***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***
Oklahoma Territory, June 1897
Today was not a good day for a wedding. It was Lucinda Bishop’s wedding day, and he wasn’t the groom. The sun may be shining outside, but Luke Anderson’s insides rolled
and tumbled like the dark clouds before a storm. His feelings should have been under control by now, and they had been up until this moment. Now Lucy’s image rolled through his mind like pictures on a stereo-optic machine.
He shook his head and snatched off his tie. Anger filled his heart. His eyes closed tightly, and he prayed for God to take away his negative feelings. All thoughts of Lucinda must be put away as part of his past and not his future. Calm swept through him as he felt the Lord’s peace take over. Still, he’d rather do anything else, like stay behind and keep the store open. Pa didn’t worry about the business he’d be losing by closing down for the day because most of the townsfolk would be at the church. Luke shrugged his arms into the sleeves of his jacket. He hated having to wear a suit in this heat. With his tie
now securely back in place, Luke headed downstairs to meet his parents.
His mother tilted her head and looked him over from head to foot. “I must say you do look especially handsome today.” She nodded her approval and turned for the door.
Luke tugged at his collar and forced himself to smile. She must have thought he’d come down in his work clothes.
His sister beamed at him. “You are handsome, even if you are my brother.”
Luke shook his head and followed her outside. “You look very pretty yourself, Alice.”
She looked up at him and furrowed her brow. “Thank you, I think.”
Luke relaxed at his sister’s comments. He usually ridiculed or teased her, but she did look pretty today with her blonde curls dancing on her shoulders. At sixteen, she had the notice of a few boys in her class at school.
The tightness in his chest loosened. He’d get through this day.
Since the church was only a few blocks down the street, they would walk, but his younger brother, Will, ran ahead. When they reached the churchyard, wagons, surreys, and horses filled the area. Pa had been right. People from all over were here, paying tribute to the niece of one of the most powerful ranchers in the area, Mr. Haynes.
He followed the rest of his family into the church and down to a pew. The sanctuary filled quickly, and the music began. Instead of paying attention, Luke tugged once again at the demon collar and tie and wished for relief from the early summer heat. The organ swelled with a melody, and everyone stood. Dove, Lucy’s best friend, walked down the aisle followed by the bride.
Never had Lucy looked more beautiful. Mrs. Weems, the dressmaker, had made many trips to the store for the ribbons and laces that adorned the dress and slight train now trailing behind it. The white satin enhanced Lucy’s dark hair and fair face, and her eyes sparkled with the love she had for Jake.
Luke had to admit deep in his heart that she’d never been his. Even when he courted her, her heart had belonged to Jake. Luke should have known he’d never make her forget that cowboy.
Then his gaze fell on Dove, and his throat tightened. Although he’d known her for years, he’d never seen her as any more than the part-Cherokee daughter of Sam Morris. Now
her bronzed complexion and dark eyes glowed with a beauty that stunned him. He had looked right through her when they had been at the box social last spring and on other social occasions. At those events, she’d been with someone else, and he’d seen only Lucinda. Dove was quiet and didn’t say much when around others their age, and he had spoken directly to her only a few times at church. Today he saw her with new eyes.
When Lucy reached the altar on the arm of her uncle Ben, Luke sat down, as did the congregation. Ignoring the words of the minister, he stared at Dove. How could he not have noticed her before?
Luke glanced to his left and right. Pa had been right when he said most of Barton Creek would attend the wedding. Even Chester Fowler had come. He’d been less than friendly with Ben Haynes and Sam Morris the few times Luke had seen them together. Something about the man bothered Luke, but he couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
From the corner of his eye he noticed Bobby Frankston staring to the side of the altar. Luke followed the boy’s gaze to find Becky Haynes at the other end. She stood with Dove beside Lucy as an attendant. Her attention had been drawn to Bobby, and a faint bloom reddened her cheeks. That blush didn’t come from the heat. Luke chuckled to himself. It looked to him like another boy had fallen in love.
When the ceremony ended, the couple left the church and headed to the hotel where the Haynes had planned a lavish celebration for their niece.
When Luke joined the other guests there, tables laden with thin slices of beef, chicken, and ham, along with a variety of breads, vegetables, and fruit, filled one end of the room and beckoned to him. After filling his plate, he moved to the side of the room and bit into a piece of chicken. At least the food tasted good.
His gaze swept around the room. The hotel dining hall had been cleared of almost all its tables, and people milled about talking with one another and balancing plates of food.
In his perusal of the room, his gaze came to rest on Dove Morris. The pale yellow dress she wore emphasized her dark hair and almost black eyes. He’d never seen such a flawless
complexion on anyone besides Lucy. But where Lucy’s was fair, Dove’s reflected the heritage of her Indian blood. As she chatted with a guest, a smile lit up her face. At that moment she turned in Luke’s direction, her eyes locking with his and widening as though surprised to see him. A sharp tingle skittered through his heart. Before he could catch his breath, she turned back to the woman beside her. The tightness in his chest lessened, but
he still stared at her even though she no longer looked at him.
Twice now something had coursed through his veins as he observed her. An explanation for those feelings eluded him because nothing like that had happened with Lucy when he was with her. Whatever this feeling happened to be, one thing was certain—he had to speak to Dove. Still, after what happened with Lucy, he would take his time and not rush into a relationship so quickly this time.
He made his way in her direction, not allowing his eyes to lose contact with her face. When he stood by her side, her head barely reached his shoulder. He had never truly paid any attention to how tiny and petite she was, even when he’d seen her in the store and at church. A sudden urge to stand taller and make a good impression overcame him.
Finally he caught her eye. “Miss Morris, what a pleasure to see you this afternoon,” he said.
Her lips quivered then broke into a smile. “Luke Anderson. It’s a pleasure to see you too. Wasn’t the wedding lovely?”
“Yes, it was.” But not as lovely as the girl standing before him. “Would you like some refreshment?”
“I would like that; thank you.” Her soft voice melted his resolve. He had to know more about this beautiful young woman. How her beauty had escaped his notice was something
he didn’t understand. He straightened his shoulders and grasped her hand to tuck it over his arm. She’d certainly grown up while he had been so smitten with Lucy Bishop.
The warmth of Luke’s arm beneath Dove’s hand sent a shiver through her body despite the heat. He was the last person she expected to pay attention to her today. As long as she had known him and wanted his admiration, he had spoken only a few words directly to her. His noticing her today sent currents of excitement through her as well as questions about why he chose this day to show any interest in her.
He offered her a cup of punch, and the sunlight streaming through the windows glistened on the crystal in her hand, turning it into shimmering sparkles. In fact, everything about
the day had become brighter. She sipped from her cup then smiled at Luke. “This is very good.” Her face warmed. Not a
very exciting topic of conversation.
Luke raised his cup to his mouth and swallowed. “Yes, it is.” He glanced around the room. “Would you save a dance for me, Miss Morris?”
Words first stuck in Dove’s throat and then came forth in a squeak. “Yes, I will.” Her face grew even warmer. She would like nothing more than to be whirling across the dance floor with Luke’s arms about her, and he would probably be her only partner except for Martin, who had asked earlier.
At that moment the young man in question stepped up. “Don’t forget you promised me a dance today, Miss Morris.”
“Of course I won’t forget.” Two young men seeking her companionship today was twice as many as she had even imagined. Because of her Cherokee heritage, she never expected young men to take much notice of her or spend time with her. Today would be a more lovely day than she had believed it would be.
Martin glanced at Luke. “Miss Morris, if you’ll excuse us, I must speak to Luke alone.”
Dove nodded as the two young men made their way across the room. With both being so tall, she had no trouble seeing them as they stopped by the door. Once their gaze turned
toward her, and she averted her eyes. Her cheeks once again burned at the thought they could be discussing her. Luke was the one she wanted by her side, and she prayed he wouldn’t back out of his request.
An arm slipped around Dove’s shoulders. Turning to find Clara Haynes beside her, she beamed at the elderly lady everyone called Aunt Clara. “Oh, didn’t Lucy look lovely?”
“She certainly did, and Mellie and Mrs. Weems did a wonderful job with the dress, but you look just as beautiful.”
The compliment unnerved her because no one but Ma or Pa had ever called her beautiful before. “Thank you.” Her hand trembled, and she had to set her punch cup down. “It’s been a wonderful day for a wedding, and so many are here to honor Lucy and Jake.” Anything to change the topic.
The ploy didn’t work with Aunt Clara, who leaned close and whispered, “Next thing is to find a suitable young man for you, and that may be sooner than we think.”
Dove blinked. The elderly woman meant well, but no young man in town wanted to court a half-breed girl. Men like her father were few and far between. With his prominence and
wealth, he had paid no attention to what others thought when he chose his Cherokee bride. He’d said more than once that a man should be judged on his treatment of others, his honesty, and his reliability, not on his race or skin color. If only Luke could see her that way.
Aunt Clara squeezed Dove’s arm then patted it. “I believe it’s time to get some life into this party.” She headed toward the newly married couple.
Dove wished she were more adventuresome like Lucy, who had left her native Boston to come west to live with the Haynes family. Everything here was new and strange to Lucy, but she adapted, even shortening her name from Lucinda to Lucy. Dove sighed, wishing for some changes in her own life.
At that moment, Luke returned, and her hopes rose in anticipation. Perhaps those changes could begin in a friendship with Luke.
As Bea Anderson stared across the crowded room, she nudged her husband. “Carl, look over there. Luke’s talking with Dove Morris.”
Carl nodded in their direction. “She looks very pretty today.”
“She does, but that still doesn’t mean I like his talking with her.” Indeed her son could do much better than the half-breed Morris girl. As pretty as she may be, she wasn’t the kind Luke should even think of courting.
“Now, Bea, they’re just having a polite conversation.”
Polite conversation or not, this would not go any further if she had any say in the matter. All her childhood memories of Indian raids and attacks could not be erased by a few years of peace with one tribe. The horrors she’d seen were forever etched in her memory, and the very sight of Dove and her mother or her brothers sent them all flooding into her soul again. No matter that everyone else recognized the girl’s mother as Emily Morris—she’d always be White Feather to Bea.
She had tried to be civil, but always the images that couldn’t be forgiven lurked in the background. They were as much a part of her being as every thought or emotion she ever had.
Now she simply avoided the Morris family as much as possible and let Carl take care of their needs when they came into the store. She had chosen to keep her distance and ignore them. Even though most of the town knew her story and would understand her feelings toward the Morris family, Bea didn’t want to say something that might embarrass the Andersons in front of strangers who might be in the store. That wouldn’t be good for business.
Carl placed his arm around her and hugged her close. “Bea, Luke is a grown young man. He’s all ready to take over the store when the time comes. He’s smart, and he’s a good son. You have to let him make his own decisions and choose his own life.”
Bea swallowed hard. Knowing and letting it happen were two different things. She wished Luke had been the one to marry the Bishop girl today, but Lucy chose Jake, a cowboy turned rancher who had joined the ranks of men like Ben Haynes and
Carl patted her arm. “See, Martin Fleming is drawing Dove’s attention now. We don’t have to worry about Luke. He’ll make the right decision.”
“I should hope so. He knows our history, and any Indian, especially a half-breed girl like Dove, would never fit into our family.”