Looking down upon Christopher Payton, Cora Colton can’t believe she even doubts saying yes to his proposal. From a good family, wealthy, and charming, Christopher is perfect for her.
However, staring down at the band of gold and diamonds, she hesitates. Something is missing, something is wrong, but she just doesn’t know what that something is.
After her father’s untimely death, Cora travels to Tacoma and learns that she is now the owner of his gold claim in Dawson City, Canada. Throwing caution to the wind, she leaves her ring on the table, and departs for Canada and the adventure of a lifetime.
Arriving in the canvas tent town of Skagway on edge of the Klondike trail, Cora catches the attention of Flynn O’Neill, an Irishman who has lived on the trail guiding stampeeders for a few years.
A bond thrusts them together, but their pasts threaten to tear them apart—if they can even survive the hardships and death on the trail to the land of gold.
IN THE LAND OF GOLD follows the voyage of stampeeders risking their lives during the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.
Just say yes.
Christopher knelt in front of me in the middle of the parlor. My hand, clutched in his, began to sweat, just mere inches from the band of gold he held.
The diamond on the band sparkled from the firelight in the hearth, reflecting off the walls with red, blue, and green—the rainbows nearly as mesmerizing as the diamond creating them. My heart pounded. My lungs begged for breath.
Just say yes.
Christopher’s words, “Will you marry me?” repeated inside my head. Although, spoken so softly, just whispers on his lips, the words had rung loudly with the depth and sincerity of his question.
My mother, along with Christopher’s mother and sister, watched from across the room, waiting for my answer, just as he waited.
His dark blue eyes smiled like that of children laying their eyes upon all their presents on Christmas morning—not yet had my hesitation toyed with his anxiety.
Surely, he believed I would say yes. Surely, I wouldn’t let the son of Robert Payton—one of the wealthiest men in Seattle—slip through my fingers. Their fortune made in lumber. No, surely I wouldn’t be so foolish.
Why can I not just say yes?
I touched the ring, letting my fingertips glide smoothly across the gold. It glistened in the firelight nearly as much as the diamond. I smiled, hoping the offering would ease the panic brewing in his expression.
You need to speak, Cora. Now, speak, now. Answer him before he presumes your hesitation to suggest your refusal, or worse, asks again.
“Yes,” I whispered. The word forced from my lips exaggerated my fear that I had taken far too long to respond.
His brows furrowed, and yet, he slipped the ring on my finger with a weak smile. Then, in one swift movement, he scooped me into his arms, which tightened around me with an intense stiffness, a grip of distaste in my hesitation.
Clapping erupted around us, drowning out my vacillation and his displeasure.
How Mother had remained silent watching her dreams unfold before her eyes, I will never know. But, catching sight of the mangled and distorted pillow sitting in the chair beside her at least explained a little.
Christopher set me down and gazed into my eyes. His annoyance vanished, and for a brief second, hope for his kiss flickered in my heart. Perhaps, tonight after our betrothal, he will finally kiss me. Crossing my fingers behind my back, I closed my eyes and I leaned into his tall, thin body.
“I thought your answer would be ‘No!'” he laughed, shying away from me and combing his hands through his sandy blond hair.
I thought so, too.
“Certainly, you cannot deny a girl a little fun,” I mocked, trying to hide my hesitation.
“Playing around, were you? Just one of the many things I fancy about you, Cora Colton.”
“Soon to be Mrs. Cora Payton,” Mother interrupted, as she handed each of us a glass of champagne. Her boastful, delighted expression glowed through her blue eyes.
“Oh, Victoria, you know I don’t indulge in alcoholic beverages.” Christopher tried to conceal his hint of annoyance with an amused expression.
“Not even for an occasion such as your engagement, dear?” Christopher’s mother, Elizabeth asked.
“Not even for an occasion such as that.”
He plucked the glass from my hand, returning my champagne along with his, and replaced them both with water glasses he fetched from the table next to us.
At twenty–four years, a woman of my age should have the chance to take pleasure in an occasional tipple now and then, but not me.
I fought off my annoyance, smiled at him, and grasped the glass of crystal-clear water from his hand.
Grace, my fiancé’s petite, older sister sauntered over to my side. “Christopher, it is 1897, let the girl have a snifter if she desires.” She hooked her arm around mine. Her audacious personality always filled whatever room she blessed with her presence.
“My brother is such a bore,” she said, chugging down her fourth glass of wine.
“No, he isn’t.” Still bristling, I smiled and laughed away her comment.
Mother’s cheerfulness vanished. She cut a disapproving glance in our direction that left a scowl on her oval face, then turned her back to us and ushered Elizabeth over to the couch next to the fireplace.
Mother’s lack of fancy for the young lady, Payton, surfaced long ago. Her uneasiness of the unmarried, party loving, woman whose numerous sexual escapades around Seattle provided a lot of gossip. And, her animosity deepened with every passing day.
Men enjoyed the voluptuous, beautiful, outspoken Grace, but to Mother, men were men, and their opinion meant nothing—especially when they spoke of a woman who they’d spent the weekend with, never leaving her bed.
“Are you planning to write dear Daddy about your engagement, Cora?” Grace mocked, her words a bit slurred and her svelte body swayed as she clung to me for balance.
“If you have any more wine, your brother will have your head,” I warned, whispering out of Christopher’s earshot and ignoring her annoying question about my father.
“He wouldn’t dare.”
Christopher glanced at us, his once broad smile faded into a grimace as he realized his sister was, yet again, drunk.
Within seconds of his whispered concern into Mother’s ear, she ordered our housemaid, Gretchen, to fetch the evening coffee.
“I don’t wish to hasten the evening, Elizabeth.” Mother hinted as Gretchen shuffled into the parlor pushing the coffee cart.
“Oh, no, not at all, I could actually use a cup myself.” Elizabeth masked her embarrassment and disappointment over of her daughter’s condition.
Christopher helped Grace to the couch across the room, and then marched to the cart to pour her a cup of coffee. Sitting with her legs crossed, Grace grabbed a pillow and fluffed it as she sneered at her mother.
Elizabeth’s pursed lips twitched as Mother spoke at her side, chattering on as though the bickering wasn’t happening inches from her.
Christopher strode past me, a saucer in one hand and a folded napkin in the other. He groaned under his breath and shoved the steaming cup in Grace’s face with a displeasured force.
“I prefer my coffee with cream and sugar,” she snapped.
“I don’t care that you do.”
“And I don’t care that you don’t care. I would like some cream and sugar.”
“Drink the coffee.” His voice was crisp with meaning. “You wouldn’t dare act this way in Father’s presence.”
She snatched the saucer, spilling a little of the black liquid and grimaced with every bitter sip.
“And, do you see why I choose not to fall prey to the predicament of liquor?” Christopher asked, returning to the cart once more and whispering into my ear as he poured his own coffee.
I bit my tongue and nodded.
“I swear, it causes nothing but evil in whomever consumes it.”
“Both of our mothers have just enjoyed a glass of champagne, and I’ve seen your father enjoy a glass of whiskey every now and then. Surely, you can’t believe it to be as evil as you claim.”
I don’t know why I even opened my mouth, but after I did, I regretted it. He groaned under his breath and rolled his eyes. A childish claim declared by someone who knew nothing regarding life or how another should live.
“Certainly, exceptions are given. However, I will never take a sip of liquor and neither will you. As my fiancée, and soon my wife, I will not allow you to partake in such an embarrassing—”
“Christopher, you don’t need to worry about me,” I interrupted him, setting down my saucer with an intensity that nearly knocked over the cup.
He inhaled a deep breath, blowing the air out slowly. “I didn’t mean to scold you. I took my irritation with Grace out on you and I shouldn’t have.”
“It’s all right. I know you didn’t mean to be rude.”
His eyes held regret. The same remorseful, apologetic expression he had perfected over the last year. One I’ve seen countless times, and although I used to loathe it, I’ve since become accustomed to it.
“I cannot wait to begin the wedding plans,” Mother gushed from across the room, still occupying the seat next to Elizabeth on the couch. Her animated hands waved wildly with her excitement mirroring the sparkle in her eyes and expressed enthusiasm.
“With your taste, it will certainly be the event of the season.” Elizabeth hesitated a moment to adjust her spectacles which had slid down her long, thin, hooked nose—a nose, Christopher hadn’t inherited, thankfully. “With my husband and Christopher traveling so much during the spring and summer, perhaps we ought to consider an alternative season to host the date, such as, autumn. Then we could choose a date that would suit everyone’s…schedules.”
Autumn? But that was just a couple months away.
“If you plan to turn this evening into a night of chatter about weddings, I’m leaving, or at least having another glass of wine.” Grace groaned, yanked her handkerchief out of the bust line of her dress, and placed it over her face as she laid her head backward upon the pillows. “Weddings, weddings, weddings,” she mumbled. “All such boring talk of weddings. People should have fun, instead of marry.”
I admired her for knowing what she wanted and didn’t want. Sadly, most people aren’t as honest with themselves as Grace—myself included.
“And, how do you feel about an autumn wedding?” Christopher inquired as he returned his empty cup to the tray on the cart.
I hesitated for a second. The thought of a wedding, in mere months, overwhelmed me, clawing at my skin with a nervous itch I couldn’t scratch. At the same time, I didn’t see a reason why I shouldn’t marry Christopher so quickly.
“An autumn wedding would be nice,” I finally answered.
“I hoped you would say that. Father and I travel so much during the first half of the year, I wouldn’t wish to hinder our choosing a date. Furthermore, I planned a business trip for San Francisco in October and would like to extend the trip for our honeymoon, if you don’t mind, of course.”
Of course. Since when have I ever had the ability to say no?
“San Francisco sounds wonderful.”
In the midst of our conversation, Grace slumped over and passed out on the couch. Her snores vibrated through the pillow she held. Before Christopher could open his mouth, though, Elizabeth had already asked for her wrap and handbag, and excused herself and her lush of a daughter for the evening.
“Cora,” Christopher whispered into my ear. “I have to travel home with Mother. I wish to stay with you longer, especially tonight, but I need to help Mother with Grace.”
“I shall return in the morning after breakfast. I’ve planned a day of celebration for us.”
“I’ll look forward to tomorrow.”
He kissed my forehead and then scooped Grace into his arms, carrying her out the door to the awaiting carriage.
Elizabeth grimaced as he passed—a look of unbridled discomfiture as she stood with her arms crossed by the opened front door. I certainly didn’t envy Grace. She would have hell to pay in the morning when she finally woke.
The door closed with a hollow click, mirroring my mood.
“I’m exhausted, Cora. I think I will turn in for the evening.” Mother dragged her feet up the stairs without saying another word. Her heels clicked against the hard wood floors with every step.
“Sleep well, Mother.”
Exhaustion plagued me too, yet, sleep played a laughable concept at this moment—tired, but more awake than I’d ever been in my life.
With my mind so full of conflicting emotions, I paced the floor in front of the fireplace. The heaviness of the night weighed upon my shoulders, casting shadows of doubt and confusion. I needed a distraction, anything to unwind and ease my spinning thoughts.
Like the liquor cabinet.
I glanced over my shoulder, my eyes befalling upon the dark red pine cabinet. Nervousness overwhelmed, and my heart thumped, tickling my anxiety. I exhaled a deep breath and marched to the cabinet. Reaching for the tiny brass knobs, my hand hesitated for a moment.
Just say yes.
I yanked the knobs open in one swift motion. As my fingers grazed along the neck of the whisky bottle, the diamond on my ring glistened.
For the first time since Christopher knelt down on one knee an hour ago, a twinge of confusion twisted in my stomach.
I love Christopher and I desired to marry him, but I couldn’t deny his less than perfect manner. His mild arrogance and confidence left one annoyed, far too often, instead of delighted with his company.
To his credit, his gentle nature only disappeared when proper behavior could be questioned—a quality instilled by his father. Should one act improper behind closed doors, the chances of misbehaving in public created a risk that he simply couldn’t allow. As long as I acted respectfully, then Christopher acted respectful in return.
In all honesty, I guess we enjoyed each other, and the time spent with one another. I wouldn’t marry him should I think I would be a fool to do so.
I picked up the whiskey bottle. Why my mother kept it, I didn’t know, but for the sake of tonight, I thanked her for not smashing it or selling it with the rest of Father’s belongings.
My father, the man who deserted Mother and abandoned me.
The memories of him stomping out of the house one night long ago had faded over the last fifteen years. He made his choice and his choice wasn’t us.
I rarely thought of him anymore. He lived in Tacoma in his expensive manor with all of his money and his mistress. He cared nothing for me.
I traced the wooden cork. Christopher would be furious. However, I doubted he would ever know, or that any remnants of my ill behavior would remain and reveal my secret in the morning. Surely, one tumbler would play a harmless amusement.
I reached for a glass on the top shelf and wiggled the cork from the top of the bottle. The intense scent of the dark amber liquor tickled my nose and made me cough.
The doorbell chimed, and Gretchen hurried across the foyer. Had Christopher returned? Who else would call at this hour of the night?
My sweaty palms slipped on the bottle as I forced the cork back into the neck and returned the shot glass to the shelf. Thank goodness, I hadn’t poured the drink, or heaven forbid, taken a sip.
“Delivery for Miss Cora Colton,” a young man’s voice spoke from the doorway.
“Thank ya.” Gretchen entered the parlor a few seconds later, carrying a folded piece of parchment in her hands.
“It say urgent, Miss Colton.”
“Thank you, Gretchen.”
I fetched the telegram from her hand and turned it over. The red ink of the urgent stamp covered most of the envelope, including my name and home address written on the front. I tore off the side and slipped the telegram from the wrapping.
1002 MOORE STREET SEATTLE WASH
AM YOUR FATHERS WIFE STOP MUST INFORM HIS PASSING STOP FUNERAL ONE WEEK SUNDAY STOP PLEASE ATTEND AND STAY WITH ME
2407 BUCKEYE STREET TACOMA WASH
I dropped the telegram, letting it plummet to the floor and stepped away from it.
My father is dead?