For the Thorton brothers, the Oklahoma Land Rush is the perfect opportunity to finally put down some roots. A new start, a new community—what more could preacher Elijah Thornton need. Not a wife—not after losing his fiancée. But something draws him to the pretty nurse whose eyes are clouded by trouble.
Only by claiming her own homestead can Alice Hawthorne avoid an unwanted marriage. Even
Oklahoma may not be
far enough away from New York
to escape her past. Yet with courage—and the handsome reverend's support—can
she forge a loving future?
BRIDEGROOM BOTHERS—True love awaits three siblings in the Oklahoma Land Rush
April 1, 1889—
Alice Hawthorne sat down quietly on an empty bench in the back of the tent church. She'd waited until the little congregation was absorbed in singing "Shall We Gather at the River" so she could steal in unnoticed. There was a family of six on the long bench ahead of her, but none of them paid any attention to her arrival--except for the shortest of the four stair-step boys. He looked over his shoulder at her, his face full of freckles, a cowlick at the back of his shaggy thatch of hair. When he noticed
was watching, he gave her a cheerful, gap-toothed grin. Despite the anxiety
constricting her heart like a coiled snake, it was such a comical sight that
she couldn't help but smile back.
"You turn around this instant, Otis Beauregard LeMaster," his mother hissed at him, without looking to see what or who had distracted her youngest. The boy obediently did so, and
was once again alone.
Alice just fine. She
hoped to continue to be overlooked among the inhabitants of the tent city as
much as possible until the day of the Land Run, after she had claimed a hundred
and sixty acre-homestead for her very own--her own and her mother's, she
It was the first of April—just twenty-two more days until the Unassigned Lands, the lands not claimed by one of the many Indian tribes that now called the Oklahoma Territory home, were opened for settlement by the Indian Appropriations Act signed by President Cleveland. His successor, Benjamin Harrison, had designated noon on April twenty-second as the moment the settlers could rush in, plant their stakes at the claims of their choice, and become real homesteaders.
She'd be safe then, wouldn't she?
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust…She remembered the verse from childhood, and it comforted her now when she felt like a terrified little bird fleeing from a hunter. Her fear was the reason she had come to the chapel service, to be reminded of God's love and protection.
As the hymn ended, so did her comfortable solitude. With a rustle of skirts, two women plopped themselves down to her left.
kept her gaze aimed at the front and hoped they would leave her alone. She had
not been an unsociable person before she'd fled New York, but now, she feared each
But the woman next to her didn't take the hint. "Hey, you're new here, ain't ya?" she asked, smiling in a friendly fashion, which revealed incisors that would have done a jackrabbit proud. "Don't believe we've met before. I'm Carrie Ferguson, and this here's my sister Cordelia."
If she hadn't said they were sisters,
would have guessed it, for the two women at her right were so similar-looking
with their sun-weathered long faces and noses so sharp they could slice cheese,
the same teeth.
"N-nice to meet you,"
managed to say. "I'm—" She thought about using an assumed name, but
how could she lie--especially in a church, even one of canvas? "I'm Alice
Hawthorne." Hopefully the two women would forget the name--easy to do in a
temporary city populated by hundreds of people, with more coming every day.
If only the service would start,
Alice fretted. She didn't
want to answer a bunch of questions. But now that the hymn had concluded, the
tall man who seemed to be the preacher was talking to a middle-aged couple up
front, and he seemed to be in no hurry.
"Where ya from? We hail from
said, and prayed they would let it go at that. She wasn't looking to make
friends. Each person she gave her name to was one more person who could help
Maxwell Peterson find her. And if he did, it would mean the end of her dreams.
"Looks like you've tripled attendance in the week you've been here, Reverend," Keith Gilbert, his deacon, exulted as he nodded toward the nearly-full benches. "You must be doing something right."
"It's the Lord's doing," he told Gilbert. "I have such plans for the church we'll build in the territory. I hope many of the folks here will be able to settle near us."
"Well, we're certainly planning to stake a claim near enough to help you build it, once you decide which way you'll head," Gilbert said, and added, "Lord willing."
"Glad to hear it, Keith," Elijah murmured. "I'm counting on your help."
Only one thing marred Elijah's joy in the growth of his congregation—his brothers weren't here. Wanting a fresh start as much as he did, they had come to
Oklahoma with him, but
they wouldn't attend his chapel services. His middle brother, Gideon, wanted
nothing more to do with God after he'd lost his wife and child in the influenza
epidemic of '87, and since Elijah had also lost his fiancée, Marybelle Atkins,
Gideon couldn't understand why Elijah didn't feel the same. And Clint, the
youngest of the brothers and still a bachelor, was at odds with the Lord too
after so many losses. They should be
here, he thought, with that old familiar ache. Lord, please draw them back to You.
"The Lord has blessed our work," he told the Gilberts. "Or perhaps folks come to the chapel because they need divine reassurance at this time of such big changes in their lives."
The Gilberts nodded in approving agreement, but Elijah knew Gideon would have said something like, "Maybe they think the more they show up here in chapel, the more likely the Lord will grant them the one hundred sixty acres claim of their choice. Or they don't have anything else to do while they wait to claim their land."
Perhaps it was presumptuous to call the big tent that sheltered them from the blistering sun and spring rains a chapel, much less a church, but for now it was all the church they had, and he was grateful for it. Hadn't the Hebrews worshipped God in the open desert air, all those years they wandered in the wilderness?
He was about to greet the congregation when Mr. Gilberts said, "Did you see the pretty lady sitting in the back? The one in the dark bonnet? She came in during the hymn. Can't remember seeing her before."
Elijah followed the direction of Gilbert's nod. He couldn't see the woman's face at the moment, because her head was bowed and the bonnet she wore hid her features, but as if she felt the scrutiny, she raised her head just then. He saw sky-blue eyes set in a heart-shaped face with a peaches-and-cream quality to it—she must be scrupulous about wearing a hat under the hot western sun. Her hair, what little of it he could see, was auburn. Her petite frame was clothed in serviceable calico.
Her blue eyes looked troubled, and he wondered why. Who was she? He thought he'd met everyone who came to his daily services, if not all the inhabitants of this tent city. But newcomers were arriving daily in anticipation of the Land Rush, so she must be a new arrival. He'd have to make it a point to introduce himself after the service in case she was in need of assistance, as a woman alone very well might be. As the pastor of the freshly-sprung-up encampment, his ministry consisted of helping the would-be homesteaders with their needs as much as it did preaching. He was merely doing his duty.
Of course, she might not be alone after all, he reminded himself. Her husband might be buying supplies at one of the tent stores that had sprouted like weeds after a good rain, dealing with livestock, or like his brothers, not a believer.
"Yessir, she sure is a pretty gal," Gilbert murmured, as if afraid Elijah wouldn't see that for himself.
Elijah wondered what Mrs. Gilbert must think of her husband noticing other ladies, but he darted a glance at her, and Cassie was still smiling.
"We thought we ought to point her out to ya, Reverend," she said with a wink. "It isn't good for a man to be alone. You ought to go meet her, after the service."
Elijah sighed. At least they hadn't spoken loud enough for any of the other worshippers to hear. "The Lord calls some of us to singleness," he said. "I am one of them."
Neither of the Gilberts looked convinced, but he was thankful when they didn't press him on the point. He hadn't told anyone in the tent city about his lost fiancée, nor did he intend to. And in any case, there was no time to discuss it further.
Laurie Kingery is a central
author and veteran E.R. RN who has written twenty-five historical romances,
first as Laurie Grant and now writing Christian
historicals under her own name for Love Inspired Historicals. She won the
Reader's Choice for short historicals in 1994 and was a finalist in the 2010
Carol Awards in short historicals by the American Christian
Fiction Writers for THE OUTLAW'S LADY. Her website is http://www.lauriekingery.com. Her
April 2014 release will be the first book in Love Inspired Historicals'
"Bridegroom Brothers" continuity, set in the Oklahoma Land Rush of
1889. Her next installment in the "Brides of Simpson Creek" series,
also from Love Inspired Historicals is A HERO IN THE MAKING, July 2014.
To purchase her book:
Laurie Kingery is giving away a copy of The Preacher's Bride Claim. The giveaway is only available to
be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address.
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.) U.S.
Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart