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An Excerpt from A Cowboy for Christmas
prologue, young Dan Roland and his brother, Nick, have been abandoned by their
father at an orphanage in St. Louis after their mother died. The boys struggle to adjust to their new
life, but when Nick is adopted and Dan is left behind, both boys are
devastated. Late one night, Dan sneaks
out of the orphanage to try to find his brother. In the meantime, Nick runs away from his adopted family to
return to live with Dan at the orphanage, only to discover his brother has
disappeared. Nick is returned to his new
Excerpt from Chapter Three:
Dan couldn’t believe it was the day after Thanksgiving and he was back in St. Louis. He was glad he’d brought his heavy coat along as he stood outside the train station in the cold weather. Looking around, he couldn’t help but notice how much the city had changed in the years he’d been away. The station was a busy place, and the streets were crowded with warmly dressed folks coming and going. He was impressed. St. Louis was called ‘the gateway to the west’ and he knew it was true. He’d certainly headed west when he’d left.
Dan hired a carriage and told the driver the address for the orphanage. He wanted to see it before he checked in at the hotel. The driver gave him a puzzled look as he helped him with his bags. “You sure you want to go there?”
“I’m sure,” Dan answered.
“All right,” the driver agreed as they started off, “but there ain’t much left there to see.”
“Why? What happened?”
“The orphans’ home burned down some years back and nobody ever bothered to rebuild it.”
“What about the children?”
“There are other homes in the city. They took them in.” He asked, “Why do you care?”
“I lived at the orphanage for a while --“
The driver fell silent, knowing by the man’s tone that he didn’t want to talk about it any more. He drove on to the address and then he stopped the carriage to give him a chance to look around.
Dan recognized the neighborhood and found himself just staring at the lot where the building had been. He didn’t bother to get down and walk around. He knew the driver had been right. There wasn’t anything left of the orphanage. There was only an empty lot.
Dan realized that certainly fit, for that was what his life had been after he’d lost his brother.
“All right, take me on to the Planter’s House Hotel,” Dan directed, putting the past behind him, he believed, once and for all.
He’d wasted enough time on memories.
Now, it was time to take care of Jack’s business.
It was late in the afternoon when Dan finally settled into his hotel room. He was tired, but he would worry about getting some rest later. What mattered now was finding Jack’s daughter and convincing her to return to Texas with him. He’d checked the railroad departure times before he’d left the station and knew that one was scheduled to leave the following afternoon. If things worked out as he hoped they would, he could have Penny on that train and be heading back to the ranch the very next day. He had to get Penny back to Texas and her father as quickly as he could for time meant everything right now.
Dan ordered a bath brought up to his room. When the bath was delivered, he quickly got cleaned up, shaved and donned his last set of clean clothes he’d saved for this moment. That done, he was ready to go to Jack’s sister-in-law’s house and deliver the letter to Penny. Dan put on his coat and his Stetson and glanced down at his gun belt where he’d left it laying on the bed. He thought seriously about strapping it on, but finally decided against it. Unarmed, he left the room to get directions from the clerk at the front desk.
“You’ll need a driver to take you,” the clerk advised, after telling him how to get to the address he’d given him. “There should be a conveyance waiting outside the hotel.”
It was after dark when Dan went outside and found that there was a small carriage available. He hired the driver to take him to Matilda Hathaway’s house. Dan was impressed by the Hathaway home as the carriage drew to a stop out in front. A three-story brick mansion with a wide front porch, it spoke of wealth and luxury, and he grimaced inwardly at the thought of trying to convince Jack’s daughter to give all this up and return to the ranch. He had no doubt after all her years of living this way that she was a spoiled, arrogant city girl now, who probably didn’t care at all about her father or the ranch.
“Wait for me,” Dan told the driver. He hoped Penny was home and would be willing to meet with him, but there was no way to know for sure.
“Yes, sir,” the driver answered.
Dan got down from the carriage and made his way through the wrought-iron gate and up the walkway to the porch. He knocked on the door and stood back as he waited for someone to answer it. He wasn’t surprised to find they had a maid when she opened the door.
“Yes? Can I help you?” Sadie asked, more than a little surprised and intimidated to find a tall, broad-shouldered man who looked to be a cowboy standing there before her.
“My name’s Dan Roland. I work for Jack Anderson, and I’m here to see Penny Anderson,” he answered.
“I’m sorry, Miss Anderson isn’t at home right now. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” She started to close the door on the stranger and was shocked when he blocked the door and stepped inside, into the front hall. He was such a powerful figure of a man that she took several steps back away from him, feeling threatened. “Sir -- Really --- You mustn’t force your way in --“
“I’m not forcing my way in. I just need you to answer a question for me,” Dan said.
She wasn’t quite sure what to think of him, but he had said he worked for Penny’s father, so that explained the edge of danger about him. She had heard all the tales from Penny’s mother when she’d first returned to live with Miss Matilda, about what life was really like out west, and she’d fully understood why she’d wanted to return to live in the city. “What is it you want to know?” she asked.
“If Miss Anderson isn’t here, where is she? It’s important I speak with her tonight. I have a message for her from her father, and I need to deliver it to her as soon as possible,” he explained quickly. He didn’t want the woman to feel threatened by his presence, but he wasn’t going to sit around and wait until the following day to let Penny know what was going on.
“If you’d like to tell me what it is, I can give her the message when she comes home, but it will be much later tonight.”
“No, I need to speak with her myself in person.” He fully intended to seek her out himself wherever she was.
“Oh --“ Sadie had heard the talk over the years about Miss Penny’s father, and for this young man to have taken the time to make the trip all the way there to St. Louis, she knew whatever he had to tell her was important. It would probably be midnight before Miss Matilda and Penny returned and if his message was that urgent, she realized she had to tell him where they had gone. He was a stranger, but they would be safe with their friends at the Chase home when he sought them out there. “All right, Mr. --“
“Roland. Dan Roland,” he told her his name again.
“Mr. Roland, Penny and her aunt are attending a private ball at the Chase home on Lucas Place.” Sadie gave him the address. “You’ll find them there.”
“I thank you for your help, ma’am,” Dan said as he turned and started back down the walk.
Sadie watched him go, wondering what the message was. She certainly hoped it was good news and not bad, but she had her doubts, as serious as the young man had been. Sadie wondered, too, what the fashionable Chase family was going to think when a cowboy showed up at their front door. Tonight was the night of their annual fabulous Thanksgiving Ball that was just for the elite of St. Louis society. Dan Roland would certainly draw some interest and give the older ladies something to talk about at that evening. She was sure of that.
Dan climbed back in the carriage and gave the driver the new address, then sat back to wait out the ride. He was even more tense now as they made their way through the city streets toward the Chase home. It had been one thing to seek her out at her aunt’s house and speak with her privately there. It was going to be even more difficult interrupting a social event to find her, but he had no choice.
Jack slipped into his thoughts right then, and Dan hoped his friend’s health was holding up. Even with the best of luck, it would probably be close to two more weeks before he could get Penny back home.
As the carriage stopped in front of the Chase mansion, it was obvious there was definitely a large party going on. The mansion was brightly lit up, and music could be heard coming from inside.