Judith E. French

Morgan's Woman

© 1999

For my mother,

Mildred E. Faulkner Bennett,

the bravest woman I'll ever know

The light that lies

In woman's eyes,

Has been my heart's undoing.

– Thomas Moore


Autumn 1865

'Two horses? What do you mean, two horses?' Tamsin MacGreggor pushed back the black netting of her widow's veil and stared in shock at the lawyer.

'Best you sit, Mrs. MacGreggor,' Randolph Crawshaw advised. 'It's understandable that a lady in your circumstances-'

Tamsin found it hard to breathe. 'You knew what my grandfather left me,' she managed. 'Four hundred acres of prime farmland, a mill, two houses, barns, over forty head of breeding horses-'

He shook his head. 'Unfortunately, your husband-'

'Was a fool!' She struggled to regain her composure. 'Surely our investments, the railroad stocks-'

'All gone.' The lawyer mopped his bald head. 'It grieves me to bring you such terrible financial news on top of your loss.'

'Loss? Atwood MacGreggor?' She pressed her lips tightly together and stood up. 'The only good thing my husband ever did for me was to save me the trouble of shooting him.'

Chapter 1

Sweetwater, Colorado

Spring 1866

Tamsin MacGreggor rose at first light and tiptoed across the bare, splintery floorboards to the washstand. The room was unheated and smelled of lye soap and tobacco. Shivering, she poured water from a pitcher into the cracked crockery basin.

Sweetwater, Colorado, hadn't impressed her very much, but it was farther west than Denver. And the ugly boardinghouse room was cleaner and cheaper than the hotel in Wheaton, Nebraska, where she'd worked in a general store for two months. Best of all, she'd left Jack Cannon behind her.

Tamsin scrubbed her face, then rubbed her aching back. She was still tired, despite ten hours' sleep. Sometimes it seemed as though she'd been weary since she left her home in Three Forks, Tennessee. There'd been so many small towns she couldn't remember them all, most cold and muddy. She'd traveled by train when she could manage the expense of shipping her horses. The rest of the time she'd ridden them, stopping only when her funds ran low or the weather was too awful.

She'd have made faster progress if she hadn't had to work her way across the country. Lawyer Crawshaw had been right when he'd said that Atwood had left her nothing but the two animals. She'd sold her mother's jewelry and most of her own clothing and personal items for what little money she could get.

Now she was down to ninety-two dollars and sixty-three cents. There would be no more trains. From here to California, across desert, mountain, and plains, she would ride her horses. Heaven help them all if one of the animals broke a leg or pulled a tendon.

Randolph Crawshaw had laughed at her when she'd told him that she intended to take the mare and stallion to California to start a new life. The lawyer had scoffed that a gentlewoman, alone, in these lawless times since the war had ended, wouldn't get as far as the Tennessee line with such valuable horseflesh.

'I guess I showed you, didn't I, Randolph?' she declared as she twisted her carrot-colored hair into a sensible braid and tied her hat strings under her chin. One thing she hadn't sold was her grandfather's Navy Colt. And any man who tried to take Fancy or Dancer from her would have to come through a hail of lead to get them.

The small looking glass over the washstand was blackened with age. Tamsin didn't bother to glance into it as she dressed. Years of rushing out in the darkness to aid a horse in distress had taught her to find her clothing and plait her thick hair by touch. Besides, a twenty-six-year-old woman, as tall and sturdy as she was, had no need of mirrors.

Tamsin had left her black widow's garments behind in Tennessee. Her clothing was as sensible as her plain freckled face: a dark green wool skirt, divided for riding astride, a neat white shirt, and a short green jacket to match the skirt. Her russet boots were old but crafted of the finest leather with heels high enough for riding and low enough for comfortable walking.

She gathered her few belongings and stowed them in the saddlebags, then slid the heavy pistol into the holster hidden beneath her skirt. It was amazing how little a woman could get by with when it had to be carried on two horses. Her entire future, all her hopes and dreams, was wrapped up in those animals.

Thoroughbreds both, the stallion and mare were the results of her grandfather's life as a breeder of champion racing stock. Surely, such speed and noble lines would be appreciated in California. And with luck and hard work, she intended to build another stable of purebred horses, one that no spendthrift husband would ever wrest away from her.

She hurried through breakfast, paid for her accommodations. Pausing for a moment on the uneven wooden walkway outside of the boardinghouse, she swung the saddlebags over one shoulder and looked carefully around.

Except for a farmer leading a workhorse into the smithy and a boy washing the window in front of a dry goods store, the muddy street was nearly deserted. A block down, she could see someone raking the dirt in front of the livery stable where she'd left Fancy and Dancer for the night.

It had rained sometime after midnight. Tamsin remembered hearing the rhythmic downpour against the tin roof. Yesterday's choking dust was gone, replaced with brisk, fresh air. Fingers of fog hung over the town, but the golden rays piercing the clouds promised a fair day.

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