After a week off, I’m back with Kat’s story, Independent Brake. Kat has decided she might just stay in Dominion Falls a while, and sets about reacquainting herself with more than just the sexy and fun Cole Mitchell–who is little more than a fun romp. She’s already invited the town doctor to lunch, and has another destination in mind, but an unwelcome person is in her path:
Down the street, Kat’s sister stood on the porch of the boarding house beating a rug over the hitching post.
Kat debated taking another route and avoiding her sister as she had all week, but she supposed the time to be childish was over. If she stayed in Dominion Falls for any length of time, she’d have to see Martha now and then.
With her shoulders squared, she kept going down the boardwalk.
Not surprisingly, when Martha turned her way, she ceased beating the rug and set her hands on her hips. Martha’s graying hair was breaking free of her bun from the exertion of her working, and her once thin waist had expanded some inches.
Kat almost felt bad for the change her sister had undergone. Almost.
“Katherine.” Martha touched her arm. “Wait.”
“For what?” Kat turned toward her sister, ready for a fight. “You to tell me what a horrible person I am? Or perhaps tell Mother and drag her here?”
“I just don’t believe you’re thinking. To take up with a man like Cole Mitchell is a grievous mistake.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. I’ve not ‘taken up’ with anyone. I am enjoying Cole’s company, that is all. Men do it all the time, why shouldn’t a woman when she wants?”
“It’s not right, or decent.”
“Right? Decent? You’re a fine one to talk.” Kat bowed to her sister. “To Martha, the most hypocritical person in Dominion Falls.”
“I beg your pardon?” Martha’s nostrils flared in indignation. “I’m not a hypocrite.”
“But you are. You, who took up with an Indian while engaged. You, who were with a good man like Daniel—and got pregnant by another man. You are a fine one to talk about what is right and decent in the world.”
“You wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I went through during that time.” Martha gripped her rug beater. “You were a child.”
“Exactly. Was. I nearly had to bear the consequences of your actions. However, I’m an adult now and can make my own choices.” Kat stepped closer. “You’ve tried to become this perfect person to make up for what you did. Problem is, people hate you more now than they did then. Maybe they’d have gotten over the whole Starbird thing if you hadn’t become the epitome of mother at her most uptight.”
“I had to make it right,” Martha whispered.
“Some things, you never can.” Kat turned on her heel and strode away.
“You’ve never been in love, Kat!” Martha called after her, “When you are, you’ll understand then.”
Kat brushed off the words as desperation and rushed along the muddy street quick as she could. There were no further impediments to her arrival at the telegraph office.
Inside Norman sorted mail into boxes, his back to the door. “Be right there,” he said in an acerbic tone, like he was annoyed anyone dared interrupt him from his work for a different sort of work.
She covered her mouth to hide her giggle. For some reason she found the grumpy gentleman endearing. In the week since she’d been home they’d had a few run-ins, usually right in his office. She’d become convinced his admonishments were little more than him trying to give her advice, it just happened to come in the form of scolding.
“No hurry, Norman,” Kat said when she managed to stop her quiet laughter. If anything, she wanted to be nice to him. She thought maybe he was lonely after his wife had passed some years ago. An older gentleman often had few prospects once his wife was gone, and as they’d never had children, he had no one else to pester.
“Oh, it’s you.” He kept his back to her, slipping envelopes into boxes until the small stack was depleted. “What’re you after?”
“Quite a bit, actually.” She leaned on the counter with a bright grin. “Life, laughter, happiness, fun.”
He grumbled and moved to his desk. “Got a wire for ya.”
“Oh, good. Is it from Patrick?”
“In St. Louis, yeah.” Norman set it on the counter. “What else?”
She read the wire quickly. Bess was doing well, and he was pleased she’d managed to have fun. She grinned. “First, I’d like to reply. Then, I have another request.”
Norman got his pad out and wrote almost as fast as she spoke. He ticked off the words with his pencil and nodded. “That’ll be two bits.”
“Of course.” Kat handed him the money, then set her hand on his arm. “Would you join me for supper this evening?”
He narrowed his eyes at her hand, then lifted his gaze to meet hers. “’Scuse me?”
“You aren’t going deaf. You heard me.”
“What’re you doin’? Makin’ a spectacle of yourself like ya are, and now this?”
“I’m not making a spectacle. Others are making one for me. I tried to be discreet, but people had other ideas.” She pulled her hand back. “I thought I would like the company, and I thought you might as well. Forgive me, for I see I was wrong.”
He shook his head. “Why Cole?”
“Well, why not? I have no delusions of love, not with him. I have yet to find a man that would make me feel that way.”
“Then you are the one that needs company, not me. I had that once.”
“She’s been gone nine years. You must get lonely.”
“No man is lonely in this town ‘less he wants to be.”
“Whores aren’t company. They’re sexual release.”
“Woman like you shouldn’t be talking like that.”
“And yet, here I am.” Kat grinned and leaned on the counter. “That’s what Cole is for me, and I for him. Perhaps we’ll be friends, but that has yet to happen. Please, Norman. I would love if you’d join me for supper.”
“No.” He turned and went back to his work. The click of the telegraph filled the office in his silence.
“If you change your mind, I’ll be at Turner’s. Good afternoon, Norman.”
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