Forever by Your Side (Willamette Brides #3) - Tracie Peterson

Chapter 1

JUNE 1880

I want this job.” Constance Browning looked her interviewer straight in the eye. “I want to do this. And furthermore, I’m the best person for the job.”

“But you are a woman,” Ulysses Berryton said, as if her gender was somehow unknown to her.

Connie was already frustrated by his condescending nature. “I know I’m a woman. I have been of the female persuasion for twenty-two years now.”

He reddened. “And you truly feel qualified for this position?”

“I do. Although my skin is white, I was born on an Indian reservation and have many friends there. The project to catalog and record all Oregon tribes and their cultures is something I’m not only qualified for but would very much enjoy. In addition, many of the people there already know me. It will help speed things up.”

He looked again at her application. “The Bureau of Ethnology takes its work very seriously. We must consider what’s best for this organization. After all, the government has put a lot of trust in the Smithsonian Institution by transferring the duties of ethnology from the Department of the Interior to us.”

Connie had had enough. “Mr. Berryton, I’m a very practical woman. I have never been one to attempt something without being convinced of my capability. I can assure you I am the best person for this job. If you need further reference, you only have to speak to my uncle, Dean Murdoch. He works right here at the Smithsonian.”

“I’m very familiar with your uncle, Miss Browning. In fact, I did seek his opinion, and he gave his highest approval.”

She nodded. “Of course he did. He’s taught me a variety of specialized studies every summer since I was fifteen.”

Berryton smiled. “I have my concerns, Miss Browning, but frankly I cannot imagine anyone more qualified for this task than you. Welcome to our department. You will be working with Thomas Lowell. I understand you know each other quite well.”

The joy she felt at finally being approved for the job threatened to spill out. Instead, Connie forced herself to remain stoic and professional. “Yes, Thomas and I have been good friends for over seven years. He knows my family, and when he was attending Georgetown, he took numerous classes with Uncle Dean.”

“Well, I expect you both to work in cooperation with one another. You will leave in a week for Oregon. I hope that won’t be a problem.”

Connie rose. “Not at all. I know you won’t regret this decision, Mr. Berryton.”

He stood and shook her hand. Connie smiled, gathered her things, and exited before he could change his mind.

She knew Tom would be waiting for her in the hall. He had a meeting with Berryton at two o’clock. That meant they only had a few minutes to talk. She caught sight of the tall, lean young man and smiled. He was her dearest friend in all the world, and she had him to thank for this job.

“I got it.” She couldn’t hold back a giggle. “I’m going with you to Oregon.”

Tom grinned. “Of course you are. Berryton is a smart man. He no doubt understood the benefit of having you as a part of the team.”

“I doubt he would have if you hadn’t put in a good word for me.” She juggled her books as they threatened to slip from her grip.

“Here, let me have those,” Tom said, taking the books. “You’re the most qualified, Connie. A lifetime of experience living among the Indians is something few people can boast.”

Connie thought of those years. They were a mixture of pleasant memories and sorrow. The Indians might as well have been in captivity on the reservation. They were forced to remain on reservation grounds unless they had permission to leave, but it was usually for no more than a few hours, unless they were lucky enough to have procured work with the local white settlers. Even then, Connie wasn’t sure how lucky it was to work for the white families. They generally paid very little and treated the Indians like the lowest of slaves.

“I was glad to help you,” Tom continued. “No one gets ahead in this town without knowing someone and getting their help.” He rearranged the books into a better order.

“Well, maybe someday I can return the favor.”

“I’ll hold you to that. Now, I’ve got to go, or I’ll be late.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek, then pushed the books back into her arms. “I’ll meet you at four—the usual place. Oh, but if I’m late, it’s