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The Agent and the Lady

Your Teatime Tattler once again has the pleasure of receiving scandalous news from afar, this about a notorious Pinkerton agent.

Dear Mr. Clemens,

You may not be able to print this scandalous story. I am reporting to you an event that has horrified my friends and me! Miss Lydia Wood was seen in the company of a man, Mr. Jake Hunter, in a saloon for commoners. To make matters more appalling, she wore a scandalous dress that exposed her ankles and a bit of her… appendages. His dress presented him as a riverboat gambler. This was not to a costume ball, Mr. Clemens, but a night on the town. She even sang in the saloon!

Miss Woods said she and Mr. Hunter are agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s Denver, Colorado, office. I hesitate to call her remarks into question. Nevertheless, have you ever heard of a woman Pinkerton detective? You can understand why I am dismayed beyond words!

Pinkerton Agency Reward Poster

The two rushed off to some ridiculous place called Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, to chase after robbers. Don’t you agree that a woman going to a place where robbers congregate is outrageous? Miss Wood is from a prominent Kansas family and knows society’s rules. I am surprised she would act so boldly in public. I pity her poor parents, who must be distressed at their daughter’s choices. You may remember Miss Wood was left at the altar two years ago by this same Mr. Hunter. She said they are now in a marriage of convenience for this assignment. If that is true, her parents know nothing of the arrangement.

As I learn more of this distressing affair, kind sir, I shall keep you informed further.

Miss Lilith Black

About the Book

AN AGENT FOR LYDIA, Pinkerton Matchmaker Series #56

When Lydia Wood is left at the altar, she believes something beyond her groom’s control has happened. Two years with no word have hardened her heart. She has to get away from her parents’ constant urging her to choose an acceptable husband and wed. Becoming a Pinkerton agent suits her plans.

Pinkerton Agent Jake Hunter has recovered from injuries that put him in a coma and a long convalescence. He realizes Lydia would have been injured had she been with him. To protect her, he vows to distance himself from the one person who means the world to him. 

When they are paired for an investigation of robbers they must follow the trail to a dangerous hangout of men on the run. Can the two successfully pull off their charade and capture the robbers and their stor will this trip confirm Jake’s worst fears?

An Excerpt

Lydia gazed out the train window at Wyoming’s desert landscape, recalling how terrified she’d been last night in the saloon. The man who’d wanted to take her upstairs was huge and smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in months. He carried a bottle of whiskey in one hand, some of which he had spilled on his shirt.

Thank goodness she had her gun and her knife. Would her little gun have stopped such a large man? With any luck she’d never have to learn the answer.

Forcing herself not to snuggle up to Jake for comfort had been almost impossible. His presence reassured her. He’d had several years experience at Pinkerton’s and knew how to deflect and defeat combatants.

An older couple sat in the seats facing theirs. Lydia avoided eye contact with the prune-faced woman across from her. The woman had snubbed her and Jake as if they carried leprosy. 

Prune-face ceased staring long enough to tug on her husband’s sleeve and whisper, “Horace, doesn’t he look like the man on that wanted poster we saw in Cheyenne?”

Horace frowned at her. “Hush, Mattie.”

Did those two think she and Jake couldn’t hear them?

Lydia gestured to the window. “I’ve never seen so much sand and scrubby bushes. Barren as it is, it emanates a serene beauty.”

 “Wait until you see where we’re headed. I’ve heard it’s picturesque as well.” Jake flashed his bone-melting grin.

No, thank you, she couldn’t weaken now. She’d had the vaccination for that grin’s affect. Too bad the inoculation hadn’t proven very effective.

About the Author

Through a crazy twist of fate, Caroline Clemmons was not born on a Texas ranch. To compensate for this illogical error, she writes about handsome cowboys, feisty ranch women, and scheming villains in a tiny office her family calls her pink cave. She and her Hero live in North Central Texas cowboy country where they ride herd on their dog and three rescued indoor cats as well as providing nourishment outdoors for squirrels, birds, and other critters.

The over fifty titles she has created in her pink cave have made her an Amazon bestselling author and won several awards. She writes sweet to sensual romances about the West, both historical and contemporary as well as time travel and mystery. Her series include The Kincaids, McClintocks, Stone Mountain Texas, Bride Brigade, Texas Time Travel, Texas Caprock Tales, Loving A Rancher, and Pearson Grove as well as numerous single titles and contributions to multi-author sets. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading her friends’ books, lunching with friends, browsing antique malls, checking Facebook, and taking the occasional nap.

Social Media:

Email caroline@carolineclemmons.com 

Website http://www.carolineclemmons.com 

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A Slightly Scandalous Sighting in Angel Creek

This clipping came to the Tattler offices from a contact in the former colonies.

Dear Miss Decorum of the Angel Creek Gazette:

It has come to my attention that a certain group of impoverished debutantes from the war-torn city of Charleston have arrived in Angel Creek, Montana for the sole purpose of getting married. Of getting married, my friends! As in…the very moment they step off the stagecoach!

Scandalous Sighting
Postkutsche im Winter. Um 1798.

I’ve yet to verify all the details, but it appears they are responding to an advert in a newspaper that a few gentlemen in our town (who will not be named, at the current time) placed in the hopes of finding themselves wives. Now, I know there aren’t many young ladies in our town of a marriageable age, but my lands! To advertise in a public newspaper in order to find a match seems to exhibit a lack of faith in the good Lord’s ability to provide.

What’s worse, I had to witness (with my own aging eyes) one of these lovely young debutantes dis-embark from the stagecoach just this afternoon. Not only was she dressed in tatters, she was traveling alone without a proper companion or chaperone. Oh dear, where are my smelling salts? Just writing about it is giving me another fit of the vapors.

Scandalous Sighting

I did a little investigating and discovered that this young woman is named Miss Elizabeth Byrd. She served as a battlefield nurse during the Great War. Bless her heart! I don’t even want to contemplate the tragic things she’s seen and the horrid places she had to travel while following the drum. However, if she thinks marrying a man (sight unseen) will make her life any easier, well, heavenly days!  I wish the gel the best, I truly do.

At any rate, Miss Byrd was escorted to the church by none other than the retired Army Captain David Pemberton. I can only presume they said their vows and are married by now. Captain Pemberton is a bit of an odd fellow, albeit a handsome devil — just arrived into town a year ago, himself, and pretty much sticks to his lonesome. A quiet, brooding man who, rumor has it, was widowed during the war. Now, I wonder how in tarnation the other young fellows wheedled him into going along with such a scandalous lark as sending for a mail-order bride?

I’ll be keeping my ear bent for any new juicy tidbits about this developing story and report back as soon as I know more.

Sincerely, A Concerned Citizen Who Wishes to Remain Anonymous

About the Book

Can the hope and joy of Christmas light the way for two hearts devastated by war?

Elizabeth Byrd receives an invitation to join her friends in Angel Creek, Montana to become a mail-order bride. At first, the young battlefield nurse is scandalized by the idea of agreeing to marry a man she’s never met, but the war has taken everything from her — her brothers, too many friends to count, and her fiancé. There’s nothing left for her in Charleston but more heartache.

Captain David Pemberton retreats to his hunting lodge in Montana the moment the war is over. He’s looking forward to being alone with the memories of his wife who passed in the early days of the fighting. But the men of Angel Creek don’t see fit to leave a widowed soldier alone during Christmas. Insisting four years is long enough to grieve, they dare him to join them on a holiday venture to acquire wives for them all — a dare he accepts in a weak moment.

He receives the shock of his life at who steps off the stagecoach to claim his hand in marriage.

Available in eBook on Amazon + FREE in Kindle Unlimited at
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07XF82LXC
Coming soon to paperback!
 

EXCERPT

So this was Angel Creek.

At least I’ll fit in. Elizabeth glanced ruefully down at her workaday brown dress and the scuffed toes of her boots. Perhaps, wearing the castoffs of her former maid, Lucy, wasn’t the most brilliant idea she’d ever come up with. However, it was the only plan she’d been able to conjure up on such short notice. A young woman traveling alone couldn’t be too careful these days.

With a sigh of resignation, Elizabeth reached down to grasp the handles of her two travel bags that the stage driver had unloaded for her. The rest of her belongings would arrive in the coming days. There’d been too many trunks to bring along by stage. In the meantime, she hoped and prayed she was doing the right thing for her loved ones. At worst, her reluctant decision to leave home meant one less mouth for her mama to feed. At best, she might claw her way back to some modicum of social significance and be in the position to help her family in some way. Some day…

Her hopes in that regard plummeted the second she laid eyes on the two men in the wagon rumbling in her direction. It was a rickety vehicle with no overhead covering. It creaked and groaned with each turn of its wheels, a problem that might have easily been solved with a squirt of oil. Then again, the heavily patched trousers of both men indicated they were as poor as church mice. More than likely, they didn’t possess any extra coin for oil.

Of all the rotten luck! She bit her lower lip. I’m about to marry a man as poor as myself. So much for her hopes of improving her lot in life enough to send money home to Mama and the girls!

The driver slowed his team, a pair of red-brown geldings. They were much lovelier than the rattle-trap they were pulling. “Elizabeth Byrd, I presume?” he inquired in a rich baritone that was neither unpleasant nor overly warm and welcoming.

Her insides froze to a block of ice. This time, it wasn’t because of the frigid northern temperatures. She recognized that face, that voice; and with them, came a flood of heart wrenching emotions.

“You!” she exclaimed. Her travel bags slid from her nerveless fingers to the ground once more. A hand flew to her heart.

About the Author

Jo Grafford writes sweet historical and contemporary romance stories — with humor, sass, and happily ever-afters.

A typical day finds her with her laptop balanced on her knees, a fizzy beverage within reach, and a cat snoozing on her knees. He takes credit for most of what she does.

When Jo’s not writing stories, she’s reading them. She adores dashing gentlemen, resilient heroines with a sense of adventure, humorous sidekicks, dusty cowboys, bounty hunters, mail order brides…you get the idea.

She loves to visit with readers in her Cuppa Jo Readers group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CuppaJoReaders/.

To receive a personal email about each book she publishes, join her New Release Email List at JoGrafford.com or follow her on BookBub at https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jo-grafford.

Plus you can read free chapters of many of her books on Wattpad.com/user/JoGrafford.

Scandal on the Streets of Headstone, Arizona

Our devoted readers will no doubt find this clipping forwarded to The Teatime Tattler from The Headstone Gazette across the pond. Obviously, concerned citizens and devotion to proper behavior are not limited to here in London. — S. Clemens

Dear Ms. Decorum:

I’m penning this letter out of the utmost concern for the wellbeing and safety of our latest young debutante from Boston who arrived into Headstone yesterday. Lord have mercy, if the lovely Miss Daisy Danvers wasn’t thronged by a posse of train robbers the moment she set foot on the train platform! One witness claimed she fainted dead away and toppled straight over the side of the platform.

I’ve yet to verify the details, but another witness claims she was caught in the arms of none other than Prescott Barra, the rough and ready local bull rider who set a previously-unheard-of, 10-second record at our last rodeo. And you know what they say about those Barra brothers? Nothing but trouble, that’s what!

What’s worse about this report is the most unfortunate fact that Daisy hasn’t been seen since Prescott rode off with her on his horse yesterday. The very notion of them being lost in the desert — without a chaperone, no less — is giving me the vapors right this second. Oh, where are my smelling salts?

I did a little digging on my own and discovered that Daisy was sent to Headstone by the reputable Boomtown Mail Order Brides Company in Boston, which can only mean one thing: She is under contract as a mail-order bride to some gentleman in our town. Our very town, dear citizens! I’m not certain how reputable the name of this bridal agency will remain when they discover one of their brides is missing. The poor gel could be anywhere. Oh, the horrors! Is she safe? Is she alive? I can hardly bear to consider the possibilities.

Scandal in Arizona

Even if Daisy Danvers is returned to town whole and in one piece — may the good Lord let it be so! — I am distressed to be the one to point out that her reputation will be in shreds. The way I see it, the lovely Miss Daisy will only have one choice to salvage those shreds. Regardless of whom she is currently affianced to (may the Lord comfort him and send him another, more suitable bridal candidate), it is my Christian belief that Miss Daisy has been thoroughly compromised by Prescott Barra. Alas, he is the man she must marry.

I’ll be joining a group of God-fearing women who will be holding vigil on the steps of the General Store this afternoon. It is my hope and prayer they will have an update on this brewing scandal. Be assured I will report back with anything new I hear.

Sincerely, A Concerned Citizen Who Wishes to Remain Anonymous

Scandal in Arizona

About the Book

Dare-Devil Daisy: Mail Order Brides Rescue #5

To the world, Daisy Danvers is a spoiled young debutante from Boston who always gets what she wants. But she has secrets — big, festering secrets she doesn’t want her best friend, Meg Nicholson, to find out. All she needs from Meg is a promise to help her find the perfect husband the moment she steps off the train in Headstone, Arizona. Her very life might depend upon it.

She never dreamed her troubles would follow her out West, and a whole posse of armed robbers would be waiting for her when she disembarked. She also never dreamed a cocky cowboy would sweep her away to safety on his horse.

It’s way too bad the devilishly handsome Prescott Barra claims he’s already affianced to another woman, because he’s everything she’s been looking for in a husband. He’s brave and fearless with a streak of adventure as wide as the canyons they’re riding. When she discovers he has a secret or two of his own, she begins to hope that maybe — just maybe — their secrets will lead them to each other.

Available in eBook on Amazon + FREE in Kindle Unlimited at
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07W61WBRR  
Coming soon to paperback!

An Excerpt~

The storm swirling across Meg’s features cleared. She stood and held out both hands to him. “You dear, dear man! I am so happy you’ve agreed to help me.”

That made one of them. He was fairly certain pretending to be engaged to Meg’s dearest friend was the most foolish thing he’d ever been asked to do.

“I’ll be sure to tell Shad how kind you were to me in his absence.”

Right. He was only doing this to help out a man he respected. Or at least the friend of the wife of a man he respected… Which was the same thing, wasn’t it? His brain hurt just thinking about it.

“What is her name?” he asked abruptly. He at least deserved to know the name of the chit he was going to be saddled with for a few days.

“Daisy.” Meg beamed at him. “Daisy Danvers, though some folks like to call her Dare-Devil Daisy.”

Blast it all! Helping Daisy sounded like a pack of trouble. Then again, he was a Barra brother. Trouble followed him everywhere he went. Trouble was his middle name.

About the Author

Jo Grafford writes sweet historical and contemporary romance stories — with humor, sass, and happily ever afters.

A typical day finds her with her laptop balanced on her knees, a fizzy beverage within reach, and a cat snoozing on her knees. He takes credit for most of what she does.

When Jo’s not writing stories, she’s reading them. She adores dashing gentlemen, resilient heroines with a sense of adventure, humorous sidekicks, dusty cowboys, bounty hunters, mail order brides…you get the idea.

She loves to visit with readers in her Cuppa Jo Readers group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CuppaJoReaders/.

To receive a personal email about each book she publishes, join her New Release Email List at JoGrafford.com or follow her on BookBub at https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jo-grafford.

Plus you can read free chapters of many of her books on Wattpad.com/user/JoGrafford.

Scandal in Virginia

Excerpt from The New Hope Enterprise

Dec. 29, 1863

It is a sad day indeed when we are forced to communicate such news as follows, but it is our duty to bring you even the most scandalous incidents…even if they involve one of the most highly regarded residents of our region—the venerated war hero, Colonel Johnathon P. Wescott.

Mrs. Charlotte Tisdale, a well-respected resident of New Hope reported the following, and we relay it now to you. It seems that an impromptu gala was thrown together at Lacewood by Colonel Wescott’s men, who were given leave by their beloved commander to take part in Christmas Eve festivities. It was late at night before Colonel Wescott left his post on the battlefield, but he finally appeared at Lacewood, looking as gallant and intrepid as ever such a highly esteemed man can look.

Of course, those in attendance at Lacewood included all of the eligible young ladies from the region who hoped to catch a glimpse—or perhaps even a dance—with the widowed father.

Scandal Virginia

Dear readers, here is the news of which I warned you. It has been reported to us by Mrs. Tisdale (and others) that the Colonel danced the night away—not with one of the highly regarded Southern belles in attendance—but with the Yankee caretaker of his young daughter!

Yes, friends, if you live in New Hope, you know the sad story. The poor child was left motherless by the passing of his wife almost a year ago, and now the sweet darling has been left in the hands of a stranger whose reputation and character are known to us only by the gossip that trickles in by attentive neighbors.

However, we know all we need to know. Mrs. Tisdale confirmed that this woman, this Yankee she-devil, hails from New York and has a brother in the Union army. Yes, you read that correctly. A brother…In the Union Army.

Wishing to verify these rumors—which are obviously too absurd and preposterous to be accepted on their face, we discovered that the news gets even worse. It seems Miss Annie Logan (the caretaker) placed herself beneath the mistletoe when Colonel Wescott was near, and, of course, being a Southern gentlemen of the highest order, he felt obligated to satisfy the tradition that has been handed down for centuries.

My own face reddens at the thought of this conniving kiss. Who knows what else has transpired between the walls of Lacewood? We can only hope that it will not stain the character of its occupants for generations to come…

About the Book

Two people trying to escape their pasts find a connection through an old house—and fulfill a destiny through the secrets it shares. Part love story, part ghost story, Lacewood is a timeless novel about trusting in fate, letting of the past, and believing in things that can’t be seen.

MOVING TO A SMALL TOWN in Virginia is a big change for New York socialite Katie McCain. But when she stumbles across an abandoned 200-year-old mansion, she’s enthralled by the enduring beauty of the neglected estate—and captivated by the haunting portrait of a woman in mourning.

Purchasing the property on a whim, Katie attempts to fit in with the colorful characters in the town of New Hope, while trying to unravel the mystery of the “widow of Lacewood.” As she pieces together the previous owner’s heartrending story, Katie uncovers secrets the house has held for centuries, and discovers the key to coming to terms with her own sense of loss.

Sometimes love is just too powerful for one lifetime…

The past and present converge when hometown hero Will Durham returns and begins his own healing process by helping the “city girl” restore the place that holds so many memories. As the mystic web of destiny is woven, a love story that might have been lost forever is exposed, and a destiny that has been waiting in the shadows for centuries is fulfilled.

Take advantage of the low launch-week price of only $3.99, and sign up for the author’s newsletter at https://www.jessicajamesbooks.com.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon

Apple Itunes

All Other Retailers

An Excerpt

December 1863

“I think Jon has finally broken away from the ladies,” Luke said at last. “Here he comes.”

Annie turned and watched with an incredible degree of composure as Colonel Wescott strode toward her with calm detachment, pinioning her where she stood with his devouring stare. A strange sensation throbbed in her then—like the beating of a new heart—and she marveled at its power to fluster and confuse.

When he reached her he stopped, but his caressing gaze continued to play across her face. “You are aware of the tradition, I suppose.”

Colonel Wescott’s voice, Annie had learned, could be penetrating and commanding, or gentle and kind. He could easily silence an entire roomful of people without yelling or losing control—and could just as effortlessly melt her heart with the tender tones of a father.

The tenor tonight was both warm and imposing, throwing her off balance. Her eyes darted around, not understanding his meaning. “Tradition?”

He merely gestured to a place over her head, his smile widening as she took in the swag of mistletoe hanging above her.

Grasping Luke’s ruse that had placed her in this spot, Annie transferred her gaze to Luke just as he was exchanging a mischievous wink with his brother. Even Miss Benton was now brimming over with amusement.

“Do you need schooling in the ritual?” Colonel Wescott’s tone was businesslike, but the sentiment on his face was not. It reflected a playfulness, a cheerful joviality that was both infatuating and intimidating. He’d never crossed this line of familiarity with her before—and Annie was fairly sure he’d not done so with others, even those he considered close friends.

She wanted to pretend an affront, but when faced with his appealing smile her defenses melted away. Candlelight and music filled the air, exaggerating and intensifying the intoxication of her senses. Laughter and conversation blended and blurred until nothing existed but the man before her, whose smoldering eyes beckoned seductively.

About the Author

Jessica James is an award-winning author of romantic suspense, historical fiction, and Christian fiction, who combined all of her favorite things to create Lacewood.

Her new release is a multi-era, small town, clean, inspirational novel that melds together elements of mystery, history, and romance.

As someone who lives in a 200-year-old house, Jessica was intrigued when thinking about the generations of people who occupied the same home. Lacewood gives readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what took place in an old neglected Southern mansion before two people from the modern world stumble across it and into each other. It’s a love story that spans centuries, taking readers on a journey into the past as the house reveals secrets about a long-lost love affair.

You can find her here:

Website

Amazon Author Page

BookBub

Goodreads

Facebook

Pinterest

Overheard at the Silverpines Inn

By A Concerned Citizen Who Wishes to Remain Anonymous

My lands! As if our dear little town of Silverpines, Oregon hasn’t endured enough calamities in the past year — earthquakes, a mud slide, and a fire that consumed nearly everything in its path between 3rd Avenue and Chinatown! It is salt in the proverbial wound to now be forced to endure the scandal brewing across town at the old Kingsley mansion.

If it weren’t for a certain postmistress taking her dinner at the Silverpines Inn yesterday afternoon, we might never have learned the truth. Sadly, it appears the headmistress of the new Silverpines Finishing School for Young Ladies, Rachel West, is stringing along not one but two beaus. Indeed, it is a sad state of affairs to witness an instructor of social graces carrying on so, but I fear the evidence against her is overwhelming.

For one thing, she was overheard having a somewhat heated conversation with the dashing Mr. Finneas Banfield, who I’m delighted to report was wearing the latest in fashion from Boston. Ah, but our small town could use more of his charming Old World manners and British accent. In short, the orphan-widow appeared to be rebuffing the man’s adoring attentions. How heartbreaking!

An hour later, the same young instructor in deportment was seen driving her new, outlandish automobile to the train depot. There she proceeded (without a proper chaperone) to greet a perfect stranger and chauffeur him across town to her finishing school. I wish that was the worst of my news. Alas, there is more.

No one in town has ever laid eyes on the man. I asked around to be certain, and it was confirmed by no less than two other reputable townswomen: Never before has a Black man so much as paid a visit to Silverpines.

Upon further investigation, I learned that Mrs. West posted a letter a few weeks ago for a mail-order groom. And not just any groom! Rumor has it Mr. Boone Cassidy is a bounty hunter. A bounty hunter! I shudder to contemplate the reasons anyone would require the services of such a dark and brooding gunslinger. I can only pray he completes whatever mission he’s been called upon to perform with haste, before the rumors about his budding romance with Mrs. West spin completely beyond my control.

As one of the senior matriarchs in our town, I’ve tried everything within reason to quell the gossip. I truly have. But even a God-fearing, upright citizen like myself cannot easily explain away a public embrace like the one Mrs. West apparently shared this morning with Mr. Cassidy. Be assured, I will keep my ear bent to the ground for more details and report back the moment I can confirm this latest distressing report.

About the Book

Silverpines

Orphan and widow Rachel West is returning home to Oregon after eight years of living with her guardian on the East Coast. Thanks to a lavish inheritance from her great-aunt, she now has the funds to realize her dream of opening the Silverpines Finishing School for Young Ladies.

Unfortunately, a former co-instructor from Boston follows her to Silverpines, claiming a deathbed promise to look after her. Highly suspicious of his intentions, she sends off for a mail-order husband to provide a buffer between them; but she makes it clear in her letter she wishes to court first and only marry if they develop feelings for each other and the “good Lord wills it.”

As a bounty hunter by trade, Boone Cassidy is accustomed to far more dangerous tasks than ridding spoiled debutantes of their unwanted suitors. He fully expects the uppity Mrs. West to send him packing the moment she realizes a Black man has been sent to her aid. After laying eyes on her at the train station, however, he realizes he’s made a great many incorrect assumptions about the lovely headmistress. All of a sudden, thwarting the attentions of her dandified, self-proclaimed beau from Boston becomes a task worthy of his most gallant efforts!

Available in eBook on Amazon + FREE in Kindle Unlimited at
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07RKW915S
Coming soon to paperback!

Two Short Excerpts~

RACHEL WEST’S STORY:

November, 1900 — Silverpines, Oregon

Rachel West shivered as she stepped onto the train platform. It wasn’t the chill of the late autumn breeze so much as the feeling of stepping on ghosts that shook her up on the inside. For a moment, she fought the urge to spin around in her designer boots, sprint back to her private cabin on the train, and keep on riding.

She’d been away for eight long years from the one town in the world that felt like home. Or should have…

Squinting against the glare of the morning sun, she turned in a full circle, trying to find one familiar structure or one familiar face from her treasure trove of memories.

And utterly failed.

A spurt of panic gurgled through her mid-section at the sight of the new-looking cafe facing her. A freshly painted butcher’s storefront rested to the left of it, and a post office was located just across a side street from it. They had to be new, because the paint was so bright and un-peeling, and none of their roofs boasted the usual slight ripple of unevenness that so many buildings take on once they’ve had the chance to settle.

Her head swiveled. There was also a book store she didn’t remember standing next to the post office. It was an inviting little building with a big, cheery picture window crowded with books. Normally, she would have tossed all her earthly cares to the winds and made a beeline for the cozy nook for book lovers, but she was too busy pondering the notion that she might have made a horrible mistake at disembarking.
Why, even the depot building squatting behind her looked new! Had she misunderstood the announcement and gotten off at the wrong stop altogether?

“Rachel? Is it really you?”

She jolted at the soft, lilting alto wafting across the train platform. Nothing around her looked familiar, but she’d recognize that voice anywhere.

“Penelope Wallace!” she cried joyfully, whirling to face her childhood friend. She was in the right town after all, even if it didn’t look right.

“It’s Cooper now. Penelope Cooper.”

They threw themselves in each other’s arms with squeals of sheer delight, and Rachel experienced a pang of remorse at the knowledge it had been more than two years since they’d last exchanged letters, maybe three. Good heavens, how the time had flown!

To avoid making any awkward excuses for her lack of correspondence, Rachel fell back on her good manners and well of natural charm. “Eight years hasn’t changed you one bit. You don’t look a day older than sixteen.” The moment the words sailed from her mouth, she regretted them; because it was painfully clear that Penelope had indeed changed.

She still looked young and girlish, but the sparkle that had always lurked in her wide, innocent eyes — despite how hard her temperamental, overly controlling mama had tried to extinguish it — was entirely gone. It its place was bone-weariness and the bruising shadows born of hard times. A recent tragedy, if Rachel were to venture a guess.

They were the same kind of shadows she witnessed in her own eyes every time she stood in front of a mirror.

Silverpines


BOONE CASSIDY’S STORY:

…Thank you kindly for your assistance in this unbelievably stressful matter. If you send me a trustworthy bounty hunter, I will be forever grateful.
Yours truly,
Rachel West 

When a knock sounded on the door of his train car, Boone hastily wadded the letter and stuffed it back in his pocket. “Yes?”

A sandy-haired attendant with a mop of flyaway curls popped his head inside and looked surprised to find a Black man in a pin-striped travel suit lounging in the luxury cabin. “I, ah…” He swallowed. “I’m looking for a Mr. Cassidy?”

“Present and accounted for,” Boone answered dryly, wondering if the man would refuse to serve him like the last one had. In anticipation of such discriminatory treatment, he’d brought along a decent sized stash of non-perishable foods and bottled beverages.

“Very well.” The waiter swallowed again and stepped inside the car, looking nervous. “W-would you care to order any dinner?”

“I would.” Boone was afraid to get his hopes up, but his traitorous mouth started to water at the thought of a warm meal. It had been a full two days since his last one. “What’s on the menu?”

“Roasted ham and chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed asparagus, and a fruit salad.”

“Sounds good to me.” More like heaven, actually. He was already imagining himself biting into the steamy, succulent meat entrees.

“What would you like to drink? There’s tea and lemonade, coffee and…never mind. I don’t believe I’m allowed to serve wine and spirits to your kind.”

As a God-fearing Christian the past twenty-eight years, Boone wasn’t all that interested in ordering wine and spirits, but he couldn’t help resenting the jab about his kind. He knew without asking that the man was referring to his rich-as-molasses color, thanks to his half-Nigerian and half-Hispanic roots. “Tea and coffee would be marvelous,” he assured with a wink, hoping to settle the young man’s jumpiness.

He only looked more nervous. His glazed-over gray eyes dropped to the twin holsters slung around Boone’s hips.

Boone held his gaze steadily. “I’m a bounty hunter, heading up to Silverpines, Oregon to help rescue a little schoolmarm from a conman.”

A faint smile tugged at the edges of the waiter’s mouth, and his shoulders relaxed a fraction. “That sounds like quite an adventure.”

Boone shrugged. “Most of what I do is dangerous work, but it pays well.” Come to think of it, he was probably the wealthiest Black man in the Midwest. In the country, for that matter! Another thought struck him, making him shoot a sly glance up at the waiter. “The sooner you arrive back with my dinner, the bigger your tip will be, son.”

The young man gulped and took off so quickly he stumbled over his own feet on his way out the door.

Boone chuckled at his expense and returned to the wildly un-exciting task of pondering the best way to rid the uppity Mrs. West of her unwanted suitor.

About the Author

Jo writes sweet historical and contemporary romance stories — with humor, sass, and happily ever afters.

A typical day finds her with her laptop balanced on her knees, a fizzy beverage within reach, and a cat snoozing on her knees. He takes credit for most of what she does.

When Jo’s not writing stories, she’s reading them. She adores dashing gentlemen, resilient heroines with a sense of adventure, humorous sidekicks, dusty cowboys, bounty hunters, mail order brides…you get the idea.

She loves to visit with readers in her Cuppa Jo Readers group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CuppaJoReaders/.

To receive a personal email about each book she publishes, join her New Release Email List at JoGrafford.com or follow her on BookBub at https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jo-grafford.

Plus you can read free chapters of many of her books on http://Wattpad.com/user/JoGrafford.

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