Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lady Anne's Quest

Lady Anne's Quest

By Susan Page Davis

Lady Anne believes her prayers are answered and she has at last found her long lost uncle. But she and her friend Dan Adams are convinced the man introduced as her uncle is an impostor. They decide to head into Oregon's mining country and continue the search for the new Earl of Stoneford. But now the swindler is on their trail, hoping to steal Uncle David's inheritance. Dan has his hands full trying to protect Anne, but he finds he must guard his heart just as carefully. Even though he's good at keeping her safe, he knows he'll never convince Anne to become a farmer's wife in Oregon when she has her sights set on returning to her home in England. But as Anne's quest becomes even more difficult—and dangerous—she begins to see Dan differently. Will she soon be envisioning a new life in America? 

Oregon, 1857

Chapter Two

Anne gulped. How could this man be her uncle? Impossible.

      She sucked in a deep breath. Though he repelled her, she must use her manners and greet him warmly. He was now her closest living relative. Or was he? Could there possibly be two men named David Stone in the territory? Perhaps this was all a mistake.

      Her stomach plummeted at the thought, but she pasted on a smile.

"Hello. I'm searching for Mr. David Stone. Would you happen to know where he lives?"

He laughed, a big, noisy guffaw. "Why, sweetheart, you're lookin' at him." He moved down onto the next step, and Anne backed away, into the solid bulk of Dan Adams.

"Daniel," she gasped.

Dan touched her back only for an instant, and she took comfort from that reassuring pat. He stepped around her, between her and the stranger.

"Howdy. Are you Mr. Stone?"

"Yes, I am," the other man said. He held out a meaty hand. "I'm this little gal's uncle. And who might you be, mister?"

"My name is Daniel Adams."

The man's eyes narrowed to slits as they shook hands, as though he was trying to categorize his guest, but Dan didn't offer more information.

Anne recovered at least a portion of her poise and moved up next to Dan. "I'm sorry, but you're not at all what I expected." She eyed the man. He was several inches taller than she was, but not nearly as tall as Daniel. She gazed at his fleshy face, his flinty eyes, and his slicked-back, badly barbered hair.

She longed to bring out the miniature portrait in her handbag, but an inner restraint told her not to. This man could not be the same one who posed for the portrait twenty years ago. Or could he?

"You wrote that you wanted to see me and give me some news," the man said. "Come on in."

Anne looked at Dan. He arched his eyebrows, seeking her opinion.

"Well, I. . ."

"Come on." The man started up the steps again, beckoning with his beefy arm. "Millie's got supper ready."

Anne swallowed hard and looked to Dan again. He held out his crooked arm. She took it and walked with him up the steps and into the little house.

Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim interior. The house appeared to be divided into two rooms, and they had entered the kitchen. A cook stove stood to the right, with a stovepipe reaching up and bending to meet the chimney. A rough wooden table stood in the middle of the floor, and a woman came past it with her hands extended in greeting.

"So you're little Anne." She smiled broadly and seized both Anne's hands. "Oh, my, what a lovely young woman you are." She threw the man a reproachful glance. "David, you should have told me."

He shrugged. "Didn't know. This here's Millie."

Anne found it hard to rip her gaze away from him and appraise Millie. The woman's thick auburn hair hung loose about her shoulders, and she wore lip rouge. Beyond that, the dim lighting left her in mystery, but her gathered and flounced dress looked to be of decent quality, unlike the man's clothing.

"Is this your husband?" Millie asked.

"No," Anne said quickly. "Dan is just a friend. He offered to ride down here with me, since I didn't want to travel alone." She eyed the stocky man as she spoke, hoping to shame him at least a little for not offering to go to Corvallis for her, but he only smiled and nodded.

"Well, let's sit down, folks. You must be hungry. Millie's been keeping a pot of stew simmering all day. We thought you might get here this afternoon."

Millie hurried to a bank of curtained shelves on the far wall and pushed the calico curtain aside. "I only set up for three, but you're welcome to join us, Mr. Adams." She turned with a tin plate and a thick china mug in her hands.

"Let me help you," Anne said.

"Oh, no, that's all right. Sit right down." Quickly Millie laid another place setting for Dan. "Just grab that little bench by the window, Mr. Adams."

The four of them sat down at the table, and Millie began ladling out portions of stew. No one mentioned giving thanks for the food, which Anne found unsettling. The Stones had always been God-fearing Anglicans. She glanced at Dan, and he gritted his teeth then said, "Would you mind if I said grace?"

Their host stared blankly at him, but Millie said, "Go right ahead."

Anne closed her eyes. She'd never heard Dan pray before, but his quiet words soothed her.

"Dear Lord, we thank you for a safe journey and for the food we are about to receive. Amen."

"Amen," Anne whispered. She opened her eyes. Millie stood with the ladle in her hand, watching Dan as though waiting for a cue to continue serving.

"So you had a good trip down here from Corvallis?" the man asked.

"Well enough," Dan said.

He looked at Anne. "And did you come all the way across the country, or did you sail?"

"We came by wagon train," she said.

"Is that right?" He shook his head. His drying hair tumbled willy-nilly down his forehead. "Rough trip. Isn't that right, Millie?"

"It's bad enough." She handed him a bowl of stew. "Pass those biscuits around, David."

The food was more palatable than Anne had dared hope, and she ate two biscuits with apple butter and a large bowl of beef stew.

"Your stew is delicious," she said to Millie. "Thank you so much for feeding us."

"Yes," Dan said. "Mighty fine meal, ma'am."

"Oh, it's nothing." But Millie's smile said it was something. "What was the family news you hinted at in your letter to David, Miss Stone?"

For more information about Susan and her books, please visit http://www.susanpagedavis.com.

Copyright 2012 Susan Page Davis. Do not reproduce without permission.

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