“She’s gone?” Max Peregrine shouted, disbelief then panic raising his voice to a roar. “Where?”
Lined up shoulder to shoulder inside the Denver office of Peregrines’ Post and Freight, the three Llewellyn brothers studied him intently, not with surprise but curiosity. And something more. Something his careening thoughts couldn’t identify.
Brynmor, the eldest by several years, heaved a sympathetic sounding sigh. “She’s—”
“Fine,” Heddwyn interrupted, embracing his status as the swift-talking middle brother who needed to do everything quick, including driving freight wagons at breakneck speed. He shot his brothers a secretive glance. “Remember our plan. He sounds upset, but we need to know more.”
“Stuff your plans!” Max threw down his pencil and stormed around the desk where he’d been working on his ledgers. He’d throttle his answers from Robyn’s brothers if need be. “Why—did—she—leave!?”
Griffin, the youngest but also the largest, folded his arms over his barrel of a chest. “He sounds more than upset.”
“Good.” Standing on either side of their flame-haired baby brother, Brynmor and Heddwyn spoke and nodded in unison, like matching musclebound bookends with the same auburn hair and sky-blue eyes. Except Bryn had one eye clouded white. Max had yet to learn why.
The Llewellyns were fond of talk but notoriously unforthcoming on certain subjects. Like, at the moment, Robyn’s departure.
“He’s regretting something,” Griffin added.
Max froze. Leave it to Griff to pinpoint Max’s state of mind while never addressing his own. Griff’s hair color matched his sister’s, but his reputation as the Llewellyn sibling with a short fuse was his alone.
“I regret”—he unlocked his clenched jaw and tried to speak normally—“that your sister might have put herself in jeopardy.”
Heddwyn snorted. “Little Red can take care of herself.”
“Hedd’s right. The wee one is all grown-up,” Bryn proclaimed with another sigh.
“She’s as tough as she is beautiful.” Griff’s gaze narrowed, studying him even more keenly. “Or do you believe otherwise?”
“I don’t,” Max muttered, thinking of Robyn’s lean strength, steely blue gaze, and stunning smile. A smile he’d been blessed to see every day since he moved to Denver. A smile he craved more than a miner coveted gold. A smile that had become increasingly melancholy of late. “Whatever’s wrong and wherever she’s gone, she needn’t be alone. I would’ve traveled with her.”
“You sure ’bout that?” Hedd released a low whistle as he pointed at Max’s face. “Look! Dog Bone’s turning the same shade of red as Ruddy does when he’s near to exploding.”
In Welsh, Griff meant ruddy, but that hothead remained poker-faced as he said, “We have eyes, Peaceful. No need telling us something we can plainly see.”
Max’s entire body burned with outrage. Not because of the teasing titles the Llewellyns loved to dole out, for themselves and others. In Welsh, Heddwyn meant blessed peace, a constant source of ribbing for a man who had too much energy to stand still. Max had learned to look below the surface of their name tomfoolery after Robyn revealed her brothers called him Dog Bone because he never stopped gnawing problems into submission.
He didn’t give up. A trait all of the Llewellyns found admirable. If they assigned you a name, even one you didn’t find flattering, it meant you’d earned their respect. They didn’t waste their time on people they didn’t like.
Robyn’s explanation along with her easy smile had ended his dislike for long conversations. But only with her. They’d talked about everything after that, argued as much as they’d agreed, but always ended up smiling.
No topic had been taboo, or so he thought. Why hadn’t she spoken to him before she left? And how could her brothers question his resolve, especially when it came to Robyn?
Their lack of faith left him not only furious but frustrated and flummoxed. “If your sister asked, I’d have gone anywhere with her.”
Bryn raised an eyebrow in challenge. “You said differently in the past.”
“I did not.”
“Did too,” Hedd shot back. “Then Rob said she had to go there. No other place would do.”
“Took the Clydesdale.” Griff thrust his thumb over his shoulder. “In better weather, she’d be there by now.”
Max’s gaze leapt in the direction he’d indicated, hoping to see Robyn behind her brothers. That this was all some colossal joke.
Driven by a fickle wind, his world spun faster than the snow outside the window. She couldn’t be gone. Not in such a storm. Not when he needed her, when they all needed her. She was the thread that held everything together. Did her brothers seriously believe he wouldn’t have accompanied her on any journey? They’d lost their minds. He couldn’t do the same. He had to find Robyn.
Who’s the perfect match for a flame-haired Welsh tomboy who loves driving wagons?
December 21, 1877
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