Charlotte was out of her seat before the train came to a full stop. She’d had it with the beast. Thirty-two days of nearly constant travel was more than enough for a woman on her own to withstand. Especially in present company.
“Ooo!” one of the painted, preening girls packed in the train car squealed. She knelt on her seat to look out the window as the tiny town of Cold Springs, Montana rolled into sight. “Look at all the men!”
With a roll of her eyes Charlotte grabbed her carpetbag and started for the door. She pushed past the seats full of trollops who leaned out the train’s windows waving handkerchiefs and their bosoms at passersby in the frontier town, eager to get away from them and on with her life.
“Where do you think you’re going, dear?” Miss Helen, their ring-leader, hopped up to follow her. “The train hasn’t even stopped yet.”
Charlotte ignored the woman. She’d fallen in with Miss Helen’s lot in Denver, figuring there would be safety in numbers. It had seemed like a good idea at the time; a good idea she had paid for in the last week as Miss Helen tried to recruit her as a husband-hunter.
Charlotte reached for the door at the end of the car and threw it open as the brakes squealed. The train lurched to a stop. The jolt sent her and Miss Helen both stumbling out toward the guard-rail at the back of the train. Charlotte held her hat on with one hand and fumbled her carpetbag with the other.
“Easy there.” Miss Helen’s rouged lips parted in a smile. “You don’t want them to think you’re too desperate.”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Charlotte did her best to be polite. The woman had no idea what desperate was.
Miss Helen nodded to her carpetbag. “Want me to hold that while you-”
The station porter stepped forward to offer the passengers a hand down from the train and Charlotte took it. Once her feet were on solid ground she scurried to get out of the way of the storm of females that were ready to pour from the car.
“Well hello Cold Springs!” Miss Helen trilled over the heads of the curious onlookers, flashing into action. “My name is Miss Helen and have I got a treat for you! Gentlemen, gather round!”
Miss Helen in her maroon and pink petticoats floated down the train’s steps, as audacious as any queen. Her painted face and startling red curls only just covered her true age. When she reached the platform she turned to gesture to the parade of ladies that followed her.
Charlotte took cover in the shadow of the station-house with a wince. A crowd was already gathering. She had more important things to do than watch the spectacle yet again.
“Gentlemen of Cold Springs, let me introduce you to the finest and most cultured ladies this side of the Mississippi.” Miss Helen spoke above the din of the station in a voice that must have been trained on the stage. “Fair young maidens come all the way from St. Louis to the frontier with the expressed purpose of making a few of you the happiest men alive.”
One by one the silly girls stepped down into the morning sunlight as if they too were on stage, stifling fake yawns and batting their eyelashes at the growing assembly.
“What, are they whores ‘r sumthin’?” The blunt question was followed by a chorus of rough laughter.
Genre – Western Historical Romance
Rating – R