Where Victoria Stumbles Upon Something Unexpected
Victoria Goldenrod hated Texas.
In all honesty, she’d hated every place the wagon train had stopped once they’d left Boston. She was a lady—city born and bred—and the thought of living in the country was utterly distasteful.
Her anger festered as she thought of the short missive she’d received from Harold. She wasn’t even married to the man yet. How dare he have the nerve to demand she cross this Godforsaken wilderness so their wedding could take place at his ranch? Her family wouldn’t even be able to attend the ceremony because of his demands.
But here she was, doing just as Harold wanted. Her father had told her she was being unreasonable and childish to ask Harold to take time from his busy schedule and come to Boston for their wedding. Harold was an important—and wealthy—man, and heaven forbid she put the financial security of her entire family at stake just because she wanted to be married in a church that didn’t have sawdust on the floor.
She sighed and closed her eyes to ward off the pitiful images bombarding her mind. There was nothing she could do about it now. She was mere hours from her destination. And Harold. Not that there was anything wrong with Harold. But she’d prefer not to think about him or what the rest of her life married to him would be like.
Nausea roiled in her stomach and she dug her fingers into the edge of her seat as they hit a particularly bumpy stretch of the trail. She’d heard the wagon master saying there hadn’t been rain in weeks. The ground was dry and the trails rutted deeply where previous wagon parties had traveled before. She’d give anything for a chance to get out of the stifling wagon and stretch her legs.
The base of her neck was wet with perspiration and her blonde curls were damp so they clung to her skin like limp stalks of wheat. Sweat trailed down her spine—beneath her corset—which seemed to make the contraption constrict even tighter around her with every breath she took. Despite the vigor with which she used her fan, it was impossible to turn the hot, stagnant air into anything resembling a cool breeze. Texas had to be just on the other side of hell, plain and simple.
She could at least be grateful for Harold’s insistence that she have a wagon all to herself. It wasn’t even a real wagon like the others in their party. It was a carriage that had been outfitted with sturdier wheels and padded seats and windows that opened to let in a breeze. She couldn’t imagine riding all that way on a hard bench and out in the open sun like the others. She shuddered at the mere thought of it.
Harold had been more than happy to take care of the expense of the carriage to assure she wasn’t accosted by other travelers, and he’d paid the wagon master in gold to lead the team of horses and protect her if the need should arise. The wagon master would receive another payment in gold once she reached the station in Wilmont safely.
Victoria had received plenty of looks that made her skin crawl from some of the other passengers—a group of men who were obviously laborers of some kind—but all the wagon master had to do was sit in front of her tent at the night with his rifle in his lap, and the men seemed content enough to leave her alone. There was one other married couple on the long trip, but they didn’t have eyes for anything or anyone but each other, so after supper they always went back to their wagon and she was left without anyone to converse with.
She closed her eyes in relief as she felt the horses slow and come to a stop. It was just after noon, and when she glanced out the window she saw an area thick with scraggly pine trees and somewhat hardier oaks. Even the trees seemed to be defeated under the blazing heat of the sun.
Victoria waited until the wagon master (his name was Michael, she was almost sure) opened her door and held out a hand to help her down. They’d have a quick lunch in the shade before making the rest of the trip.
“How far are we from the station, Sir?” Victoria asked.
“Bout another ten miles or so. It’ll be dark afore we git there.”
He spat a stream of brown tobacco juice to the side of her feet and walked off to tend to the horses. Victoria cringed and held her fingers lightly to her nose to stifle the smell and moved toward her pack of supplies. The last thing she wanted to do was fill her stomach with anything other than water, but she knew she needed to eat something, so she grabbed a couple of apples. The small bucket she used to hold her water was empty, so she’d have to find a way to refill it before they set off again.