Light of the Northern Dancers (paperback) by Robin F. Gainey



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ISBN: 9781945447495
Pages: 396
Description:

Fiery aristocrat, Eden Rose, uprooted from her native Scotland, has tended a foundering marriage and failing ranch at the corner of Crazy Woman Creek and the Powder River for a decade. Best friend, backwoods spitfire Maddie True, has her own woes a few miles away: widowed with a passel of young children, and caretaker to her addled father. Abandoned by her husband during the height of Wyoming Territory’s worst drought in history, Eden depends on her inept brother, Aiden, to see her through the coming winter. But when he disappears into the wild Bighorn mountains, she shuns Maddie’s fearful cautions, teaming with enigmatic Lakota holy man, Intah, to find her brother before the wicked snow holds them all hostage.

Light of the Northern Dancers is a powerful novel of a woman’s journey, thought-provoking and unsettling in its authenticity and unflinching honesty.” — Susan Wiggs, NYT Bestselling Romance Author

“Half of what happens to us may have reason, the rest is chaos. Robin F. Gainey’s second novel, Light of the Northern Dancers, has this brand of existentialism. It’ real and it doesn’t let go!” — Tom Skerritt, Award Winning Actor, Writer, Director

EXCERPT:

Eden Rose trudged the dingy pasture rim, she-goats bouncing along at her heels. The pair had no names. Such a thing would make them harder to eat if life came to that. Her husband had said so. And ever since Hugh had delivered Eden to the godforsaken Wyoming territory, she feared that, in time, there’d be goat on the table.

But summer had seen them lean, not fatten, along with the pock-marked land around her. Eden doubted the goats had enough flesh on them for prairie flies stalking the living, depending on death. She swept a hand through the buzzing about her head.

What in Satan’s name drove people west? The struggle to be different? To understand man’s limits to grief or vigor?

Homesteading was little more than hanging from an unbridled noose over a tall canyon.

The wait for doom, endless.

Though, as God stood above, she’d not let the rope tighten. She adored the little creatures. Hugh bought them as a novelty on their way West a decade ago. The pair giving them plenty of milk and cheese until the drought had turned the flow to a trickle. But to Eden they granted much more: affection, laughter—and love. Hugh’s paucities.

Every detail fit for an opera.

A mournful wind soughed through cottonwoods flanking the Powder River, stirring her anger along with the dust. The warm September morning had fallen prey to a chilling breeze from the west. The temperature, a good thirty degrees below the comfort of noon, danced in an undecided fit. Eden flexed her fingers to warm them, and pulled the thick shawl around her shoulders, kneeling at a small break in the barb along an uneven fence-line. She grabbed a pair of canvas gloves from her pocket, and a short piece of wire from a leather pouch across her shoulder.

Her constant battle was to contain the mustangs. They’d broken through the rickety fence twice that week. Four mares, four foals, two weanlings, and a two-year-old colt that should have been separated last spring, but was too rank to catch, had scattered to the wind as soon as they were free. Rounding them up alone, a brutal job. The space between pronghorn antelope wanting in to eat the hay and horses wanting out to roam was her prison.

Wild things tested all boundaries.

The notion of freedom buoyed her for a moment before drowning in the sight of another fence-break.

She pushed a few strands of her hair back underneath a headscarf, and focused on the task. Winding wire around one end of the severed line, she threaded an eye at the end of the other. The link was pulled as tight as her hands allowed while she searched the back corners of her memory for the things her husband tended in preparation for winter. Eight years had been whittled away by a sharp focus to her own duties: endless canning, mending, hauling wood, and patching never-ending gaps in the walls and ceiling of the sod cabin. Eden glanced at the barn. Besides putting up hay, Hugh’s primary concern was the curing of meat and repairing the stable and fences. None of which she’d accomplished to his standards. Even if she had meat to cure, she’d not paid close attention to the process. She was unsure the task could be accomplished without producing poison.

A violent cough bent Eden in two. The goats scattered. She wiped the back of her hand across the corner of her mouth, and caught her breath. The illness in her lungs since August, though waning, had sapped her strength and shortened the time left to ready for the coming snow. She massaged her upper arms, hoping to reinvigorate them. Bones at her shoulders were little more than nobs, and the muscles at the base of her neck ached. Little strength remained to lend to a bath, yet she didn’t see how she could creep into bed without one. She’d not be claimed by the filth of homesteading. A warm tub kept her sane.

Barbs pressed into her palms as she finished securing a curl of wire back upon itself and twice around a post. She tugged with all her strength, knowing the mend was feeble, but it would have to do. Another load of feed waited to be hauled to pasture, and water to cart from creek to trough after fences were secured. Her fists clenched tight at the thought of splitting a section of log before nightfall. Ranch work was staggering. Though she blessed Hugh for the peace he’d given her in his absence, she damned him for being gone so long.

He had left for Southampton in the spring with the last sound group of polo ponies, determined to raise more cash for their failing claim before winter’s snow. In Hugh’s absence, her brother had come all the way from Glasgow to help her. His arrival, the only good thing about her husband’s departure. The first time Aiden had set eyes on her in five years, his face reflected a wicked truth—she’d grown haggard and frail. Yet his twisted clown expression of surprise made her laugh. She loved him for his spark. Aiden’s willing grin always improved the climate of her heart. And always been a constant savior.

Aiden, all of ten, had ventured into a raging surf to turn her spaniel pup toward shore after the dog had gone too far to fetch a stick she’d thrown. And it had been Aiden to discover an abandoned stone cottage overgrown in the dale near their home of Lilybank. The magical chanty held a tattered library, left behind as though the books had been read too many times to bother packing—their owner longing for undiscovered tales. Surrounded by the cool of stone walls, the two read to each other long into balmy summer afternoons. Canterbury Tales, the entire series of Waverly Novels, and Aiden’s favorite, Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, about a young man’s family left penniless after the death of his father.

A novel written about them.

Then, her beloved Guarneri violin.

A gift from her affluent parents when she turned twelve, the centuries-old instrument had been sold in destitution to pay Aiden’s first year of college tuition. Her most prized possession, gone. But Aiden’s expression at learning he’d attend the University in Glasgow was ample repayment for her privation. Still, she had pined for its return. Life went monotone without her music.

And Aiden knew.

He’d used his bagpipes as collateral to save her violin from being sold again, and worked two jobs to buy the instrument back. Graduation day, his gift to Eden: a gorgeous box she suspected held flowers, instead bore her cherished music.

Dressed in finery as he stepped from the train in Sheridan two months before, Aiden was the most civilized thing she’d encountered since leaving Scotland. He played jester to her meager court, peppering their banter with Shakespeare as though he’d written the words himself. And his jig to the music of her violin, the dance of a God. He was a constant reminder—she’d once been as fine a thing as he.

Aiden to the aid.

Rescuing dogs and deserted books—or an old woman from a pond. Eden shut her eyes to the quicksilver memories of a time long buried.

Yet his face, a mother’s twin.

Aiden was a darling, even though her spirit no longer found anything pure about beauty. Whether the face of her brother or the spectacular mountains beyond, both held caveats. Aiden’s cheery countenance was all he had to offer. He didn’t take to ranching. Raised an aristocrat, he’d never dabbled in anything less. Clueless to the threat of a destitute winter, he’d been too long behind a barrister’s door in a big city, with coal for the fire on command and fine dining halls at every corner. He was game for any job, but lacked awareness. Never dealt with the wild. Yet Eden wouldn’t shame him. He made her happy. And a nurtured spirit could deal with anything, even the extra labor of covertly fixing a brother’s mistakes.

But double-duty left her no time to finish the canning required for winter. Bacon had run out, and with it, the fat that bathed the biscuits. She’d not asked her closest friend, Maddie, for more. The request was hard enough the first time. Maddie already had ten mouths to feed. Hugh was due to send a letter that would certainly come with money. Eden could wait. 


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