It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Aside from her long-standing love affair with coffee, Heather’s greatest joys in life are her relationship with her Savior, her family, and writing. Years ago, she decided it would be better to laugh than yell. Heather carries that theme over into her writing where she strives to create characters that experience both the highs and lows of life and, through it all, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her.
Visit the author’s website.
Some people get a mail order bride. She got a mail order man.
A well-meaning friend places an ad to find a mail order husband for Sarah, the proprietress of Larkspur’s stage and mail office. Sarah, who is generally quiet and reserved, doesn’t know about the ad and has no idea what to do with all the people that are showing up in her community. Before long, the town is overrun with men and mail alike. Sarah is trying to avoid some men who have accosted her on the street when she stumbles into Samuel. Through long days spent together at the stage office, some very adventurous pots of coffee and a shared faith, the two become friends. Sarah knows that Samuel is hiding something from her, something important, but that doesn’t stop her heart from leaping wildly into love. Lacking the confidence to trust her heart, Sarah wars with herself over the feelings she can no longer deny. When some of the men who have come to town show their true intentions, a shootout follows. Sarah finally gets answers to many of the questions circling through her mind. One question remains, though. Where will her mail order man go when the dust settles?
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 13, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Sarah had noticed a number of new faces in town over the past few days, and it was beginning to make her more than a bit uncomfortable. The new faces were all men. Sure, men outnumber women in every frontier town, but Sarah had seen more than a dozen new men and had heard rumors that Mrs. Ginty’s boarding house was full-up, which had never happened before. Larkspur was a small frontier town in a territory sparsely populated, and Sarah had never before heard of Mrs. Ginty having to turn away customers.
New people in town can sometimes mean good news. Businesses certainly like having more customers. It can mean trouble, too, though, when the newcomers start to outnumber the homegrown townsfolk. Sarah had heard tell of towns where ruffians had swarmed in, taking over the town and practically holding the locals prisoner by sheer force of number. A small shudder overtook her at the thought of such brutality.
Sarah’s papa had well trained her how to take care of and provide for herself, but ever since he passed away, she had no one to protect her should the need ever arise. Sighing, she forced her loneliness back down, beating it into submission by sheer force of will.
Keeping her eyes directed down, Sarah walked from the small house she had once shared with Papa. She was heading to the stage office for a long day of work and, with all these new people in town, did not want to make eye contact with the wrong individual. The workday hadn’t even yet begun, but Sarah couldn’t wait for the day to be finished. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it, Sarah quoted in her mind as she reminded herself to be grateful. She was looking forward to sharing a meal with her dearest friend tonight. Dinner with the Smiths held much more appeal than another long day at the stage office. Visiting with Minnie and her folks was always delightful. Sarah also hoped Minnie’s father, who was mayor of Larkspur, might be able to shed some light on the flood of strange men showing up in town.
Sarah heard a commotion to her left. Before she could even raise her eyes to see what was going on, someone came barreling out from the mercantile and plowed right into her. Sarah’s feet flew out from under her, and she landed out in the street, far from the boardwalk on which she had a moment ago been walking. Before she could take stock of the situation to determine if she’d landed in mud or manure, at least a dozen hands were reaching out to help her up. Frightened by all of the men crowding in around her and not sure of their intentions, Sarah scrambled to her feet and backed up from the growing crowd. She did not recognize a single face from the group that continued to step closer to her.
As she scurried backward, Sarah ran right smack into a wall. She didn’t remember a wall being there in the middle of the street, but sure enough, she was trapped between the wall behind her and the wall of men walking toward her.
“Pardon me, gentlemen, but I think you have frightened the lady here.” Sarah stiffened as she heard the wall behind her speak. Her head whipped back and up. With the sun shining right into her eyes, she couldn’t see the face of her rescuer, but his voice was confidently calm, loud enough to carry to all of the men who had been reaching toward her without actually sounding as though he’d raised his voice. “Miss, are you okay?” It took Sarah a moment to realize the talking wall was speaking to her.
“Y-y-yes, thank you.” Sarah struggled to get the words out past a suddenly dry and scratchy throat.
“That was quite a fall you took. Are you sure you are alright?”
Glancing down at her dress, Sarah saw that, thankfully, she had landed on a dry patch of dirt and, though dusty, was not covered with mud or worse. She knew she would be sore later, but she was still in too much shock right now to feel the effects of her fall into the street. Thank goodness a horse or carriage had not been riding by at the time – she could have been badly hurt!
“Yes, sir, thank you. I am fine and must be on my way now.”
Sarah considered the path up Main Street toward her destination and saw what now appeared to be more than twenty men standing around ogling her. Completely beside herself with discomfort at the situation, she tried to take a step back only to be reminded of the talking wall behind her.
Without removing her eyes from the crowd of men, she spoke to the one behind her. “Pardon me, sir, but could I be so bold as to request your assistance in a small matter?”
There was a smile behind the man’s voice, Sarah was certain of it, as he softly answered, “I will accommodate you if I can, Miss. With what do you need assistance?”
Sarah felt the hint of a shiver she knew could not be attributed to the weather. It was either fear because of the men in front of her… or something else because of the man behind her. Not wanting to dissect her feelings quite yet, she uttered, “I need to pass these men to get to the stage office. I find that…” Sarah tried to think of a delicate way to say she wasn’t sure if she’d make it there safely if she went alone.
Before Sarah could even take a full breath, though, or find the correct words, she felt herself lifted by the waist and placed back up onto the boardwalk. The talking wall immediately joined her and offered his arm to her. Sarah tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, still not knowing the man’s name.
In the shade now, after having been blinded by the sun, Sarah took another glance up at her talking wall but still could not make out any features on the man’s face. She knew he was quite tall, and he appeared to have facial hair, but Sarah could not even identify the color of his hair, let alone any distinguishing features.
“I wonder what all of these men are doing in town. It’s a trifle disconcerting,” she said to the man walking beside her.
“Ah,” he replied. “I believe they are after the same thing most people are after.”
Not sure how to take that answer, Sarah asked, “What, then, is it most people are after?”
Sarah was surprised at the laugh that bubbled up inside of her, for she was the serious one, not prone to outbursts of laughter, or so she had always believed. Not sure what to think of her own laughter, she instead puzzled over the companion’s answer. She would not have associated a fanciful notion such as love with the talking wall that had rescued her.
She heard the smile in his voice again as he went on, “Either that, or someone to raise their children and do their laundry.”
“A wife then?” Sarah questioned. “Why would anyone come to Larkspur looking for a wife? We have no more women than any other town in the territory.” Certain the man beside her was having a joke at her expense, she waited for the punch line, but none was forthcoming. They arrived at the stage office where, without delay, Sarah unlocked the office door, stepped inside, and began opening the curtains.
“Thank you for escorting me. Could I offer you some coffee, Mr….” Hoping the talking wall would provide her with the information she sought, Sarah let her sentence hang. What she got for her effort was a deep-throated chuckle that seemed both sincere and humor-filled, and again she felt the joke was somehow at her expense.
Disgruntled, she put her satchel away and then stood there next to the percolator specifically not making any coffee. She gave him the best Do-As-I-Say look she could muster under the circumstances and made not a single move toward the coffee tin as she awaited his response. Sarah was shocking herself with her own audacity. Something about this man was making her act different, bolder. Sarah quickly decided she liked this new side of herself and that she also liked the man who drew it out of her.
“My apologies, Miss. You reminded me so much there of one of my cousins I couldn’t help but laugh. I sincerely meant no harm.”
Sarah relaxed her shoulders, somewhat mollified by his words.
“The pleasure of escorting you was all mine, I assure you. No thanks are necessary.”
As she continued to look at him pointedly, he held out one hand and began ticking off fingers as he spoke to himself in a voice intended to carry. “Let’s see. She thanked me for the escort, and I responded. When she didn’t like my laughing, I apologized. She offered me coffee… aha!” Looking up at her with a distinctive twinkle in his golden brown eyes, he said, “Why yes, Miss, I would enjoy a cup of coffee if it’s not too much trouble.” Winking at her, he added, “Samuel Livingston at your service.”
Sarah tried to be unaffected, but the way he swept his hat off and bowed as he introduced himself had her heart fluttering faster than a bumblebee in a field of clover. As for his wink, Sarah wasn’t sure which was more scandalous – the fact he winked or the way her heart raced at the sight of it.
The moment Sarah got the small stove lit, Cesar Martinez came into the office. “Good morning, Miss Jenkins.” He tipped his hat to her and asked, “What do you need me to do first this morning?”
Sarah instructed Cesar to sweep out the office and the front walk. She was going to send him on an errand, but she didn’t want him to go quite yet. Being alone with the talking wall no longer seemed the wisest choice. As Cesar collected the broom to start sweeping, Mr. Livingston hung his hat on the hook near the front door and leaned against the counter behind which Sarah normally worked. His relaxed posture made him seem less formidable. Without his hat on, Sarah could get a good look at his face for the first time. Casually stepping behind the counter, she hoped to get a better view of her talking wall without being obvious.
“Are you alright, Miss?” asked Mr. Livingston. Sarah nodded and glanced over to where the coffee was not quite ready. He was, by her own design, directly in her line of sight. All hope for an unobtrusive glance at her rescuer quickly fled as she absorbed the sight of him with all her senses. She was stunned to realize how beautiful he was. Never before had she seen a man whose mere presence took her breath away. Her heart no longer fluttered like a bumblebee. It thumped like a herd of wild mustangs.
Closing her eyes, Sarah allowed his image play across her mind’s eye. He was tall, but she’d already known that. He had intense eyes, chocolate brown at the outer edge and pure glittering gold around the pupil. His hair was cut short but remained just unruly enough to hint at being curly, and it, too, was filled with various hues of gold. He was tan but not the weather-worn dark tan of a rancher or farmer. He had a strong jaw, a straight nose, and lips that curled up in laughter even when he wasn’t laughing. He was dressed like a businessman, only flashier. The suit he wore was a fairly traditional grey, but his vest was bright red. He had a flair about him that Sarah could not quantify. One thing was certain, though. Sarah was sure she would drown in those eyes, forever losing herself, if she stared too long.
“Are you alright, Miss?” Mortified at her own imaginings and wandering mind – something she was definitely not prone to – Sarah tried to control her staring eyes and nodded, then quickly blushed. Feeling the heat of embarrassment climb up her neck and into her cheeks, she quickly turned her back on the man and went back over to where the coffee was percolating. Grabbing two mugs, she filled them both, handing one to Mr. Livingston and taking the other back over to her work counter. As she set her mug down she realized the brew appeared no stronger than what you might give a baby to drink. Groaning inwardly, Sarah hoped the man liked weak coffee. Who was she kidding? It wasn’t weak coffee. It was colored water!
As Sarah was about to apologize for the coffee, Cesar came through the door to tell her the morning stage was approaching. She peeked at the clock and said to no one in particular, “It’s an hour early. I hope nothing’s wrong.”
Cesar put the broom up and went out to greet the stage.
Sarah resumed her post behind the counter. Most all of the stage drivers knew her from when her father ran the stage office, but sometimes there were new drivers or unruly passengers, and so when her father passed away, Sarah had stopped going out to greet the incoming stage. Each driver was directed into the office to meet her there. She provided them with coffee, a kind word, and often a bite to eat, but she did not go out onto the platform if she could help it.
“How old is the lad who helps you?” asked Mr. Livingston.
“Cesar? He is 14, I think.”
“Awfully young to be working here. Shouldn’t he be in school?”
Sarah nodded. “Cesar and his brothers do not attend the local school. We used to have a teacher in town that had a problem with the family, so their mother started teaching them at home. A new teacher came along a few years back, but the family had settled into their routine and decided to keep it. All three of them are well ahead of their school-bound peers in their learning. Their mother does an excellent job with them.”
“Doesn’t working here keep him away from his studies, though?”
“May I ask why you have such an interest in my hired help?” Sarah did not want to sound surly, but she was not used to people questioning business decisions, such as her choice in employees.
“I am visiting town on a business matter and staying with my cousin and her husband. He is the school teacher in town. A person who spends any time at all with John will naturally learn to be attentive to educational matters and sensitive to the needs of rural families. For example, parents sometimes pull their kids out of school because they need the money their labor can bring.” Following an almost imperceptible pause, Mr. Livingston continued, “Larkspur is lucky to have such a caring teacher.”
Sarah gave Mr. Livingston a genuine smile, for she knew the school teacher and his wife well. They attended the same church as she and would, on occasion, invite Sarah over for dinner. They were wonderful people. Sarah remembered they had been praying for safe travel for a relative but could not at the moment recall anything more on the subject.
Nodding at Mr. Livingston, she said, “You can ask Ida and John about Cesar. I am certain you will be pleased with what you hear. John has helped Cesar’s mother obtain books and other materials whenever needed for her boys’ education. He checks in on them periodically, too, at the parents’ request to make certain the boys are not falling behind in any of their studies. Cesar and his two brothers all work here at the Stage Office. As the youngest, Cesar only started a month or so ago and works one day here by himself and sometimes comes in on Saturday to help as well.”
She couldn’t be certain, but Sarah thought she saw appreciation in Mr. Livingston’s eyes. His smile seemed genuine and quite dangerous in its charm. “Who helps you the rest of the week?”
There didn’t seem to be anything amiss with Mr. Livingston’s questions. After all, he knew Ida and John. However, habits of self-protection are hard to break, and her father had taught her from the time she was little that sometimes, when people ask questions that seem innocent, they are actually trying to get information that could cause harm. Sarah’s gut told her it was okay to trust Mr. Livingston, but she could hear her father’s voice telling her to do her due diligence. She would check with Ida and John about her talking wall before she revealed any additional information to him about the stage office, herself, or the wonderful family she employed at the office.
As she made her decision, the front door banged open and Cesar came in carrying a sack of mail and dragging another behind him. “My goodness!” said Sarah as she rushed to help him.
“There’s more,” Cesar said. “Lots more.”
“What on earth! We don’t get this much mail in a month of Sundays, let alone on one single stage.” Trying not to appear as discombobulated as she felt by this influx of mail, Sarah asked Cesar, “Where are the passengers? Does anyone have anything to store or need assistance finding accommodations?”
Cesar’s eyes searched wildly around the room as though seeking an answer in the wood and plaster. He almost seemed afraid to say anything more. Then, looking over his shoulders as if searching for someone lurking behind him, he whispered to her, “There are no passengers. This isn’t even the real stage. The stage will be here on time with passengers and mail. This is all the extra mail they couldn’t fit onto the coach. There’s about six more bags out there, and the driver is fit to be tied. No one planned on an extra trip out here this week, but the mail has been getting backed up at the last stop. Their office is small, and they couldn’t keep our mail there any longer waiting for room on the stages – so they sent it over straightaway to get it out of their office.”
Sarah glanced out the window at the office platform, saw the bags of mail being pulled from the stage and piled up there. “Oh my,” she whispered. “I’ve never seen the likes.”