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Katie Gamble cast one last glance over her shoulder. No Amos Moore.
With a grin, she clutched the handle of her satchel and stepped onto the train that would take her to her new home and job in Somerville, Texas. As she moved down the aisle, she found a seat next to a petite blonde with the bluest eyes Katie had ever seen.
"Howdy. I'm Sarah Chapman, and I'm a Harvey Girl." Her eyes twinkled.
"Hello, I'm Katie." She stashed her bag in an overhead compartment. The papers in the hidden pocket on her slip crinkled as she stretched to place the bag overhead. She peered at her companion. Had she heard? Although the papers were hidden, she still wasn't eager to let her other belongings out of sight, even if it was the land deed that mattered the most. She didn't want to answer any questions either. However, she need not have worried, because the girl continued to chatter to anyone willing to listen.
"You can have the window seat, if you'd like, Katie. The motion outside the window makes my stomach roll. Why did you sign on with the Harvey Company?" Sarah smoothed the skirt of her green dress. "I'm going to find a husband. As the youngest of eleven children, there isn't much left for me back home in Missouri, and there are a lot of men along the railroad line."
A husband? Katie hadn't really thought of that. Maybe once Amos stopped chasing her, she could think about settling down and having a family of her own. "I joined up so I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or how I'm going to put a roof over my head."
"You poor thing. You sound like you've had a rough time." A statuesque brunette reached across Sarah and patted Katie's hand. "I'm Rachel Warren, and while I am searching for a taste of independence, I won't turn down the right man if he asks for my hand. After all, the Harvey women are bringing refinement to towns desperately in need of morally upright women." She glanced around the car. "Looks like we're the only three heading to the Santa Fe."
Refinement? That left Katie out. Was it wrong in God's eyes to steal back something that had been stolen from her? She didn't know. But she would keep it pinned to her underskirts until the day she died, if need be. The deed and the document showing that oil had been discovered on her family's land was one secret she had to keep to herself. She sat down on the upholstered seat, the cushion letting out a soft whoosh of air.
Katie leaned her elbow on the windowsill as the train pulled away from the platform with a jolt. She rested her chin in the cup of her hand, and watched the prairie speed past. Guilt over her actions warred with the idea she had done nothing wrong. Sure, the land was hers, but maybe she shouldn't have taken the few coins left on Amos's dresser. When the man had returned to his room after his nightly visit to the bar, had he yelled? Punched the wall? Hit someone? She didn't know, but she knew he'd come looking for her. He would never let go of her family's property so easily.
She tuned out the friendly chatter of her companions and touched her chin, all too familiar with the consequences of his anger. She blinked back stinging tears. Once she settled into her new job, she would evaluate her feelings. If nothing else, she could pay Amos back the money. Not that the dirty scoundrel deserved it, but because she wanted to be a better person than that.
An automobile rumbled along a dirt road beside the track. What would it be like to ride in one? Would a town the size of Somerville have automobiles? After her small mountain community Somerville sounded like a bustling town.
She turned to the other girls. "Do any of y'all know anything about this town we're headed to?"
"I do." Sarah practically bounced in her seat. "It's a cotton town. There're some ranches, too, I think. My cousin once worked at the Harvey restaurant there, and she wrote to me all about it. Said sometimes the Texas Rangers come and stay at the hotel. She said they are all the most handsome men." She clasped her hands together. "I want to marry one of them!"
Rangers! There couldn't be a worse place for Katie to go. Especially after overhearing someone talking about a man in a saloon who was asking around about a girl who had stolen his deed and his money. Signing up to join the Fred Harvey Company could be the worst decision she had ever made. Instead of hiding in the wilderness, she was right on the railroad line where hundreds of people traveled.
She wiped her palms on her skirt. Keeping her secret was more imperative than ever. Mama always told her that the legal system believed the word of men over women, regardless of their reputations.
After seeing how Amos treated both of them, and got away with it, Katie was inclined to believe her mother. The man seemed to have friends in powerful places, one of them being the sheriff of Katie's hometown. Until she could prove he wasn't the man he claimed to be, she needed to find a way to support herself. The job as a Harvey Girl in Texas had sounded like just the thing. What a mistake. She leaned her head in the palm of her hand.
"I heard you aren't allowed to keep company with men unless chaperoned." Rachel used her reflection in the window to smooth her hair. "But there are always ways around the rules."
Not for Katie. If she followed the rules to the letter, she wouldn't attract any attention.
"You're awful quiet, Katie." Sarah laid a hand on her shoulder. "Not worried, are you?"
"No, just soaking in all that the two of you are saying."
"Well." Sarah plopped back. "I'm as nervous as a hen."
Rachel laughed. "With your cute face, you'll be married before the end of your contract."
"I certainly hope so." Sarah giggled.
Katie stifled a sigh. Was that all the Harvey establishment was about? A place to find a husband? Surely not. The woman who had interviewed her seemed very business-like and had admitted to remaining unmarried despite numerous proposals. It shouldn't be too hard for Katie to do the same. Men weren't always what these two girls thought they were.
The train clanked to a stop in Houston, offering the passengers a chance to straighten their legs while new ones boarded. Katie grabbed her purse and followed the other two girls down the steps.
Excited chatter assaulted her ears. Families greeted loved ones, others saw family members off. Katie sighed. She'd boarded at the last minute in order to escape Amos. No one had sent her on her way with tears and a smile. Maybe a curse or two once Amos realized she had taken what he wanted.
She turned, searching for Sarah and Rachel. Lost in her thoughts for one minute and the two chatter birds disappeared. Katie whirled to head in another direction. Her nose pressed into a solid wall of man.
Her gaze traveled from a tan shirt, up to hazel eyes, and back down to focus on a shining metal star.
"My apologies." Hitching her skirts, she turned and dashed into the depot. Please, Lord, tell me the man isn't after me.
After boarding the train, Ward Alston pulled his hat low over his eyes and settled down to sleep for the short ride. The wound in his side burned like nothing else, but the chatter from the bevy of beauties a few rows back soothed him. The one with hair as dark as the night had taken flight like a bird after running into him. If not for the fact her elbow had connected with his side, he would have enjoyed the contact with such a lovely lady.
As it wasnot much harm done. With his mother and sisters hovering close, home would provide the rest he needed to heal.
"I got a glimpse of him," one of the women said. "He's a looker, for sure."
"He's a Ranger," another said.
Ward smiled under his hat. Lovelies looking for husbands. There were a few single men in Somerville, but most of them were only passing through. He wished the ladies luck. Somehow, he'd have to make sure they took him off the eligibility list. As long as he worked as a Texas Ranger, he had no plans to take a wife. He had no desire to leave behind a widow. The battle in San Benito, and the bullet graze on his rib cage, only enforced that conviction. Some of his fellow Rangers found time to marry, but the travel took a toll on their family lives. When, and if, Ward married, he wanted to be ready to settle down and not leave the wife and kids behind.
"Somerville!" The conductor roamed the cars announcing their arrival.
Taking a deep breath, Ward shoved his hat back on his head and stood to help the women get their bags down. The one who had run into him ducked her head when she claimed hers, then skedaddled like a mouse. Shy, that one.
Through the window, Ward spotted his mother and two sisters. He'd never seen a better welcoming committee. He would've liked Pa to have come, but knew the work it took to run a ranch. He grabbed his satchel and rushed from the train into female laughter and tears.
"We were so worried when we got your call." His mother cupped his face. "But the good Lord brought you home."
Ward planted a kiss on her forehead. "For now."
"You aren't staying?" Her brow wrinkled.
"Haven't decided. I figured I'd leave that decision up to the good Lord." He opened his arms, and his sisters, Lucy and Caroline, stepped into them. Caroline wore the traditional uniform of the Harvey House head waitress.
"There's your newest, sis." Ward motioned his head toward the girls milling on the platform. "They're a bit hungry for husbands."
She sighed. "Most of them are." She grinned up at him.
"I'm glad you're home. Come by the restaurant for supper. Since I'm here, I'd best go greet the girls." She hurried away.
Lucy grabbed his hand. "We brought the buckboard. Something's wrong with the automobile. Pa said it's more trouble than it's worth, and you should never have purchased it for us."
"I'll take care of it." Ward laughed. Pa had resented the motorcar from the moment Ward had bought it.
"No, you will not." His mother grabbed his arm. "You are home to get better, not struggle with a dirty machine. Of course, if healing means you'll be back getting shot, I hope it takes a good long while for you to recuperate."
Oh, it was good to be home. With his family clustered around him, Ward made his way to the wagon and climbed onto the seat. "I'll drive."
Ma sighed. "It's no use. You always were a poor invalid."
"When was I ever an invalid?" He was rarely sick, and this was his first, and hopefully last, bullet.
"I just want the chance to take care of you."
"And you have it." He watched as Caroline led her girls to the restaurant across the street. The dark-haired beauty glanced his way and turned back quickly when she caught him looking.
What was that girl's story? It might be interesting to find out. Something to look forward to while he waited for his side to stitch back together. With a flick of the reins, he set the horses for home.
His sister and mother chattered the whole way. Ward certainly had missed home. When they pulled in front of the house, Pa came running from the barn.
"Ward!" He held up a hand to help him down. "Easy, son."
"I'm fine, Pa. Just a little stiff." Actually, the jostling ride home hadn't done his side much good at all. Fire burned from one side to the other.
"Don't lie. Hattie, get this boy some food and get him into bed." Pa grabbed Ward's bag.
Ma nodded. "Exactly what I planned on doing. Come on, Lucy."
"I'm fine." Ward fell into a rocker on the porch. "I'd like to sit here a spell, if that's all right."
"Lucy!" Pa bellowed. "Come sit with your brother. I've cows to feed." He placed a hand on Ward's head and then headed back to the barn.
Lucy seemed more than happy to oblige and sat at Ward's feet. "Tell me all about your adventures." The thirteen-year-old was still more child than she wanted to admit. "Did you meet any of the new Harvey Girls? I want to be one of them someday."
"Don't you have enough work here at home?" Ward winked. "I only ran into one of them, and she was a beauty."
"You didn't get her name?"
"No, I didn't. There wasn't time."
"Ma will be so disappointed." Lucy rested her chin on his knee. "They're so modern and glamorous."
"They work very hard. You know that. Look at Caroline." The last thing he wanted was for his starry-eyed younger sister to take up an occupation she had no realistic knowledge of.
"I work hard here. Caroline meets all kinds of people. I only know the people at school and church."
"All of Somerville."
"I want to meet new people from different places."
Ward rested his head back. Oh, the idealism of youth. He'd seen more atrocities in his twenty-seven years than he would ever tell his innocent sister. Or Ma. They didn't need to know the brutality of battle or how it felt to shoot a man, criminal or not. Thank the good Lord there was still beauty in the world.
He dozed off with the image of a brown-eyed girl in his mind.