They kept on down the hill and got a little closer to a creek. It was so heartachingly beautiful she didn’t know how he could want to give it up.
“What will you do when all your cows, have, uh, gone to Jesus?” she said.
“Sell.” But the way he said sell made her wonder if he was still thinking of it. The land was so beautiful. It was such an amazing place and parcel of land.
“Oh.” She was quiet then. Building her little daydreams. Thinking about a future with this man she still didn’t know. But all the little things, the way he put himself in front of her when the door opened. That he’d help her, that he’d keep her safe. She felt it and she knew it.
Was he really calling her out? Did he really want her to answer that? She drew a deep breath and said, “I think I’d like to see you when we get back to wherever we’re supposed to be.” For the crisis they were facing, that may not have been a good idea, things might get awkward now.
He tightened his grip on her hand, then stopped. She turned and looked up into his eyes. That stupid smitten expression was back on his face. She could almost squeal like a schoolgirl.
He nodded once, then blushed.
She gave his hand a little tug and they walked down the hill together. <So now it needs to get all awkward between them>
“How old is your youngest cow?” she said.
“She’s a calf.”
“So, at this rate, your herd is replenishing itself as quickly as they’re going to cow Jesus?” she said.
He shrugged. “Something like that.”
“So, when are you going to Portland?”
Another shrug. “What if you just got buffalo? They used to be native to the area and they could just do what they’re going to do.”
“They clip the grass differently than cows and they don’t cause as much erosion.”
“Why do you know this?” Only a hint of laughter was in his voice.
“I’m just a curious person and I like to find things out.” She looked up the hill at the cabin shrinking in the distance. “Taking a real look in an actual claim shanty like that was fascinating.” She paused and wrinkled her nose. “Claimjumper shanty, maybe.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right.”
He was deep in thought now as they walked. His brown eyes and light brown hair caught the sunshine and made it sparkle. The line of his shoulders made him look like he did more than just dabble with his wild herd of cows. The rough hand in hers was more of the same proof. For what they were facing, for the unknowns, she would have him by her side.
“I’d kill for a cup of coffee,” he said finally.
She nodded. “This will be our first test as traveling companions. What we’ll do when we both need caffeine.”
He laughed, once, gruffly.
They made good time down the hill and found another cabin.
“I think we’re getting to the edges of my property,” he said.
“My god, you own this whole mountain,” she murmured.
“No, just good luck. At least I hope I still own this mountain. I don’t want Bill O’Keefe to get it.” He quirked an eyebrow and said, “Do you think he could? Could we change the future?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “What a terrible idea. If we die back here, our families won’t have any idea what happened to us.”
“I don’t have any family to worry about me.”
Judy tightened her grip on his hand again. Judy’s family might be small, but it was everything in the world to her.
A slip of the understanding of Stud slipped into her. That he would keep the land to keep the connection to his family even though he didn’t want it. Even though he had his own plans for himself. Here was his birthright and his heritage and instead he was thinking of selling it, but made it so he couldn’t. Made the plans for keeping it despite everything.
But part of it, the Stud part of it. Who would go by that? Who knew what would happen in their own time, in their correct lands.
“Another cabin,” she said.
Tucked much lower on the hill, near the larger creek was another small cabin. This one looked in better order and older. How did they not know that there were claim jumpers higher up the hill?
“We do the same,” Stud said. “Unless we know who they are, we aren’t going to I’m going to use Jones instead of Marlowe.”
Judy looked up the hill again and said, “That could have been really bad.” It was dangerous enough being out in the wilderness without any supplies, but having claim jumpers around made it all worse. She’d almost take the bear over this.
He nodded. “We’ll be fine,” he said. She didn’t quite believe him, there was no way they’d be fine in the nineteenth century, but they’d make their way.
They came up to the cabin and it was much more sturdily made. But the door was closed. and there was no way to He knocked on the door and a gruff, woman’s, “What?” came from inside.
“We’re lost,” Judy said. “And we need a little help to find our way.”
“Just go back to Park City then. They can help you there.”
The cry of an infant inside the cabin prickled at her skin.
Stud stepped forward and said, “My name’s Steve Marlowe.”
“Why should that mean anything to me, Mr Marlowe?” came from inside the cabin.
“I think we’re blood.”
“I’ll ask you to move on, Mr Marlowe.”
Judy shrugged at Stud. “Thank you for your time, ma’am,” Judy called.
Boomer growled low in his throat at the sound of a shotgun being loaded. Stud pushed Judy behind him again, against the cabin and blocked her body with his own.
“Who’s there?” he called.
The terror in Judy’s body raced up and down her spine. “Christopher Marlowe.”
“We’re kin,” Stud said. “I’m Steve Marlowe.”
“I don’t know any Steve Marlowes.”
Judy stuck her head from around the side of the building and said, “We just need help, Mr Marlowe.”
The barrel of the shotgun was pointed right at Stud and at her voice, the barrel dipped slightly.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“I’m from Salt Lake,” Judy said. She hoped that being a woman would relax him a little. She wasn’t any sort of claim jumper or anything.
“Why you dressed like that?”
Judy pulled her cardigan tighter over her t shirt. Her usual outfit of cardigan over t shirt or tank top had left her ill prepared for a journey through the wilderness.
“I wasn’t planning on being out here like this,” she said. “Everything broke down and Stud found me and helped me.”
“Stud?” She didn’t mistake Christopher Marlowe’s dislike of the nickname either.
“Steve. He introduced himself to me as Stud,” Judy said.
Stud was still shielding her with as much of his body as he could, his back pressed against her chest. She was just able to peer over his shoulder at Christopher Marlowe and his shotgun barrel.
The baby inside the cabin cried again and Boomer whined.
“Please,” Judy said. “We just need help. We need to understand what’s happening. My… wagon broke down and we just need to get righted before we do anything else.”
The shotgun sagged again. “Well…” Christopher said.
As Stud moved from in front of her, she saw the same nose on both of their faces, the Roman nose and the way the eyebrows tried to meet over the middle.
She almost laughed. It was almost too obvious. They were related.
“Kit?” came from inside the house.
“Yeah, Sylvie. Open the door, it’s okay.”
It was silent on the other side of the door for a long moment before there was a scrabbling and the door opened out. The woman held her young baby. The little darling couldn’t even keep its head up yet.
Stud and Judy moved away as the door swung open and Christopher came back up to the door to stand in front of his wife.
“Now,” he said. “Who are you?”
Judy drew a deep breath and said, “We’re not really from here.”
Sylvie’s eyes were open wide, looking them over. “I’ll certainly say.”
“No,” Judy said. “We’re from around the area, but we’re not from… now.”
Kit laughed, then raised the shotgun again. “You’re going to want to move on. We’ve helped you all we’re willing to.”
“Your son is named Alexander,” Stud said.
Kit raised an eyebrow and said, “And how do you know that?”
“My name is Steven Marlowe. My father was Robert. Our cabin was higher up the hill, but it came down to us from you.”
Sylvie looked at Judy and said, “And you?”
“I was on my way to pick up my aunt to take her to a wedding in Salt Lake. She writes books and lives in a huge cabin higher up.”
“And we fell into a mine shaft I guess and here we are,” Judy said.
Stud looked up the hill again, toward the other cabin. “There’s jumpers up there. They’ve been there through the winter it looks.”
Kit quirked his head. “What?”
“Fed us. Real nice guy, but for the fact he’s on our land.”
Kit didn’t take kindly to his usage of our, but he said, “Fella give you his name?”
Kit shook his head again. “There’s enough people all over these hills folks are coming in all the time. But in the land offices, there will be enough that shows we’re the claim holders.”
The baby fussed again and Sylvie turned from them and sat in front of the fire with the baby at her breast. Judy smiled at the memories of caring for her own daughter, the days of tiny hands and toes and little mewling cries.
“So, what can we do for you?” Kit said.
“What day is it?” Judy said.
“May second, eighteen eighty-seven.”
“My god,” Judy whispered. Stud’s hand was on the small of her back, to support and hold her. And, she thought, also to ground himself to something from their time.
Stud pulled his phone out and said, “Let me show you some things.”
He opened the phone and started sliding through some pictures of his cabin and the cattle over the land.
Kit only watched with wide eyes. He finally looked up at Stud with wide, shining eyes. “The land stays in the family? Our…” He looked to Sylvie rocking at the fire, their little Alexander tucked to her breast. “Our family stays here?”
Stud nodded once.
Judy wouldn’t do anything in the world to say he was thinking about selling it now. This link to the past was something most people never received or could imagine.
“My daddy always made sure I knew our history and that you brought us here and made a home,” Stud said. The quiet strain in his voice almost hurt at her heart.
“I’m sorry you lost him,” Kit said.
Stud nodded once, then said, “So there’s something else you need to know. There’s a vein on your land. We fell through a mine shaft or something last night and found it this morning. But it looked like silver.”
Kit quirked his head. “I’d only wanted to get some cattle and provide meat for the valley. But…”
“It’s up there. We can go and—” Stud said.
“No,” Sylvia said. “I don’t want you going anywhere alone with my husband.”
There was a tone of anger and fear under the quiet words. Judy’s heart hurt for her. What had happened?
“There’s a jumper up there anyway. You’re gonna want to get the sheriff here too,” Stud said.
Judy slid next to him now and held his hand, hearing the clear threat to Stud and wondering how they would get through any of this.
“Judy can stay here with you,” Stud said.
“Oh yes. While I have a babe at the breast,” Sylvia said.
Judy was quiet then said, “How long have you been here?”
“Built the cabin two summers ago. I’m getting our first cow in a week or two. I just can’t leave Sylvie,” Kit said.
Sylvie was still facing the fire. What was she going to do? Judy could feel her ache, that she had the child to take care of, but also the homestead and also her husband. There was just so much work to do. How much was Kit like Kyle?
She shuddered and hoped that Sylvia and Kit’s marriage was happier.
“We just want to get home,” Judy said.
“And make sure that everything is safe here for you,” Stud said. “When we get home if my home isn’t my home I don’t know what I’d do.” He tried to laugh, but it fell flat. He squirmed a moment on the plank floor, then said, “You’re my blood. I just want to know you’re safe. I don’t have anyone.”
His utter openness and vulnerability poked at her. For being a tough, strong man, he was so willing to let his soft underbelly show.
She wrapped her other hand around his elbow, holding him closer. No matter what happened now, she’d make sure he was well in the future. If they could ever get back there.
“How will we get the sheriff here?” Sylvie said. “If they’re up the hill? You ride?”
Judy shook her head. Stud nodded, then said, “Not in a long time.”
“I’m not staying here alone with you,” Sylvie said, standing up and coming to join them. “There’s space in the stables. You can sleep there. You’ll be warm enough, but I’m not going to open myself up to attack or some nonsense.”
“Sylv?” Kit said.
She shook her head. “No, I don’t have to explain myself. Nor do I have to give charity to every person I meet. I’ll feed you and that’s that. You’ll take what I give you, but forgive me for believing that putting my child’s wellbeing above yours.” She said this looking at Judy and Stud.
Judy only said, “I understand completely. I just want to go home to my girl.”
Sylvia’s face softened slightly. “You’ll still sleep in the stables. I hope you don’t mind.”
Judy shook her head. “I’ll just be glad for some warmth for a change.”
Stud looked up the hill and said, “I’m going to be glad to stay here with you while this is going on.”
Kit followed Stud’s gaze up the hill. “How’d you know he was there?”
“I didn’t. We’d slept in the cold all night, then needed food. We saw his smoke.”
There was every chance Judy wasn’t going to go home to her daughter. There was every chance Stud would find her bones on his property… if he ever got home.
Sylvia scooped the infant to her shoulder and burped him softly. He made a soft snuffling sound and Sylvia turned away, singing softly to the child.
Regardless of whether they were Stud’s forebears, regardless of whether Sylvia didn’t trust them at all, the maternal protectiveness swelled Judy’s heart. She and Stud were old enough to be their parents. That little baby could be their grandchild and the idea of someone being out to get them filled her heart with terror and anger.
“I don’t know a Bill O’Keefe,” Kit said. “But there are so many new people here that I wouldn’t know everyone. I just couldn’t.”
Sylvia turned to Judy and said, “THere’s a basin and warm water if you want to wash up.” Sylvia gestured to the corner of the room with a table and a mirror with a basin.
Judy nodded once and moved to the mirror. She wasn’t sure how to quite handle it, but she poured some water from the pitcher into the basin and washed her face. The sweat and dirt and grime were caked on. Sleeping in the cave with Stud and the walk up the hill. It was just a mess.
“Go rest,” Sylvia said. “You’ll feel better once you’ve had a little rest and you can figure out a plan.”
Judy nodded once and was out into the noonday sun. Kit was behind her in a moment, racing up to lead her to the stable. The door was already open and a horse was on a picket rope.
There was a hayloft in the rafters with a ladder.
“You’ve done so much work,” she said.
He nodded. “This feels like the right place to raise my family.”
She smiled. “It’s beautiful land.”
“Stay here with us for a while.” Kit looked back to the cabin and said, “We have a lot of work to do before summer and you folks look like you could use some help.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. “Thank you so much.”
He nodded once then gestured to the ladder. She climbed the angled ladder and Boomer came running in and struggled up after her. He handed a blanket up to her and she made a little nest in the hay. The warm, grassy smell was comforting and warm.
Boomer snuggled in next to her. Why the dog should be so eager to be with her was beyond her, but for how hard the last twenty-four hours had been, she’d take it.
The comfort of safety and sleep wrapped around her. A little noise from the ladder and Stud was up with her now.
“It’s just me,” he whispered. Boomer was tucked against her chest and Stud wrapped around her, making her a safe, little spoon.
She made an affirmative kind of noise and closed her eyes.