Grace nodded, hoping he was right. Her back ached every morning from the previous day's work. Cutting wood, hauling water to the cow trough, feeding the chickens, and hoeing the garden took all her time and energy. She sighed and thought back to Warren—well dressed, handsome, with an air of confidence. He was only being polite. Grace knew she wasn't in his league. All she had to do was stare at her calloused hands and fingernails to confirm that she wasn't a genteel lady like Ginny, raised in the South with servants.
She felt her father's eyes on her. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
He chuckled. "Wondering what was going through that pretty head of yours, that's all. Want to tell me before the dumplings boil over?"
Drat! She quickly turned back to the stove, reaching for the grate, then slid the pot half off, away from direct heat, and stirred the dumplings to keep them from sticking. Satisfied they were fine, she looked at her father. "Ginny introduced me to Frank's new business partner."
"That's nice. Is he married?" Pop's watery gray eyes snapped to attention.
"No, but we're worlds apart, so don't go getting any ideas." Grace caught the twinkle in her father's eyes and shook her head.
"Now you kids stay close to camp and I won't be long." Robert tightened the cinch below the horse's belly, then mounted.
"Where ya going?" little Sarah asked innocently. "Can I go?"
"No, Sarah. I'm going to town, so you mind your sister," he answered. Then he turned to look directly at Tom. "You look after them while I'm gone."
"What'd you think? That I wouldn't look after my own sisters?"
Tom's sullen look grated on his nerves. "I never said you wouldn't. I'll be gone long enough to inquire about work, then I'll be back, unless I get hired on the spot. So don't go roaming off. I don't want you young'uns getting into anything while I'm gone."
Becky stepped up to the horse and looked up at him. "And if you can't find a job, will we be moving on again?"
"I reckon so. I have to feed us somehow." Robert pulled his hat snug against his head.
"If you leave that carbine, I can find us a rabbit or somethin' for supper." Tom stood with his hands crossed against his chest, chin firm.
"I don't need a kid running around with a shotgun trying to kill something. You leave that to me."
"I'm almost thirteen and not a kid anymore!" Tom shouted, stalking off.
Robert shook his head then gave his horse a slight kick with his heels, leaving the girls staring after him.
First, he checked at the mill on the outskirts of Bozeman, but they weren't currently hiring and told him to come back in a couple of weeks. He didn't have weeks. He rode into Main Street, a blur of ox trains, mule wagons, emigrant wagons, and cowboys. He tied up his horse at the mercantile store. At least I know about farm implements'. Could be they needed another clerk with all this bustling activity in a growing town. He could only hope.
A sudden shout caused him to turn around to see a runaway horse and carriage barreling down on a woman about to cross the street. With surprising alacrity, he bounded to her side, pulling her to safety just as the horse and buggy passed. The driver was struggling to control the wild stallion that suddenly flew past them.
"Whew! That was close. Are you all right, ma'am?" He steadied the attractive woman who clutched her hand to her chest, her face blanching white.
"I suppose so," she answered while straightening her lopsided hat. "Thank you so much. I believe that was Darrell. He's always causing trouble. I'll wager he won't even come back to see if I'm all right." Then she stuck out her hand. "I'm Virginia Harrison—Ginny to my friends."
Her accent was sweet and smooth to his ears. "Robert Frasier." He shook her hand, struck by her friendliness, and noticed the wedding band on her left hand. He wanted to run. Can't trust a woman who's
"Are you new around these parts?"
"Yes, I am." But he offered her nothing else. Best not to say much or else someone might pry and find out he was living outdoors with three young children.
"Then welcome to Bozeman, Mr. Frasier. I hope you'll find our fair city a place to stay."
This excerpt ends on page 22 of the paperback edition.