What's a Boston Girl Doing in a Place Like This?
Clear Creek, Oregon. June 1858
Colin Bartholomew Cooke saw an angel.
She was of course everything an angel ought to be. Beautiful, of exquisite form, and with honey gold curls that bounced beneath her hat as she walked. He swallowed hard and wondered how those golden tresses would look if unpinned and allowed to cascade down her back. Would they descend to her small waist? Or travel further on to her shapely hips? His heart skipped a beat at the thought.
He couldn’t tell from his vantage point what color her eyes were but what did eye color matter on an angel? Maybe her eyes changed color depending on her mood. Wasn’t that a trait of angels, eyes that changed color? Just so long as they didn’t turn a fierce red.
Such as Mrs. Dunnigan's
Colin sighed, rested his forehead against the half-open window and continued to watch as his new found angel hugged Mr. Dunnigan first, then moved on to greet the devil’s own Mrs. Dunnigan. The bane of Clear Creek.
Though Colin and his older brother Duncan had been newly released from prison (and would be forever grateful to be gone from the dreadful place) it did have one redeeming quality. It didn’t have Mrs. Irene Dunnigan in residence.
Everyone in Clear Creek avoided the self-righteous, cantankerous creature as best they could. At least until they needed something from the mercantile. There was no choice then but to face her. Unless of course one got waited on by Mr. Dunnigan. But Mr. Dunnigan (Wilfred to his friends) was usually busy doing other things in the mercantile while Mrs. Dunnigan handled the counter and the cash. Of which there was little. Most folks relied on store credit instead. Maybe that’s what made the woman so cranky.
He watched as the stagecoach driver hauled down a few satchels and a trunk. Wilfred picked up the trunk while Mrs. Dunnigan and his angel gathered up the satchels. The Dunnigans talked and laughed as they led her inside. His angel must be planning to stay awhile.
Colin quickly closed the window and headed downstairs. He and his two brothers, Duncan and Harrison, had watched some of Harrison’s new stock driven through town from the second story of Mulligan’s saloon. It was a big day for his little brother. He and his new wife Sadie had just received a thousand head of some of the finest cattle in three territories. The stock was a gift from Sadie’s father and the brothers now found themselves plunged into the cattle business. It would be a far cry from pig farming. Something they’d done since settling in Clear Creek eight years ago. But it would prosper their family not to mention the town, and for that the three brothers were immensely happy. It had been the dream of their birth father to travel to the American west from England, settle, and then raise cattle. Now it was a reality. They just wished their father were still alive to see it.
“Everyone’s gone to the corral, Colin. Best get down there or your brothers will tan your hide!” Mr. Mulligan began. “And don’t forget to tell the folks to come back here when they’re done! This is a great day for our town. We need to celebrate!”
“Happy to oblige, Mr. Mulligan!” Colin said and ran out the swinging double doors of the saloon and quickly crossed the street to the stagecoach. Willie, the driver, was just about to enter the mercantile with the mailbag. “Afternoon, Willie! Can I help you?”
Willie looked at him, then to the mercantile. “If’n you want to take this in, I’d be much obliged.”
Colin watched as Willie’s left eye began to twitch. It often did when the poor man was nervous or agitated. “I’d be happy to help. Hand it to me.”
Willie smiled. Several of his front teeth were missing. The unfortunate result of a stage robbery four months ago. A robbery that brought Harrison and his new wife Sadie together. “I caint tell you what a help that would be. I don’t have much time and would really like to go set a spell with Mulligan.”
Colin grinned in understanding. To Willie, a good stiff drink was preferable to any sort of encounter with Mrs. Dunnigan. “Glad to do it. Best go see Mulligan then. I’ll take care of this.” He reached for the mailbag. Willie gratefully handed it over then skeedaddled across the street to the saloon.
Colin laughed as he watched him go and then turned toward the mercantile. He took a deep breath to brace himself, walked up the front steps, and opened the door. A tiny bell rang over his head to announce his arrival. He looked this way and that but didn’t see anyone. He went to the counter and tried to peek through the half opened curtain that separated the front and back of the building. The Dunnigans' living quarters were upstairs, the mercantile and storerooms on the first floor. They must be upstairs and hadn’t heard him come in. The floorboards overhead creaked slightly in confirmation, followed by the sound of bright laughter. His angel.
Colin felt his gut warm at the sound and had to swallow. She was above him. Probably right over his head, sitting in the small parlor. He closed his eyes when the sound came again and sighed.
“What are you doing standing there like that?” A voice snapped.
Colin opened his eyes to find Mrs. Dunnigan standing in front of the curtained doorway, a ladle in her hand. Her face was scrunched up as she glared at him with her dark, beady eyes. He lifted the mailbag in front of him like a shield. “Brought the mail, ma’am.”
“Well don’t just stand there, put it on the counter!”
“Yes, ma’am.” Colin slowly complied. It was all he could do not to look at the ceiling when the delightful laughter once again filtered down to tickle his heart and senses.
“Where’s Willie? Why didn’t he bring it in?”
Mrs. Dunnigan’s voice pulled him out of his dream-like state. “He had to go talk with Mr. Mulligan.”
“You mean he went to go drink!” She huffed. “Drink and then drive the stage out of here! I’ll see he’s fired!”
“I believe this is his last stop. He’ll head out again in the morning.”
“What does it matter? No decent man drinks then handles horses!”
Colin sighed; on the one hand she had a point. On the other hand the livery stable was less than fifty yards away. “I’ll see to the stage if it makes you feel better, Mrs. Dunnigan.”
“See that you do! Now get out of here. Unless you want to buy something?”
Colin listened. No laughter from above. He had to get the information he wanted quickly. He had to know who his angel was! “I’ll take some of your delicious cinnamon candies.”
She waddled behind the counter and opened a jar. “How many?”
“Give me a dozen.”
The floorboards creaked again and the delightful laughter rained down. The sound touched him like a sweet caress and he leaned against the counter to stay standing.
“I hope you have money! You know you Cooke's don’t have store credit anymore!”
Colin nodded and reached into his pocket. “I saw someone get off the stage. Do you and Mr. Dunnigan have a guest?”
She stopped putting candy into a small bag and spun to face him. “It’s no business of yours if we have a guest or not!” She threw the last piece of candy in the bag and tossed it onto the counter in front of him. “That’ll be three cents!”
Colin handed her the money just as he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Mrs. Dunnigan moved with a speed he’d never seen before. She came around the counter and began to shove him toward the door. She had him out on the porch of the mercantile faster than he could spit, and was back inside before he fully turned around. Which, was just in time to have the door slammed in his face. Colin stood there and stared at it like a lovesick dote.
What was happening to him? This was ridiculous! He had to get a hold of himself! Angel or no angel, no woman should have such an effect on a man!
The door suddenly opened and Colin jumped at the unexpected sight of the beautiful young woman who stood before him. “I believe you paid for this, sir.”
Her voice was heavenly. An odd tingling sensation made its way up his spine and he shook as if chilled. She stood there, his bag of candy in her hand, and held it out to him. He took it without saying a word. She was even more beautiful than he could have possibly imagined.
She smiled. “Good day.”
He nodded, too dumbstruck to speak. He wanted to but his brain was incapable of forming anything resembling words. Before he knew it the door had closed and she was gone. He slowly looked to the bag of candy in his hand. He didn’t know who she was, where she came from, how long she was staying, if she was a relative of the Dunnigans, what she was doing there? But now at least, he did know one thing.
Angels had blue eyes.