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Train from Marietta
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2006 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved.
Hachette Book Group
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First eBook Edition: March 2006
BOOKS BY DOROTHY GARLOCK
After the Parade
The Edge of Town
A Gentle Giving
High on a Hill
The Listening Sky
Love and Cherish
More than Memory
A Place Called Rainwater
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
Song of the Road
This Loving Land
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Wind of Promise
TATE DIDN T KNOW MUCH ABOUT STYLE, but he knew that thewoman standing beside the rough board wall of the small depot was fashionably dressed. He had glanced at her when he left the ticket counter and had wondered what she was doing in this rugged Texas town. She was obviously a city woman and as out of place as a rose in a cactus patch. Light blond hair fell to her shoulders. She wore a small blue felt hat that matched her princess-style coat, which came down over slim hips. The flared blue skirt that floated down around her calves was edged with a blue satin ribbon. Her matching shoes, with slender heels, were planted firmly beside an expensive leather valise.
What a silly hat, Tate thought, chuckling to himself. It'd offer no shade at all. Within ten minutes, her face would be cooked in the West Texas sun.
Worried about her trunk, Kate had stepped down from the train to make sure it was in the baggage car. When the railroad agent told her it had been left at the last stop and was being picked up by the train from Marietta, she had decided to wait and go on to California on the same train as her belongings. She wondered now at the wisdom of her decision. Shortly after she'd spoken with him, the agent had locked up and left. Now all who remained on the platform with her were a lone cowboy and the button salesman who had been on the train since New Orleans.
The sun was setting in the western sky. Purple shadows were sliding down from the hills. It would be dark soon. A slight chill had entered the air with the disappearance of the hot summer sun. The depot was far from town; only a sprinkling of lights shone from the houses. The train from Marietta wasn't due for another hour. It would be pitch-dark by then.
She was glad for the presence of the cowboy at the end of the platform. She'd first glanced at him when he left the ticket counter; her eyes had met his even though she knew that she shouldn't make eye contact with the strange man in dusty boots and well-worn jeans. His hair was black, and he wore a battered, wide-brimmed hat. His mouth was set in a thin line as if he somehow disapproved of her. What was he doing here at this time of night? Regardless of his appearance, she was glad he was here; she didn't want to be alone with the other man.
The salesman, dressed in a striped suit and a derby hat, paced back and forth near his sample case. She'd had the misfortune to take the same route to California that he had chosen. When they first boarded the train in New Orleans, he'd prattled on and on about buttons and snaps for hours. His twitchy, talkative nature and the way he looked at her gave her the creeps.
As the three stood waiting for the train, it seemed to her that they were the only people in all this vast and desolate land.
A door in the side of the depot opened on squeaky hinges. An old man pushed a trolley down to the end of the platform and left it so that its bundles could be loaded into the baggage car when the train arrived. Then he disappeared around the corner of the depot.
The button salesman coughed and took a step toward her. She turned to see that the cowboy was looking in their direction, but she wasn't sure who he was looking at. She pushed herself away from the wall and walked over to him.
"Is this train usually on time?"
"Sometimes," he said. "This isn't Grand Central Station, you know."
"Well, what do you know? I thought it was." She smiled up at him. But he didn't smile back.
What did she expect? He couldn't take a joke. He'd probably only heard of Grand Central Station and had never been there.
"Thanks for that valuable information." She turned and walked back to take her place against the rough boards. At least the salesman had taken the hint and moved back to his case. She looked at her watch but couldn't see the time in the dim light. She nudged the leather valise at her feet; if her trunk never arrived, at least she had clean underwear and her cosmetics.
Then, in the distance, she heard the familiar sounds of a train approaching. Could the thing be earlier than the agent predicted, or had an hour passed already? She looked at the cowboy and saw that he was peering down the track toward the east. She looked in that direction too, and soon she saw the billows of smoke rising up above the huge engine. The piercing whistle was loud enough to wake everybody for miles. The engineer was making a grand entrance into the station. Too bad only she, the cowboy, and the button salesman were there to appreciate the effort.
The train rolled slowly past her before coming to a stop. Two cars were brightly lit and filled with passengers, most of whom appeared to be sleeping. Katherine picked up her valise, walked to the edge of the platform, and waited for the conductor to step down from the train. He smiled, took her ticket, and helped her up the steps and into the car.
The cowboy was right behind her and edged past the conductor. Katherine turned to the right and entered the car. Most of the seats were filled, but halfway down she saw what she thought was an empty seat. Carrying her valise, she made her way down the aisle and set it on the floor.
When she turned, the cowboy was still right behind her. With a grunt, she attempted to lift the heavy bag up and put it in the rack above the seat. Quick as a whistle, the cowboy snatched it out of her hand, and as he slung it upward, the latch opened and her personal belongings spilled out over the seat and onto the floor. She looked down in horror to see a pair of her lace panties covering a pair of dusty cowboy boots.
"Sorry," he said.
Katherine was more embarrassed than she'd ever been in her entire life. All she could do was grunt in reply, "I bet you are."
The cowboy pulled her valise from the rack and set it on the seat beside her. He reached down and grabbed a handful of lavender lace panties, silk slips, and lacy bras and stuffed them back into the case. As he did, a jar of face cream fell onto his foot and opened. Katherine looked down to see the white cream running down over the cowboy's boot. The smell of gardenias filled the air in the passenger car. All around the car, people were stretching their necks to look.
She thought the cowboy said something under his breath. It sounded like "Oh, hell!" but she wasn't sure.
Fearing that he would wipe the face cream off his boot with her lavender panties, she pulled a big handkerchief out of her pocket and handed it to him. He jerked it out of her hand with a disgusted look and proceeded to wipe the cream off his boot. After glancing up and down the aisle to make sure he had picked up everything that had fallen from her bag, he tipped his hat toward Katherine and moved on to the front of the car in search of an empty seat. Fuming at the cowboy's back as he walked away, Katherine sat down and moved over next to the window. He'd made her look stupid in front of everyone! She was certain that her face was beet red with embarrassment. What a grouch, she thought. It wasn't her fault he was so clumsy. Were all the men in the West clods like him?
A cough that came from the aisle caused her to turn. The button salesman stood with his hand stretched out toward her. There, swinging from his fingers, was one of her bras. She snatched it from his hand, pushed it into the pocket of her coat, and looked back out the window. The salesman chuckled before walking on.
Until now, the first part of the trip had been uneventful. What more might happen before she reached California?
Tate Castle moved on to the next car in the train in search of an empty seat. Finding one, he threw himself into it.
He never wanted to see that woman again! All he was trying to do was help her lift that damned bag. How was he supposed to know that it was going to fly apart? Did women actually wear that kind of thing? Holding a handful of those undergarments was like holding a handful of air!
He was glad finally to be heading home. It seemed like forever since he'd seen his ranch, his friends, and, most important, his daughter. He'd missed her terribly and knew that she'd missed him too.
It was still a couple of hours to Muddy Creek, where he would get off the train. He was bone-tired. Tipping his hat down over his eyes, Tate tried to sleep as the scent of flowers drifted up from his boot.
The sound of the steel wheels screeching against the tracks wakened Katherine. The train came to a stop at the next depot, a darkened little town called Los Rios. A new group of passengers came on board. A heavyset woman carrying bundles of clothing under her arms came down the aisle and plunked herself in the seat beside Katherine. The woman looked over at her and grinned, showing snuff-stained teeth. Katherine smiled, then quickly turned away; it was obvious that the woman had not bathed in quite a while.
"Hello, dearie, where are you goin'?"
Katherine acted as if she hadn't heard, and kept her face turned toward the window.
"I'm going to St. Elena to see my brother and sister," the woman offered. "I've not seen them in two years."
Katherine turned briefly and said, "How nice for you." The woman's odor was sickening.
"My brother's been sick," the woman continued, "and my sister lost her husband not long ago. Between you and me, it was no great loss. He wasn't worth diddly-squat! Too lazy to come in out of the rain, you know?"
The train lurched and then moved smoothly down the track. The smelly woman kept talking, not seeming to care that her audience wasn't listening.
Katherine leaned her head against the window, her thoughts wandering.
A year ago she had received her nursing degree, fulfilling a lifelong dream. After she had worked for a couple of years in a clinic in New York City, her uncle in California made an offer that she couldn't refuse. He was a doctor at a large hospital in San Francisco and wanted her to come out and assist him. Jumping at the chance, Katherine packed up her belongings and headed West. She was looking forward to seeing new things and meeting new people.
The leave-taking from her father had been painful. They had always been close, and he had supported his daughter's dreams. She was sure she had seen tears in his eyes when he told her good-bye on the platform.
In contrast, her stepmother, whom her father had married when Katherine was very young, had merely waved good-bye and declared that she wouldn't be surprised to see Katherine back at home within a matter of weeks.
Susie, her half-sister, thought Katherine had lost her mind even to want to go out to such a backwater place as California when there was so much to do right there in New York City. All she could expect to find out there were farmers and orange trees. Kate knew, though, that Susie was glad to get her out of the way so she would have a better chance with Edwin, the handsome nephew of her father's business partner, William Jacobs. Susie needn't have worried; although Edwin was a handsome man, Kate had never had any interest in him as a beau.
The woman's voice broke into her thoughts. "My nephew done fell down a well and drowneded. Wasn't too bright, that boy."
Katherine's thoughts traveled back over the past year. Her stepmother, Lila, had become more distant from the family. She was so involved in all her social activities that she was seldom at home. And when she was, she belittled Katherine for her devotion to nursing and her lack of interest in finding a suitable husband, a man who could support her in style.
Susie was like her mother. She loved the social life. The only things that seemed to matter to her were the latest fashions, dinner parties, and who was seeing whom. Katherine, on the other hand, was her father's daughter. Both of them enjoyed reading, talking business, and even an occasional game of bridge. Since her early childhood, they had been devoted to each other. While he also cared for Susie, Katherine knew that she was his favorite.
She leaned her head against the window and looked out into the lightening morning. The sun had begun to poke up over the hilltops. Telegraph poles whizzed by, and occasionally the train passed a cluster of houses.
Katherine had hoped that the woman would take her silence as a hint, but she kept right on talking. She talked so incessantly about her dog, her assorted aches and pains, and her lazy husband who was angry that she was making the trip that Katherine wanted to jump up and move; but there were no empty seats. To top it all off, someone behind her had lit a cheap cigar, filling the cramped car with smoke. At least it helped mask the stink of the woman!
The conductor came through. "We will be stopping in a few minutes to take on water. Everyone please stay on the train."
Katherine thought it would be wonderful to get a few breaths of fresh air. She hated the cramped feeling of the railway cars. When the train finally came to a stop, she excused herself and, with her handbag over her arm, managed to squeeze out in front of the fat lady and into the aisle.
As she moved toward the front of the car, Katherine noticed that the button salesman had slouched down in his seat, his derby hat pulled over his face. Light snores came from his open mouth. Katherine moved on past him.I hope he sleeps all the way to San Francisco.
The conductor had opened the door and was standing out on the platform. After checking the watch that hung from a chain on his vest, he moved into the next car. As soon as he walked away, Katherine quickly stepped down and moved to the side of the steps, out of the light that came from the car.
Oh, it was great to breathe the fresh air.
She looked off into the darkness and saw a long trough swing down toward the train. Then she heard the rush of water pouring into the engine's tank.
Suddenly something hard was jammed into her back and a hand grabbed hold of her shoulder. The sound of a revolver cocking startled her.
KATHERINE HAD LITTLE TIME TO REGISTER any shock at what she had just heard. A firm shove between her shoulders sent her flying forward.
"Get movin', Miss High-and-Mighty! Keep your eyes from wanderin' and your mouth shut if you like breathin'."
Numb with fear, Katherine felt herself being dragged away from the train.
She tried to scream, but only a squeak came out before a heavy hand clamped down over her mouth. Without thinking, her gut instinct took over, and she bit down on a finger with all her strength. The man grunted with pain.
"Bitch!" he hissed. He jerked his hand from her mouth and slapped her sharply alongside her ear. Shooting pain and dizziness filled her head as she lost her balance and fell to her knees. However, the man brooked no delays and violently jerked her back to her feet and pulled her farther from the train.
As Katherine stumbled along, she desperately tried to think. No one had ever struck her in all her life! In a dazed state, she allowed the man to drag her into the dark woods that ran alongside the tracks; the soles of her shoes were not much protection against the rough stones that were scattered about. Her fear kept her from being aware of the pain in her head, hands, knees, and feet.
Finally the man flung her to the ground behind a clump of bushes. Katherine landed hard on her back.
"Not a peep," he ordered.
Katherine felt as if her eyes were swimming in her head. She couldn't focus on anything. She heard the whistle of the train as it prepared to leave the water station. Her fear escalated.
"Why are you doing this?" she demanded. The sound of the train starting to move reached her ears. "Why are—"
"I said shut up!" the man barked, and peered through the bushes toward the departing train. A thin smile spread across his face.
Slowly Katherine's vision focused. Past the gun barrel she could now see him. A striped suit. A bowler hat. "Wait! Wait a second! You're that button and thread salesman, aren't you?"
"I ain't no button salesman, sweetie," the man said.
The sounds of the train grew fainter until there was nothing left but the sound of her racing heart.
"You've been following me," Katherine said accusingly.
"I knew it! You were paying attention to me. You like me, huh?"
"About as much as I like a toothache." She slowly reached up, gingerly felt her ear. It stung when she touched it.
"Ah, come on … you were givin' me the eye on that platform. I saw you."
"If you think that, you've got scrambled eggs for brains."
"You think so? Way I see it, I handled this pretty darn smart. I didn't even have to force you from the car. I just sat back and watched you get off the train. I didn't have to do a damn thing. You come along gentle as a lamb and ain't no one the wiser. Bet you feel pretty dumb now, don't ya? Who's the smart one?"
"If you touch me, my father will hunt you down and kill you." The fear that she felt when she'd first been taken was slowly receding. Now anger began to take its place.
"Big deal. I ain't afraid."
"Why are you doing this? I don't know you."
"But I know you," the salesman said as he sat on his haunches, waving the gun around. "I've seen you go in and out of John Tyler's office a buncha times. You even smiled at me once, and I followed you for a whole block."
"You're lying. I wouldn't smile at someone as sleazy as you."
"Well, lying or not, I've got you now, don't I?" He grinned proudly.
Katherine decided it was useless to try to talk with this disgusting creature. She thought about the tall cowboy and wished that he would suddenly appear. But that was not to be; minutes later she found herself sitting on the ground, her back to a small tree, with her hands tied around its trunk.
"If you'll be quiet, I won't gag you. Let out one squeak, and I'll stuff a dirty rag in your mouth." It was getting lighter now. She figured an hour or two had passed since she left the train. She leaned her head back against the tree to try to relieve some of the pressure on her bound arms, but was instantly alert when the salesman came near and tickled her cheek.
"Get away from me, you slimy toad!"
He only laughed and tickled the other cheek.
To her relief, he went back to a small fire and fed it more sticks. She could hear the crackle of the flames, and a thin stream of smoke rose toward the blue sky. She hoped he knew what he was doing, or he could set the woods on fire.
Staring intently at the salesman, Katherine tried to think if she had ever seen him near her father's office, but she could not remember him. Why had he taken her? What was happening?
Her ears picked up the sound of a motorcar approaching, and she wondered if she dared to scream if it came near. The sleazy little worm still had the gun and could shoot her. Was it worth the risk?
Finally the motorcar came into view. The big black sedan stopped not twenty feet from where she was tied. She called out, "Help! Help me!" and saw the salesman double over with laughter.
Katherine couldn't believe her eyes when a familiar figure got out of the car. "Eddy, help me!" she called, pulling desperately at her restraints.
The handsome blond man was dressed in jeans, boots, and a western-type shirt. With a look of concern, he walked toward her, went behind the tree, and cut the rope binding her hands.
"Oh thank God! This little weasel tied me to the tree and hit me, Eddy! He hit me in the face!"
Eddy reached down and helped Katherine to her feet. She stood within his protecting arm and glared at the man tending the fire.
"I thought I told you not to hurt her," Eddy said.
"Ah shit, I didn't hurt her much. I was just tryin' to keep her big mouth shut. Besides, she started it. Look where she bit me," he said, and held out his hand.
"He put it over my mouth, Eddy. What did he expect?" Suddenly the strangeness of the situation struck her. "Wait. Wait just a minute. What's this all about? What are you doing here, Eddy?"
"Just relax, Kate."
"I can't relax! Why did he take me from the train? He's been on the same train with me since New Orleans. Was he following me?"
Squirrelly got up and threw a handful of sticks into the fire. "Would you believe how dumb she is? She got off the train all on her own when we stopped at the midway watering tank. I didn't have to do a thing. Now she's standin' here thinkin' that you come to rescue her. You got rocks for brains, sweetheart."
"Keep quiet, Squirrelly," Eddy said with a hard look.
"Do you know this slimy little worm, Eddy?" Katherine asked.
Eddy was embarrassed and looked away from her. "Come on, Kate, get in the car."
It was then that she noticed the man sitting behind the wheel of the motorcar. He didn't look at her. All she could see of him was a scar that ran down the side of his face. Eddy opened the back door of the car and stood waiting for Katherine to get in.
"I don't understand this! Please, Eddy, tell me what's going on." The fear that she felt when Squirrelly had taken her from the train began to return. She had so many questions that she couldn't begin to count them, but two kept coming back.Why is this happening, and why is Eddy here?
"You'll not be hurt, Kate, I promise."
"But I've missed my train."
"You'll just be a couple of weeks late getting to San Francisco, that's all. We'll stay out here in the country for a little while. Maybe we can even do some hunting. They tell me there's plenty of deer out here."
"You know I don't like to hunt."
"Then why did you make all of those trips to John's lodge if you didn't like to hunt?"
"I just went to keep him company and cook for him."
"Didn't you ever use that expensive rifle he bought you?"
"I shot some bottles and tin cans."
Eddy laughed. "The way John was bragging about you, I thought you had shot a moose!"
"Well, I didn't," Katherine said with a frown.
She didn't like this. Not one bit. Edwin Jacobs had been courting her sister, Susan. She had never been attracted to him, although he was charming. Why was he here? How did he know this Squirrelly character?
"Eddy, what is going on?"
"Kate, please. Just trust me," he answered, holding out his hand.
In the end, she realized that she didn't have a choice; she had to trust him or, at the very least, go along with him. She couldn't get away. The only thing to do was bide her time and wait for her chance. She took Eddy's hand and got into the backseat. He slid in beside her.
After putting out the fire, Squirrelly got into the front seat, turned, and leered at her. He held up his hand and there, hanging from his fingertips, was one of her lace bras.
"Look at what I got."
"Give that to me, you pervert!"
"Pervert? What's that mean? She talks pretty fancy, don't she?"
"Give it to her," Eddy said sternly.
Squirrelly grinned, showing a large gap between his front teeth. "And if I don't?"
"Give it to her now, Squirrelly."
"I got my orders from the top guy; I ain't takin' no orders from you."
"I'm in charge out here. You'll take orders from me." Eddy reached over and grabbed the bra from his hand. "How did you get this anyway?"
"Oh, she gave it to me. She's sweet on me, ain't you, darlin'?"
"I am not! My valise came open on the train, and everything spilled out. I stuffed this one in my pocket, and he grabbed it when we were struggling." Katherine took the bra from Eddy and tucked it back into her coat pocket. "I really want to know what is going on! Why are you with these men, Eddy?"
"I'll tell you all about it later, Kate."
The car was traveling at a fast clip down a rutted road that snaked between the trees. The sun had risen in the sky, and the day was already getting hot. "Cover her eyes." The voice came from the man behind the wheel.
"Right." Eddy whipped out a scarf and tied it over her eyes. "Sorry, love, but this is necessary."
"Don't be scared, nothing's going to happen to you."
Katherine was quiet as the car bounced along the rough road. Silence filled the vehicle. Periodically Eddy gave her hand a squeeze, but it did little to make her feel any less uneasy. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only half that, the car came to a stop. She heard two doors open as the men in front got out, and then the door opened on her side of the car. A hand reached in and yanked her out. "Don't touch me!"
"Well, la-di-da, ain't she a fine lady." She recognized Squirrelly's voice.
She heard Eddy get out of the car, and then one of his hands was on her waist. "Come on, honey."
"Where are we, Eddy? Why do I have to have my eyes covered?"
"I don't see any reason for them to be covered now." Eddy jerked the scarf off.
She blinked in the bright morning sunlight. When she was able to focus her eyes, she saw that they were in front of a rough log cabin, with one door and one window on the front. It stood alone, surrounded only by rocks and trees. She was in the middle of nowhere.
"What is this place?"
"It's the Waldorf-Astoria!" Squirrelly said, and giggled.
"You'll be all right here. I'm staying with you," Eddy said reassuringly.
"Me too." Squirrely giggled again, this time licking his lips.
Katherine shot him an angry glance, which set him tittering even more.
How could Eddy expect her to stay in the same place as that fool? Why was she here? What were they going to do with her?
Eddy turned and pointed back toward the car. "Let's get our things—"
- On Sale
- Mar 22, 2006
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing