Other Books by Liz Adair
About Liz Adair
*About Hidden Spring *
An Invitation to Post a Review
This novella is dedicated to my mother-in-law, Ruth Lavene Larson Adair. A child of the depression, she lived close to the earth all her life. Among other life lessons, she taught me to make butter and cottage cheese.
Thanks to Heather Moore of Mirror Press for inviting me to write a novella for her Timeless Romance Series, Western Collection and for pressing me when I demurred. Writing Hidden Spring was a fun project, and I was in great anthology company with Heather Moore, Annette Lyon, Marsha Ward, Sarah Eden, and Carla Kelly.
My critique group supported me a chapter at a time with their tough love. I am indebted to Terry Deighton, Ann Acton, Bonnie Harris, Tanya Mills and Christine Thackeray.
Thanks to Joshua Baird for his evocative cover.
And thanks to Annette Lyon for her terrific editing.
SUSANNAH STEPPED OUT of the cottage where she lived alone, blinking at the bright morning sunshine. She pulled a pair of gloves out of her apron pocket and gritted her teeth as she put them on, steeling herself for the long and painful walk ahead. She wrapped two of Wesley’s bandana handkerchiefs around the gloves for extra padding then picked up the bail of an enamelware milk jug in each hand and set off down the lane.
By the time she got to the fence that divided the upper and middle pastures, she had to stop and set her burdens down. As she flexed her hands, Sweetie, a fawn-like calf and the solo resident of the middle pasture, came over to see her.
“Don’t you stare at me with those big, sad eyes,” Susannah said. “This milk isn’t for you. You can thank Mama Brown for that. She’s lined up customers for every day of the week.”
As she picked up the jugs and continued, Sweetie followed on the other side of the fence. “That’s a hard-hearted woman,” Susannah told the calf. “She said to me, ‘You’ve got to go back to your own place and get on with your life.’ So I told her, ‘I don’t have a life anymore.’ And I don’t.”
She set the jugs down and used one of the bandanas to wipe away the tears that had sprung to her eyes. “I don’t have a husband,” she said to Sweetie. “I don’t have any money, and I’m stuck here in Arizona Territory, a place thirty years behind times. It’s 1890, for heaven’s sake, and here I am, walking a mile to town every day carrying these stupid—”
Susannah stopped midsentence and stared at Sweetie as an idea formed in her mind. The heifer was four months old. Two gallons of milk wouldn’t be too much of a burden for her to carry. Susannah just needed something to make a set of saddlebags.
She picked up her skirts and ran back toward the house. “Don’t go away,” she called over her shoulder. “I’ll be back.”
Slamming through the front door, she ran through the kitchen-parlor-dining room, into the bedroom, and pulled down the ladder that went to the loft. After scrambling up, she hefted the cases of Wesley’s books out of the way. Behind them sat the battered trunk that had served as her hope chest when she’d married a little over a year ago.
Susannah opened the trunk. She didn’t pause to touch the rosebuds she’d embroidered on the chambray nightgown for her wedding night. Nor did her gaze linger on the wedding picture stashed between dishtowels and bed linens. She dug to the bottom, unearthing the quilt Ivy Patterson had given her.
Though Susannah liked the bright reds, blues and pinks in the nine-patch quilt, she had never liked Ivy Patterson. She smiled wickedly as she pulled it out and tossed it over the loft railing. Then she slammed the lid shut, moved the boxes of books back in front of the trunk, and headed to the ladder to climb down.
She paused with her foot on the top rung. Reaching over, she opened one of the boxes and took out a slim volume, all she had left of her dead husband. She traced the embossed letters as her lips formed the words of the title: Hidden Spring, Poems by Wesley R. Brown. On impulse, she slipped the book into the pocket of her apron then finished her descent.
She picked up the quilt, grabbed her sewing box, and went to work at the kitchen table. With the aid of a spool of carpet thread, a stout needle, and a pair of scissors, she folded and stitched the quilt into a crude and colorful set of panniers. When it hung over Sweetie’s back, each side would have separate pockets for two one-gallon milk cans.
“I think this will work,” she announced to the empty room. “If I walk beside her and hold it on her back, it should be fine.”
She put her sewing things away and picked up the saddlebag, but she had hardly gotten out the door before the thought hit her that she should have some way of leading Sweetie. Instead of heading to the pasture, Susannah went to the lean-to behind the house. Half of the shed was used as a milking parlor. The other half was for storing garden implements and grain.
She pulled open one of the double doors and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior before scanning the tools and tack hanging on the wall. There it was— a halter with a rope attached. She grabbed it off its nail and paused to put some oats in the bottom of a bucket. With the halter in one hand, the pail in the other, and the made-over quilt swung over her shoulder, she ran to the pasture. The unsuspecting Sweetie was still there, placidly cropping grass.
Susannah let herself in the gate and hung the quilt on it. “Halter first,” she instructed herself, shaking the bucket. “Here, Sweetie. Want some nice oats?”
The calf came willingly, brushing her damp muzzle on Susannah’s arm as she investigated the intriguing sound from the pail.
Susannah set the oats on the ground. While Sweetie’s tongue was busy scraping up the tasty morsels, Susannah bent over and managed to pull the halter over the cinnamon-colored muzzle and get it fastened.
Breathing hard from the exertion, she stood back and examined her handiwork. The halter didn’t look quite right. The ring to which the rope attached was on the side instead of the bottom, and she had never seen an extra loop stick out like this one did. But when she pulled on the rope, the calf responded, and that was good enough for now.
“Come on, girl.” Susannah led the heifer to the gate, where she hung the quilt over Sweetie’s back. The calf’s only reaction was to turn her head and sniff at the fabric.
“Now for the milk.” Susannah pulled on the rope. Sweetie followed through the gate and over to where the jugs sat by the side of the lane. Loading them in the pockets was a bit tricky, but the calf stood still, and soon the colorful patchwork panniers were bulging and balanced.
“I’m just a little farm girl takin’ my wares to market,” Susannah said merrily, adopting the local drawl, so different from her own Boston accent. “Come on, Sweetie. We’re goin’ ta town.”
The calf obliged by keeping pace beside her at a good clip, even when they passed Sweetie’s mother in the lower pasture. Lady, the Jersey cow Mama Brown had insisted Susannah buy with what remained of Wesley’s inheritance, raised her head and ambled over to the fence. Susannah kept the rope in her left hand and her right on Sweetie’s withers to make sure the quilt didn’t shift.
Susannah’s place at Hidden Spring was nestled at the head of a box canyon. Water, welling up inside a cave at the base of a high sandstone cliff, spilled into a stream that flowed down the widening valley, creating a swath of green in this mostly brown, high desert part of Arizona Territory. The track that led from the house to the main road skirted the pastures and followed the line of the rocky bluff.
About the time Susannah turned onto the road to Masonville, she became conscious of the book in her apron pocket, bumping against her thigh. She patted the book, remembering her favorite poem. She tried to recite it but couldn’t remember how the second stanza began. Letting go of the quilt, she pulled out the volume of verse and opened it to the second page.
“Listen, Sweetie,” she said and began to read aloud.
Love, thou art like the waters
That flow to Hidden Spring,
Coming from afar, unnoticed,
Unheralded, yet you bring
With you, life.
Love, thine eyes are blue as rivulets
That pool along the way,
Thy hair the color of the sun,
Whose streaming, golden ray
Doth warm the earth
Beauty follows in thy wake,
And dormant dreams revive.
Souls shriveled by mundane cares,
In thy sweet presence come alive
Susannah held the book next to her heart and closed her eyes, picturing Wesley as he’d first read the poem to her in the Pattersons’ parlor. The family had been out, so Susannah had had the evening off and permission to use the room. The flickering fire had created highlights in Wesley’s black hair as he bent his head to read the poem. Then he had knelt before her, pressed the paper into her hand, and asked her to marry him.
The romantic memory vanished as the lead rope was suddenly ripped from her grasp.
Susannah’s eyes sprang open, and she extended her arms to steady herself . Just then Sweetie kicked. The calf’s hooves caught the book squarely and sent it sailing.
The next time Sweetie kicked, it was Susannah who went sailing.
Hitting the ground, she shrieked as she watched the saddlebags slide off Sweetie’s rump. The calf bucked, and the quilt flew through the air. It landed in a multi-colored pile in the middle of the road.
Susannah tried to get up, but pain slashed through her midsection like a rusty knife. She lay back down, her eyes following the calf as, calm now, the animal turned to investigate the colorful panniers, still holding the milk she was taking to sell in town.
“Oh, Sweetie,” she moaned. “What have you done?”
A shadow fell over her, and a voice asked, “Are you all right, ma’am?”
Susannah tried to rise up on one elbow to see who had spoken, but a sharp pang forced her to lie back down. The morning sun was in her eyes, and she squinted at the man bending over her. In spite of the glare, something about the shape of his head and the blackness of his hair was so familiar that her heart skipped a beat. “Wesley?”
THE STRANGER KNELT beside her. “I’m not Wesley. I’m Douglas.”
Susannah turned her face away, embarrassment and disappointment making her chin quiver. Why did she still do that— think she saw him in familiar places? Wesley had been dead six months. He was never coming back.
“Can you sit up?” the man asked. “I hate to see you lying in the dirt.” He slid his arm under her shoulders.
She allowed him to help her to a sitting position but then shook him off. “I’m perfectly fine. I can get up by myself.”
“Are you sure?” He rose, dark eyes fixed intently on her.
Susannah considered a moment. Her skirt was tucked under her, so standing up would be a two-stage affair. Then there was the problem of the pain in her ribcage. She relented. “If you will give me your hand, I would appreciate it.”
He reached out, and she grasped his right hand with her left. The calluses on his palm and the sureness of his grip reminded her of Papa Brown, and somehow that made her feel better. Holding her right elbow tightly against her ribs, she used the strength of his arm to get to her knees and then to her feet.
She released his hand, but he seemed reluctant to let go, retaining the smallest amount of pressure so that her little finger trailed over his fingertips.
She felt color rising to her cheeks, and because she didn’t know what to do with her hands, she brushed off her skirt. “Thank you, Mr. …?”
“Cooper,” he supplied. “Douglas Cooper. And you are…?”
She examined him before answering. How could she have thought he resembled Wesley? He was taller than her husband had been, with broader shoulders and a more muscular build. His jaw was square and shadowed with black stubble, and there was a rough patch on one side of his face that had the look of a brush with smallpox.
“My name is Susannah Brown.” She gestured toward the mouth of the canyon. “I live at Hidden Spring.” She reached out to pet Sweetie, who had come over and was leaning against her thigh.
“You’re married to Wesley Brown?” Douglas grinned, and his eyes moved to the wreckage of the saddlebag experiment heaped in the middle of the road. “I might have expected Wesley to be involved in that some way.”
“What a despicable thing to say! What a malevolent creature you are.” Susannah marched to the quilt and grabbed one corner. She had intended to whisk it into her arms and do a grand exit, but whisking was not an option. Not only did it hurt to bend over, but the locking tops of the cans had apparently done their jobs. The pockets she’d made were sufficiently snug, so the two gallons of milk were still where she’d put them.
Douglas laughed. He bent down and picked up his hat. “I lost this when I piled off my horse trying to get to you,” he explained and added, “You and Wesley should get along just fine. I bet you spend evenings practicing long words.”
Still clutching the blanket, Susannah turned away, not wanting this stranger to see her tears. His guess had been too accurate, for she and Wesley indeed had spent many an evening working on vocabulary, delighting in the color and texture that words gave conversation.
“Here, let me help you with that.” Douglas picked up one of the milk cans by the handle.
She turned further away from him, winding herself into the quilt. With the corner she had in her hand, she dabbed her eyes.
Douglas pulled the milk jug out of its pocket. “You know, this is quite clever. As tame as that calf is, it might have worked just fine.”
Susannah gritted her teeth. She still wouldn’t look at him. “Don’t patronize me.”
“Miz Brown, I don’t even know what that means.” He pulled on the quilt and unwound her. “I think your patchwork saddlebags must have slipped back and hit that calf in the flanks, made ’em buck. Shoot, that’s how they get the broncs to buck at rodeos— tie a strap around their flanks.”
“Fascinating,” she murmured, but she still held onto the corner.
“Tell you what. How about I deliver your milk for you today?” He tugged on the quilt, and Susannah let go. “You head on home with your friend here.” He indicated Sweetie with his thumb. “Tend to your bruises. Take it easy.”
Susannah watched as he reinserted the jug into its pocket and carried the quilt to a sorrel horse standing with its reins on the ground. Bunching the quilt at the middle, he hung it in front of the saddle and tied it on. He picked up the reins and gave her a searching look. ”You be all right walking home alone?”
“I’m not alone.” Susannah couldn’t repress a small smile. “Sweetie is with me.”
He answered her smile. “Where do I take the milk?”
“One gallon goes to Pattersons. They live on Elm Street, the big yellow house with columns. The other goes to the Browns. They live on—”
“Wesley’s folks? I know where they live. The Pattersons, too.” He mounted his horse and patted the quilt. “I’ll get your outfit back to you.”
“Leave it at the Browns. I’ll get it from them.”
“Fair enough.” He touched the brim of his hat.
Susannah watched him ride away, her eyes lingering on his straight back and broad shoulders until she felt the dampness of Sweetie’s muzzle on her arm. “Yes, my friend,” she said to the calf. “We don’t want to stand in the road all day.” She picked up the lead rope and started back to Hidden Spring.
With every step, a dull ache radiated though her torso, and she hadn’t gone a hundred feet before she stopped. “You know what?” she asked her bovine companion. “We’re halfway to town right here, and I think a cup of Mama Brown’s willow-bark tea would do me a world of good.”
Taking Sweetie’s silence as assent, Susannah turned again toward town. Douglas was still within shouting distance, and she wondered if she should call him back and tell him that she’d deliver the milk. “I’ll just let him do it,” she told Sweetie. “His horse must be a slowpoke, though. I would have thought he’d be halfway there by now.”
When they reached the scene of the fracas, Susannah stopped. “Wait a minute. We need to pick up the book, which you so rudely kicked out of my hand.”
Like the lane from Hidden Spring, this road marched alongside a line of sandstone bluffs. It was merely a wide track through a broad expanse of sagebrush, but here and there, an occasional nopal cactus or yucca plant asserted a spiny presence. Susannah stood in the middle of the road, making a visual sweep of the whole area then dropped the lead rope and tramped around among the brush. There was no sign of the book.
“Well, isn’t that something?” She stood, hands on hips, and scanned a full circle one more time. “What could have happened to it?”
She picked up the calf’s tether and began walking toward town. “Lucky for me, I have 499 more copies,” she said. “Come on, Sweetie. I’m looking forward to that willow-bark tea.”
BY THE TIME Susannah arrived at the Browns’, she was hot, sweaty, and feeling a little weak in the knees. Though early May, the sun blazed from a sky the color of azurite. White, billowy clouds towered above the hills to the north, but the dark gray smudge at the bottom threatened rain later in the day.
Masonville had been settled by hardy souls coming to Arizona Territory in 1863. Designated the county seat, it had blossomed in a modest way with the coming of silver mines and the railroad in 1880. Now, it had a settled, prosperous air.
Susannah turned right on the first street she encountered and walked to the last bungalow. The Browns’ house had a well-tended lawn bordering the little-used front door. Susannah headed for the back, passing the orchard and the garden along the side of the house. She led Sweetie to a corral beyond a grape arbor and put her inside.
She recognized the sorrel, tied to a post by the back porch with the quilt still hanging in front of the saddle. Walking by it, she paused at the door. She didn’t live here anymore. Not since four days ago. Did that mean she should knock, or should she just walk in?
She tapped the screen then opened the door and walked through the sleeping porch. With her hand on the kitchen door jamb, she paused and blinked at the sight before her.
Papa and Mama Brown sat at the table, coffee in front of them. Douglas Cooper leaned against the sink, a saucer in one hand, a steaming cup in the other. Deep in conversation, they had apparently not heard Susannah enter.
“What if we hadn’t been here?” Mama Brown was saying. “What if we were dead, like Wesley?”
Douglas answered. “Then I would live with that regret the rest of my life, just like I regret—” He glanced at the doorway and stopped when he saw Susannah. He straightened and set his cup and saucer in the sink. “Good afternoon, Miz Brown.”
Papa Brown stood. Stoop shouldered and with a lined and weathered face, he held out his arms. “Susannah! How good to see you. Are you all right? You’re a little peaked.”
After the frustrations of her morning and the long, painful walk, her father-in-law’s welcome felt like safe harbor after a storm. She walked to him and laid her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes at the comfort of his embrace and the familiar odor of horses and hay. She sighed, but when his arms tightened on a tender spot, she flinched.
“Ouch.” She pulled away.
“What’s wrong?” Papa’s voice held concern.
“She tangled with a calf out on the road,” Douglas said. “Which reminds me— I’ve got your milk.” He walked past them to the back door.
Mama Brown’s dark eyes moved from Susannah to Douglas’s retreating form. “What’s he talking about?”
“I met him on the road to town just after Sweetie kicked me.”
Both Mama and Papa Brown simply stared, so Susannah explained. “I fixed up a saddlebag so Lady’s calf could carry the milk. It must have slipped back to her flanks.” She touched her ribs under her right breast. “She kicked me right here.”
Her mother-in-law got to her feet. Tall and slim, she wore her black hair braided forward with the long plaits pinned like a crown on top of her head. It gave her a regal, no-nonsense air that was somehow comforting. “Come into the spare room and let me see it.”
Susannah had stayed in that room during the first six months of her widowhood, and she’d come to think of it as the spare tomb. She followed her mother-in-law and closed the door behind her. “I thought maybe a dose of your willow-bark tea would help with the pain.”
“I’ll brew some, but first unbutton your dress.”
Susannah did as she was bidden, stripping off her bodice, corset and chemise. Looking at her nude torso in the mirror, she blushed as she remembered Wesley cupping her breast and murmuring, “Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters.” He said he was quoting from the Bible, but the words sounded more like something from his book of poems.
“Let’s see now. Where did… never mind. I see the bruise.” Mama Brown probed the area with gentle fingertips, apologizing whenever Susannah winced. Then she helped her back on with her chemise and picked up the corset. “I don’t think you’ve broken a rib. It will probably be sore for a few days, but that’s all.”
Susannah raised her arms so her mother-in-law could hook the fasteners. “Mama Brown, who is that man out there?”
“What man? You mean Douglas? He’s my son.”
Susannah blinked. She would have been less surprised if Mama Brown had said the man in the kitchen was Billy the Kid. “But he said his last name was Cooper.”
“It is. His father’s name was Adam Cooper.”
Susannah was too stunned to say anything.
Mama Brown hooked the last fastener. “Adam died of smallpox when Douglas was two.”
“Smallpox? But they’ve had a vaccination for that forever. It’s compulsory in Boston. Has been for fifty years.”
“Adam didn’t hold with vaccinations.”
Susannah pulled on her bodice. “Wesley said he had a brother named Sonny.” The notorious Sonny who had to leave town suddenly after almost killing a man in a barroom fight. All of a sudden, Billy the Kid seemed not so far-fetched.
“We always called him Sonny, but he goes by Douglas now.”
As she buttoned her dress, Susannah remembered the scene in the Browns’ kitchen last week when her in-laws had said it was time for her to go back to Hidden Spring. Cringing at the memory of how she had acted, she blurted, “I’m sorry for what I said to you last week.”
“What was that?”
“I said you didn’t know how it feels to lose someone, to be left alone.”
Mama Brown took her by the shoulders. “Then remember this, Susannah. You can love again. You will love again.”
Susannah closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Let’s get you some willow-bark tea.” Mama Brown opened the door to the kitchen, and they went out.
Douglas was back again, coffee cup in hand. “I put the milk in the spring house.”
“Thank you, son.” Mama Brown took a tin out of the cupboard and shook some of the contents into a cup. She poured in hot water from the kettle and handed it to Susannah. “Let it steep for a few moments. Sugar’s on the table.”
Susannah took the cup and sat, stirring the wood chips and watching the water take on a yellowish hue. She looked up to find Douglas’s eyes on her and quickly returned her gaze to the tea. What was he looking at? Didn’t he know it was impolite to stare?
No one spoke for a moment, and then Papa Brown broke the silence. “Has Lady started giving more milk now that she’s on better pasture?”
“She has. I may have to get more milk pails.”
“And more customers,” added Mama Brown. “You’ll have a tidy little business if all goes well.”
Douglas took a sip of his coffee. “And if Sweetie cooperates.”
Papa Brown stood. “I think that’s mighty clever of you to make that calf into a pack animal. I’d like to see the saddlebags you made. Come on out and show them to me.”
Susannah was shy about having her father-in-law see her handiwork, but she followed him out the back door and through the porch. The erstwhile quilt hung on the top rail of the backyard pen, a bright splash of color in a sepia landscape.
Mama Brown had followed them out. “Wasn’t that Ivy Patterson’s wedding present?”
Susannah smiled. “It was, but Ivy was so mad at me for stealing Wesley from her that she gave us an old quilt from the attic.”
“How do you know that?” Mama Brown asked.
“Because Mrs. Patterson had me clean out the attic one time when I worked for them. I saw it then, and I recognized it when I opened Ivy’s present.” Susannah laughed. “I like the colors, and I think the saddlebags will draw attention. It’s given me the idea of calling my business Patchwork Dairy.”
“It’ll draw attention, all right.” Douglas came to stand by his mother. “Especially when it’s slung over that calf, and you’ve got the halter on sideways.”
“Do I? I thought it looked strange.”
Papa Brown let himself into the pen, caught the calf, and fixed the halter so the rope was tied in the right place and the odd-looking loop was gone.
“Thank you, Papa Brown. You’re such a gentleman.” Susannah threw a meaningful glance at Douglas, but he had his hands in his pockets and was concentrating on grinding a dirt clod to powder with the toe of his boot.
Papa Brown put the saddlebags on Sweetie and stood back. “If you fix a strap to come around front and keep the whole outfit from shifting back, I think you’ll be fine.”
“I’ve already got something figured out,” Susannah said. She looked up at the approaching thunderheads. “I’d better be getting back home. Do you have your empty milk can?”
“I’ll get it.” Mama Brown headed for the house. “And I’ll get you some willow bark to take with you.”
Half an hour later, Susannah was on her way home. The rain loomed closer, and a cooling breeze had sprung up. The dull throb in her ribcage was gone, and the saddlebags held two extra milk jugs Papa Brown had found on a shelf in the spring house. Mama Brown’s comment about a tidy business started wheels in Susannah’s brain churning ideas all the way home.
When she arrived, the rest of the day was spent in chores. She braved the pounding rain to bring Lady up from the lower pasture then braved it again to carry the evening’s milk to the cave that hid the frigid spring. When she finally made it back to the house with two buckets of water to do the washing up, she was dismayed to find the roof leaking. Sighing, she found the vase Wesley had brought home after they’d discovered the hole in the roof. Back then, sitting on the settee with his arm around her, she had thought the sound of water dripping into the blue ceramic urn was magical. Now she wished he had spent the money on tar to fix the roof. She plopped the vase on the floor and went to make a fire to heat the kettle.
After washing the strainer and buckets, she brewed a cup of willow-bark tea and drank it with a piece of bread and butter for supper. Then she spread Ivy Patterson’s quilt on the table and began working on alterations, adding a pink taffeta sash on each side that would tie in front and hold the quilt from slipping back. When she was finished, she put on her nightgown and braided her hair. Then she got in bed and blew out the lamp.
She lay there listening to night sounds as she waited for the sheets to warm. The rain had stopped, but the plink-plink-plink of water dripping in the living room continued. She heard the plaintive cry of a night owl and then the reassuring sound of Sweetie moving about in the pen next to the lean-to. Pulling the blanket up around her ear, she curled up on her side, looking forward to having Wesley with her again in dreams that seemed so real she hated to wake each morning.
She finally drifted off to sleep, but it wasn’t Wesley who came to see her. It was a dark haired man with a rough patch above the black stubble along his jaw line. He watched her over the rim of his coffee cup and assured her that he was a gentleman.
SUSANNAH WOKE TO sun streaming in the window and the sound of Lady bawling next door. The Jersey had spent the night in the milking parlor, since it had seemed cruel to send her out into the pouring rain. Susannah would have to face cleanup for that bit of kindness, but she didn’t mind. She was anxious to get the morning chores done so she could get to town to start implementing her new ideas.
Not pausing to fix her hair, she slipped on a work dress and the stout shoes she wore around the farm. She built up the fire and put the kettle on before going out to put Sweetie in the upper pasture. “Eat quickly,” she called as she closed the gate. “We’re going to town today.”
She took time to open the middle pasture gate for Lady’s return before trotting back to the house. By the time she got there, the water in the kettle was warm. She poured it in a basin and picked up a rag. “You’ll like this, Lady,” she murmured. “No cold water for you.”
The Jersey was standing at the trough when Susannah opened the double doors, and it only took a moment to throw some grain into the manger and lock her in the stanchion. Grabbing a bucket, she sat on the stool and rested her forehead against the cow’s warm, silky side. She dipped the cloth into the water, washed the udder, and then reached for the two back teats.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at this,” she said as milk streamed into the bucket. “You wouldn’t know that I’ve only been milking for two weeks, would you?” She paused to consider a moment without breaking rhythm. “Actually, you would know, but I think anyone else would think I’m an old hand.”
Lady shifted her weight and sighed, and Susannah chuckled. “Is that a comment? Hold on. I won’t be too much longer.”
She worked silently, watching the bucket fill. When she had stripped the last of the milk into the pail, she set it aside and undid the stanchion. Lady backed up, turned, and sauntered out into the sunshine, heading down the lane toward the middle pasture where the gate stood open for her.
Susannah fed the chickens before she carried the milk outside, glancing to see if Lady had turned into the pasture. The sight of a rider atop a sorrel horse at the middle gate caused a fluttering in her chest. That was followed by a feeling of dismay because her hair was still in braids, and she wore old work clothes. She ground her teeth at the thought. Why should she care if he saw her like this? It was just Douglas Cooper. She would be polite for the sake of Mama Brown.
She watched him close the gate and turn the sorrel in her direction. Tossing her head, she continued on into the house. Politeness didn’t mean she had to wait on the doorstep.
Inside, she strained the milk and poured it into gallon jugs, ready to go to the spring. She set the dishpan on the table and was busy washing the milking things when Douglas knocked at the door.
“Come in.” As she turned away to hang the strainer on a nail, she heard the screen open, and the flutter returned. She frowned as she turned around to face him.
Neither of them spoke. His eyes raked her over from head to toe, and her chin came up as she met his gaze. “Good morning, Mr. Cooper. Thank you for closing the gate.”
“Don’t mention it.” Still he stared.
“To what do I owe the honor of your visit?”
“Why are you here?” She picked up the kettle and began to scald the milk bucket.
Finally he looked away. Casting his eyes around the room, he apparently spied a straight-back chair and moved toward it. Unfortunately, the blue vase sat in his path, and he kicked it over.
“What the devil?” He watched water spreading across the floorboards. “What’s that doing on the floor?”
Nettled, Susannah set down the kettle and crossed over to pick up the vase. “Is that any of your business?”
He didn’t answer but stood, hands on hips, examining the ceiling. “Got a leak in the roof?”
“I repeat, is that any of your business?”
“Could be.” He walked to the chair and sat.
“Won’t you sit down?” Susannah set the vase on top of the cupboard.
He leaned back and smiled. “Thanks for the reminder that my manners need improving. I’ll not argue with you there. In fact, that’s why I’m here.” He gestured toward the other chair. “Will you please sit too?”
Susannah glanced at the clock on the shelf. Her morning was slipping away.
“It will only take a minute. Please.”
He clasped his hands in his lap and looked down at them. He cleared his throat.
Susannah eyed the clock. “Mr. Cooper…”
He held up one hand, still not looking at her. “This is harder than I thought.”
She waited. She could see a pulse beating at his temple.
Finally he lifted his eyes. His face was pale and his expression very serious. “I’m sorry.” He spread his hands. “I should have fixed the halter for that calf instead of making fun of how you had it.”
Susannah frowned. “You came all the way out here for that? Why?”
He turned around to look out the door as if checking for a getaway route, then rubbed his hand along his jaw. “I spent sixteen years fighting against everything Nathan Brown tried to teach me, and I’ve spent the last five learning that I shouldn’ta been fighting. I shoulda been listening and learning.” He shrugged. “Yesterday, he fixed the halter for you. I shoulda done that.”
Susannah didn’t know what to say. It was her turn to look at her hands.
He cleared his throat again. “I’d like to fix your roof.”
She shook her head. Then she met his eyes, softening her refusal with a small smile. “There’s too much to do around here. If I let you do that, you’d find something else and ask to do that, all to atone for a wretched halter.” She stood. “Besides, Wesley’s folks— your folks— want me to be able to take care of myself.”
He stood as well, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Then hire me to do it.”
She laughed. “I don’t have money to pay someone to fix it. If I did, it wouldn’t be leaking.”
“Feed me supper,” he said. “I’m staying at Gertie’s Boarding House. I don’t think I can face another meal there today.”
“You’ll repair the roof if I feed you supper? Isn’t that like buying a pig in a poke? You don’t know what kind of a cook I am.”
“You couldn’t be worse than Gertie. Is it a deal?” He put out his hand.
She was going to refuse, but the look in those dark eyes wouldn’t let her. She shook on it.
He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Well, that went better than I expected.”
“Am I such an ogre?”
He cocked his head. “I’m not sure what that means.”
“A monster. Am I a monster?”
His dark eyes were serious. “No. You’re not a monster. You’re—” He paused then shrugged. “I’ve never been good with words.” Turning, he walked to the door. “Five o’clock? Six o’clock?”
“For supper? How about half past five?”
He nodded and lifted his hand in farewell. When he’d gone out the door, she moved to the screen and watched him walk to his sorrel and mount, noting again the straight back and broad shoulders.
She turned away to finish washing the milk things, her mind busy with ideas for supper. As she considered the merits of noodles compared to dumplings, she became aware that he was whistling as he rode away. She recognized the tune.
It was “Oh, Susannah.”
TWO O’CLOCK THAT afternoon found Susannah and Sweetie in front of the office of Archie Patterson, Attorney at Law. As she stood in the street gathering her courage, Ivy Patterson stepped out and closed the door behind her. Dressed in a yellow dress with leg-o-mutton sleeves and a slight bustle, she carried a yellow parasol.
“Good afternoon.” Ivy’s lips moved into the straight line that Susannah had learned was her rendition of a smile.
“Making your rounds, I see.” Her former employer’s daughter came down the steps and paused a moment to finger the fabric of the quilt. She examined the pink taffeta flowers Susannah had snipped off a party dress and attached to Sweetie’s halter. Only when Ivy touched the matching taffeta sash, sewn to the quilt and tied in front in a huge bow, did Susannah remember that the dress had been a hand-me-down from the Pattersons when she worked for them.
“Very clever.” Again the straight-lined smile before Ivy continued across the street.
Watching her go, Susannah realized she had been holding her breath. She exhaled, tied Sweetie to the hitching post, and pulled a copy of Wesley’s book out her apron pocket. Straightening her shoulders, she climbed the steps to the boardwalk that ran through the two-block business district, and she opened the door of the law office.
As she came in, a balding, middle-aged clerk at a desk behind a railing looked over his spectacles. “Hello, Mrs. Brown. I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Taylor. Is Mr. Patterson available?”
“He’s in his office. Knock first.”
Susannah pushed through the gate and approached the heavy wooden door. Her heart began to pound, and she wiped her hands on the skirt of her dress before tapping.
“Come in.” The words were clipped, businesslike, assured.
Susannah pictured the small, carefully groomed man on the other side of the door, forced a smile on her face, and turned the ornate brass knob.
Archie Patterson looked up as the door swung open. He didn’t return her smile. “Susannah.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Patterson.”
“You’ve come to see me?” He pointed to a chair.
Susannah sat on the edge and crossed her ankles.
Thinking that learning to milk was infinitely easier than door-to-door selling, she plunged ahead. “I was wondering if you’d be interested in buying a copy of Wesley’s poems.” She held up the book.
Mr. Patterson actually recoiled. The corners of his mouth turned down, as if he’d bitten into something sour. “Why would I want to do that?”
“I heard you tell Judge Nesbit that Wesley was a talented poet.”
“Wesley was a damned fool, always mooning around in a velvet jacket and a silk scarf and fancying himself to be Lord Byron. At the time, Ivy was sweet on him, so I put a good face on it.” He narrowed his eyes. “You were a parlor maid in my house, and as such were not supposed to listen to conversations.”
“Actually, Mrs. Patterson always called me a governess.” Susannah’s hands began to tremble. She clutched the book so tightly, her knuckles turned white, but she went bravely on. “The volumes are gilt-trimmed and are only eighty-five cents.”
“That’s too much by eighty cents.” He reached in his pocket and tossed a coin onto the desk. “I’ll give you a nickel.”
Susannah stood. It was all she could do to keep her voice steady. “I regret that I cannot accept your kind offer. Thank you for your time.”
She turned and intended to sweep out of the room, but Douglas Cooper stood in the doorway, looking urbane in a well-cut three-piece suit. The shock of seeing him— and having him witness her humiliation— turned her knees to jelly. He must have sensed it, or maybe he noticed the blood leave her face, because he stepped forward, took her free hand, and supported her elbow.
“Good afternoon, Miz Brown. I hope you are well.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Cooper. I am, thank you.”
Still supporting her, he walked her to the door. “Shall I accompany you to your next appointment?”
“That won’t be necessary. You obviously have business with Mr. Patterson. Good-bye.”
As she fled to the outer office, she heard the attorney say, “Cooper! Welcome. Shut the door.”
Susannah was grateful that Mr. Taylor wasn’t at his desk, and even more grateful that the boardwalk was empty. Seeing the sorrel tied to the hitching post next to Sweetie, she ran down the steps and slipped into the safe haven between the two animals. With shaking hands, she stowed the book in the saddlebag then put an arm around the calf’s neck. “Oh, Sweetie. What an awful day this is.”
She took a deep breath. “Wesley wasn’t a damn fool,” she said. “He was kind and generous and a very good poet. You would have liked him very much.”
Sweetie rubbed her head against Susannah’s bosom.
“Thank you for that comfort,” she said. “Look, you’re losing a flower. I’ll fix it, and then we’ll go see if Gertie wants to buy milk from Patchwork Dairy.” She tied the pink flower back to the halter and unhitched the lead rope.
Patting the sorrel on the neck, she murmured, “Tell Mr. Cooper thank you.” Then she led Sweetie to the end of the block, where a white, two-story house sat, ringed by a picket fence. A sign hanging from the porch roof proclaimed this to be Gertie’s Boarding House.
Susannah stopped in front. “I don’t know if I can take two rejections in one day.”
Sweetie stood still, but one ear swiveled.
“We could go on home and come back tomorrow. I have someone coming for dinner, you know.”
Sweetie turned her head toward the back door of the boarding house.
“Oh, all right. We’ll go see Gertie. But don’t come bawling to me when she says something awful to us.”
Susannah led Sweetie down the lane along the side of the house, and as they reached the back porch, Gertie herself stepped out, carrying a pan of water. Redheaded and ruddy cheeked, she laughed as she saw her visitors. “Who you got there, Queen of the May?”
“This is Sweetie. She’s going to be the second cow I milk at Patchwork Dairy.”
“Looks like it’ll be a little while.” Gertie threw the water on a flower bed next to the house.
“It will be, but I’m just starting out. With one cow, I’ve got more milk than I’ve got customers. Do you need someone to supply you with nice, rich Jersey milk? It’s got lots of cream in it.”
Gertie scratched her ample bosom. “Jersey milk, eh?”
“With lots of cream.”
Gertie opened the screen and called inside. “Lucy, don’t you stop stirring. If it scorches, I’ll have your hide.” She scratched again, obviously considering. “Would you sell me just cream?”
“How much do you need?”
“As much as you’ve got to spare.”
Susannah grinned. “I can do that.”
“You’ll probably want to do some figuring, see what you need to charge, but I’ll pay what’s fair.” She opened the screen again. “And if you were of a mind to make cottage cheese with the skim milk, I’d buy that from you too.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Mind you, I’m only doing it because you’ve got such a purty young heifer there, all done up in flowers and bows.”
“I’ll bring you some cream tomorrow.” Susannah backed away. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Gertie waved the basin and stepped inside. “Lucy, stir!”
Susannah led Sweetie back toward the road. “How could you ever have doubted?” she asked, tweaking one of the flowers. “You let Mr. Patterson scare you. Don’t ever do that again.” She rubbed the calf behind the ears. “Now let’s go home and fix dinner. How does chicken and dumplings sound?”
DOUGLAS ARRIVED A little early. Susannah didn’t hear him ride up, but she heard him put his horse in the pen beside the lean-to and then heard him climbing onto the roof.
She dropped dough into the boiling chicken broth for dumplings and wiped her hands on her apron. Walking outside, she shaded her eyes and looked up. “You’re not going to start that right now, are you?” she called.
He rose from a crouching position. “Good afternoon, Miz Brown.”
“Supper’s almost ready.”
“Just wanted to take a look, see what I’ll need to fix it. I’ll bring supplies out tomorrow.” He walked over the ridge and disappeared from view, reappearing moments later from behind the house.
“The flashing around the chimney has gone to pot,” he explained. “I’ll bring some sheet lead tomorrow and replace it.”
“Will it be expensive?”
He smiled. “Very. It will probably take two or three suppers to pay it off.”
She laughed. “You drive a hard bargain. Won’t you come in?”
As he followed her in the house, she paused, looking at the ceiling. “That leak was nowhere near the chimney. Are you sure it’s the flashes?”
“Flashing,” he corrected. “Yes, I’m sure. Water gets in one place, but it may run across to another before it finds a hole to get through.” He looked around. “Boy, it’s hot in here. You got the windows open?”
“You can’t cook without heat,” she said.
“What’s it going to be like in July?”
“I hate to think, but I have to heat water.”
He grabbed the two straight-back chairs and carried them to the door. “You need a summer kitchen.”
She watched him push the screen open with one of the chairs. “What are you doing?”
He disappeared around the corner of the house, calling back to her, “Let’s eat out under the old-man pinyon.”
“Bring the breadboard and come out back,” he called.
She slid the board from its slot and followed. “Why do you call that tree the old-man pinyon?”
He moved a keg sitting under the eaves over between the two chairs. “Because it’s so old. Grandpa Brown cut the lower branches so we could eat under it.”
She regarded him a moment before handing him the makeshift tabletop. “Do you mind that Wesley inherited this place?”
“It’s the way it should have been. Wesley was blood kin.”
“Grandma Brown didn’t forget me. I got her wedding ring.” He placed the breadboard on the keg. “I think we’re ready.”
They worked together to transport dishes and food to the outdoor dining area, and soon they were having supper under the shady bower.
“It’s nice and cool back here,” she said.
“That’s because there’s a breeze blowing down the ravine.”
He pointed to the right. “You can’t see it because of all the brush. Might be a good thing to clear it away. If a fire got started up on top, it would come barreling down like the midnight special.”
Susannah had greater matters to talk about. She leaned forward and fixed her eyes on his. “Why didn’t you tell me yesterday down on the road that you were Wesley’s brother?”
“Half-brother.” He lowered his eyes and adjusted the position of his spoon. “Why didn’t you tell me you were Wesley’s wife?”
“Widow.” She leaned back. “I guess I was angry because of what you said about him.”
“You thought he’d made the saddlebags. You were making fun of him.”
“An old habit of mine. He liked colorful things. Used to wear a red coat.”
She felt her cheeks getting warm. “It was claret colored.”
“I suppose it was.” He smiled. “But it wasn’t all one-sided, you know. He would tease me back. Said I had no sense of style.”
“That sounds like him,” she murmured.
“It was true. Still is.”
She shook her head. “You looked very nice today in Mr. Patterson’s office.”
“A lady I knew took me in hand, taught me a few things.” He passed his plate for a second helping, and she spooned it on for him.
“About Mr. Patterson,” Douglas said, cutting a dumpling with his fork. “When I opened the door, he was saying that you’d worked for them. Somehow I can’t picture you as a servant.”
“You can’t? May I remind you that I’m a milkmaid?”
“You’re a businesswoman. Quite a difference.”
“Is there? I’m working harder now than I ever did at the Pattersons’.”
“How did you end up there? If you don’t mind my asking.”
She sighed. “The short version of a long story is that I was left an orphan when I was sixteen. My mother died when I was born. My father was a scholar, a lecturer at Boston University. He died of tuberculosis.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I had no family. We had a library full of books but very little money, and I had no skills fit for earning a living.”
“But how did you get from Boston to Masonville?”
“The Ladies’ Aid took me as a project. They advertised in church magazines that I would work for room and board.” She brushed a pine needle off the table. “The Pattersons were the first to respond. Next thing I knew, I was on a train bound for Arizona Territory.”
“It has to be different from the life you knew.”
“Completely. But Wesley made up for every loss.”
“I see.” He picked at a paint fleck on the breadboard. “I saw Ivy Patterson today.”
The antipathy Susannah felt at hearing Ivy’s name on Douglas’s lips surprised her. “Oh?”
“Haven’t seen her since she was fifteen.” He smiled to himself, still worrying the paint. “She asked me to supper.”
Susannah stood. “Don’t think you’re beholden—”
“I don’t.” He looked up. “Would you let me help sell your books?”
Her brows drew together. “What do you mean?”
“You’re trying to sell them to the wrong people. You need to find a market back east.”
She sat down again. “How am I going to do that?”
“Put an ad in an eastern paper. Make the book sound, oh, I don’t know, exotic.”
“You betcha. And expensive. How much do you make on a book if you sell it for eighty-five cents?”
She cleared her throat. “A nickel.”
“Charge a dollar and a half.”
“A dollar and a half! Who would pay that?”
“Lots of little old ladies. I know someone who will put an ad in the Troy Morning Telegram for you. That’s in New York.”
“Is this the same person who taught you how to dress?” But before he could answer, she held up her finger for silence. “Hear that?”
“All I can hear is a cow bawling.”
“That’s Lady telling me it’s milking time.” She stood and started gathering dishes. “Your folks are very wise, you know.”
“How’s that?” He grabbed the chicken pot and the breadboard, and they headed around to the kitchen.
“They knew I wouldn’t come back to life for my own sake. They practically forced me out here and gave me a creature that depends on me to get up and do something twice a day.”
“You wouldn’t come back to life?” He opened the door for her.
She nodded. “I wanted to die. Tried to die. For months after I lost Wesley, I either slept or sat in a dark room, holding his coat.” She smiled up at him. “The claret-colored one.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“It’s true.” She put down the dishes, took the basin from its nail, and poured in water from the kettle. “Could you go open the gate? Can’t keep Lady waiting.”
He strode out the door and down to the pasture while she carried the basin and milk bucket out to the shed. After swinging the doors wide, she stood inside and watched him follow Lady as she ambled up the lane. The sun had already dipped behind the bluffs, cooling the air and turning the horizon periwinkle.
She murmured her thanks to him for bringing in the cow then slipped into her milkmaid routine. Once, she glanced up to see him leaning a shoulder against the barn door, watching her.
“You could feed the chickens and gather the eggs,” she suggested and smiled to herself as he complied. Handy fellow to have around.
He proved as much again when he helped her take care of the milk and wash up. Susannah brought a lantern as they carried the cans to the spring at the head of the canyon. She knew it would be completely dark inside the cave though outside it was still dusk.
Walking into the grotto from the warm evening air was like walking into Jack Frost’s lair. The frigid pool began about ten steps beyond the mouth of the cavern and spread from wall to wall, reaching back about sixty feet. The bottom was shallow and flat for a little ways but quickly dropped to a dangerous depth.
Susannah held the lantern up as Douglas placed the milk cans in the water.
“You’ve got three gallons in here already,” he said. “Your customers aren’t keeping up.”
“Gertie’s going to buy cream and cottage cheese from me.”
“Where did you learn to make cottage cheese?”
“I haven’t yet. That’s next on my list.”
He laughed out loud. “You are fearless. Ask my mother how to make it. She knows.”
“I will.” She shivered. “It’s cold in here. Let’s go outside.” Unconsciously, she reached for his hand as she turned to leave the cave.
Moments later, she realized what she’d done. Her cheeks grew warm with embarrassment, but she didn’t know how to gracefully get out of the situation, because he’d laced his fingers through hers.
She stopped in the middle of the path. “Douglas?” She hated how she’d become breathless, and she scolded herself for getting herself into this predicament and acting like a schoolgirl.
With great resolution, she raised her hand, bringing his with it. “I didn’t mean to do this. I don’t know why I did.”
“I do.” He chuckled and brought her hand to his lips, kissing the knuckle of her pinky finger. “But don’t worry. I’m not interested in being proxy for a ghost.”
He released her and continued to stroll back to the house.
Feeling like a deflated balloon, she walked beside him. The hand that had held his suddenly felt empty and barren. She wished it weren’t so dark, so she could see better. She needed to find a rock to kick down the path. Instead she said, “For someone who has trouble with big words, you rolled that one off your tongue pretty easily.”
“What do you mean?”
“Proxy. That’s not a word in everyone’s vocabulary.”
“I own a few mining shares. It’s a word you hear quite often at shareholders’ meetings.”
At the house, she held the lantern as he saddled his horse. Neither spoke until he was astride.
“What time do you want me here for supper tomorrow?” he asked.
“Same time, unless you’d rather have supper with Ivy.”
He ignored her remark. “I’ll come early and fix the roof. Can you have that advertisement written?”
“I suppose so.”
“Remember: exotic and expensive.” He touched the brim of his hat and clicked his tongue to the sorrel.
Susannah watched as he rode beyond the circle of her lamp and was swallowed by the night, though she could still hear the sound of his horse’s hooves growing fainter.
And then, floating through the warm evening air, came the whistled tune of “Oh, Susannah.” She smiled as she walked back to the house.
She went to bed, curling on her side and waiting for the comfort of the covers’ warmth. Closing her eyes, she anticipated sleep and Wesley’s visit. Tonight of all nights, she longed for a return to what Hidden Spring had been to them, an Eden where they spent the days making love and reading poetry, lost in the pleasure of words and each other.
Wesley didn’t come. She slept soundly and dreamlessly and woke the next morning out of sorts and on edge. A phrase dodged around the frontiers of her memory, one she knew was important but couldn’t recall. She frowned as she heated water, as she went down to open the gate for Lady, as she washed the cow’s udder. It was only when she was on the stool, forehead against the Jersey’s side and listening to the sound of each stream hitting the bottom of the bucket, that the phrase came to her. It repeated over and over in time to the splash of the milk:
I’m not interested.
I’m not interested.
I’m not interested.
HEADING HOME AFTER deliveries that afternoon, Susannah heard a wagon approaching from behind. She led Sweetie to the side of the road to let it pass, but it stopped beside her. Looking up, she saw Douglas on the wagon seat and recognized Cookie, Papa Brown’s horse, in the traces.
“Good evening, Miz Brown. Would you like a ride?”
“Are you on your way to Hidden Spring?”
“Sure am. Tie Sweetie on behind.” He sprang down and transferred the quilt-saddlebag from the calf to the wagon. “Four gallon jugs,” he said. “You get many more customers, and you’re going to have to get a bigger pack animal.”
He walked around the wagon, pulling the brim of his hat down to shade his eyes as he watched a rider approach from town. “Afternoon, Bobby,” he called, smiling.
The rider didn’t answer until he was abreast. He stopped his horse, tipped his hat to Susannah, then looked at Douglas. “Dummy? Is that you?”
“People don’t call me that anymore.” Douglas’s tone was friendly, but a muscle in his jaw tightened, and his smile grew rigid.
“Uh, sorry.” Bobby shifted in the saddle. “I hear you’re one of the big shots looking to reopen the Silver Jack. Hear you been to college in New York and everything.”
“I’m not a big shot,” Douglas said. “And I’m here to see if we can pump water out cheap enough to make reopening pay.”
“You gonna be hiring?”
Douglas climbed onto the wagon box. “Come see me at the mine. My office is by the old timekeeper’s shack.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks… Douglas.” Bobby raised his hat to Susannah. “Ma’am.” He kicked his horse and trotted on down the road.
Susannah watched him go. “Who was that?”
Douglas picked up the reins and slapped them on Cookie’s back. “Bobby Schumacher. He was in my grade in school.”
“What did he call you?”
He looked away. “I’d just as soon not talk about it.”
Something tightened in Susannah’s throat, like she was going to cry. She looked away as well, and they rode in silence to the Hidden Spring intersection. He made the turn but stopped the wagon in the shadow of a bluff.
“I couldn’t read,” he said.
He fiddled with the reins. “I attended through eighth grade, and that last year, I was still reading with the second graders.”
Susannah looked at the man beside her. His shoulders slumped, and he rested his elbows on his knees, holding the reins in slack fingers. Such a different face from the proud, almost arrogant, one he had been showing her. Her heart ached for him, and she touched his wrist.
“Oh, Douglas,” she whispered.
He shook her off with an almost imperceptible flick. “I don’t need pity. You asked; I answered. My folks called me Sonny, but the kids called me Dummy because I couldn’t read.”
“But you— he said you went to college.”
“It was a polytechnic institute.”
“Whatever it was, how could you do that if you couldn’t read?”
Douglas clicked his tongue at Cookie, and they continued up the lane. “I learned.”
“I found a lady to teach me.” He chuckled. “Her name was Mrs. Smithers. She was eccentric and had a houseful of cats. And bad plumbing. I fixed the plumbing, and she fixed my reading.”
“Just like that?”
“No. Not just like that. It took a year— to fix the reading, not the plumbing. I wanted to give up lots of times, but she was determined.”
“Was that in New York? How did you end up there?”
“After I left school, I went to work at the Silver Jack. They were fighting the water then, trying to stay ahead of the underground streams in lower levels.” He looked at her to see if she understood.
“I worked with a man by the name of Mr. Rathbone for six years. He taught me all he knew about water, but in the end, we couldn’t keep the mine dry, and they closed ’er down.”
“Then what happened?”
He pushed his hat to the back of his head. “Mr. Rathbone took me with him to mine headquarters in Troy. They wanted me to go to school, become a hydraulic engineer, but there was that one problem.”
“You couldn’t read.”
“That’s the one.”
They were passing the middle pasture, and Susannah pointed. “I need to put Sweetie in.”
“I’ll do it.” Douglas set the brake, hopped down, and let the calf loose in the field. Back in the wagon, he handed the flower-decked halter to Susannah and picked up the reins.
“Wait a minute,” Susannah said. “You said you left because they closed the mines. I heard that you left because you almost killed a man in a bar fight.”
Douglas threw back his head and laughed. “Is that what people said?”
“I did rough up Zeke Russell pretty good the night before I left, but he was still on his feet last time I saw him.”
“But you never wrote to your family. You simply disappeared.”
“I didn’t write because I couldn’t. Didn’t know how. And after I learned—” He stopped the wagon at the house. “I just can’t put what’s in my heart on paper.” He climbed out and walked around to help her down. “I’ll fix the roof while you get supper, and then I need to get Papa’s rig back to him.”
“You mean you’re leaving right after supper?” Susannah tried to keep her disappointment from showing.
Douglas looked up from the rope he was uncoiling. “I don’t want to leave Cookie standing too long.” He tied the horse near the watering trough, unloaded his tools, and set a bucket of tar to melting over a small fire.
Susannah went inside and made supper out of leftover chicken and dumplings, adding some early peas she’d carried home in her apron pocket from Mama Brown’s garden. She skimmed cream from last night’s milk, set it aside to go over home-canned peaches, and poured the rest of the milk into a pitcher.
As she carried chairs out back, Susannah glanced up at Douglas working on the roof with the deft motions of a craftsman. Her eyes lingered on the way his shirt pulled tight across his back as he crouched down and the way his black hair fell forward over his brow. He looked up and caught her watching; she turned away to place the chairs under the pinyon tree.
Moments later, she heard him come down the ladder. “Almost done,” he said.
He appeared a moment later with the tar bucket, and as he effortlessly scaled the ladder again, she went back to setting up supper. By the time everything was ready, he was finished, and the tools and ladder were put away.
“I’ll just wash up,” he said, rolling up his sleeves. “May I use some of your hot water?”
Susannah nodded and sat waiting under the pinyon, enjoying the coolness of the breeze as it blew down the ravine.
He returned, pausing at the corner of the house to button his cuffs, and then he came over and sat opposite. “It smells tasty. Thank you, Miz Brown.”
She ladled chicken and dumplings into a shallow bowl for him. “My name is Susannah.”
“Why do you call me Mrs. Brown? You could say we’re family.”
He picked up his spoon. “You could. Or, you could say that we have a business arrangement. With my being a single fellow out here alone with you every evening for supper, it’s better if I don’t start using your Christian name.”
“But that arrangement will be over at the end of the week.”
“Well, as to that…” He sat back, eyes twinkling. “How would you like to have water piped from the spring to the house, so all you had to do for water was turn on a faucet?”
Her brows shot up. “Could you do that?”
He grinned. “Easy as pie.”
Susannah clapped her hands in delight, and they spent the rest of the meal talking about the project. Every time she thought of a new way it would make her life easier, she voiced it. When he climbed into the wagon to go home, she was still listing them.
“I’ll be able to fill the tub on wash day so much more quickly,” she said.
He picked up the reins. “You already said that.”
“Did I?” She put her hands in her apron pocket. “Oh, I forgot. Here’s the ad you wanted me to write. To sell Wesley’s poems.”
He took it from her and stowed it in the pocket of his shirt.
She backed away. “Tomorrow evening, then?”
“Yes.” He touched the brim of his hat and clicked to Cookie, and the wagon started down the lane.
Susannah followed behind, heading to the middle pasture where the Jersey grazed. By the time she made it to the gate, Douglas was passing the fence line at the end of the lower pasture. She undid the latch and watched the wagon disappear behind a screen of willows, standing for a moment to listen intently before she called Lady in.
There it was, floating on the warm purple haze of the evening air— the sound of a whistled “Oh, Susannah.”
SUSANNAH AND DOUGLAS settled into a comfortable routine. He would arrive about an hour before supper and work until she called him in to eat. As the days lengthened, he worked after they ate as well, sinking an intake port into the spring and laying pipe from there to the house.
“We’ll worry about getting it in the ground before cold weather,” he said. “For now, let’s just get the water flowing.”
It took two weeks of work, but one evening he called her out of the kitchen to a standpipe by the watering trough. “It’s ready,” he said. “Will you turn on the tap?”
She did so, and cold, clear water gushed out of the faucet. “Oh, Douglas! That’s the most beautiful sight I’ve seen in a long time.” She turned the handle off and then on again, grinning up at him. “It’s wonderful.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the rough patch on his cheek.
He bent down to stow his tools in a satchel. “Just paying for my supper. Glad it pleases you.” He spoke without looking up.
“It pleases me enormously. And speaking of supper, it’s ready.” She walked with him back to the kitchen, and while he washed up, she said, “I’ve got another batch of cottage cheese for you to try.” She handed him a spoon and lifted a dish towel, revealing a crock of snowy curds bathed in cream.
“Looks good.” He put a spoonful in his mouth.
She waited as he closed his eyes, and she smiled as the corners of his lips curled up. “How is it?” she asked.
His eyes opened. “Right on the money. Can you make it like this every time?”
“That’s the challenge.” She handed him a kettle to carry out to the pinyon tree and picked up a pan of biscuits. “The trick is in heating the curd. Slow and low is the secret.”
All during supper, they talked about the next project. He wanted to make her a summer kitchen, but she felt it would be better to get the piping in the ground before the summer rains started. And she’d have liked a shelter in each pasture before then too.
“You’re the boss,” he said.
For the next three weeks, he worked at getting a ditch dug parallel to the water line. When the pipes were underground, he brought Papa Brown’s wagon, and they went up on the bluff to cut cedar poles for the shelters. It took a week to get all they needed, and another two weeks to get the shelters built.
The day after he finished, he brought Susannah a piglet. “He’s the runt of a litter that Bobby Schumacher had, but he’ll grow if you feed him the whey from your cottage cheese.”
Susannah was delighted and named the little pink animal Percy. While she did the evening milking, Douglas fixed the pen beside the chicken coop so the piglet couldn’t root underneath and get out. As she finished, he came into the milking parlor. She handed him the pail while she undid the stanchion. “I’m staying in town after my deliveries tomorrow, so supper may be late.”
“Oh?” He moved aside for the Jersey to go out the door.
“It’s my anniversary. Wesley’s and mine. I’m going to the cemetery.”
He nodded and carried the pail into the kitchen, setting it on the table. As she followed, he pulled a folded paper from his pocket and handed it to her. “I almost forgot this. I’ll go put Lady in the pasture.”
He went out the door, and she opened the note, finding another paper inside. She read the letter and then the enclosure before trotting down the lane to meet him on his way back.
“Somebody sent a postal money order for a copy of Wesley’s book?”
“We’ve been so busy, I forgot about the ad.” She looked at the letter again. “You make me believe anything is possible.”
He smiled down at her as they walked to the house. “Likewise, I’m sure.”
THE CEMETERY SAT on the far edge of town, a dusty patch of land surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and sprouting sagebrush, wooden grave markers, and tombstones. Susannah arrived after her rounds in the late afternoon and tied Sweetie to a post.
She hadn’t visited the graveyard for well over two months, not since moving back to Hidden Spring. Being here felt a little strange, kind of like when she returned to the Browns’ when it wasn’t home anymore. She used to talk to Wesley when she came to the cemetery, but now that seemed strange too.
She pulled a tumbleweed, a vigorous bit of green sprouting from the dun-colored earth covering her beloved— or the beloved of the girl she had been last year. She didn’t feel like the same person now.
A sound behind her made her look around, and her heart beat a staccato rhythm as she recognized the rider dismounting his horse. “Hello, Douglas.” She took a deep breath as he came toward her.
“Do you mind if I’m here, too? I haven’t visited since I came back.”
She shook her head and he stood quietly for a moment, staring at Wesley’s headstone.
“I don’t know how he died,” he said. “Mama mentioned blood poisoning, but she wouldn’t talk about it.”
“It got pretty awful before the end.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“That’s all right.” She flapped her arms against her sides. “It was so stupid. It started out as a blister on his foot.”
“He spent most of the money he inherited from Grandma Brown on publishing his poems. That was to be our income, you know.” She folded her arms and looked at her shoes. “He caught a ride to Tucson and tried to sell some there, but nobody would buy them. He couldn’t find a ride all the way back, so he walked the last twenty miles. I often wonder—” She stopped and closed her eyes.
“What do you wonder?”
“If he didn’t die of a broken heart. You know, from the rejection.”
Douglas put his hands in his back pockets and kicked at a dirt clod. “I don’t think you die of a broken heart,” he said quietly. “Rejection can break your heart, but you end up living with it.”
They stood in silence for a moment, and then he said, “My father is buried here too.”
“I’ll show you.” He led her down the row to a grave with a wooden marker.
Susannah deciphered the faded writing then did some math. “She must have remarried pretty soon after he died.”
“She did. Maybe because a good man came along.”
Susannah nodded. “And because a little boy needed a father?”
“Maybe. Too bad the little boy didn’t appreciate his good luck.”
The bitterness in his voice made her look sharply at him. “What do you mean?”
Douglas took his hat off and ran his hand through his black hair. “Nathan Brown is as good as they come, but I never could forgive him for not being my father.” He gestured toward Wesley’s grave with the hat. “And I couldn’t forgive Wesley for being all the things I wasn’t.”
“Because he could read and you couldn’t?”
“I guess.” He sighed and put his hat back on. “Papa— Nathan Brown— wanted to adopt me, wanted me to carry his name, but I wouldn’t have it. I was sure he was ashamed of me, so I went around being angry and raising hell.”
“Like the barroom fight?”
“Yeah. Who wants a son who gets in trouble all the time?”
She turned and began wandering toward the gate. “You’re not getting in trouble now, are you?”
He laughed as he strolled beside her. “Maybe. Just a different kind of trouble.” He nodded toward the sorrel, tied by Sweetie. “Want a ride home?”
“If I ride, you’ll have to walk. I’m used to walking.”
“We can ride double.”
She looked down at her skirt, and he added, “You can be in front. Hook your knee over the horn like a sidesaddle. You’ll be fine.”
She nodded, and he lifted her into the saddle. While she shifted to get her right leg positioned correctly, he tied Sweetie’s lead rope to the rear saddle string. Then he swung up behind the cantle and turned the sorrel toward Hidden Spring.
As they rode, Susannah was very aware of his proximity, of his arms around her as he held the reins, and of his chest as she leaned against him for stability. Her whole world shrank to the places she felt his touch— her arms, her back, where his cheek rested against her hair. Neither of them spoke, and when they finally arrived at the house, he silently dismounted and reached up for her. She unhooked her knee and put her hands on his shoulders, looking into his dark eyes as she slid off.
When her feet touched the ground, he didn’t move away.
“Susannah…” His voice had a husky timbre. He stood so close, she could feel his body heat.
She touched his face lightly, fingertips grazing over the rough patch on his cheek, feeling the texture of the stubble on his jaw line. She felt his arms encircle her, pressing her to him, and as she ran a hand through his raven hair, she knocked off his hat. Ignoring the loss, she put her arm around his neck and raised her mouth to his. Feeling the moistness of his lips, her own parted, and she abandoned herself to a flood of hunger and desire, things she hadn’t felt for such a long time. His breathing quickened, and she could feel his pulse under her fingers at his temple, beating in time with her own.
When his lips moved to her cheek and then to her hair, she held him close and murmured, “Oh, Wesley.”
He stiffened. He pulled away, and she opened her eyes. He was still breathing hard, but he wasn’t looking at her.
“Douglas? What’s the matter?”
He didn’t answer, but shook his head as he bent to pick up his hat. He slapped it against his knee to get the dust off.
“The devil of it is, you don’t even know.”
Realization began to dawn. She had called him by the name of her dead husband. Susannah’s eyes widened, and she covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh, no. I didn’t mean it. You know I didn’t mean it.”
Douglas began untying Sweetie’s lead rope.
Susannah tugged at his shirt. “Douglas, please listen to me.”
“There’s nothing for you to say. You already said it.” He turned to face her. “It’s another case of Wesley being everything I’m not, and there’s no way I can compete with a dead man.”
She shook her head, tears running down her face. “That’s not the way it is.”
He gave the watering trough a vicious kick. “Have you thought about the life you’da had with him? When the money ran out, what would you have lived on?”
She had been thinking about it lately, and the fact that he voiced questions she had been reluctant to speak put her in a defensive mode. “That’s none of your business!”
“How could he leave you like this, working from dawn to dusk, carrying buckets of water from the spring? I’ll bet he made sure you had plenty of those useless books. I’ll bet you have stacks of them.”
She covered her ears. “I’m not going to listen to you say hateful things about him.”
He replied, but with hands over her ears, she couldn’t hear. She could see the angry expression on his face, though, and it took the starch right out of her. She walked to the house and sank onto the porch, and when she looked up, he was astride the sorrel.
He touched the brim of his hat. “I won’t stay for dinner. In fact, I’ll be eating at Gertie’s from now on. Good-bye, Miz Brown.” He kicked the sorrel to a lope.
If he heard her, he didn’t respond, and he didn’t look back as he rode down the lane and out of her life.
THOUGH SHE FELT like holing up in her dark bedroom as she had when she lost Wesley, the sound of Lady announcing the discomfort of a distended udder made Susannah get out into the early morning sunlight and accomplish something. She milked the Jersey. Took care of the milk. Fed the chickens. Made cottage cheese. Slopped the pig. Walked to town to make her deliveries.
The next day she did it again. And the next.
Each night, as she ate a solitary supper, she realized how lonely it was without Douglas, and every time she turned on the tap and got running water, her heart ached for the man who’d made it happen.
A week after the visit to the cemetery, she met Ivy Patterson in town. Susannah would have avoided the meeting, but Ivy popped out of the back door as she was handing the milk jug to the Pattersons’ cook.
“Why, Susannah Brown. Are you ailing? You look positively haggard.” Ivy wore a dress of lavender cotton lawn, her dark hair piled high and ringlets falling artfully over one ear.
“Good afternoon, Ivy.” Susannah wished she could leave right then, but the cook had gone to get the milk money.
Ivy checked her image in the back door windowpane. “I suppose you know that Wesley’s brother, Douglas, has been having supper with us every day this week.”
“Why would I know that?”
“He doesn’t live with his folks. I rarely see him.”
“Oh?” Ivy raised one brow. “Fanny Miller saw you riding double out by the cemetery last week.”
“Douglas gave me a ride home.” The cook appeared. Susannah gratefully pocketed the coins and turned to go.
Ivy stepped in front of her. “When he was here yesterday, he mentioned to my papa that he’s thinking of marrying.”
Susannah felt blood drain from her face. She put a hand on the door jamb for support.
Ivy cocked her head. “I swear, Susannah, you look positively ill. Do you need a drink of water?”
“No thank you, Ivy. I’m fine.” She pushed past and walked to where Sweetie was tethered to the fence. Untying the calf, she led her away as fast as she could.
Susannah kept her head down, lest someone see her tears threatening. It was hard enough to think that she had lost Douglas, but that he would marry Ivy Patterson was too much to bear.
Reaching Main Street, she turned at the corner by the courthouse and ran straight into a man as he stepped off the boardwalk into the street.
She didn’t realize who it was as she apologized for the collision. He must not have known either, for when he turned turned to face her, his eyes got wide.
It was Douglas.
They stood for what seemed an eternity, neither speaking, gazing at each other.
Finally he spoke. “Afternoon, Miz Brown. Are you not well?”
“I’m fine.” But though she mouthed the words, no sound came out.
He gestured toward the courthouse. “I just came to town to fill out some forms. I’m getting ready for something I’m fixing to do.” He held up an official-looking document, complete with a seal.
She moistened her lips and tried again. “Ivy told me.”
“Did she? She wasn’t supposed to—” He frowned. “Never mind.” Touching his hat, he turned, bounded up the boardwalk stairs, and entered the general store.
“Come on, Sweetie,” Susannah murmured. “Let’s drag our broken heart home.” She glanced back at the merchant’s door and saw Douglas watching her from the window.
The walk home to Hidden Spring was the longest it had ever been, even longer than that first day when she had to carry two milk pails the whole way. Towering, black-bottomed clouds approached from the north, and she quickened her pace, not wanting to get caught in the rain.
“That would really complete my day,” she told Sweetie.
By the time she reached the lower pasture, the sky had turned inky. Thunder rolled across the canyon as jagged lightning bolts connected to the bluffs. Susannah took the saddlebags off and put Sweetie in the upper pasture.
“Don’t be frightened,” she said. “If you were up on top, you might want to worry, but lightning won’t strike down here.”
She did the evening chores early, but even so, she had to light the lantern to see to wash up. She wondered whether to leave Lady in the shed overnight, but figured it would probably be another dry lightning storm like the one they’d had last week. The shelter Douglas had built would protect the cow if it rained.
She gathered the eggs and fed the chickens, noting they were roosting early, heads tucked under their wings. After mixing whey into the pig mash, she filled Percy’s trough. As he smacked his lips over it, she scratched his bristly back.
When everything was finally done, she retreated to the house and got ready for bed. She braided her hair, blew out the lamp, and lay there, feeling the cool breeze blowing down the ravine. She was grateful for the diversion of lightning flashes and the window-rattling thunderclaps that followed, because they took her mind off the image of Ivy standing at the altar with Douglas.
She finally fell asleep, only to be awakened sometime later by Percy’s high-pitched squeals. The storm seemed to have passed, but the moment Susannah opened her eyes, she knew something was terribly wrong.
SHE COULDN’T SEE anything because of the darkness. A choking smoke filled the air, and a dull roar filled her ears. It sounded like wind rushing down the canyon.
With shaking hands, she found matches and lit the lamp. Turning up the wick, she carried the lamp outside. It was a moonless night, but the house had an orange halo behind it. Fear clutching at her heart, she ran past Percy’s pen to the back. Flames flared up from the ravine, and the blast of air that hit her felt like it came from an oven.
Percy’s squeals were more frantic now, and Susannah dashed to the gate. Fumbling in the dark, she used precious moments figuring out how to undo a latch she’d opened without thinking every day this summer. She held the gate wide and called the pig, but Percy was nowhere to be seen.
The roaring in the ravine was getting louder now, and the crackling of pine and cedar was added to the noise. Smoke burned her eyes and made it harder to see. Holding up the lantern, she headed for the source of the keening cries and found the pig in a corner. She quickly set down the lantern then grabbed his hind legs and dragged him out the gate.
“You’re on your own now,” she called as she pushed him toward the lane.
Embers rained down from the sky— beautiful, glowing fireworks floating on the wind and landing all around. Some lodged on the cedar shingle roof of the house and began burning so brightly she didn’t need the lamp she’d left in Percy’s pen.
Putting one arm over her nose, she raced to the chicken coop. She found the birds packed tightly against the wall, making plaintive cooing sounds. Holding her breath and squinting through streaming eyes, she gathered an armful of hens, ran outside, and flung them into the air.
Just then, the old-man pinyon turned into a thirty-foot torch.
She dashed back in, the light in the coop much brighter than before, making it easier to see the three remaining chickens. She grabbed them and ran.
She didn’t stop running until she reached the upper pasture. Sinking to the grass, she watched as the house and everything she owned went up in flames.
It didn’t take long for the house to burn to a skeleton. The loft crashed down, sending a cloud of sparks into the breaking dawn. After that, though fires continued to flicker, they were smaller, more localized blazes and not the massive conflagration that had engulfed the house.
A small squawk reminded Susannah she still cradled three hens. She set them down and leaned back against a fence post, trying to calculate what she had lost. All her clothing. All her savings. She wiggled her bare toes and added shoes to the list. She didn’t even have a milking bucket.
About that time, she became aware of the sound of a horse approaching at a gallop. The morning was light enough that she could see as far as the lower pasture when the rider came into view. Was it a sorrel? Her heart hammered in her chest.
She stood and watched the horseman approach. Something about the way he sat his horse told her it was Douglas, and when he called her name, she ran down the lane.
They met at the middle pasture fence line. Douglas dismounted while the horse was still moving and held his arms wide. She ran to him, felt herself folded into an embrace, and immediately began to tremble.
She couldn’t restrain the shaking or the wave of sobbing that swept over her. He didn’t say anything, just held her close until she regained control. Finally she spoke. “It came so fast. If Percy hadn’t woken me, I’d still be in there.”
He gave her his handkerchief. “Bobby Schumacher told me there was a fire burning on the bluff, and I was afraid it had traveled down the ravine.”
“It did.” She wiped her eyes. “I barely had time to save Percy and the chickens.”
He touched a hole in her sleeve. “You’ve got charred places all over your nightgown. I should’ve cleared out the brush instead of building those shelters.”
He put his arm around her waist, and they walked to where the remains of the house still smoldered. The only recognizable thing left was the cook stove. “When we build again, we’ll have a summer kitchen,” he said. “And running water. And indoor plumbing.”
“Sounds wonderful, but how can that happen when you’re going to marry Ivy?”
His jaw dropped and he turned to face her. “Where did you get that idea?”
“From her. She said you’d been talking to her father about marrying.”
“I talked to him about changing my name.”
“Your name?” Susanna thought about that a moment. “I can understand how she’d get the pronoun wrong, but why do you want to change [_your _]name?”
“For Papa. To say I’m sorry.”
“Oh.” She smiled. “He’ll like that.”
He poked a pile of smoldering debris with the toe of his boot. “I’m sorry about the things I said that day after the cemetery.”
“You were right when you said I had boxes of Wesley’s books. That’s a pile of them still burning over there. They’re all gone now.”
“I’ve got one.”
“Where did you—” She laughed in realization. “You picked it up the day I met you.”
He nodded and began to recite, “‘Love, thou art like the waters that flow to Hidden Spring.’” He wouldn’t look at her, but his voice was warm and full of expression as he went through the whole poem.
When he finished, she said, “For someone who learned to read late, you do pretty well.”
He shrugged. “It’s about you. I read that poem every night before I go to bed.”
“Even this last week?”
“Especially this last week.” He dropped to one knee. “Love, will you change your name to mine?”
“Um, if you’re going to be Douglas Brown, I wouldn’t be changing my name.”
“Hadn’t thought about that.” He stood and took both her hands. “Then say you’ll marry me.”
He kissed her long and hard then, and she kissed him back, shedding the black heartache of the last week along with the ties to her widowhood.
“Oh, Douglas,” she sighed.
“Oh, Susannah,” he murmured as he bent down to kiss her again.
Trouble at the Red Pueblo, a Spider Latham Red Rock Mystery set in Kanab, Utah.
Death on the Red Rocks, a Spider Latham Red Rock Mystery set in Kanab, Utah.
A Kane County Christmas, a Spider Latham Christmas book set in Kanab, Utah..
The McCarran Collection, a romantic suspense set in Kanab, Utah
Interlude at Cottonwood Springs, a historical romance set in Kanab, Utah
Cold River, a romantic suspense set in the Pacific Northwest
The Mist of Quarry Harbor, a romantic suspense set in the Pacific Northwest
The Lodger, a Spider Latham Mystery. Look for it in Kindle in 2017
After Goliath, a Spider Latham Mystery. Look for it in Kindle in 2017.
Snakewater Affair, a Spider Latham Mystery. Look for it in Kindle in 2017
[_Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan. _]Look for it in Kindle in 2018
A native of New Mexico and mother of seven, Liz Adair bloomed late as a writer. Her first Spider Latham mystery was published about the time she became an empty nester.
Though she lived in green, moist, northwest Washington State for forty years, many of her books are set in the southwest.
Liz returned to high plateau country in 2012 when she and her husband, Derrill, moved to Kanab, Utah.
Liz had gone to high school in Kanab and neighboring Fredonia, Arizona, so moving there was like coming home. It was natural for her next book to be another Spider Latham mystery (Trouble at the Red Pueblo), even though ol’ Spider hadn’t inhabited one of her books for ten years. Writing about him again felt like coming home, too, and a Christmas story at the Latham’s (A KaneCounty Christmas) was like Christmas with an old friend.
Liz followed up the two Spider Latham books set in Kanab with Interlude at Cottonwood Springs. The Cottonwood Springs of this title is located in fictional Willow Canyon north of Kanab. After that, she released The McCarran Collection, set in Kanab’s Heritage House.
Liz published the fifith in the Spider Latham series, Death on the Red Rocks, in 2016.
You can sign up for Liz’s newsletter LIZ & FRIENDS at http://lizadair.com
You can contact Liz Adair at [email protected]
Also, if you’re a member of a book club and choose to read one of Liz’s books, she’ll be glad to meet with your group. If it’s too far for her to meet in person, she’ll meet via a phone call or a Skype session. Email her to schedule it.
This story is set in a fictional town in Arizona Territory, but the spring described on Susannah’s property is based on a spring inside a cave just north of Kanab, Utah. The local folks call it Crocodile, but people at neighboring Best Friends Animal Sanctuary have dubbed it Hidden Lake.
Sadie, The Eclectic Trekker, has posted about the hike to Hidden Lake on her blog, and you can see a picture of the real cave. If you’re in the area and want to do the hike, go to the Best Friends Visitors Center and ask for directions. They’ll tell you how to get there. It’s a bit of an uphill climb, but then it’s downhill all the way home.
If you do visit Kane County, drop in at the Kanab Tourism Office. It’s on the corner of Highway 89 and 100 South. It’s painted with murals and has a statue of a buffalo out front. You can’t miss it. If you tell them you came in because you read one of Liz Adair’s books, they’ll have a gift for you. It’s a little sandstone heart, a momento of your time in red rock country.
If you enjoyed reading Hidden Spring, I invite you to post a review on Amazon.
Don’t worry if you haven’t ever written a review before. Comments from ‘just plain readers’ ring true, and they’re a great help to people looking for a good read.
To get started, search for Hidden Spring on Amazon.com and go to its page. Just under the title are the yellow stars and the number of customer reviews.
Click on the blue number of reviews, and it will take you to the review section. To the right of the bar graph showing the number of stars is a button that says Write a Customer Review.
Click on that button, and you’re on your way. At the end, you’ll need to hit the Publish button, and you’ll need to put in your Amazon password. It’s the one you use when you order books from Amazon. If you don’t have one, you can register for one with no obligation.
Thanks for doing this!
Susannah Brown, a beautiful young widow, lives out the tragedy of having the love of her life die after only six months as his bride. Not only must she deal with the heartbreak of loneliness, she must try to support herself as a dairymaid in 1890’s Arizona Territory after having been raised a lady in Boston. The house on the property she inherited is a tumbledown shack, and she despairs about her whole situation until the homecoming of her dead husband’s half-brother, Douglas. Susannah has heard what townspeople whisper about him, and when she finds him on her doorstep, his visit is unwanted and unwelcome. But he helps out around her place and soon becomes a friend of sorts, confiding to her a secret that few people know. It is only after Susannah’s obsession with her husband’s memory drives Douglas away that she realizes she loves him. What will it take for her to win him back?