by Zoe Dawn
Cinderella based western romance. Unfinished right now.
“Who are you inviting to the dance?”
Lara looked up from the napkin she was mending. “Dance?”
“Come on. Don’t be silly. Le Baile Damas. The Ladies Dance. Remember? We ask the boys…uh,men.”
“I’m not asking anyone. I’m not going”, Lara mumbled, head bowed over her work.
“Lara!” her friend cried, “You can’t be serious! Everyone is going.”
“I’m not”, Lara insisted, “I haven’t been here long, remember? I don’t know anyone well enough to ask them. Besides, the Gordon’s want to stay open later that night, since so many folks will be out and about.”
“Please tell me the Gordons aren’t keeping your from going.” Lara’s friend demanded.
“No. I volunteered to stay,” Lara looked up at her companion defiantly, “Like I said, I don’t know anyone to ask.”
“You could still go” her friend said stubbornly, “It’ll be fun.”
“What about Euger”, Lara’s friend continued after a moment’s silence, “You know he has his eye on you.”
Lara’s face twisted in disgust and she glared at her companion.
“I thought you were my friend, Amelie. If you say that name one more time I’ll throw every one of these napkins at you. You know I can’t stand Harlan Euger. He’s greasy and creepy and he keeps terrible company.”
“He’s also rich.” Lara’s friend continued to tease, “Well, what about that new fellow, then?”
“What new fellow?” Lara asked.
“Oh, please! You’re really playing dumb tonight. You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed him. Everyone in her right mind has noticed him. I am talking about Tynedale Trace, I think is his name. Only everyone calls him Trace. He’s probably the best looking man in town.”
“Tynedale”, Lara made a face at the name.
“He didn’t name himself,” Amelie said defensively.
“Since everyone has noticed him so much, why hasn’t everyone invited him yet. The dance is only a few days away?” Lara asked.
“I didn’t say no one had asked.” Amelie muttered, “I think every unattached woman in town has asked, or plans to.”
“Great, Amelie. Thanks.” Lara glared at her friend again, “He’s turned down all the eligible women in town and you want me to go sacrifice myself.?”
“I didn’t say he’d turned anybody down. He just hasn’t said yes to anyone yet. We’re all holding our breath.”
“You asked him!” Lara looked at her friend incredulously.
“No.” Amelie flushed and ducked her head, “I asked Declan Armitage. I’m going with him”. Amelie smiled at shyly at her friend. “But I’m still holding my breath. I can’t wait to find out who Tynedale Trace says yes to. He’s sooo handsome.” Amalie pretended to swoon and Lara couldn’t help but smile.
“What if Mr. Trace doesn’t say yes to anyone. What if he can’t dance, or hates crowds, or something.” Lara asked. “Anyway. I’m certainly not going to ask him. It’s best all around if I stay out of it all. Can you imagine what Mrs. Reston, or Mrs. Lynton, or any of the other mama’s in town would say if Lara the Gypsy managed to get a date with the most eligible single man in town instead of one of their daughters? There would be total hell to pay and you know it. They probably wouldn’t be too happy if I showed up at the dance period.”
"Don’t say that, Lara. Don’t you dare say that about yourself.” Amelie stood up and threw her needlework to the ground in a temper. “You aren’t a gypsy. And you deserve to have fun just as much as any of us.”
“I am a gypsy. Part gypsy," Lara smiled up at Amelie, “and part Indian. And part Irish and part Russian. I’ve got all that wild blood in me. Mama used to say I never had a chance, and I guess she was right. With my blood and my coloring, I just don’t fit in here. Never mind I’m poor as a church mouse and have to rely on the Gordons generosity for my living.”
Amelie snorted indelicately. “Why shouldn’t you rely on them. They’re your relatives. Everyone knows they changed their name from Gurdonov to Gordon.”
“Everyone seems to be fairly well informed, don’t they?” Lara muttered.
“The Gordons are bootlicking idiots," Amalie announced.
“Amelie!” Lara cried.
“Well, its true.” Amelie said in a huff, “It’s a shame how they’re constantly reminding you of everything they do for you. They’re your family after all.”
“Not really, Amelie. Only very distantly, really. Mr. Gordon was a distant cousin to my mother, I think.”
“Still… Anyway, I can’t believe you aren’t coming to the dance. Declan and I were looking forward seeing you there.”
“I bet," Lara said and smiled. “I’m sure you and Declan can think of something do to without my dubious presence.”
Folding the last napkin into the basket with the others Lara stood.
“Come on, Am, I’ll go put these away then you can help me take some of today’s leftovers to Miss Evermore. Then I’ll walk with you as far as the corner of Welsh, OK?”
After Lara and Amalie had taken some of the days left over food to old Mrs. Evermore the two young women walked to the end of Welsh. Lara always refused to go further despite Amalie’s constant urging to come home with her. Amalie’s parents were some of the towns leading citizens. They were also very nice people and so far they hadn’t forbidden Amalie’s friendship with her, but Lara always felt they disapproved of that friendship and she didn’t want to risk losing Amalie.
“Lara…” Amalie began and turned toward her friend. Lara held up one hand and smiled.
“You know I can’t, Amalie,” Lara said.
“But…well,” Amalie began then stopped, frowning slightly. She wasn’t blind. She realized her parents didn’t exactly approve of her friendship with Lara but she also knew Lara would be treated as politely as any guest would if she did come. All her parents really needed was a chance to get to know Lara well. Still, she never insisted Zara come. When Lara made up her mind, it was made up usually. The dance, on the other hand, was a whole other matter.
“You have to come to the dance, then, Lara. You can borrow one of my dresses if you don’t have anything. You just have to be there.” Amalie urged.
For a moment Lara was tempted to say yes, just to have the chance to wear one of Amelie’s beautiful gowns. Certainly she didn’t have anything like them herself and probably never would. The Gordon's paid a pauper’s pittance; figuring room and board was generous enough.
“I can’t, Am. I don’t know anyone to ask, and being there by myself wouldn’t be right. You know some of the men around here have wrong ideas about me.” Lara said, her tone a little bitter.
“Lara!” Amelie tried to sound shocked, pretending she hadn’t heard the rumors that flew about her exotic looking friend. “That isn’t true at all!”
Again Lara smiled. Bless Amalie’s generous heart.
“It is true, and you know it. I mean, the rumors aren’t true, but it is true there are rumors and some, well, a lot, of the people around here seem to believe them. Or at least half believe them. Never mind I spend nearly every hour of my life in the restaurant.” Lara said and sighed. She knew it didn’t do any good to be bitter about it and she tried not to, but sometimes it was hard. She really did want to go to that dance.
“Look, you better git, Am. Your folks will be looking for you and if you’re late they are sure to believe I am out corrupting you somehow.”
“They won’t, Lara. They aren’t like that. I swear.” Amelie protested.
“I know, Am. But there are plenty of folks who’ll be like that for them and will eventually convince them. We have to be careful. The epitome of propriety, that’s what we have’ta be!” Lara said and grinned and gave her friend a quick hug.
“Have fun with Declan, Am” Lara called and watched for a moment as Amalie walked to her parents house half way along Welsh. She waited until Amalie paused, turned for a last wave, then disappeared through her front gate.
Front and Cross were the two main streets in town, and were the longest. They passed over each other making a neat cross. She and Amalie had taken the quicker route.
Altogether it was little less than a mile and a fairly safe walk for two young ladies, but boring. Especially this close to evening. Besides, Lara didn’t feel like walking back near the school hall where even now people were preparing for the evening's dance. Lara decided to walk out to Front then all the way down Front to Wagon. The restaurant was only a block off of Front and Lara could watch the town’s people in their evening finery. It was something of a social institution for the people of the town to get dressed up and parade about greeting and gossiping in the evening.
The only part of the walk Lara didn’t like was Front Street near the restaurant. The west end of Front got sort of rough, especially this late in the evening and it was likely to be dark by the time she got back. The south end of Cross was the same, as was most of the southwest corner of town, for that matter. Lara hated living so close to that area. It didn’t help her reputation any. Nor did living in a boarding house that housed almost all single men at the moment. A family shared one of the small rooms and Zara felt sorry for them.
The husband, Mr. Evermore seemed determined to drink or gamble away what little they had. Lara always tried to take leftovers from the restaurant to Mrs. Evermore and the children because Lara didn’t think they ate much otherwise. In return, Mrs. Evermore, who took in sewing, would darn Lara’s stockings and repair her dresses to almost new, for which Lara was eternally grateful. She was a terrible seamstress herself, sewing never having been one of her strengths. Cooking now, cooking she could do, and she loved to dance… Unfortunately the only dancing she knew how to do was not the sort dignified young ladies were supposed to know. The sort she was supposed to know she didn’t, which was another reason to avoid the dance.
At the intersection of Front and Cross Lara paused. There was a dress shop not quite two blocks south along Cross. It was terribly close to the part of town she should avoid, but the dressmaker there was spectacular. And the ladies millinery across the street had the most remarkable hats.
A few minutes later Lara stood before the dress shop’s large display window staring enviously at the elegant dresses there. She told Amalie she didn’t care and most of the time she managed to convince herself of that, but she did care. She wanted beautiful gowns like Amalie’s, and a handsome man whose arm she could hold proudly and parade through town. He didn’t even have to be handsome. She’d be happy with average. Declan Armitage wasn’t exactly the handsome prince, but he was sweet and not that bad looking, and he was madly in love with Amalie. That was enough.
Suddenly, down the street, there was a burst of noise. Lara turned and groaned. Not even two blocks away a crowd of people boiled out of one of the saloons. There was a lot of shouting, a scream, a gunshot then more screams. Then more gunshots. Lara knew she shouldn’t have come this way. She had to get out of there, fast.
Just a Lara reached the next crossroad before Cross a horse wheeled across the road in front of her.
“Hey there, pretty lady. Where ya’ going? Cantcha see there’s a great party going on down there? Whyn’tcha come join me, and my friends?” The drunken voice came from the rider of the horse, who hung almost falling off of the animal, trying to fix his gaze on Lara.
“Please, let me by.” Lara demanded, starting to back away, her heart in her throat. Cross was only a block away. Surely someone would see and come help. Or would they? She was Lara Lucosky, wasn’t she. Mightn’t they just figure she was finally showing her true colors? Hadn’t they said all along…?
Lara took a deep breath, eyes closed. She had to get out of this somehow. She could run pretty well.
“Let her by, she says! Ya hear that, Danny boy? She wants by!” The drunken man laughed and Lara started to turn, dread filling her. She was too late. Hard hands encircled her waist and alcoholic breath enveloped her head. One iron like arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her back against a soft, stinking body. A second hand began to grope her.
Lara knew she should scream, do something, but all she could managed at the moment was to fight the desperate desire to gag at the stench of alcohol and sweat and unwashed everything that surrounded her. That fat hand squeezing her breasts and trying to get at places further down didn’t help either.
Just where Lara knew she was going to pass out from lack of breath and terror someone else entered the scene. There was a shout, a gunshot, a horse screamed then a man and the fat man dropped Lara. He shouted something too, but Lara was crouched on the boardwalk trying to get her breath back and the stench out of her nose.
Suddenly all was quiet, at least on this end of the street.
“Are you all right?” asked a masculine voice and Lara shrank away.
“Hey, I’m not going to hurt you, alright. But I think you should get out of here before that bas…idiot wakes up.”
Lara looked up and almost died. She knew she was staring stupidly but she couldn’t help it. The man was beautiful! Absolutely, completely beautiful. Perfect. Dark blond hair, mussed from his little fight. Evening cloths, dusty and rumpled now, spread across wide shoulders.
“Your clothes…” Lara mumbled idiotically still sitting on the ground.
“Oh” The man looked down at himself then back at Lara and smiled “the clothes will wash. The important thing is, did they hurt you?” His expression turned serious, dangerously serious as he glanced at a large, still figure nearby.
Gathering her wits Lara took the hand the man offered and scrambled to her feet.
“Not really.” She mumbled, looking at her feet, feeling absolutely humiliated now. “I mean, I’m fine. Really. I…I have to get back to…home, or my aunt and uncle will be furious.” Lara took a step then almost ran the rest of the way home. It wasn’t until she was almost half way back that she realized she hadn’t even thanked the man, or found out his name so she could thank him later.
Any guilt she felt vanished as she stumbled through the door of the Gordon’s living quarters. Luckily they would have left for the dance by now, but as she entered the tiny front hall she caught sight of herself in the hall mirror. Gasping in horror Lara froze. The front of her dress was torn, much of her hair had been loosened from its pins, and she was filthy. What must she have looked like as she rushed along Front Street through the evening crowd? And who might actually have seen what had happened? Anyone could have. And there was the man who had rescued her. What would he say? She had even thanked him.
Lara knew she wanted to die. Right then and there. By morning the Gordon’s would know what happened. They might even throw her out. Then what? Lara groaned. She wished she could talk to Amalie. But Amalie was at the dance, and Lara couldn’t walk all the way back across town anyway. Not like this.
Lara washed her face and hands then fled up to Mrs. Evermore’s room. She knew Mr. Evermore wouldn’t be there. He never was in the evenings. Mrs. Evermore could at least fix her dress.
Knocking on the door Lara waited until Mrs. Evermore called out.
“It’s me, Lara.” Lara called out. “Mrs. Evermore? I…I need to talk to you. I know it’s late, but…”
There was silence for a moment then the door opened a crack and Mrs. Evermore peeked out.
“I know it’s late, Mrs. Evermore, but….” Lara began desperately.
“Oh, dear!” Mrs. Evermore gasped when she saw Lara’s dress “Come in, dear, quickly. What happened?” She asked as she flung the door open and let Lara in.
Lara collapsed on a chair and almost started to cry. As she poured out the entire story to the Gordon’s boarder Mrs. Evermore clucked sympathetically as she continued to sew on a dress on a dressers dummy.
“You say they didn’t really hurt you, though? And this handsome fellow came along and rescued you?”
“Then the evening wasn’t a total loss, was it?” Mrs. Evermore asked matter of factly. “Can’t change what happened. You just have to go on. Think about that prince charming instead of the other, and don’t dread what hasn’t happened yet. That’s what I say.”
Lara stared at her incredulously for a moment, faintly stunned at her lack of sympathy, and then Lara began to laugh softly. When she managed to stop she looked at the woman again. The dress she was working on was exquisite and Lara said so.
Mrs. Evermore looked at her for a moment, her eyes secretive, then she smiled.
“Come and try it on.”
“Wha..What?” Lara stammered.
“It’s yours. A Miss Amalie Lindstromb asked me to make it. It’s made over from one of her own to fit you, but she said to make it over into a new one, so, here it is. You try it on and I’ll nip and tuck it where it needs it, then you can go.”
“Go?” Lara asked then realized what Mrs. Evermore meant. “Oh, no. I mean, I’m not going to the dance. Especially not after…”
“Not going?” Mrs. Evermore frowned, “After a dear friend gives you such a fine dress, you refuse to go. After I have taken my time to fix it up for you, you will not wear it and tell all who made it for you?” Mrs. Evermore sounded hurt, and angry, and Lara was swamped with guilt. She just didn’t have the energy to face that crowd.
“You should go, to show those old biddies and gossip mongers you are above their opions. That you don’t care what they think our say.”
Lara stared at Mrs. Evermore, her eyes wide. She was right. That was more Lara’s style. If she hid, if she acted ashamed and guilty, it would make the gossip seem even more true. She had to go. Only…
“My hair…” Lara murmured, “and shoes…”
Mrs. Evermore smiled. “Hair I can help you with. And Miss. Lindstromb left stockings and shoes, and I believe some money for hair ribbons, which I purchased this afternoon. So…?”
“So, I’ll go.” Lara smiled back.
An hour later Lara was ready. Mrs. Evermore had done wonders with both dress and hair. She said Lara looked like a princess. A mysterious, exotic princess. Looking at herself in the downstairs hall mirror Lara was almost bound to agree. It was almost magic.
Hurrying down Creek Street toward the school hall Lara began to have doubts. She did look good. But it wouldn’t be enough. They would point or stare and laugh, or be scandalized. Lara had to keep reminding herself she couldn’t hide. She had to be brave, bold. She couldn’t let them get to her.
Lara paused at the door. She could hear dance music and could see people gliding around the floor of the room in time to the music. Taking a deep breath she swept into the room and froze just inside the room, her courage all but deserting her. She was in. No one said she had to jump right into the middle of things. As unobtrusively as possible Lara slid toward a dark corner.
That didn’t last long. Amalie, in a glowing green gown that went perfectly with her blond hair, sailed toward her, Declan Armitage in tow. In evening kit, even Declan seemed quite handsome and dashing, Lara decided.
“Lara?! There is the most horrible whisper going about. It can’t be true, of course. That’s what I tell everyone who asks, but still…” Amalie cried.
“I suppose it depends on what they are saying.” Lara said with a sigh and told Amalie briefly what had happened.
Amalie threw her arms around her friend.
“Oh no, Lara! How horrible! And you came tonight, anyway. Its so brave of you.”
“Mrs. Evermore made me see that I had to. I couldn’t hide from them.” Lara said. “So, I came, to show them I wasn’t afraid of them.”
“Good for you.” Amalie said, delighted. “I know”
She turned to Declan. “Dance with Lara, Declan. It will be perfect. Everyone will see her here.”
“I don’t know…”
Lara and Declan spoke at the same time, looking doubtful. Lara flushed slightly. She realized Declan didn’t really want to dance with her.
“It’s OK, Amalie. I don’t really know how to dance. I’d just step all over Declan’s toes.” Lara said, trying not to see the relief Declan tried to hide.
“Let’s at least go and get something to drink, then” Amalie insisted “That way everyone will see you walking over there.”
Lara groaned inwardly. There was no was she was going to get out of this. Reluctantly she followed her friend across the room, straight through the center of the room, to the refreshment table. All around her whispers erupted, eyes followed them, and people spoke from behind their hands. Humiliated Lara forced herself to hold her chin up and keep her back straight as she marched through the crowd.
At the refreshment table Lara choked down a cup of apple punch and pretended nonchalance as she looked around the room, noting how many people avoided her stare as her eyes roamed the crowd. Everyone was there.
Everyone in the room seemed to be looking at her, when she wasn’t looking at them. Then her eyes met a pair that did not look away. Lara almost choked for real this time. Oh, no!
Amalie patted her on the back anxiously. When she had regained her breath she glanced across the room again. He was still looking at her intently, eyes puzzled, trying to place her.
“Amalie” Zara whispered “Who is that man? The one…”
“The one who keeps staring at you?” Amalie grinned with delight. “That, my friend, is the one and only Tynedale Trace, himself.”
“Oh, NO!” Lara groaned aloud and Amalie frowned in bewilderment.
“That’s a pretty unusual reaction to Mr. Trace, Lara. Leave it to you to be unique. Most of us are falling over each other to get his attention.”
“You don’t understand.” Lara said in a panicked whisper. “He…he’s the one who…”
“HE’s your handsome prince savior?! You don’t mean it?! Oh, it’s so perfect!” Amalie almost squealed and clapped her hands. “Here, I’ll get him to come over and…” she started to wave to the man. In a panic Lara dove into the crowd and struggled toward the door. Outside Lara almost ran home, dying inside from humiliation. How was she going to face any of them tomorrow, Amalie included. Probably it wouldn’t matter anyway. The Gordon’s would throw her out and she’d have to find somewhere else to go.
Early the next morning Lara awoke to the early grey dawn and buried her head under her blanket. She knew she couldn’t hide from the day, but she really didn’t want to go to the restaurant today. More than anything, she didn’t want to face the Gordon’s.
Lara dressed, splashed water over her face and hands and made her bed before heading reluctantly for the restaurant’s kitchen. Her aunt was already there, of course, and although she didn’t say anything just then, she turned such a condemning and contemptuous glare on Lara that her heart quelled. Of course, her aunt wouldn’t say nor do anything just then. Not with a dining room full of guests, many of whom had come in from out of town for the dance. They didn’t want to have to do any more of the work themselves than they had too. They would probably wait to throw her out after the crowds had thinned. Maybe not until that evening.
By lunch Lara was exhausted. Mrs. Gordon picked at her for every little slight and mistake. Then there were the stares and whispers, and the occasional stray hand, among the customers. With the lunch rush only half over Lara wasn’t sure she could make it until dinner, let alone to the end of the day.
The last straw came near the end of lunch. The crowd was still heavy and Lara was rushing about table to table to the kitchen and back when someone grabbed her wrist as she passed one of the tables.
“Hey, sweetie. Come here and set with me.” Drawled a male voice. Lara didn’t know the man but it was obvious he had heard the stories already.
“Let me go. Please.” Lara said, trying to pull away but he just tugged harder and leered at her, the other men at the table laughed.
“Come on, sugar. We just want a little of what you was giving to old Jude last night. We know…”
“You don’t know anything, you ass. Now let me go or I’ll…” Lara said furiously.
“You’ll what, sugar? Come on, you’re getting me all excited. You’ll what?” the man said and they all laughed again.
“I’ll this.” Lara said and slapped the man across the face. The man released her arm for a moment and Lara turned to go but he was on her in a second. Grabbing her the man spun her around, his arm raised.
“No damned gypsy whore is gonna hit me and…” the man began.
“Do it and I will break every bone in your hand” interrupted a cold voice. “Let her go. Now.”
Lara and everyone else in the room turned. Lara wanted to die right there and then. Obviously he had just come in. How much had he heard? He had to have heard all the rumors. Oh. Lara felt ill. Ill and humiliated. Why did he have to be here, of all people? Well, except he was saving her. Again. And she wasn’t saying thank you. Again.
“What is going on here? Lara? What are you doing?” Her aunt's voice echoed through the dining room. She approached the little tableau puffing like a steam train, her eyes burning holes in Lara. She walked right up to Lara, who still suffered the stranger’s hands on her shoulders, and slapped her across the face.
“You think I can’t see what you are doing, and right here in my restaurant in broad day light. Mr. Gordon and I simply cannot any longer tolerate this sort of licentious, sinful behavior in our household. When I think about last night….” Mrs. Gordon broke off, clicking her tongue and shaking her head as if she had been personal witness to Lara’s supposed downfall. “You are to be out of our house…by this evening. Take your things and get out. Do you understand?”
“Mrs. Gordon?” Tynedale Trace had approached unheard by the players in this little scene. Now he stood very close by Lara’s captor. He was really quite a large man. Not massive, but quite tall and nicely put together. It wasn’t just his physicality, either. There was just something else. He was just, intimidating. When he took his eyes from Mrs. Gordon for a moment and grasped the man’s elbow the man swallowed hard, suddenly losing his bravado.
“I thought I asked you to leave the lady alone?” He said in a calm tone that sent shivers down even Lara’s spine. The man let go and stepped back. Trace smiled coolly and glanced at the man’s chair suggestively. The man sat and Trace turned back to Mrs. Gordon.
“Mrs. Gordon.” Trace smiled charmingly. “Perhaps you’ll allow me to clear the air some. This…” Trace glanced at the men at the table, “…person, put his hands on the lady first. She had no fault in this, except to defend herself.” Lara bowed her head, trying to hide the pleasure she felt at his defense of her, even though she could have told him it would do no good. The Gordon’s were always looking for something to accuse her of.
“I would also like to come to her defense as far as the well circulated occurrences of last evening.” Trace continued. “Miss…Lara, is it?” Trace glanced at Zara. “Miss. Lara was again the victim. Assaulted by those two bas…ah, fools. I happened to be there at the right time, it seems.” He glanced at Lara again and smiled, Lara groaned silently. Why couldn’t the floor just open up and take her?
“Why, Mr. Trace!” Mrs. Gordon simpered. “How gentlemanly of you to come to her defense. Perhaps we were not in possession of all the facts.” Mrs. Gordon smiled up at Trace, eyes fluttering and Lara looked at her incredulously. Was she serious?
“Please, let me personally show you to one of our best tables.” Mrs. Gordon grasped Trace’s arm and led him away. He smiled at Lara as he was lead away. It was a smile that made Lara blink. A smile that said a lot Lara didn’t want to think about at the moment.
As Lara moved back toward the kitchen Mrs. Gordon sailed past. As she passed by she hissed at Lara.
“You be out by this evening, after dinner hour, you get all your things and get out, you hear?”
Lara swallowed hard feeling tears rising. A lump of panic filled her throat. Where was she supposed to go? She worried over it the rest of the day. She had no one else. No where to go.
After the dinner rush, Mrs. Gordon herself stood over Lara, making sure she didn’t take anything she wasn’t entitled to. In the downstairs Mr. Gordon waited with a disapproving, satisfied glare as Lara passed by toward the door. As she stepped into the street with her meager bundle of belongings she heard the door slam behind her and she almost burst into sobs right then and there. The only thing that stopped her, she didn’t want to give the Gordon’s the satisfaction.
The only place she could think to go was Amalie’s. Squaring her back and tipping her chin up Lara marched down the street. As she rounded the corner onto Creek Mrs. Evermore came running toward her, glancing nervously over her shoulder as she came.
“Mrs. Evermore. What are you doing?” Lara stopped and looked at the woman. “If the Gordon’s see you talking to me, they’ll likely throw you out, too.”
Mrs. Gordon smiled tiredly. “I know, love. But I snuck out. I wanted you to have this. You’ll need a little something.” She shoved a small linen bundle toward Lara. When Lara took it in her hand she could feel the shape of some coins and folded bills.
“I can’t take this, Mrs. Evermore. I know you need every penny you can get. You take this.” Lara protested shoving the bundle back at the woman.
“It’s my secret money.” Mrs. Evermore almost whispered. “The mister, he don’t know I been whittling away a tiny bit here and there for a long while now. I want you to have it. You need it more than me right now. So you can find a respectable place to stay. You have done so much for me…”
“I can’t, Mrs. Evermore. I just can’t. You keep the money. I am going to go stay with Amalie. Remember, Miss. Amalie Lindstromb who brought the dress for me? I’ll go stay with her, I swear.”
“Well…” Mrs. Evermore looked doubtful. At the same time she looked a little relieve. She couldn’t really afford to part with any money and Lara was so touched she almost started to cry again.
“I’ll be OK, I promise, Mrs….” Lara began.
“Evelyne. It’s Evelyne. I should have asked you to call me that a long time ago.” She had begun to cry and Lara put her arms around the older woman.
“Everything will be all right,..Evelyne. I promise.” Lara wished she felt as confident as she sounded, but she wanted to reassure Evelyne. Mrs. Evermore, Evelyne, took back the money looking a little ashamed and more than a little relieved now.
“If you’re sure.”
“I am.” Lara forced a smile. “Now, you get back to those little ones. Before the Gordon’s begin to wonder.”
“Alright, Lara. Take care, all right?”
“I will, Evelyne. You take care, too.” Zara watched until Mrs. Evermore, Evelyne, drew near the back of the boarding house, then Lara set off once more along Creek. As she got closer to Amalie’s the more nervous she felt. She wondered how they would react. How did they feel about her? About the rumors? She knew Amalie would be supportive, but what about her parents?
Lara entered Welsh Street filled with dread. She had a feeling she knew how this would work out, but she didn’t have any other choice. Pausing at the front gate Lara stared up at the house. An elegant two story Victorian. Lara shivered. She didn’t belong here. She had never lived anywhere this nice before. What would she do in a place as nice as this? Still, she had to so this. There was nothing else.
Walking up the front path Lara approached the front door and lifted the brass knocker. She let it fall three times then waited, trembling. The woman who came to the door was a tiny China woman. She stared at Lara without speaking but
Lara could see recognition in her eyes.
“I…Ah, I need to speak to Amalie.” Lara began.
“Miss. Amalie no home.” The little woman said in a soft, expressionless voice.
“Please.” Lara said desperately. “It’s important. Please…” She broke off as Amalie’s father loomed behind the diminutive China woman.
“Thank you, Zu Lin.” He nodded at the woman. She bowed and disappeared into the house. Amalie’s father turned his attention to Zara, who tried not to shrink under his disapproving stare.
“I do not want to be impolite. However, I think it would be best if you do not have contact with Amalie for awhile.” Mr. Lindstromb said with a firmness that would take no argument, even if Lara had been able to speak enough to form one.
“Lara?” ZLara heard Amalie’s voice behind Mr. Lindstromb and, just for a moment, her heart lifted. Mr. Lindstromb sighed and turned to look at his daughter.
“I thought you were to stay in your room?” He demanded.
“I know.” Amalie’s voice was defiant, “But I heard Lara’s voice.”
“Lara,” he looked back at ZLara, “was just going to leave.”
“But papa, at least let me speak to her, please. Just for a minute. That’s all, I swear. Please.” Amalie begged and Mr. Lindstromb looked from Lara to Amalie and back.
“One minute, Amalie. To say good bye. That’s it.” He said and took a watch from his pocket. Amalie stepped outside and pulled the door partly closed then threw her arms around Lara.
“Oh, Lara! I’m so sorry! Why do all these terrible things happen?” she cried.
“It gets worse,” murmured Lara. “The Gordon’s have thrown me out. I had hoped… I had hoped at least stay this night with you.”
“Oh,no! Of course, you must, Lara! Where else could you go? I will ask papa at once. Wait a moment.” Amalie hurried back inside the house. Lara could hear raised voices through the partially open door. Once she heard Amalie wail loudly, then the door was suddenly shut in her face and she heard the lock put in place. Apparently the answer was no. With as much dignity as she could Lara turned and walked back down the walk and then along the street. At almost every house Lara thought she caught a curtain twitch, or a partly open door shut quickly as she passed by.
Lara had no idea where she was going. She had very little money and didn’t really know anyone else in town. She wandered aimlessly for a long time, stopping only when she found herself standing on the banks of the creek at the edge of town.
Lowering herself to her knees by a tree Lara leaned her head against the rough surface and struggled to hold back tears. She refused to cry! Things looked black enough, all right, but every problem had a solution. She just had to find this one. Huddled against the tree trunk, totally exhausted, Lara fell asleep.
Lara awoke to a low rumble of thunder and glanced at the sky. Oh, wonderful! Lara thought. It was going to rain, or worse, and she didn’t have anywhere to go! For a second she considered going back to Amalie’s. Surely they wouldn’t deny her shelter from a storm! Then she remembered the finality of the door lock falling in place and Lara knew that was not a viable solution.
Lara looked back at the town and grimaced. There were a few places that would be only too glad to giver her shelter. For a price. It wasn’t a price Lara wanted to pay, but what else could she do? Reluctantly she started back into the town. She was so preoccupied considering which place might be least objectionable she was blind to all that was going on around her.
“Good morning!” A cheerful voice rang out behind her and Lara jumped and spun around. She hadn’t even heard the horse and rider approach. Touching a shaking hand to her hair she looked up at the horseman. Tynedale Trace! Oh, lord! Self-consciously she ran her hand over her hair again; conscious of how she must look after having spent the night in the open under a tree. For a moment she stood there speechless, trying to find the words to reply.
“You look quite lovely, this morning, Miss….Lara!,” Tynedale Trace smiled a smile that quite usually charmed any female within vision. Lara was not in a mood to be charmed. Not completely, anyway. She felt a spurt of temper born by tension. She was prepared to say…perhaps something foolish, when a great rumble of thunder brought the first drops of cold rain.
“Oh, no!” she wailed.
Tyndale Trace moved his mount closer and held out a hand to Lara.
“Come with me.” He said and Lara stared at him as if he were a madman. Go with him? If she got on that horse with him and rode through town the people would certainly think she was a whore.
Then Lara almost laughed. What in the world was she worrying about? The places she was considering going to right that minute would absolutely brand her a whore. How could accepting his offer make any difference? How would it be any different than the fate she was considering now?
“Miss. Lara?” Tynedale Trace’s voice broke into her thoughts again, “If it will make you feel any better, your friend, Miss. Lindstromb, sent me a message. She told me, though not in any detail, what had happened. I looked last night, but I couldn’t find you.”
A warm feeling spread through Lara as she stared up at Tynedale Trace. Dear Amelie! And this man! He was practically a stranger, yet he had come to find her. When he smiled a smile that lit his grey eyes and made dimples at the corners of his mouth. Lara remembered a very different smile he had given her the day before in the restaurant and shivered. It could be worse. Another louder rumble of thunder decided Lara.
Placing one hand in his outstretched one Lara smiled.
“This is the third time. I’m afraid you’re going to be convinced that I make a habit of this sort of trouble."” Lara said.
“So it is,” Tyndale Trace agreed, “And if you do make a habit, I don't think I'll mind over much. I’m finding it quite enjoyable being able ride to your rescue so often. Can you get up?”
“Yes. Just help a little.” Lara hiked up her skirts indecorously and placed one foot in the stirrup. A moment later she felt herself leave the ground as Tynedale Trace hoisted her effortlessly onto the saddle in front of him.