Chapter 1: On The Way Home

What’s happening: After a brief encounter with young Joe Trumbull, Linn rents a wagon to drive to her parents’ farm.

A short time later, she climbed aboard a rented wagon, lifted the reins in her hands, and slapped them over the mule’s broad back.

Nothing happened.

Had she forgotten how to handle a buckboard? She hadn’t driven one in years. In San Francisco, she paid a kindly older gentleman to transport her about town in a fine, open carriage.

“Go on, there! Get up!” Linn flicked the reins again, her frustration mounting. Silently, she willed the stubborn animal to pick up its feet and move. When the mule finally took a few steps, Linn let out a breath.

But the obstinate creature made it only a scant twenty yards before stopping once again.

“I swear…” Linn groaned and threw down the reins. If all else fails, Linnie, give the critter a piece of your mind. Recalling the advice her father had once given, she jumped from the wagon, landing with a slight thud on the dusty street. Glancing down to her calfskin boots, she frowned at the dirt and scuffs. She’d be an absolute wreck by the time she got away from this God-forsaken town. She marched around and grabbed hold of the mule’s halter and gave it a good tug.

“Now, listen, you stubborn old thing, I’ve got a notion to send you to the glue pits if you—”

“Why, Linnie Sparks! Is that really you?”

At the sound of the squealing voice, Linn let go of the mule and whirled around. As she’d done with Joe Trumbull, she quickly put her most professional smile upon her face. Always show a smile, she’d learned. It put people at ease, drew them in, and needless to say, it resulted in more ticket sales.

Only that was in San Francisco.

This was Brookfield.

No theater. No ticket sales. And no need for any superficial smiles.

She frowned at the mule again. “It’s Polly Washburn,” she muttered under her breath. Linn turned back as the young woman hurried across the street.

Like Brookfield itself, Polly had not changed an iota. Well, maybe she looked a trifle older, and maybe she’d added a few pounds to her skinny frame, but she still wore her mousy-brown hair in that loose bun at the back of her neck, and she still dressed in those simple shirt-waisted frocks.

Although she and Polly had once been the best of friends, with one look, Linn knew the two of them no longer had anything in common. No doubt Polly was married now, probably had a houseful of noisy children, and spent her days cooking, cleaning and tending to farm chores. Linn shuddered at the thought. Who was it Polly had mooned over back in high school? Billy McGregor? One of the Loonsfoot boys? It didn’t matter, and Linn didn’t care to waste any time finding out.

“Sorry, but I’m in a bit of a rush right now.” She gave Polly a little wave, waggling her fingers in that affected manner she’d adopted since being on stage. With a swish of her long skirts, Linn climbed aboard the wagon again.

Looking straight ahead, she took hold of the thick leather reins. The old mule must have sensed Linn’s desire to move on. The wagon lurched forward.


Chapter 1: The Harvest Festival

What’s happening: Linn Sparks has recruited 16-year-old Joe Trumbull to help with her luggage. The talkative young fellow is about the deliver the punch line of an old joke.

“Call me anything you want, just don’t forget to call me for dinner.” Joe rubbed his belly and chuckled. “I heard that from my pa.” 

Linn tried, but couldn’t manage even the slightest smile. If she were onstage, performing at the Crown Theater, it would come easily. She could display a wide range of emotions as she acted, and when she sang, as well. Emotions, she’d learned, were the heart and soul of art. Tabitha Ann had first taught her that lesson, and Clarence, her mentor and manager, had trained her to project feelings enough to fill the theater’s huge auditorium. 

The feelings, of course, weren’t real. 

“Listen, Joe, you look like a strong fellow. Why don’t you carry my bags to the livery for me, and then you can go on to…” Linn had to stop and swallow before she could get the name out. “To Loonsfoot’s.” 

How was James Loonsfoot doing these days? Her mother never mentioned him in her letters. The man no longer ran his seed and feed business himself, Linn knew. He’d turned that responsibility over to his sons years before, right after the accident. 

“Sure thing, Miss Sparks. Glad to oblige, and I could use whatever you pay me.” The chunky fellow hefted two bulging suitcases up from the ground, then grabbed for a couple hatboxes.

 Worried about damage to the contents, Linn picked up the two remaining hatboxes. They weren’t heavy. She could manage. 

“Do you know about the harvest festival?” Joe asked as he huffed and puffed along at her side. “It’s coming up at the end of summer.” 

“I won’t be staying that long,” she said, her words clipped and curt. 

Feed Store rs“Oh, well, no, of course not. I just wondered if you knew about it, that’s all. Cause that’s why I’m going to Loonsfoot’s, you see. There’s this vegetable contest. For the festival.” He caught his breath. “I’m growing squash. I got to get some fertilizer. It can really make your squash grow, but you got to be awful careful with that shit—” He stopped and his face turned several shades of red. “Well, that’s what it is, you know, but I didn’t mean to say it in front of you, Miss Sparks.” 

“Don’t worry, Joe. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that word.” 

The livery’s office door wasn’t much farther now. Thank goodness! Linn quickened her pace. 

Joe’s feet sped up. So did his mouth. Like an anxious coonhound, he yapped as he trotted at her heels. 

“Nellie Young’s entered in the contest too. Thinks she can grow a bigger squash than me. I can’t let some girl beat me, Miss Sparks. That’s why I need to get that shi—uh, fertilizer, I mean, so I really appreciate you offering to pay me, and it’s too bad you won’t be here for the festival.” 

He rattled on and if Linn hadn’t been holding two hatboxes, she would have clamped her hands over her ears to shut out the boy’s incessant chatter. 

“And then there’s Founder’s Day, you know. That’s coming up next month, and this year there’s going to be—” 

Linn all but raced to the door of the livery. She sagged against it and dropped her hatboxes. “Just put everything there, Joe, and thank you.” 

“My pleasure, Miss Sparks.” 

Where Linn might have been a bit stingy with the motor coach driver, she made up for it now with a generous tip for young Trumbull. It would be worth it not to have to listen to him any longer. 

 “Thanks. I mean it, really.” His brown eyes grew bigger and rounder. “If you need anything else, just holler at me.” 

Linn grinned. “Buy some good shit, Joe,” she called out as he headed in the direction of the seed and feed store. “And good luck with the squash.” 

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Chapter 1: Joe Trumbull

What’s happening: Linn Sparks has arrived in Brookfield, only to have the driver leave her standing alone, gaping at the luggage she’s brought with her.


“Wait! Come back! You’re supposed to help me—”

Heedless of Linn’s shouts and gestures, the driver turned the motor coach around. It chugged along the narrow dirt roadway, back in the direction from which it had come.

She screwed up her mouth and poked at one of the valises with the toe of a soft-skinned boot. How was she supposed to manage on her own? She shouldn’t have given that driver a cent until he’d finished the job she’d hired him to do.

Joe TrumbullLooking around, Linn caught sight of a chubby boy in denim overalls heading in her direction. He’d obviously not missed too many meals, she thought, rolling her eyes.

“Hey there! You!” she called, waving both hands in the air. “Watch my things for a few minutes, will you? I’ve just arrived, and I have to hire a wagon.”

The plump fellow waddled toward her. “Well, ma’am, I was just fixing to go to Loonsfoot’s.” He spoke as slowly as he walked. “I was going to—”

Linn wasn’t interested in what he was about to do. “I’ll pay you,” she said. “I won’t be gone long.” Without waiting for a response, she turned and hurried toward the street.

“Wait!” The boy came after her. In a surprising show of swiftness, he darted around to block her path. “I know you! I know who you are!”

At once, a smile rose to Linn’s lips. This was the part she most enjoyed about being a celebrity. She made a slight curtsy. “Why, yes, I am—”

“Linnie Mae Sparks! You’re Dick and Beulah’s daughter. Welcome home, Linnie.” A pudgy, dirt-covered hand grabbed hers and pumped up and down. “Reckon you don’t remember me, do you? I’m Joe Trumbull. Course I was just a kid when you went away. I’m sixteen now.” He beamed.

She tugged free from his sweaty grasp, stared down at the dirt streaked across the backs of her hands, and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Joe. I don’t remember you. Now, please wait here with my luggage until I get back.”

“Sure thing, Linnie Mae.”

“My name is not Linnie Mae.” She kept the smile pasted on her face but fixed him with a sharp look.

“Of course it is. I remember—”

“What I mean, Joe, is that I no longer go by that name. Onstage, I’m known as Miss Linn Sparks. I’d prefer you address me as such.” She drew herself up in a gracious pose.

“Well, sure, if that’s what you want.” He shrugged. “Don’t see that it makes a whole lot of difference. Like my ma, she still calls me Joe-Joe, same as she did when I was a little kid. Unless she’s mad at me,” he added. “Then she calls me Joseph Alphonse Trumbull, you know. And Pa just calls me Joe. Don’t matter what they call me, though. I’m still the same.”

“But what would you like to be called? Don’t you have a preference?”

He laughed. “Nah. You know what they say.” He shrugged again.

Linn frowned. She could scarcely believe she’d allowed herself to be drawn into a meaningless conversation with a sixteen-year-old boy, but curiosity got the best of her. She took the bait. “No, what do they say?”