This chapter was important because it is where I began to build Kate’s character. I needed to show a contrast between the practical down-to-earth Kate the world saw and the beautiful sexy woman who lurked within.
Most heroines are lovely, lithe creatures that retain their beauty through nasty weather, run-ins with bad guys, and every hardship fate throws their way even sequels can’t fade their beauty. I decided to change that.
Of all my heroines, I think Kate might be my favorite simply because she is the most like me, or rather what I wish I were. Kate describes herself as plain, and I suppose she is, though I think she just doeshgn’t bother to primp and fuss with her appearance. I figured there needed to be something that made her attractive to the opposite sex. That’s why I gave her an hourglass figure. Though they have fallen out of favor now, back in the 1800’s an hourglass figure was what every girl wanted. Even up into the 1960’s and early 1970’s it was considered the pinnacle of female beauty. (Think Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield, and Elizabeth Taylor). I loved the way Kate looked in that dress almost as much as I loved her horrified reaction to it. I had as much fun with Kate’s makeover as Rosie and Frenchie.
Speaking of them; when I wrote about Kate’s first job, I didn’t give much thought to her coworkers. But from the first, Rosie and Frenchie became two distinct personalities. I found them both quite useful in later scenes so don’t be surprised when they keep popping up. As is the case with many characters in this book, Rosie first appeared in SHADOWS IN THE WIND where she was mentioned in passing as a friend of Kate’s. When it came time to create Rosie and their friendship in Murphy’s Rainbow, I already knew her background and fleshing her out was easy and kind of fun.
In retrospect I’m not sure why I named my second saloon girl Frenchie. It probably had something to do with the fact that it was a popular name among the women in her profession. Though I’m especially fond of my Frenchie’s accent, the name usually had to do with certain…specialties the woman was willing to perform for her customers. Since this is not an erotica, I didn’t delve into it, but in the back of my mind I knew that Frenchie was a bit kinky for her day and age. At one point I tried to change her name, but Frenchie would have none of it. So I gave her a fake French accent and wondered how many of my readers would see the name and know the truth.
I always have a lot of fun with my secondary characters. Some only have small parts and never amount to much, while others grow into characters nearly as complex as the hero and heroine. Many appear in more than one story, and some even warrant their own book. There are a few that walk onto the page fully fleshed out. Charlie Hobbs was one of those; in fact he was the first. Like Rosie, he was born in SHADOWS IN THE WIND so I actually knew him pretty well by this book.
When he first appeared in SHADOWS IN THE WIND as a slightly-past-middle-aged cowhand, he immediately took on a life of his own. I knew the way he walked, the way he talked, even the stories he told. Since then, I’ve learned that when this happens I need to look around and see who I’m writing about because sure as shootin’ it’s someone I know. In this case, it was my grandfather.
Grandpa was born the year after Wyoming became a state (1891) and lived his whole life on the ranch his father homesteaded. He liked the cattle and sheep, but he loved the horses. He broke his last one when he was 77 using the same methods Charlie does in SHADOWS IN THE WIND. When I was little, shows like Bonanza and Gun Smoke were popular on TV. I remember telling my dad I couldn’t wait until I grew up so I could go out West and meet a real cowboy. My dad just laughed and said, “Go take a look at your grandfather. Cowboys don’t get any more real than that!”
Grandpa wasn’t one to tell stories, though. That part of Charlie’s character is my father-in-law. Pete was always telling tall tales and joking around. When Charlie tells a story it’s probably one I got from Pete. Some were true, others so ridiculous that you couldn’t help but laugh. I’ll be sharing those stories with you as we come to them in future issues.
Then there is Jonathan Cantrell. What an entrance! Leave it Jonathan to be… but I’m getting ahead of myself. I really can’t say more without ruining the next issue so I’ll stop here.
* * * *
The sun was high overhead when Kate finally awoke. Disoriented at first, she lay there for several seconds collecting her thoughts. Then, with a startled exclamation, she jumped out of bed. She hurriedly washed her face and pulled her hair up into a bun. Then she shook out her extra dress and put it on, smoothing out the worst of the wrinkles.
When she emerged from her room less than five minutes later, there seemed to be no one around. Downstairs, the main room was empty, though the smell of stale cigar smoke hung heavy in the air. Even Red’s office was deserted. Resisting the urge to straighten a pile of papers in disorder on the desk, Kate continued her search until she found a surprisingly serviceable kitchen in the back of the building.
A heavy oak table dominated the center of the room, surrounded by half a dozen chairs. A sink full of dirty dishes was set against one wall, and a modern cookstove took up most of another. Two small windows let in light, giving the kitchen a cool, welcoming atmosphere.
Rolling up her sleeves, Kate went to work. Within an hour, the kitchen sparkled. There was coffee on the back of the stove, and the room was filled with a pleasant yeasty smell emanating from a bowl of bread dough set on the table to rise. After wiping the last dish and putting it in the cupboard, Kate gave a sigh of satisfaction. With a final glance around, she untied her apron and hung it on a nail by the back door.
Since no one had yet appeared from upstairs, Kate slipped outside and walked the short distance to the blacksmith shop. The smith, who told her his name was Silas, greeted her with a friendly smile.
“Good morning, Mrs. Murphy.” With an expert swing of his hammer, he struck a piece of hot iron. Holding it aloft with a pair of tongs, he peered at it critically before sticking it back in the forge and pumping the bellows. “Heard you got a job cooking for Red O’Leary.”
“Yes, I started this morning.”
A frown darkened his face. “Ain’t a fittin’ place for you to be working, but I reckon with Abigail Cline being the way she is—”
“Everyone at the Golden Spur has been very kind,” she said. “Actually, I came to check on my cow.”
“She’s doing just fine. A little off her milk last night, but she gave almost a whole bucketful this morning.” He turned the iron in the forge and pumped the bellows again. “I was thinking you might want to sell the extra. She gives a durn sight more than I can use.”
“I might at that. Anyway, I can use some of it over at the saloon.”
Silas chuckled. “I reckon it’s been a long time since any of those folks cared to drink milk.”
“Maybe, but I’ll bet they’ll like fresh butter on their bread.”
He just grinned as he pulled the iron out of the fire and pounded it flat.
Kate spent the next thirty minutes wandering around Horse Creek. It didn’t look any more promising than it had the day before.
She returned to the Golden Spur to find Rosie and a brassy blonde sitting at the kitchen table, sipping coffee. An empty cup in the sink showed that Red had already been there and left. Kate blushed. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you came down.”
Rosie waved her hand. “Don’t be silly. No law says you have to stay in the kitchen. Besides, looks like you’ve done a day’s work already.” She gazed around appreciatively, then nodded to the blonde. “This here is Frenchie.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mademoiselle,” Frenchie said in a heavily accented voice.
“Don’t let her way of talking fool you. She ain’t any more French than I am,” Rosie said.
Frenchie grinned. “Non, but ze cowboys love eet.” She gave a dramatic sigh and dropped the accent. “I’m going to catch me a rich rancher just like Meg did. It’s only a matter of time.”
Against all she’d been taught, Kate found herself liking the two prostitutes. They gossiped just like everyone else as she fixed lunch. They told Kate such outrageous stories about the people who lived around Horse Creek that she couldn’t help but laugh.
Finally, Rosie scooted her chair back, stood up, and stretched. “Red said we’re supposed to get you ready to work tonight. You sure you want to do this?”
Kate longed to tell Rosie that she’d changed her mind, but she knew she couldn’t. “I don’t have a choice. I need the work,” she said.
And so it was, a few short hours later, that Kate found herself bathed, powdered, perfumed, and corseted tighter than she’d ever been in her life. With her back to the mirror, she sat as still as she could while Frenchie deftly used a curling iron to produce long ringlets, and Rosie applied rouge to her cheeks and kohl to her eyes.
Kate almost lost her nerve when she saw the dress she was expected to wear. A brilliant cherry red and trimmed in black, the garment looked as though it had been made for a much shorter person. “I can’t wear that,” she protested. “It’s too small. I’ll be falling out of it everywhere.”
“That’s the whole idea, honey.” Rosie slipped the dress over Kate’s head and pulled the laces tight. Frenchie plucked a feather headdress from the dresser and set it atop shining brown curls, then both women stepped back to admire their handiwork. There was a moment of stunned silence. “Lordy, lordy, who would have believed it?” Rosie shook her head in wonder. “Your own mother wouldn’t recognize you.”
“Can I look?” Kate asked, already turning to the mirror. Her mouth fell open in horrified astonishment as she stared at the exotic creature reflected in the glass. It was just as she had feared: her ample breasts strained at the bodice, looking as if a single wrong move would send them spilling out of the fabric. The overall effect—décolletage, incredibly tiny waist, feminine hips, and shapely legs clad in black silk stockings—was one of blatant sexuality.
“Do you like it?” Frenchie asked.
“I…I’m not sure.”
“The men will love it,” Rosie assured her. “Just remember what I told you.”
“I will. If they want to go upstairs, I tell them I’m indisposed and send them to one of you. But what if they ask me what’s wrong?”
“Tell them it’s the monthly miseries,” Frenchie said with a smile. “That’ll scare off most men. If it doesn’t, just say you have a strange rash. They’ll think it’s the pox.”
Rosie and Frenchie went to dress for the evening and left Kate alone with the strange new image of herself. Oh, Bry, she thought, I’m so glad you can’t see what I’ve become! Biting her lip against the rush of pain, Kate fled the room and the vision in the mirror.
* * * *
Serving drinks and dancing with lonely men turned out to be much easier than Kate had anticipated. Women were still rare enough on the frontier that even those of questionable morals were given respect. Often, all she had to do was listen to the ramblings of one lonely cowboy after another while Red plied them with whiskey, and either Rosie or Frenchie took care of any other needs they might have.
Soon Kate’s life fell into a routine of cooking by day and working in the saloon at night. She became good friends with Rosie and Frenchie, even teaching them how to braid rags together for a rug. The three women spent many afternoons working on it in cozy companionship. If her future looked less than hopeful, at least she was keeping herself fed and housed. Though Bryan’s death was still an open wound, she slipped into melancholy reflection less and less often as the weeks went by.
A bright spot was her daily visit to the blacksmith’s shop. There she could be herself, unfettered by the role she was forced to play. More than once she ran into cowboys she’d danced with the night before who didn’t even recognize her.
Most of the men she met at the blacksmith’s shop were friendly, so she didn’t think anything of it when a cowhand named Charlie Hobbs kept her talking for almost forty minutes. Kate might have been less complacent if she could have heard the conversation after she left.
There was a speculative look in Charlie’s eye as he watched her walk away. “Who is she?” he asked Silas.
Silas glanced up. “Mrs. Murphy? She come through on a wagon train ’bout a month or so back. Her husband died outside of town, and she’s been cooking at the Golden Spur ever since.”
Charlie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “The Golden Spur?”
“Mrs. Cline wouldn’t have nothing to do with her,” Silas explained. “No place else for her to work.”
Charlie rubbed his chin consideringly. “Could be that’ll change.”
* * * *
Kate had gotten so used to men staring at her that she didn’t even notice the stranger standing at the bar that night until Frenchie whispered in her ear, “If Jonathan Cantrell wants to go upstairs, send him my way.”
Kate blinked in surprise. Frenchie had never made such a request before. “Who?”
“The good-looking one at the bar. He hasn’t taken his eyes off you since he walked in.”
Kate glanced toward the bar and caught her breath in disbelief. With dark chestnut hair and the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, the man was almost too handsome to be real. “Mercy sakes,” she murmured.
“Ain’t he something?” Frenchie sighed. “Sure seems taken with you.”
Kate shrugged. Frenchie had a tendency to exaggerate. The man was probably just bored.
But as the evening progressed, Kate was uncomfortably aware of Jonathan Cantrell’s gaze following her around the room. Every time she looked his way, he was staring at her. Finally, in an effort to disconcert him, she put her hands on her hips and stared back at him pointedly. Their eyes locked for a full thirty seconds before he quirked an eyebrow and lifted his glass in a salute.
With a gasp, Kate turned scarlet and looked away. From then on, she studiously ignored him, though she could still feel his gaze on her. At last, when she could stand it no longer, she stole a glance at him.
It was as though he’d been waiting for her to do just that. Straightening, he tossed down the rest of his drink, wiped the moisture from his moustache, and started toward her.
Backing away frantically, Kate wished she could disappear through the floor. Suddenly she felt the wall at her back. She was trapped, and still he came toward her. Kate closed her eyes.
He knows my name? Kate’s eyes popped open, and she found herself staring at a very broad chest. Following the line of buttons up to his face, she swallowed nervously. The man had to be at least six feet tall.
“You are Mrs. Murphy, aren’t you?”
“Y-yes…no…my name’s Kate.”
“I’m Jonathan Cantrell,” he said, smiling down at her.
Kate stared at unexpected dimples in the rugged cheeks. Oh my! “How…how do you do?” she stammered.
“Is there some place we could talk?”
“I…n-no. I—I’m indisposed this evening.”
“You’re what?” He frowned.
For some reason, Kate couldn’t bring herself to give him the excuses she’d used so easily with other men. “I can’t… I don’t…” She looked down at the floor miserably. “Frenchie will be happy to go with you,” she mumbled.
There was a moment of silence before he spoke. “I don’t think Frenchie can handle what I have in mind.”