This week I’m sticking with Kat’s story…just a little while after last weeks. For those that have read my Dominion Falls series, you’ll recognize a couple of characters here. Cole is my hero in those stories, and in Derailed we learn he and Kat shared a past…but not just yet, Katherine is just 15 in this scene…although as he points out – 15 isn’t so young in 1861…
A sharp whistle pulled Katherine out of her own thoughts, and she tugged the reins on instinct. The moment she realized the culprit behind the whistle was Cole Mitchell, she wished she hadn’t stopped. The man always left her flustered and beside herself. When she’d first started to notice boys, both Cole and her sisters fiancé, David, had captured her imaginings.
Nowadays David was long gone, but in recent months Cole had begun to speak directly to her on regular occasions. It infuriated her mother, and gave Katherine a disturbing, secret little thrill. Rumors of how well-pleased Cole’s women of ill-repute were kept flew fast and easy in a camp like this.
Ashamed that such thoughts should dare to cross her mind, Katherine tried to again reclaim her wits as Cole stopped just near her right foot. “May I assist you in some way, Mr. Mitchell?”
“Fine looking horse ya got there.” Cole’s lip curved into a knowing smirk. “You enjoying your bribe?”
Heat rushed to her cheeks and she narrowed her eyes. “I beg your pardon?”
“Blizzard. She’s a bribe with a hell of a price tag. You did know that, didn’t ya?”
“The horse. That was her name when I was training her. Why, what did ya name her?” He chuckled. “Let me guess. Somethin’ real pretty like Snowy or Princess.”
Her short, angry huffs of breath formed into steam in the cold air and she lifted her chin to hide the way she had to blink back her tears. Rather than tell him what she’d named the horse she spoke through her clenched jaw. “You trained her?”
“Of course. Who else is gonna train a horse in this camp? Especially a wild one like this beast was.” He rubbed the horses flank and nodded. “I knew she was going to you, though, so I kept a little wild in her. I think ya got some wild in you that ain’t been unleashed yet.”
“I think you’re speaking far too inappropriately.”
“Fifteen is the right age. Can’t tell ya how many women find themselves then. Got three girls now that are near-sixteen. Besides, your parents are marrying you off at fifteen. Guess it ain’t so inappropriate after all.”
“I am not a whore, nor will I be.” She drew up straight, trying to process what he’d said. “And my parents aren’t marrying me off so young.”
“It ain’t so young. And yeah, they are.” He shrugged. “What do ya think the horse is for?”
Katherine pondered the quiet conversation she’d witnessed back at the house. The timing of Powder’s arrival didn’t make her a gift for birthday or Christmas. The talk of going to Denver permanently, and the courting she’d been forced to take part in when they did visit.
“So your Pa didn’t tell you yet.” Cole clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Such a shame too. Gonna waste your whole life on a marriage of convenience.”
“What do you know of marriage anyhow?” Katherine tried to put venom into her tone, but instead it trembled dangerously close to tears. “My parents marriage is good.”
“I know more’n you’d think, and your parents eloped. Heard from your Pa himself, they liked each other. You got a guy you like, Kathy?”
“My name is Katherine.”
“I like Kathy. Suits ya better.”
On Katherine’s left a door slammed open. Her sister, Martha, stormed into the street. Her light brown hair had begun to gray already after the stresses of the past two years. It flew out of her bun in unruly strands as she rushed toward Katherine and Cole. “Cole Mitchell, you get on away from her! Katherine Marie Daugherty, what do you think you’re doing speaking to the likes of him?”
“This is all your fault, Martha.” Katherine spat the words before she could think too hard on what she was saying. “And I have always spoken to Mr. Mitchell, it’s polite.”
“Katherine! How is it my fault you’re speaking with a man that keeps loose women. You know he only wants to make you one. I’ve heard him saying it.” Martha narrowed her eyes at the man who only grinned in response.
“I’d bet anything he’s said such things because you can hear them and you are impossible.” Katherine swung out of her saddle and dropped right down onto the frozen street to meet her older sister’s angry stance with one of her own. “All of this is your fault. The horse, the arranged marriage. All because you couldn’t keep your legs together around a damned red man.”
“Katherine!” Martha’s jaw dropped, and Cole’s laughter rang through the street, drawing more attention their way. “You’d best watch your—”
“I will not! You are the cause for my whole life changing.” Tears burned at the back of Katherine’s eyes as the full weight of what Cole had suggested hit her. To be married off to a virtual stranger, to lose even more of the life she loved here in Dominion Falls. “Because of you, everything is changing. Don’t you dare tell me to be silent because it’s all your fault. You left a good man to be a whore to a red man—”
Katherine’s cheek stung seconds before she registered Martha had slapped her. She clasped her hand over the sore cheek and stared at Martha.
“Hey now.” Cole stepped out from under Powder’s neck and positioned himself in front of Katherine. “Don’t go beatin’ your sister for bein’ honest.”
“I’ll have you know,” Martha began. “That she is a child. She shouldn’t be saying such things when she knows nothing about them.”
“She’s no child. Your parents are gonna have her wed before the end of the year if they can, just so she don’t mix with riff raff. And she’s got a point. Wouldna happened if you hadn’t taken up with an Injun.”
“Lewis is emancipated.” Martha all but hissed, her hand twitching like she was going to slap him too. “Practically white.”
“Only with his paint on, Martha. Ain’t no way he’s ever gonna be one of us.”
Katherine backed up, but bumped into Powder. Married by the end of the year? That was barely over two months away. It couldn’t be. She spun and gripped the pommel to lift herself back into the saddle. Before she got far, she was lifted the rest of the way and Cole slapped Powder’s flank over Martha’s protests.
Without time for even a nod of gratitude in Cole’s direction, Katherine leaned over and let Powder race her out of town toward the small settlement of homes starting to sprout up north of town. She didn’t dare go too far for fear of Indians, but she would run until she found somewhere to hole up and think.
She couldn’t get married. Not now. Not in Denver.
She’d barely begun to live.
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