Setting her traveling valise on the ground, Millie pulled down the hem of her waist-length jacket. The coal smoke and dust from the trains had turned the pale green traveling suit grayish, and her hair was so stiff she didn’t dare remove a comb for fear every last strand would break off. But in a few miles, her travels would be over.
Then the real work would begin.
Work indeed. Pretending to be her sister would be the most challenging thing she’d ever done. Not in looks—people had been confusing the two of them forever, and she had cut her hair. It no longer hung to her waist in the simple braid she’d favored for years. For this journey she’d had to twist it around the hot prongs of a curling iron, then pin it up in a fashionable way. Rosemary had shown her how, though Millie still didn’t have the knack her sister did. Maybe because it was a frivolous waste of time. Rosemary had changed her hairstyle so many times over the past years Millie sincerely doubted her sister remembered how she’d worn it when marrying Seth. Besides, Millie had larger worries. Such as hoping she’d recall what Seth Parker looked like. It had been five years, and she’d seen him only once. Mistaking someone else for her so-called husband could prove disastrous.
Yes, when played against everything else, her hair was truly the least of her concerns. Picking up her satchel, Millie moved forward, elbowing her way to the little building with a sign proclaiming Tulsa in faded red letters.
Two of her trunks sat there. She set her traveling bag on one and stretched up on her toes, attempting to peer over or around heads sporting every type of hat imaginable for a glimpse of her additional luggage—or rather, Rosemary’s.
The high-pitched screech of the train whistle and the shout “All aboard” echoing over the crowd had her searching harder.
People rushed by, bounding up the metal steps, and steam started hissing from beneath the locomotive. Surely the train wouldn’t leave before all her belongings were unloaded. The distance between most of the previous stops had been lengthy; even when she wasn’t switching trains there’d been time to walk about, stretch her legs.
Bubbles of anxiety filled her stomach and Millie scrambled on top of one trunk. Using a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, she scanned for a round bald head ringed with gray hair. Sighing in relief at the sight of the porter dragging a trunk behind him, she climbed down. The crowd diminished a bit, leaving more room for the man and his assistant to deposit her other trunks next to her.
“Thank you,” she said earnestly. “I was getting worried.”
The porter, wiping at the beads of sweat running down the sides of his face, eyed her quizzically. “Ma’am,” he said, “you do realize how far away Fort Sill is, don’t you?”
She smiled and nodded. “Yes, the train agent in Richmond—Virginia, that would be—informed me I’d have to take a wagon the last few miles.” Patting the varnished trunk he’d set down, she continued, “That’s why I was getting worried when I didn’t see this trunk. I’ll need a parasol out of it.”
“A parasol?” The porter shook his head. “It’s pert’ near two hundred miles to Fort Sill from Tulsa, ma’am.”
“Surely not t-two hundred.”
Stunned, she sank onto one of the trunks behind her. Air refused to catch in her lungs despite several tries. Once able to speak, Millie asked, “Surely there’s another train—”
“No.” The porter paused momentarily as the locomotive whistle sounded again. “Trains from here head straight west and straight south. Nothing goes through the center. That’s the heart of Indian Territory.”
* * *
Stretched out in bed, with nothing but a sheet covering his lower body, Seth Parker watched the sun crest the pointed tops of the stockade walls out the window of his loft bedroom. Tension had ahold of his spine like a snapping turtle latched on to a stick. Had for the past ten days. Ever since he’d dispatched a wagon to pick up his wife.
As the sun inched higher, disgust, dread, anger and a plethora of other things boiled together inside him, leaving a taste in his mouth so bad no amount of rinsing would help.
Today was the day. It could have been yesterday, so he should at least find gratitude in having had one more day of peace in his life. But yesterday was over, and that meant she’d arrive today.
Unless, of course, she’d changed her mind. That possibility would suit him just fine. It would mean he’d sent two men and a wagon to Tulsa for no reason.