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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Keefer

The Gambler and the Preacher's Daughter - 1

Deadwood-Dakota Territory-1884

Letty looked out the dusty window at the street below. Puddles of mud punctuated every bit of dirt street she could see. She scowled at the sight and sighed in frustration at her situation. Christened Leticia Elizabeth Chasteen, she was almost eighteen and stuck in this Godforsaken place called Deadwood. She wished she would wake up tomorrow and find it had all been just a dream. Or nightmare.

Her father, the esteemed Reverend Bartholomew Chasteen, had been invited by his old friend William Burke to come save the souls of this lawless town. He had answered. And he had dragged his seventeen-year-old daughter with him. Her birthday was a mere month away, and she would be spending it here instead of in their Pittsburgh home. Because this was home, now.

Ever the eavesdropper, she had listened through the keyhole of her bedroom as her father had talked with her Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Solomon about his plans. His old friend, William Burke, had reached out to him and asked him to come save the souls of Deadwood. A town overcome with thieves, gamblers, and prostitutes. He felt it was God’s will to go where he was called.

Letty had secretly hoped her father would leave her behind with her aunt and her uncle. Instead, she found herself tucked into a stagecoach bound west for this place. The journey had been across mountains and rivers and grassy plains of nothing for as far as you could see. Well, except for the occasional antelope herd.

She had slept very little on the journey save for the occasional nap on the lumpy seat of the stage. Nights had brought very little relief from the journey as they camped beneath the open sky. Sounds of wild animals and the occasional cries of natives. Not to mention the threat of robbers. Letty should have appreciated the thin feather mattress on the narrow bed in the tiny room off the living area, but all she could do was pray that it had all been a bad dream.

Since they arrived, she spent her days sitting in this very chair reading one of the few books she had been permitted to pack or working on needlepoint objects for her hope chest. She had no idea what she had to hope for. Except for her father to change his mind and send her back east on the next stage.

She jumped as the sound of pounding on the door to their rooms echoed through the silence of the sitting area. Cautiously, she made her way across the dusty Persian rug and stood beside the door, the skirts of her green satin dress rustling as she moved. “Yes? Who is calling?”

A familiar voice responded. “It is me, Miss Chasteen. William Burke. I have brought one of your trunks that arrived on the wagon today. Your father asked me to deliver it to you.”

She resented Mr. Burke, the man who had convinced her father his ministry was needed here. She couldn’t even bear to look at the man. “Just leave it outside the door in the hallway, I’ll bring it in later.”

“Please, Miss Chasteen. I promised your father I would see to it that you got your things.” He cleared his throat. “I have brought my young son so as to not make you feel compromised having a man in your rooms while you are alone.”

Letty sighed and reached out to slide the bolt on the door. Opening it a crack, she peered out. It was indeed Mr. Burke. His fancy suit mottled with mud and his hair slicked back from his forehead. A moustache waxed and curled up on each side of his mouth. Looking down, she saw the little boy. Fair-haired and light blue eyes that sparkled. He looked like a little cherub dressed in overalls and a flannel shirt. His smile was delightful.

Grudgingly, she opened the door wide enough for Mr. Burke to bring in the large steamer trunk. The one that held more of her dresses and petticoats. And books. As much as she held disdain for the man, she motioned him in. “Thank you for being so kind.” She practically choked on the words. “I was hoping more of my books would arrive.”

The little boy tugged at her skirts. “You know how to read books?” His eyes were wide with amazement.

She laughed softly. “Why, of course I do. Doesn’t everyone?”

He wrinkled up his little face that had a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. “My nanny doesn’t know how. She doesn’t even know how to talk like us.” This time, he tugged at his father’s coattail. “Can the lady come read to me sometime?”

William Burke smiled at her, and the first thing she noticed was his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. Perhaps, he knew she didn’t like him. “I’m sure Miss Chasteen could come over and read to you one of these days. But David, you really shouldn’t talk poorly of Miss Carlotta when she isn’t around.”

She stifled a laugh as she watched the little boy cross his arms over his chest and stick out his bottom lip. She looked up at Mr. Burke and gave him a dismissive look as she motioned toward the doorway. “Thank you for your trouble.”

He tipped his hat. “No trouble at all Miss Chasteen.”

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