The Wedding Cake War

Excerpt from The Wedding Cake War by Lynna Banning....

Oregon, 1879

Chapter One

     If she'd thought about it for one single minute, she would never have boarded the train in Kansas City. That was a character failing, she supposed--jumping headlong from the saucepan into the cookfire. She'd inherited the tendency from her father.

     Which was exactly why he was dead and she was breathing the cigar-smoky air of this railway coach. In all his forty years on this earth, Papa had never backed down, changed his opinion, or avoided a fight.

     And neither would she. With a bit of luck and some... well ... acting ability, she would triumph over any adversity. Even marriage to a man she'd never laid eyes on.

     The train slowed, then chuffed to a stop. "Maple Falls," the conductor shouted from the back of the car. "Home of saw mills, grist mills, gin mills, wild women, and the Methodist Church."

     Lolly choked down a bubble of laughter. If only half those things were true, Maple Falls would prove intriguing. In a town with both Shady Ladies, as Pa had termed them, and Our Heavenly Father's Second-Best Parlor, as her Presbyterian mother dubbed the Methodist Church, there was the promise of happenings that might prove interesting. She most fervently hoped so. After her impulsive flight from Baxter Springs, she badly needed some cheering up.

     Lolly bit the inside of her lip. She needed more than cheering up. She needed a new life. A new place, as far from Kansas as she could get. She only hoped it wasn't too late.

     At the thought, her entire body turned to petrified whalebone. She was too outspoken, too set in her ways. Too plump.

     Too ... old.

     Maybe it was too late.

     Get off the train, a voice commanded. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk out into Oregon.

     It was harder than she anticipated. For one thing, her fancy new jab-toed shoes, ordered from Bloomingdale's, pinched her feet. And for another, all at once she felt as if her bottom half was glued to the seat; every bone in her body resisted moving a single step toward the momentous event that awaited her. She could scarcely breathe she was so frightened.

     The coach emptied, and still Lolly sat stiff as chicken wire on the hard leather seat until a head poked into the far end of the car.

     "Miz Mayfield?"

     She sucked a gulp of smoky air into her lungs. "Yes?"

     "Better hurry up, ma'am. Train's about to pull out." As the boy spoke, the railcar jerked and began to glide forward.

     Good gracious! Which was worse, being inadvertently kidnapped by a train, or facing a town full of hungry lions? Well, maybe not lions, exactly. But she knew exactly how the Christian martyrs in Roman arenas must have felt. Trapped.

      Lolly stood up, grasped her leather satchel and made her way unsteadily up the aisle, clinging to the backs of the seats until she reached the iron debarking step.

     The train engine tooted twice and began to accelerate.

     "Jump, ma'am! Hurry, it's rollin."

     Jump? Was he crazy? She'd break both her ankles in these shoes.

     She heaved the satchel into the young man's arms and hurriedly unsnapped one French kid boot, then the other, tossing them out the train door just as the coach began to pick up speed. Wrapping her knitted wool shawl about her head, she folded her arms over her chest, whispered a quick prayer, and stepped off the platform.

     She toppled into the youth clasping her satchel, knocking him flat onto the wood platform. His wide-brimmed hat rolled away under the spinning train wheels.

     "Godalmighty, ma'am, whadja do that for?"

     Lolly sat up, straightened her black straw bonnet, and scooted her knees off the young man's chest. "To get off the train, of course. You said to jump."

     "Sufferin' scorpions, ma'am, I didn't mean on top of me!"

     Lolly rose to a standing position, her legs shaking like twin columns of jelly. Her stocking-covered toes curled against the uneven boards beneath her feet, telling her where every splinter lurked in the rough wood. What a way to begin her new life, making a spectacle of herself in public.

     She scanned the onlookers. Was he here? Watching her stumble about like a tipsy Presbyterian? Would he change his mind when he saw her?