Prologue: Atchison, Kansas - 1867
Sallie Cummings was a pretty young lady riding west on a stagecoach. The new railroad system had not, as of yet, been successfully installed as far as Atchison, Kansas. The minor hardship did not phase her, however, for she was on her way to a new life; she was going to marry a wealthy man. A man whose letters had touched her heart like no others had.
There was the promise of leaving a life of poverty behind.
There were lots of promises.
A traveling salesman leered at her, and she tried to ignore his hungry stares, concentrating on the savage lands rushing past her as the stagecoach traversed down its dusty trail. She cleared her throat, nervously.
She was from Boston. Of Irish stock. Her hair was as fair and as lovely as the Dublin morning - that is what her mother always used to say to her. She had also been cursed with a beauty both rare and fair. Of course, her father considered her graces to be more of a blessing than a curse. The affliction of beauty was lamented more by her god-fearing mother.
Upon entering the township of Atchison, the vehicle came to a slow and cloudy stop. As the dust of a long journey came to a settled clarity, Sallie was escorted out of her seat and into the hot Kansas sun. The woman held her breath, eagerly anticipating her first sight of the man who had sought her out amongst several dozen women.
Eyes roving the bustling, dusty crowd of the boom town, Sallie knew at once when she, at last, saw William Manchester, the master of Manchester House.
The first thing she noticed about him was his eyes. Cold and dark, they caused a chill to run down her spine. However, William Manchester tried diplomacy and kindness to impress his new bride-to-be.
"The angels have nothing to compare to the beautiful bounty I see before me," the man stated, slowly bowing to Sallie. His gaze ran up and down the lines of her dress, practically undressing the woman. His plastic smile quirked into a sneer almost unconsciously, and his face dripped with arrogance. If he were trying to project the fact that he was a gentleman of good character, it was not working.
Sallie, uncomfortable, could feel her heart beating with an almost primal panic. There was, unfortunately, no turning back.
The stagecoach took off. Its disappearance again stirred up the dust of the main thoroughfare of the frontier town.
She was now to be a bride.
At least, that was the agreement.
A letter had been sent to her parents arranging a meeting. Then, a wedding was planned. Her recent forbears had come from Ireland -- a nation where arranged marriages were common -- and Sallie had not given the deal a second thought. She was only told that the arrangement was a good one, that her new husband was a wealthy man, and that she would not know hunger for the rest of her days. What more could a poor Irish woman want in such a new and vast land?
"Am I then in the presence of William Manchester?" Sallie asked, her eyes looking down upon her shoes, shyly.
"You are, young woman."
His voice was like the scratch of broken glass, and it shook her to her bones, disturbing her composure. There was an uncomfortable undercurrent projecting from this man.
"I am Sallie Cummings," she forced a smile, unable to meet his eyes.
"No," Manchester softly stated, lightly touching the girl upon her chin. He raised her face to lock her in his gaze. "No wife of mine will ever look upon the dirt as if she were a servant. You are now to become an important part of my future, Sallie. Believe in that much, at least."
Sallie, lulled by the kind touch and hopeful words, allowed herself the moment.
William Manchester had other ideas.