Writing A Lady's Heart of Gold has been an incredible experience. I hope you enjoy these characters. Original illustrations in the book, including two full page illustrations AND the "chapter end" illustrations were created by Melanie Bateman, of MAB Illustrations.
A door on the second floor of the bunkhouse opened, and the men playing checkers stopped mid-laugh to look that way. Then they both stood, tugging at jackets and adjusting hats.
Ed let his eyes travel lazily to the subject of their fuss, and he couldn’t keep back his smile. A woman had appeared in the doorway, outlined by the shadows at her back. She shut the door behind her and stepped into the edge of sunshine peeking beneath the porch. She made her way down the walkway and then the stairs leading to the ground floor, her shoes clipping along at a business-like pace.
“Good afternoon, Miss McKinney,” the sergeant greeted her when her boots hit the boardwalk on the ground floor, his words a drawl that sounded like he’d come straight from Louisiana to his post. “Did you enjoy your rest?”
The woman’s gaze skimmed across the quiet parade grounds. “Thank you, Sergeant Tompkins. It was adequate.”
A chuckle almost escaped Ed’s throat. To someone else, her accent might’ve been hard to place. But he’d spent almost a year listening to two people who sounded remarkably like Miss McKinney. The woman seemed as out of place in the barracks as a cat at a coyote sing-along.
Greenhorns were one thing in Arizona Territory. British greenhorns were another.
Ed tucked his notebook into his back pocket, then watched from beneath the brim of his hat as the woman exchanged pleasantries with the two men. Their commanding officer must’ve placed them on the floor beneath her borrowed room to guard her. She seemed ready to dismiss them and walk across the dusty stretch of ground between her quarters and the major’s office where Ed stood. But the two men picked up their weapons and fell into step on either side of her.
Were they worried someone would attack the señorita? Or that she meant to wander off? Either way, the picture of a woman in long skirts and a straw hat marching between two calvary men in blue made Ed smile. As the odd group drew closer, the woman’s expression was one his mother wore when she’d grown tired of men and their antics.
Miss MicKinney’s voice pierced the stillness in the air the same way her pointed boots dented the dry dirt. “Is it really necessary for you two to follow me everywhere? I am certain I am quite safe.”
The man she’d identified as Sergeant Tompkins answered. “Ma’am, it’s our honor to escort you wherever you need to go. A lady like you don’t know much about the dangers of the Territory.”
The other man, a corporal by his stripes, added with an eagerness possessed by the young, “That’s right, Miss McKinney. It’s not like it is back east. This here’s still wild land.”
Ed tipped his hat up on his brow, watching the woman come closer. He wore his hair shorter than his grandfather’s people, most of the time, but had recently taken to growing it out again. His straight black hair brushed the tops of his shoulders, he’d inherited his father’s sharp and wide cheekbones, and the bend of his nose would tell just about anyone with sense that he wasn’t White. A quarter of his blood came from somewhere else.
The woman had drawn close enough to notice him, and to look him in the eye. Though several feet still separated them, her step faltered.
Ed heard his mother’s voice in his mind.
“When I looked into your father’s eyes, I saw my soul within them. That is when I knew everything would change.”
She’d told him the story a hundred times. Every time his grandfather’s people pretended she did not exist. When letters came from her family, disapproval in each stroke of the pen. Ed’s mother used those words to explain why she and his father had altered the course of their lives for one another.
Why her words came to him in that moment, when the pretty Englishwoman stared at him with widened eyes and parted lips, he didn’t want to know. Because he didn’t believe in fairy tales. Not the kind his mother told, not the myths and legends his grandfather’s people spun around smoky fires. Fiction was all well and good. But it was still just a pretty pack of lies. He ought to know, even if his particular brand of fiction hadn’t ever been published.
He kept his face blank and lowered his gaze to the dust underfoot. He ground his teeth together and didn’t look up again.
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