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The Courtship of Utopia Miner

Author(s): Linda Gilman

Utopia Miner is tired of hunting that elusive vein of gold in the Rocky Mountains. She’s tired of caring for her three aging, prospector fathers. Her dream of a glamorous, exciting life has been put on hold far too long. Soon her twentieth birthday will be upon her and she’ll be past prime saloon girl hiring age. She’s bound and determined to learn the skills needed to become a fancy dancehall gal like her lovely deceased mother had been.

The three adoptive fathers are plumb tired of trying to find their wild daughter a husband. So they run an ad for a courtship contest in the newspaper. The Rocky Mountain Gazette sends their best reporter, Lancelot Jones, to cover the story. The fathers insist the nosey reporter must be their daughter’s chaperone during the contest in exchange for the privilege of covering the event of a lifetime.

Lance wishes to end his high risk lawman job for a much safer, new career as a reporter. However, no sooner has the spit dried on his handshake agreement with the fathers, when Lance finds himself up to his ears in Utopia's totally innocent charms and demanding saloon girl lessons. Caught between chaperoning and reporting, Lance must face the facts, and only the facts. He’s totally smitten with the bride-to-be and wishes he was in the courtship contest himself.

Excerpt


Bound to Be Lucky Mining Camp
Rocky Mountains of Colorado, 1875
 
Lancelot Jones adjusted the brown felt derby on his head. He inhaled a deep breath and gave the door of the rustic cabin three solid knocks. The door opened and in the next instant a deluge of water flooded him from head to toe. “For the love of…” He swiped soap suds off his face and pulled together a civil response for the person who’d tossed the unexpected shower.
A lady with dripping red hair and wearing damp long-johns stood before him. Her wash-bucket dropped to the porch with a loud clank. She gasped. “Oh, my stars! I wasn’t expecting a body would be standing in the way of me tossing out my wash water.”
“That’s all right Miss.” He tipped his head downward. Water poured off his hat brim in a long stream, drenching the tips of his boots. “I’d been pondering a good cooling off after riding most of the morning. I’d say that you’ve quickly dispatched a cure for such thoughts.”
Her emerald green eyes squinted at him.
“You’re one of them long-winded sorts, aren’t you?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What’s your business in these parts, mister?”
“Well I…” Lance rubbed his fists at the burn of lye soap in his eyes. When the sting dissipated enough to see, a second unexpected event confronted him. The lady’s breasts were displayed in fine, round proportions through her soaked garment. “Well I…I…”
Any red blooded male would naturally be tongue tied and stunned by such a sight. He couldn’t help that his gaze hovered in the wrong place far too long as the gal twisted water from her lengthy hair. Suddenly, she noticed where his interest lingered.
Another gasp escaped her heart-shaped mouth. “Oh, sakes alive!”
Lance watched as her tawny freckled complexion turned a shy pink. Her arms folded over her upper torso and she scuttled backward into the cabin and slammed the door.
“If you’re one of them medicine peddlers you best move on. We don’t need any,” she yelled through the closed barrier.
He leaned toward the door. “I can assure you miss—I’m not a peddler.”
Lance had to admit this newspaper assignment was off to a unique start. He removed his doused frock coat and draped it over his arm. Could the indecently clad redhead be the bride-to-be offered in the courtship contest he was to report on? Based on what he’d seen so far, she was certainly worth further investigation.
He cautiously knocked a second time.
The latch raised and the door opened a crack. The barrel of a shotgun slipped out.
“Are you certain you’re not selling something?”
Lance plopped his derby back on his head and quickly raised his hands. He retreated a step back from the weapon. “No ma’am. I’m not selling anything.”
The shotgun disappeared. The gal peeked through the small gap of the doorway. Her untamed hair hung like a crinkled curtain across her face. She parted her veiled locks and smiled. “Don’t you run off, you hear. I’ll be out directly.”
Before he could voice a reply, the lass slammed the door a second time.
Lance retrieved a small notebook from his vest pocket and flipped through several damp pages of notes. “Miss… I’m looking for a Jargus Knudsen. Is he around?”
She hollered back in a distracted voice, “Who wants to know?”
“I’m Lancelot Jones. I’m a repor—” He halted midsentence.
Mr. Knudsen, the father, had instructed the editor of the Rocky Mountain Gazette newspaper, Barris Baines, that the contest details should not be discussed with the daughter. If this girl was the young lady in question, then her father gave specific instructions to use the secret code to gain admittance to the mining camp.
“Miss, this Mr. Knudsen will want to see me. I’m here about some—” He checked his reporter notes for the code word. “Whiskey.”
Several tin cups clanked against the interior walls before the cabin fell silent.
“Miss, is everything all right in there? Oh, Miss?”
Lance put his ear to the door. He thought about using his shoulder to gain entry into the cabin when he heard a scraping noise. What on earth was she doing in there?
“I’ll be out in a minute,” she yelled. “Where in blazes are those dang ribbons?”
“Did you say something, Miss?” He continued to press his ear to the door when he heard a tapping on glass. Shifting his body toward the sound, he glanced at the window to the right of the door. There she was, grinning and vigorously rubbing a towel on her damp hair.
“I’m hurrying fast as I can. I’ll be out directly.” The lass flashed him a pretty smile before she vanished behind a gingham curtain hanging across the window.
This gal’s a most strange creature. Never in his short journalism career, which spanned only a month, had he encountered such an intriguing girl. In fact, the visual of her damply clad chest wouldn’t clear from his mind. If he’d known covering the news was so surprisingly interesting, he would have considered giving up his marshal’s badge much sooner.
Lance turned his back on the cabin and walked to the edge of the porch to size up the rest of the mining camp.
Sixty yards of sparse grass separated this young woman’s cabin from the other structures. Three similar shacks and a false-fronted building, all in varied stages of decay, dotted the area. In truth, the entire place appeared on the verge of being a ghost town.
Toward the north, the snowy Rockies walled off the blue skyline. Aspen trees dotted the hillsides like a soft green canvas. The rushing water of a spring thaw could be heard in a creek behind the gal’s cabin.
His attention drew back to the latch as it lifted. Out she stepped. The lass now wore buckskin pants, mid-calf muck boots, and a threadbare, snug-fitting shirt. She busily tied a ribbon on the end of her braid.
The ribbon now tied, her hands busily tucked her shirttail into the back of her pants. She smiled. “Sorry for your wait. I needed a minute to get myself together. I hope you don’t hold hard feelings against me for getting you all wet.”
“No. Not at all.”
Her hand jutted out for a handshake. “Howdy. I’m Utopia Miner.”
Lance returned her greeting. Her grip was strong and she cranked his arm up and down as if she worked a pump handle. It was a chore getting his fingers out of her calloused hold. A quick glance gave him notice of the dirt under her short nails. The girl must do a fair amount of hard work. He’d make a note of that. It could be a fact relevant to the event he was to cover.
He recognized her name from the contest information printed in the newspaper. If he were to guess Miss Utopia’s age, based on her mannerisms, sixteen suited her. But then again, such splendid curves belonged to a more mature woman. His assessment was revised, aging her more toward nineteen.
“So—you mentioned you want to talk with my Pa Jargus?”
The gal’s face took on an expression of what seemed to be acute worry as her fingers blindly fumbled down her shirt placard, checking that each button was secured. She gave a relieved sigh.
He could barely compile his answer with such a distraction. “Uhh…yes ma’am. I need to speak with Mr. Knudsen. It’s very important.”
“We’ll have to go looking for him. Follow me.” She headed down the stairs but on the last step turned back to him. Her eyebrows arched in queried concern. “You say you only want to talk with Pa Jargus but not my other fathers?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t believe I heard you correctly.” Could the gal have him any more confused? He needed to have these strange facts straight if he was to write his article proper. “How many…I mean…let me rephrase my question. Mr. Knudsen is your father isn’t he?”
Her green eyes squinted in the morning sunlight. She shielded her stare with her hand. “I don’t rightly know how you come by that information mister, but yes, Jargus Knudsen is my pa. But I also have two others. That’s three fathers in all. How many you got?”
He smirked at her odd question. “Oh, I have the usual number. One.”
“How about that—I guess I’m right lucky to have so many.” Utopia spun around and with an elongated step she left the last porch step. Her arm waved at him. “Are you coming, or not?”
Lance followed her with a million questions circling in his brain, mostly regarding the possibility of someone—anyone—claiming to have three fathers. The gal’s long strides across the grassy divide drew his eyes to the sway of her buckskinned hips. Any further inquiries were consolidated down to one. “Where are we going?”
She called over her shoulder, “I have a pretty good idea where to look for my Pa.”
*
Utopia’s insides were all giddy as she walked her dandy stranger toward the whiskey barn, as her fathers liked to call the false-fronted building. In her nightly prayers she’d all but given up on her dream of getting off this mountain. But, she had to hand it to the good Lord Almighty. He’d come through in a grand way this time.
 This Lancelot sure was a fancy dresser in his silky brown vest and tan coat. Why the man even had a chained pocket watch to keep folks from stealing his time piece. He had puppy dog brown eyes with feathery dark lashes. And unlike her fathers, the man had no whiskers on his tanned face. He wore his dark brown hair neatly trimmed around his nicely sized-to-his-head ears. It was good to see a fella scrubbed clean and smelling as fine as a new leather saddle.
Adding up all his handsomeness and citified trappings, she gathered this Lancelot was a man who’d seen places and done things. Done things she’d never been privy to. Including seeing the inside of a saloon. He was of real interest to her for one big reason.
This city fella would be her ticket to get on with her plans of learning to be a saloon girl. Once she was dancehall refined, she’d move her fathers and herself off this mountain once and for all.
It had taken nineteen years of waiting but finally the day was here. Now she had a way to learn a few singing and dancing skills to move along her plans.
Utopia rolled her eyes toward heaven. Lord, he’s handsomer than a shiny new nugget. And he’s just what I’ve been praying for. I promise. I’ll take real good care of him.
“Did you say something, Miss?”
“Never no mind. I mumble sometimes.” Her eyes locked with his and for a moment the question on the tip of her tongue was stuck. “Uh—do you mind if I call you by your first name?”
“Most folks call me Lance. May I call you by your first name.”
“It’s a deal. Say Lance—why don’t you tell me what brings you up this way?”
She knew full well miracles couldn’t explain themselves no matter how hard they tried. But she asked the question anyway because she liked to hear his voice and fancy talking.
“Like I said before, I have business to discuss with Jargus Knudsen.”
“What might that be?” Heaven sent, or not, a miracle man wanting a visit with her Pa Jargus wasn’t a smart thing to be doing.
“I’m afraid I can only discuss my affairs with Mr. Knudsen.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.” She bit on one of her fingernails. Whatever could possess a smart looking man to have such a foolish notion? “Umm… I don’t suppose I could talk you out of meeting up with my Pa Jargus?”
“I’m afraid not. I must have a word with him. It’s rather important.” Lance paused. “I mean no offense Miss Utopia, but can I ask you something?”
“I don’t see why not? Go ahead and ask.”
“How is it that you say that you have three fathers?”
“My mama passed on shortly after I was born. Fergus, Jargus, and Henry decided since they’d helped bring me into this world they’d keep me a spell. I’ll have you know that my mama was a beautiful saloon girl. I have her dress in my trunk.”
She didn’t really want to talk about her fathers. She needed to know what city Lance came from and what saloons would be best to work in. He needed to know her interest was in saloons. “Did you hear what I said about my mama?”
“That explains everything. These men aren’t related. They adopted you.”
“Adopted? I don’t know about that. They’re my fathers, that’s all there is to it. Did I tell y’ah about my mama? She was a saloon girl.”
They both reached the false-fronted building. Utopia climbed the steps and spun on her heels. She’d never seen a person so busy at scribbling in that little tablet of his. “If you plan on writing down my every word, I’ll talk slower. I reckon I’ve plum talked your ears off as it is.”
“Not at all. I’ve enjoyed our chat. You’re a very interesting creature.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Most definitely,” he said. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to meet your father.”
Her hand went to the door’s latch and paused. It was time she let the city man know what he was up against if he insisted on talking to her Pa Jargus.
“Now—whatever you do, don’t let Jargus get the best of you. Stand your ground.”
“Stand my ground? What do you mean?”
“You’ll know soon enough.”

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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-62916-033-7
Genre: Romance
Date Published: 01/02/2014
Publisher: Taliesin Publishing

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