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Will You Still Be Mine?
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With Heart: Tillison County, Oklahoma, 1938. Though scarcity and hardship have taken their toll on the spirit of the nation, one young woman still dares to dream. Kathleen Dolan has high hopes for her investment in the Rawlings, Oklahoma, Gazette. But the feisty newspaper woman hasn’t even reached the city limits when trouble strikes. Hijackers try to steal her old Nash, and though handsome rancher Johnny Henry rides to her rescue, the attack is only a taste of the perils to come. For Rawlings is a town steeped in dirty secrets, and soon, though Johnny tries to shield her, Kathleen will find herself pitted against a powerful man and his unscrupulous cronies–men who will go to any lengths to silence this gutsy redhead and the man she loves.
After the Parade: Rawlings, Oklahoma, 1945. Johnny Henry is coming home from the Pacific, and his estranged wife, Kathleen, secretly watches him step off the train to a hero’s welcome. Her heart races when she sees him; his breaks when he doesn’t spot her. Misunderstanding and tragedy had destroyed their marriage before he shipped out. Now Johnny’s pride will keep him from confessing how wrong he had been; now Kathleen’s hurt will stop her from running into his arms. But when a disturbed stalker plunges Kathleen into a real-life nightmare, her only hope is Johnny–and a love that can bring two hearts through every battle, especially the one within.
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
On Tall Pine Lake
A Place Called Rainwater
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
Song of the Road
This Loving Land
Train from Marietta
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Wind of Promise
Tillison County, Oklahoma—1938
"Bury me not on the lone prair . . . ie
where the coyotes howl and the wind blows free.
In a narrow grave—just six by three,
Oh, bury me not—"
KATHLEEN STOPPED SINGING abruptly when she rounded a bend in the lonely stretch of Oklahoma highway and saw a dilapidated old car sitting crossways in the road. Her hands gripped the wheel of her old Nash as her feet hit the clutch and the brake at the same time.
"Oh Lord! Hijackers!"
She had read about them, had even written about them while working for a year at a small paper in Liberal, Kansas. Now a hijacking was happening to her! She put the car in reverse and started backing up. Out of the brush beside the road a man sprang up and ran toward the car. Afraid to look away from him and watch where she was going, she began to zigzag. Then, to her horror, the back wheels of the car sank into the ditch beside the road. Quickly shifting gear into drive, she gunned the motor in an attempt to go forward. The wheels spun, digging deeper into the sandy soil.
The door beside her was flung open, and a big hairy hand gripped her wrist.
"Stop it! You'll strip the gears."
"Let go!" Kathleen jerked on her arm and tramped hard on the gas pedal. The engine roared.
"Stop or I'll break your goddamn arm!"
She looked into a flabby, whiskered face. The man's lips were drawn back showing tobacco-stained teeth. He twisted her arm cruelly.
"All right! All right!" she shouted.
She took her foot off the clutch. The car jerked and the motor sputtered and died. When she was pulled from under the steering wheel, she fell to her knees next to two pairs of run-down boots planted in the red dirt beside her.
"What she got in there?" The second man peered into the back window of the car. "Jesus! It's loaded with stuff."
"We gotta get this thin' outta the goddamn ditch. You stupid-ass woman! I never met one a ya that had the brains of a suck-egg mule." He reached into the car and snatched Kathleen's purse off the seat. "Got any money?"
"Liar." He pulled two ten-dollar bills out of her purse. "This all you got?"
"No! I've got a dozen gold bars in the bottom!" Anger was replacing her fear. She had lost one of her shoes when she was pulled from the car. She reached down to get it.
"Watch her!" The first man snarled and gave her a push that sent her reeling backward. He poked the two ten-dollar bills into his shirt pocket, tossed aside the thick pillow Kathleen used on the back of the seat so that her feet could reach the pedals, and slid under the wheel. "Get back there and push. Both of you."
"If you think I'm going to help you steal my car . . . you're crazy as a cross-eyed mule!"
"And if ya know what's good fer ya, you'll shut yore mouth and do what yo're told."
"Lippy, ain't she?" The second man was shorter and had a big belly. He wasn't much taller than Kathleen, who was five feet and four inches. He leered at her. "She ain't hardly got no titties a'tall, but she shore does have pretty red hair." When he reached out to touch her breasts, Kathleen's temper boiled over. She balled her fist and swung, hitting him square in the mouth.
"Ouch! You . . . bitch!" He dabbed at the blood on his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt and lifted his hand to hit her back. She drew back her fist; too angry to notice her sore knuckles, she prepared to fight.
"Touch me again and I'll . . . knock your head off!"
"Whapsy-do! If I had time, I'd take the fight outta ya."
"Goddammit, Webb." The man in the car turned the key, and the motor responded. "Stop messin' with 'er and help me get this thin' outta the ditch. Push, goddamn it! We've got to get out of here 'fore somebody comes."
The gears were shifted into drive and then into reverse to rock the car. The spinning wheels sent sand and dirt flying out behind. The wheels almost reached solid ground, then rolled back into the hole.
"She's not pushin'," Webb shouted, his face splotchy with anger and exertion.
Kathleen moved up onto the road and searched the horizon for something or somebody. The only movement in all that vast landscape was a few white clouds drifting lazily. A dozen scattered steers grazed on the sparse dry grass. There wasn't a car in sight.
Then she saw something coming over a small rise. At first she thought it was another steer; seconds later, she recognized a man on horseback riding across the prairie toward the steers. After a quick glance back at the two men arguing beside her car, she lifted both arms and waved wildly to the horseman and pointed toward the car. The rider gigged the horse and was less than two hundred feet away when Webb came back to the rear of the car.
"Shit!" he shouted. "Somebody's comin'."
The other man got out and looked over the top of the car. The cowboy's horse jumped the ditch and trotted toward Kathleen. She hurriedly got between it and the hijackers.
"They're stealing my car!" she exclaimed, without even looking at the man's face. Anger made her voice shrill.
In the brief silence that followed, the man who had jerked Kathleen from the car eyed the rifle that lay across the rider's thighs.
"Ah . . . naw. We is just a helpin' the lady get her car outta the ditch."
"You . . . lyin' son of a jackass!" Kathleen yelled. "You're stealing it. Make him give back my twenty dollars." She looked up at the rider and almost groaned. He looked to be not much more than a boy.
"Give it back." Young he might be, but he spoke with quiet authority.
"I don't have her damn money."
"It's in his shirt pocket." The rifle, more than the boy, gave Kathleen courage. "Two ten-dollar bills. I was trying to get away from them when I went into the ditch. See. Their car is blocking the road."
The end of the rifle moved. "Toss the money on the seat."
"She gave it to me. It's pay for getting her out of the ditch."
"Liar! You took it out of my purse."
"I'm not telling you again," the cowboy warned.
"Good thing you got that gun, boy." The hijacker threw the bills on the seat.
"Both of you move out and stand in back of the car."
"Make them help me get my car out of the ditch. It's their fault I'm stuck."
"Get under the wheel." The end of the rifle stayed on the two hijackers. Before Kathleen started the motor, she heard the boy say, "Take off your shirts and put them under that right wheel, then lift and push when she guns the motor."
"I'm not puttin' my good shirt under that wheel."
"No? Would you rather I put it under there with you in it?"
"It'll be ruint."
"Don't look like it would be much of a loss to me."
"Don't I know you?"
"Maybe. Are you going to help the lady, or am I going to see if I can shoot the button off the top of that cap you've got on that bump on your shoulders?"
A few minutes later the Nash was up on the road, and the hijackers were putting their shirts back on.
"Which way are you going, lady?" the cowboy asked.
"Rawlings." Kathleen left the motor idling and stood beside the car.
"You two stupid clods get in your car and head back up the road."
"Are you letting them go? I want them arrested."
The cowboy glanced at the girl. Her fiery red hair, thick and curly, was a halo around her head. It was what had drawn his eyes when he first came over the hill to see about his steers. There were not many redheaded women here in Indian country. Her blue eyes sparkled angrily. He noticed the heavy sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Lord! It had been a long time since he'd seen a girl with freckles on her nose.
Ignoring her question, he walked his horse behind the men until they reached their car.
"We got a flat tire," Webb complained.
"Don't you have a tire patch, you lazy son of a bitch? It's easier to steal the lady's car than sweat a little. Is that it?"
One of them muttered something about a blanket-ass. Any other time the cowboy would have made him eat the words. Now he just wanted to get rid of the two of them. He glanced in the car to make sure that no guns were on the seats, then motioned for them to get in. He waited while they got it started and watched as the car bounced along the road on the flat tire. When it passed the Nash and headed away from Rawlings, he went back to Kathleen and spoke as if there had not been a ten-minute interruption in their conversation.
"How do you suggest we get them to the sheriff? I know who they are. I'll see that he knows about this." He slid his rifle into the scabbard attached to the saddle and tilted his hat back.
He was considerably older than Kathleen had at first thought. Inky black hair, dark eyes, and high cheekbones spoke of Indian heritage. He was tall, judging by the length of his stirrups, and lean. She could picture him on the cover of a dime Western novel: horse rearing, guns blazing.
"I really appreciate your help. They would have taken my car and left me stranded here."
"Maybe not. They might have taken you with them."
"They'd a had a fight on their hands," she said spiritedly.
"I reckon they would've."
Her eyes were the color of denim britches after they've been washed a hundred times.
He smiled, and she realized that he was very attractive in a dark and mysterious sort of way. The thought entered her mind that she was out here on this lonely stretch of road with this cowboy, and he had a gun. It hadn't occurred to her to be afraid of him.
"Well . . . thank you."
"You're very welcome." He tipped his hat.
Kathleen got in the car, waved, and drove away. She glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the cowboy still sitting on his horse in the middle of the road.
Johnny Henry watched the car until it was out of sight. Why hadn't she told him who she was? Probably she saw no need to introduce herself to a cowboy out here in the middle of the prairie, even if he had saved her pretty little hide from a couple of no-good hijackers. He had known the minute he saw that red hair and the Nash car that she was Kathleen Dolan and that she was on her way to Rawlings to work at the Gazette.
A week earlier Johnny had gone over to Red Rock to visit his sister, Henry Ann, and her family. Her husband, Tom, had had a letter from his brother, Hod, in Kansas telling him that their niece, Kathleen, would be coming down to Rawlings. She had been working for a year in Liberal, and for some reason known only to her, had decided to use some of the money left to her by her grandparents to buy into the paper at Rawlings.
"She wants to see and do a lot of things before she settles down," Hod had written. "She's twenty-six years old. Guess she's old enough to do as she pleases."
She didn't look to be that old, Johnny thought now. That would make her a year older than he was. She had looked to be about twenty-one or -two.
Tom had told Johnny that Duncan Dolan, the eldest of the Dolan boys, had gone to Montana when he was a youth and married a widow from Iowa. He'd had a fierce love for the woman and their child. Many of his letters were lovingly centered on his little girl whose red hair had been inherited from her mother. After Duncan was killed in an accident, his daughter and wife had gone back to Iowa to live with her parents, and for a while the Dolans had lost track of Kathleen. Several years ago she had written that her mother and grandparents were gone and she wanted to know her father's family.
Johnny had not given her more than a thought or two . . . until today. Now he wondered if he could ever get her out of his mind. He chuckled as he watched the car disappear. Not many women would set out alone to drive more than two hundred miles across country. Miss Kathleen Dolan had spunk to go along with that red hair.
A sudden burst of happiness sent his heart galloping like a runaway horse.
Rawlings, Oklahoma, was like most other towns in 1938. Jobs were scarce, farm prices had risen only a little since the bottom price for wheat had been twenty-five cents a bushel, oats ten cents and cotton five cents a pound back in 1932. Most of the cotton farmers were allowing their fields to go to grass to keep the soil from blowing away in the dust storms and were trying to make a living raising cattle. Some of them were packing up and following Highway 66 to the "promised land" in California where fertile fields provided a better prospect of jobs.
A steady stream of hobos looking for work or a handout came through Rawlings daily, seeking the community soup kitchen. The town had survived partly because a hide-tanning plant had opened several years ago and now employed more than fifty people. Hides were shipped from the meatpacking plants in Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls.
There was dissatisfaction among some in town, however, because white men who needed jobs believed that too many Indians were working at the plant. Miss Vernon had written that the tanning plant was owned by an oil-rich Cherokee Indian, who was not only wealthy, but smart, and wouldn't stand for any interference in the way he handed out jobs.
During the past two months, Kathleen had learned quite a bit about Rawlings, Oklahoma. Miss Vernon had sent her every issue of the Gazette since she had answered the advertisement for a business partner in the Oklahoma City paper. The first Gazette had been published in 1910, just three years after Oklahoma became a state. The family had held on to the paper during the worst years of the Great Depression. Now, without an heir to take over, it was in danger of being put to rest.
As Kathleen drove slowly along the street, her heart pounded with excitement. The town was quiet beneath the hot September sun. A dust devil danced down the middle of Main Street, where only a few cars were parked along the curb, and only a few people strolled along the walks.
She stopped at an intersection and sat there viewing the buildings that made up the business part of town. A number of them were vacant, but no more than in other towns she had passed through. The sidewalks on both sides of the street were new, no doubt paid for by President Roosevelt's recovery program. The new school she had passed was another WPA project. Even the water tower had a fresh coat of paint. The district evidently had a hardworking congressman.
Most of the three thousand residents of Tillison County resided there in Rawlings, the county seat. The two-story, solid redbrick courthouse building sat in the middle of a square. An arch made of deer antlers and steer horns spanned the walk leading to the entrance. Kathleen smiled at that.
Her bright interested eyes took in everything. Rawlings was not as big as Liberal, but then she had been aware of that. It did have a good-sized business district because it was the only town of any size for fifty miles around. The Hughes department store was on the corner. Next to it was the Piggly-Wiggly grocery and at the end of the block the Tillison County Bank and Trust. "Bank and trust" she thought was kind of ironic when most folks had little trust in banks since so many had gone broke.
She passed the Rialto Theatre and saw that the movie Hell's Angels with Jean Harlow would be shown on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Claude's Hamburger Shack was across the street. Wilson's Family Market had a choice location on the corner across from the bank, and next to it was Woolworth's five-and-dime. Two grocery stores meant advertising money for the paper. Then, there it was near the end of the block between Corner Drugstore and Leroy's Men's Wear—the Gazette building, two-story redbrick, narrow, with one large window and two recessed doors; the second door led to a flight of stairs. RAWLINGS GAZETTE was painted in gold letters on the window.
Kathleen was not disappointed. Here she would invest her five hundred dollars and be part owner of a real live newspaper. Her duties would be gathering news and writing editorials for the weekly paper. Miss Vernon would take care of the society news, obituaries, and bookkeeping. Both would work on advertising. Kathleen's only concern was that she might not have time for her other writing, the writing that didn't bring in enough money for her to live on . . . yet.
She angle-parked the Nash in front of the building and sat for a few minutes to allow her heartbeat to slow. Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa Hansen, for making this possible for me. Several people passed while she sat there. An Indian woman with two black braids hanging over her ample bosom and moccasins on her feet came out of the Gazette office. The screen door banged shut behind her and she shuffled down the street.
Kathleen climbed out of her car. The late-September wind blew her hair across her face and wrapped her full skirt around her legs. She looked through the window before she entered and saw a heavy oak desk littered with papers. A typewriter sat on a pullout shelf at one end of the desk. The swivel chair was empty. Coming out of the bright sunlight, she waited beside the door to allow her eyes to adjust. The familiar clanking of a linotype machine came from the back room. No one was in sight.
The newspaper office had an odor she knew well: a combination of melting lead, ink, and paper. The clutter was also typical. As she wasn't being observed, Kathleen let her eyes wander over the office. A few framed front pages of the Gazette hung on the wall; Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the stock market crash in 1929, Roosevelt's election in 1932.
The Gazette might be a weekly, she thought with owner's pride, but it had style.
Between the well-scarred desks were two four-drawer filing cabinets. Along the opposite wall on a waist-high counter, a thick book of advertising illustrations lay open. Suspended on long rods from the high ceiling, two fans turned gently.
Then she noticed a leg and a foot jutting out from behind one of the desks. Shock kept her still for a second; then she rushed over to the woman who lay on the floor between the desk and the wall.
"What . . . in the world—?" Kathleen knelt down for a closer look. This must be Miss Vernon! There was blood on her forehead. "Help!" Kathleen yelled as she ran toward the back room and the clattering linotype machine. "Help! Come quick!"
The man who sat at the machine continued to type, then dropped the line of lead and started another. He appeared not to hear Kathleen's call for help. She ran to him and put her hand on his shoulder. He jumped and turned. She backed away.
"Help me!" She took a few steps toward the front, then looked back. The big, shaggy-haired man was still standing beside the machine with a stupefied look on his face. "Can't you understand? I need your help!" she screamed. Oh, dear Lord! He's either deaf or he can't hear me over the racket of that damn machine.
Kathleen turned, ran back to the office and grabbed the phone. She flipped the receiver holder several times when the operator didn't answer immediately.
"Hold your horses, Adelaide." The voice came at last.
"Operator, we need help at the Gazette office," Kathleen said breathlessly. "Miss Vernon's had an accident."
"Adelaide? What's the matter with her?"
"She's unconscious and has blood on her head."
"Is she there in the office?"
"Yes, yes. Get a doctor."
"I'll see if I can find him."
By the time she had hung up the telephone, the man from the back room, still wearing his heavy leather apron to protect him from the hot lead, was kneeling beside Miss Vernon. Kathleen hurried to a large tin sink she had seen in the printing area of the building. When she returned with a wet towel, he had lifted the woman out from behind the desk and was holding her head and shoulders off the floor. Kathleen pressed the towel into his hand. As he dabbed at the blood on the woman's forehead, Kathleen got her first good look at her new partner.
In her letters to Kathleen, Miss Vernon had not mentioned her age. Her dark hair was streaked with gray at the temples, and the creases fanned out from the corners of her eyes. She was slender; almost fragile. Kathleen judged her to be in her middle or late forties.
Little moaning noises came from the man holding her. He was in anguish. He wasn't her husband; Miss Vernon had said she had never married. Kathleen couldn't see his face, but her first impression when she had seen him in the back room, was of a big, strong man, considerably younger than Miss Vernon.
The screen door slammed behind a large woman in a white nurse's uniform. A starched white cap was perched on top of her head. She was six feet tall or more and she looked to be a no-nonsense person who would be able to handle almost any situation. The nurse dropped a bag on the floor and knelt.
"What the hell has Adelaide done to herself now?" Her voice was loud and brisk. "Move over, Paul. Let me have a look."
The man lowered Adelaide gently to the floor and stepped back. As he looked up from the woman on the floor, Kathleen was startled by beautiful amber-colored eyes deeply set in his worried, homely face. His dark lashes were thick and long, his brows smooth and straight. The large nose looked as if it had been flattened in a hundred barroom brawls. A deep scar in his upper lip extended almost to his right nostril. He was broad-shouldered and thick-necked. His arms were heavily muscled. He reminded her of a gentle gorilla, if there was such a thing.
"Wake up, Adelaide." The nurse waved an open vial of smelling salts beneath Miss Vernon's nose. Adelaide sputtered and rolled her head. "Wake up," the nurse commanded briskly. "You're all right. You've just had a little crack on the head."
"Maybe not," Kathleen said. "She may have had a stroke . . . or something." The quelling glance the nurse gave her would have sent a more timid person running. Not Kathleen. She looked the nurse in the eye and said, "Shouldn't she be examined by a doctor?"
"Who are you? Her long-lost daughter?"
"She's awake," the nurse said, ignoring Kathleen. "Help her into the chair, Paul."
With his hands beneath Adelaide's armpits, Paul easily lifted her into the chair. Her eyes were glazed as she tried to focus on the man kneeling beside her. She flinched when the nurse dabbed at the cut on her forehead with a pad saturated in alcohol.
"You'll not need any stitches if I put a tight tape on it. What happened, Adelaide? Did you drink a little too much of that rotgut whiskey and fall out of the chair?"
Kathleen could tell by the snort that came from Paul that he didn't like the nurse's comment. Kathleen didn't like it either. She thought it very unprofessional. Adelaide continued to try to focus on Paul and said nothing.
"Don't get so huffy, big fellow," the nurse continued. "You know as well as I do that Adelaide is fond of the bottle."
"I didn't smell anything," Kathleen said.
"Who are you?" the nurse demanded again.
She was a very intimidating figure when she stood up, almost a foot taller than Kathleen and big, rangy big, like a roustabout who handled heavy machinery. Bangs, cut straight across, hung to the middle of her forehead and straight, henna-colored hair formed loose swirls, Clara Bow style, on her cheeks. Arched high above lashes, heavy with mascara, her brows were a thin line drawn by a reddish brown pencil. She had applied lipstick to her small mouth to make her lips appear fuller. It was smeared at the corners.
"You're new in town." Strong, quick fingers pressed the tape in place on Adelaide's forehead.
"You might say that."
"How long are you staying?"
"A long time."
"I see. Then you're the one who is taking over the paper."
"No. I'll be working with Miss Vernon on our paper."
"Here in Rawlings we don't butt into other people's business. You've got a lot to learn, girl." The nurse picked up her bag. "And for your sake, I hope you learn it fast." With that, she left the office, letting the screen door slam behind her.
Watching her leave, Kathleen had the feeling that she had just met an enemy. She was certain of it when she looked down to see the scowl on Paul's face.
"What put a bee in her bonnet?"
"She doesn't like Adelaide."
"She thinks that Adelaide may know too much." Paul spoke very softly and smoothed the hair back from Adelaide's face with ink-stained fingers.
"Too much about what?"
" 'Bout that clinic she and Doc run."
"Paul!" Adelaide tried to look up without turning her head. "Shhh . . ."
"It's all right," he said soothingly. "She's the one from Kansas."
"You sure?" she whispered.
"Looks like the picture she sent."
"Kathleen Dolan?" Adelaide turned her head slowly and painfully so that she could see Kathleen.
"Yes, I'm Kathleen. I just got here."
"Oh, Kathleen, I've been thinking that . . . that bringing you here may be the biggest mistake of my life."
"Why is that, Miss Vernon? Are you doubting my ability to help you run the paper?"
"No! No, it isn't that. It's just that—"
"—You can tell her later," Paul said. "Come on upstairs and lie down. You've got a partner now. She'll handle things down here for a while."
KATHLEEN WAS SURE that she would never forget this day for as long as she lived. Being hijacked was frightening enough without being thrust into the position of having to take over the office. She had no more than said hello and good-bye to her new partner when Paul took Adelaide up the back stairs to her rooms, leaving Kathleen with the explanation that maybe Adelaide had fallen out of her chair and with an apology for needing to leave her to cope alone.
- On Sale
- Jun 14, 2007
- Page Count
- 816 pages
- Grand Central Publishing