Emma's Surrender

By: Amelia Smarts

Chapter One: Brookstone’s Last Supper

Montana, 1864

The lit wood in the fireplace crackled pleasantly. Next to it, Emma Brookstone sat on a walnut chair with soft cushioning and propped her feet on a matching ottoman. She flipped through the pages of a dime novel and sipped black tea, flavored with one cream, two sugars, and a drop of honey.

The door to the sitting room sliced open, and the cheerful, flushed face of the Brookstones’ cook appeared. “Go and fetch your father, would you, dear? He’s likely forgotten the time, and supper’s just about ready.”

“Oh, good. I’m feeling peckish,” Emma replied with a smile, setting her book aside. “He’s probably still at his desk.” As she walked to her father’s study, she heard voices coming from behind the door, so she pressed her ear against the smooth mahogany and strained to listen to the conversation.

She heard her father’s voice. “We recovered twenty bricks of gold from their wagon,” Clive reported. “Twenty, can you believe it? That’s more gold that we’ve found in the last six months combined.”

A man whose voice she didn’t recognize responded. “Any violence during the confiscation?”

“Always. That’s unavoidable.” A scraping sound against the floor indicated that her father was scooting his chair away from his desk. “My men saw the smugglers hung at the Selton Pass. We don’t want them claiming the gold was theirs and causing a ruckus. The gold rightfully belongs to the union  .”

A tremor went through Emma at her father’s mention of hanging people, though she knew that sort of vigilante justice was the norm in the lawless territory of Montana. Until a marshal or sheriff moved to their place out west, that’s the way it had to be.

She lifted her ear away from the door and paused a moment, considering what to do. Not wishing to interrupt what seemed to be a serious conversation, but also not wishing to displease the cook by delaying supper, she lightly tapped her knuckles against the wood. “Papa, may I come in?” Silence answered her, and she wondered if she shouldn’t have disturbed them. Too late now, she thought. She knocked again and spoke a little louder. “Papa?”

Again she heard no response, which puzzled her. The men must have heard her knock, since they had stopped conversing, so why not answer her? When she raised her hand to knock a third time, the door swung open, and her father appeared wearing a scowl, confirming that she was right to hesitate disturbing them.

“What is it, Emma?” Clive demanded. His voice was raised and his face shadowed with annoyance. His dark eyes bored into hers wildly, but he otherwise looked civilized with a starched, clean shirt and black tie. His hair was parted and combed, and his boots shone. She and her father looked alike, both with dark eyes and hair and olive skin, but she didn’t feel any filial connection with him in that moment. She felt more like a burden to him.

She’d never felt burdensome to him as a child. Back then, he’d always treated her kindly and had taken the time to talk to her, especially when she felt distressed. She’d stumbled across a lynching once. Hiding behind a tree, she’d watched in horror as three men strung up a horse thief. The sight of the hanging man kicking his legs until finally slackening would never leave her memory, nor would the whoops of triumph from the executioners that followed when the man finally died. She’d run all the way home into her father’s arms. He’d held her close and whispered comforting words in her ear while chiding her, “You shouldn’t wander off, darlin’. Stay close to the house from now on, all right?”

“Yes, Papa,” she’d said, sniffling as he dried her tears with one of his silk handkerchiefs.

Shortly after the hanging incident, Clive Brookstone sent her to live the remainder of her growing-up years with his sister in Ohio, where she was removed from the violence. He had explained firmly over her wailing protests that Montana was not a good place for a young lady. It was far too dangerous.

Now she was back where she wanted to be, a decade older and at a loss over how to reconnect with the man she’d once considered her hero. Despite their tenuous re-acquaintance, she felt surprised when he addressed her roughly, for she hadn’t expected his anger.