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  Excert 1 of 2

Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1870

"I shall never marry that spiteful old toad!" Sarah Prudence Farmington's voice was level and calm, sounding far more under control that her pounding heart. She faced her father's fierce glare and held her head high, pushing her glasses up on her nose. I will not look away, fidget or lose my courage. She stood stock still as the tall old man's bushy gray eyebrows met in the center of his forehead, always a bad sign. His cold gray eyes narrowed dangerously as he walked around the large desk piled high with papers in his study.

"I will not stand for your impudence, young lady!" he roared. "I've permitted you to molder away with your books long enough. Look at you. Your mother was a beauty-and so could you be if you paid the slightest bit of attention to your appearance. Do you deliberately make yourself into a wallflower?" He seized a fistful of her plain gray skirt and then dropped it in disgust. Everything you wear is ill-fitting and drab, even your hair is twisted back in a sloppy bun like an old maid's."

"That is because I am an old maid, Father," she said levelly, refusing to show the pain his hateful words always engendered.

"Yes, I know. You will be four and twenty this summer! Every other young lady of good family was wed after her first season. That is why I have taken matters into my own hands and arranged this match. Horace may not be young or handsome but he is willing to marry you. He has wealth aplenty and social standing."

"He is fat, does not bathe properly and his teeth are rotted from his mouth from all the crèmes he stuffs into it." She shivered in revulsion.

"So, he does not meet your high standards, eh? What about that Wilmington boy? Or young Goodson? They were not fat or possessed other physical deformities."

"They are both married, Father." She felt her jaw ache from clenching it.

"They were not when you had your first season. If you'd made the slightest effort to attract either, you could be wed."

"They only wanted my inheritance from Aunt Olivia."

"Well Horace Hightower does not require your meager inheritance. He is rich as I-and without an heir to carry on the Hightower name. Are you so enamored of your damnable books that you do not wish to have children?"

Sarah's lifelong insecurities once more began to creep up on her, but she forced them down. "I have resigned myself to spinsterhood, Father. I do love children but if I can teach-"

His fist pounded on the desk. "No more of that teaching rubbish. No Farmington will become a schoolmarm. I'd be the laughing stock of Bridgeport if I permitted it! If you're so enamored of children, have your own!"

"Not with Horace Hightower, never!"

A crafty look swept over Ebenezer Farmington's face as the red fury of anger died down. "Where else would you go, my dear?" he asked chillingly. "I'll burn those books and lock you in your room until you come to your senses." He turned away before he could see her pat the pocket in her skirt.

Sarah turned and left the room, closing the door behind her. Soon he would be absorbed with his business affairs again and forget he had such a disappointment of an only child. All he wanted from her was a replacement for the son and heir he had lost when her mother died trying to birth the boy. Both perished within the day. Ebenezer had never remarried. Since the age of ten, Sarah had been raised by a series of governesses, each as cold as a Connecticut winter.

She wanted to be a warm and understanding teacher for young children and had pursued her certification as a sixteen-year-old girl. At that age, he had not taken notice of her course of study at Mrs. Harper's Seminary for Young Ladies. But after turning eighteen, she was to be put on the marriage mart with all the other socially prominent young women in Bridgeport. Ebenezer enlisted the aid of his widowed sister Hortense to instruct her in the art of ensnaring a suitable husband.

Sarah had spent her childhood in her beautiful mother Vivian's shadow. She was slightly nearsighted and wore glasses. Her tall, slender frame made her feel gawky. She simply was not cut out to be a proper society matron. The art of flirting and laughing at the vapid jokes of poorly educated rich boys did not interest her. Wearing corsets and all the miserable accoutrements of feminine allure were a foolish waste of time in Sarah's considered opinion.

No, she would be a professional woman, a teacher and the letter secreted in her pocket was the key to her escape to a whole new life. Her mother's unwed sister had left her only niece a formidable inheritance when she died in a sailing accident on Long Island Sound. Of course as Ebenezer Farmington's only heir, any number of young and not-so-young men had courted the wallflower for her wealth. However, she was far too intelligent to fall for their blandishments.

No, she would be a grade school teacher in the Cherokee Nation, one of the few white women ever accepted to hold that position.

Excert 2 of 2

Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, 1870

Preoccupied about her shopping list, Sarah did not notice that same drunken man she had encountered several weeks ago and used her buggy whip on as he moved toward her from across the street.

This time he was stone cold sober. A nasty grin split his weathered face, revealing several missing teeth, the remaining ones sickeningly blackened. This time he waited until she stepped down from the carriage, leaving the whip attached to its stand. "Wall now, lookee what I got me here with her defenses all down," he snarled as he grabbed her hand and started to pull her into the shadowy space between the shop and a large boarding house.

"Take your filthy paws off me, you lout!" she yelled, twisting desperately as she glanced up and down the now deserted street. She kicked at his legs but her boots made little impression other than a mild grunt of discomfort as he reeled her closer. Sarah dug her free hand into the deep pocket of her skirt, praying that she could reach her small pistol. Perhaps in close quarters it might do some damage.

When her fingers clawed at the small trigger guard, she pointed it outward toward his torso and pulled, but just as she did, he shoved her hard against the wall and the shot missed. "I warn you-"

He cut her off with a stinging slap across her face, knocking her down against the rough wooden boards. She saw stars and shook her head to clear it as he seized her fist. Sarah bit down on her lip as he crushed her hand still inside her pocket, rendering her unable to shoot again. His grip on her hand did not relent. She screamed again, using all of her considerable lung power, praying to attract attention.

Luke was leaving his meeting with Johnson, feeling as if he were on the right track at last. He was stepping through the door to the street when he heard a woman's scream and a small caliber shot discharge nearby. He quickly rounded the corner and saw a tall, thin man attacking that white woman he'd noticed at John Tall Tree's house. Subsequently in town he'd learned that she was the new teacher at one of the Cherokee schools.

"Let the woman go," he said calmly, his tone deadly as the Remington glided from its holster and pointed at the man's back. He could see the man freeze when he heard the click of the weapon being cocked. But the obnoxious spinster continued fighting him, kicking and striking at his gut with her good hand while she withdrew the second hand from her pocket, uncertain if she could even use it to fire again.

"Git outta here and let me teach this bitch some manners," he hissed.

"Appears to me you're the one needing lessoning in manners," Chance replied. "Back away from the lady...Now."

Unwillingly, the thug did so as she leaned against the wall, breathless and stunned to see who her rescuer was. She rubbed her injured hand in the other, testing to see if anything had been broken.

They both watched him scurry across the street and vanish around a corner.

An odd half smile tugged at Luke's lips. Once in the heat of war, he would've have done what this fellow had tried to do. Damn, Nick must've really changed me. He watched as she struggled to pull the loose bunches of hair back into the tight bun. With the soft strands of hair framing her face and the glasses knocked off, she looked almost…pretty, if that was the right word.

Before he could continue his perusal of her face, she knelt down on the ground and picked up her spectacles, attempting to straighten out the frame as she rose. When she faced him, they were again in place. "I do thank you, sir, for your timely intervention," she said politely, noticing again those remarkable eyes now fastened on her.

He tipped his hat, shoving it back as a few stray black curls framed that handsome face. "You'd be well advised to bring one of John's men with you when you come to town. It's a long ride and the new crop of drifters aren't as polite as the Cherokee."

"I'm used to taking care of myself. In fact, several weeks ago, I gave that fellow a good thrashing with my buggy whip."

He threw back his head and laughed. "You are a caution, Miss Schoolmarm, m'am. My name's Luke Chance. What's yours?"

"Since you already seem to know who I am, I believe you could learn it anywhere in Tahlequah_but it's Sarah Farmington."

Prim little thing and rather scrawny for his taste, but then considering the clothes she was swaddled in, it was difficult to be certain. They hung on her as if she deliberately tried to conceal her body. Odd thought, that. Why should he care about an old maid school teacher? The question seemed to ask itself as he blurted out, "What are you hiding from?"

"What ever do you mean?" The question disturbed her. He did not look at all the type her father would've hired to drag her home for that travesty of a marriage.

He gestured to her clothing. "You could make two skirts and blouses from all that cloth if you wanted to. And you strike me as the frugal type who wouldn't waste anything."

She set her jaw. "For your information-not that it's any of your business-I purchase my clothing ready made. Size doesn't make the price higher."

"I stand corrected. "Why pull your hair so tight? It must give you a headache."

"It does not give me a headache. It's just heavy and I can't abide fussing with it."

He shook his head and chuckled. "And what about those spectacles? The glass looks too thin to help you see."

"I'm a teacher. I read a great deal. Beside, I've found that my stern appearance helps me keep order in the classroom."

"You do have an answer for everything, don't you, Miss Farmington?"

She raised her dainty little nose and fixed him with as stern a look as she could manage. Good lord, was he flirting with her? "I'm a teacher. I'm supposed to have answers for my students."

"I'm certain you do." He pulled his hat forward and nodded as she started to walk past him.

"I have to do some shopping and then return to the Tall Tree place before dark. Again, I thank you for your most timely help," she said as she stepped onto the street.

Luke figured she had sized him up as a gunman and drifter, exactly what he was supposed to be. For whatever reason, her bad opinion of him bothered him. He shook his head and retraced his steps, trying to puzzle out his bizarre reaction to such a prim and proper slip of a female.



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