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~ Chapter 2 ~

The three atop the cliff by the waterfall had definitely gasped in surprise, but not because they were unprepared for the graceful gliding through the air, but they all simultaneously noticed the pink and black backpack that was strapped to their charge's back.

“Oh no!” had been Rachel's retort, Silas mumbled beneath his breath and Nichel had quickly vanished and reappeared below the fall next to Fillabelle. He had been too late to grab the pack from her back. Nichel motioned for Leatha's guardians to join him.

The biggest surprise Leatha could have ever received that day would have been to witness Silas and Rachel disappearing from the cliff top and reappearing next to Nichel at his invited summons below the waterfall.

“Well,” Nichel said wryly. “I guess plans are changing again! Stick around here until I get back.” Then Nichel was gone.

Known as Uncle Silas and Aunt Rachel Loveall to their white-haired, pink-eyed charge, the Guardian Protectors looked at one another with a mixture of worry and wonder.

“This change of plans cannot be good, Silas.”

“Keep the faith, Rachel. I'm sure Nichel will be back soon with the new game plan.” When Silas noted that Rachel had began to wring her hands again, he gently took the hand closest to him and gave it a squeeze. “She made it through fine.”

“Yeah, I'm sure she did.” Rachel acknowledged with a wistful sigh. “I just wish I could have seen this mission through until the end. It's not fair that I come this far to hand her over to a complete stranger there.”

“Aww, but strangers they are not.” Silas said with a wink and a smile.

“I just hate being assigned these types of missions. But it has been nice to work with you again.”

“The pleasure is always mine.”

“I wouldn't say your goodbyes just yet.” Nichel spoke up dryly as he materialized next to them. “I need one of you to stay and one of you to prepare yourself for the 19th century.” The head Guardian saw the surprise that flashed over their faces and continued. “Someone will need to convince Leatha she is not dreaming and the other must stand guard to protect the waterfall so we can get the backpack and bring it back through.”

Silas intoned before Rachel spoke up. “Send Rachel through, I'll stay.”

“Good enough.” Nichel nodded his head, then looked at Rachel. “Leatha will be the only person who can see you, so try to catch her when she is alone.”

With a smile directed at Silas and a nod of the head to Nichel, Rachel waved goodbye as she disappeared into the blue pool of water.

Nichel directed his attention to Silas and informed him to stay close by the waterfall just in case problems arose, then enumerated the various happenstances that could occur as a scenario was not in place and the mission had just become fair game between the Guardian Protectors and Marlor, one of the head Shadow Snatchers.



Leading up to Leatha being thrown into the blue pool at the “magical waterfall”, the lone stranger sitting in the lobby of Nick's hotel in 19th century America pulled his hat lower on his head as he stood up and approached the desk where the mousy little man greeted him suspiciously.

“I was a wondering if you were going to need a room, sir?” reminding him he had noticed him sitting in the lobby for a while now.

“I am Andrew Devine, my good man.” he introduced himself. “I would like to speak with the gentleman who owns this hotel. I believe his name is Nicholas Weyrich?”

Devine had seen Nathan Lawson leave just minutes before he rose from his camped-out position in the lobby; now he took one finger and pushed his hat further up his forehead and looked at the desk clerk when he did not answer right away.

“I believe Mr. Weyrich is currently in a meeting.” he finally snubbed his request.

Andrew Devine smiled patiently at the clerk but did not have time to counter his comment when Nick spoke up as he came through the door behind the desk where the clerk was and dismissed his remark. “That's alright, Tobias.” he said, patting the clerk on the shoulder. The desk clerk excused himself, then left the front desk.

“What can I do for you, Mr. - ?”

“Devine,” he introduced himself again, holding out his hand. “Andrew Devine. I understand you are considering selling your hotel?”

“And, you have heard this news from what sources, Mr. Devine?” Nick released the handshake.

Devine chuckled and said dryly. “Green Meadow is a fairly small settlement. Word is out, sir. If you would give me a moment of your time, I would like to discuss a proposition with you?”

Nick gave him another once over, then nodded his head. Gesturing for Tobias to return to his post, Nick motioned for Andrew Devine to follow him. Casting an amused smile at the mousy little desk clerk, Devine walked around the desk. He followed Nick through the door and Nick offered the man a seat before sitting down himself. The hotelier waited for the proposition and was somewhat thoughtful after hearing what the short, young man suggested.

Nick continued to sit there in contemplation long after Andrew Devine left. Instead of selling the hotel, why not try hiring a manager to run the operation? Word was out that the company of Russell, Majors and Waddell Freighting was in the process of establishing a fast mail delivery system and Green Meadow was along the route.

Russell, Majors and Waddell was one of the largest and fastest growing companies in America. They had been very successful in their freighting endeavors and if their proposed mail delivery system worked out, the town of Green Meadow would definitely be sitting in the middle of prosperous revenue.

He had heard somewhere that the proposed fast mail delivery was to be called the Pony Express.

Nathan Lawson, on the other hand, had been a bit impatient and pushy in trying to acquire this hotel. Had he also heard about the prospect of new revenue coming to this town? While Lawson had worn a professional smile, he had not been happy when he was told the offer would be considered.

While Nick was anxious to leave here, he was not so sure if he really wanted to cut the ties completely just yet. Why not just let someone else run the place while he went out west? If the venture out west did not work out, he would always have a place to come back to.

Nick heard his mother's voice whisper, “Follow your heart, son. It will never let you down.” He sighed sadly when he realized the voice was in his heart and not present with him. He missed his mother terribly, but knew she was right. Nick suddenly stood up and exited his small office where he had met with Andrew Devine and Nathan Lawson earlier. As he passed by Tobias, he told his clerk. “I'll be out for a while.”

“You going to be back before supper, or should I have Polly keep yours warm?”

“Tell her not to worry about keeping any food back for me. Not sure how long I'll be gone.”

Polly Davenport was the cook who basically ran his small eatery in the hotel with an iron fist and big wooden spoon. She was a fairly large boned colored woman with a huge gait and a remarkable talent for preparing food. His restaurant was one of the most frequented eateries in town. He had hired her not long after she entered his establishment and told him if hired her, she would guarantee “Peoples taste Polly's cookin' and they come back fo' more.”

An agreement of a small wage and room at the hotel was agreed upon and Polly had been with him ever since. And, she had kept her word. “Peoples come back fo' more.” was an understatement. Polly had had many offers for employment elsewhere, but she had remained faithful to him and turned the offers down. Even William Gilpin, the man determined to become the first governor of Colorado Territory, had passed through here a month ago and offered her a job at his mansion. She had turned him down also.

Nick had been saddling his black stallion while thoughts of Polly raced through his head and was now surprised to find that he had finished the chore. He mounted his black steed and guided the horse from the stable behind the hotel. Not wanting to run into anyone he knew, he decided to turn his horse towards the woods behind his establishment and head towards the Arkansas River. It was a route he enjoyed when he needed to get away and be alone. Which seemed more often lately, he mused sardonically, when he thought of Cassandra Bailey, who was the town's most eligible young woman, and who happened to have her sights set on him.

While she was a fairly good-looking woman, with her brunette curls, her spoiled rich girl reputation preceded her, and he had no time for little, rich girls who threw temper tantrums when they did not get their way.

He was not really interested in settling down with one woman just yet. Not that there were many young ladies to choose from out here, he thought dryly, as he spied the river ahead.

Then the thought of a young, light-haired woman with red eyes came into his reverie. Smiling at such a silly thought, Nick urged his horse closer to the Arkansas River and reined in next to the bank, noting the rushing water. Nick noticed the current was more fierce than usual and wondered if heavy rains up north had caused such a forceful swirling in the water. Just as he started to turn his horse away from the river, he spotted someone flailing their arms in the rushing water and instantly went into action.

Jumping down from his horse, he quickly took his rope from the saddle and unwound it. Swiftly fashioning it into a lasso he threw it up in the air, above his head, and threw it out towards the drowning person, who was now fighting to swim against the current. He missed. Again, he threw the rope out towards the river and the lasso connected this time. The fighting body was sucked under the fast-rushing water and Nick quickly began pulling the rope towards him with all his might.

He knew he still had his catch in the lasso, as it was hard to pull the person to safety against the raging current. The river was horribly choppy this morning, he thought in frustration, continuing to pull the roped person towards him. Suddenly another person grabbed his rope and began pulling as well. Nick was surprised to find a Ute Indian warrior standing behind him pulling on the rope with all his might also.

He did not have time to digest this when they discovered a young, half-naked woman curled up in the rope. The Indian quickly moved aside as Nick took the rope from around her body. She was unconscious and he feared that she was dead.

He glanced up at the Ute in time to see him nod his head towards the young woman with mud-caked hair. Nick glanced back and found that she was beginning to cough. He instantly sat her up, his arm thrown around her back to keep her in an upright position. When he turned his head towards the Indian, the Ute was no longer there. His attention went back to the drenched woman in his arms to find her coughing again. This time he patted her back and soon the coughing subsided.

“You're gonna be just fine now.” he said reassuringly, as he lay her on the ground and looked down at her.

Mud was splashed all over her face, neck, bare shoulders and arms that were peeking out from her blue undergarment. When he glanced back at her face, he found that her eyes were open, and she was staring at him. He gasped audibly when he saw her pinkish-colored eyes.

They were not red like fire, but were definitely unusual, just like the woman in his dreams. Nick quickly eliminated that thought and went on. “Can you speak? Do you understand English?”

“Where am I?” she quietly asked, as she sat up and looked around, coming in close contact with him.

Nick scooted back and stood up, towering over her. “You are near Green Meadow.” he informed her logically.

“Green Meadow?” she asked again as she watched him walk over to his horse and pull a bandana from his saddle bag.

He knelt down beside her and started wiping the mud from her face, when she asked, “Where is Green Meadow?” Nick stopped wiping for a moment. “In Colorado Territory.” The young woman slapped his hand away and stood up, now towering over him. He noticed she had on a pair of dark blue cut off pants of some kind and showing an extreme amount of muddy legs. She had no shoes, and her little toes were caked with mud as well.

“What do you mean Colorado Territory?” she demanded to know as she continued to look around her surroundings.

“Just what I said.” he retorted patiently, having come to his feet as well, then looked at her more closely. “Let me see if you got a bump on your head.” His hand went towards her head, and she moved back.

“There is nothing wrong with my head!” she told him, then looked down. “Dang! I lost my flip-flops!”

Nick gave her an inquiring look as he rose to his feet and towered over her. Her cursing shocked him more than her appearance. “Flip-flops?” He had no idea what a flip-flop was. “My shoes.” she answered automatically, then sucked in a deep breath. “Oh my! The backpack is gone too!”

“You were traveling with a mule?” he asked of her.

She turned and gave him a sarcastic look. “No, my backpack. It was strapped to my back.”

Nick was beginning to worry that she had really hit her head in that river. How could one carry a mule on their back? Not wanting to upset her again, he changed the subject. “I think we should get back to the hotel so you can get cleaned up and see the doctor.”

“I don't need a doctor!” she retorted. “I need my backpack so I can call my aunt and uncle.”

He picked up on her last comment. “You have an aunt and uncle nearby? What is their name? I may know them.”

“Silas and Rachel Loveall.” She did not see him flinch as she was now starting to walk nearer to the bank, her head hung low as if she was looking for something.

“Loveall? There are no Lovealls' in this part of the country.”

Leatha glanced at the stranger when she noted his terse tone. What a good-looking cowboy this was standing before her, she thought with bemusement, then shook her head to clear this thought. She was still looking along the riverbank. “Ok, I will try this again.” she started to say, then spied her pink and black backpack and forgot what she was going to say. “Oh, there it is!”

Nick watched as she walked down the bank of the river and picked up a strange saddle bag that had the strangest colors. Very bright pink and black? That was soon forgotten when she cursed again. “Well, darnit. The zipper is stuck!”

“I think you should really see a doctor to make sure you did not hit your head on a rock in the river.”

“River?!” she spurted out in shock. “My horse threw me into the pool below the waterfall.”

There were no waterfalls in the near vicinity that he knew of, but needed to get her back to the hotel so Doc Hamilton could check her over.

“Well, either way, I really think we need to get back and have you checked over by a doctor. Please humor me.” he went on when she opened her mouth to argue, “I will pay for it, if you are worried about that.”

She laughed in amusement. “My guardians have insurance.”

Insurance? Nick was not going to continue humoring her. “It will soon be getting dark, and I would like to get out of here while I can see where to guide my horse.”

Leatha had been taught not to go anywhere with strangers, but looking around her again, she found she almost didn't have any choice right now. She had to trust this fine-looking gentleman and pray that is what he will turn out to be. A gentleman.

“Is this Green Meadow very far?” she asked as she watched him mount his horse.

“Not far.”

Nick extended his hand and helped her board the horse. She put her arms around his waist and held on as he turned the horse towards the wooden area. Leatha prayed that he did not turn out to be a rapist or murderer.

Her rescuer had no idea what he thought about this strange woman. She seemed to have no qualms about speaking her mind, if her cursing was any indication. The things that she said made no sense to him and he was concerned that she had some type of head injury. He would have to send someone for the doctor, but really did not want anyone to know about her until he figured her out. He couldn’t take a chance on her saying crazy things to others or they may send her off to an asylum.

“Oh, this is freakin' crazy!” she wailed and felt him tense. “Mountains! Where the hell did these mountains come from?” Nick urged the horse to go a little faster.


Rachel watched from her invisible stance as Leatha rode off with the man that was intended to rescue her. She smiled in relief when she discovered that Nicholas had found her instead of Marlor. Nichel had said he had someone on the other end waiting for her charge's arrival and was pleased to see it was Spotted Wolf. When he quietly came up beside her, she was not surprised.

“Your charge has arrived.” Spotted Wolf said. “I need to let Nichel know. You will follow them?” Rachel told him she would. The Indian nodded once, then disappeared. With a happy smile on her face, Rachel disappeared as well.


Nick guided his black horse into the stable and waited for her to slide off the back of the steed. He hoped that Henry McGee, the part-time stable hand, was in having his supper, because he did not want to explain her appearance. Nick quickly came down from his horse and pulled a blanket off the stall rail nearest to him. He held out his hand for the strange satchel and Leatha handed him her backpack, which he threw in the corner and covered with the blanket.

“Hey!” she spoke up quickly. “Don't be throwing that backpack around! It has my computer in it!”

Nick rolled his eyes, which she did not see, as he bent over and picked up another blanket and placed it around her. She did not complain when he wrapped the blanket around her shoulders but did argue when she wanted her 'backpack'.

“I will come back for it after I get you inside.” he said almost nonchalantly.

Nick had not let her say another word before he was quickly ushering her inside the building through a back door and guided her to a staircase. They ascended the wooden steps to the second floor. Leatha did not have much time to take in her surroundings as this man in his cowboy garb rushed her upstairs and deposited her in a room at the far end of the building.

“Just have a seat.” he gestured toward a wooden chair next to a small, unlit fireplace, then barked out rather brusquely when she started to remove the blanket. “And, for heaven's sake, keep that blanket wrapped around you!”

Leatha glanced at him with a raised eyebrow, but he did not notice as he abruptly turned and left the room. She sat down and pulled the blanket around her more snugly. Taking in the décor of the room, she was a bit amused. Definitely a man's room. No pictures on the wall, no knick-knacks; not even a rug on the floor. At least there were curtains on the window. Other than that, there was nothing feminine about this sparsely furnished room.

A bed, a dresser, a nightstand, and an antique wardrobe. Then Leatha chided herself when she suddenly remembered that he had brought her to a hotel, not an apartment building! Leatha blushed deeply at the thought, then looked closer about the room and noted that all the furniture was antique, which she found rather cozy.

Then she wondered where the bathroom was, as there were no other doors in the room besides the one her rescuer had exited from. She wondered what his name was, as she rose from the chair and walked towards the door.

The white-haired girl bet it was something formal like Charles or Jonathon! Leatha found that thought humorous and giggled as she opened the door a crack and peeked out. She really did not want to be seen in her muddy condition, but she needed to visit the women's bathroom and nature was not allowing her to wait for the mysterious man to return.

When Nick had left the disheveled, muddy woman in his private room, he could not wait to get away from her and collect his composure. What a spitfire she was! He was not sure how he was going to explain her appearance at the hotel, but he knew she needed to get cleaned up and put into some proper clothes. He had entered the main lobby of the hotel and put off Tobias, who had come to his feet, when he passed him by. “Hey, boss! Nathan Lawson came back and -”

“Not now, Tobias.”

Tobias Cline gave his boss a questioning look, which Nick did not see, then shrugged his shoulders and sat back down on his stool. Nick was on a mission and did not stop until he was in the kitchen area, having gone through the hall instead of the eatery. He did not need any distractions right now.

When he spied Polly among the kitchen help, he called for her. Polly smiled, held up one hand and finished giving Barbara Aulenbacher, one of the two hired waitresses, some instruction.

“And don’t go forgettin' to tell Mary the same thing, girl!”

Mary Houghland was his other waitress, and both were still just young girls in their late teens. Both young women worked in the eatery to supplement the household income for their respective families. Both girls had fathers that worked from sun-up until sundown panning for gold, which thus far had not 'panned out'.

“Yes, Mistah Nick?”

“I need you to run an errand for me.”

“Why, Mistah Nick, it be the busy hour!” Polly reminded him.

“I'll send Nancy Jane to help out.” Polly looked at him closely at the thought of sending the young maid into her kitchen. Nancy Jane didn't have a lick of sense.

But before she could object, he took her by the arm and led her out into the hall. Glancing both ways, making sure they had privacy, he took a deep breath and told her. “Listen, I need your help.”

A couple of times Polly's eyes grew large and a few times her smile came into play as Nick recounted what had just transpired down by the Arkansas River. Ever the understanding soul, Polly assured him that she would run across the street and get 'them proper clothes fo' the young lady'. She agreed to discreetly bring the clothes up the back way and would help her with the bath.

As soon as Polly departed, he tracked down Nancy Jane and instilled her in the kitchen, much to her dismay. “Mr. Nick, I can't cook!” was Nancy Jane's response.

“You don't have to cook!” he said tersely, then collected himself when she flinched. “Just dip the food out on the plates and give it to the girls when they come to get it.”

Nick picked up a big black kettle for boiling water as he left the kitchen area and headed back upstairs. This time he went the long way around the hall to climb the back stairs so he would not have to stop and talk to Tobias. Nor did he want to take a chance on running into Lawson in the lobby.

He had a feeling the man was not going to give up after their last meeting. Tobias had confirmed it. But he had no time to talk to anyone or worry about anything except the half-dressed, dirty woman hiding in his room.

Thank goodness the prior owners had installed a water pump upstairs; he thought as he climbed the staircase. The indoor pump was located in a small closet across from his private bedchamber and should not cause much distraction if someone should be roaming the upper hallway.

Nick had just made it to upper floor when he saw her and stopped in momentary shock. She was opening a door in the middle of the hall and peeked inside. He hurried his stride.

“What are you doing?” he demanded, and she physically jumped as if being caught doing something naughty. Composing herself, she stated, closing the door. “I'm looking for the bathroom, if you must know.”

“Bath room?” Oh, great! he thought a bit scornfully. He bet where she came from, they are equipped with a room that probably housed a fancy tub on legs.

“You know, the little ladies room?”

The look he gave her was almost comical but had a feeling he would not be amused if she pointed it out. “I have to pee.” she finally told him bluntly.

Did he actually blush, Leatha wondered. “Oh. Follow me.” was all he said, then proceeded to walk down the hall towards his private room. He stopped in front of a door across from his room and next to the small closet where the indoor water pump was located. He opened the door, looked over her shoulder as if looking for someone, then ushered her inside. Nick cringed when he heard her exclamation.

“What the hell kind of joke is this? You can't expect me to go to the bathroom in here!”

“I'm sorry we're not equipped to suit your needs here, but if you really need to go to the bath room hold your darn breath and get it over with!”

“Ooh! You are a very exasperating man!” she called out to him from the indoor outhouse. “Now go away and let me take care of business in private!”

That woman said the absolute darndest things, he thought as he went into his private bedchamber, leaving the door open so he could keep an eye on the door to the indoor facility. Nick quickly gathered some wood from in front of the hearth and threw it into the fireplace.

He had a nice fire blazing when he stood up from his kneeling position in front of the fire and turned to glance out the door. He drew in a deep, shocked breath at the sight of her standing in the doorway watching him with enigmatic eyes the color of a soft glowing fire. She had the blanket draped over her shoulders but did not hold it close to her bosom like any other normal woman would.

No, she stood unabashedly in front of him in her blue, mud-caked undergarment and blue cut off pants, which showed a great expanse of legs. Where was this woman's shame?

Clearing her throat, she broke into his mesmerized reverie. “So, what's the plan, Stan?” she asked as she came inside the room and began to look around again, missing the frown that formed on his face.

“My name is Nick, not Stan.” he informed her pointedly, gruffly.

“It's just a figure of speech. Relax.” she said absently, then twirled around and faced him again, a smile beaming from her dirty face. “You do not look like a Nick.”

“So, what does a Nick look like?” he wanted to know, momentarily distracted by her again.

“Hmm, a tall, lanky cowpoke, maybe?” she laughed at his pronounced frown, then added, “but you did save me in the 'nick of time', eh?”

She was laughing at him again. Nick snapped out of it and got control of himself. “Come over by the fire and sit down.” he said in his terse tone again. “I'll get the water on for your bath.” When she opened her mouth to speak as she sat down in the wooden chair, he quickly went on in a new mocking tone. “Sorry, I can't accommodate your pampered needs, but I do have a fairly good size tub and hot water.”

“Well, if you expect me to take a bath in front of you, mister, you got another think coming!”

“Why, honey, Mistah Nick ain't that kinda man.” the big, portly black woman said good-naturedly as she entered the room, her arms full of clothes. She looked at Nick with a no-nonsense glance. “Now, go get that kettle filled up with water, so Polly can get this here girl washed up.”

Good grief! He had forgotten to shut the door. And now was startled when Polly entered, then his attention went back to the young, muddy woman.

“Oh, I don't need help!” the filthy girl countered.

“Who gonna be washin' the mud from yo' head? Polly.” she answered her own question. “Now, Mistah Nick gonna fill up the kettle water, then he be leavin.” Nick left the room with kettle in hand.

Leatha was almost afraid to say anymore to this bossy woman for fear of her getting in trouble and being sent to bed without supper! Leatha smiled at such a funny thought and glanced over to see Nick entering the room with a kettle filled with water.

He placed the kettle handle on a hook in the fireplace. Then looked at Polly, totally ignoring Leatha. “Will you need me to fill the next kettle?”

“No. Polly can do it.”

Nick left the room, shutting the door behind him, without saying one word to her, Leatha thoughtfully frowned. What a pig! So arrogant and demanding.

And so darn masculine! She was glad the black woman was busy as the blush covered her entire body. Leatha had been so distracted by this man and his dominating presence that she had not given a thought to her predicament. What the heck had happened to her? She was riding Fillabelle, they had stopped in the middle of the meadow on the Loveall farm when she had seen the “magical waterfall” had come to life.

Then her black mare had evidently been spooked because she took off running like the devil himself was after them! She had flown over Fillabelle's head and hit the pool of water. What happened next? She racked her brain for the answer and jumped when Polly spoke.

“What be your name, chile'?”

Leatha provided it, then frowned when she discovered her bath water was being heated up over the blazing fire. Just how rustic was this hotel, she wondered, and was this supposed to be one of the amenities of a backwoods inn?


Nick had not hesitated when Polly rushed him out of the room. The girl he had fished out of the river was extremely maddening and so damn seductive all rolled into one spitfire of a woman.

Nick had reprimanded his thoughts as he headed down the back stairs. He was not intending to get mixed up with some woman who came from a life of high society and money. Which she evidently did. Did he have a bath room, indeed! He'd snickered.

Nick came back to reality when he saw Tobias watching him from the front desk. With a sigh, he went to see what kind of message Nathan Lawson had left for him. Maybe it would take his mind off the wildcat in his bedchamber. Tobias told him Lawson was pleased to learn he still had not sold out to someone else and he had another proposition for him. Great, Nick thought. Business was the last thing he really wanted to think about right now, but knew he had to get his mind on something besides that crazy girl with fire in her eyes.

“Did you hear me, boss?” Tobias intruded into Nick's wayward thoughts, and he quickly gave the young man his attention once again. “Nathan Lawson has made an appointment for tomorrow at 3:00.”

“Alright, that's fine.” he nodded, then shocked his clerk by adding. “I will be unavailable for the rest of the day, so handle any thing that arises.”

“But” Tobias spoke up as Nick started to walk away from the front desk. His boss stopped and turned with a questioning brow raised. “What if it's an emergency?”

“Unless the hotel is on fire, I do not want to be disturbed.”

Tobias Cline watched in dumbfounded bemusement as his boss walked away and headed towards the back hallway. Never in all his seven years of working for Nick Weyrich had the boss given him such power when it came to his hotel. Nick was very particular about how things were run around here. Still bemused, Tobias sat back down on his stool with a smile on his face.

Nick was also thinking about Tobias Cline as he headed down the hall towards the back staircase. The redheaded man had worked for him for many years and was his most efficient employee by far. Tobias and his wife, Charlotte had ridden into town all those years ago, completely broke, and had intended to get rich “panning” and then head for California. After only a couple of weeks he had come to him seeking any type of employment. And the rest became history. Tobias had become his front desk man, who efficiently kept track of every person that came in and out of his hotel. Charlotte was his other maid and so much more proficient than poor Nancy Jane Baggerly.

Nick snapped out of his consequent reverie when he realized he was almost to the door of his private bedchamber. Taking a deep, calming breath, Nick softly rapped on the door and was not surprised to find Polly opening the door to his bedchamber.

She scooted him back as she came out into the hall and shut the door behind her. With a flabbergasted expression upon her normally jovial face, his hotel cook asked him. “Where in the world yo' find that girl, Mistah Nick? I'se thinkin' she done hit her head on somethin'. She sure say silly things.” Nick rolled his dark brown eyes at her last comment and could only imagine what the little river nymph had said. Polly continued before he could speak up. “She be almost done. I'se check her head for bumps when I'se wash her hair.”

“Very good, Polly.” Nick said pleased. “Is there anything else you need to get her presentable?”

“Well,” she said thoughtfully. “maybe yo' could go find that po' girls mule so she quit worrin' bout it.”

Nick sighed when he also thought she was worried about a mule a couple of hours ago. “Tell her the mule is safely stowed away.” he said, without bothering to explain the strange looking pink and black satchel she had left behind in the stable and he had quickly hidden beneath a horse blanket. With that thought in mind, Nick decided he would go out to the stable and retrieve that strange satchel. Swearing Polly to secrecy about the rescued woman's presence in the hotel, Nick took off.

When Nick had left the hotel room earlier, Leatha had been somewhat relieved. He was quite intimidating. She had not come to any conclusions about how she ended up in a raging river, let alone some rustic hotel with primitive facilities. Polly had intruded upon her thoughts wanting to know her name and she had forgotten about her present predicament. At least Polly had wanted to know her name; Nick never even bothered to ask!

Her bath was soon over and she had to admit she was thankful for Polly's help. Especially with her long white hair. The bath water was so dirty when she finally stepped into the towel Polly held open for her.

Leatha enjoyed the company of the black woman. She gave her the most comical glances and shocked looks; Leatha wondered why Polly did not comprehend some of the things she mentioned. For goodness sake, what person had never heard of television or video games?

Polly insisted she slip into a gown and “crawl in that there bed fo' sum rest”. For once, Leatha did not argue for she suddenly found the whole ordeal of this day had indeed exhausted her. A little nap never hurt anyone, Aunt Rachel had always quipped.

Thinking about Aunt Rachel brought her straight up in bed and she called out for Polly to stop as she headed for the door. “My aunt and uncle are probably worried sick about me! I need to find my cell phone and call them.”

There she goes talkin' crazy again, Polly thought. “Now, Miz Leatha, yo' jus' lay down there an' rest, chile'. I'se sure Mistah Nick gonna find yo' people for you”.

If she had not been so dreadfully tired, Leatha would have argued with the black woman. But, it was getting difficult to keep her eyes open. She did not notice when Polly left her alone in the room. Her last thought before falling into a deep sleep was of Nick and prayed that this had not been a dream she would wake up from. 



The object of Leatha's sleepy thoughts had gone out to the stable upon leaving Polly to deal with the upper floor situation. He located the dual-colored satchel and stared at it briefly, fascinated by the shiny, yet somewhat rough textured, bag.

Fearing he would be seen with the strange 'backpack', he wrapped a blanket around it. Nick was not a paranoid man, but this woman brought out emotions in him that he had never experienced before and was not too sure that he liked it. Even he heard his own audible sigh of relief as he made it to the back stairs and quickly jaunted up them. He was hoping that Polly was finished helping the young woman, but took no chances and placed the blanket-covered pack in the water pump closet.

Nick softly rapped on the door and waited for Polly to open it. When a few seconds went by and no one came, he cracked the door open and stuck his head inside and felt instant panic when she was not in the chair. His dark eyes darted around the room and landed on the woman sprawled out on his bed. His breath escaped, drinking in the heavenly vision in his bed and he had to brusquely reprimand himself when his manhood reacted at the sight, too.

Nick did not waste any time as he backed out of the room and went to the pump closet. He cautiously glanced down the hallway before shutting the closet door. Nick quietly shut the door to his bedchamber behind him, then trying not to look her way, went to the right side of his room and placed the strange bag on top of the dresser. He then carefully, slowly and quietly moved the dresser away from the wall. He stopped once when she turned over in bed and threw one naked leg out from under the thin blanket Polly had tucked her in with.

Not realizing he had been holding his breath, Nick expelled a long breath and finished moving the dresser. He knelt down and removed the loose wooden floorboards and set them aside. After removing the fourth board, he swiftly stood up and grabbed the strange bag off the dresser and placed it inside the hole under the floor. 

Nick replaced the floorboards and scooted the dresser back without waking the wildcat. Nick smiled at that thought as he moved closer to the bed; she had her back to him. When he was beside the bed he again caught his breath when he saw the color of her hair. It was white as snow, with silky waves, and flowed down her back almost reaching her perfectly rounded behind.

His eyes traveled further down to the white, creamy leg poking out from beneath the blanket. And felt himself react again. As Nick turned to leave, unable to stand there one moment longer, she turned over again and mumbled in her sleep. He stood stock still and held his breath again. How would he explain his mesmerized stance beside the bed? he wondered, then released his breath when she didn't awaken.

Her face was delicate as porcelain and just as pale as her legs. She had a dainty little nose, proud cheekbones and the most provoking lips he had ever seen on a woman. His little mud duckling had turned into a beautiful white swan. Nick broke out of his enchanted trance and quickly left the room. He needed to find Polly and see what he could find out from her about this strange white-haired woman.

Had Nick known that Rachel had witnessed his fascinated pursuance of her charge, he would have been extremely embarrassed. But, she was totally relieved to know this man would treat Leatha with the respect she deserves. Then she chided herself when she already knew he would. Guardians chose their subjects very carefully and guided them in the direction they were intended to take. No harm would come to her niece of the last fifteen years. Rachel always knew this, but being able to see it with her own eyes for a change was very refreshing. She sent a big thank you to the Head Guardian, then sat down in the wooden chair beside the fireplace.

She hoped that neither Nick nor Polly would return before the girl woke up. She needed to speak with Leatha in private.

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