Hidden Truths

Hidden Truths by Jae

Book: Hidden Truths by Jae Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jae
When she looked up, she realized she had lost her audience. Only
Buzz waited in front of the corral. The other men and women gathered farther
down the street, in front of the stage depot.
    Oh, no, the stagecoach!
    Amy wasn't in town to gentle a horse. Phin's betrothed was
waiting for her and had probably been waiting for some time. The stage's horses
had already been exchanged for fresh ones, and the stage was pulling out.
    She opened the corral gate and led the gray mare toward her
buckboard.
    "Hey!" Buzz called. "Aren't you forgetting
something?"
    Amy whirled around. "What?"
    "My money." Buzz thrust out his hand, palm up.
    The two gold coins felt heavy in her hand. It wasn't her
money to spend. Too late. She gritted her teeth and handed over the ten
dollars.

Stage Depot
Baker Prairie, Oregon
April 20, 1868
    T HE
STAGECOACH swayed to a halt, and Rika braced herself so she wouldn't be thrown
onto the laps of her fellow travelers.
    She drew in a breath. This was it, her new home. The stage's
leather curtains were drawn shut to protect them from the steady rain and the
mud flung up by the horses' hooves, so she hadn't yet caught a glimpse of the
town. The two passengers stood, opened the door, and climbed down, but Rika was
almost afraid to step outside and see what she had gotten herself into.
    One of the men offered his hand to help Rika out of the
stagecoach.
    With one step, Rika sank ankle-deep into the mud on the main
street. She shook out her wrinkled, sooty skirts and stepped onto the
boardwalk, out of the constant drizzle.
    A few dozen buildings dotted the rutted main street. Wooden
signs announced the presence of a barbershop, a doctor's office, a blacksmith,
and a saddle maker's shop in the little town. In front of the dry-goods store,
a brown horse stood hitched to a buckboard.
    One of Rika's fellow travelers disappeared into the
barbershop; the other climbed onto a buckboard, tipped his hat, and drove off.
Now only Rika stood waiting on the boardwalk.
    She scanned the faces of the townspeople milling about Main
Street, going into and coming out of buildings. The man with the handlebar
mustache, her future husband, was nowhere to be seen.
    The stage had come in late. Had he gotten tired of waiting
and left? What if he changed his mind and no longer wanted a wife? Rika
clutched her carpetbag to her chest.
    Her gaze darted up and down the street, but no wagon came to
pick her up. People hurried across the boardwalk, trying to get out of the
rain. Some threw curious glances her way, but no one talked to her. Shivering,
Rika slung her arms tighter around the carpetbag.
    A few young men wandered over from the livery stable. One of
them doffed his battered hat, and when he grinned at her, Rika saw that his
front teeth were missing. "Can we help you, ma'am?"
    "No, thank you." Rika drew her bag tighter against
her chest. "I am waiting for Mr. Phineas Sharpe, my betrothed."
    "Ah, then you're plum out of luck, ma'am, 'cause Phin
left to drive a few horses up to Fort Boise and won't be back for two
months."
    Rika felt the blood rush from her face, and she swayed.
"Two months?"
    "Or more." The man shrugged.
    Oh, Jo. Rika was almost glad Jo never had to find out
her beloved Phineas didn't intend to keep his promises. Riding off to Boise
when he knew his betrothed was coming...
    She was stranded in an unfamiliar town, forsaken by a future
husband who had apparently changed his mind. What now?
    "I'm sorry I'm late," someone said behind Rika.
    Rika turned.
    A young woman stopped midstep.
    Rika took in the woman's mud-spattered bodice and the bonnet
hanging off to one side, revealing disheveled fiery red hair. Under a skirt
that was ripped up to mid-thigh, flashes of long drawers startled Rika. Behind
the woman, a sweat-covered gray horse pranced around.
    What did she do to the poor horse?
    When the wild-looking woman reached for the carpetbag, Rika
flinched away. "Who are you?"
    "Oh." A flush colored the stranger's golden skin.
She

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