Caroline Fyffe

Excerpt: Where Wind Meets Wave

Book 6: Prairie Hearts Series

Chapter One

October 1883, Somewhere between Wyoming and Oregon, Union Pacific Rail Line

The clickety-clack of the train wheels agitated Jake’s ragged nerves and kept him from falling asleep. Eyes gritty with fatigue ached as if a ten-pound weight were laid atop each lid. Bracing his boot on the back of the seat in front of him, he tried to get comfortable. His five-day trip was about to come to an end. Rest on a solid surface would be welcome.

What will my life look like this time tomorrow?

The door between the two passenger cars opened and a porter carrying a lantern stepped inside, the amber glow infusing the dark space. He was older, heavyset, his uniform rumpled and worn. He ambled down the aisle, glancing at the sleeping passengers.

When he got to Jake, he stopped. “You haven’t gotten much sleep since you boarded, young man.”

Jake shrugged. The man was right, but what could he say?

The porter chuckled. “Didn’t mean no offense. Just gets mighty lonely on the night shift. All the passengers snoring away and me havin’ta stay awake. I noticed you haven’t been one of ’em.”

“I reckon you’re right,” Jake whispered. He wished he could be one of the sleepers.

“Some people don’t cotton to the rocking motion. Never get used to it.”

That was only part of the problem. “Thanks, but I’ll be getting off tomorrow. I appreciate your concern.”

The man smiled and moved on, leaving Jake to his pondering.

Tomorrow was just around the corner. What would he find? Would his father even be able to talk? Had his sickness gotten worse? Or had he died?

At the thought, a flash of molten fire ignited in his belly, but he tamped it back.

After all these years, he’d meet his father. Jake’s mother had sworn she hadn’t known who his father was. Being a saloon girl for most of her adult life, she’d entertained more than her fair share of men. That falsehood had been just another in her long list of lies.

Jake pushed back the anger gnawing at his gut. Now, as if in a dream, he was about to meet the man whose blood flowed through his own veins.

Provided he arrived in time.

The train jerked violently and then rocked back and forth before chugging onward. This section of track through the Willamette Valley to the Oregon coast seemed rougher and the train had slowed, sometimes almost to a crawl.

Several seats in front of him, a burly man who’d been snoring for the past hour sat up at the disturbance and looked around. He cast one questioning look at Jake before settling back onto his seat. Farther up the car, a mother, huddled with three children in a pile of arms and legs, whispered and shushed them back to sleep.

Jake swallowed and turned his gaze to the deep, foreboding darkness on the other side of the window. He’d never been out of Wyoming Territory.

Jake Costner.

He couldn’t get used to thinking of himself in those terms. For his whole life, he’d been Jake. Just Jake.

What’s Daisy doing now? The question was never far from his mind. He glanced down at the book resting on the seat beside him. The Last of the Mohicans. Daisy’s parting gift, but he was far too preoccupied to read.

On the eve before he’d departed Wyoming, he’d lain awake for hours, keyed up and uncomfortable. Chase and Jessie had insisted he and his best friend, Gabe, spend the night in the large, rustic ranch house with them, even though the two young men normally lived in the bunkhouse with the other ranch hands. Jake hadn’t wanted to put out his adoptive family, hadn’t wanted to make a bigger deal of his leaving in search of his father than it already was. But Jessie usually had her way when the subject in question was her family and making them feel special.

She’d gone to great lengths preparing his going-away supper, cooking up all his favorites. Pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie with thick, sweet cream on top. Using the buggy, he’d picked up Daisy in Logan Meadows and brought her out to the ranch.

A hefty sigh escaped. That evening felt like ten years ago instead of four days. Then later that night, when he’d taken Daisy back into town, he’d driven off the road where they could say their goodbyes in private. They’d kissed under the moonlight, the farewell bittersweet.

She hadn’t said as much, but he knew she hadn’t wanted him to go. She was frightened, worried he’d find something better and not return. Didn’t she know how much he loved her? Would give his life for her? Just as soon as he had this business behind him and returned, he’d erase all the doubt from her mind.

He dragged his thoughts away from Daisy.

The train would reach the coast first thing in the morning. Would his father still be alive? He wished the letter his mother had brought to town had gone into a little more detail. As exciting as the prospect was, Jake didn’t like walking in blind. If he and Daisy were lucky enough to have a son or daughter, he’d be a good father, watch over any child of his carefully.

Jake withdrew the post from his pocket and took the missive from the envelope. He searched for something he might have missed. After all these years of wondering who the man was, the prospect of actually meeting him now had Jake’s mouth as dry as sand—or perhaps the hours he’d been riding this iron horse were responsible.


“Newport! Yaquina Bay!” a deep baritone voice called out.

Jake jerked awake as the train slowly rolled to a stop.

The small family several seats in front of him squirmed in excitement, their faces and hands pressed to the grimy glass.

He glanced outside. The cloud-covered sun was midway past the gray horizon. He’d finally fallen asleep, only to wake much later than normal.

“I believe this is your stop, young fella.”

The same porter from last night stood at his seat. His smile revealed a missing front tooth Jake hadn’t noticed before.

“Pick up your travel chest at—”

“Don’t have a trunk,” Jake said, interrupting him. “Just this bag, my saddlebags, and a horse.”

“In that case, when you go to retrieve your horse, be aware a prison camp sits close to where you’ll be collecting your animal. Best not hang around. A few months back, a civilian was almost killed when he got curious, crossed the tracks, and approached the fence.”

That was a term Jake wasn’t familiar with. “Prison camp? Here on the coast?”

“Yes, sir. Hard-core criminals being transported up from San Francisco by ship to meet another vessel bound for Alaska. They’ll live out their sentences in a gold mine on the Kenai Peninsula.”

“You mean lives, don’t you?”

The conductor nodded and then turned to go. “Pretty much. The stories the guards bring back freeze your blood.” Ambling away, the man stopped to chat with the family now hopping up and down with excitement like a bunch of prairie dogs.

Jake stood, stretched, and worked out the kinks in his neck and back. He hadn’t eaten much on the way, and now a ferocious hunger burned in his belly. Once he picked up his horse, he’d find some food and a bathhouse. Get cleaned up.

After reaching overhead, he lifted down his soft leather saddlebag and tossed it over one shoulder, then went for his bag. Covering the distance in eight paces, he arrived at the front and took the three narrow steps, descending into the chilly morning air, unaware of what his future might hold.

He paused and looked around. Coastal mountains to the north and south were small compared to what he was used to in Wyoming. A gloomy slate-gray sky, so different from the vivid, welcoming blue of home, hung low over the land and then disappeared into the Pacific Ocean. The salty air had a biting chill and smelled like rotting fish. Gusts of wind moved women’s skirts and bonnets as they rushed into the arms of their waiting family and friends.

Everything about this place seemed to want to drive him away—the wind pushing him back toward the train, the clouds pressing down upon his body, the mocking cry of the seagulls.

Go home, they all said. You don’t belong here.

Feeling alone, Jake pulled down his hat and started for the rear of the train, the weight of his .45 Colt, the only familiar sense keeping him grounded.

Had he arrived in time? Or had he made this long trip for nothing?

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