Forever and Always
By Leigh Greenwood
Sourcebooks, Inc. Copyright © 2015 Leigh Greenwood
All rights reserved.
Chicago, June 1870
Bridgette Lowe rushed into Dr. James Pittman's arms the moment the sitting room door closed behind him. At first glance, the room was elegantly and luxuriously furnished. Closer inspection would have revealed that the velvet covering on the daybed was thinning, that the curtains had begun to fade, and that the Aubusson carpet was frayed at one edge. Bridgette's elephant-gray silk and grenadine dress, however, was of the latest fashion. Her hair showed the attention of a well-trained maid.
"Thank goodness you came quickly," Bridgette said as she threw herself at the doctor. "I've been going crazy."
James disentangled himself from her embrace. "What is this about Elliot disappearing?"
Bridgette handed him the letter, which had been crushed in her hand. James took a moment to smooth it out.
By the time you receive this letter, I will have left Chicago forever. Dr. Pittman has said I have only three months to live so I've decided to spend what time I have trying to find my brothers. From now on I'll be known by my birth name, Logan Holstock. Don't send anyone to look for me. You will receive notice of my death.
"Did he say anything else?" James asked.
"No," Bridgette fumed, "but he's done plenty." She reached for a newspaper and thrust it at him. "Read that!" But she didn't give him a chance to read the item she pointed to with a trembling finger. "He had this announcement put in the personals page. Due to his declining health, Mr. Elliot Lowe has released Miss Bridgette Lowe from their engagement." She snatched the newspaper from James's hands and flung it to the floor. She strode across the room, took a large gulp from a glass of wine, and turned back to her visitor. "That's not all he's done. His lawyer paid me a visit before I had managed to swallow my breakfast. First, Elliot has put the company up for sale. Second, the company is under the sole management of his second-in-command until it's sold. Third," she practically shrieked the word, "he left no will."
"I don't see how that's a problem. You're his only relative."
"That's what I thought, but his bloodless lawyer informed me that Uncle Samuel never officially adopted Elliot. I'm not legally related to him. If he finds those brothers he's looking for, they'll get everything. We'll have been poisoning that medicine you've been having him take for nothing!" James's complexion lost some of its color. "You've got to stop him."
"How? I don't know where he's gone."
"Where would his brothers be?"
"I don't know!" Bridgette practically shrieked. "His parents were killed somewhere on the Santa Fe Trail. I suppose they're out there somewhere." She gestured in a dismissive fashion, indicating somewhere in the direction she thought might be west.
"He must have said something about them. Think."
"I've been thinking all morning."
"You've been giving way to panic. That's not thinking. He must have said something about them at some time."
"Wait." Bridgette's hands flew to her temples, her brow wrinkled in concentration. "He said he'd read an article about a U.S. Marshal in Arizona named Holstock."
"Did he say where in Arizona?"
"Some new town."
"There's nothing in Arizona except new towns."
"Well, I can't remember. I'm not even sure what he said. I didn't pay any attention. He was always talking about looking for his brothers, but he never did anything about it."
"You have to look for him."
Bridgette looked at the doctor as though he'd lost his mind. "I'm not going out there. There's nobody out there but murdering Indians and criminals. I'd be lucky not to lose my scalp and my honor."
"Then hire a Pinkerton. They have an excellent reputation. They caught the Reno Brothers gang."
"Elliot's not a criminal you can locate by following his crimes. He's a wealthy man with enough money to live anywhere he wants. He could go to London or Paris."
"If he's looking for his brothers, he's gone west. That's why you need to hire a Pinkerton. They go anywhere and find anybody."
"Where do I find a Pinkerton?"
The doctor smiled. "That's easy. Their headquarters are right here in Chicago."
* * *
Logan was so exhausted he hardly had the energy to wield the knife as he skinned the deer he'd just killed. Every day he seemed to lose a little more of his strength. Today was a good day, but he didn't know how long that would last. He just hoped he could get the meat back to his camp before he got sick again. There was a good reason native Indians had used deerskins for moccasins and coverings for their lodges. Deer hide was remarkably tough. He barely had the strength to peel it away from the meat underneath.
He couldn't decide how much of the meat he should take. He couldn't eat half of it before it spoiled, but it seemed a shame to leave it to be eaten by wild animals. He couldn't cure it, and he couldn't give it away. He hadn't been in the Arizona Territory long, but he'd made a point of staying away from other people. His plan was to find a place to set up a permanent camp. Then he'd decide when it was time to go into the town of Cactus Corner.
He had just cut away a large chunk of meat from the left flank when he heard movement in the brush. Even as he reached for his rifle, he knew it had to be a bear. He would never have heard a wolf or a cougar. Yet when he looked up, he didn't see any animal. He waited several moments, but the silence remained unbroken. Placing his rifle within easy reach, he turned back to the carcass. Almost immediately, he heard sounds of movement. This time he scanned his surroundings slowly, being careful to study each patch of woodland before moving to the next. He'd nearly made the circuit when he saw what appeared to be a wolf or a coyote crouching beneath a scrub pine. He reached for his rifle but didn't pick it up.
Then he waited.
It wasn't long before the animal moved forward. Keeping his body so low to the ground he appeared to be lying down, he moved one step, paused, then moved another. It wasn't a wolf or a coyote. It was a dog.
Logan released his rifle. "What are you doing out here?" he asked the dog. "Are you as lost as I am?"
At the sound of Logan's voice, the dog dropped in its tracks.
"You don't have to be afraid of me," Logan said. "I doubt I have as much right to be here as you. What are you doing so far from home?"
Apparently deciding Logan wasn't going to hurt him, the dog started forward once more. He was a large dog with a tan coat. He had the powerful body, large head, and blunt face of an English mastiff. There was something else in him, probably bloodhound, but he didn't look large and powerful now. Each step was painfully slow, yet he kept coming. As he drew closer, what Logan saw turned his curiosity into fury. The dog was nearly skin and bones. He couldn't have had enough to eat for weeks. Worse were the sores that were scabbing over. Someone had beaten the dog so severely he could only move with great effort.
Logan surged to his feet. "What son of a bitch would do something like that?"
The dog dropped to the ground, bared his fangs, ears flat against his head, and growled deep in his throat. Despite his show of bravado, Logan could see fear in his eyes.
He took a step forward. "I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to look at your wounds."
But the dog started to back away.
Logan cut off a small piece of meat and tossed it to the dog. Despite its injuries, the dog pounced on the meat and swallowed it in one gulp.
"I guess the only reason you came this close is you're starved." Logan tossed a second piece of meat that was devoured just as quickly. "When I finish here, you can help yourself to what's left," he said to the dog, "but I'm taking all the good cuts with me. It's more than I can eat, so when you get finished with the carcass, you come to my camp. If you'll let me, I'd like to take a look at your wounds."
The dog's eyes never left him.
"You don't trust me, do you? I don't blame you. Some man did that to you. I know it was a man because no woman would do a thing like that. That kind of meanness takes years of practice. I'll feed you until you get well. Then I want you to go back and rip out the bastard's throat."
It took several trips for Logan to load the meat on his horse, which was tethered nearby. By the time he had finished, he was too exhausted to climb into the saddle. While he waited for his strength to return, he watched the dog attack the carcass. Rather than rip off and gulp down as much meat as fast as he could, the dog seemed to be pacing himself. He would eat then wait a bit before eating again.
"You're smart," Logan said. "You know as long as I'm here, no wild animal is going to take your meal from you. That gives your stomach time to get used to having food in it again." Logan wished it would work that way for him. He never knew when the seizures would take hold, and he'd wretch until he was too weak to move. "We have a lot in common," he said to the dog. "We should be friends."
Whatever the dog thought of Logan's offer, it wasn't enough to deflect his interest from his food.
"That's right. Don't waste your time on someone who'll die on you. Take what you can and move on."
The dog stopped eating.
"Better eat while you can. It won't be here in the morning."
Showing no sign of having heard him, the dog got up and made its way to a thin trickle of water about twenty yards away. It tore at Logan's heart to see the way the dog dragged his body to the stream where he sank to his belly and drank greedily.
"There's a special place in hell for the man who did that to you," he said. "I hope I meet him someday." But weak as he was, what could he do? It was better to forget the man and the dog. After all, they had a future. He didn't.
* * *
Sibyl didn't look forward to her confrontation with Norman, but she couldn't put it off any longer. He'd stalled her every time she'd tried to talk to him at home. She hoped for more success if she cornered him in his office. Norman didn't like her coming to the bank. He would like it even less if she raised a fuss. He worked hard to project the picture of a happily married man, a facade he abandoned at home unless there was someone there other than Kitty. Sibyl only cared about the facade as it affected Kitty, and the effect on Kitty was what this was all about. The child was only six years old, but Norman had decided she should be sent away to school. He argued that it was impossible for her to receive a good education in Cactus Corner, but Sibyl knew that wasn't the reason.
She knew Norman wanted to send Kitty away because he didn't believe she was his daughter. Plucking up her courage, Sibyl opened the door and entered the bank.
The building had been designed to give the impression of substance, of success, of reliability. Its front was an impressive two stories high with large glass windows and the name "Spencer's Bank" printed in large flowing script. The spacious lobby was provided with comfortable benches and a writing table. The wood floor was oiled and swept each day. The tellers stood behind dark wooden counters topped by grilles that gave the illusion that a customer's deposit was safe from danger. Gas lamps suspended from the ceiling provided light on gloomy days. Cassie Greene, seated at a desk just inside the door, welcomed Sibyl with one of the brilliant smiles that did so much to draw male customers to the bank — and back again and again. "How are you doing this morning, Mrs. Spencer? It's been forever since I've seen you in here."
"I wouldn't be here now, but I need to speak to my husband." After seven years, the words still didn't come easily to her lips.
"You're here mighty early. We just opened the door."
"I wanted to catch him before he got busy. Is anyone with him in his office?"
"Not a soul. It's been quiet lately." She lowered her voice. "Dr. Kessling's bank has taken away a lot of customers."
Sibyl was acutely aware of that. Because two of Sibyl's cousins and their husbands were the biggest investors in the new bank, Norman seemed to think Sibyl could have stopped its formation if she'd wanted. He refused to believe it could have been due to any fault of his. Sibyl had no need to draw attention to his mistakes because customers leaving Norman's bank were only too ready to do it for her. Norman was so rich he didn't need to work another day in his life, but he fought tooth and nail for every new deposit. When he lost one, he was almost unbearable to be around.
"I shouldn't be long. Tell anyone coming in they shouldn't have to wait more than a few minutes." She hoped that would be the case, but she doubted it. Her knock on the door was greeted with a warm and friendly come in. Norman's eagerness evaporated the moment Sibyl walked through the door.
The office had been created to reflect Norman Spencer's image of himself. The room was spacious with large windows, thick carpets, and comfortable chairs, but the focal point of the room was a carved mahogany desk that was almost as big as most people's beds. Norman sat behind it like a potentate on his throne.
"What are you doing here? You know I don't like for you to take up my time when I'm working."
"You're not working now, and you refuse to talk to me at home." She walked to a chair across from his desk and sat down without waiting for an invitation. "It's entirely your fault that I'm here."
Since, in Norman's mind, nothing unpleasant was ever his fault, he had a lot to say. Sibyl made no response. She'd heard it all many times before. "I've come to talk about your plan to send Kitty away to school," she said when he stopped talking long enough to take a deep breath.
"We've been all through that."
"You've been all through it. You haven't listened to a thing I've said."
"It's for her benefit. If she stays here, she'll be as wild as Colby's twins. Do you know Esther rides her pony astride?"
"Everybody knows Esther rides astride, and nobody has a problem with it. She's only nine years old."
"I have a problem with it," Norman declared. "I won't have Kitty behaving like that. It's unbecoming to the Spencer name." Whatever Norman's private doubts about Kitty's parentage, he would have been horrified to know anyone else shared them. The Spencer name must always be above reproach.
"I'm perfectly capable of molding my daughter's character," Sibyl argued. "You can't point to a single instance when her behavior has embarrassed you." Since Norman rarely saw his daughter on any day other than Sunday, he knew very little about anything she did.
"As you pointed out, she's only six. Will you be able to say that when she's eight, twelve, or sixteen?"
"I have no objection to sending her away to school when she's fourteen. Right now, she's too young."
"Fourteen is too late. Her character will already be formed. About all any school would be able to do that late would be teach her French and a fondness for expensive clothes. She needs to go this year."
Trying to reason with Norman was a waste of time. Sibyl stood. "Let me make something very clear. You will not send Kitty to boarding school this year. There's no point in yelling at me or telling me that you control the money, therefore you'll make the decisions. This is one decision you will not make. If you try, I will stop you."
"How? There's nothing you can do." Norman was surprised by her defiance yet scornful of it.
"There is a great deal I can do, much of which you would find extremely distasteful."
"Don't try to threaten me. You can't —"
Sibyl heard raised voices in the bank, but she had more important things to think about than what might be happening outside Norman's office. Norman, on the other hand, seemed eager for a distraction.
"Something's wrong. Stay here while I see what it is."
Sibyl was furious he would use any excuse to avoid talking about Kitty's future, but she'd said what she'd come to say. She would deal with the future later. She was surprised when the voices became louder. Usually Norman's presence put a damper on things. Curious about what was happening, she got up and left the office. The sight that met her gaze caused her to freeze in her tracks. Cassie was struggling to escape from one man. A second man was talking to the teller. The third and fourth were confronting Norman. All four men were masked and holding guns. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Forever and Always by Leigh Greenwood. Copyright © 2015 Leigh Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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