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.