Monday, March 31, 2014

An Unconventional Lady by Cynthia Hickey

Back Cover Blurb:

But her strict mother keeps her close to home, working as a Harvey Girl waitress. Until Dallas Baker shows up in town and takes the job Annie really wants—leading tours through the Grand Canyon. Annie's frustrated, but finds it impossible to ignore the handsome outdoorsman.

With her split skirts and modern hairdo, Annie challenges Dallas's old-fashioned notions of what makes a lady. To his surprise, he finds her delightful, until he learns she has no interest in settling down. Dallas is ready to win her heart, but is Annie willing to fall in love?

Read an Excerpt here:

Annie Rollins adjusted her new skirt and smiled at her reflection. How liberating! After making sure her hair stayed secure in its new style, back-combed so it stood inches higher than normal, she felt like a modern woman, even stuck in the backwoods of northern Arizona. With one final glance and pat at her pompadour, Annie sashayed from the room.

"What are you wearing?" Her mother's reaction did not disappoint.

"It's a split skirt, Mother." Annie twirled. "Do you like it? It offers so much freedom of movement."

Her mother planted her fists on her thin hips. "I do not, and what did you do to your hair? It's sky-high. Heaven have mercy."

"It's called a transformation. It's the newest style." Annie brushed past her and glided down the stairs. She might as well get the day started, and one of her jobs was to register guests at the B and B's front desk. 

Her mother's heels tapped behind her. "Why do you feel the need to be highfalutin way out here?"

"There's nothing wrong with being modern. We're in the twentieth century." Lord, give me strength. Mother complained more often than not, ever since Papa's death two years ago. It was time to start living again.

"You look ridiculous and out of place in Williams." Mother unlocked the cabinet where she kept the registry book. She lifted the leather volume and plopped it on the counter. "People will laugh."

"Let them." Annie let the cover fall open and ran her finger down the page. "Only two guests registered?" 

"Hopefully, there will be more. These two reservations came in by telegram."

Annie leaned her elbows on the counter. "I have an idea."

Her mother rolled her eyes. "Not another one. You and your harebrained schemes."

"We need to entice people to stay here. Offer them extra services." Annie raised her eyebrows, choosing to ignore her mother's attitude. "Have you thought any about my suggestion of offering guided tours of the canyon? I mentioned the idea to you weeks ago. I could be the guide. You know I would love it." 

"Absolutely not." Mother shook her head. "That is definitely not a ladylike occupation."

"Sometimes I don't want to act like a lady." Annie lifted her chin. "Ladies don't have a lot of fun."

Mother's hand fluttered to her chest. "What am I going to do with you?"

"Let me be who I am." Annie sighed. Maybe a change of subject was in order. "The new restaurant opens today. Should we eat dinner there?"

"What's wrong with my food?"

"Nothing. It was only a suggestion." It seemed Annie couldn't get anything right in her mother's eyes. Maybe she shouldn't try. Mother hadn't been happy when they'd moved from Boston to northern Arizona, but since Papa's death she seemed to want everyone around her to feel unhappy, too. "No more suggestions."

Mother took a deep breath. "Starting tomorrow, I will be running the boardinghouse alone."

Annie fixed a stare on her. "What do you mean?" Please say she wasn't being sent to a school for ladies. That would be a fate worse than death.

Mother pulled a sheet of paper from her apron pocket. "Tomorrow morning you will report to the El Tovar. I got you a job as a Harvey Girl."

"What? Why? What about helping you?" It wasn't as bad as boarding school, but almost. "What about the women's ministry at church?" What about interviewing for the job herself? "You have Sundays off."

Mother slapped the application on the counter. "They've also agreed to allow you to sleep here rather than in the girls' dormitory. I promised them you were a comely girl with high moral standards and that I was more than sufficient as a chaperone during your off hours."

No doubt there. "So you aren't even going to consider my idea of guided tours?" Annie's shoulders slumped. Why couldn't Mother commend her, just once, for having a creative mind?

"I didn't say I wouldn't consider it, but that is a man's job." Mother wiped her hands on her apron. "Time for work." She turned and unlocked the front door. Business as usual.

Annie blinked against the tears stinging her eyes. Nineteen years old, and she still wasn't in control of her own life. Didn't God give His children the desires of their hearts? Hers was to work outside in His creation, not in a stuffy restaurant. "I need some air." Annie bolted from behind the counter and dashed outside.

"Annette Rollins." Her mother's screech followed. "Ladies do not run!" Annie pinched the bridge of her nose between her forefinger and thumb, and then lifted her gaze to the new restaurant. Her prison. The two-story El Tovar Hotel, built from local limestone and pine, overshadowed the dwellings around it. It was only a matter of time before the Rollins Boardinghouse would be out of business in favor of something grander. That was the main reason Annie presented new ideas to her mother for drawing in business. She didn't want to see her mother thrust out of her livelihood. If only she would listen!

Annie turned and surveyed the rim of the Grand Canyon, barely visible behind the hotel. Her heart yearned to explore the canyon floor, but even she knew it wasn't wise to go alone. Taking a group with her seemed the most sensible way.

She headed toward her favorite view. One of God's wonders for sure, and the real draw to the town of Williams, regardless of what the railroad people said. It might be the trains that brought the crowds, but it was the canyon that made them return. Annie stopped at the edge and flung her arms wide, taking in the azure sky and the pinks and mauves of the plunging canyon walls. The Colorado River wound like a ribbon along the floor far below. A bald eagle soared under her, bobbing and dancing on the wind's current. What would that feel like-the freedom to soar?

Although the boardinghouse demanded plenty of hard work, it was home. It was all Annie knew. Now, she was being thrust into strange surroundings. Though her mother hadn't spelled it out, Annie was sure this new job was supposed to teach her feminine ways. She'd seen the waitresses flitting around town and going in and out of the hotel in their black-and-white uniforms. They looked fetching, but such a life wasn't for Annie. She wanted so much more.

Letting the tears fall, she lifted her desire to heaven. God would take care of the details. If she could step back and let Him.

Dallas Baker slung his saddlebags from the back of his horse to his shoulder, handed the reins to an older man waiting to take them, and then climbed the stairs to Rollins Boardinghouse. The newspaper advertisement in Dallas, Texas, his hometown and namesake, had come as the answer to a prayer. He didn't hate the rancher's way of life, but wanted something different. Somewhere he didn't have to work under his two older brothers. Love them he did, but not as bosses.

Stamping the mud from his boots, he pushed open the front door and stepped inside. The entryway made a person feel at home, with its hand-braided rugs and polished counter. His footsteps thudded on a scarred but polished wood floor, announcing his arrival. Why some folks preferred fancy hotels over a place that felt like home was beyond him.

An attractive middle-aged woman entered from a room on his right. "Welcome. I am the owner, Mrs. Rollins. Do you have a reservation?"

"No. I'm Dallas Baker, ma'am, your trail guide." He grinned.

"Our what?" A high-pitched voice of protest sounded behind him. Dallas turned to see the prettiest gal he'd seen in a long time. Blond hair high on her head, flashing green eyes and wearing a brown…what?

"I'm the new canyon guide for the Rollins Boardinghouse," he told her.

Miss Attitude marched past him and stood in front of the proprietor. "Mother, how could you? This is my dream." She pounded one fist on her chest. "Mine. And you went behind my back-"

"I'll just step into the parlor."

Neither woman glanced his way as he ducked out of sight. Nothing made Dallas skedaddle faster than an upset woman, and he'd managed to step between two of them. And what was the younger one wearing? It looked like a skirt, but was split like pants and was wide. Real wide. His mother would never be caught dead in that getup, and she was active on the ranch. He set his bags on the floor and tried not to listen to the argument in the next room, wanting to be anywhere but where he was at the moment. Maybe he should go back outside. But that would take him past them again.

He sighed and lowered himself onto a flowered sofa. "You took my idea and went behind my back and hired a man." The younger woman's voice rose. "Have you absolutely no confidence in my abilities?" 

"Annette, I will not be spoken to in this way. It's a fine idea, but not one suited for a woman. You need to learn your place in the world."

Dallas nodded. A true sentiment, indeed.

"And my place is dressed as a fancy crow at El Tovar?"

"If that's what it takes to teach you how to be a lady, then yes." Mrs. Rollins's words were clipped and cold.

Dallas had run across a few Harvey Girls on his travels. The term crow did not suit the women at all. They were refined and mannerly, making a man's travels easier with their femininity and smiles. But then he'd been told by more than a few women that he possessed backward ideas about a woman's role in today...

To buy her books, go here:


About Cynthia:
Multi-published and Best-Selling author Cynthia Hickey had three cozy mysteries and two novellas published through Barbour Publishing. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the MacGregor Literary Agency, along with a new cozy series, all of which stay in the top 50 of Amazon’s ebooks for their genre. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013 and 2014 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at

Connect with her here:

CYNTHIA is giving away a copy of AN UNCONVENTIONAL LADY. The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post. 

Happy Reading!
Caroline Brown

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Interview with Christian Author Ada Brownell

Welcome to the Barn Door Book Loft, Ada. Can you tell us a bit about your family, and what it’s like where you live?
When I landed on earth, I barged into a big family, escapees from the Kansas Dust Bowl and almost survivors of the Great Depression. The older kids thought Mama and Daddy had enough children. My oldest sister, Marjorie, was so mad at Mama for having another baby she wouldn't look at me for a week.

Daddy and my oldest brother worked for $1 for a 12-hour day shoveling coal out of railroad cars onto trucks. Yet, Mama believed things were going to get better. They'd bought a 10-acre farm in an irrigated valley in Western Colorado. Fruita was at the base of gorgeous red mountains which surrounded the Colorado National Monument. It
Not quite as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, but the red Rocky Mountains are gorgeous.

Marge finally did check me out, and I grew up in a fabulous loving family. Shortly after I was born Marge went to church with a friend and gave her life to the Lord. Miraculously all of my older brothers and sisters had friends who were Christians and eventually all 10 of us, including Mom and Dad dedicated our lives to the Lord. I'm the newspaper reporter (I had experience with news as the family tattletale) and free lance writer. One brother went into the ministry and the other two have been in ministry and missions, but two became Christian educators, spending the bulk of their teaching years at Evangel University.

In my immediate family my husband, Les, and I have five children, one of them in heaven, eight grandchildren, and three greats. All of our children have been or are in Christian ministry. I praise the Lord they're all serving the Lord, as our grandchildren are.

Thank you so much for sharing that with us.
Question: Is there a story behind Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult?
I began the novel when I taught an after-school and summers program for upper elementary and middle school at our church. Another book, Imagine the Future You, is an outgrowth of the Dynamite Decisions for Youth, motivational Bible study that I wrote as curriculum for "The Dunamis Academy" I started.

The second summer, each day in the afternoons I read from Joe the Dreamer. You see, the kids worked diligently in the mornings with intense Bible study and memorization, and one day a week, puppetry. I decided they needed something relaxing and fun in the afternoons and wrote a chapter of Joe for each day. They loved the suspense.

I had two other reasons to create the story, and that was to let them (many were unchurched) know the Bible is exciting. Joe, trying to increase his faith to believe God would bring his missing parents home, reads the Bible every day and at night slips into the skin of Bible characters—Joseph, Daniel, one of Joshua's spies that went into Jericho, etc. This gives the book a spiritual payload.

Question: What is unique about the setting? How does it enhance the story?
Joe sees the new castle built in the mountains near his home while going down the natural water slide with a group of friends. He investigates by himself, but runs into "No Trespassing" signs and the entrance is chained.
Then he connects with a friend in his old neighborhood who leads a gang, The Gallant Guardians, who use harmless weapons like water, rope, sand, noise and a pet skunk to prevent or solve crimes in their neighborhood. The gang offers to help Joe find his parents. Since Joe wants to investigate the castle, it is fortunate that Thumbs can drive.

Question: Did you have a specific theme in mind as you wrote Joe the Dreamer? Did a theme pop out as you finished the book? Did the theme change?

The theme from the beginning was "God answers prayer." Joe's parents, Darin and Rose Baker, whose plight is shown in the subplot, also pray for miracle. But Joe and his parents know faith is without works is dead, so they do what they can. Joe's parents were abducted because their captors want a computer software program for a device that could stop seizures. The captors want to use the device to cause seizures in influential Christians. The radical group hopes to obliterate Christianity from the earth.

Question: What is the last thing you wrote?
 Outside of blog posts, the last I wrote was three devotions for a teen magazine:  "Are You Brainy?" "You Have a Text," and "Watch."

Question: What’s your favorite genre of writing?
Whatever I'm writing at the moment. I sometimes write op-ed articles for newspapers; non-fiction articles and books targeted to a number of different audiences; and fiction for Sunday school papers and books. I plan to write sequels to Joe the Dreamer, and I also plan to create them for my yet unpublished historical novel, The Lady Fugitive. A publisher is considering this book. If it's not accepted, I will make it an Indie-book because I don't want to invest more time in marketing.

Question: Who is the most fun character you ever created?
Pete, Joe's friend, is a fun character. He's one of those teens who reads encyclopedias. Drives Joe nuts.
Here's one occasion: Pete helped Joe put unsold dishes and pots and pans into boxes. “Did you know the city of Buffton, Indiana, has a citywide garage sale every year?”
“You’re a walking encyclopedia, Pete.”
“My problem is that the words keep leaking out of my mouth,” Pete chuckled. His new eyeglasses gave him a scholarly look despite his red baseball cap.
“That town must have been quite a sight on garage sale day, with all those garages going down the highway.” Patrick exploded with laughter.

Another from Pete: As they waited in the front yard for Centipede, Pete stared at a butterfly on one of his mom’s yellow mums. Evidently, monarchs were migrating.
“Did you know butterflies taste with their feet?” Pete asked, bending his head toward the butterfly, which quickly flew away. “That’s where their taste sensors are. They stand on their food and taste it.”
Joe and Sham shook their heads and frowned at their friend.
“I’ll bet mixing your food with toe jam helps the flavor,” Sham said with a howl.
“You’re a real book of knowledge,” said Joe, chuckling.

Another from Pete: “Did you know people grow pumpkins all over the world?” Pete said. “Besides being good for pie and making jack-o’-lanterns, their blossoms are tasty in salad, or you can eat the flowers with your sandwich instead of fries.”
“Eeeeuuuuu!” murmured Cockroach.
Pete enthusiastically continued. “The seeds are also good to eat, and Indians used them to make medicine. Before we discovered antivenom, they were tried as a snakebite cure. Women used pumpkin for a beauty mask and found the stuff could bleach out freckles.” He grinned at Shamrock.  “That’s not all,” Pete continued. “They’ve grown pumpkins that weigh over a thousand pounds—but they’re 90 percent water!”
“I’ve always wondered about that,” joked Thumbs as he navigated a curve on the dark highway. “Dad grew one pumpkin I figured weighed at least five hundred pounds. I know a guy who weighs about that much, and it looked like him. Had knobby ears and everything.”
The van shook with the erupting laughter.
“That’s about what Centipede looks like he weighs in his outfit,” said Cockroach. “That fat looks almost real. Where’d you get those clothes?”
“Where else?” answered Centipede, grinning. “From Thumb’s big friend.”

Question: Who is the most annoying character you ever created?
One from Joe the Dreamer is Sandy Zogg, the divorced psychiatrist's daughter.

Joe looked at Sham Zogg’s sister again. She brushed her silky blonde hair back and tucked it behind her ears. Her pink cheeks glowed and pulled back into a gorgeous white smile. Her stylish jeans and red T-shirt completed a pretty picture. Joe took a deep breath.
“Mom said beauty is skin deep,” Joe whispered.
Peter grinned. “She’s right, but—ah, it’s nice to look at. Solomon—the biblical ‘ladies’ man’— said ‘Beauty does not last, but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.’”
“Hi, guys,” Sandy greeted them.
Petra took a step closer. “If there’s anything I can do to help ….”
Sandy Zogg wrinkled her nose. “Phew! You guys smell and look like you need a bath! What‘cha been doin’?”
“Helping Joe’s uncle with a garage sale.” Peter bent and brushed his jeans.
Joe sighed. Embarrassment and the urge to run argued for control of his brain.
“Where’s Patrick?” Sandy flung her hair over her shoulder. “My family’s going out for pizza, and I thought I might invite him.”
A frown crunched Joe’s face. “Isn’t he a little old for you?”
“Are you jealous?” she purred.                                          

Question: Do you have a writing system? What works best for you?
Number one is sit down and get to work. I lead a busy life, though, so I have to grab time when I can get it. It helps to write the lead for non-fiction or the opening paragraph for fiction to get me started. Then when I come back, I usually am able to continue and write at a fast pace.

Question: What or who is the biggest influence on your writing?

My greatest desire is to be used by the Lord to win souls or be an encourager. My blog includes the words "Stick-to-your-soul Encouragement," which is my brand as well as my name.

Question: When is your next book due out and what can you tell us about it?
I have a audio version of Imagine the Future You, a motivational Bible study, which should be available in a week or two, depending on corrections. The Amazon narrator told me it's almost ready, and emphasized he was blessed by the book.

That sounds exciting. Thank you so much for joining us here today.
You can purchase the book at:
Or have your local library order it in for you!

Our featured author, Ada Brownell, is giving away a copy of JOE THE DREAMER: THE CASTLE AND THE CATAPULT. You may have your choice of a paper copy or an ebook . The paperback giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.

To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Featuring Ada Brownell's book Joe The Dreamer

Back Copy:
Enter an area where people are missing, and radicals want to obliterate Christianity from the earth.

The radicals have plans for Joe Baker, who finds himself with a vicious man after him when his parents disappear.
Witness what committed teens can do
Joe and an unusual East Side gang team up to find his parents. The gang is dedicated to preventing and solving crimes with harmless things such as water and a pet skunk instead of blades or bullets. The enemy is fully armed—even with a robot programmed to kill.
Welcome to Joe’s dream world.

Joe reads the Bible hoping to discover whether God will do miracles today—like bringing his parents home. In his dreams Joe slips into the skin of Bible characters and what happened to them, happens to him. But his worst nightmares don’t come close to his experiences in a mental hospital’s juvenile unit.

Book Excerpt:

Joe Baker looked at the kitchen window again, hoping headlights
would turn into the driveway. Instead, an image moved on the
other side of the glass. A tremble ricocheted from Joe’s chest to his
fingers and toes. A hotdog chunk he bit off almost lodged in his throat.
“What time is it?” Brown hair framed the scowl on Penny’s slightly
freckled face as she sat across from him at the glass-topped table. “I’m
worried about Mom and Dad.”

Joe swallowed. Tangy mustard taste lingered on his dry tongue.
“They’re probably fine,” he choked out. He dropped what was left
of his bun on his plate and ran over to see if a friend peeped at them. At
first, Joe’s tan face, thick mop of black hair, and frightened brown eyes
reflected in the window. He leaned closer. A bald head he’d never seen
before glistened. Huge eyes glared from the other side of the glass. The
man’s drooping jowls jiggled as a hand tried to push the window open.

“Get out of here!” Joe yelled, blood and panic pulsing through
him as he flipped the blind shut and pulled his cell from his pocket.
He dialed 911.

“A man I don’t know is peeking through our windows, and our
parents aren’t home,” he told the dispatcher. He couldn’t keep his
voice from trembling. “I’m fourteen, and my sister is ten.”

Joe's insides squeezed tight as he darted to the lamp table,
grabbed a phone book, and searched for Aunt Anna Shaw’s number.
The doorbell kept ringing. Then the house rattled under the banging
of a heavy fist. Joe jumped. He dropped the phone book. The man was now kicking the door.


Ada Brownell, a devoted Bible student, has written for Christian publications since age 15 and spent much of her life as a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain in Colo. After moving to Springfield, MO in her retirement, she continues to free lance for Sunday school papers, Christian magazines, write op-ed pieces for newspapers, and write books with stick-to-your-soul encouragement. She is critique group leader of Ozarks Chapter of American Christian Writers and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.
Among her books: Imagine the Future You, a youth Bible study (November 2013). Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult, (Jan. 15, 2013); Swallowed by Life: Mysteries of Death, Resurrection and the Eternal, (Dec. 6, 2011); and Confessions of a Pentecostal, out of print but released in 2012 for Kindle; All the books are available in paper or for Kindle.
      Facebook:       Twitter: @adellerella
     Amazon Ada Brownell author page

You can purchase the book at: 
Or ask your local library to order it in for you.

Our featured author, Ada Brownell, is giving away a copy of JOE THE DREAMER: THE CASTLE AND THE CATAPULT. She is offering the winners choice of ebook or paperback. The paperback giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.

To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Featuring Devalynn Spencer's The Cowboy Takes a Wife

Back Cover Blurb:

ANNIE WHITAKER HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PLAIN JANE. But in the bustling gold-rush town of Cañon City, Colorado, she turns heads, especially that of cowboy Caleb Hutton. Annie's seen Caleb many times in her father's mercantile, and she's surprised and pleased when he takes a special interest in her. 

Caleb's faith was shattered when his fiancée jilted him for a wealthier man. But as he gets to know Annie, his view of women—and God—soon takes a turn for the better. Can Annie's steadfast faith help the former preacher find his way back to his calling and a second chance at love?

Book Excerpt :

Annie Whitaker clenched her jaw and wrapped her fingers around the arms of the front-porch rocking chair. It was better than wrapping them around her older sister’s throat.
   Of course Edna thought heading for the Rocky Mountains was a bad idea. Everything was a bad idea unless she’d thought of it first.
   Perspiration gathered at the nape of Annie’s neck. She uncurled her fingers and relaxed her jaw. Using her sweetest voice, she shifted to Edna’s favorite topic. “Do you have your eye on any particular fella who’s been calling lately?”
   Edna batted a silk fan through the heavy air and lowered her gaze. The porch swing creaked as she toed it back and forth. “Maybe,” she said.
   Annie rolled her eyes, grateful that Edna couldn’t see out the side of her head like a mule. She rubbed her cheek to hide her smile at the joke.
Annie guessed Jonathan Mitchell topped Edna’s list. He was financially successful, well-bred and handsome in a soft sort of way. And she fully expected Daddy to turn the mercantile over to Mr. Mitchell when he left next month.
   When they left.
   Annie planned to be on that stagecoach with her father come he—. She stopped at the forbidden word and glanced at  her sister who always managed to read Annie’s improper thoughts.
   But why shouldn’t she say that word? It was in the Bible. And it certainly applied to Omaha at the moment, which was heavy and hot as an unbroken fever.
   Heat waves rolled over their aunt Harriet’s vast lawns and rippled the distant trees into a surreal horizon. Annie unfastened the top button on her thin blouse. She detested summer—particularly July—almost as much as she disliked Edna’s propensity for being coy.
   “Annabelle May.” Edna glared. “Don’t be indecent.”
   “Don’t be absurd.” Annie  released the second button out of spite. “It’s unbearably hot, and there’s no one to see besides you and Aunt Harriett. And she’s half-blind.” So much for her “sweet” voice.
   “Well, I never.” Edna’s eyelashes whipped up the humidity even more than her fan.
   Annie pushed out of the rocker and leaned over the porch railing. Even the copper daylilies bordering the Victorian home struggled to hold their heads up in the afternoon heat.
   Edna's brow glistened with perspiration. "A little warmth does not give a lady license for indecency."
   Tired of the heat as well as Edna’s attitude, Annie stomped her foot and spun toward her sister.
   “Daddy wants to go to Cañon City, and I’m going with him. You can stay here in Omaha with all your beaus and Aunt Harriett if you like, but I’m not letting our father go alone.” Annie reset a loose pin in her unruly hair, then fisted her hands on her hips. “It will be an adventure. ‘Pikes Peak or Bust,’ they say. All those gold seekers need to get their supplies from someone. Why not Whitaker’s Mercantile?”
   “Humph.” Edna expertly flicked her wrist, folding the hand-painted silk fan for emphasis. “That’s all you think about—adventure. You and Father both.” She palmed damp ringlets off her pale forehead, then reopened the fan for a fresh attack. “I can’t believe he’s willing to pull up and take off for those ragged mountains at his age. He should stay here and increase his holdings. The mercantile is doing quite well. Why start over someplace else and risk losing everything?” Edna fluttered furiously and aimed a guilt-inducing glare at Annie. “Including his life and yours.”
   Annie folded her arms. Edna’s threat echoed their aunt's  petulant scolding. Aunt Harriet was bound by tradition and the social constraints of widowhood, and she dripped resentment over her brother’s freedom to do as he pleased.
   Well that was Aunt Harriett’s choice, not Annie’s. Annie preferred to experience all she could, even if it meant risking her life in the Rocky Mountains. Zebulon Pike, John C. Frémont and others had conquered those peaks. Why not Daniel Whitaker and his youngest daughter?
   “Cañon City isn’t even established. It’s an upstart supply town, Annie, on Kansas Territory’s farthest edge.”
   Annie rested against the railing and focused on the window’s beveled edge behind the swing. “I know what and where it is.”
   “What it is is uncivilized.” Edna slowed her silken assault, tempered her tone. “You know what that means. They have no law yet, and probably even less order with all those gold-hungry miners and speculators and wild, drunken cowboys.”
   “And bank clerks and preachers and storekeepers.” Annie pressed her open neckline flat against her collarbone. “Be reasonable.”
   An unreasonable request when it came to her sister.
   Predictably, Edna stiffened and assumed a superior posture. “And Indians. You know wild savages live there, as well as all along the way. Don’t forget what the Utes did at Fort Pueblo just six years ago.”
   Annie gritted her teeth, barring hateful words that fought for release. She and her sister had waged this verbal war about the West more times than she cared to count. She refused to chew that piece of meat again.
   A rare breeze suddenly swept the wide front porch, and Annie imagined mountain air whispering along high canyons. She braced her hands against the railing, closed her eyes and recalled what she’d read about the Arkansas River falling from the Rockies, cold and full-bellied with snowmelt. A marvelously deep gorge squeezed the river into raging white water and shot it onto the high plains through a wedge-shaped valley. And guarding the mountain gateway, that brand-new town—Cañon City.
   Oh, to be part of something new and unpredictable. To see that canyon, and hear the water’s roar...
   Edna’s lofty tsk interrupted the daydream. “I know the stories, too.” Annie’s eyes flew open to see her sister’s shaking head and mirthless lips. Edna read her mind as easily as a dime novel.
   “Do you know that at last count, Cañon City had only 720 residents?” Edna said.
   Annie raised her chin. “Daddy and I have discussed it.”
   The fan snapped shut. “Do you know that out of that number, six hundred are men?” Edna shuddered.
   “They’re men, Edna. Not animals.”
   “Don’t be so sure, dear sister. With numbers like that, I dare say those men are hard-pressed to maintain their humanity.”
   “This is 1860, not the Dark Ages.” Annie stepped away from the railing, tempted to undo a third button just to see how fast Edna could flail her fan. “We are going, and we are leaving in three weeks with or without your approval—or Aunt Harriet’s.”
   Annie marched into the house and down the hall to the kitchen, where she retrieved the lemonade pitcher from the icebox. No doubt she’d not have such a modern luxury in Cañon City. She poured a glass, let it chill with the cold drink and then held it against her forehead and neck.
   The shocking relief conjured images of clear mountain snowmelt. Goose bumps rippled down her spine. The Arkansas must be delightfully cold, nothing like the Big Muddy slogging along dark and murky on its unhurried journey to the Mississippi.
   At nearly a mile high, Cañon City was close to Denver City’s famous claim. That in itself had to present a cooler climate. Much more pleasant, even in the summer. She figured Edna didn’t know that.
   Guilt knifed between her thoughts, and she regretted her snippy attitude. But Edna infuriated her so. How had they both come from the same parents?
   Annie felt a familiar ache. That was one thing Edna did know that Annie did not—their mother’s comforting arms.
   She doused the pain with a sweetly sour gulp of lemonade that quite reflected the two Whitaker sisters. Annie fingered the corners of her mouth, certain that she was not the “sweet” one. She and Edna were no more alike than the dresses they wore.  .
   Edna was polished satin. Annie, plain calico.
   Was that the real reason behind her determination to go west with Daddy?
   She slumped into a kitchen chair and traced the delicate needlework on the tablecloth. Several eligible young men called on the fair-haired Edna. But no one called for the wild-maned Annie.
   She pushed a loose strand from her forehead as tears stung her eyes. Swallowing the dregs of jealousy, she whispered, “Forgive me, Lord. Help me love my sister. Even if I don’t like her very much sometimes.”
   The screen door slammed against its frame, and Edna’s full skirts rustled toward the kitchen.
   Annie rushed to the icebox and filled a second glass with lemonade for her sister.
   It was the least she could do.

Chapter 1
The late October sun bled pink and gold, impaled on an uneven ridgeline. Caleb Hutton stopped at the lip of a bowl-like depression, leaned on his saddle horn and studied the jagged silhouette. He could just make out a shadowy monolith jutting from the mountain and at its base a narrow green vein that pulsed across the valley floor. To the right a dozen buildings stood below a craggy granite spine. The faint sounds of hammers and people and livestock drifted across the valley.
   Cañon City.
   The fledgling town huddled north of the tree-lined Arkansas River, where canvas tents, lean-tos and campfires sprouted. Approaching from due east, Caleb crossed the valley and rode into town past a livery, corral, and framed-in shops. A white clapboard building stood across from the livery—a schoolhouse or a church.
   He stopped at the largest structure, the Fremont Hotel, dismounted and looped both horses’ reins around the hitching rail. Rooster tongued his bit and Sally heaved a sigh. Caleb patted the gelding’s neck, slapped dust from his hat and stepped through the hotel door in need of a room and a bath.
   He found neither.
   Rumors had been right. The burgeoning mine-supply town was full to bursting. Every chair in the crowded parlor held a man, and laughter and cigar smoke drifted from the open doorway to the adjoining saloon. Caleb’s empty stomach roiled, and he returned to his horses.
   Besides the substantial brick-faced hotel, the saloon and a few other establishments, buildings in varying degrees of completion lined the short, broad street. Fading daylight drew carpenters and masons from their work and into their wagons, but others lingered along the boardwalk. Mostly miners holed up for the winter, Caleb supposed, from the looks of their grimy dungarees and whiskers.
   At least he’d beat the snow.
   Rooster’s head drooped over the rail, eyes closed. Caleb rubbed beneath the red forelock.
   “Tired as I am, are you, boy?” After gathering the reins, he mounted the gelding, pulled Sally along behind them and turned back the way he had come. The river should be running low and smooth with summer long past, and the cottonwood grove he’d seen on his approach would be hotel enough.
   He’d keep the horses with him rather than board them at the livery and sleep somewhere else alone. After three months under the stars with the animals’ heavy presence nearby, he doubted he could sleep without them anyway.
   Come dark he’d brave the cold water for a bath.
   Near the street’s end, a woman swept the boards in front of a narrow storefront. Above her hung a painted wooden sign: Whitaker’s Mercantile. As he rode nearer, she stooped to reclaim something, and a hunk of chestnut hair fell over her shoulder. She leaned her broom against the building and twisted her locks into a knot. He didn’t realize he was staring until her eyes flashed his way, challenging his steady observation.
   As he came even with the store, he touched the brim of his hat. “Evening, ma’am.”
   She dropped her hands as if caught stealing but held his gaze, nodding briefly before she turned away.
   Caleb swallowed a knot in his throat. He reined Rooster toward the river, down the gentle slope to the cottonwood grove, and set his mind on making camp. No point digging up what he’d spent the past three months riding away from.
   The horses drank their fill, and he hobbled and tethered them close by. Didn’t need some hard case sneaking off with them while he slept.
   The breeze danced downstream and shivered through the trees. Caleb's campfire was not the only glow along the river and he was grateful for  its warmth.  As he cut open his last can of beans, he counted a half-dozen flickering lights scattered up and down the banks.
   Beneath his saddle lay his father’s old friend, a Colt revolver. Good for snakes, his pa had always said. On the backside of Kansas Territory—as anywhere—some of those snakes had two legs and would likely kill to get what they wanted. He would not fall victim.
   He sank onto his bedroll, eased back against his saddle and waited for the stars to show—again. He could nearly chart them from watching them wink into view each night, as constant and familiar as his horses.
   Restfulness settled over him for the first time since he’d left Saint Joseph. The muscles in his neck and legs relaxed, and tension seeped from his spine as the river chattered a few feet away like a secret companion.
   Three months riding alone had given him plenty of time to think about his life, where he’d been and where he was going. One more day and he’d be at the Lazy R, where cattle outnumbered people fifty to one.
   Suited him just fine.
   He pulled off his hat and linked his fingers behind his head.
   He knew his way around horses better than most, thanks to his pa, rest his soul. Cows weren’t that much different.
   At least they wouldn’t be sitting in pews waiting for him to say something inspiring.
   He snorted at the image, but guilt twisted his gut. He’d tried his hand at people and failed. God must have made a mistake.
   Or Caleb had misheard.
   A twig snapped, and he slid a hand beneath his saddle. The hammer’s click cut through the silence and drew a quick confession.
   “Don’t shoot, mister—don’t shoot.”
   Caleb aimed for the voice, though the tremor in it belied the owner’s young age.
“Show yourself,” he ordered.
   Another snap and a boy stepped from between the horses, arms raised stick straight as if he were being hung by his thumbs.
   “I ain’t stealin’ nothin’, mister—I swear.”
   Caleb sat up. “Right there’s two things you shouldn’t be doing.”
   Firelight licked the boy’s skinny neck, and his Adam’s apple bobbed. “Yessir. What’s that, sir?”
   Caleb eased the hammer back and lowered his gun. “Stealing and swearing. Both will get you into trouble.”
   He waved the boy over and kept the revolver in his lap. “How old are you, and what’re you doing out here by yourself at night? Don’t you know you could be shot?”
  “Twelve, huntin’ a bush and yes, sir.”
   Caleb held back a chuckle at the nervous answer. “You can put your hands down now.”
   The youngster dropped his arms fast. The gesture reminded Caleb of the woman at the mercantile.
   “What’s your name?”
   “My Christian name is Benjamin, sir, but my folks call me Springer.”
   “Well, Springer, where are your folks?”
   The boy pointed upstream. “See that light there in the trees? That there’s our camp.”
   “Aren’t you a little far from home for this time of night?”
   “Yessir, but like I said, I was huntin’ a bush.”
   A woman’s voice called through the dark, quietly at first, then with greater urgency.
   “You’d better answer,” Caleb said.
   “Comin’, Ma.”
   The boy’s voice cracked, and Caleb dropped his head and smiled. He poked the fire with a broken branch, and sparks licked the sky. “So, Springer, before you head back, I have two questions for you. First, tell me why they call you Springer.”
   The boy grinned and stuck his thumbs in his suspenders. “That’s ’cause I can jump higher ’n anybody.”
   Life should be so simple.
   “Okay. Second, why were you sneaking up on my horses?”
   Springer hung his head, and his hands dropped to his sides. “I just wanted to pet ’em. We had to get rid of our horses, and I miss ’em somethin’ fierce.”
   “Benjamin Springer Smith—I’m gonna tan your hide if you don’t get your tail over here right now.”
   Caleb laughed out loud. “Okay, Benjamin Springer Smith, you better get going or you won’t have a hide left to tan the next time.”
   “Yessir. Thank you, sir.”
   The boy crashed through the cottonwoods like a razorback on the run. A high-pitched yelp signaled that his arrival home had not happened as quickly as his ma would have liked.
   Caleb chuckled and stashed the revolver. He poked the fire again. Embers scattered like Missouri fireflies, and the wood snapped and cracked in surrender to the flames.
   The sound punctured his chest, reopening a wound. He shoved the heel of his hand against his breastbone, winded by the unexpected pain.
   He’d surrendered once to a searing flame. Twice, really. Answered a call that proved fruitless and offered his soul to a woman who proved faithless. Both failings twisted into a noose, and he wanted nothing but to rid himself of it.
   Inexperience had cost him his life’s endeavors—his small pastorate and the heart of the woman he loved. Too young to earn many converts, he thought he’d at least turned Miss Mollie Sullivan’s heart.
   He’d turned her all right. All the way into the arms of the wealthiest man in his congregation. Who also happened to sit on the elders’ board.
   He grunted and stabbed at the fire again, refusing to let it burn out. He dug for the brightest ember and held the stick against it until the wood flamed into a torch.
  A similar torch had gutted him, left him ruined for both the ministry and matrimony. He refused to stand in the pulpit avoiding their eyes while he preached God’s love and forgiveness. Nor could he call a meeting of the board and explain his sudden departure.
   He’d simply traded his frock coat and collar for a duster and broad brim and tacked a note to the chapel door.
   Not exactly Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.
   A sneer lifted his lip.
   He had wanted to smash the man’s smooth-skinned face. But then he’d be no better than the thieving scoundrel himself. And what would that tell his parishioners? Turn the first cheek so he could punch the second?
He shoved the charred branch into the dirt, stretched out on his bedroll and folded his arms across his chest. For three months he’d argued with himself about returning and owning up. But he’d already said his piece in the note on the door—told those gentlefolk they needed a more experienced preacher and left them the name of his seminary professor.
   And if he went back and knocked out one of his congregants with anything other than preacherly conviction, he’d have to apologize all over again.
   Better leave well enough alone.
   He rubbed his chin, scratched at the stubble.
   Tomorrow he’d start forgetting. Forget Mollie, the ministry and everything familiar, including the three people he’d met since riding into Cañon City—an apologetic hotel clerk who didn’t have a room for him, a beautiful woman with a broom, and a youngster camping on the river with his family. Two of the three he wouldn’t mind seeing again, but that likely wouldn’t happen.
   Setting his boots aside, he slipped into the shallow water, submerging himself with a harsh gasp as the current wrapped around him. Cold but cleaner, he quickly dried off, dressed, stirred the fire and crawled into his bedroll.
   The familiar mix of wood smoke, leather and dried horse sweat swirled above him, and he stared at the only thing there was to see. A starry band swept across the sky, sparkling a thousand times brighter than it did in Saint Joseph. A glittering contrast to the black vault.
   Not unlike the shimmer he’d seen in the broom lady’s lovely eyes.
   Tomorrow. He’d forget all of them tomorrow and start his new life.

   Annie heard the “plop” before the smell penetrated the rough wall. Her nose wrinkled, and she buried her face in her pillow.
   Never in all her seventeen years had she dreamed she’d wake up in a barn.
A horse whinnied and pawed, impatient for breakfast. Annie’s stomach returned the complaint, but the stench of the fresh deposit warred with her hunger pangs. She pulled the quilt over her head and burrowed into the blankets on her straw-filled pallet.
   The Overland Stage had safely carried Annie and her father across the wide prairie last month, and they’d shared some primitive accommodations along the way. But the Planter’s House in Denver City and their weeklong stay there had led her to believe that maybe the rugged Rockies weren’t so rugged after all.
Ha. That was Denver; this was not.
   What would her sister say if she could see Annie curled up in the Cañon City Livery? A vision of Edna’s tightly seamed lips and disapproving fan roused Annie’s ire, and the imagined words shot heat through her veins.
   I told you so.
   Annie tossed the quilts back and reached for the clothing she’d draped over the foot of her pallet. After pulling her arms inside her cotton gown, she traded out the stockings and drawers she’d slept in but kept her chemise. She tugged on a flannel petticoat, topped it with two skirts, then exchanged her gown for a long-sleeved shirt and buttoned on her high-top shoes. She loosened the long braid that hung down her back and, with dexterity born of practice, brushed through the thick strands and deftly twisted them into a knot and pinned them in place.
   Not that she counted on it to stay. By noon it would be hugging the base of her neck.
   She smoothed her quilt top, tucked in the edges all around and prayed that no mice had worried their way into her bed looking for warmth.
   A shiver scurried along her spine.
   What were their chances of surviving the winter in this place? How would she and her father not freeze to death?
   Needing relief, she had no time for fearful thoughts. She pulled her heavy cloak about her shoulders for a trip to the necessary.
   Since she was always up before her father, Annie quietly stepped around the curtain they’d hung to separate their pallets. She stopped short. He sat at the pallet’s edge, suspenders drooping off his hunched shoulders, his head in his hands.
   Daddy?” she whispered. “Are you all right?”
   He raised his head, and she saw worry in his moist eyes. “We are not all right, Annie.” He spread his hands, palms up. “Look where we are. We sleep in a barn. I’ve brought my beautiful young daughter all the way to the Rocky   Mountains to live in a barn.”
   His head sank to his hands again.
   His words burned into the doubts she’d so carefully hidden in the back of her heart. Some very hostile, unladylike thoughts of their new landlord—one Jedediah Cooper—sparked her resolve. “Oh, Daddy, we’re going to be fine.”   She knelt beside him and clasped his arm.
   He pulled a white handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his eyes. “We should have stayed in Omaha. My sister and yours were right.”
   Annie’s hackles rose at the idea of Edna being right—again. “No, they were not. They simply don’t have the adventurous streak that you and I have.” She forced her lips into a smile and smoothed his uncombed hair off his forehead. “We’ll talk to Mr. Cooper again about giving us the back room in the store. It’s whiskey he’s got in there, and he can move it to his saloon. I’ll even help.”
   Her father’s eyes latched on to hers, and his bushy brows lurched together. “You will not. You don’t go near that place of his.” He stuffed the handkerchief in his pocket and shook his head. “If we sold the mare, we’d have money against a loan and could build a small cabin of our own. And we’d save on her feed, too. She eats as much as the other three horses combined.”
   Annie stood and brushed off her skirt. It wasn’t completely true—her beloved mare, Nell, didn’t eat quite that much. Maybe just as much as two of their other horses, but that wasn’t the point.
   She buttoned her heart against her father’s remark and her cloak against the cold. “I’m going out back and then to the mercantile. You banked the fire last night, so it won’t take me long to get the place warmed up.” She bent to kiss his snowy head. “That potbellied stove is a blessing. I’ll have coffee going in no time.”
   Her father slapped his hands on his knees and threw back his shoulders. “You’ve got spunk, Annie girl. Just like your mama.”
   His words picked at an old scab, the one that always opened anew when he mentioned the mother she didn't know.
   “I’ll feed Nell, too, Daddy.”
   He huffed, wagged his head and grunted as he pushed to his feet.
   Annie opened the stall door and gathered her skirts against her as she pulled it closed. The mare whinnied and hung her massive head over the railing across the alleyway.
   “Hungry again, are you, Nell?” Annie scooped an armload of loose hay and tossed it over the gate. She brushed off her skirt again and picked stubborn pieces from her cloak.
   “Take it slow, girl.” Reaching over the gate, she stroked the thick golden neck and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Daddy’s going to sell you like the others if you don’t quit eating so much.”
   Nell’s ears flicked forward and back as if taking due note.
   They’d needed all four animals to pull their heavy supplies south to Cañon City because Daddy refused to drive mules or pay someone else to do it. But after renting and stocking the mercantile, he’d sold off the other three horses, their harness and the freight wagon. Everything excess had to go, he’d said. She’d fought dearly to keep the big yellow mare.
   She checked over her shoulder for unlikely onlookers, then rubbed her backside, remembering how it ached during the jolting ride south after purchasing supplies in Denver City. The trip had been much worse than the dust-choked Overland Stage ride from Leavenworth but mercifully shorter.
   Annie hurried to the shanty behind the livery, then to the boardwalk, where few people appeared so early. At the mercantile door, she slid the key in the lock and entered to the brass bell’s cheerful welcome. The scent of coffee beans, tobacco, and oiled leather soothed her nerves, and she drew in a slow, deep breath. Her heart swelled with pride at their modest store, full of everything a person could want—a person with a soul brave enough to head west, that is.
   Fine flour and sugar, pearly oats and smooth dried beans, barrels of sour pickles and pale crackers. Bright dress cloth and drab canvas, blue-speckled dishware and cast-iron skillets. Black leather boots and shoes and a few saddles. Strong soaps, wooden toys, a precious sampling of books and notions like needles and threads and buttons and pins—better than a drummer’s wagon.
Pulling off her cloak, she surveyed the cramped, full-to-the-brim space. She was useful here, working beside her father, as if what she did mattered. They met people’s needs, and that was important. Much more important than sitting on Aunt Harriet’s front porch waiting for one of Edna’s many beaus to give her a second glance.
   To pick up Annie as second best.
   Disappointment clawed at her as she thought of her sister’s beauty. Annie’s rippling hair never stayed put like Edna’s flaxen tresses, and her thin chest only half filled Edna’s ruffled bodices. Daddy had called her “beautiful” this morning, but she knew she would never be as fetching as her sister.
   Her chin jerked up. So be it. It was better this way, better that she didn’t turn the head of every man who saw her. Her father needed help, and she refused to sit by and wait for some man to come along and make her life better when she could do that herself.
   She marched to the stove that anchored the long, narrow room, bunched her skirt to protect her hand and opened the door. With a poker she scraped at the ash pile and uncovered a glowing red eye. Perfect. She added a few chunks from the nearby coal bucket and adjusted the damper.
   Lord, you promised you’d meet our needs. She rubbed her hands together and held them open above the squat stove, careful not to let her skirts touch its iron belly. And you know Daddy and I need a warmer place to stay until we can afford to build a house.
   Of course, some folks had it worse. How many were camped by the river in canvas tents, cooking over open fires?
   Frustrated that she couldn’t build a house with her own two hands, Annie squirmed inwardly at the doubt behind her pleading prayer.
   She left the warm spot to grind fresh coffee, filled a blue enamel pot with water, and set it on the stove. Satisfied with the fire, she closed the damper and arranged several chairs around a braided rug before the stove.
   She and Daddy could get warm and be out of the crisp fall air. The acknowledgment settled like a warm quilt around her soul, reminding her that small blessings were still blessings.
   “Thank you, Lord,” she whispered, chastened.
   Since her father had agreed to handle the mail for Cañon City, at least a couple hundred people trailed through the mercantile each week. Not everyone had family to write to them, and a few, she’d learned, preferred not to have folks know where they were.
   In the few weeks they’d been there, her father’s store had become a gathering place for several of the town’s more respectable residents, as well as a few who were  not—like Jedediah Cooper, their landlord who owned nearly  two blocks and acted like he owned his renters, too.
   She shuddered at the memory of his whiskey-colored gaze.
With everything in order, Annie hung her wrap on the back wall that separated the mercantile from the small storeroom. She pulled an apron over her head, dislodging her hair in the process, and peeked around the doorless frame.
Anger stirred in her chest. That ol’ miser Cooper should have rented them the whole building. What was eight more feet, give or take?
   She tied the apron strings and quickly repinned her rebellious strands. Combs. She’d order more combs and hairpins the next chance she got. Other women must have the same problem, and combs might sell along with the gloves and hats they kept on hand.
   The bell chimed.
   “Smells good in here, Annie.”
   Relief rushed in with the return of her father’s usual cheerfulness. She offered another prayer of thanks and set about greasing a cast-iron skillet. “Coffee’s almost ready. Come have a seat and I’ll make some pan biscuits.”
   He pegged his coat and donned an apron. “If the freighters stop in today, I’ll mention the mare again. Then you could have a cabin with a real cookstove. Maybe an iron bed, too.”
   Annie swallowed at the thought of saying farewell to Nell as she floured the sideboard and rolled out the dough.
   The bell rang again, and Duke Deacon and his son, Joseph, stomped in. Of course the day’s first customers had to be the freighters. Who else was out this early?
   By the time she had the biscuits on the stove, the men had taken chairs and coffee. Annie set to making a fresh pot, praying the freighters wouldn’t want her Nell.
   “Gonna be a long, hard winter, Whitaker,” the elder driver said. His blue eyes shone like lights from his weathered face, and his black hair lay slick and flat against his skull. “If there’s somethin’ you’ll be needin’ ’fore spring, better order it now. I’ll be freightin’ ’tween storms, so won’t be near as regular as it is now. Fact, this is my last trip to Denver City for a spell. When I get back, I’ll be stayin’ put for a couple weeks.”
   Her father leaned against a cracker barrel, nursing his own tin cup. “Tell me how you figure on a hard winter.”
   “Skunk cabbage,” Joseph piped up. He was a shorter, smoother version of his coal-haired father. “Higher ’n it’s been in a long time. Ain’t that so, Pa.”
   Duke nodded and sipped. “That’s right. Surprised to see it, too. Don’t usually get that much snow down here ’long the Arkansas. Not like falls up on the Platte.”
   Annie caught her father’s laughing eyes above his coffee cup. He didn’t put stock in such folklore about cabbage and snowfall and hard winters, and he was more inclined to refer to the almanac he kept under the front counter. But he was good with his customers and would never say such a thing out loud.
   The Deacons left with a dozen biscuits in their bellies and an order for ladies’ combs and hairpins. All the cabbage talk must have driven Nell from her father’s mind, and Annie heaved a sigh of relief when the freighters climbed onto their wagon without having bought her beautiful mare.
   Strange, the things she’d thanked the Lord for lately.
   Perspiring in the cramped store now that the stove was hot, Annie rolled up her sleeves and wiped her neck with her apron hem. No time to cool herself with a brief walk outdoors. More customers were sure to come.
   She plopped a fresh batch of dough onto the floured sideboard, sending up a dusty cloud. Rolled and cut and amply greased, a second batch browned on the pot belly within minutes.
   “Believe I’ll buy this tin o’ molasses to go with those fine biscuits you’ve got there.” Her father stood behind the front counter, dusting the tin top with his shirt sleeve. Then he penciled the item on a notepad where he listed his personal purchases.
   Annie sighed. They might freeze to death in the livery but at least they’d not starve their first winter.
   Hefting the black skillet with a towel, she carried it to the sideboard, where she split two biscuits each onto two tin plates and drizzled dark molasses over both servings. After adding a fork to each plate, she joined her father already seated and waiting.
   Settled and warm with food on her lap and her dear father close by, Annie’s heart overflowed with gratitude as he prayed.
   “Thank you, Lord, for feeding us and keeping us safe. And open Cooper’s heart, Lord. Before it snows, if possible. Amen.”
   Refusing to let their stingy landlord’s image lay claim to her thoughts, Annie forked off a bite and savored the sweet molasses-covered mouthful. She dabbed at her mouth with her apron and eyed her father who heartily attacked his breakfast.
   “You don’t believe that nonsense about skunk cabbage do you, Daddy?”
He cut into the second biscuit and sopped it in the pooling molasses. “Nope.” Closing his eyes, he chewed slowly and shook his head. “Delicious, Annie. Absolutely the best biscuits this side of the Rocky Mountains.”
   Annie swallowed another bite. “You can’t say that anymore.”
   “And why not?”
   “Because now we are in the Rocky Mountains, Daddy,” she said, giving him the very best smile she could muster.

Author Bio:
When the handsome, dark-eyed cowboy sauntered into Davalynn Spencer’s life, the gate to adventure swung wide. So began her journey as a bullfighter’s wife and an award-winning national rodeo journalist. Her passion for words has also taken her from the city crime beat of a mid-size daily newspaper to inspirational publication with David C. Cook, Standard, Chicken Soup for the Soul and others. When she’s not writing western romance, she teaches at Pueblo Community College and writes a slice-of-life column for her local newspaper. She and her handsome cowboy have three children and four grandchildren and make their home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue. Connect with her online at,  Facebook:  and on Twitter @davalynnspencer.

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