by Paty Jager
Jenny Wolcott’s heart raced as she scanned the heart-shaped lace and gold edging of the card on her desk. It was too beautiful and expensive to be from one of her students. She slipped a finger between the sturdy papers, opening the card. There wasn’t any writing, just the elegant store bought card. Who had placed it on her desk while she visited the outhouse? She hadn’t heard a horse or wagon approach.
Peering out the one window of the schoolhouse, she stared at the empty road. The children had left nearly an hour earlier. She’d remained at the school, preferring the quiet to the chaos of her brother’s house to read her students’ essays.
The sun was quickly nearing the horizon. If I don’t hurry I’ll be walking home in the dark. A shiver crept down her back at the thought. While this part of Montana was relatively civilized there was the occasional outlaw, drifter, or renegade Indian that wandered through Twin Forks, not to mention how fast the temperature dropped once the sun disappeared.
As badly as she wanted to savor the Valentine, she tucked it into her grade book to treasure later and donned her wool cape and bonnet for her two mile walk. Jenny closed the door, tucked the grade book to her body with one arm, and sloshed through the freezing slush holding up her skirt. The cold quickly slipped under her skirt seeping through her flannel pantalets. Jason delivered she and her nephews to school that morning wrapped in buffalo robes in the wagon.
Arizona winters hadn’t been as harsh as her first winter at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Her breath puffed in front of her face in a white veil.
Surely, Jason would come looking for her. Jenny tucked her gloved hand holding the book tighter against her body and trudged on.
A crunching sound caught her attention. She peered through the graying dusk as the shape of a horse and buggy emerged on the road. It wasn’t her brother. Jason didn’t own a buggy.
She stepped to the side of the road, standing in a foot of cold, crusty, snow. Shivers started at her feet and slowly climbed up her limbs until her whole body shook.
The buggy stopped. Evan Carey, the local sheriff, pulled his hat off his curly brown hair.
“Miss Wolcott, could I give you a ride?”
Jenny’s throat tightened. Of all the people to come to her rescue, she could easily envision Evan as her knight in shining armor. Ever since her arrival to Twin Forks last fall her heart raced and her tongue thickened when she laid eyes upon this lawman.
She thought back to their brief chat at the Christmas social. It had been their first chance to talk, just the two of them, even if it was in a room full of people and noise. She’d cherished the noise for it enabled them to lean close to hear one another.
While she ruminated, Evan hopped out of the buggy. “Are you all right?”
Since her tongue had once again turned to cotton she nodded her head.
“You’re sure? You look cold. Here, get in the buggy.” His strong hands settled at her waist, and he easily lifted her onto the buggy seat. Once he was settled beside her, their legs touching, he placed a blanket over both their laps and flashed her with his knee-melting smile that crinkled the edges of his hazel eyes.
He clicked his tongue and slapped the reins on the horse’s rump, setting the buggy forward.
When he didn’t turn the buggy around, Jenny found her voice.
“My brother’s house is behind us.”
“I know I just came from there.” He winked and her stomach quivered.
“What were you doing at my brother’s?” Jenny couldn’t think why the sheriff would be visiting Jason.
“Waiting for you.” He raised a hand, tucking a loose lock of her hair back under her bonnet.
Her heart skipped in her chest and her cold toes warmed from his touch. “Why?”
“To take you to dinner in town.” His gaze traveled over her face. Worry lines on his forehead wrinkled. “Your teeth are chattering. Here.” He slipped an arm around her, drawing her shivering body tight to his and tugging the blanket up around her. “Can’t have my valentine getting cold.”
“Y-your valentine?” She squeezed the grade book still clutched to her chest.
“Didn’t you get my invitation?” For the first time since meeting Evan his voice held a note of uncertainty.
Jenny flipped open her book and took out the valentine. “Is this your invitation?”
“Yes. You haven’t read it?” His voice rose in pitch.
Now it was her turn to be uncertain. “I found it on my desk but there wasn’t anything written on it.” Jenny held the heart to her chest to still her racing heart. “It means a great deal that it’s from you.”
The scowl on Evan’s face made the excitement bubbling in her freeze.
“I don’t understand…” Evan stared at her.
“Don’t understand what?”
“I wrote in it and asked Robby Bennett to give it to you yesterday.”
“Robby hasn’t been to school for two days.” Worry replaced her elation. Since school started, Robby had missed more school than anyone else and came to school with bruises he said he received from horsing around.
Jenny grasped Evan’s arm. “We should go check on Robby.”
Evan nodded and moved the horse at a brisker pace. They entered town at a trot, hurrying down main street, and out to the tent city along Allan Creek.
Jason had told her that before gold was found along Allan Creek, Twin forks was a quiet town with no need for a sheriff and no one had to worry about drunks, stealing, and family contention.
Evan stopped the buggy in front of a dark tent. “You stay here.” His tone told her there was no need to argue, he didn’t want her venturing into the tent.
“Be careful.” Worry for Evan and what he might find bubbled in her belly.
He returned with Robby cradled against his chest and gently placed the boy in her lap. The gentleness and caring Evan showed the boy opened her heart even more to the man. Jenny wrapped the blanket around Robby’s slight body and prayed they hadn’t arrived too late.
Evan started the buggy back into town. His hands fisted tightly on the reins as he stared straight ahead. The street to the doctor’s was coming up and he didn’t attempt to turn the horse. “Evan, the doctor’s is over there,” Jenny said, placing a hand on his arm.
He shook his head and his glazed eyes, dark with hidden anger, focused on her before her words appeared to seep into his consciousness. Evan pulled the horse around, trotted back to the right street, and eased to a stop in front of the doctor’s house. Jumping down, he took Robby from her and hurried toward the porch. Jenny beat him to the door, knocking rapidly.
“Doc Raeburn!” she called and knocked again.
The door opened and the doctor held up a lantern. “My word. Sheriff Carey and Miss Wolcott, come in.”
“Doc, Robby needs your attention.” Evan carried the boy into the examining room and placed him gently on the table.
Evan turned to her. The steel and anger in his eyes would have moved her backwards if his hands hadn’t captured her shoulders.
“Stay with Robby until I return.”
The torment in his eyes and the stern set to his jaw set her stomach to churning. She nodded and asked, “Where are you going?”
“To find Mr. Bennett.”
Copyright ©2012 Paty Jager
You can find the rest of this story at my blog and website by clicking on the tab "HEART OF GOLD"