Winter Dreams (The Homespun Hearts Series, Book 3) by Trana Mae Simmons by Trana Mae Simmons - Read Online

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Winter Dreams (The Homespun Hearts Series, Book 3) - Trana Mae Simmons

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Winter Dreams

The Homespun Hearts Series

Book Three

by

Trana Mae Simmons

Award-winning Author

WINTER DREAMS

Reviews & Accolades

Winter Dreams is a dream of an Americana historical romance.

~Harriet Klausner

...a fast-paced historical romance that brings alive the grueling endurance required of dog [sled] racing..., well worth reading.

~Romance and Women's Fiction Exchange

Published by ePublishing Works!

www.epublishingworks.com

ISBN: 978-1-61417-597-1

By payment of required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this eBook. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of copyright owner.

Please Note

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Copyright © 2014 by Trana Mae Simmons. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

Cover and eBook design by eBook Prep www.ebookprep.com

Dedication

To my sister, Annie, with love for all her help with housework while I'm busy writing—even helping me proof! Much, much appreciated, Sis.

Chapter 1

Grand Marais, Minnesota

October, 1909

Sandy glared across the wide expanse of polished desk at Tom Goodman. The other man leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers beneath his chin. Thoughts racing like a wolf snared in a wilderness trail trap, Sandy damned Goodman for taking advantage of him when he was down on his luck.

But Goodman didn't know how broke he was, and Sandy had enough pride left to not want his potential employer to realize he had him over a barrel. He also needed to be sure Goodman didn't probe into the reason he'd left Alaska and hightailed it to a town in Minnesota few Alaskans even knew existed. By necessity, he had made the trip in record time, even with stopping to pick up his sister, Cristy.

The problem was, he couldn't swallow the new information—the information Goodman conveniently failed to disclose until after Sandy arrived.

Let me get this straight, Sandy said. "I knew from your telegrams the position in your shipping company wouldn't open up until next spring, so I agreed to train your sled dogs over the winter. But you forgot to mention two things to me. One, your dogs aren't the Malamutes I'm used to—they're this new breed of Husky invading both Alaska and the States. And two—the 'musher' I'm supposed to train to run in an Alaskan race four months from now is your daughter?"

Goodman pursed his lips and nodded, a twinkle fleeting through his eyes and a corner of his lips quirking. That appears to be about it. We've already discussed everything else as to the arrangements. You'll have living quarters at our home, Ladyslipper Landing, which is just a little northwest of town. His voice grew sterner. And make no mistake, Sandy, the kennels are for the most part my daughter Laura's responsibility, but I keep a sharp eye on what she's doing. She's my only child.

Sandy leaned back in his chair, a disbelieving whoosh of breath escaping. If the man was so protective of his daughter, what was he doing agreeing to the ridiculous idea of her competing in an Alaskan race?

Mr. Goodman....

Tom, please, the older man broke in. After all, we'll be in contact quite a bit down through the coming months. This is a very small town, with only a population of a little over three hundred people, and most of us are on a first-name basis. Besides, when you call me 'mister,' I think of my father.

Fine, Sandy conceded. But listen, Tom. Do you have any idea how dangerous it could be for a woman to run in one of these Alaskan races? Good lord, man! We're talking a week on the trail, solely accountable for yourself and your dogs!

I understand they have checkpoints and overnight accommodations set up at periodic spots. Besides, you'll be running with her, with me paying all your expenses. Laura has her heart set on this. In fact, she won't agree to set a wedding date with her fiancé, David, until she makes an attempt at this race.

Sandy stared at the man, incredulous. Tom Goodman didn't look like a fool. At somewhere around his mid-forties, he was still fit and could probably handle a team himself for an entire week. Gray had infiltrated his hair, liberally in his sideburns and enough in the rest of it to lighten what must have been a dark auburn color in his youth. Yet along with his confident demeanor, the signs of aging seemed to bespeak experience and knowledge, not a weakening or physical laxity.

Knowing from his friend, Ted, in Alaska that Tom Goodman was filthy rich—had even more money than Sandy's former father-in-law—Sandy had expected to find a man in an expensive suit and with condescending manners. Instead Tom Goodman wore a pair of wool trousers and a red plaid shirt similar to what lumberjacks favored. A heavy parka hung on the coat rack in the corner of the office. As in Alaska, the fall evenings in Minnesota could be extremely chilly, with nights of biting cold.

Sandy started to speak, but thought better of it when he realized he was on the verge of calling the man an utter idiot. He couldn't afford to antagonize Goodman. Blowing out a breath instead of the ill-advised words, he gazed around the office, playing for a little time. Instinct told him that Goodman saw through his ploy when the other man pursed his lips and nodded his head slightly, yet Tom allowed Sandy time to think over his decision.

Unlike Tom's practical appearance, the office reflected wealth. Sandy had passed at least a dozen various smaller offices built from logs or weathered clapboard on his journey to the huge log complex housing Tom's place of business. In this room, which he used for his office, floor to ceiling windows opened the view to the grandeur of the Lake Superior Harbor and the rugged shoreline north of them. Sandy had also seen the Goodman name on several of the gray-planked, weathered warehouses beside the docks when they arrived by ship that morning.

According to Ted, Tom owned a shipping company, a logging and lumber company, and even employed some commercial fishermen. He had his finger in every successful pie in Grand Marais. Now he seemed to want to spend some of his excess money on his daughter and her sled dogs, since it was a fairly expensive undertaking to ship an entire team clear across the States, then north to Alaska and back here—two teams, with Sandy accompanying her. He should have an idea of the cost, since he'd just completed a one-way journey of that type with his dogs himself.

And Sandy having to return to Alaska as part of the job he so sorely needed had been the other thing Tom forgot to mention. That couldn't happen, but if he admitted that to Goodman right now, he might as well give up any chance of landing the position.

Why me? Sandy asked.

You came highly recommended by Ted Erickson, Tom replied without hesitation. Ted did a fine job for me as my right hand man in my shipping company, before he got itchy feet and headed up to Alaska. He said he wanted to sow his wild oats before he started looking for a wife. I sent him an inquiry, and it was a real stroke of luck when Ted told me that you had the qualifications for both the dog trainer and shipping management positions I need to fill.

I can handle your shipping position, Sandy agreed. It's the same type of job I had in Alaska, and I kept things organized enough to give me time to train and race my dogs. But my dogs were beaten in the last race I ran—by a team of Huskies.

Ah, those Huskies, Tom said with a chuckle. I've heard there's some resentment directed at the breed, mostly from established mushers—the ones who've used Malamutes and Eskimo dogs from the beginning.

Some? Sandy muttered. I'd call that an understatement.

Laura's been working with her Huskies for several years now. She was one of the first breeders to import a couple pair after they were discovered in Siberia, and we saw some skepticism here, too, when her dogs first arrived. But I think you'll find she's put together an excellent team.

Sandy stood, prepared to leave. I'll have to consider this turn of events. Can I get back with you tomorrow?

Of course. Rounding the desk, Tom walked beside him to the door, where he extended his hand for a leave-taking. I'll be in my office here in the morning by eight.

Briefly, Sandy shook Tom's hand, then left the office, closing the door behind him carefully rather than with the sharp thud his emotions dictated. No sense burning any bridges by flagrant discourteousness to Goodman. He'd sort all this information out overnight and be sure he made the best decision by tomorrow.

What sort of woman could Tom's daughter be? He visualized a somewhat homely tomboy, who's fiancé was probably content to postpone their wedding. Money had bought more than one less-than-comely female a husband. But women like his dead wife, Colleen, drew men with their beauty as well as their trust funds.

Colleen had been lovely with her auburn hair and sparkling green eyes. Despite her snooty parents, she had also been one of the most loving and giving women Sandy had ever met. It still hurt him almost beyond bearing whenever he remembered Colleen's dim, pain-filled eyes and ravaged body as she slipped away from him. She'd left him their wonderful six-year-old daughter, Tracie, however, and Tracie was already showing signs of the same beauty as her mother—both in her face and in her bubbly personality.

He looked for Tracie now, scanning the snow-covered street filled with dog paw and sled runner tracks, as well as deeper impressions of horses' hooves and wagon wheels. Up the street he saw a team of huge draft horses pulling a wagon of freshly cut logs. Virgin pine, some of the trees were too large for even four men standing in a circle to reach around. As soon as a little more snow covered the ground, the wagons would be exchanged for lumber sleds in order to continue the work as long as possible into the winter months. Most of the other transportation waiting at the various storefronts was either dogsleds or smaller wagons. None of those horseless carriages had made it this far north—less than a hundred miles from Canada—although he'd seen a few of them in Duluth.

He didn't see Tracie up that way. When she had asked permission to wait outside while he reported to Tom Goodman, his daughter had assured him that she would stay within seeing distance. An obedient child, she would keep her promise.

His sister, Cristy, had remained down on the docks while Sandy and Tracie walked on into town, insisting she would verify that all of the dogs were unloaded and every piece of their baggage taken from the ship's hold. He assumed she was as much interested in making sure none of her art supplies were left on board as anything else. He smiled when he saw her still down on the shore, standing beside a wind-weathered warehouse. Staring out over the water, she was probably mentally setting up her easel, her artist's eye panning the distance and transferring the sights to the canvas square in her mind.

Though he was supposedly now responsible for her, since their parents had died just a few days before Sandy left Alaska, he had no idea how he would have handled Tracie on the trip without his newly-matured younger sister's help. He and Tracie had to make allowances for Cristy's daydreaming propensities when her muse visited, having to rebutton Tracie's dress bodice once in a while. But for the most part they had bonded in a deep friendship in addition to their blood relationship.

Ah, there was Tracie. Red braids bobbing on her back and green muffler dragging, she skipped down the walkway on the other side of the street. One mitten dropped out of her coat pocket as Sandy watched, kept from being lost because Cristy had sewn a sturdy ribbon between the pair. She reached the end of the walkway, and he started to call to her before she went down the steps. A wagon pulled by draft horses rumbled up the street just then, and he waited for it to pass before he called out.

As soon as he could see Tracie again, he caught sight of the snow-white sled dog not twenty feet from her. One of those damned Huskies, it bounded to its feet in a confrontational stance, which Sandy recognized all too well from his years of dealing with dogs. The sled it was hitched to, tilted on its side and anchored with a snow anchor, kept it in place, but Tracie wandered on down the steps. A gull flying overhead snared his daughter's attention, and she lifted an arm, probably chirping to the bird though he couldn't hear her from this distance. Her meandering steps led her closer to the dog.

Little girl, stop!

Sandy barely noticed the woman who emerged from a store near the other end of the street. Her shout blended with his own yell at Tracie as he pounded across the rutted ground to rescue his daughter. From the corner of his eye, he saw the woman drop her armload of packages and race in the same direction. At his charging approach, the white sled dog growled viciously, jumping and straining against its harness. Any other time Sandy would have dominated the dog into submission, but not when it was his daughter and not himself in danger.

Tracie froze, her teal blue eyes wide in trepidation as she stared back and forth between the two people racing toward her. The woman, closer from the beginning, reached her first and scooped Tracie into her arms. Sandy's booted feet slid on the frozen earth, and he barely kept from sending all three of them crashing to the ground when he gathered his daughter—along with the woman who held her—into his arms and swung them around to place himself between them and the snarling dog.

Heavens, the woman said as she gazed up at him, her mouth right in line for him to kiss if he would have bent his head, I do apologize for Blancheur.

That's your damned dog? Sandy snarled.

She nodded, a touch of fear in her green eyes. Damn, she looked more than a little bit like his dead wife with that auburn hair and sea-green eyes. He hoped Tracie didn't notice that. It was bad enough that Tracie had found him discussing the fact of today being the one-year anniversary of Colleen's death with Cristy on the trip up from Duluth this morning.

When she tried to step away from him, he realized he still had his arm around her in a firm grip. A stab of consternation went through him when he felt a reluctance to remove it, and he counteracted that by jerking it free and almost snatching Tracie from the woman's arms. Then she spoke a sharp word to the Husky, which quieted immediately.

Politeness demanded he introduce himself, but Sandy didn't give a darn about that at the moment. His heartbeat needed to calm and his senses stabilize while his brain took a moment to translate the fact that his daughter hadn't been mauled. He clutched Tracie tight, and against his will, studied the woman without apology for his examination, since she didn't appear to be in a hurry to move away.

He could see calling her a woman might be stretching it. She appeared to be barely out of her teens, if that. Possibly it could be her slight stature detracting from her true age, because she couldn't be over five foot two, a couple inches shorter than his wife had been.

The greenish color of her eyes reminded him of the summer sea off the Alaskan coast, and she met his gaze expectantly now, her fear of him evidently gone and replaced by an anticipation of him introducing himself. When a cloud overhead uncovered the sun, he finally realized her hair was a much darker red than he'd thought at first—darker than Colleen's and Tracie's.

She'd opened her blue-gray, full-length cloak, although she still wore her mittens. The dark emerald gown beneath the cloak appeared to be made of wool, the hem of her skirt caught on the top of one of her boots, which were of a rather mannish style. What curves she had were less than voluptuous, and she didn't appear to have any false padding on her figure, such as extra petticoats.

Tracie shifted in his hold, hugging one arm around his neck and settling her tiny rump on his bent arm.

I'm sorry I got too close to your doggie, Tracie said to the woman. Daddy's told me not to go close to strange doggies, but I was watchin' the birdie and didn't see him.

I'm just glad you weren't hurt, the woman replied with a relieved smile. I'm Laura Goodman, but please, call me Laura, not Miss Goodman. And you are?

Tracie. She patted Sandy on the cheek. And my last name's same as my daddy's—Montdulac. This is my daddy, Sandy Montdulac.

Oh! Laura pulled a mitten off and held out her hand. You're my new trainer. I'm very glad to meet you. We have your quarters all ready for you out at Ladyslipper Landing.

Sandy reluctantly shook her hand, taking note of the fragile bones and diminutive size. But his most prominent thought was that this woman had never had the word homely connected to her in her life. Frowning, he pushed that thought aside and concentrated on wondering at the incongruity of her wearing her mittens when she evidently didn't think it chilly enough to keep her cloak buttoned. His face must have given away his second thought, or maybe he stared a second too long at her hands. She dropped her grasp, laughing gaily and pulling off her other mitten.

If you're wondering about the mittens on this pretty day, it's because my hands chill very easily, as do my feet, she said. I've found that as long as I keep those four things warm, the rest of my body is fine. From late fall, like this, until ice out in the late spring, I seldom bare my hands outside.

Glancing down, she noticed her skirt hem and tugged it free. Sandy's eyes widened when he caught a glimpse of trousers beneath the hem. She giggled once again, tilting her head coquettishly as she waited for his reaction.

I can't very well travel behind a dog sled in a skirt now, can I? she asked airily.

Ignoring her levity, Sandy very abruptly stated his case. "There were a few things your father kept from me when he telegraphed me about this position. For one thing, he didn't tell me that I'd be training dogs for a woman to drive in an Alaskan race."

In a quicksilver change of expression, Laura gazed at him arrogantly from those sea-green eyes, lifting a feathery auburn brow. I assure you, Mr. Montdulac, I can handle a team. I've been driving sled dogs since I could walk. And if your rather denigrating reference to my gender means what I think it does, I can also assure you that I'm definitely a woman. In fact, I attained the age of majority—twenty-one—last January. I'll be twenty-two by the time I participate in the race.

Sandy clenched his throat muscles, stemming the retort fighting for freedom from his beleaguered mind. He could do the job. That was the least of his worries. Not wanting to was the problem.

Not wanting to do the job, though, wasn't a valid reason to allow his sister and daughter to starve to death while he looked for another position—something more suited to his excess of pride. Being responsible for a family was about the most humbling situation he could imagine. And if it meant teaching this slip of femininity some of the tricks of racing, he could gulp down a huge dash of pride with the best of men. She didn't need to know that his focus would be on showing her how totally ridiculous her idea of competing in that race was, should he accept the position her father offered.

Besides the weather, which could in itself be a death threat, her other dangerous rivals would be a throng of cutthroat men. They would all be determined to win the race not only for the huge purse, but also to prove the superiority of their teams. A beautiful woman in their midst would further complicate matters, he thought, even while he chastised himself for admitting he'd noticed her beauty himself.

He forced his thoughts away from that train. She sure didn't need the money. She probably only wanted to have a high old time talking to her grandchildren some day about how she'd been the first woman in history to run in an Alaskan race.

When I take on a position as a trainer, he said in a rough voice, I'm the boss. My word is law. The first time a driver I'm training defies my orders, I'm gone.

Agreed, Laura responded immediately.

I told your father I'd let him know in a day or two.

Just what is it you have to think over, Mr. Montdulac? Both my father and my fiancé support me in this venture, and they're the only men in my life whom I have to opt to please. You'll be paid more than adequately for your services, you know.

Yeah, Sandy growled. But your safety is a little more important than money, wouldn't you think?

I see, Laura mused. I believe my father has chosen well then, since you feel that way.

It wouldn't do my reputation as a trainer any good if you got hurt now, would it? Sandy snarled. He expected Laura to flare back at him, but instead her face creased with concern. Whatever she was thinking, though, she kept to herself.

You'll need somewhere to stay while you're making your decision, Laura said. And Father said you were bringing your own dogs with you, so they'll need a kennel. Everything is ready for you at Ladyslipper Landing, if you'd like to stay there. And you can look over the facilities, which I believe you'll find more than adequate.

The dogs will be fine in their cages on the dock, and I saw a place called the Lake Side Hotel as the ship pulled in. I very much doubt it's full, since the ship's captain told me that he seldom gets passengers for up here this late in the season.

Suit yourself, I guess. We'll wait to hear from you.

Over Laura's shoulder Sandy caught a glimpse of a man crouched behind a bush. Enough dry leaves remained stuck on the branches to camouflage the man somewhat, but his red-plaid shirt gave him away. He dropped to his knees and inched toward Laura's sled dog, tied right behind her.

Grabbing Laura, Sandy swung her away from the dog and thrust Tracie into her arms. He ordered Laura to stay—as he would have a sled dog under his control—swiveled, and launched himself at the skulking man. The next thing he knew, he was flat on the ground beneath the white Husky, a set of snarling teeth in his face and one brown, one blue eye, glaring at him. A vicious growl sounded in his ears.

Blancheur! No! Laura yelled. Buck, pull Blancheur off!

A red-plaid-sleeved arm reached for the dog's harness, and Sandy jerked his gaze away from the Husky, centering on the skulking man's rummy brown eyes. The man's lips pouted in his tobacco-stained beard, and he sniffed as though he had a cold. Astonished, Sandy realized the man was on the verge of crying.

Here Blancheur, old boy, he said. Get offa that there man a'fore you get me in more trouble.

Trouble's right, Buck! Leading Tracie by the hand, Laura stomped over beside the dog as Sandy rose to his feet. Look, I know you like Blancheur, but I've told you before to ask permission from me when you want to say hello to him.

Buck hung his head. Thin and wiry, he wasn't much taller than Laura. His hips were almost nonexistent, and Sandy figured if he hadn't worn a pair of bedraggled suspenders, Buck's trousers would have been down around his feet.

I know, Miss Laura, Buck said with a whimper. But—

Laura took a step back. You've been drinking, haven't you, Buck? I can smell it.

Yes, ma'am, Buck whispered. And I knowed you wouldn't let me 'round Blancheur like that. Like you said, I just wanted to say hello to him.

The dog made his own decision. He sidled up to Buck, whining and begging for attention. Buck knelt and laid an arm around the white neck, scratching behind a pointed ear with his other hand.

Hi, boy, he murmured.

Laura heaved an exasperated sigh, then glanced at Sandy. He used to work at my kennels. But he got drunk one afternoon, and I came out and found him asleep, with the dogs unfed and unwatered on a hot summer day. I've since hired Pete Tallwolf, who'll be your assistant.

I haven't agreed to take the job yet, Sandy reminded her. But though she couldn't have known it, his ending up beneath that snarling Husky had given Sandy another reason to accept the position rather than walk away from it. As he strived to hide his humiliation that a rummy drunk could approach the Husky with no problem, while it turned vicious on him, he vowed silently to dominate that animal if it was the last thing he did.

I prefer Malamutes to Huskies, he informed Laura.

I used to myself. But be assured, I'm well aware a team of Huskies won the last Alaskan race.

Yeah, Tracie unfortunately put in. Daddy was in that race. He only got second.

Ignoring his daughter's comment, which threatened to bring on another spurt of humiliation, he abruptly motioned his head at Laura's sled dog. That animal will have to be taught obedience around me if I come to work for your kennel.

Blancheur will learn who you are fairly quickly, Laura assured him. "Whether or not he learns to like you will be up to how you