Logan Pierce clutched the brown leather satchel of government contracts as he disembarked from the train at the Darrow Falls depot. He had worked too hard obtaining signatures and promises of support to lose his work to a thief or gust of wind. President Abraham Lincoln may have declared war against the secessionists, but the U.S. Department of the Treasury had to find a way to pay for it. One more stop and he could return to Washington City, his assignment completed.
Built on a rise of land, the train station overlooked the town. Stone and wooden buildings surrounded a town square bordered by trees. The bell tower of a church rose above the treetops on the northern end of the square. The tranquility of Darrow Falls on a warm summer day provided a pleasant contrast to the noisy chaos of Washington.
Logan had left Washington City crowded with soldiers anticipating the first major battle of the war.
He’d almost missed his train eight days ago, entertained by the patriotic music of the bands and colorful parades of soldiers as they marched out of the city on the morning of July 16, 1861. He had been in Cleveland when news of the victory and then defeat at Bull Run on July 21 was announced. Accounts of the battle were in yesterday’s Cleveland Morning Leader, two days after the battle. The newspaper announced the victory in one column and next to it, told the story of how the battle had been lost. Once type was set, it was too expensive to remove, so both accounts were printed side by side in the same paper. Correspondents covering the battle called the men cowards. What had gone wrong?
Logan claimed his traveling chest on the wooden platform of the depot. “Do you know a reputable place to spend the night?”
“Take River Road to the Darrow Falls Inn.” The porter pointed to an inn painted red, which stood out in comparison to the other plainer buildings surrounding the square. “Mrs. Stone is one of the best cooks around.”
“Can you arrange for someone to deliver my trunk to the inn?”
“The Wheeler boy can do that. Matt takes the mail and any deliveries into town.” The porter looked around. “Ought to be here by now.”
Logan opened his satchel and withdrew a letter. “Do you know where Glen Knolls is?”
The porter shook his head no. “Could ask Marcus Wheeler. That’s Matt’s father. His store is next to the Town Hall on River Road. He’s the postmaster and knows everyone in town.”
Logan tipped the man for his trouble and walked along the dusty road toward town. The Darrow Falls Inn was on the southwest corner of Darrow Falls and River Roads. The two-story building had an open breezeway with rooms on each side and a large wraparound porch facing town. Several men were seated at small tables, sipping coffee or smoking cigars.
Across the street were the livery stable and a corral with half a dozen horses. He might need a horse to ride to Glen Knolls if the farm was more than a couple of miles out of town.
Logan paused at Darrow Falls Road. A long row of businesses stretched along the west side of the street and faced an open town square where sheep grazed.
More shops lined the far side of the square. A few buggies and horses were tethered along the square under shade trees. Wheeler’s dry goods store was across the street on the opposite corner.
Logan strolled toward the store. He didn’t hear the buggy bearing down on him until the horse snorted a last minute warning. He leaped to the side, dust billowing from the impact when he hit the ground. He coughed to clear his lungs and stood, brushing the dirt from his black wool suit. The frock coat reached midthigh on his tall frame. He tugged on the black silk vest and made sure his watch wasn’t broken. Then he gathered his top hat, satchel, and searched for his attacker.
The driver had stopped at a hitching post opposite Wheeler’s store.
Logan headed for the buggy. The reckless ruffian needed to be more careful. The driver stood, and her pale yellow skirt billowed out of the rectangular box that formed the structure of the buggy frame. She retrieved something from the padded bench seat and bumped her wide flat straw hat on the canopy designed to protect occupants from the sun or foul weather.
The woman shouldn’t be allowed behind the reins of a horse. The backside of her crinoline skirt wiggled, and the long ties dangling from a large blue satin bow tied around her waist echoed the motion as she searched for the metal step on the side of the buggy. She stumbled and screamed.
Logan dropped his satchel and caught her around the waist. His hands nearly encircled the tightly drawn corset beneath the sheer cotton dress. Small blue flowers were scattered on the field of yellow fabric. He eased her to the ground.
Her oversized bonnet tied with a matching blue satin ribbon had fallen forward and covered her face, but her exposed hair was a subtle blending of bronze and copper in the sunlight. The colorful strands reminded Logan of fire, both beautiful and dangerous.
Her hair was worn in an intricate knot of braids with yellow and blue ribbons woven among them, matching the colors in her dress.
Logan’s hands remained on her small waist. She trembled beneath his touch. Her crinoline was caught on the step she had missed before her tumble, and her skirt was hiked in the air. She struggled to free the bottom wire that formed a bell-shaped support for her skirt.
“Allow me.” Logan extended his arm around her.
He glanced at the shapely legs in white stockings before plucking the hoop from the step.
She raised her bonnet and stared. “I don’t know you.” She had cool blue eyes with long dark lashes. A sharp contrast for a fiery redhead. Her pale skin blushed beneath his gaze.
“Logan Pierce. Rescuer of damsels in distress.” He removed his stove top hat and bowed before retrieving the satchel he had dropped in order to catch her.
She smoothed her skirt. “I meant you’re not from Darrow Falls. I know nearly everyone in town, and you’re a stranger.”
“I arrived on the train,” Logan said.
She stared at his dirty clothes. “In the livestock car?”
The woman was oblivious to her role in his dishevelment, but he was a diplomat. He changed his tone to astonishment. “Can you believe someone nearly ran me over in the middle of the street? A reckless driver behind a black gelding with three white stockings.” His hand brushed the dust from his clothes, allowing her time to comprehend his implication.
She looked at her horse, a perfect match for his description. “I didn’t see anyone in the street.”
“I was the fellow hugging the ground.” Logan put his hat on. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have business to take care of before someone else makes an attempt on my life.”
She followed him across the street. “I’m surprised you’re still alive with such a disagreeable nature.”
“People love me,” Logan defended. “You are the first person to try to kill me.”
“I’ve never harmed anyone. I simply didn’t see you in the street.”
He waved his hand in front of her eyes. “Are you blind?”
Jem Collins refused to reply. The man’s rudeness was unforgiveable. Logan may have been dressed like a gentleman in a long coat and matching trousers, but he lacked any manners. He smoothed blonde bangs away from an angelic face, the fine lines of his nose and jaw etched by a skilled artist. He must be wearing a disguise.
Why had he created the story about her nearly running him over with her buggy? She hadn’t seen anyone in the street. But she’d been in a hurry, and the sun had been in her eyes. Had the shadow in her path been Logan? Did she owe him an apology? Hardly. His antagonistic behavior negated any guilt on her part. “Are you prone to hallucinations?”
He opened the door to the store. “If I am, then you don’t exist.” He proceeded inside ahead of her.
Jem removed her gloves and chose a smashed tomato in a tin bucket by the door.
“Miss Jenny, that tomato is rotten,” Marcus Wheeler announced.
Logan swirled around, his cinnamon eyes wide, and maneuvered his hat in front to block any throw.
She tossed the tomato into the slop bucket. Logan’s expression of horror had been reward enough. She entered the cool, dark interior of the store. “Did you imagine something?”
Logan refused to turn his back. “Does the sheriff know you’ve escaped?”
“Sheriff Lane Carter is next door at the Town Hall,” Marcus said. “Do you need him?”
“Not unless Helen of Troy wants to start a war.”
Was the comparison a compliment or insult? “Helen of Troy didn’t start a war. Her husband did and used her as an excuse.”
Logan’s jaw was clenched, and his lips narrowed in a snarl. “Men died needlessly because of her, including her lover.”
“She didn’t want anyone to die for her or go to war,” Jem defended. “Her husband claimed he was recovering stolen property.”
“And you believe she was more than a pretty ornament?” Sarcasm dripped from every word he spoke.
“Yes. Her lover recognized her value even if her husband did not.”
His voice was low, a whisper in her ear. “I’m sure he left her value in coin beside the bed.”
Jem gasped, turning her back to him. She surveyed the merchandise, her eyes adjusting to the shadows and bands of light streaming through the sectioned window. A sewing machine was on display along with a set of hand-painted dishes and lace trimmed tablecloths. Less expensive pots and pans hung from the rafter beams. Yard goods were stored on shelves along with scissors, thread, and needles. Barrels of salt and wheat flour crowded the floor. A sign advertising granulated sugar for eight cents a pound and rice for seven cents a pound was placed near the scale.
The proprietor stood behind a counter waiting on a customer. His long bushy sideburns compensated for his bald head. He wore a wide apron with pockets for holding his sales book, pencils, and other items. The sleeves of his linen shirt were rolled to his elbows. His jacket hung on a peg behind him. Marcus smiled. “You’ll have to wait, Miss Jenny. Matt hasn’t returned from the train with the mail bag.”
Paula Stone, the owner of the Darrow Falls Inn, turned. Paula was a stout woman with a face full of freckles and a large permanent bump on her forehead that hinted of a wild childhood. Now, in her forties, she hadn’t slowed her pace. She was purchasing guest room linens. “Hello, Miss Beecher.”
Jem removed her bonnet and tossed her soft leather gloves inside. “It’s Mrs. Collins.”
Paula frowned. “But you’re one of the Beecher girls, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Mrs. Stone. I’m Jennifer, but I married Ben Collins.” She pointed across the square at the
Community Congregational Church. “You attended the wedding at the church, remember?”
Paula shook her head. “I never can tell you girls apart. Didn’t Ben volunteer to fight for the Union with one of the Herbruck boys?”
“Yes, he joined with John Herbruck and Herman Stratman.”
Paula put her hand on her heart. “I hope there hasn’t been bad news. Didn’t those boys fight in that battle in Virginia?”
Jem didn’t like her fears vocalized, especially by one of the biggest gossips in town. She nodded. “Yes, Mrs. Stone.”
“Do you have any news?”
“No.” Jem didn’t explain why she had hurried to the store. Ben always wrote his letters on Sunday and mailed them early Monday. Sometimes she received them on Tuesday but nearly always by Wednesday. Ben’s last letter had been dated July 14, 1861, two days before the troops marched out of Washington. His next letter was due today.
The door opened, ringing the bell in its path. Matt Wheeler carried the mailbag inside. Matt was an awkwardly thin boy of fifteen but strong in spite of his appearance. The boy dumped the contents on the counter.
Marcus sorted the mail and deposited the letters in the proper slots marked for each household.
Jem hovered at the counter, trying to read the names on the envelopes. “Anything from Ben?”
He raised a letter. “This one is for Mrs. Herbruck.” He turned it over. “It’s from John.”
“That’s good news.” John’s letter to his mother had arrived. So where was Ben’s letter? She waited as he finished sorting. Nothing from Ben.
“The mail can be unpredictable at times,” Marcus said. “I’m sure you’ll receive your letter tomorrow.”
But Ben’s correspondence arrived like clockwork. Like her, he was organized, prompt, and reliable. Jem stared at the letter in the slot to Martha Herbruck. She wanted to know what was written inside. “I could drop off the letter for Mrs. Herbruck. I’m sure she’s waiting for it.”
“She’s probably anxious to hear something.” He handed her the letter, and she tucked it in her handbag. “The Summit County Beacon doesn’t arrive until tomorrow, but I doubt it will contain any news of the battle.”
The weekly paper usually had fiction stories and poetry on the front page. Any news story was on the second page and at least one week late if not longer.
Logan handed her a newspaper from his satchel. “Yesterday’s copy of the Cleveland Morning Leader has news of the battle.”
Jem opened the folded newspaper printed Tuesday, July 23, 1861. She may have to rethink her opinion of Logan Pierce being a rude, obnoxious ogre.
Jem stood near the window reading the report of the battle near Manassas railroad junction. Under a column labeled “Telegraphic,” the heading announced Our Great Victory. In the adjoining column, the heading announced Fearful News followed by OurArmy Forced Back. The Battle of Bull Run had turned from a morning victory to an afternoon disaster. The story had no news of the First Ohio. It concentrated on the retreat.
“Panic was so fearful that the whole army became demoralized, and it was impossible to check it either at Centreville or Fairfax Court House,” she read.
Federal loss was as high as three thousand. “How could so many die in one day?”
“I hope they’re counting wounded, too, but the battle didn’t go the way planned,” Logan said. “I guess it takes more than ninety days to train an army.”
Paula paid Marcus for her purchases. “How difficult can it be to march in a straight line?”
“It’s not the marching that’s difficult,” Logan said. “It’s standing your ground when you’re being shot at by the enemy.”
The news about Ohio’s two regiments was on the second of four pages, but it was about the commanding officers and positions during battle. Jem paused her reading. “Were you at the battle?”
“No, but I was in Washington City when they marched out. Most of the men were anxious to beat the Rebels.”
Paula gathered her smaller packages. “Then why did they lose?”
“I think Mr. Lincoln is asking the same question, ma’am.”
“What’s your name, young man?”
“Pierce? Any relation to Franklin Pierce?”
Dimples in his cheeks deepened. “No, ma’am. I have no presidents in my ancestry.”
“Do you need a place to stay? I have the finest inn in town. It’s across the street. Meals are included in the rent.”
Logan looked at Matt, who was examining fishing poles against the wall. “I believe Matt delivered my trunk.”
“The porter gave me five cents,” Matt said.
“I’ll have your room ready. We eat at six.”
Marcus signaled Matt to carry Paula’s larger packages.
Logan opened the door for them.
Marcus put away the string he had used to wrap Paula’s bundles. “May I help you, young man?”
Logan was holding the door, waiting for Jem to finish tying the bow in her bonnet ribbon. “I need directions to Glen Knolls.”
Jem spun around in the doorway. “Why?”
A single eyebrow rose above fawn-colored eyes. “I’m sorry. I was having a personal conversation with this gentleman.”
His manners hadn’t improved. She turned her back.
“Miss Jenny can show you the way to Glen Knolls,” Marcus said.
“Is she a guide?”
“Her sister is married to Tyler Montgomery and lives at Glen Knolls,” Marcus explained.
Jem had reached the middle of the street when a hand cupped her elbow.
“Careful, a reckless driver is terrorizing pedestrians.”
Logan revealed dimples in his cheeks with a smile that begged forgiveness for his bad manners. She steeled her resolve not to fall for his charm. “Why do you want to go to Glen Knolls?”
“I have business with Tyler Montgomery.”
“He might be at his office in Akron.”
The deep dimples disappeared. “I visited his office in Akron, but Sam Morris said he was home at Glen Knolls.”