Wild Lilly Online

Wild Lilly

By

Ann Mayburn

Prologue

1860

Jackson Brooks twirled his niece, Lilly, on the red Oriental carpet, her petticoats flaring about her chubby four-year-old legs. With a mock growl, he chased her around the room. Her blonde curls escaped the careful confines of her pink bonnet.

“And then the grizzly bear chased me all around the camp, roaring and growling at me like the devils of hell themselves!” Jackson got down on his hands and knees, not caring if he wrinkled his expensive suit, and chased Lilly with a throaty snarl. A large blue vase teetered as they raced past the fireplace, righting itself before it could shatter on the expensive Italian marble.

In short order, he caught her and kissed her rosy cheeks. Wide, hazel-green eyes twinkled at him as she spoke.

“And then what happened, Uncle Jackson?”

He set her on his knee and continued his tall tale. “Why, I jumped into the cook’s tent and grabbed a sack of beans.” He tilted his head. “Bears love beans.”

Lilly laughed and clapped her hands together, the palms of her white gloves a dirty grey after crawling like a bear past the fireplace.

“So I made that bear a big pot of my world-famous beans, and he was so happy he caught me a fish as a present.”

“Uncle Jackson, bears don’t give presents!” Lilly giggled, apparently overcome by the notion of a bear carrying a pretty package festooned with bows.

“Oh, but they do, my fine girl. A nice big salmon. I ate it while I watched the sun set over the plains. Never a more beautiful sight than a sunset out west. Nothing but endless sky as far as the eye can see. Great oceans of grass that move and dance with the wind.” Jackson sighed happily and cuddled Lilly close.

“Do you think I can come with you someday, Uncle Jackson?” Lilly asked, playing with the gold chain of his pocket watch.

A stern woman’s voice snapped from the carved wood doorway of the parlor’s entrance. “Certainly not. What in the world have you done to your gloves, Lilly? A lady’s hands proclaim her station, and your gloves are filthy!”

Wincing, Jackson turned around to face his sister-in-law, Rosetta Brooks. She was a thin woman with golden hair and an icy demeanor, and Jackson often wondered what his brother saw in her. Behind her, trying not to laugh, were his three teenage nieces and his brother Abraham. All his nieces were blonde and beautiful, with skin like peaches and cream. He pitied Abraham when they got old enough for courting.

In his lap, Lilly peeked at her mother through her fair lashes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get dirty. Uncle Jackson was just telling me about the bear—”

“I don’t care what your Uncle Jackson was saying. We are going to be late for church.” Rosetta sniffed at Jackson, who still sprawled on the floor. “Some of us believe living a godly life is important.”

Behind Rosetta, Abraham placed a gentle hand on his wife’s elbow. “Now, Rosetta. We can still make it in time. Alice will take Lilly upstairs and fetch a new pair of gloves while we take a seat in the carriage.”

Lilly reluctantly removed herself from Jackson’s lap and took Alice’s outstretched hand. With Lilly in the lead they both hurried away while Rosetta made a disapproving noise and straightened her husband’s tie. Small feet stomped down the stairs as Lilly ran ahead of her older sister, who descended in a more refined manner after a scalding glance from her mother. Before Lilly joined her parents at the door, she darted over and gave Jackson a kiss on his scruffy cheek. “Someday I will come out west, Uncle Jackson. We will feed bears beans and watch the sunset together.”

Jackson exhaled and held her close, regretting he had never found a woman to settle down with and have children. “You never know what the future holds, Lilly. You may get to see the glory of a prairie sunset yet.” He pulled back and gave her a kiss on her freckled pixie nose as Rosetta watched with a disapproving glare.

Chapter One

Go West, Young Woman!

1876

“Absolutely not!” Her mother’s voice ripped through octaves, from disbelief straight to fury.

Lilly smoothed the skirt of the bright blue silk dress with a trembling hand and examined herself in the mirror behind her parents’ back to reassure herself that she was maintaining her composure. A grown woman, she had a mass of deep gold curls with white-blonde highlights. Her chubby baby cheeks had melted away, revealing a delicate bone