Abigail

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Excerpt from Abigail of the Scandalous Suffragette Brides by Sylvia McDaniel

 

As the stage pulled in to New Hope, Texas, Abigail noted how the small town set on the edge of the prairie had changed. Wooden sidewalks were filled with people and the streets were congested with wagons, but other than that it didn’t look much different than when her father had sent her away to school when she was barely twelve.

Oh God, she remembered begging him not to make her go, but he’d made a promise to her mother on her death bed that Abigail would receive the proper education of a young woman. And he’d sent her to Boston to the school her mother had attended when she’d been a girl.

But how had it helped Abigail’s mother? She’d married a man who’d taken her to a ruthless frontier town. Where the men ran the town and the women were seen and not heard. Well, Abigail required more out of life than what her mother had wanted.

When the stage came to a halt, Abigail opened the door and stepped down. It had taken her two weeks to reach the West from Boston. She felt tired and dusty and just wanted to see her father and rest.

“Miss Vanderhooten?” a tall handsome man asked.

The very sight of the brawny cowboy made her breath catch. She didn’t know who he was, but he was more attractive than any of the boys in college with his sandy blond hair, large hazel eyes framed with long dark lashes, and a full sensuous mouth.

“Yes, sir,” she said curtly. Gorgeous men left her feeling gangly and awkward and she was no longer charmed by their persuasive behavior.

The man reached out his hand. “Jack Turner. Your father sent me to meet your stage. Welcome home to New Hope.”

“Thank you,” she said, glancing around as boisterous music blasted from the end of the street. “Is there some sort of celebration going on?” she asked, searching for the source of the music.

Jack smiled. “No, that’s the saloon.”

She shook her head. That was a typical saloon, cranking out music probably at all hours of the day and night. “Doesn’t the city have some kind of ordinance against making noise all hours of the day and night?”

“No, miss.”

“Are you sure? Good grief, I would be contacting the mayor, complaining about the volume of the music. Even in Boston, our saloons weren’t allowed to be that loud.”

“I’ll let the mayor know,” he said.

“You do that,” she said, feeling put out and cranky. She was hot, dusty, and dirty, and the clothes she was wearing had been perfectly fine in Boston, but here, the extra layers were making her skin sizzle and sweat like she was in a sauna.

She sighed. She was home, yet somehow, she felt like she’d left civilization.

Mr. Turner had the station men load her trunk in his wagon. Then he placed his hands on her waist and lifted her into the wooden contraption before she could utter a word of protest.

“Mr. Turner, you’re being presumptuous.”

He turned and stared at her in surprise. “Excuse me?”

“Placing your hands on me and lifting me into the wagon.”

Hazel eyes stared at her like she had no sense. He gave her a charming smile. “How else were you going to get in the wagon? That skirt of yours is fitting, and that bustle would probably have you falling over backwards. I was trying to help you.”

She glanced over the side of the wagon and noticed the ground was a ways down, and she would have had a hard time crawling up in her traveling dress.

“Oh,” she said, feeling a bit of embarrassment. Suddenly, she realized life was a lot different in New Hope from Boston. There, the carriages were made for women to crawl into, not so here. But, she was an independent woman—a lady who didn’t require a man. “Well, I didn’t need your help.”

“Good, I won’t help you down,” he said clearly put out with her.

Abigail almost fell out of the wagon as he clicked to the horses. With a lurch, the wagon took off down the street.

“Oh dear,” she said, hanging on tightly to the sides of the wagon.

“I guess they don’t have wagons up in Boston?”

“No, sir. They have carriages, which are much lower to the ground. A lady can get in and out on her own without the help of a man.”

He frowned at her and then returned his gaze to the road in front of him.

“I could have walked.”

A chuckle escaped him. “No, I don’t think so. Your papa would have been most upset if his daughter had not been met at the station. Besides, it’s a good half mile, and in this heat that would have certainly worn you out.”

“I’m not so fragile that the heat would wilt me.”

A grin spread across his face. “Miss, not to be disagreeable, but you’re dressed like a blue norther is about to hit in the middle of June.”

Abigail wasn’t certain what a blue norther was, but she did feel like she was slowly cooking under all these clothes. Back home, she would have been perfectly fine, but here, the temperature was quite a bit warmer.

“I’d suggest maybe removing some of those layers of clothing, including that petticoat,” he said with a smile. “You’ll be a lot cooler.”

Abigail bristled. “You, sir, are entirely too forward. The nerve of talking to me about my petticoats.”

The man shook his head. “Fine. But when you faint from the heat, I’m going to say I told you so.”

Sure, she could remember the warmer temperatures from when she was a young girl, but that had been over six years ago. And she hadn’t known what to expect on the journey home.

They arrived at the mercantile, and she glanced up at the building. It looked the same, yet not as large as she remembered. The paint was faded on the outside of the building, the wood worn and bleached from the sun.

Jack jumped down from the wagon and secured the horses. He walked around to her side, paused for just a second, and then continued on. The silly man wasn’t going to help her alight from the wagon, and she had brought his rudeness upon herself.

She grasped the side and swung her leg over, trying to find the ground. It wasn’t like she could jump with her bustle; it made it difficult to get enough width to spread her legs and climb down.

Jack carried her trunk into the building and then came out again. She was still sitting in the wagon.

“I’m stuck. I can’t reach the ground.”

“Oh my, you’re in quite a pickle. I don’t want to be too forward and place my hands on your person without your permission. How are you going to get down?” He stood there, his arms crossed, his legs planted firmly like a tree sprouting roots. Not moving, waiting for her to grovel.

She glared at him. “You’ve made your point, Mr. Turner. Would you please help me out of the wagon?”

He laughed and walked over to the side of the vehicle, placed his hands beneath her knees and back, and scooped her out of the wagon.

She gasped with indignation. This was even more personal than if he’d touched her waist. “Mr. Turner, my father will be outraged.”

“Yes, Miss Vanderhooten,” he said with a smile, his lips mere inches from hers.

While she was frustrated as hell with the man, she had a sudden urge to touch his mouth, run her fingertips across those full lips, and maybe even kiss the man. She’d only kissed two boys in her life, and both had been so sloppy she’d never gone out with the men again.

He dropped his hand from beneath her knees and let her body slide down the front of him, a wicked grin on his handsome face. Abigail could feel the heat spread across her cheeks, with the shame of what he’d done, on a public street no less.

“Now, that was what is considered being touched inappropriately by a man. But I must admit, I enjoyed every second. In the West, I would suggest you let a man help you in and out of the wagon, Miss Vanderhooten.”

“Hrmph! Thank you, sir, but you are no gentleman.”

Laughter bellowed from his chest. “Never pretended to be one. Now, let’s get you inside and check on your papa.” Jack opened the door and waited for her to enter.

Hot and flustered even more than when she’d gotten off the stage, she rushed through the door, hoping to see her papa and find out this was all a huge mistake. That the urgent telegram she’d received was a joke.