It’s Excerpt Wednesday! Yep, I may have been terrible at maintaining my blog this summer (but I’ve just been doing so much traveling!), but at least I’m able to keep up with excerpts from upcoming works. Here’s the continuation of the scene I posted last week. Gideon and Lucy finally meet!
As he set the last of his crates in order, took out the modified watch he’d constructed to keep track of mileage traveled, and closed the tailgate of the wagon, a bubbly, female voice caught his attention.
“Hurry along. My father’s waiting for me to come home to Wyoming, and if we are held up, he’ll have words for all of us. No one holds up Howard Haskell, and no one holds up his daughter.”
Gideon perked up in spite of himself, searching for the source of the voice. When his gaze fell on a spry wisp of a woman—her auburn hair caught up under a fashionable hat and her green dress a bit too sophisticated for the trail—his heart bounced down to his gut and back.
“Yes, Miss Lucy,” one of the wagon train’s crew said as he pushed a trunk into the back of the woman’s wagon.
“I can’t wait to get home,” the woman, Lucy, went on. “I miss my Papa and my Aunt Virginia, and even my bratty little brother, Franklin. When I got Papa’s letter telling me Franklin had been injured, I had to come right away. Mama took the train, but I need more adventure than that. I wish I’d been alive twenty years ago, when the first pioneers came out this way. It would have been dangerous and exciting, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Miss Lucy,” the crew member sighed.
“It’s still dangerous, at least a little bit,” Lucy continued, following the assistant when he finished with her things and tried to move on. They both came closer to where Gideon stood. “I love danger. It makes me feel all shivery inside, like, like….” She shuddered, cheeks flaring with color, and lowered her eyes with a mischievous grin. “Well, never mind what like.”
A rush of unwelcome heat flooded Gideon. Lucy was close enough for him to see the flash in her eyes—a scintillating contrast to her otherwise sweet, virtuous face. One lingering look and he had a hard time believing that she was anything other than innocent, in spite of her provocative speech. His heart hammered… and his stomach pinched with guilt.
“The Indians are still there, after all,” Lucy went on as the crew member tried to get away. “They’re dangerous. And there’s always wild animals. I bet we see a herd of buffalo once we get to the true West. I’ve seen them. They’re everywhere, but not so much as before.”
It wasn’t until Lucy’s gaze zipped across him, stopped, and focused on him that Gideon realized he was staring. Not only that, his mouth had dropped open. Worse, he couldn’t look away. Miss Lucy was beautiful, her delicate features accented by the light of adventure in her eyes. Her auburn hair caught the sunlight and absorbed it, giving her a warm, excited glow. And when she smiled, well, Gideon was as aware as the next man that some chemical reactions went far beyond a laboratory.
A heartbeat later, sense—and shame—caught up with him. He closed his mouth, swallowed, and focused on his watch, adjusting the settings. That didn’t stop Lucy from approaching him.
“Do you think we’ll encounter dangers on the trail?” she asked, skipping nearer with a lightness that spoke of both dexterity and enthusiasm. “I’m certain there are other things besides Indians and wild animals that we should watch out for. My father is always saying that you never know what you’ll find under a rock or around a crook in the creek.” She laughed suddenly, and Gideon’s eyes snapped up to her, round and wary. “I like the way Papa says that. ‘Crook in the creek.’ It has quite a ring to it, don’t you think, Mr.?”
It took Gideon a moment after she stopped speaking to realize she wanted a response. A cold sweat broke out down his back. Aside from the fact that he didn’t deserve to make Miss Lucy’s acquaintance, he’d never had much luck speaking to women before. They weren’t interested in the things he held dear, and since he didn’t have that boldness that other men possessed….
He cleared his throat and stood straighter, forcing himself to focus. “Faraday.” He tucked his watch into his trouser pocket and held out a hand. “Dr. Gideon Faraday.”
When Lucy blinked and stared at his hand, Gideon cursed himself. It was the wrong way for a man to introduce himself to a woman, especially one who appeared to be from a finer class than most. He should have bowed and possibly kissed her hand. He should have warned her to stay away from him. He should have—
She took Gideon’s hand, squeezing it as she shook. Her beautiful, green eyes sparkled as she grinned.
“I approve of men who shake women’s hands,” she said. “It shows a real sense of equality. I can’t abide it when a man snakes his fingers under mine and tries to kiss my knuckles. Kissing knuckles. Can you imagine? Other than the fact that that kind of greeting happens when you first meet someone, who wants their knuckles kissed? I can think of much nicer places to be kissed.”
Gideon choked at her words. His collar—and trousers—were suddenly too tight. He would have pulled away, but Lucy still had his hand trapped in hers.
“Oh,” she gasped, eyes going round. “That doesn’t sound at all proper, does it.” She laughed, pressing her free hand to her chest. “How scandalous of me. But then, I come from a line of scandalous women. You should meet my Aunt Virginia. She would shock the life out of you, I’m sure. She carries a pistol at all times and rides horses like a man. Of course, I can ride horses like a man too.” She winked.
Gideon’s heart slipped that much further out of his ability to control it. If he had a shred of decency left, he would turn and run and spare Lucy the torment of knowing him.
“I should probably let go of your hand now,” she went on. “And, oh! I haven’t even told you my name yet. Here I’ve gone on, talking about danger and Aunt Virginia and horses, and I haven’t even told you my name. Silly. Typical. It’s Lucy Haskell, by the way. Miss Lucy Haskell. My father is Howard Haskell or Wyoming. I’m heading west to go home, which, I suppose, makes me different from just about everyone else on this wagon train.”
At last, Lucy let his hand go. It was a great loss. As great a loss as his loss for words in the face of the avalanche that was Miss Lucy Haskell.
“Move on out, folks,” Pete’s cry sounded over top of the din of wagons and people around them. “The journey to your new life starts now.”
Gideon would have glanced around to see what was going on and if he needed to take any action, but his eyes were locked on Lucy’s smiling face. A blind man could see that she had energy and drive. He may have spent his whole life studying the Laws of Nature, but a whole different law was at work here, one of attraction.
“Miss Lucy,” Pete called from several yards behind him. “Your wagon isn’t going to drive itself.”
“Oh. I’d better go.” Before Gideon could get out another word, Lucy picked up her skirts and scurried back toward her wagon. She glanced over her shoulder at him as she went, though, the green ribbons on her hat fluttering in the breeze.
Gideon blinked. Lucy Haskell was a whirlwind, and it would take him at least a few minutes to digest what had just passed between them.
As he turned toward his wagon and the oxen that were hitched to draw it, his eyes stayed glued to Lucy. One of Pete’s crew members met her at the front of her wagon and handed her a goad, demonstrating how to use it. Lucy nodded and smiled at the man, took the goad, and steered her oxen into place like an expert as soon as she was given the go ahead.
Like a magnet drawn to iron, and against his better judgment, Gideon’s mind shifted into action. He retrieved the goad resting on the seat of his wagon and hurried to bring his oxen around and into place as close to Lucy’s wagon as he could manage. He wasn’t fast enough. One other wagon managed to slip into place in the long line that was forming and stretching out toward the western horizon.
It took Gideon a moment to see that the man driving that wagon only had one leg. The realization caused him to frown. The man was wearing a Union soldier’s uniform and propelling himself forward on crutches, but why would anyone choose to walk the Oregon Trail with only one leg?
As the wagon train pulled away from Independence and out into the vast prairie, Gideon’s mind was filled with all sorts of calculations. He worried about the chemicals in his wagon and reorganized them in his mind for maximum safety. He watched the way the soldier in front of him walked and calculated what it would take to construct a wooden leg to make the man’s journey easier. But above all, he mulled over the problem of whether he dared to get closer to Miss Lucy Haskell or if he would be even more of a villain than he already was for saddling her with someone like him.