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By Tracie Peterson
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2010 Tracie Peterson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJune 1889
If a person needed to know what was happening in Sitka, the general store was the center of all news-whether true or gossip. Even so, this time Dalton Lindquist didn't anticipate his family being a part of the tale spewing from Mrs. Putshukoff's mouth.
And yet, to be honest, all of his life there had been a measure of secrecy about his past, mainly because no one was willing to talk about it. Some sort of trouble surrounded his birth or shortly thereafter-that much Dalton knew. His questions made his mother uncomfortable, and his father would admonish him to wait until he was older. Father had once admitted that someone had attempted to take Dalton and his mother had been wounded in the process, but he wouldn't say anything more. It was Mother's story to tell.
"Then it's time she told me," he muttered, stalking down the street. "I deserve to know the truth."
It was a good two-mile walk back home, but Dalton didn't mind. He used the time to clear his head and reconsider what he'd heard Mrs. Putshukoff say to Arnie, the storekeeper. She had come into the store all excited. Apparently there had been some untimely deaths in the Tlingit village; a fight of some sort had seen two men killed and a woman gravely injured. Mrs. Putshukoff declared there hadn't been so much trouble since the mess that year Lydia Gray had come to live on the island.
Dalton had been standing near the back of the store, looking over a supply of paint, when the conversation had begun. He'd tried to edge closer without looking obvious, but Arnie knew he was there and hurried to hush Mrs. Putshukoff. In a town where gossip ruled, Dalton found people particularly closemouthed about his past. Perhaps it was out of respect to his mother. She was quite beloved and a pillar of the community. Maybe folks felt they owed her their silence. Then again, so many of the folks who'd lived in Sitka the year Dalton had been born were long gone.
The sun remained positioned high in the sky even though it was half past five. Summer days were long in Sitka, and there would still be a good four or five more hours of light. Today was even better, because they were blessed with no rain. The clear skies would give everyone a reason to celebrate with outdoor activities well into the evening.
Dalton's father always said this was his favorite time of the year, and Dalton felt much the same. It really was a pity that such a perfect day had to be ruined by the weight of the secrets concealed from him. The long walk home had done nothing to calm his spirit; if anything, Dalton felt his need for answers only heightened. He longed to know about his birth-about his real father. All he knew for certain was this: His mother had been a widow when she'd come to Sitka, and she had come because her aunt lived on the island. Zerelda Rockford had established herself in this isolated place years before Dalton's mother arrived, and she welcomed her pregnant niece with open arms. Kjell Lindquist fell in love with Lydia, and they married shortly before Dalton's birth.
The next year, his older half sister Evie had joined them from Kansas City. When as a child he asked about Evie's husband and why she lived in Alaska instead of wherever her husband resided, Dalton was quickly dismissed with the assurance that it was not necessary for him to know and painful for Evie to discuss. It wasn't until just a few years ago that he'd learned Evie had left her husband because he held her no love and truly hadn't wanted a wife. Still, there were secrets about her life in Kansas City that she refused to speak about, and Dalton was again left on the outside looking in.
"Dalton!" His ten-year-old sister, Kjerstin, came bounding down the hill toward the road. "Look what I made." She held up a piece of cloth. "It's a napkin, and I've put a Z on it. I made it for Aunt Zerelda. Mama says I should put an R on it, too, so that comes next."
Pushing aside his thoughts, Dalton inspected the material. "It's quite good. You've really mastered embroidery."
"Mama says I'm a natural." She took back the napkin and fairly danced around Dalton. Her brown pigtails swung in the air. "Britta isn't a natural. She always gets knots in her thread."
"Britta's only seven. Give her some time," Dalton countered. "And don't be so prideful. When someone says you're good at something, you're supposed to say thank you."
Kjerstin stopped and looked up at him most woefully. "I'm sorry. Thank you."
Dalton laughed. "You needn't mourn the matter." He rubbed the top of her head. After so many years of being an only child, Dalton had been thrilled when his mother announced she was going to have a baby. He had wanted a brother, but Kjerstin had proved to be an interesting alternative.
"She's in the garden. You want me to get her for you?"
Dalton shook his head. "No, I'll find her. You go back to your sewing."
"I can come with you."
"No. I want to talk to her alone."
Kjerstin put her hands on her hips. "Why can't I come along?"
He didn't want to alarm her, but neither would he lie. "I just have some private questions to ask her. Nothing that needs to concern your pretty head."
"Are you going to ask her about kissing a girl?"
Dalton looked at his sister oddly. "What in the world gave you that idea?"
"Well, I heard Papa and Mama talking about how it wouldn't be long before you noticed girls and found one to marry."
Laughing, Dalton whirled her in a circle, then set her back down on the ground. "I've already noticed girls," he told her conspiratorially, "and I think I can figure out the kissing part by myself." He swatted her backside playfully. "Now go on."
She giggled and hurried up the porch stairs. "If you get married," she called back to him, "I want to be in the wedding and wear a beautiful dress."
"I'll do what I can to accommodate you, but first I need to find a bride."
Walking around the side of the house and toward the back, where his mother was bent over a row of plants, Dalton couldn't help but wonder what had prompted his mother and father's discussion about him getting married. Since finishing his education, Dalton's only focus had been on boat building-something he'd worked at since turning thirteen. He was apprenticing with Mr. Belikov, the father of his best friend, Yuri. Building boats was all he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He loved the work, as well as the finished product. In fact, there wasn't a part of the process that he didn't love.
His mother straightened and caught sight of him. Dalton put aside his sister's prattle and thoughts of boats. Remembering why he'd wanted to seek her out in the first place, Dalton frowned.
"You look like a man with a purpose," his mother declared.
"I am," he said in a serious tone. "Can we sit and talk?"
Lydia Lindquist's face paled just a bit as she squared her shoulders. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing that a few answers won't help." He led her to an arrangement of wooden chairs his father had made for enjoying the outdoors. "I need to know the truth about my father-about my birth. I'm eighteen. I think I'm old enough to know what everyone else does."
His mother took a seat and nodded. "I suppose I owe you that much."
He wanted to snap back a reply that she owed him that and so much more. Instead, Dalton pulled one of the chairs very close and sat directly in front of her. "I know the past was bad. I can figure that out without you saying anything about it. So if you're worried about hurting me, stop."
She gave him a weak smile. "I'm ashamed to say my silence has been more about my own discomfort than yours. It's painful to remember. I always hoped it wouldn't have to come up."
"I don't want to see you in pain, Mother, but other people always seem to know more about my past than I do. Today, I overheard a comment down at the general store about the trouble that happened when you came to live here-the year I was born. I want to know what it was all about, and I don't want to learn it from strangers."
His mother drew a deep breath. "Well, it actually happened two months after you were born. I'll try to explain it, but you may be sorry you asked. Where do you want me to start?"
"Who was my father?" Dalton asked rather than reply to her comment.
"Floyd Gray. I was very young when I was wed to him in an arranged marriage. He had been married before and his wife had recently died," she began. "He and my father made a business contract that included me."
"So you were forced to marry him?"
"Yes," she answered. "I'm sorry to say that I never loved him. He was a cruel man, and he never showed me the least amount of affection."
"But what of me-the fact that you were expecting me when he died?"
"You will find this difficult to understand...." She turned her gaze to her lap. "I'm sorry, but you were not conceived in love. You weren't my only pregnancy, but you were the only one that I carried to birth. The others I lost when your father became angry and took it out on me."
Indignant at the thought that any man would hurt his mother, Dalton stiffened. "How did he die?"
"In a carriage accident with my father. My father outlived him by two days, and this in turn started a series of problems that involved the money they'd made and Floyd's other children."
"You mean Evie?"
His mother looked up. He could recognize fear in her brown eyes. "No. I mean the others. Your brothers and another sister."
"What?" He shook his head. "I have brothers? Another sister? What are you talking about?"
"It's a very long story. Floyd and his first wife had twin sons who are considerably older than you, as well as another daughter besides Eve. They all lived in Kansas City, and they all hated me, except Eve. When I married their father, they saw me as an intruder. Eve was just a little girl at the time. I suppose that's why she didn't share their hatred. They were cruel to her, however, anytime she showed me the slightest affection."
"I can't believe this. Why didn't you ever tell me?" His anger rose. "Did it not occur to you that I might want to know my other siblings?"
"That's exactly why I didn't tell you," she admitted. "I hoped you would never need to know them. Dalton, they are not good people."
"Shouldn't that have been my choice to decide? You had no right to keep that information from me." He felt a huge sense of betrayal. "What else have you kept from me?" He thought back to the conversation at the store. "What happened the year I was born? Who was killed?"
Her expression tightened. "What have you already heard?"
"Not enough to understand," he replied. "I want to know the truth."
To his surprise, tears formed in her eyes. "I always intended to tell you the truth, but ..." She choked up and buried her face in her hands.
Dalton felt bad for having upset her, but now, more than ever, he wanted to know the reason for her tears. "Please, Mother, you must tell me."
He could see that his mother was working hard to regain control of her emotions, and so he said nothing more for a moment. When she finally spoke, Dalton found her words alarming.
"You will have to give me time. It's hard for me even now.... So much happened the night they came to take you, and some of it I still can't remember."
"Who? Who came to take me? What are you talking about?"
Her gaze seemed to look right through him, as if she'd gone back in time to that moment. "There were two of them. They were men who held your father a grudge."
"My real father?"
She shook her head. "No. Kjell. But they didn't take you for that reason. They were hired."
"They came that night and Zerelda tried to fight them off. They hit her in the head and knocked her unconscious." His mother got to her feet, her state trancelike. "I had gone upstairs to tend to you, and I heard the commotion. Zerelda fired her gun. One of the men was saying something about finding the baby."
Dalton got to his feet and took hold of her shoulders. "Mother, are you all right?"
She looked at him but didn't seem to see him. "When he came for you, I didn't know what to do. Kjell was working late. There was no one else to help." She shuddered. "I tried to keep him from taking you."
"Who? Who was it, Mother?"
"Anatolli Sidorov." Her voice was barely audible. She drew a deep breath and seemed to refocus on Dalton. "It was Anatolli and his brother."
"Who are they? I've never heard of them before."
Tears began to stream down his mother's face. "They were the ones who took you. I tried to fight him. I tried to keep him from taking you, but he wouldn't listen. Instead he ... he ..."
"He what? Tell me. Please."
It was Evie. She was coming down the path toward them. "Kjell is looking for you. He needs your help in the house."
"Mother, please finish what you were saying." She wiped her eyes with the edge of her apron. "He shot me."
The words were so matter-of-fact that for a moment they didn't register in Dalton's mind. "He what?"
"I can't," his mother said, shaking her head.
Evie had nearly reached them. Lydia turned to look at her. "You tell him. You tell him what happened after Anatolli shot me. You tell Dalton who was responsible for them coming to take him."
The woman's eyes widened in surprise. Dalton said nothing as his mother walked away. He felt torn between a desperate need for her to return and sorrow that he'd caused her such distress. It was clear that she was shaken to the very soul of her being.
He looked at Evie. "I want to know what this is all about. All I understand is that those who've lived in this town long enough know more about my life than I do. It isn't right, and I want answers."
"Even at the price you've cost her?"
"It's my right!" Dalton pounded his fist against the chair. "I'm tired of the lies and the secrets. I want answers."
"Stop throwing a fit and maybe I'll give them to you. You're a grown man now, Dalton. Act like one-instead of a demanding child."
"I've lived with this shadow over me all of my life, Evie. I have brothers and another sister I was never told about. Why did you never say anything?"
She shrugged. "Because your mother preferred for me to say nothing."
"But it doesn't make sense. So what if my real father-our father-was a difficult man? Why should she not tell me about him, about my family? Now Mother says someone came to take me from her-someone who shot her? What is that all about? What is going on?"
"Our brother Marston hired two men to steal you from Lydia. Our brothers are just as corrupt and evil as our father. Our sister Jeannette is just as selfish and heartless."
"Jeannette? The same one you get letters from? She is our sister?" Dalton asked.
Evie nodded. "Yes, we occasionally correspond, though we've never been close. Jeannette is not a very good sister to anyone, and I often forget about her altogether. But that aside, Marston is the one who caused most of the trouble."
"But I don't understand. Why would he want to take me from my mother?"
"Money," Evie said frankly. "Your mother had inherited our father's fortune. Our brothers and sister were livid. They wanted it returned. Your mother graciously gave them back a portion, but because you were also a Gray child, she felt you deserved to inherit, as well."
"I know nothing about an inheritance. This doesn't make sense."
Evie put her hand to her temple for a moment. To Dalton, it looked as if she was struggling to determine how much she could really say and how much needed to remain a secret. Finally she spoke in a soft, deliberate manner.
"Perhaps ... in time it will. For now you have to understand that our brother was responsible for nearly killing your mother. He ordered it done-he planned for her to die so that he could lay claim as your next of kin. That way the money would come back to the family through you."
Dalton sat down hard. The wind was nearly knocked from his lungs. "What happened after the man shot Mother?"
Evie's tone softened as she sat down in the seat Lydia had occupied only moments earlier. "The men who attacked her that night took you to Marston. In turn, Marston killed Anatolli, but his brother, Ioann, got away. Marston took you to Kansas City, but everyone here thought you were dead. That was what Marston wanted people to believe. Kjell fought to save your mother's life-getting her and Zerelda to the hospital as quickly as he could. Lydia was unconscious for a long time-they didn't think she would make it."
Excerpted from Morning's Refrain by Tracie Peterson Copyright © 2010 by Tracie Peterson. Excerpted by permission.
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