Authors: Julia Daniels
Choices of the Heart
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Choices of the Heart, Copyright 2015, Julia Daniels
This book is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
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A man’s heart is a fragile thing.
Once broken it takes plenty
of glue to repair.
“The caskets are out back behind the station, Miss Brandt.” The stout train porter shielded his eyes from the bright, early morning sun with one hand and pointed toward the rear of the brick building with his other.
Chloe Brandt turned her gaze in the direction he pointed, nodding absently. The bustling Omaha train station was large, bigger than the one in Lincoln where she’d boarded a train at the break of dawn. Despite living in a city the past three years, Chloe still experienced a nervous tension brought on by the noise level and close quarters. Overwhelmed by the number of people racing by, she moved a step closer to the porter.
“Shall we get them loaded?” Chloe quietly, reverently asked the stout man.
She tried her best not to think about who was at rest inside the wooden boxes, but that proved impossible. She swallowed back the bile rising in her throat and took a deep breath. She had to be strong to get through the next few days.
I have to be.
“I’ll see to that, miss. I’ll see your belongings loaded, as well.” The man nodded toward the large carpetbag she held, before he opened his pocket watch and glanced at it. “The train pulls out in twenty minutes; best board as soon as you see to the social worker and the child.”
“Who?” Chloe raised her eyebrows. “Did you say child?” She touched his arm. “What do you mean, sir? What child?”
“The boy. Your nephew. A social services woman brung him down to meet up with you.” He pulled out a piece of paper from his uniform trousers. “A Mrs. Margaret Brighton,” he read. “She’s waiting for you inside.”
“I have a nephew?” Her stomach tightened again. How could Daisy have a baby and not tell me, her only sister?
“You didn’t know?” The porter cocked his head to the side and frowned. “Well, you do, miss, and you best get a wiggle on. Time’s a wasting.” A train whistle sounded in the distance. “Social worker’s an old bat, wearing a black dress. She said she’d wait inside near the windows with the boy.”
Stunned and at a loss for words, Chloe walked away on wobbly legs and entered the brick building. Daisy had a baby before she was murdered. Chloe swallowed back tears as she digested the information. The little boy was now an orphan.
In a fog of despair, she brushed past people, looking about, hoping the social services woman would somehow stick out in the crowd. She approached the first older woman in a black dress she found, but stopped short when she didn’t see a child with her. The boy had to be under five. Daisy and Ronnie had left Broken Bow five years earlier, and Daisy hadn’t been carrying. At least Chloe didn’t think her sister had been. Daisy and Ronnie hadn’t been married yet, but with those two, that didn’t mean much.
She glanced down at her watch pin and sighed. She’d have to hurry and find the woman and child if she wanted to catch this train—the only passenger train for Broken Bow that day. She paused and took a deep breath. So many people rushing to and fro! How would she find the woman in all this hoopla?
Her head ached with the anxiety. What if she couldn’t find them in time?
“Where are you, woman?” she whispered to herself.
A shrill scream drew Chloe’s attention to the far corner of the station, where a crying, skinny little boy was dragging on the arm of an older woman. He crouched into a ball on the floor and then tried again to gain her attention by pulling on her arm. Chloe’s heart broke as she watched the woman flick him aside like she would a mosquito.
The woman stood as Chloe rushed forward. The aged woman’s conservative, old-fashioned black dress dragged on the dusty, wooden floor as she met Chloe halfway. Chloe noticed the boy’s face then. His resemblance to her family, his squared jaw and enormous eyes, was unmistakable.
She held out her hand. “I’m Chloe Brandt. You’re Mrs. Brighton?”
“I am.” The woman nodded and shook Chloe’s hand. “This here’s your nephew, Bobby.”
Chloe knelt down to the little boy’s level and smiled as widely as she could. He was dirty, his tears making streaks down his little cherubic cheeks. Tattered and worn clothes hung on his bony frame and looked awkward, as if they didn’t belong to him.
“Hello, Bobby. I’m your mama’s sister, Chloe.”
He sniffed away his tears and wiped his nose with the back of his sleeve.
“Here’s his bag.” Mrs. Brighton shoved it into Chloe’s hands as Chloe regained her slight height. “There’s a trunk too. I went ahead and checked that through to the Broken Bow station.”
Chloe watched her puff up like a self-righteous hen. She reminded Chloe of the first nursing supervisor she’d served under, an arrogant old biddy who’d never treated Chloe with the respect she’d worked so hard to earn.
“Thank you for seeing to his needs.” That was apparently all she had done, seen to his very basic of needs.
Mrs. Brighton clucked her tongue. “Naughty boy, that one. You keep your eyes on him. Can’t trust him for nothing.” She clucked her tongue again and pointed to the bag. “I put all his personal papers in there. Some clothes and small toys, too.”
“Thank you.” Chloe turned her attention back to her nephew. A boy this small couldn’t be expected to be well behaved all the time. She brushed aside the dark curls, so like his papa’s, and then tipped up his chin. “Will you come home with me?”
He nodded, eyes wide, and she took his tiny hand.
“Goodbye, Mrs. Brighton.” Chloe turned her back on the woman’s negativity, her main concern focused on getting them on the train in time. “Come along, Bobby. It’s nearly time to board.”
She shifted her own handbag and then strung his leather bag over her shoulder, as she navigated a path through the throng of people, inching her way closer to the train. She picked up the small boy to move more easily, amazed at how little he weighed. When they reached the front of the line, people were just starting to board. Chloe climbed aboard and found two seats.
The porter she spoke with earlier came to take her ticket. “Your family is safely situated.”
“Thank you.” She smiled, even though sadness twisted her heart. “Will there be refreshments available?” She nodded toward Bobby. Had she known there was a child, she would have packed some food for him. All she had was a couple of apples and some prune rolls her landlady had given Chloe before she left the boarding house that morning. He probably couldn’t bite into the apple, and prune was probably not a flavor most little people would enjoy.
“I’ll see what I can do.” He gave her a kindly wink and then moved down the aisle, collecting the other tickets.
“Well, little man, we’re on our way to your new home.” Chloe brushed the hair from his eyes again, thinking he could use a trim as soon as they got to the farm. From her handbag, she retrieved a handkerchief and wiped some of the grime from his face. Had the child not been bathed? Poor dear.
He started crying again.
“Shhh, sweetheart, you will be fine. Your grandma and grandpa Lloyd will be so happy to see you.” Once they know about you.
How could Daisy have a baby and not tell anyone?
She pulled Bobby’s slight form onto her lap and held him close. He was stiff, at first, but eventually, as Chloe rubbed his back and hummed a lullaby, he melted into her. Soft snores, as the train picked up speed, moving away from the station, made her smile. She’d have to clean him up better before they reached Broken Bow—even a cup of water would go a long way toward getting him clean—but for now, she just held him…the dear baby her sister had birthed.
“It’s eight already. Where the hell is that train?”
Reese Lloyd glanced at his father. Was that the third or fourth time the older, beefy man had commented on the time? Reese figured the train would get there when it got there. The dead bodies of his brother and sister-in-law were on it, and in all honesty, he dreaded facing the next few hours.
As he’d rushed through his chores earlier that evening, gotten washed up and dressed for town, his mind had been stuck on several indisputable facts. First, his brother and sister-in-law had been murdered in cold blood—Ronnie would never be coming home to help Reese expand the farm. And second,
was bringing their lifeless bodies home.
Chloe Anne Brandt
. The love of his life. The thorn in his side. The woman who’d broken his heart. What had two years in the big city of Lincoln done to her? Had she discovered what she’d been searching for when she’d left him and Broken Bow?
The whistle of the train blared in the distance, disrupting the humid silence of the July evening. Reese’s heart started to pound, equally nervous and excited about seeing Chloe again. He sternly reminded himself of why she left, that she wasn’t coming back for him. She hadn’t believed Reece was good enough for her. She’d left him for bigger and better things than he and Broken Bow could provide her. The lure of gaslights and fancy clothes ripped her away from him and the life they’d once planned to share together down on the farm.
“’Bout damn time,” his father muttered, slapping the pocket watch closed and shoving it back into the deep pocket of his trousers.
Reese ran a finger under the collar of his starched shirt and threw an arm around his mother’s shoulders, pulling her against his side to give her emotional support, as the undertaker walked toward them and shook Reese’s father’s hand.
“Once the train stops, I’ll go on back and take them in the wagon down to my parlor,” the man said, referring to the bodies of Daisy and Ronnie. “We can meet tomorrow at your convenience to make the arrangements.”
“What about Daisy’s father?” Reese asked. He tossed his cigarette on the ground and stamped it out with the toe of his polished shoe. “Shouldn’t he be here?” As much as he despised Gus Brandt, Reese knew he should be there to accept the body of his daughter.
“I rang him up, told him which train they’d be coming on. Called him right after I talked to Chloe yesterday.” His mother shook her head. “He’s probably drunk under a table at the Dew Drop Inn.”
“Dottie!” his father scolded. “That’s no way to be talkin’ ’bout our neighbor. He’s our son’s father-in-law.
our son’s father-in-law.” He whispered, although everyone waiting on the platform knew the truth about Gus Brandt.
As the train slowed, a hefty porter jumped down and walked toward Reese and his family. He introduced himself and pointed the mortician to the end train car where the caskets were housed.
Reese listened halfheartedly to the conversation between his parents and the porter. His eyes were glued to the train, waiting to see
. Two years had added bulk to his own frame. Would Chloe look the same?
A door opened at the far end of the platform, and a slender woman, wearing a bright-yellow hat and matching dress that barely covered her knees, stepped down. In the poor light of the post-dusk evening, he couldn’t tell if it was her or not. He disregarded the woman when he saw the small child in her arms.
He turned the opposite direction to see if more train car doors were opening, but not another person stepped off the long train. He turned back the other way and saw the woman and child had closed the distance between them, and she was now close enough for Reese to recognize that it was indeed Chloe.
A man doesn’t forget what his first woman looked like
. She was carrying a child…could it be
child? He quickly rushed to meet them.
He grabbed her arm, furious anger ripping through his body. “You left here with my baby in your belly?” The rage that flared in him was unexpected. “You better have a damn good story, girl.”
“Hello to you too, Reese.” She wrenched her arm free.
“Explain yourself, Chloe Brandt,” he demanded, jaw clenched. He grabbed her arm again.
“This is your
. Robert Lloyd.” Chloe turned the boy in her arms. “
nephew. Daisy and Ronnie had a child.”
“What?” He pulled away, crossed his arms against his chest and shook his head. “No, they didn’t.” His brother would have told them if he’d had a son. At the very least, Ronnie would have told their mother.
“I didn’t know, either.” She brushed the hair from the little boy’s wide brown eyes, which were locked firmly on Reese. “According to the papers that came with him, they did. Two and a half years ago.”
Reese studied the boy. No question about it. He looked just like Chloe’s sister and had his brother’s big brown eyes. “Huh.” He sighed, a mixture of relief and disappointment. He’d wanted a child with Chloe, wanted a whole life with Chloe before she left him. “Ma and Pa are going to be amazed. They didn’t know anything about him.”
He nodded toward his parents who were walking toward them.
“Your father, too,” Reese added.
“I highly doubt he will give a hoot,” she said, as she moved past him to greet his parents.
Angry at his reaction to her and with his behavior, he slammed his hands in his trouser pockets and followed behind her. Reese watched her, noticed her new look. She followed the latest “uniform” the young women had adopted, including a filmy “flapper” dress that barely covered the knees, the bobbed hair and excessive face paint. Chloe had all the elements, although he imagined she was toned down from what he might see in Lincoln where she’d come from early that morning. At least she seemed tamer than some of the photographs he’d seen of the girls in cities.