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"That's very good, Martin, but you've left out something, haven't you?" Antonia prompted gently. She smiled, too, because Martin was very shy even for a nine-year-old and she didn't want to embarrass him in front of her other fourth graders. "The secret weapon the Greeks used in battle
a military formation?"
"Secret weapon," he murmured to himself. Then his dark eyes lit up and he grinned. "The phalanx!" he said at once.
"Yes," she replied. "Very good!"
He beamed, glancing smugly at his worst enemy in the second row over, who was hoping Martin would miss the question and looked very depressed indeed that he hadn't.
Antonia glanced at her watch. It was almost time to dismiss class for the day, and the week. Odd, she thought, how loose that watch was on her wrist.
"It's time to start putting things away," she told her students. "Jack, will you erase the board for me, please? And, Mary, please close the windows."
They rushed to obey, because they liked Miss Hayes. Mary glanced at her with a smile. Miss Hayes smiled back. She wasn't as pretty as Miss Bell down the hall, and she dressed in a very backward sort of way, always wearing suits or pantsuits, not miniskirts and frilly blouses. She had pretty long blond hair, though, when she took it out of that awful bun, and her gray eyes were like the December sky. It would be Christmas soon, and in a week they could all go home for the holidays. Mary wondered what Miss Hayes would do. She never went anywhere exciting for holidays. She never talked about her family, either. Maybe she didn't have one.
The bell rang and Antonia smiled and waved as her students marched out to waiting buses and cars. She tidied her desk with steady hands and wondered if her father would come for Christmas this year. It was very lonely for both of them since her mother's death last year. It had been hard, coping with the loss. It had been harder having to go home for the funeral. He was there. He, and his daughter. Antonia shivered just remembering the look on his dark, hard face. Powell hadn't softened even then, even when her mother was being buried. He still hated Antonia after nine years. She'd barely glanced at the sullen, dark-haired little girl by his side. The child was like a knife through her heart, a reminder that Powell had been sleeping with Sally even while he and Antonia were engaged to be married; because the little girl had been born only seven months after Powell married Sally. Antonia had glanced at them once, only once, to meet Powell's hateful stare. She hadn't looked toward the pew where they sat again.
Incredible how he could hate Antonia after marriage and a child, when everyone must have told him the truth ten times over in the years between. He was rich now. He had money and power and a fine home. His wife had died only three years after their wedding, and he hadn't remarried. Antonia imagined it was because he missed Sally so much. She didn't. She hated even the memory of her one-time best friend. Sally had cost her everything she loved, even her home, and she'd done it with deliberate lies. Of course, Powell had believed the lies. That was what had hurt most.
Antonia was over it now. It had been nine years. It hardly hurt at all, in fact, to remember him.
She blinked as someone knocked at the door, interrupting her train of thought. It was Barrie, her good friend and the Miss Bell of the miniskirt who taught math, grinning at her. Barrie was gorgeous. She was slender and had beautiful long legs. Her hair was almost black, like a wavy curtain down her back. She had green eyes with mischief in them, and a ready smile.
"You could stay with me at Christmas," Barrie invited merrily, her green eyes twinkling.
"In Sheridan?" she asked idly, because that was where Barrie's stepfather's home was, where George Rutherford and her stepbrother Dawson Rutherford, and Barrie and her late mother had lived before she left home and began teaching with Antonia in Tucson.
"No," Barrie said tightly. "Not ever there. In my apartment here in Tucson," she added, forcing a smile to her face. "I have four boyfriends. We can split them, two each. We'll have a merry whirl!"
Antonia only smiled. "I'm twenty-seven, too old for merry whirls, and my father will probably come here for Christmas. But thanks anyway."
"Honestly, Annie, you're not old, even if you do dress like someone's maiden aunt!" she said explosively. "Look at you!" she added, sweeping her hand toward the gray suit and white blouse that was indicative of the kind of clothes Antonia favored. "And your hair in that infernal bun
you look like a holdover from the Victorians! You need to loose that glorious blond hair and put on a miniskirt and some makeup and look for a man before you get too old! And you need to eat! You're so thin that you're beginning to look like skin and bones."
Antonia knew that. She'd lost ten pounds in the past month or so and she'd finally gotten worried enough to make an appointment with her doctor. It was probably nothing, she thought, but it wouldn't hurt to check. Her iron might be low. She said as much to Barrie.
"That's true. You've had a hard year, what with losing your mother and then that awful scare with the student who brought his dad's pistol to school and held everybody at bay for an hour last month."
"Teaching is becoming the world's most dangerous profession," Antonia agreed. She smiled sadly at Barrie. "Perhaps if we advertised it that way, we'd attract more brave souls to boost our numbers."
"That's an idea," came the dry agreement. "Want adventure? Try teaching! I can see the slogan now"
"I'm going home," Antonia interrupted her.
"Ah, well, I suppose I will, too. I have a date tonight."
"Who is it this time?"
"Bob. He's nice and we get along well. But sometimes I think I'm not cut out for a conventional sort of man. I need a wild-eyed artist or a composer or a drag racer."
Antonia chuckled. "I hope you find one."
"If I did, he'd probably have two wives hidden in another country or something. I do have the worst luck with men."
"It's your liberated image," Antonia said in a conspiratorial tone. "You're devil-may-care and outrageous. You scare off the most secure bachelors."
"Bunkum. If they were secure enough, they'd rush to my door," Barrie informed her. "I'm sure there's a man like that somewhere, just waiting for me."
"I'm sure there is, too," her friend said kindly, and didn't for a minute let on that she thought there was already one waiting in Sheridan.
Beneath Barrie's outrageous persona, there was a sad and rather lonely woman. Barrie wasn't at all what she seemed. Barrie basically was afraid of menespecially her stepbrother, Dawson. He was George's blood son. Dear George, the elderly man who'd been another unfortunate victim of Sally Long's lies. The tales hadn't fazed Dawson, though, who not only knew better, but who was one of the coldest and most intimidating men Antonia had ever met where women were concerned. Barrie never mentioned Dawson, never talked about him. And if his name was mentioned, she changed the subject. It was common knowledge that they didn't get along. But secretly, Antonia thought there was something in their past, something that Barrie didn't talk about.
She never had, and now that poor George was dead and Dawson had inherited his estate, there was a bigger rift between them because a large interest in the cattle empire that Dawson inherited had been willed to Barrie.
"I've got to phone Dad and see what his plans are," Antonia murmured, dragging herself back from her memories.
"If he can't come down here, will you go home for Christmas?"
She shook her head. "I don't go home."
"Why not?" She grimaced. "Oh. Yes. I forget from time to time, because you never talk about him. I'm sorry. But it's been nine years. Surely he couldn't hold a grudge for that long? After all, he's the one who called off the wedding and married your best friend less than a month later. And she caused the scandal in the first place!"
"Yes, I know," Antonia replied.
"She must have loved him a lot to take such a risk. But he did eventually find out the truth," she added, tugging absently on a strand of her long, wavy black hair.
Antonia sighed. "Did he? I suppose someone told him, eventually. I don't imagine he believed it, though. Powell likes to see me as a villain."
"He loved you."
"He wanted me," Antonia said bitterly. "At least that's what he said. I had no illusions about why he was marrying me. My father's name carried some weight in town, even though we were not rich. Powell needed the respectability. The love was all on my side. As it worked out, he got rich and had one child and a wife who was besotted with him. But from what I heard, he didn't love her either. Poor Sally," she added on a cold laugh, "all that plotting and lying, and when she got what she wanted, she was miserable."
"Good enough for her," Barrie said curtly. "She ruined your reputation and your parents'."
"And your stepfather's," she added, sadly. "He was very fond of my mother once."
Barrie smiled gently. "He was very fond of her up until the end. It was a blessing that he liked your father, and that they were friends. He was a good loser when she married your father. But he still cared for her, and that's why he did so much to help you."
"Right down to paying for my college education. That was the thing that led to all the trouble. Powell didn't like George at all. His father lost a lot of land to Georgein fact, Dawson is still at odds with Powell over that land, even today, you know. He may live in Sheridan, but his ranch covers hundreds of acres right up against Powell's ranch, and I understand from Dad that he gives him fits at any opportunity."
"Dawson has never forgotten or forgiven the lies that Sally told about George," came the quiet reply. "He spoke to Sally, you know. He cornered her in town and gave her hell, with Powell standing right beside her."
"You never told me that," Antonia said on a quick breath.
"I didn't know how to," Barrie replied. "It hurts you just to have Powell's name mentioned."
"I suppose Powell stood up for her," she said, fishing.
"Even Powell is careful about how he deals with Dawson," Barrie reminded her. "Besides, what could he say? Sally told a lie and she was caught, red-handed. Too late to do you any good, they were already married by then."
"You mean, Powell's known the truth for nine years?" Antonia asked, aghast.
"I didn't say he believed Dawson," the other woman replied gently, averting her eyes.
"Oh. Yes. Well." Antonia fought for composure. How ridiculous, to think Powell would have accepted the word of his enemy. He and Dawson never had gotten along. She said it aloud even as she thought it.
"Is it likely that they would? My stepfather beat old man Long out of everything he owned in a poker game when they were both young men. The feud has gone on from there. Dawson's land borders Powell's, and they're both bent on empire building. If a tract comes up for sale, you can bet both men will be standing on the Realtor's doorstep trying to get first dibs on it. In fact, that's what they're butting heads about right now, that strip of land that separates their ranches that the widow Holton owns."
"They own the world between them," Antonia said pointedly.
"And they only want what joins theirs." Barrie chuckled. "Ah, well, it's no concern of ours. Not now. The less I see of my stepbrother, the happier I am."
Antonia, who'd only once seen the two of them together, had to agree. When Dawson was anywhere nearby, Barrie became another person, withdrawn and tense and almost comically clumsy.
"Well, if you change your mind about the holidays, my door is open," Barrie reminded her.
Antonia smiled warmly. "I'll remember. If Dad can't come down for the holidays, you could come home with me," she added.
Barrie shivered. "No, thanks! Bighorn is too close to Dawson for my taste."
"Dawson lives in Sheridan."
"Not all the time. Occasionally he stays at the ranch in Bighorn. He spends more and more time there these days." Her face went taut. "They say the widow Holton is the big attraction. Her husband had lots of land, and she hasn't decided who she'll sell it to."
A widow with land. Barrie had mentioned that Powell was also in competition with Dawson for the land. Or was it the widow? He was a widower, too, and a long-standing one. The thought made her sad.
"You need to eat more," Barrie remarked, concerned by her friend's appearance. "You're getting so thin, Annie, although it does give you a more fragile appearance. You have lovely bone structure. High cheekbones and good skin."
"I inherited the high cheekbones from a Cheyenne grandmother," she said, remembering sadly that Powell had called her Cheyenne as a nickname actually meant as a corruption of "shy Ann," which she had been when they first started dating.
"Good blood," Barrie mused. "My ancestry is black Irishfrom the Spanish armada that was blown off course to the coast of Ireland. Legend has it that one of my ancestors was a Spanish nobleman, who ended up married to a stepsister of an Irish lord."
"What a story."