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It was an odd thing, seeing the table set for five; the thought quickly flashed through Kate’s mind that she hadn’t seen that since her mother passed away.
But it’s not a night to be sad, she thought, brushing aside the bitter memories that had leaped into her mind. If anything, Mama would be happy for me tonight. Kate took a quick look around the table, making sure that everything was in order and finding nothing amiss.
While she was tempted to sit out on the porch in order to watch for Edward, she instead took a seat in the parlor; as much as she wanted to, it just wouldn’t do to sit out there like a dog waiting for its master. She flipped through a book and fought her urge to look at the clock every minute, settling for only every other minute instead.
When she finally heard the sound of a horse and runabout, Kate practically jumped to her feet. She could feel her heart racing and her hands had suddenly become damp. Calm down, Katie, she ordered herself, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.
At the knock on the front door, she heard Becky going down the hall, and Kate slowly exhaled, forcing out all the air in her lungs along with the nervousness that had filled her; when she opened her eyes and took another deep breath, she felt calm again.
“Mr. Carter is here, Miss Taylor.”
Kate turned and smiled. Edward filled the doorway like a painting in a frame; he was wearing a pale ivory shirt and a satin stock tie which perfectly matched his black jacket. He smiled at her as he brushed a lock of his thick blond hair back behind his ear; the light twinkled in his eyes and Kate felt her stomach jump, as if she’d just ridden too fast over a hill.
“Edward, you look wonderful,” she said. She had to restrain her desire to run to him and throw herself into his arms; instead, she turned to Becky.
“Please let my father know that Mr. Carter is here,” she said, before moving to take Edward’s hand. He leaned in close, so close that she could feel the heat of his skin next to hers.
“You are gorgeous. Simply stunning. It seems like forever since I’ve seen you,” he said. “And longer since I kissed you,” he added quietly as there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Kate’s cheeks began to burn just as her father and brothers arrived.
“Edward!” her father called, and the men greeted each other as if they were old friends. The group moved into the dining room and Kate took the same seat as she had last time he had been over, although the view—Edward alone—was markedly improved this evening. He tried not to stare at her, his head swiveling back and forth as he talked to Thomas at the head of the table and the boys at the other end; his glance instead swept over her only in brief passes, like a bee flitting from flower to flower.
Kate couldn’t help but let a smile bloom on her face as she watched him. He was educated. He was successful. He was cultured. All very important out in the world, and hardly of interest to her at all. She had felt a connection with Edward before she’d learned anything about him, and for things to have fallen exactly into place for her like this was almost too good to believe. He’s perfect. That hair, those eyes. Those hands, that mouth. All mine.
“Miss Taylor,” she heard Becky say quietly, and she turned to find Becky’s hand on her shoulder.
“What is it, Becky?”
“I asked, would you like gravy?”
“Oh, uh, yes, please,” Kate said. She leaned back as Becky placed the dinner plate in front of her. Jake must have been watching her, as he was barely holding back a smirk; she shot him a quick frown before turning her attention back to Edward.
“How about a toast?” Thomas asked as he raised his glass. “To new friends and new beginnings.”
“Hear, hear.” Carter’s gaze lingered on Kate a bit more this time as he took a sip of wine, and her smile quickly returned. He turned to Thomas while Becky and Mary continued around the table serving dinner. “It’s the Fourth of July next week,” Carter said. “Are you planning to go to the parade?”
“Actually, I hadn’t even thought about it,” Thomas said. “And frankly, I’m a bit surprised that Mineral Point even has one.”
“Well, it’s probably not going to be the most exciting spectacle. Certainly nothing like you’d see in Chicago or Boston, but any diversion is welcome in this town,” Carter said. “It might sound a bit odd, but it occurred to me that the roof of our office has plenty of space to see the parade, and you can’t beat the view for the fireworks,” Carter said. “I’d be pleased if you all would join me that evening.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Kate said. “It’ll be nice to have something different to do for a change.”
“Excellent!” Carter said. “I’ll have my staff start making preparations.”
The conversation during the rest of dinner stayed firmly lodged in a discussion of business, with the occasional attempt to draw Kate in, but she stayed largely silent. She didn’t mind. Things are different now, she told herself, almost unable to tear her gaze from Edward. I don’t have to hope for a stolen word or glance. There will be plenty of time to talk later.
In fact, her chance came soon enough. The boys excused themselves and headed out to the creek; Kate, her father and Edward moved out to the porch to enjoy both the cooler air and an after-dinner drink. The combined effect took a toll on Thomas almost immediately.
“My word,” he said, unsuccessfully trying to suppress his third yawn in as many minutes. “Looks like I’m finished for the evening.”
“You’re going to pass up this beautiful sunset?” Kate asked. The sun had already slipped below the hills and the sky was quickly turning from a faded gold to a brilliant orange.
“You two enjoy it. I think I’ll head in, read the paper and get to bed.”
Carter was on his feet immediately to shake hands. “Good night, Tom,” he said. “Thanks for having me over.”
“Good night, Edward,” he said. “Not too long, Katie,” he added before stepping inside.
“Okay, Papa.” She waited until the door closed and then reached for Edward’s hand, leading him to the porch swing. A soft glow in the window showed that her father had lit the lamp and was sitting in his favorite chair, just inside the parlor. “We have to talk quietly,” she said.
Edward squeezed her hand. “Perhaps we don’t have to talk at all,” he whispered. He leaned in and kissed her, his lips soft and warm against hers. Kate was filled with a sudden wave of fear mixed with pleasure, and she let his mouth linger on her own for a moment before she gently eased back.
She dropped one foot down to the porch floor and kicked back, sending the swing moving with a rhythmic creak. “When will I see you again?” she asked, taking his hand into her lap.
“Just say the word, and I’ll be here,” he said. With the sky’s dying light faint in his eyes, the deep green seemed to exactly match the fields around them. She laid her hand against his cheek and pulled him closer.
“And if I say that I want you here tomorrow?” she whispered.
“Then I’ll be here.”
“And the day after that? And the following?”
“Every day,” he said as his lips again reached hers. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest as the porch swing slowed and then stopped, a final creak floating out into the evening air.
She heard her father clear his throat before he spoke. “It’s time to say good night, Katie.”
Kate tore herself away slowly as they stood. “I’ll expect to see you soon, then,” she said quietly.
Edward raised her hand to his lips for a final kiss before he turned to go. She stayed on the porch for quite some time, watching him drive up toward the road, and only went inside when his carriage had disappeared in the gathering darkness.
The next week crawled by. It was as if time’s passage on the farm had slowed even more than normal; while her father and brothers always seemed content with overseeing the farm, going hunting in the surrounding hills or fishing in the creek, Kate was at loose ends more often than not. Even her
trusty books failed to keep her interest; she couldn’t follow the stories and found herself daydreaming constantly. When the Fourth finally arrived, it was like she had been sprung from prison.
Practically from the moment she awoke, she kept Becky busy with her hair and a succession of dresses, her own personal parade of outfits that she tried on, discarded, and tried on again. By the time she had finally decided on the violet silk taffeta dress, it was late in the afternoon. Hungry and tired and I haven’t even done anything yet, she thought. Kate went downstairs to get a snack and found her father in the parlor, still in shirtsleeves and the trousers he usually wore when riding around the farm.
“Papa, aren’t you going to get ready? It’s almost time to go.”
He sighed deeply and rubbed his temples. “You know, I’m not feeling quite well today,” Thomas said. “I didn’t sleep well last night, what with the heat lately. I think I’ll have to stay home.”
“Are you sure? I’d hate for you to miss this,” Kate said. “It’s not often we get the chance to do something different around here.”
“I’d like to go, but my head is killing me right now. I just need to get some rest. Pass on my regrets to Edward,” he said. “Now you go on, have some fun.” He lifted his satchel onto his lap and opened it, pulling out two letters. “Kate, wait a minute,” he called as she was about to head upstairs. He held out one of the letters for her.
“Sorry, I forgot to give this to you,” he said. “I picked up the mail while I was in town yesterday.”
Kate recognized Laura’s precise handwriting at a glance. “How nice!” she said, returning to the sofa and opening the envelope. The letter inside was on Laura’s signature gold-edged stationery, and a smile crept onto her face as she remembered her old friend and began to read.
“Kate, you’re not ready yet?”
She glanced up to see Jake and Mark crowding the doorway.
“You spent all this time moping around for the last week and somehow you’re still not ready on time?”
“We’ve got to get moving, sis,” Mark said. “Come on, now.”
“Lucky for you, Becky already did my hair. I only need a couple of minutes,” Kate said, rising from the sofa. “You boys get the carriage ready and I’ll be right down.” She left the letter on the side table and quickly went up to her room to change. True to her word, Kate and her brothers were on their way shortly afterwards, joining the growing stream of wagons, carriages and horses headed into Mineral Point. She had never seen so many people going that way; on most days you could practically let the carriage roll down to town without steering and not hit a soul, but today was another story.
The closer they got to town, the more choked the road became, until they were barely moving at all. “Come on, come on,” Mark muttered as he yet again pulled back on the reins to avoid a digger and his family who had stepped in front of the horses.
“We could get there faster walking,” Jake said. “Maybe we should get off the main road and come around from behind.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mark said, snapping the reins and guiding the horses off to the side. Carter Mining had one of the taller buildings in town, so they were able to get their bearings from time to time as Mark drove through side streets and alleys. In only a few minutes they had pulled up behind the offices and were greeted by Edward at the front door.
“Katherine, it’s good to see you again,” he said, quickly kissing her on the cheek before shaking hands with the boys. “I was afraid you were going to miss it.”
“We would have been here sooner, but there were so many people on the road, we were delayed a bit,” she said.
“Let’s go on up and get situated. Supposedly the parade’s about to begin,” he said, leading them up the stairs. They passed the large office with Edward’s name etched on the glass and went up another staircase to the third floor, passing by several smaller offices until they arrived at the end of a hall, where fresh air poured in through the open service door in the ceiling. A stepladder was propped against the wall and was apparently the only way onto the roof.
“I do apologize for the ladder; it’s a bit inconvenient,” Carter said. “But I assure you, it’ll be worth it once we get up there.”
Kate’s eyes widened as she stared up at the darkening sky above. She was already wondering how she would manage to climb a ladder and keep her dress from revealing all God had given her, when Edward spoke up.
“Katherine, perhaps it would be better if the boys and I went up first,” he said. “That way I can take your hand and help you up.”
“Thank you, Edward. That would be most helpful, I think.”
She watched as the three of them climbed the ladder easily and quickly, paying no heed to the creaks and squeaks. When it was her turn, Kate went up a bit more cautiously—each step sent a shiver through the ladder, which in turn sent a shiver down her back—but finally emerged onto the roof and turned to see something she had never expected.
“Edward, this is amazing!” she said. Kate had never been on the roof of a building before, but she was fairly certain that they weren’t usually decorated like this. A large Oriental rug had been placed in the middle of the roof; alongside were several small tables already laden with food and drinks. Crisp white tablecloths waved in the breeze and a vase of freshly cut flowers burst out in color like nature’s own fireworks. Oil lamps glowed in the fading light. She couldn’t have guessed how long Edward’s staff had spent trudging up and down the stepladder nor what they must have thought as they were doing it, but the end result was enchanting. “It looks absolutely wonderful,” she said.
“I’m glad you think so. Now, you have to be very careful while we’re up here,” Carter said. “I advise you to stay away from the sides and the rear of the building—if you go over the side, it’s some drop to the next roof, and if you go off the rear, you’ll hit the ground.” He pointed ahead, where the back of the Carter Mining sign formed a chest-high wooden barrier running the length of the building. “But we should have a nice view from the front.”
Kate and her brothers walked up to the sign and looked over.
“Looks like the whole town turned out, that’s for sure,” Mark said.
Edward walked up to Kate’s side and stared down at the street below. “There’s another benefit of watching from up here,” he said. “You don’t have to rub elbows with the likes of that crowd down there.”
“So many people,” Kate murmured.
“You know, some of these diggers bring their families down here at the crack of dawn just to watch them put up the flags. They are, shall we say, easily amused,” Carter said. “But I guess I can’t blame them. If I lived like they did, I’d probably be starved for entertainment too.”
“Yes, Sam was telling me how some of them actually live in caves they dig out,” Kate said. “And then to think that they have families; it just breaks your heart.”
Carter snorted. “I’d say that they actually have things pretty good.” He pointed down to a family across the street; as the children raced around their parents it was hard to determine exactly how many of them there were, but based on the woman’s shape they’d soon be joined by another sibling. “Look at them over there,” he said. “Now if a man can support a family that large, he must be earning a good wage, don’t you think?”
Kate stared down at the children running barefoot in the dust. “It doesn’t look like it,” she said.
Carter patted her arm. “Well, you can take my word for it,” he said. “I don’t expect you to understand business, but believe me, they get paid more than enough for the work they do.”
“Hey, look over there!” Mark said, elbowing Jake. He pointed down the block to a young woman whose red hair was only partially hidden by a broad hat. “It’s Sally!”
Mark spun on his heel and grabbed Carter’s hand, shaking it quickly and dashing away. “Thanks Ed!” he called. “I’ll catch up with you all later!”
�� Jake blurted, following after his brother in a flash.
In only a few moments, Kate could see her brothers on the street below, wending their way through the crowd before quickly disappearing among all the people.
“Are all boys like that?” Kate asked, turning to Edward. “Were you like that when you were younger, just chasing girls all the time?”
A smile crossed his lips. “Well, let me just say that your brothers seem like very normal young men. As for me,” he said, moving closer and reaching for her hand, “yes, I chased after a few. But I caught the one I wanted most.”
“Hold on there,” she said. “How many is a few?”
His smile broadened as he pulled her to him, dropping his arms around her waist. He leaned in and kissed her first softly, then with a growing passion as her lips parted and her tongue brushed against his. “So few I can barely remember them,” he murmured.
She slipped her hand behind his head and returned her mouth to his, silently thanking the stars for the chance to finally be alone with him for a bit. It was an odd sensation, to be kissing him in public, surrounded by thousands of people, yet nobody could see them at all. It was exciting in a way she’d never felt before.
She could hear music in the distance. “There must be a band in the parade,” she said.
Edward cocked an ear toward the north end of town. “Either it’s two bands fighting it out or one band that’s out of tune,” he said. “I’m assuming it’s the latter.”
He kissed her again, just below the ear, and Kate felt a tremor of pleasure at the sensation of his lips on her skin. She couldn’t contain a throaty sigh, and she slipped her fingers into his hair as Edward continued to kiss her, leaving a trail from her ear down to the soft skin of her throat.
There was a cry from the crowd below, and the music seemed to grow louder.
“Edward, we’re going to miss the parade,” she murmured.
His tongue flickered over her lips. “I don’t care about the parade.”
“Let’s just watch for a moment,” she said softly. “I’m not going anywhere.” Kate reluctantly pulled herself away from Edward’s embrace and went to the edge, looking down into the street and resting her arms on top of the Carter Mining sign.
“Well, here they come,” she said, and she felt Edward step to her side. “Look, there’s Mayor Fowler.”
The mayor was the parade marshal and, as such, was sitting in an open-top carriage being drawn by two white horses. The carriage had been decorated with red, white and blue streamers and flags flew from each corner, nearly obscuring the mayor as he waved to the crowd.
Behind the mayor were a variety of carriages and wagons. Some carried people that neither Kate nor Edward recognized, though they were evidently well-known to the crowd; on other carriages were people dressed up as historical figures.
“Look, is that Sheriff Tanner as George Washington?”
“I think so,” Carter said. “And I’m guessing that’s supposed to be Ben Franklin behind him? Must be Jim Thompson,” he said. “Nobody else is that round.”
Soon the band came into view, being pulled on a long wagon. What they may have lacked in talent, they tried to make up for with volume. Although the wagon lurched along unevenly, leaving them swaying and bumping against each other in their seats, Kate could see the enthusiasm on their faces. As the wagon passed directly below, the band built to a crescendo and then fell silent as they finished the march they had been playing. Kate could see the conductor kneeling on the seat, speaking to the band members; after a moment, they began again, repeating the exact same melody.
“Guess they only had time to rehearse the one,” Carter said, shaking his head with a lip curled back. “How pathetic.”
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” Kate said. “I actually thought it was nice. They tried hard, anyway.”
“Maybe so, but I wish you could have seen the sort of thing we do back home in Chicago. Now there’s a city that knows how to put on a parade.” He glanced down to watch a pair of mounted soldiers bearing flags and leading a group marching in formation. “But I guess we don’t have much choice out here when it comes to entertainment,” he said, gazing out at the rooftops. “You know, Katherine, it really bothers me to see you on the frontier. A woman like you deserves better than this godforsaken country life.”
“Well, it’s not all bad,” she said. “I’d say I’m adjusting to it, bit by bit.”
“But you shouldn’t have to,” he said. He took her hand and pulled her closer. “There’s something about living in a city that you just don’t get out here. I always feel energized by the busy streets, the people hurrying everywhere…there’s just this constant hum of something happening,” he said. “You’re from Boston; you know what I mean, don’t you?”
Kate smiled as she remembered walking around her hometown. “Yes, I do.”
“And here, what do you have? Cows and cornfields,” he said, shaking his head. “Only a fool would choose to live out here.”
Kate’s smile faded as she turned to look at him.
“Uh, except for your father, of course,” Carter added quickly. “That’s a different situation.”
Kate was quiet as she watched him, and even in the fading light she could see that his cheeks had picked up color. He came closer and took both of her hands in his.
“Darling, I’m sorry,” he said. “You know how I feel about your father. About your whole family, really. I wasn’t talking about him at all. I was thinking more about somebody like…like Sam.”
“Be nice,” she said. “Sam’s actually a smart man and he’s a hard worker.”
“Oh, I’m sure he is a hard worker,” he said. “Once a man starts doing manual labor, he gets used to it. It’s like a mule pulling a wagon—it might seem difficult at first, but once they’ve done it a while I think they actually enjoy it.”
“Edward, don’t talk about him like that. He’s not a mule.”
“Sorry, darling,” Carter said. He squeezed her hand briefly. “You’ve really grown fond of the help, haven’t you?”
“Well, I have,” she said. “And why not? They’re good people.”
“I’m sure they are,” he said, sliding one hand up to her cheek. Kate turned her face away, but he stepped closer and pulled her body against his, her head against his chest. She could hear his heart beating and smell a trace of his cologne.
He leaned down and kissed her neck, then her cheek, then moved his mouth to hers. It was hard to stay cross with him, she realized as he tightened his arms around her. His tongue found hers and she sucked on it greedily, feeling her own breath speed as she hugged him tightly.
The squeak of the ladder was like a chaperone’s cough; she pulled away and smoothed the front of her dress just as Mark’s head popped up through the service door. He was followed shortly by Jake, and the two proceeded to lay waste to the snacks that were laid out on the tables.
“So, did you two track down Miss Kinney?” Carter asked.
Mark swallowed down a finger sandwich whole and nodded. “It took a while, but I found her.”
Jake snorted. “You mean I found her,” he said, his mouth full of half-chewed apple. “You just followed me!”
“You never would have found her if I hadn’t suggested climbing the streetlamp to look around,” Mark said. “It was all my idea.”
Jake’s response was drowned out by a sudden boom that made them all jump. Kate looked up to see a giant red starburst spreading in the sky above them as there was a cheer from the crowd in the street. The boys grew quiet as fireworks flew into the sky one after another and burst to life with chest-thumping reports and fiery blooms. Carter had been right. The view from the roof was absolutely perfect, unlike any other she’d had for such a show. Kate felt as if the bursts were so close she could touch them—in fact, some of the hot ash still glowed as it drifted down to them—but instead of fright she found it thrilling.
As gold sparks glittered down through the air, she rea