Writen in 60 minutes.
The moment the door closed behind Jason Morgan, Elizabeth’s anxiety began to rise. She had been nervous enough to marry a man she’d never met in person, but to marry a man who had not even sought out a wife in the first place—
She wanted to be safe, she wanted her son to have a better life than the one she’d given him so far, but to marry someone, no matter how kind, who hadn’t woken up that morning intending to propose marriage—it was preposterous.
The only reason she not yet sent word that she’d changed her mind was the stark knowledge that she had few choices. She had to hope that the gentleness she’d sensed in him would continue, and extend to her son whom he had not yet properly met.
Cameron woke from his nap, refreshed and back to his normal, boisterous self. He was starving, he told her, so Elizabeth took his hand and decided to venture out.
“Oh, Miss Webber—”
Elizabeth turned to find the woman who had checked them in holding up her hand. Her countenance was quite pretty, but there was a slyness in her brown eyes that had Elizabeth clutching Cameron’s hand more tightly.
“Mrs. Webber,” she corrected softly. She would not allow any one the chance to slight her son. She only hoped Jason would not mind the pretense that she’d been married to Cameron’s father. “It’s missus.”
“Of course. My apologies. The sheriff left a message for you,” the woman said, sliding over a note folded into an envelope that was still sealed.
“Thank you.” Elizabeth took the letter, slid it out. He wanted her to meet his grandmother tonight. He would come for her at dusk. She tucked the note into her reticule, took Cameron’s hand again, and decided to find a general store where she could purchase something to tide him over until supper.
Port Charles—still such a strange name for a town without much of a port on a small lake—stretched out along a wide main street. The streets were tightly packed dirt bordered by wooden sidewalks that ran in front of buildings. Gaps created alleys between some of the buildings.
It was quite different from the dark, dank streets she’d lived on in Port Hamilton, with buildings and tenements that stretched four or five stories into the air. Few of the buildings seemed to be larger than one story, and the sun shone brightly over it all. Just beyond the railroad depot, Grand Lake opened out into the horizon, and the Rocky Mountains towered over it all.
Better yet, the air was fresher, cleaner than it had been in New York. She took a long, deep bracing breath. She would make this work. Jason Morgan hadn’t wanted a wife, but he would get the best wife she knew how to be.
Jason was surprised, but relieved, to find Elizabeth standing outside the lodge as the sun dipped behind the mountains that evening. She had changed her dress from the dusty calico she’d worn on the train into a light blue one. And her son—
Cameron Webber stood beside her, with sunny blonde hair. He was smartly dressed into a boy’s suit that reminded him of what Michael had worn in the only photograph they had of him, though Michael’s had been much smaller. It was a finer material than Elizabeth’s dress, which was frayed at the edges and a bit faded. Clearly, she saw to her son’s needs before her own.
“Sheriff,” Elizabeth said, her lips stretching into a smile that didn’t seem to reach her eyes. “You’re quite prompt.”
“My grandmother keeps a tight schedule—” He stepped up from the street, unsure what to do. Should he introduce himself to Cameron? Did the boy know—
“Cameron—” Elizabeth knelt down, straightening his jacket. “Do you remember I told you that I was going to be getting married?”
“Yes.” Cameron’s voice was light, sweet, and he spoke with a bit of a lisp. “You said we have a house. And maybe a papa.” Cameron twisted his head, studied Jason. “You the papa?”
Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed, and Jason’s stomach twisted at that—but it wasn’t discomfort. Not quite. Surprise, maybe. A strange swirl of tenderness and excitement. He was four, after all. It was likely by the time he’d grown, Jason would be the only father figure in his life. To deny him the title of father seemed unnecessarily cruel.
“Yes,” Jason said. He held out his hand, and Cameron shook it. “I’m Jason, but if you want and your mother says it’s all right, I can be the papa.”
“Don’t know what papas do—” Cameron’s tiny shoulders shrugged. “But I like my mama, so okay.”
Elizabeth choked back a laugh, then got to her feet. “I’m sorry—” she told Jason, but he shook his head.
“It’s all right.” He offered his arm, and Elizabeth took it, sliding her arm through it. “My grandmother lives just down the road and around the corner. It was the first house built in the town, so it’s close. I thought we’d walk there if it’s all right.”
“That sounds nice.” They started down the wooden sidewalk and Elizabeth reluctantly let Cameron’s hand go when he tugged, wanting to skip. He’d learned how to do it from one of the children he’d met during the train ride.
“Stay on the walk,” Elizabeth told him. “And don’t go too far in front.”
“I didn’t have the chance to ask you—my grandmother assumed you were a widow when I told her about Cameron, so she might say something. I didn’t know if you wanted me to tell her, or—”
“I’d prefer if no one knew,” Elizabeth admitted. “It’s not that I’m ashamed, but Cameron—”
“My grandmother wouldn’t slight him,” Jason assured her. “But it may make his life easier. It’s not fair—”
“But it’s realistic,” she finished on a soft murmur. “As long as you know the truth—your cousin does, too,” she said on a mutter. “I was quite honest in the letters.’
Jason scowled at the reminder of what his cousin had done. “It will be up to you if we tell my grandmother.”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened as they turned down the street, and her feet became stuck. “You—she lives on this street?”
“Yes—” Jason’s mouth twisted. “My grandfather had already been wealthy before he came to the silver mines here. He was one of the lucky ones who struck gold in California. He sent for the rest of the family, then we came here for the silver. He wanted my grandmother to have a home like the one we’d left in San Francisco—”
The homes on this street were grander than she’d expected—most two stories, constructed quite like the ones back home, with sweeping porches and large picture windows. The trees shaded the street, and the walks here were not wooden, but made of cobblestone, while the road was paved with stone. “It looks like a street I’d find at home.”
“My grandmother is heading a committee to repave Main Street,” Jason told her as they began walking again. “They’re hoping to attract more businesses as the silver mines start to wear out. We’ve got a lot of fishing and ranching, too.”
She’d run away from the tenements of Port Hamilton only to find herself thrown in the very kind of society that had thrown her out, and somehow—she was marrying a son from the oldest family. Just as her parents had wanted for her.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, I just—I read some of the dime novels and it’s not quite what I pictured.” She’d pictured freedom.
“I don’t live here,” Jason reminded her. “I left home a long time ago. I have a ranch outside of town—I was elected sheriff last year,” he added. “My grandmother put me on the ballot.”
“Really? She can do that?”
“There’s not a lot Lila Morgan can’t do in Port Charles,” Jason told her. “My place is nice, but it’s nothing like here. If that bothers you—”
“No, no. In fact, quite the opposite.” They stopped in front of the largest home on the road—three stories high. She swallowed hard, reached for her son’s hand and hoped that it would be okay. That she would survive this life better than she’d managed in the last.
Elizabeth’s mood had changed when they’d turned the corner, and she’d gotten her first look at his grandmother’s neighborhood. Jason hoped that meant she would be all right with living several miles out of town. One of the reasons his grandmother had maneuvered him into the position of sheriff was to force him to be in town more often.
His grandmother was waiting in the parlor with Dillon when Jason ushered Elizabeth and Cameron through the foyer and down the hall. “Grandmother, this is Elizabeth Webber.” He put a hand on Cameron’s shoulder. “And her son, Cameron.”
“I am delighted to meet you.” Lila strode froward, took Elizabeth’s hands in hers and kissed her cheek. “And your son—how handsome and smart you look, young master.” She held out a wrapped candy. “Do you like caramels?”
Cameron’s eyes widened. “Mama?” he asked in a hushed voice. “Can I? It’s not my birthday yet.”
Elizabeth’s cheeks reddened, and he knew she was embarrassed by the implication—her son only received sweets one day a year. “Of course. Thank you, Mrs. Morgan.”
“Call me Grandmother. Both of you.” Lila handed Cameron the candy, and his small fingers raced to pull off the shiny wrapper. It dropped to the floor—but instead shoving it into his mouth as Jason and his siblings had done as children—he delicately nibbled at it.
Another strange swirl of tenderness swept through him. Cameron clearly had experience in making such treats last as long as possible. He wanted to take the child directly to the sweets shop on Main Street and open an account for him.
“Take a seat, darling,” Lila said, taking Elizabeth by the arm and pulling her from Jason. “Tell me everything about yourself. Jason tells me you’re from New York.”
“Um, yes.” She tucked a piece of behind her ear, sitting next to his grandmother on the chaise. Jason crossed over to the sideboard where his grandmother kept the liquor and poured himself a tumbler of whiskey to sip. “Port Hamilton on Lake Ontario. He told me that your family was from back east.”
“Oh, well, eventually. We started in London,” Lila said. “My father left after the Napoleon fell and the Corn Laws—” she shivered delicately at the memory. “I was just a girl, no more than Cameron’s age. We came to New York City.” She tipped her head. “Webber,” she repeated. “I knew a Webber once.”
Elizabeth tensed, and Jason frowned. “Webber must be a common name,” he said.
“Oh, to be sure. And this was quite some time ago. Edward and I were quite close to a family whose daughter married a Webber,” Lila said. “You said Port Hamilton? One of those boomtowns that sprang up after the Erie Canal opened.”
“I’m even more convinced that we might have known your grandparents.” Lila searched her memory. “Alan was all but grown when we left New York for San Franscisco, so we spent quite some time in New York.”
What were the odds—
“Steven and Audrey Hardy,” Lila said, snapping her fingers. “I haven’t thought of them in years—”
“Steven and—” Elizabeth’s face drained of color. “Those are my mother’s parents. You—you knew them.”
“What a lovely small world,” Lila said, delighted. “Oh, just think, Jason, if we’d all stayed in New York, you and Elizabeth might have grown up together.”
Of course. If her family had been in manufacturing and business—it made sense that Edward Morgan had done business with them. New York City was a large city now, but it had been much smaller fifty years ago—
Dillon’s eyes widened. “That’s why your name sounded familiar,” he declared, startling them both. “Grandmother has newspaper clippings from New York.”
Jason glared at him. “What?”
“Um—” Dillon closed his mouth, sat back in his chair. “Never mind.”
Christ. Dillon had sorted through letters from women, and he’d been drawn to one because of a name—
Jason didn’t much care if Lila knew Elizabeth’s family, but Elizabeth seemed deathly afraid that it would somehow lead to the truth about Cameron’s birth—how terrible had it been back in New york?
“Of course. I saved every mention of us in the papers,” Lila said, preening. “My Edward was such an important man, even then. Dillon must be remembering the notice of your parents wedding. It was one of the last events we attended before we came West. Susannah Hardy married a Webber who was in shipping.”
“Yes.” Defeated, Elizabeth nodded. “Yes. That sounds right. They moved to Port Hamilton after they married. I’d—I had forgotten that.”
“I lost touch with Audrey after we left. I don’t suppose she still…” Lila asked, hopefully.
“I—” Elizabeth’s eyes watered. “No, no. They, um, they—their train collided with another—” She exhaled slowly. “It’s been about eight years.”
“Oh, my darling. How tragic. You’ve lost so much for someone quite so young. Jason told me your family was gone. Were your parents with them?” Lila asked. “Is that why you felt you needed to come West?”
“N-No.” Elizabeth shot Jason a miserable look, before she looked at his grandmother again. “No. They sent me away.”
“Elizabeth,” Jason said, stepping forward. He didn’t want her to feel forced into this—but she shook her head.
“I was betrothed as a girl,” Elizabeth said. “And he died. The day we were to wed. Before the ceremony.”
Lila closed her mouth, looked over at Cameron who was still nibbling at his caramel, focused entirely on the sweet treat, then back at Elizabeth. “Before.”
“Yes. I’m not—I’m not a widow. I’m so sorry.”