Read THE IMPERIAL ENGINEER Online

Authors: Judith B. Glad

Tags: #Historical Romance, #Historical Fiction

THE IMPERIAL ENGINEER

The Imperial Engineer
Behind the Ranges, Book II

 

By

Judith B. Glad

Something hidden. Go and find it.
Go and look behind the
ranges--
Something lost behind the Ranges.
Lost and waiting for you.
Go.

Rudyard Kipling:
The Explorer

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2006

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are
products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as
real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead,
is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2004, 2006 by Judith B. Glad

Previously published by Awe-Struck E-Books

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-015-1
ISBN 10: 1-60174-015-8

Cover design by Judith B. Glad
Cover lithograph courtesy Library of
Congress,
Geography and Map Division

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this
work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now
known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or
publisher.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

Among my Heroes:

Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Abigail
Scott Duniway, and countless others who worked to gain women the right to vote. This
book is dedicated to them, known and unknown. May we all remember what a precious
gift they left us.

And to Neil, ever and always.

~~~

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Sincere thanks to everyone who helped me with this book, but most especially to:

Telephone experts Jim Taylor, P.E., and Tom Farley, Telecom historian;
Teddie
Daley, Blaine/Alturas County historian;
Diana Steiner, for words in
Chinese;
Mary Taffs, Nancy Schumacher, Kat Thompson, Star Conrad, RubyLee
Schneider, and Norma Williams, for their thoughtful comments;
The staff at the Idaho
Historical Library, who were incredibly helpful;
The folks on 19th Century Woman
and OverlandTrails listserves, who are always willing to answer my
questions;
Countless unknown webpage owners who share their knowledge of just
about everything.
And an extra special thanks to Kathryn D. Struck, for believing in
me.

Prologue

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in
every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To
live with thee and be thy love.

Sir Walter Raleigh

~~~

Cherry Vale, Idaho Territory, 1872

They had known each other for half their lives. They had fought and played and
dreamed together, had slept in a heap of children while winter winds howled around the
eaves, had splashed naked in the river on hot summer afternoons. They were friends,
comrades, family.

"It's not going to be the same, is it, Micah?" Lulu King said, as they watched their
almost-cousins ride across the pasture one afternoon in June. "What with Gabe all grown
up, and now Merlin staying Back East for the summer."

"Wisht I was with Gabe," Micah said, "goin' around the world 'stead of stayin'
here and milkin' cows."

"If you don't learn to speak proper English, you'll never even graduate college, let
alone go off adventuring." Lulu tweaked his wooly hair. "You know what Mama says
about first impressions."

"I speak impeccable English, sister mine. I simply do not choose to at this
moment." The sly grin her younger brother gave her showed that he had, as usual, been
doing his best to get her goat. Papa was forever telling her she took life too seriously.

Well, and why not? She was all but grown up now, and would go away to school
in another year. One final summer of childish irresponsibility, and then she would
willingly accept the burdens and privileges of adulthood.

"Just this one last summer," she whispered, not quite sure why being a child a little
longer seemed so important.

The small party on horseback came through the last gate. Tao Ni led them, sitting
tall and sober and responsible on his wiry dun gelding. The three Lachlan children
straggled along behind him.

Lulu ran to meet them.

Dust sparkled like gold in the sunlight and the river's song had changed from
spring's flood-roar to summer's lazy chuckle. Still, everything looked different, now he
knew he was seeing it for the last time. Tony Dewitt had almost not come this summer. He
had cramming to do so he'd be free to travel with his parents one last time before he
entered college. Somehow he couldn't imagine that his education, gleaned from books
instead of absorbed in a classroom, would be sufficient preparation for matriculation at one
of the nation's most prestigious universities.

"Go, and enjoy being carefree one last time," his father had advised him. "You'll
spend the rest of your life being sensible and grown-up."

And so he had come, for the temptation to capture a few last precious moments of
childhood had been too great to resist.

Instead of dismounting the moment they rode into the yard, Tony sat on horseback
and watched the others, laughing, hugging, rejoicing. For one small moment he gave
thanks for the great good fortune he'd had in being adopted into this big, loving family. A
thickness grew in his throat as he thought of what might have been--a life of near slavery,
without hope, without love. Without family.

"You look so sad. Aren't you happy to be here?"

Tony looked down into a familiar, smiling face, into eyes the color of winter rain.
"I was just thinking about how this is the last summer I'll come here like this," he said. He
dismounted and pulled her into his arms for a hug, as he had so many times before. "Hello,
Lulu. Saved any worlds lately?"

"Hello, Tao Ni," she responded in their ritual greeting, "built any bridges lately?"
But there was a catch in her voice, and she pulled away quickly.

Tony felt heat rise in his face, ashamed of the betrayal of his body, its involuntary
reaction to the feel of a girl, the smell of a girl, the thought of a girl. Uncle Emmet said all
men went through this, that his body's extreme sensitivity to anything even hinting of
female would lessen as he grew older, but he wasn't sure he'd survive that long. "I sure
wish you'd learn to call me Tony, like everybody else does," he complained, to cover his
embarrassment.

"Why?" she said, as she lifted his saddlebags across her slender shoulder. "There's
nothing wrong with your real name. I like it. Tony is so...I don't know. Mundane."

"Mundane is good," he told her. "There's nothing exotic about me. Remember
that." He looked into her eyes for a moment, saw a flash of something that looked
like...disappointment?

* * * *

They finished stacking timothy hay late on a hot August afternoon. Dried sweat
and dust and tiny fragments of grass had them all scratching, driving them to the hot spring
down by the river. Clean, cool and tired, they started for home, riding single file along the
narrow trail through the woods. As last in line, Tony was responsible for making sure all
the gates were left as they'd found them. When he closed the gate in the fence between the
Lachlan pastures and her parents' land, Lulu waited for him, letting the others pull ahead.
"Look at that moon," she said when he rode up beside her. "It looks so close."

The moon, full and round, was just above the crest of the hills to the southeast.
Even though the western sky was still lit with the fading glow of daylight, the moon was
surrounded with velvety black. Only a few of the brightest stars were visible. "Look!
There's a shooting star."

"Make a wish."

"I wish... I wish everything would stay just the way it is now. Perfect." Keeping
her face turned away from him, she clucked at her horse.

"Wait. Don't go."

Lulu pulled her horse to a halt after only two steps. "What?"

"It's not late. Let's go up to the Aerie. We can count the stars."

"But the others...?"

"They'll be fine. Reggie has the rifle, and they're almost home. I'll go tell them."
He urged his horse into a trot.

Lulu waited until he returned. "Mama will probably give me the dickens
tomorrow."

"We're through with the haying. Your pa said we could have tomorrow off. So if
we don't get in until late, we can sleep in."

From the high, rocky outcrop, they could see all of Cherry Vale. Moonlight gave
the valley below an unearthly appearance, as if it were somewhere far removed from their
familiar world.

Tony reached for her hand, clasped it tightly. "Lulu, I'm going to miss you this
coming winter." He felt her tense, then relax.

After a long silence, she said, "Maybe this is why I hate the thought of growing
up. Our lives will go in different directions. Oh, we'll see each other sometimes, when we
come home for Christmas, but that's all." Her voice broke, and he heard a sound almost
like a sniffle.

He pulled her into his arms, as he'd been wanting to do since the day he'd
arrived.

She melted against him, warm and soft, and smelling of something flowery.
Honeysuckle? He didn't think so.

Afterward he was never sure who had moved first, but the next instant he was
kissing her. Clumsily at first, because he'd never kissed a girl he cared about before. Their
noses got in the way, and their teeth scraped. Then, after some initial fumbling, everything
worked. Her lips parted under his, her tongue met and parried with his, her sigh mingled
with his.

Under her ugly dress, she was naked. Her breasts, small and firm, flattened against
his chest, and her nipples poked at him. His cock strained against his britches, until he had
to wriggle to ease the pressure.

They pulled apart, gasping for breath. Then their lips met again, this time
perfectly. Her hands pulled his shirttails free and found the sensitive skin along his spine.
Her fingernails scraped lightly across his shoulder blades. He thought he'd explode with
the pleasure of it.

He pushed her away, even though she clung. "Let me--" he growled, and laid his
hands on her thighs, inched the heavy, soft linen upwards until her exposed knees gleamed
in the moonlight.

Lulu caught his hands. "Wait!" she said, her voice so breathless and weak she
might as well have been begging him to touch her. "Wait, Tao Ni. Stop this, right
now!"

His hands clenched around her thighs, but he stopped pushing at her dress. With a
deep, broken inhalation, he slumped, leaning his forehead against hers.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "Great God, Lulu, I'm sorry."

"I am too." If she was going to give herself to a man, there was no other she'd
choose for her first. "Even if I wanted to, we couldn't. I--"

"Even if you wanted to? You mean you didn't? You could have fooled me." He
sounded angry, but she had a feeling there was more frustration in him than anger.

This was what Mama had warned her against. Men were far less able to control
their instincts than women, and she had tempted him almost beyond self-restraint. "I didn't
say that well, did I? What I meant was that I don't want to risk my future. Tao Ni, it only
takes one time to make a girl pregnant."

"I'd be careful. Silas told me--"

"The only certain way to prevent conception is abstinence." She wondered if her
words sounded as priggish to him as they did in her own ears. But she believed what
Mamma had told her, and had vowed to herself that she would never, ever do anything to
put her dreams at risk, no matter what pleasures she had to forego. "I think we'd better go
back now."

But he caught her wrist when she started to rise. "Wait!"

She paused, not pulling against his hold.

"I love you, Lulu." His voice was low and throbbing, and she knew he spoke from
the heart. "I love you so much."

His hair was like coarse strands of silk under her hand when she laid it atop his
bowed head. "I love you, too, Tao Ni, but not the way you need. You're my best friend, my
brother. But not my lover."
Oh, but you could be!
her heart cried.
If
only....

His arms enclosed her again, this time with a desperate strength. He buried his
face against her breasts. "I want you to marry me," he said, a hint of desperation in his
voice. "Now. This summer. Before I go with Silas and Soomey. You could come too. It
would be our honeymoon." His arms tightened, until she could hardly draw breath.

She pushed lightly at his shoulders. In a calm tone she said, "Let me go, Tao Ni.
You're squeezing me to death."

His embrace loosened a little. Enough.

She took his face between her hands, lifted it so she could look into his eyes. "And
if we married? What then? I'm sure Oberlin College doesn't admit married women. And it's
a long way from Boston to Ohio."

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