Wild Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series), page 1
WILD MONTANA SKY
By Debra Holland
Copyright 2011 Debra Holland
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.
This was my first book, and a lot of people helped me on the journey. Many thanks go to:
Louella Nelson, writing teacher extraordinaire.
My first critique group, Alexis Montgomery, Diane Dallape, Brenda Barrie, Linda Nusser, Erika Burkhalter, Janis Thereault, and Judy Lewis.
Authors who read chapters or the whole book and gave feedback, Jill Marie Landis, Linda Prine, Robin Lee Hatcher, Linda McLaughlin, and Kathleen Givens.
My first agent, Bob Tabian and my second agent, Kelly Mortimer who both made contributions.
Geoff Nichols, of Black Sabbath, for creating the sound track to the book.
My aunt, Hedy Codner, and friend, Kim Beckley, who helped with edits.
My uncle, Larry Codner, who helped with anything to do with guns in the book.
Romance Writers of America, especially my local chapter, Orange County.
Delle Jacobs, who designed the beautiful covers for the series.
The Wet Noodle Posse for their ongoing friendship and support.
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO:
The young cowboy who inspired this story and thus changed my life.
(1950 to 2006)
Emmy winning cinematographer and Director of Photography for Deadwood,
who loved this book enough to bring it to Hollywood.
In thanks for all the music and for the song,
Wild Montana Skies, which inspired my title.
Elizabeth Hamilton leaned against the blue and gold papered wall of the entry hall and stared in shock at the telegram from her brother. Her vision blurred into dark whirls. She tried to breathe deeply lest she faint into a heap on the tiled floor, but with her lungs constricted by more than the tight lacings of her corset; she could only gasp for air.
Katie, the parlor maid, rushed forward, putting a steadying hand under Elizabeth's elbow.
"Are you all right, Miss Hamilton?"
Elizabeth glanced at the anxious face of the maid and tried to pull herself together enough to dredge normal words from the maelstrom of her feelings. "I'm fine. Just a little faint." She strove for a semblance of calm. "I need to sit down."
Leaning on Katie, Elizabeth crossed the hall into the parlor. She sank into her favorite blue velvet wing chair, slumped against the cushions and closed her eyes.
"Should I bring your smelling salts, Miss Hamilton?"
Opening her eyes, Elizabeth shook her head. "I don't have smelling salts. I've never needed them."
"I could borrow Cook's?"
"No, thank you." Elizabeth tried to smile. "I'll be fine."
Katie's indecision flickered in her brown eyes. She twisted her hands in her white ruffled apron. "I know it's not my place to ask, Miss Hamilton, but is it bad news about Mr. Hamilton? Should I send for anyone?"
"Actually, it's good news. I was just taken by surprise." Elizabeth was too shaken to care if she broke protocol by not first sharing the news with the housekeeper. "My brother has married."
Katie drew in a hissing breath through her teeth. "Mr. Hamilton married?" The puzzled look on the maid's face reflected Elizabeth's own confused feelings. She looked again at the telegram in her hand.
MARRIED GENIA BAXTER. ARRIVE HOME
"We'll have a new mistress." The girl covered her mouth, then dropped her hand. "Everything's going to change," she whispered.
Elizabeth tried to give her a reassuring smile. "We have a well-run household, Katie. I'm sure the new Mrs. Hamilton will make very few changes." She waved her hand at the door. "I'm feeling better, thank you. You may go.
The lump of pain lodged in Elizabeth's throat belied her casual words to the maid. She'd no idea her brother had been courting anyone. Now suddenly he was married! And without inviting his own sister to the wedding. Hurt and betrayal burned through her chest. She stood up, balled her hands into fists, crushing the telegram, then threw it into the fireplace.
Unable to sit still, Elizabeth paced the room, trailing her fingers across the blue and silver striped wallpaper. When she had redecorated the parlor, she'd resisted the current fashion for darker shades of red. Instead, she'd spent many hours searching for soothing blues, which were a more personal statement of her tastes.
She had deluded herself into thinking this day would never come--that her brother would never marry, and she'd always serve as the mistress of his house and hostess for his business affairs. Yet at times she'd sensed the emptiness in his heart, hidden beneath a stiff exterior and busy business and social life, and wished he could find a congenial life companion.
She glanced up at the portrait of Laurence and herself painted twelve years ago, at the start of her first season. Callers always admired the picture of the tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed siblings. A much younger Elizabeth, dressed in the white silk and lace gown she'd worn to her debutante ball, sat in front of her brother. Laurence, in formal evening clothes, stood behind Elizabeth with his hand protectively on her shoulder.
Hope threaded through her hurt. Perhaps in Laurence's bride she'd find a true sister--filling the empty place in her heart caused by her best friend's marriage and move to Montana. Even though they'd been separated for ten years, she missed Pamela so much. How wonderful to have a close confidant once again--someone to help banish the loneliness trailing after her like a phantom.
A vision of her personal ghost slipped into Elizabeth's mind. Tall and handsome, with laughing brown eyes and a playful grin--Richard, her beloved fiancé.... The fingers of her right hand crept up to her chest--a familiar gesture--to clasp the gold locket containing his picture. If Richard had lived, he'd be teasing her now with outrageous descriptions of Laurence's wife. In her laughter, she'd forget her pain. Of course, if he'd lived, this wouldn't be an issue.
Somehow, after his death, eleven years had slipped by. Although she'd had offers, no one had measured up to Richard, and she'd refused to marry any man she didn't love. Besides, her brother had always said he needed her.
Tears welled in her eyes. "I hope, Laurence--" she told the portrait "--you've found the kind of love Richard and I had."
The maid burst through the door of Elizabeth's parlor. "They're here, Miss Hamilton!"
"Thank you, Katie."
"Yes, Miss Hamilton." The maid left the room.
Excited in spite of all her fears, Elizabeth set down her book of poetry and took a steadying breath. Then she rose and walked into the hall, determined to show her brother and his new wife a proper welcome.
Her brother stood with his arm around a petite, dark-haired woman dressed in gray with black lace trim. At first glance, Genia appeared younger than Elizabeth had expected, only twenty-two or three. Her big brown eyes with dark lashes and brows gazed frankly at Elizabeth. Her nose had a pert tilt. She smiled, revealing a slight overbite.
"Here she is." Laurence gestured with his free hand toward Elizabeth. "Genia, my dear, this is your new sister." He bowed and spoke with a gallantry Elizabeth had never before
Elizabeth barely had time to register the astonishing change in her reserved brother. He seemed so animated--so happy. Her heart lightened in response. She smoothed an imaginary wrinkle out of her green silk dress and crossed the few steps to give her new sister-in-law a kiss on the cheek.
"Welcome, Genia. I've been looking forward to meeting you."
"Dearest Elizabeth! Laurence has told me so much about you."
"I wish I could say the same," Elizabeth murmured with a wry glance at Laurence that he didn't acknowledge. Instead, he beamed at his new bride.
"You're so pretty, Elizabeth," Genia bubbled. "Why, I'd never have taken you for a spinster."
Spinster. The word hit Elizabeth like a slap across her face. Was that how people would see her now--as a twenty-nine-year old, dried-up old maid? She repressed a shudder. Was that how she'd come to see herself? No never. She'd known a deep and abiding love. When Genia knew her better, she'd understand.
Genia gushed on. "I can't believe we're finally here, although we've had a wonderful honeymoon. Haven't we, dear?" she asked with a coy glance up at her new husband.
Color rose up Laurence's throat, and a small sound escaped him. Apparently choked with emotion, he could only nod.
A polite smile straining the corners of her mouth, Elizabeth asked, "Why don't you let me show you to your room so you may refresh yourself?" Then, ashamed that she might seem unwelcoming, she tried to infuse more warmth into her voice. "Or would you like tea?"
"Oh, tea, please," Genia said.
"Then let's go into the parlor." Elizabeth turned to lead the way, but before she could move, Genia stepped ahead of her. "You don't need to show me the way, dear Elizabeth. Laurence has described the house so well, I believe I already know it."
A disturbed feeling settled in Elizabeth's stomach. She followed in Genia's wake, Laurence trailing behind her.
"Oh, what a beautiful room," Genia cried. She walked over and seated herself in Elizabeth's chair, then pulled off her gloves. "It's similar to my parlor in New York, except I used red which is so-o-o stylish."
"Red is popular in Boston, too," Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth watched Laurence settle on the blue velvet sofa. In spite of Genia's distressing behavior, Elizabeth knew she must give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps her new sister-in-law was nervous.
"Several of our friends have used red to superb advantage," Elizabeth added, "as you will see when you make calls with me."
"Dear Laurence has promised to introduce me to all the best people," Genia said with a fond glance at her husband.
There was an awkward pause. "Let me ring for tea." Elizabeth tinkled a tiny silver bell. She seated herself in a small straight-backed chair across from Genia, giving her a chance to study her new sister-in-law.
Genia was pretty rather than beautiful and had an air of vivacity about her. No wonder her staid brother looked captivated.
Katie entered the room in response to the bell.
Elizabeth gestured toward the woman. "Genia, this is Katie, our parlor maid."
Katie bobbed a slight curtsy toward Genia.
"Katie, this is Mrs. Hamilton."
Genia gave the maid a gracious nod.
"Will you please tell Cook we'd like some tea?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes, Miss Hamilton," replied Katie, turning to leave.
"I'm sure Laurence has described our servants as thoroughly as he's described our home," Elizabeth said, "but I'll still introduce them to you."
"Yes, he has," Genia replied with a laugh. "I had to tease him because he was rather vague on their positions and duties. Isn't it just like a man to not pay attention to housekeeping?"
"They've no need to." Elizabeth gave her brother an ironic glance.
Genia fluttered her hand toward her heart. "It was difficult to give my other servants their notice. It so distressed me that dearest Laurence said I might keep any who wished to move to Boston."
'Dearest Laurence' beamed at his wife, and she smiled at him before continuing. "They'll remain with the house until it sells, and then any who haven't found new employment will pack up my furniture and other possessions and accompany them here."
"Here," echoed Elizabeth, trying not to sound as dismayed as she felt. "All your furniture?"
"Oh, not everything. There are some pieces from my late husband's parents. Dark and dreary old things, which I've never liked, but Henry insisted on keeping. I was glad to give those to Henry's sister. Everything else I couldn't possibly part with. Dear Laurence assured me there would be ample room."
Her brother nodded his agreement.
With a constriction in her throat, Elizabeth recalled the pleasure she'd taken in decorating her home. She swallowed down a lump of pain and anger. How could her brother have told Genia she could bring everything ... even the servants? The only way there would be room in the house for Genia's furniture would be to move theirs to the attic. Unless Genia was planning to move Elizabeth to the attic ... or maybe out onto the street!
To turn her mind from such ridiculous imaginings, Elizabeth changed the subject. "When did your first husband pass away?"
"Six months ago."
Genia wasn't even out of mourning! Elizabeth hoped shock didn't show on her face.
"I know it's too soon be wed again, but dear Laurence swept me off my feet. And he wouldn't wait a single moment longer."
What will people think? Shame knotted Elizabeth's stomach and sent heat rising to her face.
Genia sent Laurence a tender smile. "I knew it would be difficult to leave New York." She shrugged. "But when you fall in love, nothing else matters."
Katie's entrance with the tea tray allowed Elizabeth a moment to compose herself. Seeing the laden tray, Elizabeth seized upon a safer topic of conversation. "Cook has been baking for several days in anticipation of your arrival."
"It looks wonderful." Genia's tone of voice said the opposite.
"Her plum cake is quite a favorite. My friends continually beg for the recipe, but she refuses to divulge it."
Elizabeth reached for the rose-patterned tea service; the familiar aroma of tea promised to sooth the fear jumbled inside her.
"My dear Elizabeth, you must let me pour." Genia grasped the teapot before Elizabeth could reach it. "I refuse to be treated as a guest."
Elizabeth pulled back her hand, hiding her distress behind a polite social smile. "Of course, you must pour, Genia. I take one spoon of sugar and Laurence takes---"
"Laurence takes two," interrupted Genia in a syrupy tone. She poured him a cup and spooned sugar into it. "I too have a recipe for plum cake. It was my grandmother's."
"Laurence told me it's a favorite of his. I'll give my recipe to the cook for her to make from now on." Handing him the cup and saucer, she smiled at her husband. "Here you are, dearest."
He smiled. "Thank you." He fell silent, seeming content to let the two women, or rather Genia, do all the talking. As her new sister-in-law chattered on about plans for redecorating the house, Elizabeth's head began to ache. Although Genia included her in the plans, it was only a token gesture.
A wave of resentment flushed Elizabeth's cheeks. She'd worked hard in the last week to reach an attitude of surrender and compliance about her new position. Dozens of times she'd pictured scenes where she gracefully handed the reins of the household over to its new mistress, but it had never occurred to her they would be wrenched from her hands under the guise of charm.
Elizabeth stopped attending to Genia, nodding when it seemed appropriate, but more concerned with hiding her anger and hurt. I’m not going to let her suspect she’s upset me.
Genia's voice jerked Elizabeth out of her thoughts. "Elizabeth!"
Elizabeth glanced up. "Oh--yes?"
Genia's pinched look of disapproval said she didn't like being ignored. "Laurence and I should hold a party to celebrate our marriage. I know we
"Perhaps in two weeks, after you've settled in."
"I'm so looking forward to meeting your friends, although I must tell you that I do know many people in Boston already. My friend, Harriet Lloyd--do you know her? She has the most dashing brother! You'll have to meet him."
"No, I don't believe I've made their acquaintance."
Genia gave her a conspiratorial smile. "My friends consider me the best matchmaker of our set. I've helped many marriages along. Even some women who hadn't a hope."
How dare the woman insinuate I’m on the shelf.
Elizabeth took the deepest breath her corset would allow. The gloves were off. Turning to Laurence, she matched Genia's sweet tone. "We'll have to introduce dear Genia to Miss Weston, won't we, Laurence? She's been trying to find a husband for years."
Laurence nodded in agreement, apparently not understanding the undercurrents. Elizabeth couldn't believe he could remain so oblivious. Could he not see the barbs beneath Genia's sweet behavior? For his sake, she hoped he'd never feel them.
Elizabeth's headache worsened. Finally, they finished the interminable tea.
"Would you like me to show you to your room, Genia? I'm sure you must be tired after your journey."
"That's not necessary. You'll find I'm always full of energy and rarely need to rest. Besides, I'd rather my dear Laurence show me my new home."
"In that case, I'll leave you two alone." Elizabeth stood and offered a faint smile. "I think I'll go lie down."
She hurried to her room and rang the bell for her maid. Grasping one of the bed posters, she rested her forehead against the smooth carved wood and closed her eyes. When she heard Josie's knock, she straightened.
DEBRA HOLLAND SERIES:
Other author's books:
- A Late-Blooming Rose: A Montana Sky Series NovelMystic Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series Book 6)Harvest of Dreams (The Gods' Dream Trilogy)Healing Montana SkyBeneath Montana's Sky: A Montana Sky Novella (The Montana Sky Series Book 0)Wild Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series)Grace: Bride of Montana (American Mail-Order Bride 41)Sower of Dreams (The Gods' Dream Trilogy)An Irish Blessing: The Irish Sisters Trilogy (Montana Sky Series)Mail-Order Brides of the West: Trudy (A Montana Sky Series Novel)
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