two front teeth, one of which had been broken in half. He had a broad face and a cockiness that immediately rubbed Kilkenny the wrong way. He appeared to Kilkenny to be a braggart and a bully, tough in body and weak in mind. T.C. wondered vaguely if he were related to the Callahan who had a lumber business over in the Bitterroot Range.

"The ladies answered the advertisement the same as you did. I will provide jobs for them if they do not choose to marry. They are not whores."

"If'n they ain't, why'd they come?" Milo asked. "Ain't no decent


On Sale
Sep 26, 2009
Page Count
416 pages

Dorothy Garlock

About the Author

Dorothy Garlock is the author of more than 50 novels that have sold 15 million+ combined copies and are published in 15 languages. She lives in Iowa.

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