you do. I ain't done nothin' wrong.'

He crossed his arms over his chest. 'Where are you from, boy?'


At first she didn't understand his burst of laughter, and then she realized her mistake. 'I guess you found me out. I'm really from Alabama, but with the war just over, I'm not anxious to advertise that.'

'Then you'd better keep your mouth shut.' He chuckled. 'Aren't you a little young to be carrying a gun?'

'Don't see why. I know how to use it.'

'I'll just bet you do.' He studied her more closely. 'Why did you leave home?'

'No jobs anymore.'

'What about your parents?'

Kit repeated the story she'd told the street vendor. When she was done, he took his time thinking it over. She had to force herself not to squirm.

'My stable boy quit last week. How'd you like to work for me?'

'For you?' she murmured weakly.

'That's right. You'd take your orders from my head man, Magnus Owen. He doesn't have your lily-white skin, so if that's going to offend your Southern pride, you'd better tell me now, and we won't waste anymore time.' When she didn't reply, he continued. 'You can sleep over the stable and eat in the kitchen. Salary is three dollars a week.'

She kicked at the dirt with the toe of her scuffed boot. Her mind raced. If she'd learned anything today she'd learned that Baron Cain wouldn't be easy to kill, especially now that he'd seen her face. Working in his stable would keep her close to him, but it would also make her job twice as dangerous.

Since when had danger ever bothered her?

She tucked her thumbs into the waist of her trousers. 'Two bits more, Yankee, and you got yourself a stable boy.'

Her room above the stable smelled agreeably of horses, leather, and dust. It was comfortably furnished with a soft bed, an oak rocker, and a faded rag rug, as well as a washstand that she ignored. Most important, it possessed a window that looked out over the back of the house so she could keep watch.

She waited until Cain had disappeared inside before she kicked off her boots and climbed into bed. Despite her nap in the stable, she was tired. Even so, she didn't fall asleep right away. Instead, she found herself wondering how her life might have turned out if her daddy hadn't made that trip to Charleston when she was eight years old and taken it into his head to get married again.

From the moment Garrett Weston had met Rosemary, he'd been moonstruck, even though she was older than he and her blond beauty had hard edges any fool could have spotted. Rosemary didn't make a secret of the fact that she couldn't stand children, and the day Garrett brought her home to Risen Glory, she'd pleaded the need for a newlywed's privacy and sent eight-year-old Kit to spend the night in a cabin near the slave quarters. Kit had never been allowed back.

If she forgot that she no longer had the run of the house, Rosemary reminded her with a stinging slap or a boxed ear, so Kit confined herself to the kitchen. Even the sporadic lessons she received from a neighborhood tutor were conducted in the cabin.

Garrett Weston had never been an attentive father, and he barely seemed to notice that his only child was receiving less care than the children of his slaves. He was too obsessed with his beautiful, sensual wife.

The neighbors were scandalized. That child is running wild! Bad enough if she was a boy, but even a fool like Garrett Weston should know enough not to let a girl run around like that.

Rosemary Weston had no interest in local society, and she ignored their pointed hints that Kit needed a governess or, at the very least, acceptable clothing. Eventually, the neighborhood women sought out Kit themselves with their daughters' cast-off dresses and lectures on proper female behavior. Kit ignored the lectures and traded the dresses for britches and boys' shirts. By the time she was ten, she could shoot, cuss, ride a horse bareback, and had even smoked a cigar.

At night when loneliness overwhelmed her, she reminded herself that her new life had advantages for a girl who'd been born with an adventurous heart. She could climb the peach trees in the orchard any time she wanted and swing from ropes in the barn. The men of the community taught her how to ride and fish. She'd sneak into the library before her stepmother emerged from her bedroom in the morning and forage for books with no worries of censorship. And if she scraped her knee or caught a splinter in her foot, she could always run to Sophronia in the kitchen.

The war changed everything. The first shots had been fired at Fort Sumter a month before her fourteenth birthday. Not long after that, Garrett Weston had turned over the management of the plantation to Rosemary and joined the Confederate army. Since Kit's stepmother never rose before eleven and hated the outdoors, Risen Glory began to fall into disrepair. Kit tried desperately to take her father's place, but the war had put an end to the market for Southern cotton, and she was too young to hold it all together.

The slaves ran off. Garrett Weston was killed at Shiloh. Bitterly, Kit received the news that he'd left the plantation to his wife. Kit had received a trust fund from her grandmother a few years earlier, but that meant nothing to her.

Not long after, Yankee soldiers marched through Rutherford, burning everything in their path. Rosemary's attraction to a handsome young lieutenant from Ohio and her subsequent invitation for him to join her in her bedroom spared the house at Risen Glory, although not the outbuildings. Shortly after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Rosemary died in an influenza epidemic.

Kit had lost everything. Her father, her childhood, her way of life. Only the land was left. Only Risen Glory. And as she curled into the thin mattress above the stable owned by Baron Cain, she knew that was all that counted. No matter what she had to do, she'd get it back. She fell asleep imagining how it would be when Risen Glory was finally hers.

The stable held four horses, a matched pair for the carriage and two hunters. Some of Kit's tension eased the next morning as a large bay with a long, elegant neck nuzzled her shoulder. Everything would be all right. She'd keep her eyes open and bide her time. Baron Cain was dangerous, but she had the advantage. She knew her enemy.

'His name is Apollo.'

'What?' She spun around to see a young man with rich chocolate skin and large, expressive eyes standing on the other side of the half door that separated the stalls from the center aisle of the stable. He was in his early-to- mid-twenties and tall, with slim shoulders and a slight, supple build. A black-and-white mongrel waited patiently near his heels.

'That bay. His name is Apollo. He's the major's favorite mount.'

'You don't say.' Kit opened the door and stepped out of the stall.

The mongrel sniffed her while the young man looked her over critically. 'I'm Magnus Owen. Major said he hired you last night after he caught you sneakin' out of the stable.'

'I wasn't sneakin'. Well, not exactly. That major of yours has a naturally suspicious nature, is all.' She looked down at the mongrel. 'That your dog?'

'Yep. I call him Merlin.'

'Looks like a no-account dog to me.'

Magnus's smooth, high forehead puckered indignantly. 'Now, why do you want to say somethin' like that, boy? You don't even know my dog!'

'I spent yesterday afternoon asleep in that stall over there. If Merlin was any kinda dog, he'd of been mighty annoyed about that.' Kit reached down and absentmindedly scratched behind his ears.

'Merlin wasn't here yesterday afternoon,' Magnus said. 'He was with me.'

'Oh. Well, I guess I'm just inherently prejudiced. The Yankees killed my dog, Fergis. Best dog I ever knew. I mourn him to this day.'

Magnus's expression softened a little. 'What's your name?'

She paused for a moment, then decided it would be easier to use her own first name. Behind Magnus's head she spotted a can of Finney's Harness Oil and Leather Preserver. 'Name's Kit. Kit Finney.'

'A mighty funny name for a boy.'

'My folks were admirers of Kit Carson, the Injun fighter.'

Вы читаете Just Imagine aka Risen Glory
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