Briarwood, Montana Territory–October 1882
It seemed almost impossible that Brenna now stood in the middle of a dusty street on a brisk autumn morning thousands of miles from everything she knew and treasured. But there she stood in the town of Briarwood in Montana Territory. The arduous journey left her weary and homesick: the seemingly never-ending crossing of the Atlantic, the miles of train tracks, the stink of unwashed people the farther from civilization she got, and the rattling stage ride. But this is where her grandfather lived or so the telegrams she received from the private investigator had indicated.
It had not taken long to discover the whereabouts of Nathan Hunter. Once Brenna arrived on Boston’s soil, a place so foreign to the country she loved, she had sent telegrams to the postmarked address in Texas from where Nathan Hunter’s last letter was sent. A reply arrived less than two days later informing her that Nathan Hunter no longer lived in Texas. He had moved to the Montana Territory some years back. With a dozen more telegrams and the services of a costly private detective, she found him.
If Brenna’s mind had not been filled with questions and worries, perhaps she could have appreciated the grandeur of the place where she now stood. Mountains higher than she’d ever imagined jutted upward from the earth. Those in Scotland stood as mere hills compared to the towering peaks surrounding the valley, which seemed to stretch farther than she could see. The fresh pine-scented air reminded her of the long walks she used to take with her father back home, when she picked bundles of heather for her mother. There seemed to be no end to the journey an eagle could take in the vast blue skies. Wildness and beauty unlike anything she’d ever imagined surrounded her.
Unfortunately this majesty was wasted on Brenna those first moments. She held her reticule close to her bosom, thinking of the letters tucked safely inside. She had found two more missives when she went through her father’s belongings. Neither told her anything more about Nathan Hunter than what she already surmised. She detested the man and the facts began to support her feelings. Her hatred still lurked below the surface, even though she knew it likely hurt her more than him.
Brenna didn’t need to look at the letters. She had memorized their content on the sea crossing. Those worn papers gave her a small measure of courage, misplaced though it seemed right now.
Many times on the journey here, she questioned her decision to leave behind her beloved Scotland to find this man who destroyed his family. Of course her mother had been happy. Rebecca loved Duncan Cameron more than life itself, but the kindest part of her soul still believed that her own father could someday soften his heart. Brenna learned something about her mother in those letters. Rebecca Cameron had possessed one of the most forgiving hearts she’d ever known a person to have.
Brenna had no intention of trying to spark a family relationship with Nathan Hunter, but her stubborn nature refused to let the matter of the letter’s content go without answers. The most puzzling thing of all was the mysterious item that he claimed his daughter took from him. The other two letters spoke of nothing but that, though bereft of details.
With a deep sigh, Brenna set those thoughts aside as practicality weighed in. She must learn her way around this foreign place and find accommodations for her duration. Reports indicated that the territory was a hard land, and her solicitor used every last bit of persuasion to convince her not to go. Brenna’s determination won, though she was grateful at least one person knew where she’d gone.
The crisp wind blew across the grass-covered valley and caressed Brenna’s face. She pulled the fine, wool scarf, the last Christmas gift from her mother, tighter around her neck and shoulders. Her long, heavy, wool coat kept the rest of her warm enough. Although, she admitted to herself that it wasn’t the weather that brought on a sudden chill. Twenty-five years of Scottish winters made her impervious to the cool breezes she encountered in this country. The chill came from fear.
Fear unlike any she’d known in her life consumed her. Through the length of her journey here, she had been only angry and saddened about leaving home. Fear didn’t have a chance to settle into her mind until she faced the stark reality of what she’d done. She had plenty of money to survive and even start a new life here if she chose. Her parents provided well for her, though some of that remained a mystery to her. The funds she now carried in her reticule had been tucked securely at a bank in Boston. Brenna’s only clue had been a bank draft found among her father’s papers in his study and later confirmed by his solicitor.
The other passengers alighted from the stagecoach, though her thoughts were not on them either. Nor did she notice at first the damp dirt on which she stood.
One man watched from the door of the general store. It seemed as though every day new folks made their way north. Some for opportunity, others for adventure, and some to find peace. He could usually tell by the looks of a person what brought them, and it didn’t take long to tell which ones would be hightailing it back to wherever they came from once they’d had a taste of winter. Most of the men and women appeared to be well-seasoned to frontier life—except one. He stepped away from the general store and slowly made his way across the street to get a better look at a beauty he was certain fell into the group of those who couldn’t possibly handle life in his wilderness.
Brenna took in her surroundings. Briarwood appeared to be exactly what replies to her inquiries reported—a small settlement content to grow at its own pace, with wide streets and a good-sized general store located next to a barber shop. Another large building, void of sign but well-tended, stood to the other side. Down the street near the livery, a medical clinic sign hung from the doctor’s office. The hotel saloon, where she had been dropped off, was across from the general store and appeared clean enough, but she cringed at the thought of sleeping in a saloon and decided she’d find other accommodations.
A dressmaker’s shop with simple versions of the latest fashions stood next to a small bank bearing a clock above the sign. A café and quaint newspaper and telegraph office were nearby. Farther down, a few houses lined the street, and in the distance a proud white church had been erected next to a well-kept churchyard. A small red schoolhouse was located off to the other side of a meadow near the church. It appeared to be freshly painted. Despite the population growing in the southern part of the territory, Briarwood seemed to move to its own rhythm. Ignoring the faster progress of other towns, the peacefulness of this settlement reminded Brenna of home. She held back the tears and replaced them with the determination that brought her this far.
Brenna watched as the stagecoach drove away and left a cloud of dust in its wake. Her gaze followed the last link to the life she left behind as the rambling transportation disappeared across the land. In her mind, there was no turning back until she found the answers she desperately sought.
End of Excerpt
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