First Chapters – High Plains Holiday by Simone Beaudelaire

Todays First Chapter is from High Plains Holiday by my good friend Simone Beaudelaire.

Simone High Plains Holiday (3)DESCRIPTION

This is a steamy romance, and contains explicit sex scenes.

Garden City, KS 1888

A small Western town receives an early Christmas present; a new pastor for the church. He’s young, handsome, and single. But to church organist Kristina Heitschmidt, Reverend Cody Williams is nothing but trouble. Especially as his first move is to attempt to take control of the music away from her. But Kristina is not about to give up her life’s work.

With Christmas fast approaching, it appears the two are at a stalemate. That is, until a sudden blizzard traps them together in the church overnight. Forced at last to deal with each other, they realize that the explosive feelings between them are really symptoms of an overwhelming passion that just might, if they can finally be honest, lead to the love of a lifetime.

“And last but not least, the church.” James Heitschmidt waved a hand nonchalantly towards the steepled structure. The building was actually a rather pretentious size, given how tiny this Western Kansas town was.

Reverend Cody Williams looked up the façade, from the thick stone foundation to the tip of the steeple with its gleaming wooden cross and open-sided bell tower. The hefty bell was visible from the street. Lower, above the arched doorway, someone had splurged for a stained-glass window, a round one with an image of a green hill on which three crosses strained towards a blue sky. It was simply rendered, but no less lovely because of it.

A gust of icy wind shot down the street and straight through the young man’s thin wool coat and his flesh, chilling him deep. It was time to go inside his new place of business. After five years in Galveston’s soupy heat, this cold, blustery place would take some getting used to.

He mounted the groaning wooden steps and reached for the handle of one of the peaked white wooden doors. At that moment, he was assaulted by a blast of sound so loud it nearly sent him tumbling on his back. It was a low rumbling vibration which made his eardrums feel expanded, as though he was deep underwater.

The sound was followed by another, a little higher, and then a third. The slow notes were replaced by a lilting melody. Now Cody recognized the tune from his required music classes at seminary. It was All My Heart This Night Rejoices by Bach. It appeared the church organist was rehearsing Christmas music, but with the first of December being only a week away, it was hardly surprising. Recovering his balance and composure, he grasped the wrought-iron handle and hissed as the frigid metal seemed to burn his bare hand. He needed to purchase gloves as soon as possible. Of course, his meager savings had been spent getting here, so he would have to wait until he began earning his salary before he could do so.

He stepped over the high threshold, making a mental note to avoid tripping. James followed, closing the door. Inside, the dim light of the weak November sun barely penetrated the row of stained glass windows lining each of the longer two interior walls. One side featured six scenes from the Old Testament: the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, the Ten Commandments, the walls of Jericho, David and Goliath, and finally Elijah taking on the prophets of Baal while stones and water burned. Cody glanced across the room to the other side. Just as he suspected, a Nativity Scene, the boy Jesus at the temple, Jesus turning water into wine, the healing of the blind man, a crucifixion, and the scene of the empty tomb. All of Christian faith summed up in twelve simple, rather crudely rendered collections of glass and lead. They were far from works of art, but Cody preferred it. They felt more real that way, something every day folk could understand. This was his passion. Taking faith out of the pulpit and into the community, out of Sunday and into every moment of life. Lord willing, he would be able to do the same here.

The organist finished the piece and immediately launched into a lively rendition of Joy to the World. Cody smiled. That man could really play. The rumbling bass of the foot pedals kept time while fingers plunked out a lilting counterpoint. There was a soft thump as the stops were changed, and the new verse had a different quality than the previous one. >From his spot at the back of the church, Cody could not see the organ. It was directly above him, on the balcony, but the pipes wrapped around the upper walls clear to the front behind his pulpit. It struck him as odd that a church in such a small town would have such a magnificent organ. Perhaps it had been built specifically for this musician. If so, it had been worth the exorbitant cost. He hoped the man wouldn’t be too high strung.

Cody looked up at the pulpit again. Unlike the rest of the church, it was simple, a plain, unadorned brown box for him to set his notes on. That suited him fine. He felt no need for displays of extravagance. He had to admit, though, it rather spoiled the effect created by the rest of the room. On either side of the aisle on which he stood stretched row after row of gleaming wooden pews, each with a scarlet cushion running its entire length. The ends were capped with armrests which scrolled into ornate patterns of vines and leaves, which continued onto the backs, decorating the little racks where Bibles and hymnals were housed.

The floor was a darker wood than the pews, highly polished and shiny. At the front, a long communion rail with delicate spindles curved around the single step, split in the center by his pulpit. Before each one lay another cushion, also deep red, for people to kneel on while receiving the bread and wine. Above, the vaulted ceiling gleamed white, except for the corner in which a potbellied stove provided heat to the room. A little soot had gathered around the chimney, he noticed. But the best feature of the ceiling was the dozens of mahogany wood beams which crossed each other over and over.

The song ended and James boomed out, “Stop practicing now, Kristina, and come down here. There’s someone I want you to meet.” His Kansas twang still sounded strange to Cody, who had lived his whole life in Texas. Then the words registered.

Kristina? But… that was a woman’s name. Who was Kristina and where was she? Why was James calling her?

There was a clatter of high-heeled boots on the steps. Cody turned to see those boots appearing at the top of the twisting staircase. They were dove gray, almost hidden under a skirt of the same color, which nipped in sharply in the middle, before swelling again to fill a white shirtwaist, buttoned to the neck, covered with a black crocheted shawl. At last, he could see the face, and his own went slack with astonishment. Kristina, who must be the organist, was not even old. Her braided bun was gold, not silver, and gleamed with hints of red, even in the weak sunlight. The face was smooth and unlined, but … unfortunate.

Kristina was not a lovely girl. She was heavily dotted with freckles over every visible inch of her skin. Her nose was short and slightly upturned. Her firm jaw had a stubborn set even when relaxed. She rather resembled a bulldog. But despite all that, her eyes sparkled with turquoise warmth, like the Gulf of Mexico, and she was blessed with a pink, full-lipped mouth.

“Reverend Williams, this is my daughter, Kristina Heitschmidt. Kristina, this is our new pastor, Reverend Cody Williams.”

Kristina gave him a frank, appraising look and extended her hand. He grasped it. She wore no gloves, and her fingers were nearly as cold as his.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Heitschmidt,” he drawled, wondering how his Texas accent would sound to them.

“Likewise, Reverend. We’ve heard so much about you.” She smiled and her face changed from bulldog to appealing puppy. He couldn’t help but smile back.

“Father,” Kristina said, “you never told me Reverend Williams was so young and handsome. All the young girls will be chasing him.”

Cody colored at the unexpected compliment. He knew he was not a bad looking man. His hair was thick and black with just enough curl to strain his pomade, his eyes strikingly blue. He had regular features, and, at twenty-four, was old enough to look like a man, but young enough still to be fresh-faced. But his looks only mattered to him insofar as people had to see him as part of his profession, and he didn’t want them to be distracted from the message by some unpleasant aspect of his physiognomy.

The mirror that morning had shown a man attractive enough not to stand out, but not so handsome as to cause jealousy. He hoped his perception was true. He wanted to stir up this town, but not in that way.

“Was that you playing the organ?” It was a stupid question. He knew it was. But he asked it anyway. Something about this woman made him feel slightly off-balance, as though he couldn’t draw in a full breath.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Where did you learn to play like that?”

“From the previous organist. She had no children, so she sort of adopted me when I was six, taught me piano, organ, and voice.”

“Excellent. Well, Miss Heitschmidt, you and I will have to get together soon and discuss the music at this church. I assume you would like to continue playing?” Now he sounded cold. What was wrong with him today?

Her eyebrows drew together. “Of course. Was that in question?”

Her regard made him feel slightly off kilter. “No, um, naturally not,” he spluttered, “I mean…”

“Do you play the organ, Reverend Williams?”


“Then I had better continue, don’t you think? Unless you’ve married an organist since we received your letter a month ago?”

Where had that sarcastic tone come from? This girl appeared as high-strung as he’d feared the church musician would be.

“Kristina,” James said, laying a hand on his daughter’s arm.

She spared her father a glance before returning a stern gaze to Cody. How had eyes like the warm ocean suddenly turned to ice?

“I’m unmarried, and I’m hiding no replacement organist in my valise,” he replied, unable to suppress a hint of irritation. “Your playing was lovely and I would very much like for you to continue as you always have.”

She looked another moment, and the silence grew strained. At last she nodded.

“Thank you. I plan to do so. It was a pleasure to meet you, Reverend. Now, if you will excuse me, I have dinner to prepare. Father.” She nodded at James and headed for the door.

“Kristina, set an extra place. The reverend will be dining with us tonight.”

The pale flesh between her freckles flamed, but all she said was, “Very well, Father.”

And then, scooping up a heavy black woolen coat from the last pew by the door, she bundled herself in it, wrapped her head in a thick knitted scarf, and left them. Cody watched her go, puzzled about what had just happened. He normally got along well with men and women alike. Kristina Heitschmidt must be a particularly prickly young woman. Shaking off the encounter, he turned his attention back to the church which would form the center of his existence for the foreseeable future. He walked up the central aisle to the altar, looking up to note the rough-hewn cross hanging behind the pulpit. Two baskets of fall flowers adorned little tables behind the rail, though they were quickly fading. He wasn’t sure about how the seasons changed here in Kansas. In Galveston, the mums might hold out a little longer. But something told him fresh flower season in this town was done.

He’d looked from the window of the train on his way out here and seen nothing but oceans of dry, waist-deep prairie grass crackling in the wintry wind, stretching to the horizon in all directions. They had been broken only occasionally by wheat fields or cattle pens. Of flowers he had seen no sign. He wondered how they decorated the church in the winter. Oh well, no matter. Surely there was a women’s guild to tend to such matters, and its pecking order had no doubt been established long ago. He had little interest in meddling with it, provided it was more or less amicable.

Stepping behind his pulpit, which he noted was hollow in back and contained a little shelf where he could place a glass of water, he looked out over the place which would be filled with his congregation.

Though he never would have admitted it, he felt a surge of apprehension as he imagined the rows of seats filled to capacity with what, from the look of the room, might well be nearly two hundred parishioners. He only knew two of them, and so far, only one had been to his liking. James, the head elder, was a kind, bluff widower of middle years. He ran the general store and was designated a lay minister. Cody’s eyes met the eyes of the man who was responsible for him being here. With luck, James would act as mentor and liaison, preparing pastor and town to accept each other. He was struck by how much James looked like his daughter. Same features, same freckles, same hair. But on the man, it looked… ordinary, not surprising at all. To see those pugnacious attributes on a woman had given him pause.

Kristina. Thinking of the girl drew his eyes upward to the balcony. In some churches back east, such spaces contained extra seating. Here, it only extended across the narrow back wall of the church, and contained the organ which, as he had suspected, was rather too large and ornate for the town, and even threatened to overwhelm the church. Still, it was a lovely instrument, polished and gleaming in the light from the crucifixion scene window he’d noticed outside. Irregular patches of green and blue lay across the wood of the bench where, moments ago, that sharp-tongued young woman had sat, her capable, chilly fingers flying over the keys, her gray booted feet working the pedals. Every Sunday from here until the Lord called him away, he would spend his sermon looking across the congregation and up at that woman.

He would have to make peace with her. Even if she was a hedgehog, it was his Christian duty, and he would do it to the best of his ability.

Leaving the pulpit, he knelt for a moment at the altar and said a quick prayer for patience in the face of prickly and easily offended women. Then he rose, stalked to the back of the church and rejoined his host.

“Well,” James asked him, “is everything in order? Will this place do?”

Cody nodded. “It will do quite nicely. I’m pleased you invited me. Lord willing, this should be a good placement for me, and for the congregation.”

James nodded. “I hope so. Kristina was right though, you know. We have a number of unmarried young women in this town, and I suspect there will soon be an unofficial ‘find the new pastor a wife’ competition. Are you inclined to be married?”

Cody smiled wryly. There had been similar goings-on in Galveston, but the large city was crammed with attractive men, so the matchmaking efforts had not been too serious.

“I’m neither inclined nor opposed, I guess,” he replied. “At this point, my priority is to get situated with the congregation. But I thought in Western towns, men outnumbered women, and every girl had three or four suitors to choose from.”

James grinned. “You’re right. There are a great many single men around here, but most are farm hands and cowboys. These girls are from middle class families, and a lot of their parents would prefer them to have husbands with a little higher standing. It makes for a nicer life, you know?”

“Yes, I suppose,” Cody replied. His stomach rumbled. It had been a long day of travel, and his lunch had been small, just a sandwich and a cup of coffee at some stop whose name he’d forgotten, five hours back along the tracks.

“Well, young man, sounds like you could use something to eat.”

“Yes, please,” Cody replied eagerly.

“Come on then. My house is just down the way, and I believe Kristina made beef and barley soup.”

It sounded wonderful, and Cody’s mouth watered at the thought. Pulling his coat tighter around his body, he followed James back out into the cold. Dusk was falling now, dropping the temperature even further, and Cody stuffed his hands into his coat pockets.

James’s idea of ‘just down the way’ meant five face-numbing blocks down Main Street. In spring, Cody was sure, it would be a pleasant walk. The wide road was lined with half-mature trees which shaded the boxy red-brick businesses and stately two-story houses from the sun. It was clear, looking at those houses, this town had sprung up all at once. They all had the look of construction less than twenty years old, new and fresh, and only a few could stand a coat of paint. Most were in excellent condition, and the shapes were similar; sharply peaked roofs adorned with clever details such as lacy gingerbread trim. The paint was vibrant. Each house differed wildly from its neighbors. One was sky blue with white trim, the next sage green with black, a third red with dark brown. The people of this town expressed their individuality in paint color, it appeared. Cody examined each house they passed to take his mind off his freezing fingers and face.

At last, James stopped in front of a narrow white structure which towered over its neighbors, being three stories tall. It also differed from the others in that instead of gingerbread, it was decorated with strips of dark wood, demonstrating the Germanic heritage of the owners.

Cody looked up at the six steep steps which led to the covered porch and the front door. In his numb, shivering state, it looked like a mountain. His feet did not want to lift high enough to land on the first step. Only the knowledge that up those stairs was shelter from the biting wind forced his frozen knees to bend, and then bend again and again. At the top, he lost track of how many steps there were and stumbled on the flat surface.

The door flew open just in time to display his awkward movement to the turquoise eyes of the young woman he’d met earlier. Her unpleasant expression had disappeared in a look of concern, and she stepped onto the icy porch and took his arm, stabilizing him. Then she led him into the parlor.

He was not exactly aware of crossing the room. For a moment, his brain felt as numb as his fingers, and he started violently as a weight pressed him into a rocking chair. Something heavy landed on his lap, and something warm was pressed into his hand.

“Father,” a female voice said in a disapproving tone, “did you bring him all that way in this flimsy coat? The poor man is half-frozen.”

“It’s all he had,” a male voice replied defensively.

“Did you forget the charity rack in the back room? I know there are at least three good men’s coats there. They may be old and unfashionable, but they’re warm. And I doubt a man of God would be worried about fashion. Especially in this cold.”

The object in Cody’s hands was a cup. Cup meant liquid. And it was warm. His one hand was starting to thaw. He wrapped the other around the porcelain. It felt good. Warm liquid could thaw his insides, too. He raised it to his lips and sipped. Tea. Honey. Lemon.

“I forgot. Charity stuff is women’s business,” the male voice protested.

“Women’s business, pshaw,” the woman’s voice sneered. “This Christmas we’re reading Dickens whether you like it or not. Then we’ll see whose business is what.”

Cody took another deep swallow of the tea and his brain began to focus.

“Dickens?” The male voice… from somewhere deep in Cody’s mind, the name James floated up. James did not sound happy about Dickens. In fact, he was almost whining.

“Reverend Williams?” A face was in front of him. A freckled, snub-nosed face. He blinked.

“Miss… Heitschmidt?” the complicated German name barely emerged on his tongue.

“Are you all right?”

Cody downed the tea in a single scalding gulp, but kept the still-warm mug clutched in his hands. At last he was fully awake.

“Yes, thank you. And I appreciate the tea… and the help.”

She smiled, a warm sincere smile, and adjusted the weight on his lap. He glanced down to see a heavy blanket in thick, red-flecked gray wool. His eyes were drawn back to the friendly, homely face, and he returned the smile. Only then did it occur to him how strong she must be. Cody was not a small man. He had passed six feet in his early teens and continued growing. Nor was he thin. He had lent his back to charity building projects and church constructions, and aided farmers and fishermen and dock workers in their tasks, wanting to understand the lives of the people he’d been sent to serve. As a result, he was bulky and muscular, and yet this woman had steadied him with apparent ease. And she was tall. Now that he thought back, the top of her head had been above his shoulder. It was a great height for a woman. The puppy-faced Miss Kristina Heitschmidt was quite an Amazon, it appeared.

Seeing he was no longer in imminent danger of frostbite, the young woman bustled out of the room. James was also gone. Cody had been left in the parlor, sitting in a rocking chair beside the fireplace. He looked around the room. As one would expect from one of the most influential people in town, it was a good size, with furniture which spoke of Germany. The high-backed sofa adjacent to the fireplace was one of the most ornately carved he’d ever seen. The arms were clustered with a bas-relief of vines and flowers which echoed the scarlet roses on the black velvet upholstery. To either side sat a black lacquer table, their tops contrasting in shades of ecru with more red flowers. On one was an oil lamp. On the other, a massive family Bible, the leather cover printed in German. The entire room opposite the rocking chair was dominated by a grand piano, its lid propped half open, sheet music spread across the stand, as though ready to be played at a moment’s notice.

Above the sofa, a cuckoo clock with a brass pendulum had been mounted on the whitewashed wall. The swirling curlicues of open woodwork revealed gleaming gears inside. It was a dazzling piece. Clearly, this family took their heritage quite seriously.

“Reverend?” A familiar face appeared at the doorway. “Dinner is ready.”

Cody rose from the rocking chair. Glancing back at it, he was unsurprised to see it featured carved woodwork just as fine as the clock. He folded the blanket in half and draped it neatly over the back of the chair before following Kristina down a narrow hallway with echoing wooden floors and a prominent painting of Jesus feeding the five thousand. She indicated an open doorway, and he entered to find a table lit with candles and set with a comforting spread of white plates and matching bowls. In the center, a covered silver soup tureen emitted wafts of mouth-watering beef-scented steam. Adding to the perfume of a good meal, a loaf of fresh bread sat in a basket, sliced and ready, next to a silver butter dish. A tray of cheeses had been placed on the other side of the candelabra, as well as a platter of dried fruit.

James was already seated at the head of the table, and indicated a chair to his left. Cody sat, placing an embroidered linen napkin on his lap. Kristina approached, opened the lid of the soup tureen, and ladled each man a generous bowlful. Cody had to tighten his lips to keep from drooling at the intoxicating aroma of beef and vegetables. The basket of bread was passed and he took a slice, and then a pat of butter, a bit of cheese, and a small portion of prunes and dried apples.

Kristina seated herself across from him.

“Reverend Williams, would you please ask the blessing,” James requested.

Cody’s stomach was cramping with hunger, so he kept his prayer brief. “Thank you, Lord, for new friends and new opportunities. I pray my work during my sojourn in this town would be blessed by you and a blessing to everyone. And Lord, I also ask your blessing on the hands which prepared this fine dinner. In Your Heavenly Name I pray, amen.”

He opened his eyes to see both Heitschmidts looking on approvingly. Then they all raised their spoons and began to eat in silence.

Kristina watched Reverend Williams eat. She hoped he would fit in here. This town was remote. Few pastors were willing to cut themselves off from the world and minister in such a place, and this one was young and accustomed to big-city living. His application showed he’d always lived in Texas; born and raised in Austin, attended seminary in Jacksonville, and had served his first pastorate in Galveston. She wondered how he would take to landlocked Kansas with its harsh, icy winters and blazing, brutally hot summers, untempered by ocean breezes. He might well find his way to hate it here, and that would be a great loss. They had been without a pastor for three years, since the previous one, Reverend Miller, had died during a measles outbreak. Since then, her father and the other elders had taken turns preparing the sermons, but all were working men, not theologians. Nor were they able to minister to a town in the way a full time pastor could.

She had protested the choice of such a young man with only a few years experience. Surely there was someone older, married, a family man who could infuse fresh blood in this insular and rather cliquish community. But no other applicants had been found, and in the end she’d agreed a young pastor was better than no pastor. Not that she’d had a vote exactly, but her father took her opinion into consideration, as did the other members of the congregation. It was an honor few women enjoyed, and she was careful not to overstep her bounds, lest it be taken from her.

So she’d known he was young and single, but she had not expected him to be tall and handsome. Ilse Jackson would swarm all over him. He might just be swayed by the black-haired beauty, too, if he was susceptible to flirtatious women. What a lovely couple they would be, like a matched set. Their personalities should be well suited too. The young pastor seemed very traditional in his thinking so far, and Ilse would be fine with that. She was the perfect little lady, knitting, sewing, and decorating with skill and passion. Kristina glanced around the dining room. Her own decorating skills were marginal. There were no frilly female touches to be found in the house because she simply couldn’t be bothered with them. The heavy scarlet draperies framing the dining room windows had been a gift from a friend, in exchange for Kristina playing at her wedding. The same could be said for the rest of the house. Every piece was either a family heirloom brought from the old country by her grandfather, or a gift from a friend who had been unable to pay for Kristina’s professional services and had bartered for them instead. The house was immaculate but rather sparse and simple. Honestly, she preferred it that way. Fewer odds and ends meant less cleaning, and therefore more time to practice on the piano in the parlor or head down to the church to visit her one true love, the pipe organ.

She knew the other ladies in the town thought her odd, but as she was already a committed spinster, they left her to it with little fuss. They accepted her invitations to tea readily enough, and if they cast disparaging glances at the tables which lacked doilies, and the bookshelves which contained only… gasp… books, what did it matter to her? She was content with her life. She refused to let others make her unhappy about it.

The clink of silver on china woke Kristina from her contemplations, and she observed Reverend Williams regarding his empty bowl and plate with a wistful expression on his face.

“Would you like some more soup?” she asked, reaching for the ladle.

“Yes, please,” he replied, a white toothed grin setting his handsome face alight. If she were the sort to be susceptible to a good-looking man, she might have succumbed to a giggling infatuation on the spot. As it was, a little sizzle shot through her belly.

She suppressed a sigh. It would be easier to embrace her spinster lifestyle if she lacked human urges, the way she knew some women did. She had them in full measure. Yes, she was moved by the smile of a handsome man. Moved enough to smile back, showing her teeth. Though they were not perfect, she smiled unabashedly, ignoring the fact that the front two were a little recessed, the ones on either side marginally protruding. She wasn’t pretty, so what difference did misaligned teeth make? None. And she refused to feign vanity.

Rising, she scooped more soup into his bowl. “There is pie for dessert,” she told him, “so save a little room.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Is your pie as good as your soup?”

“Better,” she admitted immodestly, and smiled again.

“I like pie. Don’t worry, Miss Heitschmidt. I’ll find room for both.”

“After a long ride on that wretched train, I have no doubt about it.”

He took another bite of soup, savoring the meltingly tender chunks of beef, chewing the toothsome barley, and his face took on an expression of rapture which warmed her clear to her heart. Then he swallowed and spoke. “Have you taken the train?”

“Yes. To Kansas City, and home again, several times. I attended a music school there several years ago.”

He looked at her askance.

“Kristina, three years is not several,” her father reminded her.

Now she could see the pastor mentally calculating her age.

“I’m twenty-three,” she said, saving him having to ask the indelicate question. He nodded.

“But at any rate, I know how dull the long ride across the prairie is. You came from much further. How far is it from Galveston to here?”

“Too far,” he replied, and the fatigue of travel chased across his features. “But I stopped briefly in Austin to visit my parents. Who knows when I might get home again?”

“Perhaps, in time, you might come to think of Garden City as home?” Kristina suggested hesitantly.

“I am hoping to,” he replied. And then he ate another bite of soup, savoring it with an expression of intense concentration. She found she quite enjoyed watching him eat. His obvious pleasure was as good as a spoken compliment. What an expressive face. Looking at him would keep the congregation riveted, or the young ladies at least.

Cody met Kristina’s eyes again. He was glad she had relaxed, gotten over whatever had been bothering her earlier. Now she appeared to be an open, friendly woman. If they could get along, it would certainly make his transition easier. The pastor and the organist had to communicate frequently in the preparation of services, and he needed her agreeable to his leadership, not sulking.

The smiles she sent his way were growing in appeal. While no one would say she was pretty, once a person grew accustomed to her appearance, it was unfair to call her ugly. Cute. She was cute. Like a child. There were worse things to be. He hoped they could become friends.

The rest of dinner passed in idle conversation and deep dish apple pie with cream. He had to admit, in the far recesses of his mind, it was better than his mother’s.

Then, fed to bursting and at peace with the world, he agreed to borrow one of James’ coats and a pair of gloves, a hat and a scarf, and bid his hosts good night, making his way back up the blustery street.

The borrowed garments made a tremendous difference. When he arrived at the vicarage he was overjoyed to see some kind soul had lit a fire in the fireplace in honor of his arrival. Smoke poured from the chimney, warming his soul with the very sight. He supposed it had been the same deacon who had met the train with James, and who had volunteered to take his suitcases to the house. Thinking hard, he remembered the young man, a banker, was named Wesley… Fulton. That was it. Wesley Fulton.

He traversed a little walkway back behind the church. The path had clearly been made of leftover bricks, and led to a small house with a sharply peaked roof. Fumbling the key out from under his coat, Cody fitted the heavy metal rod into the lock and jiggled it, eventually making the correct contacts and opening the door.

A blast of blessed warmth spilled into the street, and Cody hurried inside, wanting to keep the rest for himself. The house consisted of a single good-sized room with whitewashed tongue and groove walls and pale pine boards on the floor. In one corner, a heavy bedstead was covered with a red and tan crazy quilt. A low bureau acted as clothing storage and bedside table in one, and a hurricane lamp of red glass sat on top. Opposite the bed, a simple stove and wash basin with a hand pump were set in a short stretch of wood counter below a row of three cabinets, also painted white. To the left of the door, a loveseat with simple green upholstery and appliquéd pillows was flanked by two high-backed armchairs. To the right, a small round table was encircled by four wooden chairs. Along the wall between the table and the bed, a bookshelf had been built into the wall.

He nodded approvingly. This was more than sufficient for his needs, and appeared comfortable and well appointed. His two suitcases had been placed on the table. The rest of his belongings, mostly books, would be arriving soon by freight train.

The pleasant warmth of the room quickly dispersed the cold of the night, and he removed his borrowed outerwear, tucking the scarf, hat, and gloves into the pockets of the coat, which he hung on a hook mounted on the inside of the door.

There was no sign of the necessary, but a quick look out the back window confirmed his suspicion. A small outhouse stood in the backyard. Small town life would require some adjustment.

He crossed to the table in three long-legged strides and opened his suitcase, removing his clothing and placing it inside the bureau. But what to do with his suits? They would be crushed in the drawers. He scanned the room again and noticed a curtain beside the bed. At once point he had assumed covered a window, but did it? Pulling it aside, he revealed a miniscule dressing area, much too small for him. No matter. He lived alone. No one would be offended by the sight of him in his unmentionables. There was, however, a clumsily constructed rack of poles, with three wooden hangers dangling. The setup would suffice. He placed the two brown suits and the black one on the hangers and closed the curtain. He set his comb, razor, brush, and mirror on top of the bureau.

All that remained was his Bible and a few reference books, which he arranged on the bookshelf.

Though it was not particularly late, long hours of travel had left Cody weary. He hurried through the bone-chilling cold to the necessary, and returned, shuddering with disgust. Some thoughtful person had left soap at the washbasin and a hand towel hanging on a bar above, and he washed his hands, saying a brief prayer of thanks for small blessings.

Then, exhausted, Cody cleaned his teeth, stripped down to his undergarments, and slipped under the covers. It was not his custom to sleep in a nightshirt, which reminded him uncomfortably of a dress, but his drawers were designed for Texas, not Kansas. Sadly, the sheet beneath the comforter was as icy as the night wind. It took long, shivery moments before his body heat sufficiently warmed the fabric. At last Cody was able to relax. His eyes slid shut. His last thought before sleep bowled him under was a vision of turquoise eyes alight with laughter.






2 responses to “First Chapters – High Plains Holiday by Simone Beaudelaire

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