Friday, August 24, 2012

Flashback Friday

A murder arranged as a suicide … a missing deed  … and a bereft daughter whose sheltered world is shattered.

August, 1869: Lily Granville is stunned by her father’s murder. Only one other person knows about a valuable California gold mine deed -- both are now missing. Lily heads west on the newly opened transcontinental railroad, determined to track the killer. She soon realizes she is no longer the hunter but the prey.

As things progress from bad to worse, Lily is uncertain who to trust—the China-bound missionary who wants to marry her, or the wandering Texan who offers to protect her … for a price. Will Lily survive the journey and unexpected betrayal?

Chapter One

Evanston, Illinois: 1869
I burst into the house. Keeping the flimsy telegram envelope,
I dumped half a dozen packages into the maid’s waiting arms.

“Where’s Father? I need to speak to him.”

“He’s in the library, Miss Lily. With Mr. Todaro.”

Oh, bother. I didn’t have time to deal with Emil Todaro, my
father’s lawyer. He was the last person I wanted to see—but that
couldn’t be helped. Thanking Etta, I raced down the hall. Father
turned from his roll-­‐‑top desk, spectacles perched on his thin nose
and hands full of rustling papers. Todaro rose from an armchair
with a courteous bow. His silver waistcoat buttons strained over
his belly and his balding head shone in the sunlight. I forced myself
to nod in his direction and then planted a quick kiss on Father’s
leathery cheek. The familiar scents of pipe tobacco and bay rum
soothed my nervous energy.

“I didn’t expect you back so early, Lily. What is it?”

With an uneasy glance at Todaro, I slipped him the
envelope. “The telegraph messenger boy caught me on my way
home.” My voice dropped. “It’s from Uncle Harrison.”

Father poked up his wire rims while he pored over the brief
message. His shoulders slumped. “I’ll speak plainly, Lily, because
Mr. Todaro and I were discussing this earlier. My brother sent
word that George Hearst intends to claim the Early Bird mine in a
Sacramento court. Harrison believes his business partner never
filed the deed. He needs to prove our ownership.”

“Hearst holds an interest in the Comstock Lode, Colonel.”

Todaro had perked up, his long knobby fingers forming a steeple.
The lawyer resembled an amphibian, along with his deep croak of a
voice. “His lawyers are just as ambitious and ruthless in court.”

Father peered over his spectacles. “Yes, but I have the
original deed. I didn’t plan to visit California until next month, so
we’ll have to move up our trip.”

“Oh!” I clasped my hands, a thrill racing through me. “I’m
dying to visit all the shops out there, especially in San Francisco.
When do we leave?”
“We? I meant myself and Mr. Todaro.”
I stared at the lawyer, who didn’t conceal a sly smirk. “You
cannot leave me behind, Father. I promised to visit Uncle Harrison,
and what if I decide to go to China?”

“Lily, I refuse to discuss the matter. This trip is anything but
a lark.”

“It’s a grueling two thousand miles on the railroad, Miss
Granville. Conditions out west are far too dangerous for a young
lady,” Todaro said. “Even with an escort.”

“The new transcontinental line has been operating all
summer. Plenty of women have traveled to California. I’ve read the
newspaper reports.”
“I’m afraid the Union and Central Pacific cars are not as
luxurious as the reports say. You have no idea. The way stations
are abominable, for one thing.”

I flashed a smile at him. “I’m ready for adventure. That’s
why I’ve considered joining the missionary team with Mr. Mason.”

Father scowled. “You are not leaving Evanston until I give
my approval.”

“You mean until you dissuade me from ‘such a ridiculous

“Need I remind you of the fourth commandment, Lily?”

“No, Father. We’ll discuss this later.”

My face flushed hot. Annoyed by being reprimanded in
front of Todaro, I ignored the rest of the conversation. I’d always
wanted to see the open prairie and perhaps a buffalo herd chased
by Indians, the majestic Rocky Mountains and California.

California, with its mining camps, lush green meadows and warm
sunshine, the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco that had to be
as exhilarating as downtown Chicago. I’d pored over the grainy
pen-­‐‑and-­‐‑ink drawings in the Chicago Times. Uncle Harrison,
who’d gone west several years ago to make a fortune and
succeeded, for the most part, would welcome me with open arms. I
plopped down on an armchair and fingered the ridges of the brass
floor lamp beside me. Somehow I needed to persuade Father to
allow me to tag along on this trip.

When Mr. Todaro’s bulky form disappeared out the door,
Father glanced at me. “All right, my dear. Let’s discuss this
business about California.”

Heart thudding, I stood up. “Why do you need Mr. Todaro,
Father? I don’t trust him one bit. Uncle Harrison has a good lawyer
in Sacramento.”

“He insisted on accompanying me. Emil has a quick mind in

“Maybe so, but—”

“I wouldn’t be alive if not for his help. He pulled me out of a
heap of bodies at Shiloh, remember. I know you don’t like him,
Lily, but I will keep him as my lawyer.”

Frowning, I swallowed further protest. True enough, I
disliked him. Something about the bulbous-­‐‑nosed, oily man sent
shivers up my spine. I crossed to the window, remembering the
time I’d seen Todaro aim a kick at my pet lizard in the garden.

Telling Father about the incident now would make me sound
childish and petty.

Etta carried in a silver tray of refreshments and set them on
the table between the desk and the leather sofa. I sank into the soft
cushion with a whoosh. My feet still hurt from my downtown
shopping venture and several hours of errands.

“I bought the handkerchiefs you wanted, Father, and that
brass letter opener. I found a pearl brooch at Marshall Field. The
silver setting looked inferior, though.” I plucked up a golden-­‐‑
crusted pastry filled with creamed chicken and dill. “My
seamstress had no open appointments today, and I couldn’t find
one straw hat that I liked at any of the millinery shops.”

“If you’re serious about China, you’ll have to give up your
notions of fashion.”

“I suppose,” I said, licking a spot of gravy from my thumb.

“That young man has filled your head with nonsense, in my

“Charles is dedicated to God. The China Inland Mission has
accepted him, did I tell you? Now he’s raising funds for his

“You’ve never been dedicated to working in Chicago among
the poor. Charity begins at home,” Father said. “Your mother was
devoted to the Ladies’ Society at church.”

“Her charity circle sewed clothing and quilts. I can’t even
thread a needle.”

“So we agree.” Father snagged a handful of candied
almonds. “You need to gain valuable skills here in Evanston, or at a
finishing school, before you run off to China.”

“I’m too old for school! I’ll be twenty in a month—”

“Ripe for marriage, then, and giving me grandchildren. I’d
rather dandle a baby on my knee than read letters about you
starving in a foreign country. I’m not going to allow you to wed
Charles Mason, either. He might be full of the Spirit, but he’s more
interested in using your inheritance for his own purposes. I never
detected any love in him for you.”

His final words stung. I couldn’t protest much, either.

Charles was a decent man, a hard worker, dedicated to his calling,
but admiration wasn’t the best foundation for a love match or a
lasting marriage. Father might be right about Charles’ interest in
my inheritance, too, which nettled me. I changed the subject.

“Tell me about the Early Bird mine, Father. Is it like the
Comstock Lode?”

“Quicksilver. Your uncle is set on new technology, hydraulic
mining. It uses high pressure jets of water and is quite expensive.
He knows more about it than I do.”

I chose a toasted point topped with cheese, tomato and
spinach. “Then I’d better travel with you to California so I can ask
him myself.”

“You need to stay here where it’s safe.”

“But you cannot protect me from the world forever, Father. I
must choose a path—”

“Keep praying, Lily. The Lord will show you the way.”

Father bit into an apple cinnamon tart. “If you truly loved Charles,
you’d have accepted his marriage proposal right away.”

After gulping some chilled lemonade, I set down the glass.

I’d prayed on my knees every night and morning, waiting for some
sign, but nothing changed. I didn’t love him, and didn’t share his
missionary dream. If I rejected him, I might be stuck in a loveless
marriage to someone else. If I married Charles, perhaps my
inheritance money would come to good use once I turned twenty-­‐‑
one. But I’d be thousands of miles away from home, among
foreigners, and might never see Father again. Neither choice led to

Tiny dust motes danced in a ray of late sunshine beaming
through the window’s lace curtain. Cicadas droned outside among
the trees. The mournful sound, buzzing low and then high, sent a
shiver down my spine.

Waiting for an answer to prayer led to frustration, but
perhaps that was best. For now. “My pet lizard lost another clutch
of eggs a week ago to a badger. I shot the creature—”

“With what?”

“Your Army revolver.”

“Good heavens, child. That weapon has a nasty kickback,”
Father said grimly. “It might blow your hand clear off. Promise me
you won’t handle it.”

I didn’t want to admit that I had lost my grip on the
revolver, and gagged on the rank smell of gunpowder. I’d also been
shocked by the tremendous bang that deafened me for several
days. Still, I was reluctant to promise anything in case of any future
predators harming Lucretia or her eggs. Rising to my feet, I rocked
back and forth on my heels.

“Did you forget about my early birthday present?”

“No, but don’t think you’re going to distract me about that

“I will promise not to touch it, but only if you hire a different

Father coughed hard, his mouth full of tart, and swallowed.

“No, Lily! I will not bargain with you. This notion you have about
Mr. Todaro is foolish. Don’t worry your pretty little head about the
Early Bird mine any further.”

My chest tightened. We’d never quarreled over anything
this serious before, not even Charles. Father had often given in to
my whims. Something about Emil Todaro soured my stomach.
Perhaps that was the Spirit at work in me. I decided to stand firm.

“I’m sorry, Father, but even Uncle Harrison said Mr. Todaro
is not trustworthy—”

“I refuse to hear another word on the matter.”

Scowling, he returned to his desk and barricaded himself
behind a flimsy newspaper. His stubbornness matched my own. I
paced the library, slowly perusing the crammed bookshelves, and
traced a finger over the globe’s continents and oceans. The sphere
spun on its stand with a low hum. I stole a glance at Father. He
rustled the thin pages, as if awaiting my apology. No doubt he was
unhappy with me, but my feelings intensified about Todaro. I
could not shake my conviction despite the commandment to honor
and obey a parent.

Tired of counting the sofa’s brass tacks, I toyed with some
wilting flowers in a vase. Silence reigned. I breathed out a deep
sigh and moved to the window again. Twilight made it easier to
study Father’s reflection. At forty-­‐‑six, he was too young to be
widowed. Mother’s unexpected death had stunned him so soon
after his return from serving the Union in the War. A sore hip
bothered him on occasion, brought on by bone-­‐‑chilling winter
nights, damp or soaked tents, marches over difficult terrain or long
horseback rides. Deep worry lines tracked his face, iron gray
streaks in his hair and beard made him look years older. We shared
the same pride, loyalty and tolerance of faults in others.
Emil Todaro was an exception.

Drumming my fingers on the window, I heard the parlor
clock strike half past six. “When are you and Uncle Harrison due in
court in Sacramento?”

“He didn’t mention an exact day or time in that telegram.”
“How long will you be gone?”

“A week or two, I suppose. We leave in three days.” As if
sensing a truce, Father pulled a desk drawer open. “Here is your
birthday present, Lily.”

I kissed his cheek again and accepted the package. Slipping
aside the silky ribbon, I tore the wrinkled rose-­‐‑scented tissue to
reveal a beautiful red leather-­‐‑bound sketchbook. The cover had
stamped golden scrollwork. Each creamy watermarked page
begged for sketches or soft watercolors. Remorse filled me. I
shouldn’t have caused him so much heartache.

“Thank you, Father. What’s this?”

A brief inscription filled the inside cover. I read in silence,
my throat constricting with more guilt. Presented to Lily Rose Delano
Granville. Treasure all that is precious to you, and you will have treasure
for years to come. From your Dudley.

“Why did you sign it that way? I haven’t called you Dudley
in years.”

“You scrawled it on all the sketches your mother sent.” His
voice gruff, he tugged at a loose strand of my curly blonde hair
when I leaned to kiss his cheek. “You remind me of her so much.
She sent your drawings with her letters. They cheered up the men
in my regiment, too, whenever I shared them. Forgive an old man
his memories.”

“You’re far from old age. Perhaps I’ll go sketch in the
garden. I’m expecting Charles to call today or tomorrow.”

“He hasn’t come to ask my advice, or for my blessing.”

“I think he’s afraid of you—”

“How can he face heathens then, in a foreign country? You
ought to meet other men in the world. Better men, who have a
fortune of their own.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you’ll meet better lawyers in

“Don’t be impertinent.” Clenching his pipe in his teeth,
Father picked up his newspaper once more. “That won’t serve you
if you’re serious about becoming a missionary.”

“Would you rather I follow Aunt Sylvia on stage?”

“Harrison and I disowned her, in case you forgot!” Father
knocked pipe ash over his papers and spluttered with anger. “I
would lock you in a nunnery if you ever disgraced yourself that
way—don’t you dare say we are not Catholic, either.”

Heat flared in my cheeks. He knew me too well, since I’d
almost lobbed that volley. Guilt seared me again when he picked
up his paper with shaking hands. I hadn’t meant to upset him like
this. We both needed some time to recover, so I fled to the garden.
The French doors rattled shut behind me. Crossing the flagstones, I
clenched my fists around my new sketchbook. Father would
recover his good humor before bedtime. I tiptoed past the kitchen
window. The clink of china and flatware drifted to my ears along
with their low voices while Etta and Cook prepared the evening’s
meal. My heels sunk into the soft grass. I passed the rose-­‐‑covered
trellis and then perched on an ironwork bench, the metal warm
under my fingers. Lucretia scurried out from a hedge’s thick
foliage, eyes blinking. She froze, staring at me, when I opened the
book to the first page and slid a pencil stub from my pocket.

I needed something to make me forget the argument with
Father. Capturing the lizard’s familiar form, I filled it in with dark
cross-­‐‑hatching and smudges. What a beautiful creature. My friends
kept Persian cats or lapdogs, but lizards held a special fascination
for me. Exotic, alluring with their patterned skin texture and
independence from humans. Lucretia flicked her tongue and
scuttled away, alarmed by some noise in the distance. The setting
sun glowed dull red and orange past the shadowy trees, casting
golden beams over the garden. The aroma of roast chicken, thyme
and sage reminded me of dinner.

Rising to my feet, I groped for my mother’s necklace which
held the tiny watch that Charles had given me. I must have left it
upstairs on the dressing table. Tinkling water spilled from a
cherub’s pitcher into the fountain. I sat down on the bench again
and added ferns and shadows to my sketch.

Minutes later, a loud crack echoed in the air. The odd sound
lingered. It reminded me of the revolver’s shot when I’d killed the
badger. Had it come from the house? Closing my book, I hurried
through the garden. Two shadowy figures slipped off the side
porch and fled toward the street. The taller one wore dark clothing.
I recognized the shorter man as Emil Todaro by his frog-­‐‑like gait.
Rushing after them, I witnessed their mad scramble into a waiting
buggy. The team shot forward under a whip’s cruel lash.

Why had the lawyer returned? What did they want?

I climbed the steps to the side door and found it locked.

Scurrying around to the back of the house, I tried the library’s
French doors but they didn’t budge. My heart jumped in my throat.
I picked up my skirts, raced around to the front door and flung it

“Etta! Etta, where’s Father?”

The maid poked her head out of the dining room. “In the

“I saw Mr. Todaro leaving with another man. Did you let
them in?”

“No, Miss Lily. I did hear the Colonel talking to someone,

“Didn’t you hear a loud bang?”

“I did, but I thought it was Cook with her pots. I was in the
cellar fetching more coal.” Etta trailed me through the hall. “Is
something wrong?”

“I’m not sure.” The library’s doorknob rattled beneath my
fingers when I twisted it open. I peeked inside the dim room. “Are
you all right, Father?”

An odd smell tickled my nose—gunpowder. I swallowed
hard, my throat constricting, staring at how Father was sprawled
over his desk, head down, one arm dangling over the edge. My
head and ears thrummed when I saw papers littering the floor. The
safe door stood ajar, the drawers yanked open every which way. I
took a step, and another, toward the pipe that lay on the plush

Persian carpet. His crushed spectacles lay beside it. Father’s hand
cradled the small derringer he’d always kept in his desk drawer. Its
pearl handle gleamed above a stack of papers, stained dark

A fly crawled over Father’s cheek. Etta clawed the air, one
hand clamped over her mouth. I saw a tiny blackened bullet hole
marking his temple, and wet blood trickling downward. Frozen in
place, I heard a shrill scream—my own, since pain raked my throat.
Everything swirled and a dark void swallowed me whole.

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