Lanterns and Lace - By DiAnn Mills Page 0,1

the porter to mind his own affairs, except her mother’s ways often sounded impolite. “My deceased sister used to live in Kahlerville.” She promptly focused her attention on the cracked and split seat beside her.

“I’m sorry, miss. And I nearly forgot the why I’m here.”

She turned her attention back to the kindly man.

“There’s a gentleman sitting in first class who would like for you to join him.”

Jenny sighed and fought the unsettling in her stomach. Sitting in first class had its advantages. Abruptly, her breakfast nearly made it to her throat. “I couldn’t possibly. I feel rather ill, and I don’t have a chaperon.”

“I understand, and I’ll give him your reply. I believe he’s taking the train to Kahlerville too. I would not have approached you with the gentleman’s request, except he specifically asked for you by name and described your appearance. I thought perhaps you were acquainted.”

A mixture of curiosity and alarm raced through her. “My goodness. I don’t know anyone on board. What is the gentleman’s name?”

“Mr. Aubrey Turner.”

Jenny tilted her head. “Is he from Ohio?”

“He didn’t say. Would you like for me to ask him?”

“Oh, no.” She smiled and allowed the train’s rhythmic hum to soothe her for a moment. “Please give him my regrets.”

“Of course. Mr. Turner did ask that I relate to you that he’d been a close friend of your sister, Jessica.”

She startled. How did this Mr. Turner know she and Jessica were sisters? The thought frightened her. Could he have been a part of Jessica’s unmentionable profession? Perhaps Jenny should have accepted Oscar’s proposal before she left Cleveland. At least she would have had a ring on her left hand to eliminate inappropriate advances. This Mr. Turner—what if he thought she shared her sister’s livelihood?

She took a deep breath. I do look like my sister. Humiliation swept over her as though every passenger knew Jessica’s disgraceful behavior had caused their parents to disown her. Jenny glanced down at her clothes, now wrinkled and soiled, but certainly not the attire her sister would have chosen. Even when Jessica had sought to please their parents, she chose brighter colors and a much snugger fit.

Why did he want to talk to me? Jenny’s mental distress now matched her physical uneasiness. Poor Jessica needed to stay buried. Jenny had no desire to learn about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s wayward life or her men friends. She settled back and closed her eyes in hopes the troublesome thoughts would dissipate.

The arrival into Kahlerville held no fanfare, and Jenny’s expectations were only to find the boardinghouse. She’d grown very accustomed to Cleveland and all the finery a city offered, but she didn’t expect anything more than the quaint country town that greeted her. For the present, a warm bath and a real bed with fresh linens would ease all the annoyances of travel. Weary beyond description, she stepped down from the rail car and onto the first step.

A mass of fiery air nearly suffocated her. She gasped for breath, and tears stung her eyes. A mixture of dirt, soot, and intense heat spun her into a coughing spasm. Bile rose in her throat. She tasted the familiar acridity of the past several days.

Please, no, I’m not going to be sick. I’d rather choke first.

Jenny dropped her small traveling bag and it hit the ground with a thud. Her right hand reached for the side rail, but her fingers refused to wrap around the metal. A wave of blackness enveloped her head and numbed her senses. She realized the brittle limbs that supported her body were about to give way, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. A pair of strong arms reached from behind. Darkness washed over her, and she felt herself falling forward.

Jenny woke to the muffled voice of a man calling her name. “Miss Martin,” he said. “Miss Martin, can you hear me?”

“Must be the heat.” She heard another man’s voice and recognized it as the porter’s. “It’s a scorcher.”

“Let’s get her inside the train station,” the first man said. “Doesn’t this town have a doctor?”

She felt herself being swept up and carried as though she were but a mere child. I’m all right. I don’t need a doctor. The words refused to come. She raised her head and gave into the blackness.

When Jenny forced open her eyes, she blinked and swallowed the bitter taste in her mouth. Slowly the fog in her head lifted, and she found herself looking up into a pair