Thursday, June 20, 2013

Teton Splendor - Chapter One

Chapter One

Boston, Massachusetts, Summer 1853

“Do you have an invitation, sir?”
“Invitation for what?” Joseph Walker’s eyes narrowed and he leaned toward the man in front of him who had opened the heavy oak door. Dressed in a black suit complete with white gloves that showed not even the slightest hint of dirt, the balding man assessed him with a critical eye. Disdain and surprise was evident on his face. His nostrils flared as if he smelled something unpleasant.
Joseph shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He probably didn’t smell all that pleasant. Come to think of it, he probably should have dunked his head in the horse trough and scrubbed his face with some of the lye soap he carried in his saddlebag before coming to this fancy house. The livery owner where he dropped off his horse had given him directions to Byron Yancey’s place, and after three months on the trail, Joseph was eager to finally get this first meeting over with. It was well into the evening, and lights lining the cobblestone streets of this affluent Boston neighborhood had already been lit.
“This party is by invitation only, I’m afraid.” The older man raised his chin and sniffled. He moved to close the door. Taking a hasty step forward, Joseph pushed against the heavy wood. He was not about to have it slammed in his face.
“I’ve come a long way, mister. I’m tired and I really need to speak to Byron Yancey. I was told this is where he lives.”
The man in his fancy suit stumbled back, his eyes wide. “This is the Yancey residence,” he stammered. “But Mr. Yancey is entertaining guests this evening. Perhaps I can get you an appointment with him in the morning.”
Joseph frowned and clenched his jaw. He inhaled a deep breath, and  played the only card he had. “Tell him Alex Walker’s son is here. I have to see him tonight.” How easy it would be to simply push the slight man out of the way, but he didn’t come here to cause trouble. The faint sound of violin music reached his ear, and laughter drifted from inside the enormous home.
The man puckered his lips and sighed dramatically. He stood and appraised Joseph with disdain one more time. “Very well,” he finally said. He slowly pulled the door back and stepped to the side. “Follow me, sir.”
Joseph stepped over the threshold and onto a polished white stone floor that looked like ice on a frozen winter lake. His eyes widened, and he whistled softly. He’d seen the outsides of some fancy houses in the bigger cities he passed through in his travels to get to Boston, but he’d never imagined what they looked like inside. He lifted his head and gazed at the high cathedral ceiling. A chandelier that sparkled like icicles on a sunny winter’s day hung above him. Candles flickered, illuminating the great entry. A wide staircase with ornately carved wooden handrails and plush green carpeting led to a second floor. The man in the fancy black suit beckoned him to follow.
“You may wait in Mr. Yancey’s study,” he said, leading Joseph down a wide hallway. He opened a set of heavy-looking dark wooden double doors, and moved to the side. The man waited for him to step into the room, then closed the doors behind him. 
Joseph walked further into the room. His moccasins sank into the thick green carpet as if he were walking through a spring meadow back home. Instead of the sweet fragrance of grass, the smell of leather from a large mahogany colored couch drifted to his nose. An enormous cherry wood desk stood in one corner, and one wall of the room was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. Joseph had never seen so many books in one place except in a library while visiting St. Louis once.
The opposite wall of the study held a large stone fireplace and hearth. Over the mantle hung a rusty beaver trap and a beaver pelt stretched in a wooden hoop. An old flintlock rifle was mounted in the center of the wall above the mantle, along with several leather pouches and a powder horn. These dirty old items all seemed very much out of place among the expensive modern furniture in this room.
Joseph’s mouth watered when his nose caught the faint odor of food, although he couldn’t begin to guess what kind it was. His stomach growled loudly. There was some dried venison in his saddlebags, and chunks of bread he’d purchased a few days back in one of the outlying communities before he reached Boston. In his eagerness to see Byron Yancey, he’d forgotten to eat before leaving the livery.
Just like you forgot to clean yourself up a bit.
Joseph ran a hand through his thick brown hair. His mother would have his hide if she saw how long he’d let it grow. It fell past his shoulders at this point. There was no reason to cut it during his three months on the trail to reach his destination. Standing in this fancy house, he now regretted his lack of foresight.
His father had told him about Byron Yancey, and that the man was very wealthy. Shadowy memories of him drifted in and out of Joseph’s mind. He’d been about five years old when Yancey disappeared with Raven. He doubted he would recognize the man now if he met him on the street.
After Two Bears’ request that he find his long-lost granddaughter, Joseph had gone to his father in hopes of finding a starting point in his search.
“Byron Yancey?” Alex Walker’s eyebrows had raised, and he’d sought the eyes of Joseph’s mother, who stood at the hearth in the kitchen when Joseph made his initial inquiry.
“Yeah. What do you know about him? And the little girl, Raven?”
His father had stared at him for a moment, then sat at the kitchen table, with a faraway look on his face. Joseph’s mother had come up behind him and placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder. Both his parents looked somber. Mentioning Yancey and Raven most likely brought back painful memories of their friends, Laurent Berard and Whispering Waters.
“Why do you want to know about Raven?” his father asked, finally looking at him.
“Her grandfather wants to meet her."
“We’re not even sure she’s alive anymore,” his father said. “Or Yancey. After Raven’s parents were shot, he showed up at our cabin, frantic. He could barely tell us what had happened.” Alex glanced up at his wife, and she smiled sadly at him, squeezing his shoulder.
“We offered to take the little girl, and either raise her along with you and your brother, or take her to her mother’s people. Yancey refused. He was adamant that Laurent had told him to protect her and keep her safe from Oliver Sabin. He was convinced that if he stayed in the mountains with her, Sabin would find her. So he decided to take her back east where he came from.” He cleared his throat, the painful memories evident in his eyes.
“We haven’t heard from him since. That was nearly twenty years ago,” Joseph’s mother said. “He may have died. He wasn’t the most competent man in the mountains.”
“And we haven’t seen or heard anything about Oliver Sabin, either,” Alex added. “We highly suspected that he found Yancey, and killed him and the little girl.”
“Where was he from? I at least have to try and find him,” Joseph said, pacing in front of the hearth.
“Boston, I believe,” his mother answered. “His father owned a textile business, and exported beaver pelts to Europe. I don’t know what became of the business after the beaver trade died out.” She moved around the table to stand before him. She had to tilt her head back to look up at him. The light from the fireplace reflected in her auburn hair, making it shimmer like copper.
“It takes months to get to Boston, Joseph,” she said, placing a hand on his arm. “Are you sure this is something you want to do? It might lead to a dead end.”
“I have to try, Mother. I owe Two Bears my life.”
His mother smiled in acceptance. “I’ve learned a long time ago not to argue with either one of you when you feel honor bound to do something.” She shot a glance toward her husband, who winked at her and grinned.
The heavy double doors behind him opened, snapping Joseph from his thoughts. He turned away from the big fireplace in this fancy room.  An audible gasp escaped from the man who stood under the doorframe, flanked by the man who led Joseph to this room. He turned fully toward the older gentleman, whose receding hairline was peppered with gray hair. The man walked forward, his eyes wide, staring at him appreciatively.
“Alex Walker’s son,” he said, and held out his hands, his face beaming. A long scar ran from the man’s lip up into his eye and further up his forehead to disappear under his hair. “Joseph? Or Lucas?” He turned his head to the side, appraising him appreciatively from top to bottom. There was no disdain on his face as there had been with the other man, and he beamed a genuine smile, his eyes filled with awe.
Joseph hastily wiped his palms on his shirt, and reached for the extended hand that was offered.
“Joseph Walker, sir,” he said, noting the feeble grip of the older man’s hand.
Byron Yancey pumped his arm, his smile never diminishing. There was a definite glow in the man’s eyes, and Joseph was glad that he at least seemed to receive a friendly reception from him.
Dressed in a black velvet suit, with an impeccable white shirt and waistcoat, Yancey exuded wealth. Joseph had a hard time picturing him in the wild setting of the Teton mountains, sloshing through frozen ponds and creek beds to set beaver traps. But apparently that was exactly what he had done for more than five years back in the heydays of the fur trade. The scar on his face was testament to the dangerous life of a mountain man. Yancey had gotten that scar from an encounter with a grizzly bear, and Joseph’s father had saved both his mother’s and Yancey’s life that day.
“How are your parents?” He stopped moving Joseph’s arm up and down, and released his hand. “I trust that they have been getting on well? Did they move back to St. Charles?”
“Mama sends her regards,” Joseph said. “They raise cattle and horses in the Jackson Valley now. I don’t think anyone could get her to leave the Tetons.”
“Yes, your mother, Evelyn is a strong woman. Much more suited for a life in the mountains than I ever could have been. But it was great fun while I was there. Your father taught me much, although rather reluctantly.” Yancey chuckled.
Joseph nodded. What could he say? That his parents still regarded him as a greenhorn? Yancey seemed to know his limitations. The slight man turned to the other man, who stood silently at the door. “You may leave, James.”
James shot another disapproving glance at Joseph, then stepped out of the room, closing the doors behind him.
“So, Joseph,” Yancey said, and clasped his hands together. “What brings you to Boston? I can’t imagine you came all this way just to visit me.” He beamed. He reached out and motioned to the leather couch. “Please, have a seat.”
Joseph cleared his throat. The moment of truth had arrived. He preferred to remain standing.
“As a matter of fact, I did come to see you,” he said, gauging the man’s reaction. Yancey’s eyes widened, and his forehead wrinkled. “More specifically, I came to find out about Raven.”
Yancey’s face drained of all color. He grabbed hold of the edge of the fancy desk. Joseph reached out his arm, prepared to catch the man if he should fall.
“Raven?” he muttered.
Joseph nodded. “Yes. The daughter of Laurent Berard and his Bannock wife, Whispering Waters. You took her away when they were murdered.”
Yancey moved around the wide desk, holding on to the edge with each step. He sank heavily into the leather chair on the opposite side. His thumb and forefinger pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Is she still alive?” Joseph asked, stepping up to the desk, and resting his palms on the counter. He leaned toward Yancey. His heart sank to his stomach. Had this long trip been for nothing? Had Raven died, or been murdered by Oliver Sabin?
Yancey slowly raised his head. He met Joseph’s stare. Joseph held his breath.
“My daughter is alive,” he whispered after many moments of silence. “Her name is Sophia.”
“Your daughter?” Joseph straightened to his full height. A heavy weight lifted from his shoulders that the girl was at least alive, even as his mind clung to the idea that Yancey considered her his daughter.
“Laurent made me promise just before he died that I would take her and keep her safe. Oliver Sabin would have killed her just as he killed Laurent and Whispering Waters. I did the only thing that made sense at the time. I brought her home with me, and told everyone she was mine, and that her mother died. Her name is Sophia Yancey. I’ve raised her, and love her as my own.”
“I’ve come to take her back to her people,” Joseph said. He might as well be direct.
Yancey launched from his seat. His weary look from a moment ago was replaced with the eyes of a mother grizzly defending her young.
“That’s not possible,” he said firmly.
“Why not?” Joseph frowned. “Her place is with the Bannock people. Her grandfather asked me to find her.”
Yancey leaned forward, his stare unwavering. He clenched his jaw, and the blood that had drained from his face a few moments ago had returned, coloring his cheeks a deep crimson. “Sophia knows nothing of the life she was born into. She was only two years old when her parents died. She’s grown up here. She went to school here. She’s had the best of everything. This is the only life she knows.”
“Her grandfather’s last wish is that he meets her,” Joseph persisted. Why couldn’t Yancey see that she needed to return to the Tetons? He should be happy that she would meet her real family, and that they wanted to welcome her with open arms. Glancing around the room, he couldn’t imagine how anyone would choose city life over living near the mountains, where people didn’t trip all over each other.
“Joseph.” Yancey inhaled deeply. His bright smile had turned into something forced. “I appreciate you coming all this way, I truly am. I am glad to hear that your family is well. I have much to thank them for. However, Sophia was given into my care, and that’s where she will remain. I can’t protect her if she’s out in the wilderness.”
“You won’t need to. I’ll get her safely to her people.”
“Her people are right here.” Yancey raised his voice and slammed his palm on the table. “As a matter of fact, tonight is her—”
“Daddy, everyone’s waiting on you.”
Wide-eyed, Yancey stared beyond Joseph’s shoulders. Joseph turned slowly at the sound of the soft female voice behind him. He hadn’t even heard the door open. His eyes widened for a split second. He swallowed back the sudden lump in his throat, and his heart drummed steadily in his ears, drowning out all other sound.
A young woman, the most stunning woman he’d ever laid eyes on, stood just inside the room. Her big brown eyes rested on him. Her head tilted slightly, then her gaze shifted to Yancey before moving to the artifacts hanging over the fireplace. After a few seconds, she stared back at him.
Acutely self-conscious that he looked as out of place in this room as the items she apparently already associated with him, Joseph sucked in a deep breath. There was no question as to who she was. Her raven black hair was swept up behind her head in some intricate fashion, coifed and curled like he’d seen on women the further east he traveled. Several thick locks spilled down her back, caressing her slender neck. Her dark olive, almost bronzed complexion was accentuated by the dark blue dress she wore. The gown hung off her slight shoulders, emphasizing her neck and the swell of her breasts. The wide skirt that fanned outward from her hips swayed, and all that material hanging from her waist rustled as she stepped into the room.
Dear God, she was stunning. And she looked nothing as he had imagined. Two Bears had often boasted of his daughter’s beauty. His granddaughter apparently had inherited her mother’s good looks.  She dressed like a high society white woman, but her heritage was undeniable.
Joseph tore his eyes away from her. Rather than slowing down, his heart rate had accelerated over the last few seconds, and he clenched his jaw. A tingling sensation passed through him from head to toe, and he fought to remain composed. For fear of making a mule’s ass out of himself, he turned slightly toward Yancey, and forced his attention on the older man. Yancey’s eyes rested on him, searching.
“Daddy?” the girl spoke again.
“I’m just finishing with my appointment, sweetheart,” Yancey said with forced cheer. “Tell everyone I’ll be right there.”
“They’re waiting on you to give a toast,” she said. Joseph strained his ears. Her soft melodious voice was like a glacial mountain spring gurgling on a hot summer’s day through a lush meadow.
What the hell? He’d seen plenty of pretty girls before, but no one had ever affected him like this one did. He didn’t even have to look at her and she had his heart jumping out of his chest.  
“Give me just one more moment.” Yancey smiled.
“All right. Don’t be too long,” she said, and her skirts rustled again. The latch to the door clicked, then silence.
Joseph met Yancey’s stare. “My daughter, Sophia, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.”
“She’s not your daughter,” Joseph said, his voice hoarse. “Anyone can see that.”
“She has been my daughter for twenty years. Tonight, she is getting engaged to a young man from an upstanding family. This is where her life is, not in some teepee in the middle of the wilderness.”
Something slammed into Joseph’s gut. Engaged! He shook off the unsettling feeling. How would he ever get her to Two Bears now? He clenched his jaw in frustration. The irrational need to lash out in anger consumed him. He had not come this far for nothing.
“I’ll be going, Mr. Yancey,” Joseph said, hoping his voice sounded steady. It might be best to get some sleep, and come back in the morning.
“Do you have accommodations for the night?” Yancey stepped around his desk. His features had returned to normal.
“I’m bunking down at the livery. The owner offered me the hayloft.”
“Sleep with the horses?”
Joseph shrugged. At least he had a roof over his head. Most nights during the journey to Boston he’d slept out in the open.
Yancey shook his head and frowned. “Nonsense. You’re staying here as my guest.” His eyes rested on Joseph’s dusty cotton shirt and traveled lower to his buckskins. “Would you care to join me as I officially announce my daughter’s engagement?”
Joseph stared, his brows raised. Then he chuckled. “I don’t think I’m dressed for the occasion,” he said. “It’s probably better that I make myself scarce.” Judging by the servant’s reaction to him earlier, he could only imagine what the elite people of Boston would think of him, a man dressed in dirty buckskins and smelling like a horse.
Admit it. You don’t want to see Raven with another man, either.
Why the hell should it matter to him? Just because she was beautiful was no cause to get all knotted up inside. The only reason the idea of her engagement bothered him was because it would be much harder convincing her to come with him and meet her grandfather.
“Very well,” Yancey conceded. “I’ll have James show you to the guest room, and he’ll bring food and a bath up for you, if you’d like.”
Joseph opened his mouth to decline, then thought twice. At least if he stayed here he could talk to Yancey again first thing in the morning. And you’ll see Raven again, too. The thought of food and a bath seemed secondary.
“Please,” Yancey coaxed when Joseph didn’t respond. “It’s the least I can do for you after everything your parents did for me.”
“All right, Mr. Yancey. I’ll stay. But I want you to think about what I’m asking. Raven’s grandfather wants to meet her. That’s all she has to do. Then she can come back here and live as a white woman.” Why hadn’t he thought to present it to him in this way, rather than insist she return to her people permanently?
Yancey inhaled a deep breath. “We’ll discuss it more in the morning.” He turned and headed for the double doors. “James will be here in just a moment.” Without a backwards glance, he left the room.
Joseph stared at the closed door. He cursed under his breath. He hadn’t foreseen any of these complications. All this time, he’d thought of Raven as a little girl. That she was a grown woman hadn’t even entered his mind all these months. His sole focus had been on finding her and bringing her back to Two Bears.  He might be able to deal with Yancey’s stubbornness, but how the hell was he going to fight the powerful attraction racing through him for Two Bears’ granddaughter? 

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