by Margaret P.
A big thanks to my betas, Terri Derr and Cristy Wyndham-Shaw Wordcount: 13,596
“He, who is not every day conquering some fear, has not learned the secret of life.” Scott murmured Emerson under his breath, but it didn’t help. He flexed his hands and straightened his tie, but that didn’t help either.
Katie’s father had gotten up from the dining table and invited him to follow as soon as supper was over. Scott had expected a private interview at some stage, but the first day? He paused in the entrance to the study, wishing he was back in the parlour being served coffee and making polite conversation with Katie and the rest of her extended family.
Olivia McIntyre was marrying Lachlan Campbell on Saturday. Relatives from Boston, including Katie’s parents and their younger children had arrived in San Francisco earlier in the week.
Scott and the others from Lancer arrived on Wednesday. They were staying with the Telfords as they did for February’s wedding, but the parents of the bride had included them in a pre-wedding family gathering on Thursday afternoon. Murdoch, Teresa, Johnny and Emily had gone now; only Scott had been invited to stay for supper.
“Come on in, Scott. I don’t bite.” Dr Robert Eliot moved towards a drinks trolley containing decanters and a half full bottle of Oban Malt.
“That’s not what I heard, sir.” Scott stepped into the study and closed the door behind him.
Dr Eliot chuckled. “Ah, but none of your informants got as far as being engaged to one of my daughters.”
Scott replied with a weak smile. Damn it, why was he so on edge? Katie was of age and she’d made her decision; there was nothing her father could do or say to stop them marrying.
Dr Eliot poured whisky into a crystal glass. “Would you like a drink?”
“No, thank you.” Scott gazed around the room as Dr Eliot replaced the cork in the bottle. Books lined an entire wall, legal tomes and lighter reading, and a large map of California hung above the mantelpiece. “I don’t mean to be rude, sir, but in your letter you implied there were matters to resolve before Katie and I could marry.”
“And so there are, but I’ve decided since my brothers put you through the wringer in June, I shouldn’t be too hard on you. If you’re agreeable, we’ll start by getting to know each other without everyone else around.”
“I’d like that.” Scott glanced at the leather armchairs facing each other in front of the fireplace. Were they always placed like that or had they been arranged especially? “I can’t speak for Sir Bertram of course, but I don’t hold any grudges.”
“Well, maybe Laurence…but not your brothers. For Katie’s sake, I’ve accepted her uncles had their reasons for interfering.”
“They did. Not very good ones, but I’m pleased you’re willing to let bygones be bygones.” Dr Eliot sat down and crossed his legs. He waved Scott into the other armchair and savoured his single malt. “Relax—you look like a soldier preparing to be court martialled.”
“Sorry.” Scott moved his hands from the arms of the chair to his legs.
“No need to apologize, but we have known each other a very long time. Why, I remember Murdoch and I carrying you and Bob on our shoulders. At your second birthday party, I think it was; just after Katie was born.” Dr Eliot smiled at the memory. “Your Aunt Winifred didn’t approve.” He winked. “Call me Robert, by the way.”
Scott nodded, but doubted he could oblige. “I didn’t know until recently that we went back that far.”
“Well, now you do. It’s unfortunate we didn’t see more of each other, but I believe you know why. Water under the bridge and maybe for the best; I’m inclined to view my sons’ friends in a different light from the men who come courting my daughters.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Dr Eliot sipped his whisky and studied Scott for a few seconds. “The life of a rancher suits you?”
“Yes, sir, very much. I can’t imagine doing anything else now.”
“Murdoch will be pleased. He always dreamed of having his sons by his side. I’m glad it worked out in the end.”
“He’s a good man. I wish I’d known it earlier.”
“Well, you know it now, and that’s all that matters. I admit when I learned you and Katie had decided to make your home at the ranch, it was some consolation to me to know her godfather would be there to look out for her.”
“I will look out for her, sir.”
“Yes, of course, but your father will look out for you both. An older, wiser head and a man I have grown to trust and admire over many years.”
Scott smiled and settled back more easily in his chair. It was true; Murdoch and Dr Eliot were old friends. They hadn’t seen a lot of each other, and Dr Eliot wasn’t a big letter writer—he tended to add a paragraph or two to Beth’s letters from what Scott had seen—but by all accounts when Scott was small and Grandfather was doing his worst, Robert Eliot had supported Murdoch in ways only another father could. They had maintained a steady friendship ever since.
“Katie appears to have come to terms with the idea of living in the country, and once she makes her mind up about anything she generally adapts fairly quickly. I see she’s reading Beeton’s Book of Household Management instead of histories these days.”
“I’m not expecting her to give up all the comforts of city life. She won’t have to cook or clean if she doesn’t want to. The towns near the ranch are growing, and we’ll visit San Francisco a few times each year.”
“I’m relieved you’ve given some thought to the situation. It will be a big change for her and for you. Katie is not exactly cut out for branding cattle, and she won’t be happy to sit in that grand hacienda of yours just bearing children and embroidering cushions. My daughter is interested in the affairs of the world, and she likes to be busy.”
“So I’ve learned.” Scott chuckled. He and Johnny had a dollar on how long it would take Katie to ruffle feathers in the local towns. Scott was pretty sure from something Aggie Conway said that things would get interesting in Green River within a month of them marrying in California—or two if they married in Boston.
“And how do you feel about that?” Dr Eliot broke through his thoughts.
“I admire her passion, sir. One thing I love most about Katie is her determination to stand up and be counted.”
“Good to hear, but not quite what I was getting at.”
“We’re interested in the same sorts of things. We support the same causes.”
“Really? You aren’t paying lip service to some ideas just to please her?”
“No, sir. I admit before we started courting I hadn’t thought too much about issues facing women, but I agree with her. Women should have equal rights to men.”
“Including the right to speak publicly and to go wherever she likes whenever she likes?”
Scott hesitated. “She should have the right, yes.”
Scott cleared his throat and wished he had something to do with his hands. This talk was becoming less casual. “To be honest, I don’t like the prospect of her speaking in public, and at times I worry for her safety. I’ve warned her about going into Chinatown, for example, but she won’t listen. I’m hoping when we’re married…” He petered out. He wasn’t sure what more he hoped to achieve when they were married, except that living at Lancer she would be too far away from Chinatown to go there anymore.
“If it brings you any peace of mind, I believe Katie aims to keep her marriage vows, but I think you’d be wise not to press your luck. From my experience ordering a wife to obey is not often productive.”
“No, sir. I figured that out before we got engaged, but…what can I do to stop her putting herself at risk?”
“Do you really want my advice?”
“I’d appreciate it. Katie wants to speak in public one day; she has said as much. I know Beth already gives speeches to large audiences so that won’t bother you, but it worries me. California is less sophisticated than Boston. Its citizens can be more rowdy, and there are fewer lawmen to keep crowds under control.”
“I’m intrigued you think Beth’s public oratory doesn’t bother me. Do you believe I don’t care about her safety?”
“No, sir, that’s not what I meant. I admire your support for Beth and what she does.”
“But, it is well known in Boston that your wife and children respect your wishes. They would never disobey you or do anything they knew you seriously disagreed with. I suppose I was hoping for some tips in that regard.”
Dr Eliot straightened in his chair. He didn’t look pleased. “Is this some warped attempt to flatter me, young man, or are you truly deluded?”
Hell, what should he say to that? Scott had been perfectly genuine. It was common knowledge that Robert Eliot’s word was law within his household. Even Scott’s grandfather applauded the surgeon’s ability to control ‘that infernal woman’. It was one reason why his blessing was so important. When his half-hearted response to their engagement arrived, Katie had assured Scott she would marry with or without her father’s approval, but she also admitted she had never disobeyed him before. If it actually came to the point, could she bring herself to do it? She would certainly be upset. It was an eventuality to avoid at all costs. “I think I must be deluded, sir.”
Dr Eliot stared at him and then threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, very good. I like that.” When he stopped laughing, he took another mouthful of whisky and eyed Scott over the rim of his glass. “I suppose it is true my family doesn’t appear to disobey me in public. Unlike some men, I have the good sense to recognize when not to give orders. And perhaps even more importantly, I don’t throw a public tantrum if I don’t get my own way.”
Scott thought for a moment. “In other words, if I disagree with Katie I should try to work out a compromise with her, and if all else fails pretend I support what she does, even when I don’t.”
“Marriage is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Do what Beth says wives have been doing for centuries: choose your battles and be prepared occasionally to be the one who puts on a brave face. I don’t like her speaking in public—never have—even though she does it extremely well. I admit I am more at ease with it than I once was, but her first public speech was definitely given against my wishes.”
“When was that?”
“Oh, about nine months before Freddy was born.” Dr Eliot’s eyes sparkled. They were blue like Scott’s, and yet all his children had brown eyes like their mother. “I postponed a surgery and attended the event in high dudgeon solely to ensure her safety. When I got there I was taken to task by some upright citizens for allowing her on stage.” The doctor shook his head as he recalled the conversation. “There is nothing more sobering than having your own hypocrisy repeated back at you by men you don’t like. I ended up declaring my support for my wife instead.”
Scott smiled and risked a light-hearted comment of his own. “And you were rewarded for your change of heart?”
“Hmm, I was indeed. Though at this precise moment, I’m not sure I count my youngest son as a reward.” Dr Eliot savoured another sip of Oban Malt and then chortled. “With hindsight, it’s laughable. I was lauded by the suffragists as a liberal man, and Beth acquired the very dubious reputation of being a dutiful wife…I might add, she’s deliberately cultivated that fallacy ever since.”
“So you and Beth disagree, but behind closed doors.”
“You’re a quick learner, Scott. Maybe you’ll survive marriage to my daughter after all.”
“You have doubts?”
“Let’s just say I am not blinded by my affection for your parents. I’m also aware of the challenges of being a black sheep among wolves; you must learn to manage the interference of my relatives, Scott. I will not make excuses for them, but they are my family. They are Katie’s family. Unlike some of their number however, my priority will always be her welfare.”
“Then perhaps you will put my mind at rest. I told my wife that this interview was more a rite of passage than a conversation with any serious intent, but that wasn’t entirely true.”
“I have nothing to hide, sir. If you have questions, I’m happy to answer them.”
“Good, because I think the last time we saw each other was a few years ago, the morning after Independence Day.” Dr Eliot appeared relaxed in his chair, but there was something in his tone.
Scott’s mouth suddenly felt very dry. “I’m sorry I don’t remember.”
“It was just before you got engaged to another young woman. What was her name? Dennison, Julie Dennison.”
The lump forming in the pit of his stomach immediately doubled in size. Surely his engagement to Julie wasn’t going to be an issue to Katie’s father after so many years. “We found we wanted different things.”
“Indeed; it happens.” Dr Eliot leaned forward in his chair, cradling his glass in two hands, and locked eyes with Scott. “But what concerns me is that it could happen again.”
“No, sir, it could not.” Scott didn’t hesitate even for an instant. “I was much younger then, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I should never have gotten engaged in the first place. This is different.”
“How? Is Katie superior in some way to Miss Dennison?”
“The way I feel about Katie is superior. I love her, Dr Eliot. I thought I loved Miss Dennison, but I had to work at it. I was always making excuses for her or for me. It wasn’t a love strong enough for marriage.”
“I believe you.”
Scott swallowed. He had hoped his declaration would regain him some ground, but Katie’s father looked disturbingly grim, and his voice was getter colder not warmer.
“A young man truly in love would not risk a night in the middle of Boston harbour with a prostitute.”
“You know about that?” Scott stiffened in surprise. He would never have thought his friend could be so indiscrete, even now he was engaged to Bob’s sister; particularly now he was engaged to Bob’s sister.
“My eldest son was three sheets to the wind when you dropped him off at our house. I doubt he can remember what he said, but fortunately I have an excellent memory. At the time your behaviour didn’t warrant more than a passing thought, but when you and Katie started courting…You look pale, Scott. Would you like that drink?”
“Well…no, thank you.” Scott tugged at his collar.
“I believe there were two ladies involved.”
“Yes, sir. Ahem—one each.” Damn, it was getting hot in here.
“And did you take precautions?”
Scott raised his eyes abruptly. “Sir, I don’t think…”
“You mean you didn’t think.”
“I’m not proud of my behaviour, sir.” He looked down at his shoes again. “I’d argued with Miss Dennison earlier in the day, and then I got very drunk. But…I’m almost certain I didn’t actually—.”
“Didn’t actually what?”
Scott breathed in and tried to convey more confidence than he felt. “I don’t remember the night too clearly, sir, but I’m almost sure nothing…nothing significant happened between me and…the lady.”
“Given you were about to propose to Miss Dennison, the fact that you were with the lady at all is reprehensible.” Robert Eliot would have made a good headmaster; Scott hadn’t felt this small since attending Boston Latin.
“Yes, sir.” He hung his head. He’d known the night of Independence Day, 1868 would come back to bite him. There was no excuse.
“And to say nothing happened…Do you take me for a fool?” Dr Eliot got up from his chair. Friendly banter had been snuffed out; Scott could almost taste his disgust. He gritted his teeth and waited for the next onslaught. “For what it’s worth, Daisy does say she did all the hard work; you apparently just laid back in a drunken stupor and enjoyed her attentions.”
“You’ve spoken to her?” Dear God!
“I’m a doctor at a public hospital, Scott; I have contacts. As it happens, it wasn’t too difficult to track her down.”
“Yes, oh. The question now is: how can I be sure you will not act in the same way again?”
“Indeed. Are you sure of that? I’m told you haven’t far to look for a willing companion.”
So Dr Eliot knew about Mary Lou Jessop too—shit—and he didn’t have Katie’s blind faith in Scott’s honour. “Never, sir. I haven’t visited anyone since Katie and I met again in February. I swear to you. Dr Eliot, I’d rather die than hurt her.”
“And when the first flush of romance dies? Why should I believe you will continue to behave more honourably towards my daughter than you did towards Miss Dennison?”
“Because…I don’t know, sir, but I promise you I’m telling the truth. I love Katie.”
“There is more to a good marriage than love.” Dr Eliot’s words hung in the air between them.
Damn it, Scott knew that, and he would not be intimidated. He got to his feet. “I made a mistake, sir, and I’ve learned from it. Nothing like it will ever happen again.”
“Words are cheap. It’s what you do from now on that matters. I’ll be watching.”
“I guarantee you that won’t be necessary.”
“I’ll do it anyway. But don’t worry; I’ve no interest in spying on your every move. I leave that sort of nonsense to my brothers. I’m a surgeon—too busy separating men from their body parts.” Dr Eliot rose from his chair too. “Be very clear, Scott, if you let Katie down, I will make you pay for it. And if you ever dishonour her, I will play to my strengths.”
What the hell? That was the sort of threat Scott had been expecting from Bob, not his father.
Dr Eliot raised his glass and drained the last of his whisky. Then he pinned Scott to the spot with a glower of disapproval—until without warning he started to laugh. “You should see your face.”
At first, Scott just blinked, but a second later, he began to laugh too. The bastard. The threats—or at least the last one—was a joke; Scott was ninety percent certain of it. “I’ll be in no danger, sir.”
“Good to know, my boy, good to know. I meant every word, of course, but I do like the idea of being a grandfather. All care and no responsibility.” Dr Eliot clapped Scott on the shoulder and turned to investigate the cigar box on top of the fireplace.
Scott took the opportunity to wipe his hands dry on his jacket. Thank God. If they were talking grandchildren the worst must be over. “I think Murdoch shares your enthusiasm.”
“I’m sure he does, and with you and Katie making your home at Lancer, he will get to enjoy them more often than I will.” Selecting a cigar, Dr Eliot offered the box to Scott. “I suppose that’s only fair, but I warn you Beth and I plan to visit California regularly in the future.”
“You will always be welcome at the ranch, and I promise to bring Katie back to Boston occasionally too.” Scott struck a match and lit the two cigars.
“I’ll keep you to that. I miss her.” Robert glanced at the clock. They had been talking for the best part of an hour. “The others will be wondering what’s become of us, but before we return to the parlour we need to discuss finances.” Waving Scott to sit down again, he pulled a side table and its ashtray closer to them before making himself comfortable.
“Katie and our children will not want for anything, sir. I own a third of the ranch, and I’ll inherit from my grandfather.”
“I’m aware of that, but did you know California only granted married women separate economy this year?”
“Katie did mention it.” Scott smiled. At the time she had written every detail of the reform’s progress into her letters as if not satisfied with the Daily Alta California’s reporting skills.
“Then no doubt you also know California is ahead of the game.” Dr Eliot tapped his cigar over the bronze ashtray. “I’m ashamed to admit the laws protecting women in Massachusetts are still woefully piecemeal, and the situation in many other states is worse.”
Scott nodded in sympathy. “I make no claim to anything Katie owns.”
“Even so, I require you to sign documents to that effect.”
“Where are they?” He looked towards the desk.
“At Will’s office. We’ll deal with them tomorrow if you’re still happy after you know the details—and after you discuss matters with Katie.” Exhaling smoke into the air, Dr Eliot leaned back in his armchair.
“You think we need to talk about money?” Scott couldn’t hide his astonishment.
“Katie tells me you never have.”
“It’s not particularly important to either of us.” He could almost see Johnny rolling his eyes, but it was true. He and Katie knew they were among the lucky ones. They had never had to worry about where their next meal came from so why waste time talking about money?
“Believe me, Scott, I appreciate the fact you’re not a fortune hunter—I’ve had to deal with far too many of those in my time—but common sense demands you have a clear understanding of the financial situation before you marry. As Katie’s husband she will naturally seek your advice. She has chosen to leave the day to day management of her affairs in the hands of McIntyre and Associates, but she has authorised me to make it known to you what her investments are and their approximate value.” Dr Eliot took some sheaves of paper from his inside pocket and passed them to Scott. “I’ll give you a few minutes.”
He moved to the drinks trolley while Scott read. When he returned he was holding two whiskies.
Scott swallowed hard and cleared his throat as he finished reading. Putting the pages down on the burl walnut table beside him, he got to his feet. “I think I could use that drink now, sir.”
Dr Eliot smiled and handed him a glass. “I thought you might. Welcome to the family, Scott.”
“Will you excuse us?” Scott bestowed a Boston smile on Olivia McIntyre and Jamie Eliot as he took hold of Katie’s elbow. He ushered her across the Persian rugs towards the French doors. “We need to talk.”
“What’s the matter?” Katie’s eyes widened as Scott hurried her past her mother and grandparents and out into the garden. The smell of lilac and jasmine hung in the air, and moonlight reflected off the small white flowers climbing the back wall. “Don’t tell me Papa was horrible? I’ll never forgive him if he was. Mamma said after you went into the study he just wanted to make you squirm a little.”
“Well, he certainly did that, but I want to talk about something else. Why on earth didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“Katie, you must know what I’m talking about. You’re worth a small fortune!”
“Oh, that.” Katie turned and followed the carpet of light crossing the lawn from the French doors.
“I didn’t realize Papa was planning to discuss finances so soon.” Her eyes fixed on a birdfeeder hanging from the branch of a tree. There were no birds. Scott could tell by the way she twisted the ring on her right hand that she didn’t want to look him in the eye.
“Well, he did, and I understand why he felt it important.” He pulled her gently around by the shoulder so she was forced to face him.
“But you knew I had money of my own. I don’t see it really matters how much.”
She bowed her head and worried her ring again. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I should have warned you, but I’m still getting used to it myself. I didn’t really have that much until Aunt Sarah died last year.”
“Aunt Sarah? I didn’t know you had an Aunt Sarah.” She wouldn’t be the only relative he hadn’t heard of. Since Katie had begun educating him on the subject, he was beginning to think half of New England had Eliot or McIntyre connections.
“She was one of my godmothers. She was childless so she left everything to me.”
A bequest made sense, but not many women had large amounts to leave. Scott couldn’t remember any lady of his acquaintance worth anything like as much in her own right. “Who was she?”
“Her name was Sarah Duval.”
Scott frowned. Bells were ringing; there was a property tycoon in New York called Duval. He’d died during the war. “The widow of Stephen Duval?”
Dear God. “So where it listed a number of properties at the bottom of the page as ‘valuation pending’ we’re talking apartments and commercial buildings, not just vacant lots?”
“Possibly.” Katie cast her eyes down as she fingered her chatelaine now instead of her ring. “I’m sorry, Scott. I should have said something before.” She blinked rapidly as her voice hitched. “There never seemed to be a good time to bring the subject up. I didn’t want to do it in a letter and…I’m sorry.”
Scott lifted her chin with his finger. “I’m not angry. It was just a shock.” He wrapped his arms around her, and she snuggled into him, wiping a single tear away on the front of his jacket. “I don’t suppose it really matters.” Resting his chin on the top of her head, he felt her chest heave against him. “Ssh.”
He stroked her hair and listened to her breathing. Every time he thought it was settling to a steady rhythm, she sighed or stifled a sob. Why was she still upset? She was clinging to him like a bush to a cliff, not cuddling into him as she would normally like they were part of each other.
She undid the buttons on his jacket one by one, slipping her hand beneath the lining and placing it warm against his heart. “Please don’t let money come between us, Scott.”
“I’m not. I said it doesn’t matter.” He swallowed and closed his eyes. Damn it, how did she…Katie wasn’t the problem here; he was. Her embrace felt wooden, because he had tensed up like a rock.
He gritted his teeth and tried to free his mind and his heart of a resentment that had caught him by surprise. He wasn’t being entirely truthful, and Katie knew him well enough to know it.
She stepped back with hands clasped in front of her and raised her eyes to his. “I’m rich, Scott. Far richer than anyone has a right to be, and I didn’t do one thing to deserve it, but I’m not going to throw it away. I’m not going to apologize. There are things I want to do with the money, but as far as everyday life is concerned, you will be my husband. I don’t need anything more than you can provide.”
“You wouldn’t mind living only on my income?” He held her gaze, but reached for her hands. Why did being the breadwinner mean so much to him? This was crazy. He’d never even thought about it before. He’d just assumed he would be.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted.” Her smile was loving and her voice firm—she wasn’t just saying what he wanted to hear.
He hugged her close again. But things still didn’t sit right with him. What had her father said? A marriage should be a partnership not a dictatorship. Well, in any partnership the partners brought different strengths and weaknesses to the table. One partner didn’t deny the other the right to what they already possessed; and how much those things were used in the new venture was a matter for negotiation. Johnny and Murdoch didn’t insist Scott give up income and interests he had in Boston. During the drought when times were tough, they’d talked it over and put equal amounts from their individual savings back into the ranch to keep things afloat. What Scott had leftover compared to the others was never discussed. What he did with his money had never been questioned. Why shouldn’t Katie still enjoy what she currently had after they got married? It was only his stupid pride that said otherwise. If their marriage was to be a true partnership—“Hmm, I think as punishment for not telling me earlier I won’t give you any pin money. How do you feel about using your own funds for that?”
She cocked her head to one side like a puppy. “Tell me, Mr Lancer, do you normally ask a wrongdoer to approve the penalty?”
“Only when I’m about to marry her.” He tried not to laugh, but the corners of his mouth twitched.
Katie’s did too. “Indeed? Well, it sounds a fair arrangement. I’ll find out what Emily gets as an allowance so we can have the same.”
“I don’t think you need to go that far.” It was a thoughtful offer, but Katie had the right to spend her money as and when she liked. Now he’d come around to the idea, he didn’t want her imposing limitations for his sake or anyone else’s. “But it’s agreed we tell no one how much you’re worth?”
“Definitely.” She bobbed up and kissed him on the lips, her eyes shining. “But I can’t pretend to be poor. Your family knows I have some money of my own.”
“Yes, they do, but they don’t need to know the details—and for goodness sake, never mention it to my grandfather.” The mere thought of Grandfather finding out was enough to make the muscles in his jaw tighten up again.
For a second, Katie frowned. Then she started playing with his tie. Once upon a time she hated string ties, but on his last visit to San Francisco she’d declared they’d grown on her. No tie at all was her preference, but if he had to wear one…
He placed his hand over hers before she got the knot fully undone. “We’re still talking.”
Giving a small huff, she stopped pulling. “I won’t say a word to your grandfather, but all things being equal he may already know.”
She could be right, but Scott didn’t think so. Grandfather was pleased about their engagement, but he’d pretty much left them to find their own way during their courtship. If he’d had any inkling of Katie’s personal fortune…well, Scott didn’t think even Harlan Garrett was that good an actor.
“I was thinking we could use my money to pay for our children’s education if they go to college; and maybe for the occasional trip abroad when you can be spared from the ranch. It could be an emergency fund.” She looked up at him, owlishly solemn. “I plan to give some of it away each year in the name of the Duval Trust. I’d like you to help me, if you don’t mind?”
Scott smiled. “A trust could do a lot of good without anyone knowing we’re involved. I like that.”
“Exactly, and the rest can stay where it is.” She skittered out of reach and raised the back of her hand to her forehead like an actress all forlorn. “Until we’re dead and gone, and our children inherit.”
“I don’t want our sons and daughters being spoiled, even as adults.” He pointed a finger at her and fought to keep his face looking serious. “Wealth is better than poverty, but it can deny a man a sense of purpose.” He’d nearly gone down that road, and he didn’t want any of his children doing the same.
“And what about a woman?” Trust Katie to pick him up on semantics.
“You know what I mean. And according to your father, it can attract some very undesirable suitors.”
“Well, then we’d better have a large family and make each share as small as possible.” Taking hold of his half-lowered finger, she redirected his arm around her waist.
“Now there’s an idea.” He chuckled and accepted the invitation in her eyes. Drawing her close, he kissed her gently. They nipped and nuzzled, and then he let his cheek slide across hers so his tongue could tease a gold-studded ear lobe. “I think I could handle the task.”
He began to kiss his way down her beautiful, slim neck—a hint of bergamot and lemon scenting her skin—as she ran fingers through his hair. She purred and gasped. His hands began to wander and every part of him hardened.
They swayed together in a slow dance as she gazed up at him, stroking the back of his neck. “Mmm, I’m looking forward to you handling the task.”
“That’s it. I’m out of here.” A dark shape barged past them from behind a lilac bush. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Freddy!” Katie broke free of Scott’s arms.
“Why didn’t you tell us you were there?” Scott glared at his future brother-in-law. If this was the way the youngest Eliot behaved, he’d give him short shrift at the ranch.
“Where’s the fun in that?” The fifteen year old stamped out a cigar butt on the top step and kicked it into the shrubbery. “You best come inside, dear sister. I couldn’t in all conscience leave you out here unchaperoned after what I’ve just witnessed. I’ll have to say something to Pa.” Laughing, he dodged through the door before Katie could get to him.
“Oof, I’ll kill him.” Katie spun around, fists by her side. “I swear he’s even more impossible than I remember.”
“He’ll keep. Come here.” Scott pulled her back towards him and into the shadows near the lilac bush so they couldn’t be seen from the parlour. Slipping his arm around her waist, he resumed where they’d left off, breathing in her fragrance as she looked up through long lashes. God help him. They were due to talk with her parents about their wedding after the current festivities were over. Boston or California? Wherever the ceremony took place, he hoped it would be soon. Releasing her for a moment, he redid his tie. Then he held her close again and kissed her long and slow. “Now, Miss Eliot, we will go inside.”
The following morning Scott spent an hour signing documents at the office of James McIntyre and Associates in the centre of San Francisco, and found out a little more about Katie’s finances: they were going to need a lot of children.
As one of Olivia’s bridesmaids, Katie was tied up all day with the wedding practice and last minute preparations. Will and Robert—as Scott now forced himself to call Katie’s father—were needed too so they hurried away as soon as the legal work was done.
Scott had hoped to spend Friday with his friend, Bob, Katie’s elder brother, but Lieutenant Commander Eliot hadn’t shown up yet. According to Beth, orders had called him to naval headquarters almost as soon as he’d got home. No one knew why, but he was still expected to make the wedding.
In the absence of anything more important to do, Scott got roped in as escort. Julia, the elder of Katie’s two younger sisters, adored Chinese silk, and Teresa had offered to introduce her to one of the better warehouses. Jake Telford, who had braved Murdoch and now officially kept company with Teresa, had agreed to see them safely to the warehouse before he went to work. Scott was to join them at twelve and take them to lunch at the Occidental.
“Shall I hail you a cab, sir?” Will McIntyre’s secretary looked up from his work as Scott paused by the wall clock, pondering what to do. It was only eleven and he really didn’t want to stand around a warehouse admiring fabric or drinking green tea.
“No, thanks. I think I’ll walk.”
He headed towards the warehouses above South Beach, but he’d not gone more than a block or two when an almighty blast sent birds flapping into the sky. He half ducked. What the…? Another blast shattered the morning air. Cannon fire—it was unmistakable— coming from the harbour. Men and women ran towards the water, and he did too.
As he crossed a square he saw men clinging to a monument. From the way they were pointing and shouting, they could see what was going on.
“Give me a hand up.” Scott held his arm high and a boy in shirt sleeves and waistcoat hauled him up on top of the plinth. “What’s happening?”
“The USS Liberation is firing a salute.”
“Captain Driscoll is departing the ship. See there.” Another man pointed just as the cannon fired again. Scott could see a naval steam frigate with three masts and two chimneys, and a smaller vessel cutting through the water towards shore.
“They piped the new commander aboard an hour ago,” the boy said, scribbling something in a notebook. “Driscoll’s been promoted to Rear Admiral, and he’s accepted the top job at the naval academy. My colleague is doing the story, but with luck he’ll include a by-line from me about the excitement it’s caused ashore. See those old guys? They’re war veterans. They hit the deck when the first cannon fired. Silly beggars thought they were under attack.” The boy laughed. “Driscoll has commanded the USS Liberation since she was built. Fought in the Civil War.”
“How long has she been in Pacific waters?” Scott shaded his eyes to get a better look at the ship.
“Only about four years, but Driscoll is well thought of in these parts.”
Scott watched the USS Liberation until the salute was over. It took him that long to soak up the idea that he wasn’t far off being considered old; the men the novice reporter had scoffed at looked all of thirty.
Continuing down the street, he reached the harbour as Rear Admiral Driscoll boarded a carriage a few hundred yards along the newly constructed promenade. It ran south from the main wharf overlooking the small piers and boathouses of South Beach. Driscoll, a man in his fifties, must have disembarked the skiff onto a jetty and climbed one of the steep staircases built into the cliff, but he showed no sign of being out of breath. An honour guard of about twenty sailors stood at attention, and a crowd of well-wishers, many appearing to be retired sailors, lined the route.
“Where’s the USS Liberation going?” Scott asked a man sporting a Union naval jacket and a wooden leg. The frigate was heading south; somehow that seemed the wrong way.
“The dry dock at Hunter’s Point.” The man saluted the passing carriage, heading towards the centre of town, and watched until it turned the corner. “Now there goes a captain worth the name. I served under him at Mobile Bay. The young whippersnapper taking over has a hard act to follow.”
“The navy must think he can do the job.”
“Aye, but it takes more than ribbons to captain a ship like the Libby.” The man raised an arm to a group of sailors, and then turned to Scott. “Are you a naval man yourself, sir?”
“No, but tomorrow morning I’m expecting to see an old friend who is.”
“Well, I hope for your sake, he’s an officer. Every ordinary seaman in town, serving or retired, will be helping the crew of the Libby celebrate their freedom tonight. They won’t be fit to be seen before noon.”
“Will there be a lot of men on shore leave?”
“Most tonight and all at some stage while the lady’s being scraped and refitted. Take my advice, mister: keep your womenfolk at home. There’ll be more hot blood than the bawdyhouses can handle for the next few days.” The old sailor slapped Scott on the back and limped, chortling, towards the Seashell bar.
Scott checked his watch. Speaking of ladies it was already five past twelve. He’d better get going.
Ten minutes later he gazed upon bolts of cloth stacked high on sturdy shelves lining walls or standing either side of cutting tables down the middle of the cavernous room. Open double doors led into an adjoining warehouse similarly arranged while the front section of the room he was in had private cubicles to one side and offices over two floors near the entrance. Customers strolled along the rows of fabric viewing what was on offer, each group attended by a silk-clad employee of the Great Orient Company. Scott had been to the warehouse with Teresa once before. Whenever a customer showed an interest, the bolt in question was hauled out of the stack. The silk was then rolled out across one of the several broad tables so it could be inspected more closely and, if suitable, cut according to the quantity required. Surely Teresa and Julia would have made their choices by now; his eyes flicked over to the cubicles where tea was offered as part of the service.
“I’ve come for Miss O’Brien and Miss Eliot,” he said, returning the bow of the Chinese gentleman who greeted him.
“You Mr Lancer?”
“Young ladies go to watch salute. They ask honourable gentleman wait for them if arrive earlier than expected.”
“But I’m not early. I’m late.”
“Oh dear, what to say; honourable ladies not come back. They go with other honourable customers when hear cannon.”
“Have those customers come back?”
Scott frowned. What should he do, wait for the girls or go after them? At least they hadn’t wandered off alone, but the salute ended an hour ago. “I’m going to look for them. I’ll walk south along the promenade towards Hunter’s Point.” He reasoned they may have followed the direction of the ship, hoping to see it enter the dry dock. “If they come back, please ask them to wait. Send a boy to find me. I’ll let you know if I find them.”
He hurried back to the promenade, looking in every direction, hoping to spot them. Where on earth had they got to? It wasn’t like Teresa to be so irresponsible. He tried to recall what she’d been wearing that morning at breakfast—a muslin dress with small blue flowers, he thought. She would almost certainly wear her blue cape and bonnet to match. He started asking passers-by if they’d seen them, but no one had. He came to the point where the promenade ended and the road turned back up into a labyrinth of streets lined with factories and warehouses. He couldn’t imagine they would have gone further. He turned back. Maybe they had mistaken the street when they tried to return to the Great Orient Warehouse. He turned left into the most likely thoroughfare and went up a block to another road running parallel to the promenade. No sign, but as he was debating where to look next, he heard shouting. If they had taken the wrong turn they could have ended up on the next street; he’d better check. He quickened his pace. Then a woman screamed, and he ran.
Two naval seamen in dress uniform were brawling with four other men in the middle of the street. Teresa and Julia were pressed into a doorway, trying to stay out of harm’s way.
“Thank, God, I found you!”
“Scott!” Relief washed over Teresa’s face.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Julia jumped past him from the step and swung her parasol like club across the back of a man wearing a checked shirt and suspenders. He’d been about to put a boot into a sailor sprawled on the ground. Checked Shirt spun around, his fist raised, giving Scott no choice but to tackle him.
They rolled, and scrambled to their feet, facing each other, panting and ready to throw the next punch. The man took a swing, and Scott ducked. This was ridiculous; he didn’t even know what he was fighting about, but when the man came at him again, Scott planted a right cross on his jaw and sent him reeling.
The young sailor was now on his feet. It was three against four. Scott and the sailors formed a half circle around the girls, fists raised and ready for the next attack.
“I don’t know what this is about, but let’s call a truce.”
“Not on your life, matey. Them little birdies are ours.” Pointing a calloused finger, the stocky, red-bearded man, who had been growling orders at the rest, leered at Teresa and Julia. “You and them sailor boys should stay out of things that don’t concern you.”
Well, at least now Scott knew why he was fighting.
“Ahoy, there!” All eyes turned up the street. A six-strong shore patrol was heading their way.
“Damnation!” Spitting into the dirt, Redbeard and friends started to back away. Then they bolted.
The shore patrol ran up and grabbed the sailors. They showed no interest in chasing the ruffians.
“We were defending the ladies, Chief.” The elder of the two sailors put his hands behind his head as he was pushed into line.
“Tell it to the lieutenant. You heard the Commander: anyone caught brawling gets thrown in the brig.”
“But he’s telling the truth.” Scott glanced at Teresa and Julia, and they nodded.
“Stay out of it, sir. This is navy business. If they’re lucky, they’ll get out on Monday.”
“Look, we’ll come with you and explain what happened.”
Scott and the girls followed Petty Officer Jackson and the shore patrol to the port office where the two unfortunate sailors got locked up in a holding cell. Everyone gave statements. Jackson bundled the pages up and, at Scott’s insistence, dispatched them immediately to the USS Liberation.
“There might not be any officers with the authority to release them still on board. Are you sure you want to wait?” Jackson hung the key to the cell back on its hook and showed them to a waiting room.
“Yes, we’ve agreed. We’d all feel happier knowing the result. As you say, the officer might want to ask us more questions so we need to be here. The ladies have had a fright though. Any chance of some refreshments?”
Jackson ordered the rest of his men back out on patrol and then went to brew some coffee, taking a message from Scott with him. He promised to find a boy to deliver it so the Great Orient Company would know their customers had been found.
“I’m so sorry, Scott.” Teresa took off her bonnet and held it on her lap, fingering the ribbon. “It’s all my fault; I should have taken more notice of which street we came down. We got ourselves thoroughly lost.”
Julia put out a hand. “Tell the truth. I was the one who insisted we leave the warehouse to see the salute. And I was the one who wanted to see if we could watch the ship enter the dry dock after we parted company with the Robinsons.”
“Could you?” Scott would have liked to have seen that too.
“We saw it manoeuvre around, but we were too far away to see much else.”
“If only I hadn’t asked that horrible man for directions.”
“Oh, Teresa, you couldn’t know he and his friends would lead us completely the wrong way and then get familiar.”
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing.” Scott turned his hat in his hands. He didn’t have the heart to growl when they were being so hard on themselves. “It’s a good thing those sailors turned up when they did.” And to think when he’d been searching for the girls, he’d been worried about them being molested by sailors.
“They were wonderful. I’ll tell Bob when he finally shows up. I know he’ll lecture me about safety, but maybe he can get them rewarded in some way.”
“I suspect they feel amply rewarded by the kisses they’ve already received.” Scott smiled at Julia’s concern. She was young and a bit flighty, but head and heart were generally in the right place. He was pretty sure he was going to like her. “For now, I think we just concentrate on trying to avoid them being locked up for the weekend.” He wondered how long they would have to wait. If Petty Officer Jackson was right, they could be too late.
With only coffee to sustain them, they watched the hands of the clock edge towards three. Scott offered to send the girls home in a cab at around two thirty, but they felt so bad about the trouble they’d caused, they refused to go.
“Well, now I’ve seen everything.” The door swung open twenty minutes later and Petty Officer Jackson entered scratching his head. “The only officer left on board was the new commander.”
“So?” Scott got to his feet. Was that good or bad?
“This isn’t a matter for the man in charge. Captain Driscoll wouldn’t have read past the first line of my report. The lads would have had to stew until a lieutenant came back on duty.”
“But the new commander?”
“Read the report, signed a release and blow me down, came himself to deliver it. He’s in there now talking with Gunner Brown and Seaman Meyer. Says would you mind waiting, Mr Lancer. He wants a word.”
“We wouldn’t dream of leaving without thanking him. And thank you.” Scott shook Petty Officer Jackson’s hand, relieved that it had all worked out. Now everyone would have a good weekend.
Hearing footsteps in the hallway, he turned as a naval officer appeared in the doorway. Petty Officer Jackson saluted, and Julia gasped.
“Commander Robert McIntyre Eliot at your service.”
“Oh my goodness, I’m not surprised Julia skimmed over how you met up yesterday.” Katie spluttered, and Scott had to rescue her glass of punch. He, Katie and Bob had escaped the reception following Olivia and Lachlan’s wedding to have a private catch up. With Katie a bridesmaid, it had been their first opportunity. They found sanctuary in a garden rotunda, and between them, Bob and Scott filled in the missing details from Friday’s adventures. “Papa would confine her to the house if he knew.”
“If I’d known about her escapade at Harvard, I might not have agreed to stay quiet. What the devil was Jamie thinking, leaving her alone with what’s-his-name in the first place?”
“Davenport Granger—he’s one of the Davenports on his mother’s side.” Katie arranged the skirt of her pale peach gown and took back her glass. “Jamie had to go to class. He didn’t know Granger was a lowlife slug. Jamie left them in the college gallery with lots of other people. Mamma was expected to arrive at any moment. He couldn’t have foreseen that she would be delayed, or that Julia would be sweet-talked into a walk in the gardens without a chaperone. She had only just been introduced to Mr Granger. I don’t know what she was thinking.”
“Thank goodness for the gardener, it seems.” Scott chuckled, trying to make Bob and Katie lighten up. Friday’s incident wasn’t the same and neither sounded entirely Julia’s fault.
“The gardener lost his job over it,” Katie said indignantly.
“I didn’t know that.” Obviously, the Harvard drama had more serious consequences than Scott had first realized. Shades of Johnny and wild horses: things had gotten way out of hand.
“Apparently, you’re not supposed to whack the son of a college benefactor with a spade even if he is forcing himself on a lady.”
“Papa got the poor man another position in the hospital gardens, but it didn’t help his temper when it came to dealing with Julia. Yesterday was the first time since then that she’s been allowed out without Mamma or one of our grandmothers going too.”
“What did the old man do about Granger?”
“Jamie says Papa was so furious, he named Davenport Granger to Grandmother Eliot.”
“He didn’t?” Bob leaned back against the central post supporting the rotunda roof and roared with laughter. “That’ll teach Granger. He’ll wish he’d never set eyes on Miss Julia Eliot.”
“Sorry, I’m lost. What’s so bad about telling your grandmother?”
“Telling her in general terms was a given, but naming the culprit…that’s bringing out the big guns. It would be like me court martialling brawling sailors instead of letting them sober up in the brig for a couple of days.”
“I thought you’d met Grandmother Eliot, Scott.” Katie looked at him surprise.
“We’ve been introduced, but that’s about all.” To be honest, that was about enough.
“I see; well, maybe living in an all-male household limited your understanding of her influence. Grandmother Eliot controls high society.”
“I beg your pardon?” He shouldn’t really be surprised by Katie’s statement. The late Senator Eliot had exuded wealth and power, and his wife had been the grand duchess of Boston’s elite. Dripping with jewels and wielding a lorgnette, she appeared to look down on lesser mortals. Scott had preferred to avoid her company, but most fawned over her at every opportunity—to be invited to one of her soirées had been among Julie and Mr Dennison’s aspirations.
“Davenport Granger is now persona non grata in every household of any standing in Boston. No family wishing to associate with the Eliots—which is most of them—will invite him to anything for the next year at least. He’ll be lucky if Davenport households set a place for him at a family dinner. He may as well pack his bags and leave Massachusetts now.” Katie sipped her punch with an air of serenity. It was as if Granger had gotten his just deserts and all was now right in the world. “Jamie thinks he’ll transfer to Yale.”
Scott stared. She was serious.
“Take note, my friend: it pays to stay in the old dowager’s good books.” Bob took a flask out of the inside pocket of his frock coat and filled their empty glasses. “I don’t suppose Granger would join the navy.”
“It might damage your career prospects if he did.” Scott sniffed at what was in his glass. Good, it was whisky, not rum. “I still can’t get over how a rogue like you made commander so soon. I thought the navy were sticklers for years served and obeying orders?”
“There are exceptions to every rule, but I admit I wasn’t expecting it. Of course, you know things about my carefree youth that blind you to my superior qualities and impeccable service record. On duty I’m actually very responsible. Damn good at what I do, in fact.”
“And if you weren’t so modest, you’d be perfect, dear brother.”
“It’s true. Modesty is my only weakness.” Bob winked. It was a glorious day, and they had all had enough alcohol to make them happy even on a grey day. But then Bob turned solemn. “There is one down side to this promotion.”
“And what’s that?” Scott loosened his tie. No more seducing a different lady in every port or getting drunk on liquid sunshine at a guess; as commander, Bob would have to set the standard for his officers and crew.
“I won’t be able to attend your wedding.”
“Oh, but Bob, you must.” Katie grasped her brother’s hand. “It won’t be the same without you there. Surely the navy will give you leave?”
“I doubt I’ll get more than a day or two’s leave at any one time for the next year. Once the Libby is fit to sail, we deliver the new ambassador to Japan and then patrol and survey the South China Sea. Unfortunately, the commander of a ship is not as dispensable as one of its lieutenants, and the odds are I’ll be thousands of miles away.”
Damn! Scott wanted to hit something; he hadn’t realized how much he’d been counting on Bob being there. Putting on a brave face, he and the others returned to the reception, but none of them seemed as cheerful as before.
“I’ll be honest, Johnny, I was hoping Bob would stand up with me if you couldn’t. It made the idea of marrying back east a little more palatable.” Scott passed Johnny another drink, and they watched Bob and his grandfather, James McIntyre, escort Katie and Emily onto the dance floor.
“You’ll be fine. You’ve got plenty of friends in Boston—and your grandfather.” Johnny’s eyes narrowed.
Scott would lay money it wasn’t his grandfather his brother was thinking about. Emily had been corresponding with James McIntyre since March when she found out Katie’s grandfather was an old friend of her father’s. Now something was going on that Scott hadn’t caught up with; at any rate, Johnny didn’t look pleased ten minutes ago when Murdoch announced James and Mary McIntyre were coming to the ranch at the end of the month with the Eliots. Scott probably should be taking more notice of what was happening around him, but his own worries were taking priority. “I don’t have any close friends left in Boston, and it’s definitely not home anymore. In an ideal world…”
“That place don’t exist.”
“No, unfortunately not.” Scott sighed. “I should be satisfied Katie is willing to live at the ranch. Where we get married isn’t important.” Good in theory, but he still yearned for what he couldn’t have. The only way would be if Katie made more sacrifices for his sake, and he wasn’t going to allow that. “There wouldn’t be time to arrange things before Christmas, but if we marry in the winter…”
“Scott, we’ve been over this. With the army contracts we can’t all be away for that long at the same time, even in winter.”
“I know. The railroad isn’t reliable then either.”
“You know I want to be with you, but if it’s in Boston, I’m the one staying behind. End of story.” Johnny drained his glass and put it down on the table behind them. Straightening the tie of his hated ‘monkey suit’, he slapped Scott on the back. “Cheer up. I’m going to dance with my wife. That old coot has had her long enough.”
Scott let him go. There had been less than eight weeks between Johnny and Emily setting the date for their wedding and the actual day. She had no family to speak of, so there’d been no problem about where it would be held. They’d married at the ranch and everyone had been happy.
“I wish it could be that simple in our case, but of course there are both family and distance to consider.” Scott passed around wine glasses to Katie and her parents the following evening before sitting down next to Katie and taking her hand. As planned, they had borrowed Will McIntyre’s study to talk over the options. A decision needed to be made before he and the others from the ranch caught the train on Tuesday.
“Scott and I have been over the possibilities a thousand times, Mamma. Unless you and Papa have any other ideas, we think our best option is to marry in Boston early March. It doesn’t allow a lot of time to make arrangements, but we don’t want to be apart any longer than absolutely necessary.”
Beth smiled. “A spring wedding in Boston would make things easier for us and Mr Garrett, but would Johnny and Murdoch be able to leave the ranch at that time?”
“Not both of them, no.” Scott tasted his wine and tried to appear unconcerned. “Johnny would stay behind and keep the ranch running.”
Beth and Robert exchanged glances.
“Don’t you want Johnny as your best man?”
“The needs of the ranch come first, sir. I’m marrying Katie, and that’s the main thing.” Scott gave a casual wave of his hand. “We’ll see plenty of Johnny and Emily after we’re married.”
“I was going to say, I can’t see Emily visiting Boston without Johnny.” Beth put her glass of wine down on the walnut table.
“I’ll have my sisters and Teresa.” Katie forced cheerfulness. “And I’ll be so busy preparing I won’t have time to miss her.”
Liar—Scott doubted she fooled her parents any more than she fooled him. Katie wanted Emily to be part of her special day. From the day Johnny and Emily got married there had been an unspoken understanding between them all that if he and Katie reached the same point their roles would be reversed.
“Not everyone can come if we marry in California either, but the numbers involved would be much greater. Grandmamma looks so frail. I couldn’t ask her to make such a long journey again, and I do so want her to be there. Grandmother Eliot hates leaving Boston, and then there’s the expense of it, particularly for the McIntyre side; so many made the effort to come to this year’s weddings. At least if we marry in Boston, fewer people need to travel.”
Beth looked over at Scott. “Would any of your friends here in California contemplate the journey?”
“One or two perhaps, but it would be beyond the means of most. We’ll throw a party when we get back.”
“It would suit me better if you married in Boston,” Robert said after sipping his wine. “I’d have difficulty getting the time away from the hospital to come here again for at least a year, and it would be impossible for Jamie unless you marry during the summer break. We had a deuce of a job persuading Dean Ellis to let him have the time for this trip.”
Scott nodded. According to Jamie, the Harvard dean only gave permission when the San Francisco Medical School invited Jamie to attend their classes, and that only happened when the highly respected Dr Robert Eliot, head of surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, agreed to give a series of lectures and surgical training sessions while in California. The next two weeks weren’t expected to be much of a vacation for Jamie or his father. “I don’t suppose it’s ideal to have Freddy miss school either.”
“Humph.” Robert swallowed more wine. “If you were prepared to wait until this time next year I should be able to swing another vacation, and it would give the extended family time to organize things. Cost is not really an issue for most of them.”
“It’s a thought.” Even to Scott’s ears, he didn’t sound enthusiastic. “If we delayed until next November or December Johnny and Murdoch might both be able to make the trip to Boston.”
“But you don’t want to wait that long.”
“Not if we can help it, sir. And the fact is a delay until this time next year would still exclude Katie’s grandmother and Jamie if the wedding was held here, and no time is a good time for a rancher to be away for more than a week or two. Even if we wait, something could crop up to prevent my father and brother both making a wedding in Boston.” Scott sighed. He and Katie had already exhausted all the options; they were going over the same ground.
“Let’s sleep on it another night.” Beth rose from her seat. “I’d like to talk it over with some of the others involved, and we can all come back to the topic with fresh ideas when Scott and family come to lunch tomorrow.”
“I agree, my dear, and in the meantime if you’ll excuse me I have a lecture to prepare for.” Robert finished his wine and got to his feet too. He offered his arm and escorted Beth from the room.
Scott watched his future parents-in-law until the door closed, and then he pulled Katie to her feet.
“It will be all right.” He rocked her in his arms, enjoying the fragrance of her hair and its softness against his cheek. “We’ll have a wonderful wedding day with most of our loved ones with us wherever it’s held.”
“I know.” With head resting on his chest and arms wrapped around his waist, she sighed. “Boston is very beautiful in the spring.”
“Pass me those dresses and I’ll put them in the trunk so you have room for yours in the wardrobe.” Katie pointed to what Olivia had left behind. With her cousin gone on her honeymoon, Julia was moving into her bedroom with Katie to give their cousin, Fanny, and sister, Victoria, more space. With so many people in the house, sleeping arrangements had been rather a mission for Aunt Anne to work out; all three of Katie’s brothers were camping out on cots in her cousin Billy’s room. The official guest room, which had been Katie’s before everyone else arrived, was currently being used by her parents, and her grandparents were in what used to be her cousin Jim’s room before he got married. Even a six bedroom house was stretched to its limits.
“I like this Worth. Do you think Olivia would mind if I borrowed it?” Julia held the green and gold evening gown against her and swished back and forth in front of the mirror. “I could wear it when I go to the theatre on Thursday with Mr Wagner.”
“If you go to the theatre with Mr Wagner. Papa hasn’t given his permission yet, has he?”
“It’s so unfair. Papa never stopped you going out with young men you liked.”
“Firstly, I’m over twenty-one, and secondly, you have already fallen in love with more young men than I ever looked twice at. Besides Papa probably will let you go as long as someone is free to go with you.”
“I wish Scott wasn’t returning to Lancer so soon, you and he could chaperone. Papa says Victoria won’t do on her own, and I don’t want Bob or Jamie there.”
“What makes you think Scott and I would be any less attentive?”
Julia smiled and grabbed Katie, dancing her around the bedroom. “You, my dear sister, now know what it’s like to be in love. You and Scott would be far too busy gazing into each other’s eyes to worry about whether I was sitting too close to Mr Wagner.”
The girls fell onto the bed laughing just as their mother popped her head through the door.
“How are you two getting on? The Lancers will be here soon.”
“We’ve done the small stuff. Julia only has to get her dresses from Fanny’s wardrobe. Do you need help with something, Mamma?”
“No, but I would like a word before our guests arrive.”
Julia got up from the bed. “I’ll go and get my gowns.”
Beth came into the room as Julia left and sat down beside Katie. “I’ve been talking to Grandmamma about your wedding. It will take some organizing if you are going to have one on the scale of Olivia and Lachlan’s.”
“I’d be happy with something a lot simpler, but I don’t suppose there’s much choice. There are so many people to invite.”
“If the wedding was held in California distance and the cost would make it impractical for as many to come.”
“That’s one reason why Boston in the New Year seems our best option. Scott insisted last night, but I know he’s heartbroken that all his family can’t be at the ceremony. It took so long for them to come together, and now I’m going to start my marriage by splitting them apart.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. You are not splitting anyone apart. You are going to live at Lancer for the rest of your life. Marrying in Boston is Scott’s way of showing how much he appreciates the sacrifices you are making.”
“But he wants Johnny as best man, and now he can’t even have Bob as back up. I’d love Emily as Matron of Honour too, but you said it yourself, she won’t go to Boston without Johnny. Murdoch has missed out on every other important event in Scott’s life so everyone is agreed he must be at the wedding, but I obviously can’t marry without Papa to give me away, and I want Grandmamma there too and Jamie. Apart from Aunt Dottie, I’m not so worried about my cousins and uncles and aunts, or Grandmother Eliot. Oh dear, that sounds awful.”
“It sounds perfectly reasonable to me.” Beth smiled with an air of mock innocence, and Katie laughed. Grandmother Eliot didn’t approve of some of her mother’s activities and on occasions felt the need to say so. “All joking aside, if you are happy not to have a big wedding, your grandmamma came up with another suggestion that I think could work.” Beth took Katie’s suntanned hand and caressed it in her own creamy white ones. “Why don’t you get married at Lancer next month while we’re all there?”
“Oh, Mamma, if only we could, but Papa would never agree to that. He’s only just given his blessing to us marrying. Hardly anyone from his side of the family would be able to come if the wedding was held so soon. There’d be no time to send out invitations or prepare anything.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, I admit I would like a proper wedding dress, and it takes time to get the right fabric and have a gown made, but I’d do without that in a second if I thought we really could get married so soon.”
“Wait here.” Beth patted Katie’s hand and disappeared from the room. A minute later she returned with a large parcel wrapped in tissue paper. She laid it out on the bed and began to undo the ribbons and pins that held everything together.
“Oh, Mamma, it’s your wedding dress.” Katie touched the soft white taffeta silk gown with reverence. She had always loved it. When she was young, she used to try it on and pretend she was a princess. “But I don’t understand.”
“It’s the same style as the one Queen Victoria wore. It’s not right for today of course, but fortunately we used more fabric in our gowns in those days, not less. I thought a good seamstress could take some from the front and use it on a train, maybe add a little more lace.” Beth’s eyes softened as she fingered the skirt and straightened the lace on the bodice. “I had no idea of an early wedding when I brought it with me. I wanted you to have the option of using it though, and I thought there was a chance you might not return to Boston without Scott.” She looked up. “Now it could solve a problem. If you did wear this, you wouldn’t have to order fabric or have so many fittings. What do you think?”
Katie couldn’t say anything. Her eyes filled with tears and she hugged her mother. Picking up the dress, she held it against herself as Julia had done earlier with Olivia’s gown. “I saw a veil made of Honiton lace last week that would go perfectly. Oh, Mamma, thank you. I want to wear this dress no matter where we marry.”
“But you’d prefer to marry at Lancer?”
“If only we could, but Papa will never agree.” Katie plumped down on the bed; it had been a lovely dream, but it wasn’t going to happen. “He thought we rushed into our engagement.”
“Your father was just being cautious. He loves you.”
“Oh, I know he always has my best interests at heart, Mamma. I didn’t mean…”
“I know you didn’t.” Beth squeezed Katie’s hand. “Surprising as it may seem your father can remember what it’s like to be young and in love—we both can. He knows it’s not easy to wait.”
“No.” Katie could feel herself blush, but her mother just smiled.
“This way you wouldn’t have to wait very long at all, and even Bob could be at the wedding.”
“Oh yes, he could. I hadn’t thought of that.” Katie and Bob were close—he was the big brother who had always looked out for her. He’d given her the cameo ring she wore on the ring finger of her right hand. Next to Scott and Papa he was the dearest man in her life, and she’d cried herself to sleep the night she’d learned he couldn’t be at her wedding.
“And for the record, your father likes Scott a lot more than he’ll admit. You are his little girl; the only daughter he had for five years. He doesn’t like the idea of giving you away to anyone, but I’m more than hopeful that by mid-October he’ll be able to place your hand in Scott’s without frowning.”
“Do you really think he might say yes?”
“He should be back from the medical school by twelve thirty. There’s only one way to find out.”
“I’m starving. What’s for lunch?” Robert Eliot walked through the door after his morning lecture as Katie and Scott came out of the study, arm in arm. They stopped talking immediately. “Oh dear, two young people looking excited and furtive; I smell trouble.”
“Not at all, sir.” Cupping his hand over Katie’s, Scott forced confidence into his voice. “But we think we may have a solution to our problem. If all parties agree, of course. We were just about to sound Murdoch out. If it’s convenient, we could talk to you at the same time?” He wasn’t sure if that was the best idea or not, but it had been what Beth suggested, according to Katie.
Robert’s eyes narrowed. “Like that, is it? Well, lead the way.”
They entered the parlour to find Beth had already arranged things for a private tête-à-tête between the main players. She and Murdoch were waiting for them by the unlit fireplace, while everyone else was in the garden, drinking lemonade and chatting until luncheon was ready.
Murdoch shook Robert’s hand. “Do you know what this is about? Beth won’t tell me.”
“No, but I have a feeling I’m the one being ambushed, not you.” Robert looked meaningfully at his wife as he took a seat beside her.
“Sir, we don’t want anyone to feel ambushed, but Beth and Grandmamma McIntyre have come up with an idea for our wedding that Katie and I would very much like to pursue. We’re hoping you and Murdoch will give it your blessing.”
“Let’s hear it then.”
Scott breathed in; there was still something inexplicably uncomfortable about the way his future father-in-law looked at him—rather like he was a beetle under a microscope. “As you know, you and the family are planning to visit the ranch in a couple of weeks. Well, we thought…the suggestion is that it would be a good idea to get married at Lancer next month while you are all there.” Damn, he didn’t mean to blurt it out in such a rush.
Katie squeezed his hand and sat down next to Murdoch. “We know it’s a lot to ask, Murdoch, when the ranch is busy, but we promise we’ll arrange everything. Friends and most relatives could stay in local hotels. The only extra guests at the hacienda would be Mr Garrett and maybe Grandmother Eliot and Scott’s Aunt Winifred.”
“We wouldn’t have time to sort out another venue, sir, and the hacienda worked well for Johnny and Emily’s wedding.”
“Mamma and I thought we could send invitations by telegram,” Beth added, ignoring the frown on her husband’s face. “If the date was set for the very end of our stay, I’m confident Mr Garrett would make the effort, and I’m sure he would be happy to escort your mother, Robert. Certainly, it would be too short notice for most others in Boston, but it would be a lot easier for our friends and relatives here in San Francisco.”
“I think it’s a marvellous idea.” Murdoch slapped his knee and grinned. “Robert?”
“My mother won’t come at such short notice. She dislikes travelling at the best of times, and her social calendar is set months in advance. She will see setting such an early date as a deliberate ploy to exclude her—or worse, an attempt to hide something.”
“Oh, Papa, no. She couldn’t possibly.” Katie looked horrified.
How dare her father…He knew damn well… Scott bit his tongue and breathed in and out before daring to speak. “I’ll write to her, sir, and explain.”
“You will do no such thing,” Robert growled like a cornered bear, and Scott straightened.
Shit. Why hadn’t they spoken to him alone? He wouldn’t like something like this sprung on him in front of a friend, and let’s face it, none of them had really thought Murdoch would object. Katie’s father had always been seen as the challenge.
“I could still bring Katie to Boston in the spring.”
“Oh, yes, Papa, we could do what we thought of doing at the ranch if we married in Boston and have a party for everyone not able to attend the wedding.”
“I could ask your mother to help me arrange things. You know she would enjoy that, and it would do away with any ridiculous notions she or anyone else might have.”
“Yes, sir. The snows should have cleared from the railroad by late February, and it would mean we could be home again before the ranch got too busy.”
“If we get married at Lancer, Papa, Johnny can be Scott’s best man, and Emily can be my Matron of Honour. It would mean so much to both of us.” There were tears in Katie’s eyes. Scott moved to her side, placing his hand on her shoulder.
Her father turned away, crossing his legs and staring at the floral tiles on the fireplace. “I suppose the idea has some merit. I wouldn’t need to negotiate any more leave, and we would escape the endless preparations that seem to accompany weddings these days.”
“Yes, Papa. And it would mean Bob, Jamie and Grandmamma could all be there.”
“But none of your Eliot uncles, aunts or cousins. Nor in fact almost anyone from back east who isn’t already in California.”
“Possibly not.” Katie hung her head and twisted her cameo ring. “I’m sure Aunt Dottie would try her best to come. I do hope she can come—and Grandmother.”
“My brothers will think it is punishment for the Sir Bertram debacle.”
“Well, it’s not.” Katie flared, raising her eyes to her father’s. “But I won’t be sorry if they can’t come. Papa, you can’t blame me for being angry?”
“No, my dear, and it would serve them right if we didn’t invite them—but we will.” Robert got up and rested an elbow on the mantelpiece, looking down at Murdoch. “I’m still paying for everything.”
Murdoch chuckled and relaxed back on the sofa. “I’m only providing the venue, and Scott owns a third of that, but I’ll send you a bill if you insist.”
“Oh, Papa, does this mean you agree?” Katie jumped up.
Her father gave a muffled grunt and small, dismissive wave, and she threw herself into his arms.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. Oh, this is wonderful: my sisters, Emily and Teresa can be bridesmaids and my brothers and Johnny can stand up for Scott.”
“Thank you, sir.” Scott offered his hand and failed miserably at suppressing a grin.
“A wise man knows when he’s beaten.” With his left arm still around his daughter, Robert slapped his right hand into Scott’s and shook it firmly. “Your time will come.”
Exchanging some expressive but thankfully good humoured looks, Robert and Beth then led the way out into the garden. Scott called for everyone’s attention and relayed the news.
“Oh, I’m so glad.” Emily pressed Scott’s hand between hers and hugged Katie as others came over to express their joy.
“I’m not wearing a monkey suit, brother,” Johnny said in a low voice as he and Bob did the rounds with bottles of good Californian wine.
“I’ll see what I can do.” Scott laughed. He knew what Katie would say. “But I’ve told you before: the bride decides what everyone wears at a wedding.”
“Pfft.” Johnny scowled and moved on.
When everyone’s glass was full, Murdoch raised his. “A toast: to the second wedding at the Lancer ranch in the space of a year.” Clearly, he couldn’t be happier.
“It turned out better than anyone could have guessed.” Scott smiled down at Katie as they said their private goodbyes some hours later. He and his family would catch the train back to the San Joaquin early the next day, so he was taking full advantage of the now deserted garden. He’d even checked behind the lilac bush. “Last chance to change your mind, Miss Eliot.”
“Not on your life, Mr Lancer. Come October 12th, you’re mine.”
1. This story is No.16 in the Eliot Series, which grew out of From Highlands to Homecoming, the back story for Murdoch, 1842-1870. The first story in the Eliot Series is Past Imperfect set in February, 1872; however readers should also see Circumstances, a back story for Scott, 1866-1870. The Lancer men and Teresa O’Brien are characters created by Samuel A. Peeples in the original Lancer pilot, The Homecoming (retitled The Highriders, Series 1, Episode 1). Most other characters in this story are original to the aforementioned stories. Aggie Conway, mentioned in Chapter One, is a canon character from The Rivals, Series 2, Episode 24. Mary Lou Jessop, mentioned in Chapter One, is an original character appearing in Sod’s Law and What Katie Said.
2. “He, who is not every day conquering some fear, has not learned the secret of life” is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.
3. When women were granted ‘separate economy’ it meant that a woman was granted the ability to earn her own income and retain it for her own use, independent of her husband. That meant he couldn’t demand that she turn it over to him to drink or gamble with, or, say, to support a mistress.’ For more information about the progress of women’s rights and ‘separate economy’ see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_women’s_legal_rights_(other_than_voting), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_Women%27s_Property_Acts_in_the_United_States and https://www.theguardian.com/money/us-money-blog/2014/aug/11/women-rights-money-timeline-history
4. The Daily Alta California was a nineteenth century San Francisco newspaper. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Daily_Alta_California
5. The House of Worth, 1858-1952, was a French house of high fashion that specialized in haute-couture, ready-to-wear clothes and perfume. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Worth
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