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About the author:
Born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, Patricia Watters gave up city life and now writes from a hand-built log cabin nestled on thirty acres in the evergreen forests of Oregon’s Coast Range. An author with Harlequin and Avon-Harper Collins in the past, Patricia specializes in romance. Although writing is her number one love, over the course of her lifetime she’s raised laying hens, milk goats, and Tennessee Walking horses, built, plumbed and wired three houses, been a professional photographer, and written photo essays for national and international publications. She invites you to visit her website and drop her a line. She loves hearing from readers and responds to all notes: www.patriciawatters.com
What inspired you to write your book?
I was inspired to write this book when I read that Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote and to own land in their own name, and my heroine developed out of that. Wyoming was also the first state to hang a woman, so I brought that in as a side issue while setting the record straight with information from the family of the women who was hanged.
Here is a short sample from the book:
‘Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak, you
will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.’
— Queen Elizabeth I
Wagon train camp east of Cheyenne, Wyoming – 1889
Priscilla Phipps dipped her pen into the last remaining drops of ink and continued with the final entry in her journal: Tomorrow we will travel the last twelve miles to Cheyenne. I am certain there will be a sizeable crowd to greet our thirteen bedraggled wagons when we arrive, but among them will also be three very angry men, whom I do not look forward to facing…
“Miss Priscilla?” A deep male voice called from outside the wagon.
Priscilla set aside her journal and poked her head through the canvas flap in the rear of the wagon and found her Negro pressman looking anxiously at her. “Yes, Jim?”
“It’s Miss Mary Kate. You’d best come quick. She’s havin’ one o’ her cryin’ spells again and she’s callin’ for you.”
Priscilla climbed out of the wagon and rushed across the dusty clearing to where the brides’ wagon was parked, hearing anxious voices as she approached. Crawling through the rear flap, she found Libby Johnson, Abigail Chandler, and Edith Hogan hovering over a very distraught Mary Kate Burns. On seeing Priscilla, Mary Kate lamented, “I just can’t do it, Miss Priscilla. I can’t marry that man. It seemed alright when we first started out, but… well, you saw his photograph. He looks ornerier than a mule with burrs. And he’s so old!”
“Well yes, he did look a bit intolerant,” Priscilla said. “But he’s not all that old.”
“He’s forty-one!” Mary Kate cried. “He’s old enough to be my Pa. His eldest daughter’s only four years younger than me. I don’t care if he is some high up British cattle baron,” she wailed, “I’d rather die an old maid like you than get stuck with the likes of him.” She raised tear-drenched eyes to Priscilla. “Can I come work for your newspaper too?”
Priscilla patted Mary Kate’s hand. “Yes, of course.” After assuring Mary Kate she’d take care of reimbursing Lord Whittington for travel expenses, Priscilla returned to her wagon and picked up her journal, making a small adjustment…
…among them will also be three four very angry men, whom I do not look forward to facing. Mary Kate decided to join the other women who will be working for me, and I don’t blame her one bit. Lord Whittington might own half the cattle in Wyoming, but he did look mean. Actually, a kind of handsome mean. And not so old really, I being only two years his junior…
At sun up the following morning, Priscilla went about her chores, preparing to move on, but unlike most mornings when she felt eager and energetic for the day ahead, she was beginning to feel the first twinges of uncertainty. Not uncertainty about the success of The Town Tattler—she knew the ins and outs of running a newspaper—but uncertainty because she’d be all alone when informing four men that their mail-order brides were backing out of their contracts.
From the photographs though, there wasn’t an appealing man among them, and on reading the letters the women received from the men, it was clear the men wanted housekeepers and mistresses, not wives to love and cherish, but Mary Kate was escaping an arranged marriage to a fat, balding butcher twice her age, Edith fancied herself an old maid at twenty-four, Libby was fleeing a dreadful scandal, and Abigail’s step-father told her he was going to take care of her needs, now that she was a woman. Offering the women jobs gave them a way out of marriages none of them wanted, and a chance to find men who truly wanted wives and life partners.
But of all the men she’d be facing at the end of today’s long dusty journey, Lord Adam Whittington would unquestionably cause her the most grief. With wealth comes power, and giving Lord Whittington’s bride-to-be a way out of their marriage contract would put the man on the opposite side of whatever business venture she, and the women she’d taken under her wing, were to engage in, but face Lord Whittington she would, and the encounter was only twelve miles ahead.
Adam Whittington poked his son in the back. “Stand straight so your new mother will look with favor on you,” he said, “and hold up the flowers so she’ll recognize us.”
Weldon Whittington straightened his eleven-year-old frame and tightened his fist around the flower stems. “Which one is she?” he asked.
Adam scanned the dusty, weary-looking travelers who’d arrived with the wagon train while he was at the feed store. He saw single women who looked well past child bearing age, middle-aged couples unloading gear, and families with children running about, but there appeared to be no wagon with four single women of marriageable age.
Catching sight of Clayton Rathborn, who was also expecting a bride, he headed toward him. “Rathborn!” he called out. “Did the women come in with this wagon train?”
Clayton shook his head. “Shortly after the train pulled in, a couple of wagons left, one with a big Negro driving and a white woman walking, and the other with a woman driving and what sounded like women inside, but I figured they were folks passing through.”
Weldon tugged on his father’s coat sleeve. “Can we go home then, Pa?”
“Not until we find your new mother,” Adam replied. “She has to be with this group since there are no other wagon trains expected for some time. Where are your sisters?”
Weldon shrugged. “Last I saw, they were across the street reading something posted on the mercantile, then Alice went inside and Trudy went around back with Tom Rafferty.”
“You sure it was Tom Rafferty?” Adam asked, the heat of anger rising as he imagined the young bloke’s hands on Trudy. Rafferty was one of his cowboys, and he had his sights on the cattle baron’s daughter, but short of locking up Trudy, he didn’t know how to handle the headstrong sixteen-year-old girl. He could get rid of Tom, but Trudy would set her sights on the next young cowpoke. She needed a mother to manage her, and he needed a woman in his bed on a permanent basis so he could keep his mind on running the ranch instead of finding the next willing female. As his wife, Mary Kate Burns would fill both needs.
“It was Tom Rafferty all right,” Weldon said. “He grabbed Trudy’s hand and pulled her around behind the mercantile. She was laughing too.”
“Well, she won’t be laughing when I catch up with her.” Adam rushed across the street, catching a glimpse of the posting on the mercantile as he passed, but not stopping to inspect it. As he headed around the building he found Tom’s lips about a breath away from Trudy’s. Grabbing Tom by the arm and the belt, he hurled him aside, and shouted, “Keep your bloody hands off my daughter!” He took Trudy by the elbow and tugged her back around the building. “Go wait in the buckboard,” he barked. “We’ll take this up when we get home!”
Trudy said nothing, just headed for the buckboard, and Adam stopped to inspect the posting, which read: Any man awaiting a bride please contact Miss Priscilla Phipps at the old Sentinel building at six o’clock this evening.
Adam stared at the notice, wondering why the Phipps women would have the brides at the old Sentinel building. He’d heard that the building had been sold to someone back east, but the place was so rundown he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want it.
Stepping inside the mercantile, he fetched fourteen-year-old Alice, who was eyeing a red silk corset with black ties. Snatching her away from the risqué thing, he herded her and Weldon onto the buckboard. Weldon sat on the box, and Alice and Trudy sat on the seat behind. Adam climbed up beside Weldon and took the reins. “After I pick up your new mother, she and I will go to the courthouse and get married,” he announced to his offspring. “I’ll expect the three of you to stay in the buckboard, and no fighting. I’ve waited three months for this woman and I don’t want her leaving before we even get married.”
“What are we supposed to call her?” Alice asked. “Mary Kate or Mother?”
“You will call her Mother,” Adam replied, anxious to make that distinction clear. The children needed a mother, not a friend and confident who would cater to their whims, and he was ready to turn over that thorny task to the Burns woman, who would be Lady Adam Whittington before the day was done. It could not come soon enough.
“Is she going to stay in your bedroom with you tonight, Pa?” Weldon asked.
Adam heard giggles from the girls in the seat behind him. He also wasn’t sure how to answer Weldon’s question. The boy was on the cusp of learning about a man’s need, if he hadn’t had his first awakening already, and he’d be naturally curious about what went on behind the closed door to his father and new step-mother’s bedroom.
As for him… He hadn’t had a woman since he entered into the marriage contract with Mary Kate Burns three months before, and he was badly in need of her services, but she was still a virgin, and he wasn’t sure he could hold back once he stripped her naked. If he lost control and took her roughly she could let out some questionable cries, which he didn’t want to have to explain to his children. What’s more, if he messed things up at the start and Miss Burns’ first experience was a bad one, she wouldn’t take to sharing his bed from then on.
“Miss Burns will have her own room until we’re better acquainted,” he said, having made that hasty decision. “I haven’t had a chance to court her properly, so she’ll need time to get to know me. You’ll understand better when you’re grown.”
Alice placed her hand on the back of his seat, and said, “I don’t understand why any woman would want to share a room with a man. They snore, most of them smell bad, and they look at women funny.”
Weldon glanced over his shoulder at his sister and said, with an officious air, “They have to share a room to make babies. Everyone knows that.”
Alice pursed her lips. “What do you know about making babies?”
“I know everything,” Weldon said. He looked up at his father. “Are you and Miss Burns going to make a baby, Pa?”
Adam clenched his jaws. The conversation had drifted into shaky territory. Not only was Weldon becoming aware of changes taking place in his body, but Alice was quickly approaching womanhood, and Trudy was involved with a young buck who was primed for procreation and she wasn’t fighting him off.
“Miss Burns and I will make that decision together,” he said, “after we’re man and wife.” Until now, Adam hadn’t given much thought to extending the family, but the woman was young, so she’d naturally want children of her own.
As for getting to know each other… Miss Burns would probably want some time. For him, a warm female body in his bed every night would take care of his problem just fine. All he’d expect of her, beyond that basic need, would be to monitor the children. If she turned out to be more, that would be all right too. In any event, she’d have no cause to complain. He had enough staff at the ranch to keep her comfortable while she managed the children’s needs and monitored who they were with. At least, with a mother keeping a close watch, Trudy wouldn’t be able to slip off with Tom again.
“Where are we going now, Father?” Alice asked.
“To the old Sentinel building to pick up your new mother,” Adam replied, then clucked his tongue and set the horse heading down the street at a fast clip.
In the dim light filtering through several murky windows, Priscilla scanned the interior of the building, her eyes taking in floors strewn with mouse droppings, and time-worn walls where patches of plaster cracked and fell away, and a door hanging askew. The type cases were busted with ems scattered everywhere, tables and stools were in need of repair, and although the old Albion printing press stood in the middle of the room, its wood frame and platens were split and rotting from dampness, and the iron screw and other iron parts were so rusty the press was sure to be inoperable.
Although she brought her father’s Washington press and printing equipment with her from Missouri, when she offered to hire the brides she intended on selling the Albion and other equipment to cover the added expenses involved in housing them. She had a moderate inheritance from her parents, and had factored in money for hiring two typesetters, a compositor, and a printer’s devil, but she hadn’t expected them to be women in need of a place to stay, which meant housing them there until they could afford to move into a boarding house.
She looked at the stairway leading to what would be their living quarters. If downstairs was any indication, she didn’t look forward to what was up there. Jim was good with plaster, and he could paint the walls and fix the door and just about anything else that needed fixing, but first, the place would have to be cleared of the old press and broken equipment, and the type cases would have to be repaired.
The sound of heavy footfalls on the porch outside caught her attention. Before she could react, the door swept open and a man’s large frame filled the doorway. “I’m Adam Whittington and I’ve come for my bride,” the man announced in a voice smacking of well-established British aristocracy.
Priscilla felt a little flutter in her chest as she stared at the man. Tall and powerfully built, with a crop of untrimmed brown hair, penetrating brown eyes, and a shirt that stretched across his broad shoulders and thick chest, the man was more muscular than she expected. His face was also bronze from the sun, like he spent time outside more than the usual British cattle baron. “The brides aren’t here” she said.
A glint of impatience flashed in the man’s eyes. “Then if you’ll direct me to wherever they are, I’d like to collect my bride and be on my way.”
Priscilla’s heart thumped in dismay. The set to the man’s jaw and the firm line of his mouth told her he was used to having his way. Bracing herself for his reaction to her announcement, she said, “Well, the fact is, Lord Whittington, Miss Burns has decided not to marry you. She’s working for me now. When the bank opens in the morning, I’ll give you a bank draft reimbursing you for the cost of expenses for her journey, and that will terminate her contract with you.”
The man stood looking at her, hands clenched at his sides. “Where is she?”
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Priscilla replied, “but the termination agreement in her contract with you was quite clear. Upon reimbursement of expenses, she’d be released from the contract. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
“Bloody hell you do! I contracted for a wife, and that’s what I intend to have. Now, I’ll ask one more time. Where is Mary Kate Burns?”
The apprehension Priscilla felt moments before was replaced by anger. She wouldn’t be intimidated by the man, even if he did own half the territory. “Like I said, I’m not at liberty to tell you where Miss Burns is, but if she were here to observe your rude and truculent behavior, and she had not yet changed her mind about marrying you, she’d certainly do so now.”
Before Priscilla could press her demand for Lord Whittington to leave, the second of the four men she was expecting stepped up to the open doorway. He removed his hat, revealing a balding head ringed by mouse-gray hair. “I’m Clayton Rathborn,” he said, “and I’ve come to fetch Miss Johnson. I’ve got the wagon outside for her things.”
Priscilla recognized the man from a photograph he’d sent to Libby Johnson. With his ruddy complexion and pockmarked face, he was even less attractive than in his photograph. She backed around behind the old printing press, wanting to put something solid between her and both men as she said, “Well, you see, Mr. Rathborn, the fact is…” she paused to take a breath to settle the erratic beating of her heart…
“Let me guess,” Lord Whittington cut in. “Miss Johnson has decided to renege on her contract. Right?”
“It was her decision,” Priscilla said. “You will both be reimbursed for travelling expenses, and that’s all there is to it.”
Lord Whittington stepped around the press and gazed down at Priscilla. “No, Miss Phipps, that is not all there is to it. I contracted in good faith to take Miss Burns as my wife, and I expect her to honor our contract.”
Priscilla propped her hands on her hips, held the man’s caustic gaze, and said, “You’re not bargaining for a mule, Lord Whittington, you’re contracting for a woman to share your life, and your bed, and bear your children. For them, the prospect of finding love with the men they marry is important. There’s nothing more to be said. You’ll both receive your bank drafts when the bank opens in the morning. Good evening gentlemen.” She stood firm, waiting for the men to leave.
To her dismay, the third of the four men appeared. From his mutton chop whiskers and mustachio she knew it was Jethro Bottoms, Abigail Chandler’s intended. Before he could speak, Priscilla said, “Mr. Bottoms, Miss Chandler has changed her mind and she will be reimbursing you for expenses and terminating your marriage agreement—”
“The hell she is!” Jethro Bottoms shouted. “I’ve waited three months for the damn woman and I’m not going home without her. Where is she?” He started up the stairs.
Priscilla called after him. “She’s not in this building, and if you decide to cause trouble, you’ll find yourself sitting somewhere you won’t wish to be.”
Spittle spewed from the man’s mouth as he said, “Are you threatening to have me arrested if I make a claim on my bride?”
Priscilla glared at the man. “Yes, Mr. Bottoms, I’m doing precisely that!”
Veins standing out in his neck, he said, “You haven’t seen the last of me. I have two young’uns needing lookin’ after, chickens to feed, a cow that needs milkin’, a cabin that needs cleanin’ and a garden that needs plantin’. And I just paid ten dollars for a new feather mattress. There will be a woman in my bed before the week is out!”
“That may be,” Priscilla said, “but Miss Chandler will not be that woman. Meanwhile, I suggest you start looking for a child-minder, a farm hand, and a mistress. You are no bargain as a husband.”
Jethro Bottoms mumbled a string of expletives under his breath, shoved his way between Lord Whittington and Clayton Rathborn, and stormed out the door. When the other two men didn’t budge, Priscilla said in a firm tone, “Good evening gentlemen. I’ll be at the bank promptly when it opens, and if either of you know Mr. Frank Gundy, please inform him that Miss Edith Hogan will also be working for me, and he too can be at the bank when it opens.”
Clayton Rathborn shoved his hat on his head and stomped out, but Lord Whittington remained. “Is there something more that you want?” Priscilla asked.
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is.” Lord Whittington scanned the room, and as his gaze made a slow zigzag path across the floor, Priscilla knew he was sizing up the broken type trays and limitless little lead blocks of type scattered across the warped wood floor boards. Then his eyes came to rest on the old Albion press. “If you intend to start another newspaper in Cheyenne you’ll find your competitors very unfriendly,” he said, his voice holding a hint of warning.
“I’m not worried about unfriendly men,” Priscilla replied. “The world is filled with them.”
Lord Whittington placed his hand on the bar of the old press and gave it a shove, but the giant screw, locked from rust and disuse, refused to turn. A look of satisfaction crossed his face. “Running a newspaper isn’t something a woman can manage on her own.” His eyes flitted over her. “I assume you’re on your own.”
“And why would you assume that?” Priscilla asked. “Is it because I’m a rather plain-looking maiden lady well past my prime, or because you believe a woman without a man is incapable of pursuing a man’s profession, even if that profession is suitable for a woman?”
He eyed her with irritation. “I believe women are capable of running certain businesses, but running a newspaper is a dangerous business. Not only does it take physical strength, but it’s common for editors to lash out at each other in back-alley terms, disputes often ending with knives or bullets.”
“I’m aware of the dangers,” Priscilla countered. “I grew up helping my father run his newspaper. Granted, it was a small-town paper, but we faced the same criticism and threats larger papers face.”
A puzzled frown crept across Lord Whittington’s brow. “Then you actually do intend to start a newspaper?” he asked. Plainly he hadn’t taken her seriously until now.
Priscilla ratcheted her chin up a notch. “That is precisely why I bought this building and moved here.”
“But Cheyenne already has several newspapers,” Lord Whittington countered, “and they will not look favorably on yet another paper starting up.”
“If you’re referring to the Cheyenne Daily Leader and the Cheyenne Daily Sun, I’m familiar with both papers,” Priscilla said. “It’s my understanding that they serve the interests of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, which makes me curious. Why would you think a mere woman starting a small paper would be in danger here?”
He gave her a look of tolerant understanding. “It’s not that you’re a woman,” he said. “It’s anyone starting a newspaper, but a woman is naturally more vulnerable than a man.”
“I don’t feel vulnerable in the least,” Priscilla said. “After all, Miss Abigail Scott Duniway established The New Northwest in Portland, Oregon and has made a success of it without being threatened, as did Miss Laura DeForce with the Daily Leader down in Stockton, California. And not far from here, Gertrude and Laura Huntington have the Platte Valley Lyre. But I don’t believe you fear for my safety. I think you have other concerns. Perhaps an ax to grind because women are starting to infiltrate a field dominated by men. Or maybe you’re concerned I might penetrate your association’s publishing empire and steal their subscribers and advertisers.”
To her surprise, the hard line of Lord Whittington’s mouth softened with a half-smile, which had the odd effect of bringing heat rushing up Priscilla’s face to settle in her cheeks like hundreds of tiny hot prickles. The corner of his mouth tipped up further, as he replied, “Not if that’s the press you intend to use.”
“It isn’t,” Priscilla assured him. “I have my own press. I expect to have it in operation before the week is done. My newspaper will be called The Town Tattler, and I invite you and the other members of your cattlemen’s association to become subscribers. After all, it’s always good business to know what your opponents are about.”
An amused glimmer came into the man’s eyes. “And in what way do you believe your paper to be a threat to the Cheyenne Daily Leader or the Cheyenne Daily Sun?” he asked.
Priscilla bristled at his condescending manner. “Because there’s an excellent chance The Town Tattler may be in opposition to them. I travelled across the country with homesteaders who believe you cattlemen want them driven out of the territory.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lord Whittington said. He glanced at the old press again. “And the brides you’ve taken possession of? Will they be operating the press you brought along?”
“No, I have a pressman who’s well trained in its operation. The women will be setting type, something women, with their smaller more nimble fingers, are more adept at doing than men. Now, as you can see,” Priscilla said, spreading her arms as if to encompass the entire room, “I have a lot of work ahead of me before we can move my equipment into the building, so I ask that you leave now so I can begin the task.”
Lord Whittington turned and stepped onto the porch of the building, but as Priscilla was about to close the door, he braced his hand against it, and said, “Tell Miss Burns I expect to hear directly from her that she wants to break our contract. She will not find a better arrangement than what I offer. My ranch house is large and comfortable, and my house on 17th Street is suited for entertaining, with double parlors and a dining room that can accommodate large dinner parties. It also has an impressive library, master suites on both the ground and second floors, and five other bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, along with servants to see to running the house.”
As he waited for her response, it came to Priscilla that Lord Whittington was actually a very nice looking man, handsome in fact, and if it weren’t for his advanced age, which really wasn’t all that advanced, he might be an acceptable husband for Mary Kate. Now that she was standing closer to him, his shoulders looked even broader than when he entered the building, and the hard line of his mouth had relaxed some, making him seem approachable…
Actually, if truth be known, he had an… interesting mouth…
For a long, absent moment she imagined herself in the grand house he’d talked about, sitting on a bed covered in silk sheets, with a light wrapper draped around her shoulders. Lord Whittington would walk in and push the wrapper aside and kiss her shoulder, and the wrapper would drop away and she’d be wearing nothing under it…
Her breath quickened, and her heart started a staccato beat.
Steeling herself from such outrageous notions, she said, “You present a tempting offer for many women, but I’m afraid Mary Kate Burns has made her decision. Good evening.” Priscilla shut the door with more force than intended, but the man set her on edge, caused her to have thoughts no decent woman should have, least of all a spinster nearing forty who’d never had intimate relations with a man in her life. Who’d never even kissed a man. But when she stood looking at Lord Whittington she’d felt an almost uncontainable urge to reach out and touch him…
Along with a pressing need to remove him from her presence, which she’d done in no uncertain terms. Tomorrow she’d face the ramification of her brash action in shutting the door in his face. For now, she fanned herself with her hand, wondering what was coming over her.
‘She prides herself on her father and glories
in him, everybody saying she also resembles him.’
— Venetian ambassador Giovanni Michiel
about Queen Elizabeth, in 1557
Priscilla glanced in a mirror hanging askew on the wall of one of the upstairs bedrooms and saw an older version of the red-headed schoolgirl who’d fancied herself descended from Good Queen Bess. It started when Priscilla found a color plate of Queen Elizabeth in a history book, the color of the queen’s hair catching her attention. She’d gone on to read that Elizabeth had King Henry’s pale complexion, golden eyelashes, and curly copper-red hair, and she had Anne Boleyn’s oblong face and almond-shaped eyes, but unlike Anne Boleyn’s clear, unmarred complexion, Elizabeth had a plethora of unsightly freckles on her pale skin.
Priscilla leaned closer and peered into her eyes. Like Elizabeth’s, the color was difficult to describe. Elizabeth’s had been depicted as hazel by some, golden-brown by others, and even agate-grey in one account, but it was said the varying effects were produced by the combination of her large black pupils and light falling across the irises, the unusual color being a cross between Anne Boleyn’s dark brown eyes, and Henry’s piercing blue ones.
As Priscilla studied her reflection, the color plate came back in vivid detail. It had depicted Queen Elizabeth in her late thirties, the age Priscilla was now, and the likeness was even more striking than when Priscilla was a girl of fourteen with only a hint of the woman she would become. But when she was fourteen, her resemblance to the queen served her well. Back then she’d been teased mercilessly by her schoolmates about her appearance, until she announced one day that she was a descendant of Queen Elizabeth, and produced the color plate to prove it. Although her schoolmates never accepted her as one of them, after that they let her be.
Priscilla turned from the mirror. Sharing a likeness with a woman who lived in the 16th century did nothing for her now, but having the bank manager prepare bank drafts for the disgruntle men would at least bring finality to that matter.
An hour later, she met with the manager of the bank, who informed her that her funds from their eastern branch had arrived and her account was set up. She had the man prepare bank drafts for Clayton Rathborn, Jethro Bottoms, and Adam Whittington. Frank Gundy had still not approached her about Edith Hogan, but she’d be ready for him when he did. With the bank drafts prepared, and the women’s contracts for the men to sign clasped in her hands, Priscilla waited in the lobby of the bank for the men to arrive.
The women spent the night in a boarding house on the outskirts of town, but as soon as she was finished at the bank she’d collect them and they’d spend the day cleaning the upstairs living quarters of her building where the women would be staying until they could accumulate enough money to return to the boarding house. Thankfully, her building was located in the center of town, so they could walk to most stores, but she would get around town on her Rover, which she’d purchased just before leaving Missouri. She had only ridden the new safety bicycle a few times, but she’d mastered pedaling and steering in one afternoon. It was a marvel of design. If the women of Cheyenne were not yet aware of the personal freedom and self-reliance bicycling embodied, they’d learn about it in an editorial in the first issue of The Town Tattler.
Before long, Jethro Bottoms and Clayton Rathborn arrived, spiteful and bad-tempered and grumbling about meddlesome old maids and fickle mail-order brides. They begrudgingly signed the contracts and stormed out. After an hour, when Lord Whittington had still not shown up, Priscilla left the bank to look into renting a buckboard and horse.
Two hours later, driving a vehicle piled high with cleaning supplies, new mattress pads, bolts of cloth and bundles of bed linens, and accompanied by four women who were chattering enthusiastically, Priscilla pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the old Sentinel building. The notice she’d posted on the mercantile remained there, but Frank Gundy had not come forward to claim Edith, so they had no idea where things stood.
By early afternoon they’d cleared the upstairs rooms—most of them filled with boxes of papers the mice used for nests, along with some broken chairs and other discarded furniture. After the floor boards had been thoroughly scrubbed and were dry, Priscilla and the women stashed their trunks along one wall, placed the mattress pads on the floors of two rooms, and cut and tacked panels of new yard goods over the windows for privacy. While each woman made up her bed, Priscilla prepared a dressing table out of a discarded dresser and hung the mirror over it, then fashioned a wash stand from a worn, but attractive table, and placed her own china pitcher and bowl on top. She intended to live there permanently, so after the press room would be set up and the women settled in the boarding house, she’d look into renovating the upstairs into comfortable living quarters for herself. One of the advantages of remaining unmarried was the luxury of living and doing exactly as she pleased.
Meanwhile, Jim Jackson, her pressman, was downstairs clearing out the old equipment in preparation for patching the plaster, painting the walls, and fixing the door that hung askew. After that, the women would clean and wax the floors, at which time Jim would bring in the printing press, the bundles of Ready Print, and the many cases filled with type, type sticks, and other printing equipment Priscilla had hauled west in the covered wagon.
It was late afternoon and the women were on their hands scrubbing the floor, while Priscilla and Jim stood in the main room discussing what needed to be done, when the front door slowly opened and a man poked his head inside.
“May I help you?” Priscilla asked.
The door opened wide and the man’s tall, solid frame filled the doorway. “I’m Frank Gundy Jr.,” he said. “I’m looking for Miss Priscilla Phipps. The notice said she’d be here.”
Priscilla studied the man, who looked to be in his late teens or early twenties at best. She had expected Frank Gundy to be older. In his letter to Edith he mentioned having children. “Then you’re here about Miss Hogan,” she said.
“Yes ma’am,” Frank replied. “That is, I’m here for my Pa. He’s having a problem with one of his mules and couldn’t come, so he sent me to fetch Miss Edith Hogan. Is she here?”
Edith stood, appreciation in her eyes, a shy smile on her lips. “I’m Edith Hogan,” she said.
The two stared at each other. When neither spoke, Priscilla took the moment to explain the situation and assure the man that a bank draft, made out to his father, would be waiting at the bank.
Young Frank Gundy looked at Priscilla, as if at a loss for words. Then he shifted his gaze to Edith, and said, “Ma’am, my Pa won’t be happy about this. He’s been waiting a long while for you and he has the place fixed up for your arrival. There’s fresh bedding on Pa’s bed and a bath tub by the stove so you can bathe. Pa even took a bath this morning and shaved fresh so he’d be clean when he and you… that is, when you are… together as husband and wife.”
Edith stared at Frank, wide-eyed. When she said nothing, Frank continued. “My Pa’s a good man, Miss Hogan. He never once hit Ma, and the farm’s in fine shape so there aren’t many chores that need doing. Pa just wants a wife for tidying the house and keeping him company at night and fixing his meals and sharing his bed.”
Edith finally found her voice. “Mr. Gundy, please tell your father I appreciate his offer to have me as his wife, but I’m looking for someone considerably younger. In fact, I’m prepared to join the right man in securing a homestead and being a help mate in starting a farm. I’m not afraid of hard work.” Her lips curved slightly and she added, “Perhaps we’ll meet again in the near future. I’ll be here working for Miss Phipps.”
Frank’s smile reflected as tiny points of light in his eyes. Then he turned to Priscilla, and said, “I’ll give my pa your message about the bank draft.” He looked at Edith, smiled again, and left. Edith stepped to the window and watched him walk away.
Abigail started giggling. “I don’t know why you didn’t jump at the chance to bed a man who was scrubbed clean and shaved and waiting for you to join him, never mind that he was old enough to be your pa. Actually, young Frank was a looker. Maybe you could just add junior to the name on the agreement and marry him instead.”
Edith turned to Priscilla. “Could I? I mean, would it be legal if Frank Jr. agreed?”
“You shouldn’t rush into marriage,” Priscilla said. “Marriage is for life, and you’ve been given a chance to have a man court you first so you can decide if he’s truly the man for you.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Edith replied. “I just don’t want to be a burden here, beyond paying off my traveling expenses.”
“You’re certainly no burden,” Priscilla assured her. “I need all four of you women right now. Unlike the tramp type-slingers who roam from newspaper to newspaper, women typesetters and compositors are trustworthy and dependable and they don’t stash bottles of whiskey. If I can hold onto the four of you until the paper gets going, it’ll go a long way in insuring its success.”
Edith’s brows pinched together and her mouth drooped. “Yes, ma’am, I suppose you’re right. But I liked young Frank Gundy. I liked how he was polite, and that he talked about how good his pa was, not as a husband for me, but just to let me know he was thinking about my well-being.”
Abigail picked up her scrub brush and started in again. “There are hundreds of eligible young men in this city,” she said, “but if you’re set on getting to know young Frank Gundy, then going to church on Sunday would be a start. I’d wager he’ll be there.”
Edith smiled. “Yes, church,” she said, then she dropped to her hands and knees and continued scrubbing, a cheerful little tune emanating from her throat, a smile fixed on her lips.
From his stance across the street, Adam watched a big Negro paint a band of brick red over the words, CHEYENNE SENTINEL, that were scrawled across the face of the old building. The man stood on the porch roof, a bucket of paint in one hand, a brush in the other. On the porch beneath the roof rose a mound of trash, printing equipment, and discarded pasteboard boxes. He’d seen several women, along with Miss Priscilla Phipps, step out of the building on occasion to toss rubbish onto the growing pile.
He hadn’t yet gone to the bank to pick up the bank draft because he still hadn’t given up hope in collecting his bride. He needed a mother for his children, and he needed her fast. He’d caught Tom Rafferty throwing dirt clods at Trudy’s bedroom window at the ranch the night before, and he was certain Trudy intended to sneak out with him for a short encounter. But if he could talk Mary Kate Burns into marrying him, he’d install her and the children in the house on 17th Street. With Trudy and Tom miles apart, it wouldn’t be long before the young buck would find other pastures in which to graze.
As for Mary Kate, he’d stay with her a few nights a week, which should work for both of them since there was no love between them. Taking a last look at the photograph she’d sent to him, he headed across the street, certain she’d been one of the women who’d stepped onto the porch earlier. Seeing the door ajar, he walked into the building unannounced and stood just inside the doorway. Four heads turned his way. “I’m Adam Whittington, and I’m looking for Miss Mary Kate Burns,” he said. “I believe she’s here.”
To his annoyance, Priscilla Phipps emerged from the back room. “I told you yesterday, Lord Whittington, that Miss Burns will not be marrying you. The bank draft and papers for you to sign are at the bank. Now please go. As you see, we’re very busy.”
“I don’t care how busy you are,” Adam replied, “I’ve come to hear it directly from Miss Burns.” He looked around the room. “Which of you is Miss Burns?”
“I’m Mary Kate Burns,” a small, slender woman said, her wide blue eyes the image of youthful innocence. She stood slowly from her crouched position, the top of her pigtailed blond head coming about mid-chest to him, making her seem younger yet.
Bloody hell. He’d be marrying a child. And to bed the woman… He probably wouldn’t even be able to function as a man. He pulled the photograph from his pocket and glanced at it again. It was the same woman alright, but with her gloved hand on the back of a chair, and wearing a hat and fashionable gown, she looked ten years older in the photo. But she wasn’t ten years older. She was four years older than Trudy, and there was no way Trudy or the other children would look on her as a mother figure.
He handed her the photograph. “Miss Burns,” he said, “if you’re certain you’d like to get out of the marriage agreement then I’ll release you from it.”
“I think it would be best,” Mary Kate said, “You have three nearly-grown children and I don’t feel prepared to seeing to their needs. I’m sorry for whatever trouble I caused you and your family.”
Adam shrugged. “We will survive.” He looked at Priscilla Phipps standing in the doorway to the back room, wondering, for the first time, what she’d be like in bed. She was certainly of a better age to mother his children, but as a spinster woman she’d probably never had a man in her bed, which could make things unpredictable, and she wasn’t much to look on, with her carrot-red hair a tangle of curls and cobwebs, her freckled face smudged with dirt, her eyes rimmed in blond lashes, and her figure—he scanned the length of her—at least she was curved in all the right places. Very nicely so. And from the rise and fall of her ample bosom, he knew her breath had quickened from his perusal. Maybe she’d be passionate in bed, once they got through the deflowering. He’d never taken a virgin before, much less one nearing forty…
“Lord Whittington? Is there something else you want?” Miss Phipps asked, while drawing his eyes to her face, which he noted was flushed a rosy pink. There was also the hint of prurient sparks in her eyes. And her lips were parted. Full moist lips that looked oddly inviting.
What the devil! He was mooning over a homely spinster with aspirations of starting a newspaper in a field dominated by men! The only thing going for her as a wife was she was curved in all the right places and would undoubtedly be able to hold Trudy in check. “No, Miss Phipps,” he said. “We are done. I’ll go to the bank and take care of the agreement. Good day.”
He turned abruptly and left.
When the door closed behind him, Priscilla could barely catch her breath. She fanned her face. Lordy, lordy, the man did nothing but look at her. But when his gaze moved down her chest she could feel it, warm and tingly, like fingers touching her there. Touching her where no man had ever touched, and he had not even laid a hand on her…
“Miss Priscilla? Are you alright?” Abigail’s voice seemed to come from out of nowhere. “You look like you just ran a mile. Maybe you should sit down.”
Edith giggled. “She’s just reacting to Lord Whittington. You saw the way he looked at her, eyeing her like she was on the auction block and he was about to make an offer.”
“I am not reacting to Lord Whittington,” Priscilla snapped, the sound of his name on her lips bringing prickles of heat moving down to settle low in her belly. Well, actually even lower. She breathed deeply to quell the aberrant reaction, and it came to her that if Lord Whittington so much as touched her, she was certain she’d need smelling salts to keep from swooning…
“Had you ever thought of marrying?” Abigail asked.
Priscilla looked at Abigail with a start. “Why on earth would you ask that question now? Certainly you don’t have thoughts of me and Lord Whittington?”
“No, I was just wondering. Have you?”
Priscilla hated answering that question. She’d thought about it most of her life, but her carrot red hair didn’t have the deep rich tones of the heroines in her Dime Novels, and her blond brows and lashes seemed to draw attention to her red-rimmed eyes, and she had the kind of skin red-heads hated—soft and smooth, but so white and freckled she looked like a ghost with mud splatters on its face. Men just didn’t take to women who looked like her.
“Miss Priscilla? I didn’t mean to get personal,” Abigail said, “I know you must have had offers from men. Just seeing the way Lord Whittington looked at you says that much. I was just wondering why you didn’t ever get hitched.”
“I might have considered it a long time ago,” Priscilla replied, even though no man had asked for her hand, “but ever since I began reading the writings of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony I’ve come to realize marriage is a man-made institution, inherently unjust to wives, and with this injustice, entered into with the sanction of church and state, husbands are given complete authority over their wives.”
Abigail looked at her, bafflement on her brow. “I never thought of it that way,” she said. “I guess it’s good I didn’t go ahead with the marriage.”
Edith stopped scrubbing and looked up. “That may be how you look at it but I want to find a good man and settle down and let him take care of me so I can concentrate on keeping house and raising the young’uns. The job here will be fine for a while, Miss Priscilla, but I still want to get to know young Frank Gundy.” She started moving the brush again.
Priscilla stared at the covey of young women on hands and knees scrubbing the floor and was tempted to tell them a few sordid tales as a warning, but refrained. Perhaps they’d find good men who’d love and cherish them and want only the best for them. Then on the other hand, they could end up like so many others, which was precisely why The Town Tattler would have a column devoted to the suffrage movement.
Feeling a renewed sense of purpose, she picked up a scrub brush and joined the women on the floor.
Adam found himself again standing across the street from the old Sentinel building, but now the freshly painted facade displayed block letters announcing THE TOWN TATTLER. In only five days the place looked functional, and the mound of rubbish that had collected out front was gone. He never would have imagined the place could be ready for business in just a week. However, Priscilla Phipps came west with a wagon train of homesteaders, and her paper was potentially a rabble-rousing voice against cattlemen. That being the case, he was anxious to learn what printing equipment she owned. So here he was, heading across the street in a beeline.
Although he told himself he wanted to look at her equipment, who was he fooling? He wanted to see the plain, unadorned spinster lady running the place. Something about the woman had taken hold of him and burrowed under his skin like a wood tick that refused to let go.
When he entered the building, he found her struggling with a crowbar to wedge open a large wooden crate, which he assumed held her printing press. She stopped and eyed him guardedly while waiting for him to announce his reason for being there.
Glancing around the large room, he was surprised to find the plaster walls patched and freshly painted and the scrubbed floors holding a waxy sheen. Then he settled his gaze on Priscilla Phipps. The unembellished brown dress she wore draped over her shapely body in a way that indicated she wore no corset. Although it covered her completely, the effect it had on him was unexpected. Her small waist, softened by the lack of whalebone, made him want to wrap his hands around it, and the sight of her full breasts, unhampered by bones or other stays, caused things to happen below his waist, something he didn’t need right now.
Focusing on her face, he said, “I thought I’d stop by to see how things were going.”
Wariness creeping into her eyes, she replied, “Things are proceeding as planned.”
Eyeing the crowbar clutched in her hand, he said, “You had your hands full opening the crate when I came in. Where is your pressman?”
“He injured his wrist while moving the crate in,” Priscilla explained. “The press is very heavy, but I can manage fine on my own.” She jammed the crowbar into the crack between the boards again, attempting to wedge them apart, but the boards held fast.
Adam walked up and took the crow bar from her hand. “It takes more muscle,” he informed her. “Like I said, printing’s a man’s business.” He shoved the bar between the boards and wedged them apart, then quickly ripped the boards off the wooden base, dismantling the crate. He set the crowbar aside and offered a smile.
She didn’t smile back. Instead she stared at him, lips compressed, enlarged pupils leaving narrow rims of olive green. Or was it golden brown? Her eyes seemed changeable.
“If you’re trying to validate a point,” Priscilla said, “you’ve only proved I’m not very good with a crowbar, but since I’m not in the crating and shipping business that’s of no importance.” She gathered the slats of wood scattered about the floor and started stacking them by the pot-bellied stove, which was positioned against one wall.
Adam tipped the old Washington press first to one side, then the other, while retrieving the wood slats trapped beneath its four paw-like feet. Seeing the outdated thing, with its hand cranks and levers, he had to stifle a laugh. At best, she’d be able to pull two-hundred sheets an hour, one side at a time, and the sheets would have to be run through a second time in order to print the reverse side. If she and her pressman worked around the clock, seven days a week, they still couldn’t begin to keep up with their competitors, but he admired her grit and determination, even though her newspaper was bound to fail. “The press looks like it’s been well cared for,” he volunteered, a gesture intended to underscore good will.
“My father was meticulous about his printing equipment,” Priscilla replied. “After he died, my pressman, my mother, and I carried on as he would have wanted us to.”
“You must not have had many subscribers then,” Adam said. “You couldn’t have pulled many copies a day.”
“We were in the process of building up our numbers when my mother passed away from pneumonia,” Priscilla replied, “but since our newspaper was a weekly publication, as will be The Town Tattler, there was no pressure to get it out every day.”
“So, what you plan is a weekly,” Adam mused. How much trouble could that cause? Not much, he surmised. Satisfied this homely snip of a woman with her outdated equipment posed no threat to the cattle industry, he said, magnanimously, “Tell me where you want the press and I’ll move it in place.”
Priscilla’s lips parted as if to protest, then she blinked several times, and replied, “If you could move it a little to the left and square it with the wall, that would be appreciated.”
Adam promptly complied. “Is there anything else I can do while I’m here?” He turned and found her standing directly behind him. As he waited for her response, he noted a confusion of cobwebs in her hair.
Reaching into the tangle of tresses, he said, while taking in the scent of lilac wafting from her, “You have collected yet more cobwebs in your curly red hair. The last time I was here I was certain you had already gathered the bulk of them.”
Priscilla’s hand came up, trapping Adam’s hand beneath hers. Eyes wide, nostrils flaring with her quickened breaths, she removed her hand at once and pressed it to her chest, seeming to be struggling for air.
Fearing she might swoon, Adam took her by the arms and said, “Are you all right? You look a little winded. Perhaps you’ve been trying to do too much too soon.” Her arms were well-muscled, he noted—a woman without a man to do her heavy work. Which explained why she looked so fit for a woman approaching middle age.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Priscilla replied. “With my pressman disabled I’m entirely on my own to put things in order.” She lowered her hand from her chest, drawing his attention to the rise and fall of her ample, uncorsetted bosom and the way the front of her dress stretched with each breath, causing his trousers to become tight. Again.
What in hell was coming over him, responding to this woman like a pubescent boy aroused by the sight of the pointy tips of budding breasts pressing against a dress. He looked up to find her staring at that part of him, eyes wide with something akin to panic. Realizing she feared she was in danger of losing her virginity to a potential rapist, he stepped back some and said, “I apologize for removing the cobwebs from your hair. I had no right to approach you in that way.”
Priscilla’s darkened pupils diminished, and the worry of moments before dissipated, as she said, “I’m afraid my hair’s a blessing, and a curse. A blessing because I don’t need to fuss with curling irons, and a curse because the curls collect anything they come in contact with.”
Adam scanned the tangle of tresses, cobwebs trapped in some, others springing free to frame her face. “You’re right,” he said. “Along with the cobwebs are tiny pieces of debris.” Fighting the urge to pick the pieces out one at a time, he said, “From whom did you inherit your very red hair? Your mother or your father?”
Priscilla combed her fingers through her hair, dislodging tiny pieces of rubbish and sending a tortoise comb askew. “Red hair has come down through my father’s line, presumably since Tudor times,” she replied. “The carrot color is also a curse, as you can imagine, but it’s what God gave me so I accept it, though I sometimes wonder why He was angry with me to do so.”
Until now, Adam thought carrot red hair as unattractive as the pale, freckle-faced women who seemed to be burdened with it. Oddly, it didn’t seem as unsightly as before. “Why do you believe red hair to be a curse?” he asked.
Priscilla’s eyes rolled upward, as if trying to see her own hair, as she replied, “Because men turn from women with bright red hair, afraid perhaps if they were to marry them they’d beget a brood of freckle-faced children with the same. But if God appeared right now and asked if I’d like Him to change the color of my hair and make my freckles vanish, I’d smile and assure Him He has, in fact, blessed me. Because of my hair, and the unappealing way I look, I’ve become a self-supporting woman. In fact, I believe it was God’s plan for me to live my life completely independent of a man.”
“Except when you need one to tear apart the crate containing your press,” Adam reminded her, with a smile. To his surprise, she smiled back, revealing a set of the most perfect white teeth he’d ever seen, and they were framed by a pair of well-defined lips that begged to be kissed, though he wondered if she’d ever been kissed before. From the way she talked there was a distinct possibility she had not. The thought of being the first was oddly appealing…
Unthinkingly he leaned toward her…
She quickly stepped backwards, tripping over a box and landing with a thud on her backside, sending her skirt flaring up to her knees. Adam crouched beside her. “Are you all right?” he asked, eyes roaming over a pair of well-shaped calves and slender ankles devoid of stockings. Impulsively, he raised his hand to touch the smooth white flesh, then caught himself and reached for the hem of her skirt instead, drawing it down to cover her legs.
She seemed at a loss for words, and he had to remind himself that Miss Priscilla Phipps was probably as innocent of the ways of men as a girl half her age. She had all but admitted there had been no men in her life because of her unappealing looks, which he was actually beginning to find quite pleasing, in a peculiar sort of way.
I’m fine,” she said, after a few moments. “Clumsiness is also one of my curses. God did have fun putting me together, but then, I guess even He is in need of some amusement at times.”
Adam stood and extended his hand. Priscilla grasped it, and after pulling her to stand in front of him, he looked into her eyes and said with all sincerity, “And I believe God did man a great service when he put you together, Miss Phipps.” His eyes drifted downward to her breasts. “A fine job indeed.” Realizing where his gaze had strayed, he looked up.
Face flushed, Priscilla said, “What you’re referring to are the only things God did right by me. Now if you’ll excuse me, Lord Whittington, I ask that you leave because—” her eyes darted to his crotch and shot back up “—God is also creating a problem for you that is inappropriate while in the presence of a woman who is not your wife. Good day.”
Adam gave her a little nod, and said, “Your point is well taken. Good Day, Miss Phipps.” He turned and left, wondering what the devil was coming over him. He’d bedded many strikingly beautiful women over the years, but as he headed toward his buggy, he realized a homely spinster woman, well past her prime, was affecting him unlike any woman ever had. It was a strange and perplexing conundrum that the one woman who shattered all the standards he’d ever set for his next wife, would catch his interest.
Abigail, Libby, Edith and Mary Kate came bursting into the building, faces flushed with excitement. “There’s going to be a picnic social after church next Sunday,” Abigail announced, “and all the single women for miles around will be coming with picnic baskets for the single men to bid on. It’s to raise funds for the church, and I’m going to pack the best picnic basket there.”
Edith pursed her lips. “What if Mr. Bottoms bids on it?”
Abigail’s face fell. “Surely he wouldn’t. He knows he’d be wasting his money.”
Edith shrugged. “I hope you’re right. All I know is, young Frank Gundy better bid on my basket because if he doesn’t, I’m going to feign illness and leave.”
Libby rolled her eyes. “There will be hundreds of other eligible young men there, Edith. You don’t have to settle for young Frank Gundy.”
“I’m not settling for him,” Edith said. “I want to get to know him, and this is the best way I can think how.” She looked at Priscilla. “You need to go too, Miss Priscilla. There might be a nice older man willing to spend time with you, and who knows, he could be all the things you’re looking for in a husband.”
“I’m not looking for a husband,” Priscilla assured her. “I have enough to keep me busy with the newspaper without complicating my life with a man. Besides, it would be embarrassing if no man bid on my basket.”
“Of course someone would bid,” Edith said. “You are a very… nice woman. Many men would like to have lunch with you.”
“Yes, but they’d be men like Jethro Bottoms, and Clayton Rathborn, and… Lord Whittington.” Priscilla’s face flushed and she couldn’t disguise the smile twitching the corners of her mouth.
Edith clapped her hands in delight. “You’re going to the picnic, Miss Priscilla, and you will bring a basket, and the four of us are going to fix you up so even you will be amazed at the way you look when we’re finished.”
Before Priscilla could protest, the women rushed up the stairs, chattering excitedly about the prospect of fixing up Miss Priscilla. Which seemed pointless. She didn’t want a man running her life. With a nice nest egg in the bank, printing equipment to start anew, and the experience to make The Town Tattler a success, she could remain comfortably independent.
It would, however, be sensible to meet the women comprising Cheyenne’s social core since they’ll be her subscribers, so perhaps she’d endure lunch with a man, even if it turned out to be Lord Adam Whittington. At once her heartbeat quickened, and she felt her cheeks tingle with prickles of heat, and she realized she was blushing just thinking about the man.
Her gaze rested on the press and she imagined how it had been the day before, when Lord Whittington leaned toward her, as if to kiss her. That image faded into one of them sitting on a blanket on the church grounds. She’d reach into her picnic basket and hand him a meat pie, and he’d break off a small piece and put it in her mouth. She’d look into his eyes and chew and smile, and he’d brush a crumb from her lips and curve his hand behind her neck and pull her to him and kiss her soundly, just like in her Dime Novels…
She fanned her face, realizing she’d broken into a sweat.
Then abruptly she chastised herself. Silly, foolish woman. Why on earth would Adam Whittington bid on her basket? With his wealth, and vast land holdings, and handsome face he could have any woman he wanted. But she wouldn’t be packing a picnic basket to lure Adam Whittington onto her blanket, she’d be doing it to help raise funds for the church and to get to know prospective subscribers.
She looked at the press and tried to envision Jim pulling the first edition of The Town Tattler off the type bed, but the image that came to her was of Adam standing there and his lips moving toward hers, and their lips would come together in a fiery kiss that would send her sprawling backwards and her petticoats flying up to expose her legs, as before. But instead of pulling down her skirt as Adam had, he’d put his hand on her leg and push her skirt up further, until he’d be looking at the full length of her bare leg, and she’d make no move to stop him…
And those were the thoughts she took with her when she curled up on her mattress pad later that night…. And they were there the next morning when the first light of dawn fell on her eyelids. Before long, she found herself considering the contents of her picnic basket, a basket filled with delicacies that included pastries, meat pies, custard tarts, and other British delicacies intended to attract the notice of a certain British lord.