Edwina Anna Rawlins hurtled down the dirt thoroughfare that served as Crystal City’s main passage. As she rode, black Duel’s thudding hooves rolled up thick billows of silt like yellow-gray smoke. The copper-haired beauty, variously called Eden or Edie, reined her horse and alighted before Siddons Hotel.
In spite of her disordered state of mind, the young woman took her pony into account to let him drink his fill before she looped him loosely to the wooden rail.
It was not dust this noonday that clouded Edie’s fiery emerald glance. Her confusion resided in a packet she carried as she rushed up the steps and with boyish stride entered the building. Inside the dim interior Sawyer Siddons was nowhere in sight.
With a firm and slender fist Edie banged on the bell as hard as she could.
A tow-headed young man emerged from behind a voluptuous potted fern.
“Good afternoon, Miss Rawlins!” Under the regal spell of her western loveliness, he imagined his grin looked as sheepish as he felt.
‘Blackstone’ again, I’ll bet. I think I see it behind the fern. What a strange man, forever reading those dry old law books!
“Sawyer, I’m looking for a gentleman…"
But before she could conclude, a tall, well-dressed individual with dark hair combed straight back from a wide, patrician forehead hailed her from the staircase.
“Isthmus Trotter, madam - at your service!” His speech was starched to a crisp. “Shall we remove to the dining room?”
Edwina, already swirled in bewilderment, forgot her packet where it lay on the hotel counter.
In recent weeks her world had altered to such extent she could scarce take it in. Edward Gilspeath Rawlins, Edie’s father and once near-heroic figure, now sat strapped to a wheel-chair. And as if the tragedy of his riding accident were not enough, her mother Annabel had begun to wander the sprawling ranch-house in a state of utter disorientation.
When news of imminent bank foreclosure had filtered to the ranch hands they too melted out of the picture, leaving Eden in her pristine eighteenth year to arrange as best she could.
From handsome leather binder Solicitor Trotter pulled a sheaf of documents and with well-manicured hands flattened and smoothed them needlessly.
“Your true biological mother, Victoria Lockwood, in service to the Daimsley estate where she came to be with child was herself an orphan trained to domestic duty. In summer of 1861 Edward and Annabel sailed to their native England. While there they learned of Victoria’s plight. With an aim to afford shelter to her and the child she carried they agreed to take her with them back to America. According to the records here before you, Victoria died in the Rawlins’ home while giving birth to a female child they named Edwina Anna.”
The young woman flushed bright crimson. “You mean I'm… I’m… ?” her tongue refused to articulate the horrid word.
The factor remained cool and correct, though not really unkind. “Lord Peter desired to acknowledge you, Edwina, but so long as Lady Daimsley was still alive he never could quite make out what to do. At the last he experienced what one might call death-bed repentance.”
“The stipulations of the will are quite rigid though, madam. As sole heir you must take the Daimsley name and return with me to England in the space of 30 days.”
Eden nearly wept from indecision. “Oh, but how shall I? The money from the estate would surely answer our present troubles, but I can’t possibly abandon the two people in this world who’ve loved me better than life itself."
“There is nothing I know of that would disallow the Rawlins to accompany you.”
“But they are much too ill to travel and may be so for quite some time.”
“Have you any folk to look after them: a relative perhaps?"
“No one, sir! I’m afraid I must refuse the terms of the will."
“In that instance with no living kin the barony will revert to the crown.”
Edwina approached Duel at his station before the hotel, doubtful of her decision. She heard the trudge of footsteps.
“Miss Rawlins, I believe this is yours?” She recognized Sawyer’s self-conscious tones.
Oh dear, my packet! How could I forget?
But when Eden turned she saw only his eyes that looked deeply into her own.
Why have I never noticed his eyes before? How resolute and steadfast their look!
Suddenly, she felt - she knew - she need never be confused again.
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