Fort Smith, Arkansas
“You getting soft in your old age, cousin?”
Jon Sauvage jerked his head around to find his cousin, Jason Hillhouse, leaning in the door of the U.S. Marshal’s office. Shaking his head, Jon turned back to the clerk’s desk and finished signing the paperwork to get his fee for capturing and transporting prisoners. He pocketed the receipt, then exited to follow his grinning cousin outside.
“You looked like you were sorry to see that one taken off in shackles. Did he tell you a sob story about why he turned bad?”
Jon ignored the question. “What the hell you doing up here? I thought you stayed close to home these days since you got that wedding ring through your nose, cousin.”
Jason laughed and slipped on his broad-brimmed black hat. “I let Star think she got me tied down, but I still get around.”
“Still running that old tab over to Chippy Hill?” Jon asked, referring to the red-light district where they’d both sowed their share of oats.
Jason led the way down the courthouse steps. “Nah, Star’s all the woman I want, but I take time to get away when I need it.” He paused until Jon came up alongside, then elbowed him. “So what about you? You stay in one place long enough to set up housekeeping with anyone? How about that cute little Colbert girl from out near Fox Creek who had her eye on you?”
Jon grinned, though he wasn’t at all amused. “No. I’m not the settling type; never was.”
Jason nodded. “I hope you’ll settle enough to come down to Warburton next month. We’re throwing a big party for the twins’ christening on the sixteenth. Whole family’s going to be there.”
Jon shrugged and slung his saddle bags over his shoulder. “I can’t promise nothing, but I’ll try to swing by.” Whole family meant his own immediate family, who’d be all over him to finally “settle down” too.
“Last call’s come and gone, Timmy. You’d better get movin’ on home or rent a room upstairs. Betty Anne’s open.”
Tim Dwyer looked up from his finally empty whiskey glass, the one he’d been nursing all night. He tried to ignore the pathetic reflection of himself visible over the old barkeep’s shoulder. “Home” was no longer an option as of four thirteen this afternoon. Neither was taking refuge at the newspaper where he worked. Used to work. That job had been taken away around four forty-five after Day called to have him dismissed and barred from the building.
He certainly didn’t want to go to his parents, assuming they’d even let him in. There was always Uncle Pat and Aunt Emmeline, but not at this time of night. He dug in his pocket. Not enough for a decent hotel.
At least matronly Betty Anne offered a sympathetic ear, because Lord knew he wasn’t about to share her bed.
Tim gave the barkeep the rental fee from the cash he had on him, then grabbed his small valise and headed upstairs.
“You and him have another fight?” Betty Anne asked when she opened the door.
Tim nodded. “More than a spat this time. This time it’s over.”
“You always say that,” Betty Anne told him in a nagging but loving motherly way his own mother had never managed to master.
Tim plopped into the one easy chair next to the window, his valise hitting the floor with a gentle thud. “He told me he was going up to Hartford to see a new exhibit, try to persuade the artist to exhibit down here. I left the paper early because the trial I was sketching ended early. When I got back to the house, I found Laurence hadn’t gone to Hartford at all. Where he’d gone was to the tenements. This time he brought back one of his ‘pupils’. The boy was learning a lot more than art history and literature.”
Betty Anne heaved a sigh and sat on the edge of her brass-framed bed, the springs giving a pitiful squeak in protest. “Well, you know how he is.”
“Yeah.” Tim slouched and rested his head on the back of the chair. Laurence Day, child of privilege, connoisseur of art and literature, publisher, gallery owner, and champion of the poor, liked helping the impoverished youth of Boston further their education in so many ways.
He’d been stupid to think the older man could ever change. It had been just a fluke that their paths had ever crossed in the first place, a bigger fluke that Day had welcomed Tim to live at his mansion on a regular basis after the falling out he had with his parents.
“Well,” Betty Anne said as she stood, hands on ample hips. “Since it seems my long work day is done, I plan on getting some sleep. You might as well do the same and sort things out tomorrow.”
“Might as well.”
When he went to make arrangements to collect his things the following morning, Tim was not surprised to find his belongings set just outside the locked gate of the Day Mansion.
Resignation ignited into flaming anger when he found that his bank account had been placed on hold pending review of deposits by the bank’s board of directors whose chairman was, of course, Laurence Day. It was very little consolation to learn that Laurence had authorized a ten dollar withdrawal to help tide him over.
Shoving the bills into his rumpled trouser pocket, Tim hired a carriage to go back and retrieve his things, then set off for the only safe haven he could think of: his Aunt Emmeline’s.
Tim loved his maternal aunt’s home and always had. It was so much more warm and family-centered than his own house had ever been. He’d often wondered how Emmeline and his mother could be sisters and yet be so different in temperament. Thank God she and not his mother had been the one to pay a surprise visit to his first rented room and caught him and a male lover sharing a kiss.
As long as you find happiness, Timmy; that’s all that matters.
Finding happiness didn’t seem that possible now. Now all he wanted to do was run away from the heartache and disappointment of the past two years.
Leave it to Aunt Emmeline to provide that opportunity.
“You simply must come to Warburton with us next week,” she said that evening at dinner.
“I’m not in that much of a celebratory mood. If it’s all the same to you and Uncle Pat, I’ll stay behind. Hopefully I’ll have found a new job by the time you get back.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” Pat McNamara said. “You know you’re more than welcomed to stay here as long as you like, even after you get your business affairs in order.”
“Besides,” Emmeline added. “If you’re up for the adventure, I’ll bet you can get a job with Star’s newspaper now that she’s turned the daily operations over to that Potts fellow. They’ll need another reporter, and with the drawing you’ve done for the Globe, I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have you.”
“Won’t that be an adventure for you?” Pat chimed in. “I remember my days with the Army out in Indian country. Nothing dull and predictable about living there like there is back here.”
“I’ve bored you with my dullness for the past two decades, Patrick?” Emmeline teased.
Tim smiled, and his younger female cousins giggled as Pat tried to weasel his way out of the unintentional insult.
“It bears some thinking on your part, Timmy, that’s for certain,” Pat said, trying to change the subject. He steered it further away by relaying some idle gossip making the rounds of the staff at the hospital where he was chief surgeon.