Before the Larkspur Blooms


Logan Meadows, Wyoming Territory, May 1881

A powerful kick of emotion almost dropped Thom Donovan to his knees. Finally! After eight long years—he was home.

He stopped for a moment on the side of the deserted country road and stared at the Red Rooster Inn just ahead. The rooster-shaped iron weathervane on the steep-thatched roof and the crudely cut logs separated by a ten-inch white chink made his heart thump against his rib cage. The boardinghouse was more welcome than a spanking-new calf on Christmas Day.

Logan Meadows, the town he’d been raised in and his hope for a new beginning, was just around the next bend. He pictured lifting his ma into his arms and swinging her around. She’d laugh and kiss his cheek. And Pa? Well, he wasn’t quite sure what his father’s reaction would be. Thom would ask his forgiveness. Tell him how sorry he was for the trouble he’d caused.

Best not to get ahead of himself. Thom gave himself a mental shake and walked on. It wasn’t until he passed directly in front of the inn’s porch that he noticed the beaten-up old sign he remembered from his youth. The proprietor’s name had been struck through and “Violet Hollyhock” written in below. He frowned, and in his perusal, he almost missed the old woman sitting in one of the rockers. Her shawl, tight around her scrawny shoulders, covered a blue-and-brown calico dress buttoned right up under her chin. Her eyes were alight with curiosity.

“You look mighty thirsty, young man,” she called in a scratchy voice. “Why not stop a spell and wet your whistle?” She waved a skinny arm at the chair next to hers. “Come sit and I’ll pour ya a cool glass of the best lemonade ya ever tasted.”

Thom smiled and shook his head. “That’s a kind offer, ma’am, but I have an appointment in town I have to keep.” At the thought, a boulder wedged in the pit of his stomach. “Thank you all the same, though.” When her eyes dimmed in disappointment, he quickly added, “But I may stop back by another time. It’s been years since I’ve tasted lemonade.”

Actually, the twenty-four hours since his last meal had his insides completely twisted. He’d walked the entire way from his drop spot in New Meringue, some fifteen miles, with only a drink from a nearby stream. His throat felt no better than sawdust, but he knew better than to deviate from his instructions.

After several minutes, he rounded the corner onto Main Street and stopped on the wide boardwalk. Logan Meadows had grown. Was growing now, it seemed. The hustle and bustle looked inviting—a sense of community, belonging, made him stand there for an entire minute, taking it all in. Time to pick up the pieces of my life.

A burly man carrying boards on his shoulder crossed the street from the lumber mill and disappeared into an alley. Horses dozed in the sun. As two wagons passed in the road, the driver of one doffed his hat to the occupants of the other. Several men hammered away on the roof of the saloon. The once-sleepy town of Logan Meadows had come to life and the nail-pounding activity had the town in a stir.

Thom continued on, knowing no one would recognize him. He’d left a boy and returned a man. He glanced across the street at the mercantile. Scents of pine oil, tobacco, and candles being dipped all flitted through his mind. The recollection of molasses brought welcome moisture to his mouth, and sounds of childish laughter reverberated in his head as he recalled the row of thick glass jars filled with all sorts of colorful confections. He blinked, and the images evaporated into the air.

Surprisingly, old Mrs. Miller, the owner of the mercantile and as prune-faced as ever, was still alive and out sweeping the boardwalk. She stopped and stared at him, clearly unmindful of her rudeness, then waved her broom to shoo away two scraggly boys kicking an old can back and forth across the wooden slats.

Thom crossed the alley and stepped back on the boardwalk. He’d taken only a few steps when the dented can shot through his feet, almost tripping him, and slid under the doors of the Bright Nugget Saloon. The dirtier of the two urchins tried to scramble past in pursuit, but Thom caught him by his small shoulders. “Let me, son. A saloon is no place for such a young lad.”

“You sure, mister?” the boy said timidly. He kicked at the