01 – Adventure Awaits (Annie)The Drifter Alpha
New York City – Prescott Mansion
The swish of skirts is the loudest noise in the room as I rush from my dresser to my trunk. Two trunks rest near the door, waiting for the servants to take them down to the carriage. My excitement bubbles to the surface and I can barely breathe from the idea of getting to see a miner’s town out west. With the last of my items stuffed into the trunk, I blow a stray curl from my face as I step back and rest my hands on my hips. The struggle of getting my trunk closed has me disheveled. Surveying my childhood bedroom, I take in every detail. Seventeen years of my life are wrapped in these four walls, and as far as I am concerned, this will be the last I ever see of this place.
My father and brothers are trying to plan my life by wanting to marry me off to Edward Finney. While Edward is charming and handsome, he is not for me. Nor is the boring fate of being a mine owner’s wife. I can just see it now, tucked safely away in tea rooms and parlors with other ladies who long gave up the desire for adventure.
I scoff at the idea of such a dreary end for me. After hearing my father’s plans to open up courtship with Edward, I formed this grand plan for adventure. I will force my brother to take me to Agua Luna with him, and from there go wherever the wind takes me. My eldest brother, George, gave me the perfect blackmail for my escape too.
Speak of the devil, he comes barreling into my room without knocking. “What do you think you are doing, Annette?”
“I am going with you,” I preen.
“You are not! A mining town is no place for a lady.”
“Good thing I am not a lady. I am sure Sally would fit right in.”
My brother’s mouth opening and closing reminds me of a codfish and I smirk, feeling clever in revealing I know his weakness.
“You are still not going,” he growls at me.
“Oh, yes I am. You will take me.” I close the distance between us to get in his face. “Or I will tell father what you were doing when you missed church on Sunday.”
“So we are going to tell father now? Good. Come along then.”
“No, wait!” I grab his hand in desperation. “Please, Georgie. I promise I will not be any trouble.”
He scoffs, “Not any trouble? You will be more trouble than the whole town can handle. You are not going.”
“I am going. Either you will take me and keep me safe, or I will go on my own.”
He pauses and narrows his eyes. “You would not!”
I watch him carefully. I have to think before I speak to not force him to run to our father. “I would and will. I am not meant to be someone’s wife.”
“What does going with me have to do with being a wife?”
“Georgie,” I pout. “I want an adventure. To see the open plains. To meet a gunslinger. To ride a horse without having to be prim and proper. To fall in love and to see all the stars!”
His face wrinkles in disbelief at my argument. I can’t tell if he believes me, or if he thinks I’m insane. “Alright. One condition. When we get back, you marry him. I cannot have you running off and getting yourself killed. You know what that would do to father.”
I stopped listening after he said alright and I squeal as I leap into his arms to hug him.
He catches me before I can latch on and forces me to look at him. “Promise me, Annette. You will hold true as his fiancée and become his wife when we return.”
“Promise,” I agree and wrap him into a hug.
“And you will not tell father about Sally?”
“That’s two conditions,” I counter.
“No, that is the price of doing business. The condition was that you remain true to affianced.”
“Fine, I will not tell father.”
“And remain true to Edward.”
“Very well. Pack quickly. Father returns shortly.”
“Already packed.” I motion to the three trunks.
“No, that is only part of your wardrobe. You need at least three months’ worth of clothing.”
My eyes widen and I dash from the room, dragging one of my brother’s trunks back. Georgie is no help at all. He watches, with his arms crossed as I dash around the room to pack the rest of my things. Another three trunks worth of clothes later, the servants are giving us both the dirtiest looks.
George pauses in the foyer and stops Mr. Jenkins, our head of staff. He sighs. “Please relay to our father that Annette will be joining me at the mine and that it only delays our plans for her wedding.”
“Yes, Sir.” Mr. Jenkins gives me a grin as I have succeeded in my mission that he assisted me in.
The ride to the train station is bumpy and rough. It’s hot today, at the peak of Summer. I fan myself the entire way. George has to negotiate with the man behind the window at the train station, but soon enough all our bags are loaded and we are granted permission to step up the iron steps. They are high and I struggle, stepping on my petticoats and skirt. Then a strong arm wraps around my waist with a hand plant at the small of my back.
“Easy, Miss. These stairs can be treacherous.”
My cheeks flush and I am at the mercy of his strength, forced into a far too close proximity of a man dressed in a dark blue uniform.
He gently guides me up the rest of the steps.
My brother narrows his eyes, quickly snatching my hand to pull me from him. “Come sister, our cabin is this way.”
“Enjoy your ride, Miss Prescott,” the man tips his hat at me.
I giggle and blush, nodding as my brother yanks me away.
“Stop flirting with him. Have you already forgotten your promise? I turn my back for two seconds and you are in the arms of another man.”
“Oh Georgie. Really? I was falling down the steps and he prevented that. Nothing more.”
George snorts at me and shoves me into our cabin.
The room is a decent size with bunk beds stacked to one side. We have a toilet and a sink in the other corner with a curtain for privacy. At the other end are two comfy looking chairs with a small table. It is our own private parlor.
“You are not to leave this cabin without me.”
I pout at George. How am I supposed to have adventures if he keeps me locked up in this cabin?
“I mean it, Annette. There may be ruffians aboard this train, and you are far too trusting.”
I huff and wave a hand dismissively. “Fine. I will remain your prisoner.”
“You are always so dramatic.”
In the distance, I hear a man shout, “All aboard!” This is followed by the wail of the train whistle and the train lurches forward, causing me to tumble into George.
He catches me and chuckles. “You will get used to moving with the train. Now, get settled in, I will be back shortly.”
“Where are you going?”
“I have business to attend to.”
I cross my arms, “On the train? What kind of business?”
“The kind young ladies cannot attend. I will have the treat cart stop by. Get whatever you like off it.” He hands me some money.
“I am not a child, Georgie. You cannot buy me with sweets.”
“You have not seen the treat cart. Now, promise me you will stay in this cabin.”
“I promise,” I mutter. My fingers are crossed behind my back. I have no intention of wasting my first train ride in this stuffy parlor. I wait a good five minutes after George leaves before I slide the tiny door to our parlor open. With a quick look to the left, then to the right, there is no one in this corridor. Based on the windows toward the front, I can guess that is the direction George went. It screams money and power. George lives for both qualities.
“Alright, to the back we go first.” I look at the cabin, memorizing any details to allow me to return unnoticed then I head to the back of the train. Crossing the threshold between my first two cars is harrowing. The train teeters and the step between the two is narrow. My heart races and I grip my skirts tight. It would be my luck if I slip and die. My brother would be furious.
The second car is identical to the first, and I keep going. I move through car after car until I reach a car full of people laughing and talking. They are gathered around something toward the back and I ease forward cautiously, curiosity getting the better of me. When I reach the edge of the gathered group a firm hand grips my forearm and turns me to face its owner.
“This is no place for you, Miss Prescott,” the man in the uniform says in a low tone. “Allow me to escort you back to your car.”