Tuesday Teaser 1/17/17: Victoria’s Cat Part 3
Hello, hello! I hope Mother Nature is treating you well where you are at. North Dakota (at least my corner of it) is enjoying a January thaw after lots of day of never getting above zero. So sunshine and 35 degrees is like paradise for us.
I am not sure that I’ll be posing the Tuesday Teaser on 1/24, so you are getting a bit more than usual here. Poor Victoria. She will never admit it, but Omaha is a little overwhelming for her. 😉 Enjoy!
Stone stepped off the train at Omaha’s station and looked around. “This is sure different than the last time I was here,” he remarked.
He turned on the platform to take Victoria’s bag. She gave it up and stepped down beside him, anxious to see what Omaha looked like. “What was it like when you were here?”
He shook his head. “Not good. Lots of people, like this, but lots of men in uniform, too. The City Guard kept the peace, but they followed the orders of the old mayor, and he was an evil man.” He noticed they were blocking the way of other passengers, and moved her over a couple of yards. “Eagle!” he called in the low voice that only other wolf warriors would be able to hear over the noise of the train and the people on the platform. “Over here.”
Victoria noticed the stares that followed her brother as he carried all the rest of their luggage over to where they stood. It might have been his height that caught people’s attention, or the strength he displayed by carrying their trunks. He was as tall as their father, and as muscular. Or perhaps it was his handsome face. Victoria admitted her little brother was extremely good looking. But it was probably his hair, which was jet black and hung in two thick braid down his back to almost his knees, and the fact that he wore only moccasins and a breechcloth. Everyone else on the platform was bundled up in wool coats and scarves, shivering in the cold. Her uncle, his waist length braids untouched by gray, wore jeans and boots and a flannel shirt. Victoria wore jeans, knee high boots, and a sheepskin coat.
“Did you have to bring all this crap, Vic?” her brother rumbled, oblivious to the stares. “You got enough clothes in here to dress half of Omaha.”
“I do not,” she retorted. “I have to look good in the legislative chambers. Mom said so.” Even Gray Eagle wouldn’t argue with Mom’s decision. “Besides, you brought all your regalia. Feathers for your hair, your best blue wool breechcloth, the leather pants with the silver bells down the legs.”
He looked down his nose at her, one of the few men she knew tall enough to do it. “I, too, want to look my best to represent our clan.”
“Now, children” Uncle Stone soothed. “You’re twenty-six and twenty-five years old. Try to act like it.”
Victoria stuck her tongue out at her brother and then laughed. His mouth pulled into a reluctant smile. He looked around. “There sure are a lot of people here.” His tone suggested that he thought there were too many people here. “Where do we go?”
Stone jerked his head at the station house. “There will be an information desk inside.”
Stone took her arm and gave her a gentle tug. With Eagle’s bulk parting the crowd before them, they headed toward the red brick station. As tall as any of the men on the platform, and taller than most, Victoria could see over a sea of heads to get a good look around. Eagle was right. There were a lot of people here, maybe two hundred. The train hissed and screamed on the tracks to their rear, the people shouted, laughed, and argued around them, and roars of a type she’d never heard before came from the city past the station. For a woman who had grown up in the heart of a nomadic warrior tribe, it was fascinating. A little overwhelming, perhaps, but Victoria would never admit it out loud.
Nor would she admit the leap of relief she felt when she saw Uncle Quill standing just outside the station door. Long lines fanned out from the corners of his green-gold eyes when he shook Stone’s hand. “I’ve been waiting for you. Good to see you.”
“You too,” said Stone. “When did you get here?”
“Yesterday’s train. Me, Colby and Sand from the den. Hawk, Renee, and Rock from the Plane Women’s House.” Quill moved over a few inches so people could squeeze past them into the station. “We’re all staying at the Limit. Ms. Mary wants you to stay too.”
“Good,” Stone grunted. “Let’s get out of here.”
The roaring grew louder as they approached the street on the other side of the station. Cars lined the street. Victoria stared. She had seen cars when the clan drifted up north to Fargo and but only from a distance. And never had she seen more than one at a time. There were ten just on this section of street in front of the station. Quill gestured them over to one at the end of the street.
“Ms. Mary sent the minibus,” he shouted over the noise of the engines. “Eagle, put the trunks in the back.”
It was ugly. Victoria tried not to stare, but she’d never seen anything like it. It was taller than she was. The rectangular box had an open space in front for the driver to see out of, and sat on top of four big wheels made from some thick metal. At the back was a door that lowered. Her brother approached cautiously, as if he thought it might kick like a horse. He coughed in the noxious fumes. Victoria wanted to gag from the stench. She could only wonder how her uncles and brother with their wolf-sharp sense of smell could bear it.
Quill introduced the driver, a small leathery man named Sal, and helped Victoria into the minibus and onto a long bench seat in the middle of the box. He climbed in next to Sal, and Uncle Stone sat on one side of her and Eagle sat on the other.
Riding in the bus made her stomach feel like a bottle bobbing up and down in a stream with a strong current. The vehicle jumped and clattered on its metal wheels over the slushy road, and jolted in and out of every pothole in its path. Sal held the big wheel tightly in both hands and scowled at the other cars they passed, screaming insults at them. Victoria clung to the bottom of her seat to keep from being thrown around. Only pride kept her from clutching her brother’s arm. He looked a little green too. Victoria wished heartily that they had walked.
She’d heard bits about the Limit while growing up. It has been a whore house run by her Uncle Sky back before the old mayor had been killed. Now it was a restaurant. Aunt Renee had probably already taken over the kitchen. That made Victoria smile. Renee was Hawk’s mate, and she had the reputation of being the best cook between Kansas City and Denver. She wondered what the Limit would serve for supper tonight? Whatever it was, if Aunt Renee made it, it would be fantastic.
Of course, if her stomach didn’t settle down, it wouldn’t matter how good it was.
They pulled up to a gate in an impressive stone wall, and the driver thumped his fist into the center of the wheel he held. A horn blasted. He continued to thump the horn until someone opened the gate.
“Lazy sonsabitches,” he muttered, driving through the gate.
Stone nodded to the gate guard as the bus drove past them. “How many guards?” he shouted, directing his question at Quill.
“There are eight men on the roster. They keep up the grounds, do general repairs, drive, and guard the gate. One on at a time on the gate except during the hours the restaurant is open. Then there are two.”
Eagle frowned. “How many women live here?”
Over the seat back, Victoria saw Quill’s shoulder lift in a shrug. “Ms. Mary. Kim, the house cook. Julie Theige, the housekeeper. The rest of the staff, like the waitresses and kitchen help, come in daily but don’t live here.”
“One man on the gate.” Eagle made his disapproval plain. “How many patrol the wall?”
“None.” Quill looked over the seat at them. “This is Omaha.”
The house was situated on top of a slight rise. It was one of the biggest structures Victoria had ever seen. Eagle was staring too. “Looks like one of those palaces in mom’s paintings,” he murmured.
It kind of did. It was three stories tall, made of red brick trimmed in white. There was a fancy porch supported by white pillars in front. Victoria wilted under the feeling of being small and grubby in the face of this urban grandeur.
The bus roared up the rise and around to the back of the house. Two long single story buildings were in the back. If this was out west, Victoria would have called them bunkhouses. Here in the glory of the big cities they were probably called something fancy. Servants quarters?
“It looks the same,” Stone said quietly. He pointed at the nearest of the bunkhouses. “Right there is where Sara stayed while she was taking care of Odell.” His voice lowered to a murmur. “That’s where I finally got my head out of my butt.”
The bus rocked to a halt and turned off. The sudden cessation of noise was a jolt. The little driver hopped out. “Come on,” he snapped. “Unload your stuff so I can put the old girl away.”
Eagle grabbed the trunks and followed Quill inside. Stone led Victoria up three steps into what looked like a mudroom. “I don’t remember him being that crabby. Sal, the driver.”
“He’s older now,” she pointed out. “And maybe he doesn’t like that car.”
Stone chuckled. “That could be it. The noise of the beast alone is enough to make me want to kill someone.”
There were two closed doors on one side of the mudroom, and a narrow corridor on the far end. Quill directed Eagle to put the trunks on the floor by the doors, and led them through the corridor. As they entered a large, bright kitchen, Victoria looked around with approval at the deep sinks for washing dishes, the multitude of pots and pans hanging from a grid suspended from the ceiling, the large wooden table for chopping vegetables and prepping food, and the three ovens. It reminded her of the time she had recently spent at the Plane Women’s Eatery in Kearney.
Three women were standing at the wooden table, apparently engaged in some sort of battle of wills. One of these women, with silver shot black hair tied back to show a faded scar down the side of her face, was familiar to Victoria. The other two were strangers. One was a very frail, elderly lady with a puff of silver hair gleaming like a halo around her face. The other was younger, maybe fifty years old, with steel gray hair cut short, and a belligerent set to her mouth.
Eagle stopped dead. Victoria almost plowed into his back. “Uh oh.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I don’t know who the other two ladies are, but if they are trying to convince Aunt Renee to do something, good luck to them. “
The ladies turned around to look at the newcomers hovering in the doorway to the kitchen. The eldest of them came forward with quivering hands out reached. “Sky?” Her hands dropped. “Oh, you’re not Sky. But you are familiar.” She approached Stone with a smile. “Do I know you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Stone said, politely. “It’s been nearly twenty years, though.”
Quill hurried forward to put a gentle arm around the frail shoulders. “Ms. Mary, this is my cousin Stone. He was here when Ryan McGrath became Mayor.”
The old lady squinted her eyes. Her chin bobbed as if palsied. “Yes,” she squeaked. “I knew I knew you. Who are the rest of these nice people?”
“This is Stone Eagle, and his sister Victoria Wolfe. They are the children of Sky’s older brother.”
Ms. Mary didn’t come up any higher than Victoria’s shoulder. Victoria took the delicate hand in a gentle grip. She had never met anyone this old. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
Another woman entered the kitchen. She was tall, although not as tall as Victoria, with thick blond hair in a short bob, and large blue eyes. Victoria estimated her age to be between thirty-five and forty years old. She smiled at them all with the comfortable air of a woman in charge.
“Wonderful,” she said warmly. “You’ve made it in. I am Julie Theige, the house manager. Your rooms are ready for you. If you will please follow me.”
It sounded more like a polite order than an invitation. She strode to the mudroom and opened on of the doors, revealing a steep staircase going up. As she began to climb, she looked back at them with a smile. “I’m so sorry to have to put you upstairs, but all of our other rooms are full with the usual guests we host during legislative sessions, plus some. With so many new visitors coming to Omaha for the legislative session, it’s very hard to find enough rooms to put them in. Any place in Omaha with a spare room is full. We have other guests in the bunkhouses outside, but Ms. Mary wants you to stay in the house.”
They went all the way to the third floor. The ceiling sloped so low that Victoria had to hunch until she made her way to the center of the hallway. There were two bedrooms on either side of the hall way, with the bathroom at the head of the stairs. Mrs. Theige indicated one room.
“The lady can have this room. And this one here is for the gentlemen. There are fresh towels in the bathroom. Supper will be served at …” In her voice trailed off for a moment, and Victoria remembered Renee squaring off against the other woman in the kitchen. “I believe supper will be served in about an hour,” Mrs. Theige went on. “After you refresh yourselves, please come downstairs. You’ll have to pass through the kitchen to get to the rest of the house. I apologize for the inconvenience. Go through the private dining room and pass through the first reception room to the second reception room. You can mingle with the other guests there and get acquainted before we sit down for supper.”
She moved to go back down the stairs, but Stone spoke. “Excuse me, ma’am. How many guests do you have right now?”
The woman appeared to count silently. “Twenty-one.”
“Full house,” Stone said.
Eagle carried her trunk into the little room Mrs. Theige had said was Victoria’s. He came back to where she stood with Stone at the door of the opposite room. Stone had a soft smile on his face as he looked in at the bed.
“So many good memories,” her uncle said. “Right there, in that bed, is where Sara and I consummated our mating.”
“Ugh!” Victoria slapped a hand over her eyes and borrowed one on her mother’s sayings. “TMI, Uncle Stone. Too much information!”
He laughed and waved to the bathroom. “You can get cleaned up first.”
Victoria couldn’t wait to see the rest of the house. Unpacking her trunk, she put her clothes into the bureau and the closet. The bed looked ancient. When she thought of Uncle Stone and Aunt Sara … She made a face and selected a fresh sweater and blue jeans. She washed her face and combed her long blond hair, and paused to examine her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The glass was so old that bits of the silvering had worn off the back, but she could see that her face was clean and her hair neat. For just a moment she wished she had some of that lip stuff that townie girls wore. After a moment, she shrugged. There was only one person in Omaha she wanted to look her best for, and he already knew what she looked like.
She smiled at herself in the mirror, and went to meet the other guests. In the kitchen, supper prep was in full swing. Whatever dispute had been in progress must have been resolved. Aunt Renee was directing three girls and the older woman in preparing chicken, and Victoria hurried through, anxious to not be put to work too.
The next room had a long table with benches. It would probably seat ten or twelve, not enough for the twenty-one guests. The private dining room, Mrs. Theige had called it. There was a short hall, and then Victoria entered a large room with a glossy hardwood floor made cozy by a fire glowing in a fireplace. There were about a dozen small tables set and ready for supper. But what caught her attention was the elegant staircase that swept up to second floor above. Victoria gaped, staring up at the mezzanine balustrade that formed an open oval above her. It was more beautiful and elegant than anything she had ever seen before. She could have stared up at it all day.
Voices from the next room interrupted her rapture. She would have time to explore up there another time. On the other side of the staircase was a room that mirrored this one, except that it didn’t have tables and was full of people standing by the fireplace and sitting on chairs and sofas. Uncle Hawk was talking to Gray Shirt and Colby, but he broke off when he saw her, and all three of her kinsmen started toward her. She gave them a quick smile, and looked around the room at the dozen or so strangers. They were all men. All the male faces turned to her, staring in the sudden silence. There were a pair of men on a small sofa, both her own age, with brown hair and handsome faces. There was a cluster of older men, with distinguished gray hair and lined faces, standing to one side of the fireplace. And, in the chair in the far corner, was a handsome man with a mane of wavy hair of burnished gold, turquoise eyes, and a dazzling smile.
Marty Madison. Brother to the Mayor of Kearney. Appointed representative to the Omaha Legislature. Carpenter, furniture maker, wood turner.
The man she was going to marry.