Charlotte could hardly blame whoever called out for their mistake.
“No, no, no!” Miss Helen pressed a hand to her ample chest and feigned shock. “Gentlemen, these women have come to you with a far nobler purpose in mind. They have come as humble frontier brides searching for husbands with whom to begin a new life!”
The unexpected answer raised a murmur of consideration from the folks on the platform, much of it humorous doubt. A few fellows seemed intrigued by the possibility. Most of the townswomen turned up their noses whilst secretly assessing the charms of their competitors.
“Let me make some introductions,” Miss Helen continued her pitch. “This fine lady is Sally.”
Charlotte didn’t have the time or the patience to watch the circus. She had a past to put behind her and her own new life to begin. Cold Springs looked like just the place to do it. She ignored the ongoing spectacle and scanned the platform. When she saw what she needed she acted.
“Excuse me.” She gripped her bag, keeping her back straight, and walked away from Miss Helen’s show towards a middle-aged man with spectacles in shirtsleeves standing near the cargo car. “Could you help me?”
The man glanced up from his clipboard and surveyed her through round glasses. The faintest hint of surprise touched his otherwise bland expression. His gaze slid to the scene behind her as Miss Helen introduced her lovely ladies then back to her. He stood straighter. “I could try to help you.”
Charlotte smiled. Finally someone with some sense. “I have another bag in the baggage car. A rather large bag too. Could you fetch it for me?”
The man glanced right and left as though she were talking to someone else. The barest glimmer of a grin flickered across his tight lips and into his round eyes.
“Certainly,” he answered after a pause. He set his clipboard down on one of the piles of crates that was being unloaded beside him. “What does your bag look like?”
“Well it’s large. Rather old too. Mostly brown. It should have a tag on it that says ‘Charlotte Baldwin’.” She’d been meaning to use a false name since the incident in St. Louis but was never able to think of one when pressed.
The spectacled man nodded and started for the baggage car between the cargo and passenger cars.
“I see you making eyes at the delightful Minnie.” Miss Helen went on peddling her wares. The petite blonde beside her batted her eyelashes at a burly cowboy with a huge moustache. “You won’t find a sweeter soul this side of the Mississippi. And she’s an excellent cook. In and out of the kitchen.”
The blonde hooted with feigned embarrassment.
Charlotte rolled her eyes and glanced beyond the scene on the train platform. Western towns all looked the same to her: thrown-together buildings with tall fronts, dirt streets filled with horses, rough men, and a few harried women. Plains and mountains stretched out in all directions, betraying the miniscule scale of civilization in the wild. Every town the train had stopped in so far in Montana fit the same description.
The difference between Cold Springs and half a dozen others was Charlotte’s level of patience. She was through with traveling. Never mind that she had no friends and no job in Cold Springs to help start her new life. As long as she could put the past behind her things would work out. She’d decided the night before that wherever the train stopped next would be her new home, come what may.
She drew in a deep breath. The Montana air was as fresh as the life she was eager to start.
“Can I help you ma’am?”
Genre – Western Historical Romance
Rating – R