...where the men are steadfast & the women are adventurous
Fall in Love with a NEW Old West
( Lonesome Hearts series, book 2 )
Can a single day on horseback change your life forever?
Oregon Territory, 1852
“You’re relieved from your duties, Miss Featherby.” Mr. Hammond tucked his bearded chin under his sagging collar, seeking respite from the squalls that tested Timber Creek’s logging camp more days than not during Faith Featherby’s three years teaching in the wilderness.
Although she habitually shied away from confrontations, this wasn’t one she could accept mutely. “For how long? The children need me.”
Hovering at the foot of the schoolhouse steps, Hammond’s usually kind eyes remained downcast as he stared at Faith—or rather her feet, which were frozen in her bewilderment to the threshold of a structure that doubled as her lodgings.
“Your presence as Timber Creek’s schoolmistress is no longer desirable,” Hammond replied in a staccato voice, as if reciting from a script. Under eyebrows thick as woolly caterpillars, his eyes darted left then right, toward Mrs. Cain and Mrs. Crisp who flanked him. “The school committee has voted. You’re to leave immediately ’n never return.”
An avalanche of fear hit Faith. She clutched the doorframe of the one-room shanty she’d transformed into a safe haven for her students and herself. Becoming a teacher had been her ticket out of the orphanage she’d grown up in. A ticket she’d hoped would lead to a better future.
“I’ve nowhere to go.”
Mrs. Crisp’s arctic-blue gaze chilled her to the bone. “You’ll find room in a bawdy house.”
“Jezebel,” Mrs. Cain hissed under her breath.
“Whore of Babylon,” Mrs. Crisp added, lightning quick.
A gasp broke from Faith’s lips before she could swallow it along with her hurt. From day one, the two women had mistaken her shyness for conceit and never uttered a kind word to her, or about her. But until today, they’d never gone so far as to slander her character.
Hammond raised his palms in a placating manner, but his gaze dipped even lower, locking on his own feet. “Ladies, please. Ain’t no need for name callin’.”
Mrs. Crisp sniffed in disdain. “She brought this on herself.”
“What do you mean?” Faith slumped against the doorway and struggled to speak over her rising panic. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Mrs. Cain’s spindly body snapped straight as a pencil while her voice climbed high enough to make even Hammond flinch. “You consider relations outside marriage nothing?”
“Who said—?” An appalling notion pierced Faith.
Last week Dan Doolan had been furious when she rejected his overtures of relations outside marriage, which he’d proclaimed was her only prospect considering her advancing spinsterhood and lack of social graces. He’d preyed on her weaknesses. She could very well end up in a bawdy house—unable to elude men like Doolan—if she lost this job. She had few savings, and no family or friends.