Sara R. Turnquist

Laura, The Tycoon’s Daughter

Chapter 1 Sneak Peek

Chapter One


New Southern Hotel

Jackson, TN

March 3, 1899

Laura Millington released a sigh and wished to be anywhere but at a banquet with her father. Why did he insist on her presence at these things? She would much rather flee the social arena altogether and run off to find her next story.

She frowned. My, wouldn’t Father find that amusing. But one day…one day he would see her stories for what they truly were. Setting her jaw at that thought, she determined that it would be so.

Maybe then he would take her seriously and regret forcing her into the mold she had come to know, but despise, so well.

Laura smiled at a gentleman passing on her left. He gave a slight bow. She dipped briefly then moved on. She did not wish to give the man any room to perceive interest from her.

Was it rude? Did she care?

Father would balk at her shunning attention from a man who appeared to be of certain means. But his objections didn’t matter. Laura had much greater aspirations. Though the fire for writing filled her bones, Father had made it clear her future would not be invested thusly.

“There you are, darling,” Father’s unmistakable booming voice called from off to her right. Could she not escape the man, even in this crowd?

She shifted her focus and found him, as usual, amid men who were no doubt important. To him.

Still, she put on her best grin and strolled toward him. “I do apologize for my tardiness, Father. I was—”

“Never mind that.” His words were sharp—more so than she imagined he would risk at a gathering of this nature. “I have people I would like you to meet.”

Pressing her lips together, she longed to speak further but swallowed her words and put on her dutiful daughter mask. Yes, that would best please Father.

He made quick introductions around the circle.

She worked to commit the names to memory as she greeted each one. Father had certain expectations about her engaging with men of note.

“This is my daughter, Laura Millington, the gem in my crown.”

Her face warmed slightly. She appreciated his rare compliment, but his behavior wore thin. Nothing about his recent treatment gave any indication she was precious to him. But how could she blame him? What with all the trouble and heartache she caused. But she buried her uneasiness so she might smile and thank him.

“My father is too kind.” She didn’t intend for her words to come out tightly, but they were past her lips before she could stop them. Easing the tension in her shoulders, she tried again. “He is gracious indeed.”

The women in the small group batted their eyes, and the men returned their focus to her father, all but dismissing her. Just as her experience had taught her to expect of these pointless interactions.

She had naught to do but stand about, her father’s work of art to be admired but not taken seriously.

The few women about excused themselves and moved off in a smaller cluster. Could she follow? As much as she would wish to do so, it would be of little use. There was no more real acceptance for her in their company either. Naught remained but to resign herself into her role—one she played rather unevenly.

After some moments, a hush came over the crowd. Had the guest of honor arrived? Laura turned to the main entryway. This gathering was for the sake of a man who had neither position nor accolades to his name. But Casey Jones had become quite the renowned engineer for the Illinois Railroad Company. The songs that the workers sang about Casey had reached her ears, but she had put most of the details out of mind. For they were surely embellishments.

Soon enough, a figure no less than six feet tall entered with a timid woman on his arm.

A great cheer roared about the room.

The man jerked back. Did he not know? His reaction belied that he had not expected such an affair.

A chorus of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” filled the space.

Laura joined in, although her knowledge of the man was limited at best.

Casey Jones, man of the hour, had assuredly become the most well-regarded engineer in all of the company. Today was about him.

Her father grabbed for her hand and set it on his arm.

Laura fought the urge to pull back. He was only playing his part. She must play hers.

Did he wish to keep her close? Or to appease his own sense of vanity? As much as she wanted to believe the former, her heart tugged toward the reality of the latter. The truth remained. She was merely a pawn he would play at some point when he might gain the most advantage.

Those about Casey Jones and his wife pushed and shuffled them to the front of the room and the head table.

Her father stiffened. As one of the railroad owners, he anticipated being the center of attention. Not today. And he bristled at the attention lavished upon Casey, a man so far beneath him.

A few kind words were spoken by a stockier man—a greeting and invitation for everyone to take their seats. The crowd responded, bustling to find their tables.

Father leaned close and spoke in his firm, directive tone. “I was not able to secure you a seat at my table.”

Why would he have made such an effort? He made no secret of how tiresome he found her. “But your table shouldn’t be far.”

She nodded and held back a sigh. Her father was rather important and would be placed where he could have the most advantageous conversations. Not something she relished being a party to.

Laura pulled back her hand as he did the same. Was he so ready to be rid of her? But what use was there in pondering that further? She moved about the tables, searching for her place. Although, as she glanced about for place cards, she noted that only a few seats were assigned. Trading her hunt from one form to another, she sought a familiar face, or at least somewhere she might have pleasant conversation.

A table to the left boasted a good mix of young women and their husbands. She maneuvered through the pressing crowd and grasped the back of the only available chair.

Her hand collided with another, larger one.

She jerked away.

A gentleman, tall and solidly built, stood nearby. And he drew back his own hand. “Pardon me—”

“I apologize, I didn’t realize—”

They spoke at the same time.

He grinned. A smile that traveled into his brown eyes, both pleasant and warm.

Heat rose up her face as he stared.

“Please,” he said, a kindness to his words, “Take the seat. I’ll find somewhere else.”

She scanned the room. Most of the available spots had been claimed.

“Sir, are you and your wife looking to sit together?” a voice from the right interjected. “We can move and make space.”

Then the ladies and gentlemen around the table shifted.

Laura spotted a vacant chair across the table. “Oh, please, don’t go to any trouble. We aren’t together.”

“I thank you,” the brown-eyed man said to those at the table. “But it is wholly unnecessary. The lady and I are not acquainted, much less attached.” His gaze warmed her once more. “Though should I hold such a prize, I would not keep it secret.”

A general mumbling surrounded her, with only few words discernible.

“Perhaps, then, sir,” a dark-haired woman directly to the stranger’s right said, “you can make good use of this opportunity.”

The temperature of Laura’s cheeks rose again. Could she hope they weren’t as deeply red as the extent of the heat she felt?

“I thank you,” the gentleman said, tossing a genial look in Laura’s direction before turning back to the woman of raven hair. “Though I might hope, I would not dare presume the lady is unaccompanied.” He glanced about her as if to ascertain the truth of his statement.

Laura offered a small smile. “I am here with my father, although he is engaged elsewhere for the meal.” She met his gaze again. His very presence exuded a strength and calm. And perhaps a hint of joviality. If only she could shy away. But that wasn’t possible, so she said, “I would welcome the conversation.”

He nodded and pulled out the chair, gesturing for her to sit.

She settled onto the red velvet cushioned surface and watched as he took a seat as well.

His shoulder brushed hers, and her uneven smile widened.

Such nonsense. How was she so out of place? She had been in the presence of other, perhaps even more handsome, men without faltering. But there was something about him that drew her in and set her at ease.

He turned, now facing her. No doubt the embarrassment was easily discerned upon her features. She had always done poorly at hiding her feelings.

“John Patterson.” He leaned closer.

Her breath caught. “Pardon?”

“My name…John Patterson.” His smile quirked. Did he find this amusing? “Though only my mother calls me John. To everyone else, I am Jack.”

“Laura Millington.” She offered her gloved hand—an action she quickly regretted. As his fingers enclosed hers, a tingling sensation spread up her arm.

She pulled back faster than was necessary. Could he see how he affected her? She prayed not. “It is…good…to meet you.” No matter how she attempted to rein in her reaction to the myriad of sensations, it was for naught.

The couple to Mr. Patterson’s right spoke, and he turned his attention on them.

She looked about, hoping to find someone else at the table with whom to make conversation. But as she leaned away from Mr. Patterson, her elbow bumped into the outstretched arm of the man beside her. An arm that had reached for his glass of wine. A glass of wine that now splattered over his stark white shirt.


Jack could not determine if the conversation he had broached with the couple to his right would amount to anything. Not that it needed to. Sometimes social gatherings were just that—social. But he struggled with a reason to be attentive to something that was a means to no end. Not in his world. Everything added up…or should. Such was the life of a man who spent much time with calculations.

Everything had a purpose. For one, this benign conversation distracted him from the woman in the fine green gown to his left. She had made him linger at this table instead of seeking another available vacant seat. More so, it pressed him to allow those around the table to upset their arrangement and make a space for him beside her. Which he now regretted, because her presence had become magnetic. So, he focused on the couple to his right.

That was until the fair creature to his left rose abruptly. He barely had a moment to register her movement before the man to her left seethed.

What had happened to bring about such a reaction toward a lady?

The red-faced man struggled to his feet, arms waving. And he bore evidence on his shirt of a glass of red wine gone awry.

“Look what you’ve done.” The man’s nostrils flared.

“My apologies, sir,” Miss Millington said, her face awash with embarrassment. She gripped her cloth napkin and appeared as if she might attempt to blot the stain. Then she hesitated. As well she should.

The man took a step back and his companion, perhaps his wife, came into the fray. Her features paled at the man’s vehemence. She took the proffered napkin and, pressing between the man and Miss Millington, spoke soothingly to the irate man while dabbing in vain at his shirt.

“You’ve ruined it.” His voice rose all the more, and he pushed away his wife’s hands.

“Sir, I promise I will make this right.” Miss Millington’s concession sounded genuine.

The man glared at her and maneuvered closer until he stood far too near. “How?”

Miss Millington gripped the chair as if fearful she would fall over.

Jack could stand it no longer. He stood and moved to Miss Millington’s side. “I say here, this is nothing that allows you to speak to a lady so harshly.”

The man’s eyes widened as he set his gaze on Jack. “Are you speaking for her?”

Jack pressed his hands downward between them as if such an indication would calm the man. “This was clearly an accident. Of the most unfortunate kind, I agree. But an accident all the same. Shaming the lady will not solve anything.”

Miss Millington took a sharp and loud intake of breath, although Jack stood directly beside her. Did his presence not dissipate her fear?

“Come, Frederick,” the timid woman beside the man said and set tentative hands on his arm. “Let’s make the best of—”

He shook her off.

The woman shrank back, all but raising an arm to shield herself. What would this man’s anger come to?

Jack would like nothing more than to set him straight. Or at least rescue the man’s wife in some way. That would be a futile effort. However, Jack stepped forward and between the angry man and Miss Millington. While he may not be able to correct the man’s behavior toward his wife, Jack would not allow this man to press the worst of his ire onto the helpless Miss Millington.

“I beg you, sir,” Miss Millington’s voice had more strength than expected. “I can replace whatever has been spoiled.”

The urge to turn and determine if her features shown her feelings as completely as her voice did overwhelmed him. But he kept his gaze leveled on the man before him. For certain, he would assure that this man did not become violent while in his company. Toward anyone…least of all Miss Millington. The muscles in Jack’s arms tensed in preparation to defend either or both of the women.

“See here.” Jack’s voice was tight. “As the lady said, the spill was not intentional. Perhaps it is best if we all part company.”

“Am I to take my seat and go about the evening as if I haven’t a spoiled shirt?”

“Frederick,” the wife said, her voice small and hesitant, “We don’t have to stay. It would be nothing for us to slip out.”

“Listen to your wife. Her words are the most sense spoken in these last several moments,” Jack said. Rather than dispel the heat of the situation, the words deepened the color upon the man’s face. So Jack pressed on. “Either way, I will thank you to calm yourself. Miss Millington does not deserve your irate words.”

The man paused. “Millington?” He craned his neck as if to look around Jack.

Jack leaned to the left to block his glare, lest he seek to intimidate the lady. “Yes…Millington. A good strong name, is it not?”

The man—Frederick—swallowed hard. Then he looked to his wife. “Perhaps it is best.”

“Yes.” The woman set a hand to his shoulder. “I do tire.”

Frederick’s eyebrows lifted and he considered the woman at his side. And, at length, nodded. “Very well.”

For whatever reason—of which Jack told himself mattered not—the man allowed his wife to lead him away.

Jack turned to face the lady he had protected.

Her features were wane. The way her lips parted slightly before sealing, called to him. She was so vulnerable, so in need of his strength.

He put a hand to her elbow.

She jerked away from his touch. “I thank you for your assistance, Mr. Patterson. But I assure you, it was not needed.”

Was not needed? Jack looked at the retreating forms. Not needed? The man had been prepared to give Miss Millington a piece of his mind before Jack stepped in.

Miss Millington’s gaze caught his as she squared her shoulders. “Is this what you think? That a lone woman is not capable of holding her own?”

He balked. She would accuse him of such? Him? The man who came to her aid? Jack narrowed his gaze. How could she dismiss his efforts? It wasn’t as if she had been managing the situation well. “Only when said woman falls victim.”

As soon as the words were out, he wanted them back. Flames of gold flashed in her eyes even as her features stiffened.

“Victim am I? Well, I never…” She glanced back in the direction of the table. Perhaps only then aware of the audience they had enraptured.

Had they, indeed, become the spectacle he suspected? But he refused to back down from her glare.

“Come now,” he softened his tone, “I only intended to lend aid.”

A fire sparked in the amber depths of her eyes, bringing a light to the chestnut that made them fairly shine. “Aid that I neither requested nor required.”

There would be no winning here. Still, a part of him wanted to push harder in his own defense. Perhaps because she was striking when angry, perhaps because the interaction gave rise to an excitement that coursed through his core.

Either way, one of them had to diffuse this situation.

“I apologize, Miss Millington. I was…unaware.” He wanted to speak further but doused that desire with a dose of reality. This was neither the time nor the place to continue their discussion. And while he may find enjoyment in the rise of her emotions, that, too, bordered on inappropriate.

She settled back into herself and her eyes dimmed to a calmer, softer brown. It was a shame the fire in her waned, but probably best. He found it a bit too alluring.

Jerking her chin upward as if that would gain her inches to her height, she met his gaze for a long moment before looking away.

“May I, miss?” He reached for her chair. If they could be seated, all else would resume its due course.

She jerked the chair away from his grasp and settled in it without his assistance.

“It is indeed a pity,” he said, letting the word stretch as far as he dared, “that something so fine should be spoiled.”

Her gaze flew to his. And hardened. Did she discern his reference to more than the man’s shirt?

He bit back a smile and took his own chair. And turned to the couple on his right again. “Now, where were we?”

The dark-haired woman offered a wide-eyed glance and gripped her husband’s hand.

This was going to be a long night.


August 30th

“Be careful!” Mother warned as Brianne carried the first box up the narrow staircase. 

Home for the weekend, Brianne had been tasked with packing the rest of her bedroom so it could be converted into a guest room. 

Thanks, parental units, I feel so loved.

But she did understand. It wasn’t that she couldn’t stay in her room. They just didn’t want their guests looking at her clutter or going through her things. Perhaps she should appreciate their thoughtfulness.

Brianne neared the top of the stairs and slowed. The attic had never been her favorite place. She rarely came up here. And she wouldn’t be here now if there were any other choice.

Dad had been called to work on a water heater in one of the rental properties, and there was no way she would ask her trip-prone mother to brave these stairs. Besides, Mom had her errands.

Breathing in the warmer, mustier air, she prayed against the spiders lurking in the crevices, just waiting.

Ridiculous. Just ridiculous.

But that didn’t assuage her fears. Yes, she might have an irrational fear of the tiny creatures, but that was a fear she’d learned to live with. It seemed nothing she told herself could stop the shiver that ran down her spine or the chills that broke out all over when facing down one of the eight-legged monsters.

Stepping ever so carefully, she carried the box to the place Dad had designated. She set it on the floor and stood back, glancing around for the army of spiders that were sure to have cut off her exit.


There weren’t even hordes of spider webs as she had expected.

Dad must have gotten after them with a broom.

Great. Angry, vengeful spiders.

Still, she appreciated that this attic, unlike most, was quite roomy. She stood to her full height in the middle, although Dad, with his over-six-foot frame, still had to duck. Off to the sides where the house’s roof and ceiling angled downward, the space was much smaller. And the staircase, albeit narrow, leading up to the attic was much better than the precarious folding ladder she had seen in most of her friends’ homes.

Clapping her hands together, she sighed. Time to go for more boxes. She made her way across the attic and down the stairs.

Mom stood at the base, purse on her arm.

“Oh,” Mom said, hand over her heart. “You startled me. I was about to yell up to you.”

“Yeah?” Brianne raised a brow.

“I’m headed out.”

“Okay.” Brianne pressed into her mother for a quick hug.

“Need anything from the store?”

Pulling back, Brianne offered a smile and a wink. “I’m happy with anything but dried noodles.”

Mom’s lips widened. “I’ll be making Poppyseed Chicken tonight, you know that. You can’t think you’d come home and I not.”

Brianne grinned. Her favorite. Mom was so thoughtful. “Thanks. You’re the best.”

“I don’t want you going up and down those stairs with no one here.” Overprotective mom. Always worried.

“Isn’t Claire in her room?”

“Yes.” Mom frowned. “I suppose if she’ll come into the living room you can keep at it.”

Brianne stood straight and mocked a salute. “Yes, ma’am.”

Mom gave her a quick kiss and headed toward the front door.

Brianne made her way through the house to her younger sister’s room. She knocked on the door and held her breath as she waited for Claire’s response.

Their relationship was not what it could be. Claire was a junior in high school, and the two of them had just come out of a catty phase in which they oscillated between getting along and getting on each other’s nerves. Teenage drama.

Claire opened the door only enough to look out, a scowl on her face. “What?”

So, it was going to be one of those moods. “Mom asked me to finish moving my stuff to the attic. But you know Mom, she’s worried about me carrying the boxes up with no one to hear if I fall to my death. Can you hang out in the living room for a while so you can call someone if I break my neck or something?”

Claire pushed a breath out through her teeth. She was going to say ‘no.’

Brianne prepared herself. Maybe she could pass the time reading a book or something.

After a moment, Claire nodded. “All right. I suppose I can find something on TV.”

What? Did Claire just say she would?

Stomping out of her room, Claire closed her door, glaring at Brianne the entire time. Did she think Brianne was that interested in her tornado-like private space?

As Claire moved in the direction of the living room, Brianne headed opposite toward her room for another box.

Nearly an hour later, Brianne carried the last box up the stairs. After setting it in her little alcove, she stood.

She had done it!

Wiping perspiration from her forehead, she let out a breath and placed a hand on her hip.

In the spirit of keeping the peace, she should go downstairs and relieve Claire from her post. But in her many trips, Brianne had lost her fear of the vicious spiders. She also became rather curious about the treasures around her.

Next to the boxes she had just placed, sat those containing her childhood toys. She opened one—full of dolls. Pulling one out, she remembered the Christmas she received it. Such a hard Christmas. But she hadn’t known it at the time.

When she and Claire were children, their parents didn’t have much. Money went into the rental business Dad was growing. But Brianne never felt they lacked anything. Even now, as she looked at the amount of clothes and accessories for her dolls, she marveled at how her parents and grandparents still managed to provide for many of their wants during those lean years.

The next box held favorite books from those younger years. Why had Mom kept these? She glanced over the various covers and reread some of the back cover texts. How these stories had enraptured her young mind! Reading had always been a passion of hers.

She spent the next several minutes going through other childhood things. This stack bled into the pile of toys she played with when this house belonged to her grandparents. Her family moved into this larger house to help care for them when they became advanced in age. But when she was a child, this had been Granny and Grandpa’s house.

A small dollhouse, complete with furniture and tiny dishes, had been the prized thing. And here it was, covered in dust. Memories of Granny flooded her mind. The way her kitchen always smelled of stewing beef and vegetables. And the art projects she did with them. Granny had been an artist and an art teacher. Hadn’t Brianne spotted some of Granny’s paintings up here?

Maneuvering around boxes and random objects, she sought them out. Finally, she found several leaning against a far wall. They were beautiful. Landscapes mostly. Even one of the local university in an early phase. Did Mom and Dad even know the artwork was up here? She made a mental note to tell Dad. These needed to be on display. 

She continued to scan the area. This back corner of the attic did not hold boxes. Trunks and other more permanent containers had been left here. Crouching, she opened one—dresses. More of Granny’s things? She pulled one out. It definitely had a Germanic flare. The stories of Granny and Grandpa’s lives in Germany when Grandpa was in the Army played through her memory.

How she loved those stories!


The memories of after were…hard.

When Grandpa’s depression got ahold of him. The once proud man, so strong in his faith, began fighting delusions of grandeur one day and the depths of despair the next.

How long had he and Granny struggled in silence?

Brianne’s eyes stung.

Now was not the time.

She refused to remember him that way.

Holding up the garment, she admired the fabric and lines. These dresses were lovely, but too petite for her fuller, curvy figure. Perhaps they would fit Claire.

She set them down and scooted that trunk, and those thoughts, to the side.

The next held knickknacks collected from all over the world during their travels. Dad may know their names and uses. On and on the containers yielded numerous treasures. Some she was able to identify as belonging to her grandparents, some probably from other relatives long gone. 

A beat-up trunk became her nemesis. She struggled to open it. Had the latch suffered from being mishandled or from age? But she was determined. So, she worked and maneuvered the old latch until, at last, it gave way.

Though she was no historian, she supposed that the objects within were much older than her grandparents. She pulled them out with gentle hands, examining each, trying to guess what their purpose might be. Most were complete mysteries.

There was one, however, that she could easily identify—a book. She lifted it from the trunk with care and opened the cover, dried and crackled with age.

This journal belongs to Margaret Johnson” was inscribed in a rather formal cursive.

She turned the page, glancing over the first entry. And opened herself to someone else’s world.


October 20, 1915

Another crisp afternoon in Buffalo. The leaves have long since changed colors. It has always been my favorite time of year. The world is as vibrant as any work of art. Though it brings with it a season of warmer dresses and outer coverings. As these colder months come, it will soon be too cold to remain out of doors more than absolutely necessary. How I dread that time—being shut in. Not that it ever mattered to Mother. She was always shut in, no matter the season. Chained to her household duties. Oh, that I could save myself from such a life!

My day has been filled with normalcy. Until evening. After a rather typical day with my students, I ventured out. There was quite a chill in the air. But I had a reason for being out…

Margaret hugged her wrap tighter around herself as a breeze cut through her. Touching her scarf, she was thankful for its warmth, since her brown hair was pinned up. She moved through the town streets with purpose, a slight stealthy-ness to her steps. Was she afraid she would be caught and turned in to her disapproving parents? Yes, they would look down upon their daughter wandering the streets in search of a rally to discuss such things. It was not proper.

So said society. But was it truly so?

What did God say?

In answer to her prayers, He had been silent on the matter. Should she wait for an answer? Or move forward until she got the sense she went too far?

A sound behind caught her off-guard. Her gaze darted about.

Had someone followed her?

A silly notion, of course. Perhaps some random bit of trash had been blown about by the wind or a stray animal skittered by in an alley. No one knew where she was. And that’s how it must remain.

Rounding the last curve of the street, she spotted the gathering. Small. But that would change. It would. The group was comprised of women, young and old, many appearing as unsure as she. A few stood tall and proud, confident, but many were more timid, hesitant almost.

By the time Margaret joined them, one woman had stepped forward and started speaking. She appeared to be several years older than Margaret. Her voice carried from a full, squat body. But passion shown from piercing eyes as she scanned the crowd. The confidence of her words stirred Margaret.

There was no mistaking this woman’s stand on any issue. She spoke with such assurance. Bold, clear, and sure in her oration, she was everything Margaret wanted to be.

“And why shouldn’t a woman be able to educate herself in the schools a man can? Have not some medical schools opened their doors to women? And those women are graduating with high honors. But is our society ready for women doctors? No! They still face adversity in setting up their practices and finding patients or colleagues that will listen, or trust them. And why? Not because they are not educated. Because they are women!

“Then they tell us our place is in the home and that we need to be protected. Have we not birthed babies for millennia? What, then, shall we need protection from? From pain? What more can a person endure?

“And they say we cannot gather and not speak of the vote. What exactly shall be their reasoning for not permitting us the vote? The lack of education from whence they first deprived us? This, and their own insistence that we are not knowledgeable about the workings of the government, politics, and society? And why should we not be? Because we are consigned to the home.”

The crowd murmured in agreement as the speaker continued driving her points.

Margaret nodded along, lost in the speech.

Voices in the crowd grew more aggressive. And progressively louder.

Margaret glanced around, her gaze shifting from one side to the other.

People around pressed in toward the speaker.

Margaret’s heart squeezed. This could not be good. It would not end well. She scanned the faces nearby. So many. All caught up in emotions provoked by the speaker’s words.

What would happen? This could not escape the notice of others. Of those who would oppose…

She swallowed. Hard. Her breaths came rapidly as she thought about the gathering being moved upon.

Jerking her head from side to side, she spotted an opening in the bodies around her. She slipped through and moved farther away from the group. 

And once she deemed herself at a safe distance, she took notice of the onlookers. Their disapproving glares stabbed at her.

Dare she defend the women? The speaker?

Her hands shook. And her heart raced.

She just…couldn’t. So she shrunk back across the street and watched from an even greater distance.

Moments later, hoof beats clomped on the pavement.

Her breath caught in her throat.

Police swept down upon the gathering. Had they come to break up the meeting or intimidate?

She didn’t stay to find out. Shrinking farther into the approaching darkness, she slipped into anonymity.