The Road Home
Celia glanced out at the children running alongside the stagecoach as it slowed. Their tiny feet evoked a cloud of dust as they followed the newest visitor to their part of Texas.
“Have you been to Tyler before?” the young blonde woman seated next to Celia inquired politely. Her name was Claudette Harding. She had the most perfect golden curls Celia had ever seen.
“Yes, but it’s been a long time.” Celia glanced back at the children, before examining the wooden buildings dotting the street. Nothing had changed. Some were new and some no longer stood. They’d been replaced in the name of progress. Noting the result, she dropped the leather flap over the small window, before swallowing a twinge of regret. A sharp realization that nothing would ever be the same again moved through her.
From the top of the stage, the Wells Fargo Whip called out the name of the stop, “Tyyyler!”
“I’m expecting my gentleman-friend to pick me up.” Claudette glanced sideways at Celia as she gathered her parasol along with her reticule. “Do you have someone picking you up?” Tiny ringlets of gold bobbed about the woman’s creamy, oval face. Celia smiled to herself as Claudette continued to prattle on. The woman could talk. Claudette had boarded the stage in Shreveport. Since she’d sat down, the three other passengers listened to all manner of comments, stories and questions.
“Yes, my cousin.” Celia peeked out of the window again. Dust swirled around the opening, threatening to engulf them all. The two men seated in front of the women waved at the dust as if it threatened their lives. The one in a stylish stovepipe hat started coughing. Reluctantly, Celia dropped the flap, waiting instead for the stage to come to a complete stop.
The wooden door of the stage opened. A calloused hand reached in.
Claudette took the hand, before winking at Celia. “Enjoyed riding with you. Good luck.” Bending low in the confines of the stage’s interior, Claudette exited through small opening.
Celia considered the young blonde woman’s words. Luck wasn’t going to help her. She would need fortitude. Digging deeper, she found her determination once more. Trouble had driven her out of Texas. Now she was returning for the same reason. The letter she’d received stated her father, the chief, had fallen “gravely ill”. So she’d packed up the belongings she would need, sold the rest, and bought a one-way ticket back to Texas. Her place as daughter of the great chief demanded she come. Her love for her only living parent compelled her to make the journey.
“Ma’am?” The hand was back.
Celia accepted the offer of assistance from the porter, as she stooped to clear the small exit. The brilliant sun, glared down unrelentingly. A thick humidity hung heavy in the air. While most of Texas boasted hot, dry conditions, Tyler was different. Situated close to the north Louisiana boarder, the small stagecoach stop’s climate resembled the bayou state’s more often than not. Celia remembered the local joke that the air was so humid, it was like wearing a wet blanket. In contrast, Charleston’s warm ocean breezes had been relatively dry. On a hot afternoon, they’d even been enjoyable. Fighting a tiny twinge of panic at actually being back in Texas after all the years away, Celia adjusted her stays. With the Whip’s help, she stepped onto Texas soil once more. Charleston was but a memory now. She was home.
Celia tipped her head back, before squinting into the sun for a brief moment as if Texas embraced her. It was good to be home, she decided. Glancing back at Claudette, who busily pointed out her bags to the coachman, Celia saw the long hours on the stage in her mind’s eye. The trip had been grueling, but she’d made it. Now she could face what came next.
Settling the black parasol trimmed in white over her shoulder, Celia searched the faces of those closest to the stage for anyone who might resemble her cousin, Broken Horse. Reminded that he’d grown into a man over the time she’d been away, she realized she wouldn’t have a clue what he looked like. Yet if his boyhood good looks had developed, he’d became a striking figure. Celia smiled inwardly. He was the closest thing to a brother she had. The contact they’d kept over the years proved precious to her.
Glancing about again, she wondered if she would see Seth. After all this time, would he still remember her? Probably not, she mused. After all, nothing remained of the girl she’d been almost twelve years before. Frowning, Celia reminded herself she’d made a life without the cowboy who’d abandoned her then. She was a surgical assistant for the Army at Fort Sumter, in Charleston. Educated and prepped in one of the finest finishing schools in the south, Celia was her own woman now.
“Ma’am, which bags are yours?”
Blinking, Celia met the porter’s eyes. She pointed out her belongings, before stepping back quickly as they landed unceremoniously on the ground in front of her. “Would you have a care, sir?” Celia gave the man a withering look before dusting off her new traveling suit. Glaring at the fellow, she plucked them from the dirt.
The coachman’s feigned concern was typical of the type of response she got from certain people. “Sorry, Ma’am.” His emphasis on the word ‘ma’am’ held a distinct callousness.
His reaction didn’t surprise her. Most thought she was a whore. Celia tried to rationalize the assumption. After all, one didn’t often come across women dressed in fashionable clothing, nor traveling alone. Glancing about for her cousin, she was so eager to see, she saw only townspeople who eyed her warily. Ignoring the stares aimed her way she leveled her chin.
After all, there was nothing she could do to cover her bronze complexion or her jet-black hair. She couldn’t hide her high cheek bones or her long straight nose. Celia had her father’s face along with her mother’s eyes. The combination was striking she’d been told. Her green eyes were one of two things her mother had been able to leave her. Celia considered them a gift. The broach pinned to her bosom was the other. Celia had kept it safe all these years. Having been too young to remember her mother, Celia relied on the images given to her by her father, Lone Eagle. He’d shared stories of her mother with the young girl as she rested on her pallet before falling asleep at night in their tent.
Once more, she had to ignore the matrons standing on the boardwalk openly eyeing her with a healthy dose of disdain. Yes, she was her father’s daughter. She resembled him in so many ways. She wasn’t a whore, though. No, her only sin was being half Comanche.
Celia closed her eyes for a moment as she considered The People. They’d taught her to always carry herself with dignity and pride. As the years passed, she came to understand just how important those teachings were to her survival. She hoped her father would be proud.
Celia glanced back at the stage. Despite the rude behavior of the man, Celia considered herself lucky. At least she didn’t have to re-enter god-forsaken contraption meant to test one’s fortitude. Certainly, a person would repent for whatever sins he harbored deep in his soul after a trip in that wooden box from hell. Celia adjusted her jacket while searching further down the boardwalk for her cousin.
“Let me help you with those.” The voice was too close, and too familiar. Celia’s muscles tightened before the need to escape overwhelmed her. She flicked a hesitant glance over her shoulder at the tall, broad-shouldered man bending to take her luggage from her hands. When he rose, she looked into the same steely-blue eyes she’d known all those years ago. Seth! Her mind fairly reeled with the devil-may-care look he sent her from under his dark Stetson. “Where would you like me to put these?”
Celia’s heart tripped in her chest as she recalled the taste of his lips. In defense of the traitorous memory, she lifted her chin a fraction and managed to snatch one of her bags from his clutches. The wry grin remained undaunted on his handsome face. She wanted to scream as she wheeled away.
Nerves ran along her backbone like the tiny legs of a spider. She could feel his eyes on her even as she stepped onto the board walkway. “Right here is fine,” she said curtly, pointing toward a spot on the planks. Doing her level best to ignore him, Celia once again positioned the black parasol primly on her shoulder and made a point of smoothing her skirt.
“I never dreamed I’d see you get off that stage,” Seth’s tone was cool sarcasm.
Celia watched his lips form a tense line. Her own throat was as dry as dust.
“There you are!” Claudette came rushing up to Seth who dropped Celia’s bags to catch the vivacious blonde as she flung her arms about him. “Oh, I’ve missed you so.” She planted a big, noisy kiss on his mouth.
The blow, though not physical, hit Celia directly in the heart.
Excerpted from "Comanche Haven (The Loflin Legacy: Book 1)" by Catherine Wolffe. Copyright © 0 by Catherine Wolffe. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.