Luna First Chapter Preview

Here’s the first chapter to preview from Luna! Enjoy!

~*~

May 1914

Eastern Oregon

 “Oh, gracious!” Luna Campanelli pressed a hand to the top of her head to keep her hat from blowing away in the stout wind whipping around her as she dashed across the street. Her other hand clamped onto her ballooning skirts, hoping they wouldn’t turn into a sail and pull her back in the direction she’d come.

What had possessed her to surrender to her curiosity and step off the train an hour ago? She should have remained seated in the passenger car where she’d traveled all the way from Chicago instead of deciding to stretch her legs and explore.

“All aboard!” the conductor called as Luna hiked her skirts and raced across the platform at the train depot. She accepted a hand from the porter up the steps of the passenger car, hurried inside, and plopped into her seat with a relieved breath.

Disheveled from her hasty return to the depot after wandering around the town of Baker City, she maneuvered the basket she’d carried over her arm onto her lap, pushed in the hairpins slipping from her hair, and adjusted the pin holding her hat in place.

The realization that she hadn’t missed the train sank in, and Luna relaxed. Scooting back in the seat, she released another pent-up breath. It had felt so good to get out and walk in the fresh spring air. She’d planned to only be gone thirty minutes, forty at most, but she’d happened upon a dress shop full of marvelous gowns.

Luna had stepped inside to look around, interested in comparing the styles there to those her cousin’s wife crafted in her shop in Pendleton, located almost a hundred miles to the north. Then she’d stopped by a crystal shop selling beautiful pieces of glassware. She’d purchased a delicate bud vase etched with twining flowers and had it gift wrapped. Her final stop had been at the bakery, where a glance at the clock on the wall as she made her purchase had assured her she was in peril of missing the train lest she rush.

So, she had.

Luna had darted through town like a wild girl instead of a grown woman with a sensible head on her shoulders.

However, she doubted she was the first or the last female to sprint through Baker City toward the depot. If there hadn’t been so many charming shops distracting her, she wouldn’t have been so tardy making her way back to the train.

At least that was the excuse she told herself as she watched out the window, eager to be on her way. After days of travel, she was on the last leg of her journey that had taken her across the country from her home in New York City where she’d lived since she was seven.

“All aboard!” the conductor bellowed one last time. Only a moment passed before steam hissed, and the train creaked as it rocked into motion.

“Wait!” a voice yelled above the cacophony of steel and steam.

Luna watched as a dust-covered cowboy leaped onto the platform. His long legs quickly covered the distance to the last passenger car, the one where Luna was seated, in a few long strides. The spurs on his boots jingled, while the leather chaps he wore made a slapping noise as he ran. She craned her neck, watching as he reached out with a gloved hand and caught the metal bar by the steps, easily swinging himself up before the train pulled away from the platform.

Her gaze shifted to the door as he stepped into her car and stood looking around, no doubt searching for a seat. He wore a dark gray shirt with a bright blue neckerchief loosely knotted around his neck. The scruff growing on his cheeks and chin accented his square jaw. Dark hair stuck out from beneath the flat-topped cowboy hat worn low on his head, shadowing much of his face.

When he pushed up the hat brim with his thumb, she saw the cowboy’s eyes were gray and full of what she could only think of as mischief. His gaze landed on her and then flicked to the empty seat beside her.

Surely, he wouldn’t dare to occupy the seat. It wasn’t at all proper, was it? As a single woman traveling alone, Luna had to be particularly careful about her behavior, especially around men.

As the cowboy took one then another spur-jingling step toward her, she raised up slightly, glancing around the crowded, full car. It appeared the only empty seat available was the one next to her, which the porter had kindly saved for her.

Luna returned to a seated position, back as straight as a broom handle, hands folded primly on her lap, her gaze fastened forward. She refused, positively refused, for anyone to think she was encouraging the attentions of the cowboy who wedged his broad-shouldered frame into the seat, bumping her arm in the process.

“Howdy, miss,” he said, smiling at her as he settled deeper into the space he now occupied.

Watching him from the corner of her eye like one might spy on a disaster in the making, Luna did her best to ignore how amiable and friendly he appeared.

“Good afternoon,” she said after a pause in which she tried to determine if it would be worse to speak with him or ignore him. She concluded being rude was far more serious on the scale of social blunders than allowing a strange man to sit beside her.

“Where are you heading?” the cowboy asked, tugging off his gloves and draping them on one thigh, then removing his hat and forking his hands through his thick hair. It was longer than she deemed acceptable, but the ends of it curled around his neck and ears in a most becoming fashion. He yanked the knot free in the neckerchief he wore and wiped it over his face, then brushed it over the top of his head which appeared damp with sweat before he held two corners of the cloth and spun the material around and around until it made almost a tube that he again looped around his neck.

He glanced over at her, found her staring at him, and grinned in a manner that made something flutter in Luna’s midsection. It reminded her of the time she’d rapidly consumed a soda at the drugstore down the street from her aunt and uncle’s grocery store, and the effervescence had threatened to climb back up her throat.

Her stomach felt full of bubbles, although she couldn’t think of a single reason for the sensation to plague her when she’d not had a soda for weeks. There was a weightlessness in her midsection, and she found the sensation disconcerting.

The feeling had to be a result of the man beside her. The cowboy was, admittedly, quite handsome, even if he was in need of a bath, haircut, and shave.

Finally recalling she’d failed to answer his question, she cleared her throat, surprised to discover it suddenly felt parched, and forced herself to speak. “Pendleton.”

“Pendleton? You’re heading to Pendleton?” he asked. At her nod, his grin widened. “That’s also my destination. How about that?”

He gave her a look of perusal, and his smile faded. “I mean no offense, miss, but you’re Italian, aren’t you?”

Luna nodded. “None taken. It is what I am.”

“By chance, are you related to the Campanelli family?” he asked, nearly leaving her speechless that he knew her relatives.

“I am indeed. I’m going to visit my cousins, Tony and Caterina, and their families.”

The man, despite his confident way of carrying himself, couldn’t have been much older than Luna’s twenty years. She wondered if he worked for one of the ranchers in the area. Cousin Caterina, as well as Tony’s wife, Ilsa, had written about their western town. However, after growing up in a large city, Luna wasn’t exactly prepared for the wildness or the vastness of the West.

“You look like Caterina,” the cowboy said, and Luna took that as a great compliment. Her cousin was a rare beauty, even if she had inherited the fiery Campanelli temper.

Luna hated to admit it, but she had also received a generous portion of that temper, although she’d done her best to tame it in recent years.

“Thank you. Cousin Cat is quite beautiful.” Luna might have chanced another glance at the cowboy beside her, who smelled of horses and leather and a musky, masculine scent she found intriguing rather than off-putting, if her stomach hadn’t chosen that moment to growl.

Mortified by the sound, she felt her cheeks sear with the heat of embarrassment.

The cowboy beside her chuckled. “Sounds like your belly is as vacant as an empty post hole. I’m feeling about the same way since I didn’t have time for lunch.”

“I have a few pastries,” Luna said, reaching into the basket she still held on her lap and retrieving a paper sack. She’d purchased a large cinnamon bun, an apple fritter, and half a dozen assorted cookies. She removed her gloves, tucked them into the basket, and then broke the cinnamon bun in half, giving her seatmate the larger portion.

“I can’t take your food, miss, especially when I don’t even know your name.”

“Miss Campanelli. Luna Campanelli,” she said, still holding the piece of cinnamon bun out to him.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Campanelli. I’m Hunter. Your cousin Tony’s wife is an aunt to my boss through marriage.”

“Who is your employer?”

The cowboy glanced at her. “Dally Nash. She’s married to Nik Nash, and Ilsa Campanelli is his aunt.”

“Oh, yes! I heard about the wedding. I know Nik from the years he lived with my aunt and uncle in the apartment above their store.”

Hunter nodded and took the sticky pastry from her. “That’s right, I’d almost forgotten he’d stayed with your family when he was attending medical school. Which of Caterina’s relatives do you belong to?”

“Her brother Brando. He and Natalia have raised me since I was seven. They adopted me after my parents were killed in a flood. My father and Franco Campanelli were brothers. When Uncle Franco and Aunt Angelina heard what happened, they sent for me. I came to America, and Brando and Natalia welcomed me into their home and hearts soon after I arrived. They are my mama and papa now, although it took a while for me to decide I wanted to call them that.”

Hunter gave her a long, studying glance, one that made her want to squirm in her seat as she bit into the delicious cinnamon bun.

“Did someone travel with you to America, or were you completely on your own?”

Luna took a handkerchief from her skirt pocket and dabbed at her lips. “Cousin Carlo’s wife is English. Her grandparents had been longing to come to America for a visit, so I traveled with them. It worked out quite well, but it was also terrifying to leave behind the only home I’d known and cross the ocean with people I’d just met serving as my temporary guardians. They were the loveliest couple and so kind, but it’s hard for a child deep in grief to understand or acknowledge those things.”

Gracious! Luna felt like a babbling ninny. How had she transitioned from sharing pastries to such a maudlin topic? She chanced a glance at Hunter. “What about you, Mr. Hunter? If you are working for Dally this summer, does that mean you help her with training horses?”

“It’s just Hunter, no mister, and I am helping her train horses this summer. She’s about as fine a hand with a horse as you’ll ever meet. I was actually in Baker City this morning delivering a horse she trained to one of the ranchers. It took a little longer to reach the ranch than I’d anticipated, which is why I almost missed the train.” He tossed her a rascally smile. “Maybe it was a good thing, since the only seat left was this one next to you and your sweet cinnamon bun.”

Luna offered him a withering glare, uncertain if he was talking about the treat he stuffed in his mouth or something else entirely. Before she could bristle with offense, Hunter pointed out the window at a herd of elk.

Mesmerized by the sight of the animals, Luna forgot about being upset with him and asked a dozen questions about elk and wildlife in the area.

By the time they’d shared the cinnamon bun, apple fritter, and cookies, she’d concluded Hunter was intelligent, witty, and amusing. She hadn’t expected a hired hand who helped train horses to be so well-read or able to speak so intelligently about any number of current events.

When the train stopped in La Grande, Hunter left his hat on the seat beside her. “I’ll be right back,” he said, then rushed off the car and took off at a run.

Wondering why he’d rushed off and where he’d gone as people exited and boarded the passenger cars, Luna kept an anxious watch out the window, hoping he didn’t miss the train.

“All aboard!” The conductor’s call drifted through Luna’s open window. She saw Hunter sprint onto the platform with two glass bottles of dark liquid held in his hands.

He raced into the car and plopped down beside her, handing her one of the cold bottles.

“You didn’t have to fetch a soda on my account,” she said, although she was quite grateful for the cool, refreshing drink. Coca-Cola was her favorite.

“I was thirsty before we ate the treats you so graciously shared. This will wet our whistles until we get to Pendleton.” Hunter tipped his head toward her. “You might want to wait a minute before you open that, though, or you’ll have a sticky mess all over you.”

“Thank you,” she said, grateful for the kindness he’d shown. Maybe he wasn’t a down-on-his-luck degenerate, as she’d first assumed. In fact, if he were dressed in a suit with a proper haircut, she might have pegged him as a well-educated man.

She couldn’t quite picture the cowboy beside her sitting studiously in a college classroom, though. Something about him seemed a bit too untamed and rugged for formal learning.

Determined not to let her tendency to dream up stories to fill in details she didn’t know to push her thoughts off track, Luna decided to refocus her attention. As the train chugged away from La Grande and carried them toward Pendleton, she dredged through her memories for anything she could recall about Nik’s wife. They’d been married a few years. She thought Dally had been raised somewhere in the South but couldn’t exactly recall where. Was it Kentucky? Tennessee?

Luna wished she’d paid more attention to the news her family read and the rare visits from her Oregon relatives. She’d been so busy with her own life and love to pay much heed to what was happening with a distant relative’s in-laws all the way across the country. It was too late now to worry about what she’d failed to learn or listen to in regard to family in Pendleton.

“The trees are magnificent,” Luna said, fixing her gaze on the woods visible outside the window as the train chugged into the Blue Mountains.

“Sometimes there’s still snow up here in the middle of the summer.”

“Really?” she asked in astonishment, glancing over her shoulder to find Hunter leaning forward as he also stared out the window.

The train hit a bump in the tracks and they jostled into each other. She was so close to him she could see the thick dark lashes rimming his gorgeous eyes and a deep scar on his forehead above his left eyebrow. Her fingers itched to reach out and trace the scar, to know what had placed it there, but she moved back and expelled a soft breath.

It wasn’t until Hunter took the bottle of Coca-Cola from her hand that she even remembered she still held it.

“Here, Miss Campanelli, I’ll open that bottle for you. Otherwise the train might bounce it around until it loses all flavor.” He took a knife from his pocket and slowly pried the cap off the bottle, then handed the beverage to her so nonchalantly, she wondered if she’d imagined the previous moment when they’d been so near that it would have been quite natural for them to kiss.

Kiss? Good heavens! Where had that thought come from? Luna concluded the mountain air must be addling her thoughts.

She took a sip of the Coca-Cola and settled back in her seat, watching the scenery pass by. It was glorious in the mountains, and, as Hunter said, they could see snow in the distance despite the warmth of the day.

Hunter kept her entertained with stories about the area and people he knew in Pendleton who were either related to or acquainted with her cousins.

“Explain the families again,” she said as the train chugged out of the mountains with Pendleton visible in the distance. “Please?”

“It started with Aundy and Garrett Nash. They are best friends with your cousin Caterina and her husband Kade Rawlings. When youngsters came along, they referred to the adults as aunts and uncles. The familiar titles extended to Aundy’s sister Ilsa, who is married to your cousin Tony, Aundy’s brother Lars and his wife, Marnie, and several other couples in the area they are all friends with.” He grinned at her. “It’s easy to get confused since most of them aren’t really related. If I rattle off too many more names, I’m afraid it will just muddle everything together.”

Numbly, Luna nodded, unable to express that her thoughts were already well and truly jumbled, not by the names he’d listed, but by his presence. Not since Matteo … She slammed the door on her memories and forced herself to look out the window as the train approached the depot in Pendleton.

Luna watched as miners, cowboys, farmers, Indians, businessmen, women wearing everything from calico to silks, and children of all ages mingled together on the boardwalk and platform. She’d seen few Indians in her travels from New York and couldn’t help studying the three men and two women standing on the platform. They all appeared so stoic.

The train rocked to a stop, and Luna smiled as a young woman, her black hair caught up beneath a fashionable hat and her traveling suit in the latest style, raced off the train and into the open arms of one of the Indian women. It appeared a beloved daughter had just returned home.

“Do you have baggage to collect, Miss Campanelli?” Hunter asked as he stood and motioned to the overhead compartment.

“Yes. A dark brown satchel with a purple ribbon tied to the handle.”

“A purple ribbon,” he repeated, smiling as he retrieved her bag. “Of course, I should have known a ribbon-bedecked bag would belong to you.”

Even with the whiskers on his face making it hard to see, she noticed a dimple in his right cheek and found herself entirely fascinated by it.

His gaze entangled hers, and she wondered what it would be like to be kissed by a man with a whiskery chin, especially when his lips were as full and tempting as she found Hunter’s to be.

Annoyed with her musings, she reached for her bag as she stood.

Rather than hand it to her, Hunter offered her his arm. “It can be unsteady on the train,” he offered as an excuse. “You wouldn’t want to lose your balance on the way out the door.”

Flimsy as the excuse was, Luna was more than happy to latch onto it.

“So it is,” she said, steady on her feet in spite of the bubbles popping in her stomach and the slightly lightheaded feeling she experienced as Hunter helped her down the steps of the passenger car and onto the platform.

“Is Tony or Kade meeting you?” Hunter asked, glancing around the sea of faces that flowed around them.

Luna had sent a note to Tony and Ilsa, letting them know she was planning to come before June, but she hadn’t given them an exact arrival date. Now, she wished she had. It was generous of them to invite her to stay at their home. The polite thing would have been to send a telegram to let them know when to expect her.

Here she was, surrounded by strangers, with no idea how to locate Tony, Ilsa, or Caterina, for that matter. Caterina had offered her a job working in her restaurant for the summer, and Luna had been more than happy to accept the work. Only, she wished she’d been more forthcoming with her travel plans so her cousins would have known to meet the afternoon train.

An unexpected and unwelcome woozy feeling settled over Luna as the crowd pressed around her. She clutched the basket she carried tightly against her stomach, as though it might serve as a shield.

“Miss Campanelli? Is anyone coming to meet you?” Hunter asked, but his voice sounded far away, like he spoke from the end of a tunnel.

Luna shook her head, fighting against a wave of fear. Her chest tightened until she felt as though she couldn’t breathe, while her vision blurred and her knees threatened to collapse. When a nearby auto backfired, she ducked, dropped her basket, and covered her head with her arms in a protective crouch.

No longer was she standing on the platform outside the Pendleton depot. The noise and crowds transported her to a New York street where she relived the trauma of the day that swallowed all her plans for her future. Hers and Matteo’s.

“Miss Campanelli?” Hunter’s voice grew even more distant before Luna closed her eyes and let the blackness consume her.

At least it was something familiar.

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