The Branded Heart
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An excerpt from The Branded Heart

Friday, October 5 - Saturday, October 6, 1877

    Mr. Mason led me across the empty dirt street to his fancy hotel lit from inside lamps.  Its glass door was etched with its name: Pristine Hotel of Barlow.  He unlocked it, and we went inside.  
    Wow, inside was so plush and polished. 
    It had scarlet curtains that perfectly matched the carpet and velvet-cushioned sofas and chairs that looked right out of Ethan Allen. It was like walking out of dusty Barlow and into nineteenth century New York City! 
    Jethro lit another few lamps and raised his arms up at his grand hotel (that also contained a saloon, of course). 
    "So tell me, do you find it agreeable?"
    "It's absolutely beautiful!" I exclaimed.
    "Thank you kindly.  I chose the decor myself.  A lot went into building this place.  Quite a lot."
    I caught the emphasis in his last phrase.
    "Mr. Mason?"
    "Call me Jethro, darlin'."
    "But that wouldn't be proper, sir," I duly noted.  However, his curious expression changed my mind. "All right, Jethro,  may I ask you a personal question?"
    He considered me before answering, "Go ahead."
​    "How do you know Sam Egan?"
    I couldn't help it; I had to know! I had to know why Sam distained the sight of him.
​    "I don't," was his answer.
​    Not the one I was expecting.
​    "Why?" Jethro continued, closing in on me, "Has he said something to you?"
    "He hasn't said anything to me about you.  But he always looks distressed when your name is brought up."
    Jethro cracked a quick smile. "Is that right? Well, I have a question for you, too, and I would thank you for your honesty."
    What did I have to be honest about?
    "All right," I agreed.
    Sternly, Jethro worded, "Now, Ms. Twining, explain to me why you are living with the Egans if you are of no relation to Sam. Nor of Sarah's, I presume?"
    My mind reeled for an acceptable yet unrevealing answer.
    "Let's just say," I thought aloud, "I came to be with them by circumstances, most of which I don't fully understand yet."
    Oh, that was good!  I could tell by the look on his face it wasn't the answer he was hoping for either.  Then he bore a disturbing expression that told me he knew better and was not to be taken for a fool.
    "We'll touch on that subject at a latter time," he concluded the matter, "I wonder, if Sam realizes..."
    I could scarcely breathe; he was so intimidating.
    "What?" I squeaked.
    He was staring down at me with a cocked head like  a predator sizing up its prey.  Then he struck.
    "How much attention you pay him," he finished.
    "I-I don't know what you mean, s-sir," I stuttered.  And, really, I didn't want to know either.
    I should have left the hotel right then and there.  If I had, perhaps everything thereafter would have turned out differently. Then I could sleep tonight instead of writing twenty-some pages in my diary!
    "I've seen the way you look at him, like the way you were looking at him in the millhouse tonight while he was dancing with his wife. You fancy him, young lady.  You fancy him a lot.  I'd even venture to say that you might find yourself falling in love with him."
    How dare he!  It was more than I could bare.  And from a stranger!  Beastly.  I edged for the door but he stopped me there.
    "I don't mean to upset you, miss.  I only desire to offer you some comfort and understanding.  I supposed you could use some."
    And darn it if my eyes didn't well up again. Dang glands!  Next thing I knew I was burying my face in his coat as he patted my back.  Finally, someone I could talk to about what has been pent up so deep for so long inside me - my secret sin.  But did it have to be a man?  And one Sam hated?"
    "Also," Jethro continued, "I wanted to offer you a way out." 
    "A way out?" I repeated, wiping my eyes dry.