A VOLATILE FEUD
Opal Speck knows good and well that the longstanding feud between her family and Grogans makes for volatile relations. So when Adam Grogan—the man who saved her life two years ago—comes chasing after a stray cow on Speck property, there’s no way her family will forgive him for his trespassin’.
A DESPERATE DECLARATION
Determined to keep bloodshed at bay, Opal blurts out the one declaration she knows will stop them in their tracks: Adam’s the father of her unborn child!
A GUNPOINT DECISION
Adam has two choices: deny any involvement with Opal and die at the hands of her family, or accept the slur to his name and marry a gal who’s trying to pass off another man’s child as his!
Can a shotgun wedding be the way God will end the hatred between these two feuding families? Or will its repercussions fuel an already blazing animosity?
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About the Author
Kelly Eileen Hake received her first writing contract at the tender age of seventeen and arranged to wait three months until she was able to legally sign it. Since that first contract a decade ago, she’s fulfilled twenty contracts ranging from short stories to novels. In her spare time, she’s attained her BA in English literature and composition, earned her credential to teach English in secondary schools, and went on to complete her MA in writing popular fiction.
Writing for Barbour combines two of Kelly’s great loves—history and reading. A CBA bestselling author and member of American Christian Fiction Writers, she’s been privileged to earn numerous Heartsong Presents Reader’s Choice Awards and is known for her witty, heartwarming historical romances. A newlywed, she and her gourmet-chef husband live in Southern California with their golden lab mix, Midas!
Read an Excerpt
The Bride Backfire
By Kelly Eileen Hake
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Kelly Eileen Hake
All rights reserved.
Nebraska Territory, March 1857
"Not again!" Opal Speck breathed the words on a groan so low her brothers couldn't hear her—a wasted effort since the entire problem lay in having no one around but Larry Grogan.
Even Larry, despite having the temperament of a riled skunk and a smell to rival one, kept the oily gleam from his eyes when the men of her family were in sight. No, the appraising leers and occasional advances were Opal's private shame. Hers to handle whenever he tried something, and hers to hide from everyone lest the old feud between their families spring to life once more.
"Figured you'd come by here sooner or later, since Ma and Willa are making dandelion jelly." Larry levered himself on one elbow, pushing away from the broad rock he'd lounged against. He gestured toward the abundance of newly blooming dandelions bordering Speck and Grogan lands, but his gaze fixed on her as he spoke. "Let's enjoy the sweetness of spring."
"No." Opal kept her voice level though her fingers clamped around the handle of her basket so tightly she could feel the wood bite into her flesh. Letting Larry know he upset her would only give him more power, and false bravery to match. Lord, give me strength and protection. "Not today."
"Look ripe for the plucking to me." Larry sauntered closer, but Opal wouldn't give an inch. Everyone knew that when animals sensed fear, they pressed their advantage.
"Dandelion jelly may be sweet, but it takes a lot of work to make it that way. Do it wrong, it'll be bitter."
"I like a little tang." He reached out and tweaked a stray strand of her red hair as he leaned closer. "Keeps things interesting."
Opal fought not to wrinkle her nose as his breath washed over her. Instead, she tipped her head back and laughed, the note high and shrill to her ears as she stepped away. "Then I'll leave them to you, Mr. Grogan."
"Wait." His hand snaked out and closed around her wrist, but it was the unexpected note of pleading in his voice that brought her up short. "Won't you call me Larry?"
"I—" Opal couldn't have found any words had they been sitting in the clearing. She and Larry both stared at where his hand enfolded her wrist. "I don't think that's wise."
"We can't always be wise." With a wince, he used his other hand to trace the long, thin scar bisecting his cheek. His hand dropped back to his side when he noticed her watching the motion, but something softened in his face. "You must like me a little, Opal. Otherwise you would've left me to die like everyone would expect a Speck to do."
Not really, no. She didn't speak the words, her silence stretching thin and strained between them. Larry's sly innuendos were a threat Opal expected, but Larry Grogan looking as though he cared what she thought of him ... How could she be prepared for that? Why didn't I notice his advances only began after his accident—that Larry must have interpreted me helping Dr. Reed patch him up as something more than kindness?
Surprise softened her words when she finally spoke. "I would have helped anyone thrown from the thresher." Opal's reference to the incident didn't need to be more detailed. The man before her would never forget the cause of his scar, just as she'd never forget it was his animosity toward her father that caused him to mess with that machine in the first place.
"Even a Grogan?" He shook his head. "I don't believe you."
She would've backed away at the desperation written on his face if she could. "Believe it, Larry."
"What if I don't want to?" His grip turned painful, bruising her arm. "I know you'd do anything to protect your family. Even deny your own feelings." Larry moved closer. "And I can prove it with one kiss."
"My family would kill you." She tried to tug her wrist free, only to have him jerk her closer.
"We both know you wouldn't tell them." Darkness danced in his eyes. "This is between you and me."
Panic shivered down Opal's spine at the truth of his words. The one thing she could never do was put her family in danger, and if she told Pa or her brothers, blood would flow until there wasn't a Speck—or a Grogan—left standing. She stayed still as he leaned in, his grip loosening slightly as his other hand grabbed her chin.
"No!" Exploding into action the second she sensed her opportunity, Opal sent a vicious kick to his shins with one work boot. A swift twist freed her wrist from his grasp, letting her shove her basket into his stomach with all her might.
She barely registered the crack of wood splintering as she sprang away, running for home before Larry caught his breath enough to catch her.
* * *
"Pa ain't gonna like this." Nine-year-old Dave poked his head around the stall partition like a nosy weasel sniffing out trouble.
"That's why you're not mentioning it to him." Adam didn't normally hold with keeping things from one's father, but telling Diggory Grogan that another one of their milk cows had fallen prey to the strange, listless bloat that had plagued their cattle for the past few years without explanation would be akin to leaving a lit lantern in a hayloft. The resulting blaze would burn more than the contents of the barn.
"But didn't he say that the next time one of those Specks poisoned one of our cows he was goin' to march over there an—"
"We don't know that anyone's been poisoning our cows, Dave." Adam pinned his much younger brother with a fierce glower. "But we do know the Specks have had sick cattle, same as us. The last thing either of us needs is to start fighting again."
Confusion twisted Dave's features. "When did we ever stop fighting?"
"There's different kinds of fighting, squirt."
"I know!" Dave scrambled after him as Adam left the barn to go find the meanest rooster he could catch. "There's name-calling and bare-knuckles and knock-down drag-outs and slaps—"
His list came to an abrupt end when Adam rounded on him. "That's not what I meant." He squatted down so he could look his little brother in the eye. "There's fighting for what you believe in, fighting to protect what's yours, and there's fighting just because you like fighting. That's never a good enough reason, understand?"
"Kind of." Dave squinted up at him when Adam straightened once more. "How come we fight the Specks, then?"
"A mix of all three." Willa's voice provided a welcome interruption. "Our granddaddies both thought the east pasture belonged to them. Then each of our families believed the other was wrong, and now we're so used to fighting that we blame each other when anything goes wrong."
"Like the cows?" Dave processed their sister's explanation so fast it made Adam proud.
"Yep." He didn't say more as the three of them each chased down a chicken, ignoring the angry squawks and vicious pecks as best they could. When everyone's arms were loaded down with feathers and flailing spurs, they headed back to the barn.
"Then I guess it's a good thing Pa and Larry are out hunting today." Dave spat out a stray feather. "So we can scare some of the bloat out of Clem before he finds out and blames the Specks?"
"That's right." Willa set her jaw. "Because no matter what Larry says or how Pa listens, the Specks aren't poisoning our cows. And the last thing we need is for him to stir things up over nothing!"
That was the last any of them said for a while, as everyone knew it was useless to try to talk over the sounds of a cow belching. Since Dr. Saul Reed had first tried the treatment two years ago on Sadie—when the bloats began—the Grogans had perfected the process to a fine art.
If a cow grew listless, went off her feed, stopped drinking water, and generally gave signs of illness, they watched for signs of bloat. When baking soda didn't help, the last hope for expelling the buildup of gas before it stopped the animal's heart was to get it moving at a rapid pace. On the Grogan farm, that meant terrorizing the cattle with riled roosters.
Dave darted toward the stall and thrust his bird toward the back, spurring Clem to her feet for the first time that whole morning. She rushed out of the partition, heading toward a corner plush with hay, only to be headed off by Willa, whose alarmed chicken made an impressive display of thrashing wings to drive the cow out the barn door.
From there it was a matter of chasing her around the barnyard and up the western hill—the theory being that elevating her front end made it easier for the gas to rise out—until the endeavor succeeded or the entire group dropped from exhaustion. Thankfully, they'd yet to fail.
To an outsider, Adam Grogan would be hard-pressed to explain why leading a slobbering, stumbling, belching cow back to the barn would put a smile on his face, but Willa and Dave shared his feeling of triumph. Sure, Clem might not look like much of a prize at the moment, but she'd been hard-won. Better yet, they'd averted having Pa and Larry ride over to the Speck place with fired tempers and loaded shotguns.
Much the way Murphy and Elroy Speck were riding toward them right now. Adam tensed, taking stock of the situation. With Pa and Larry out for the day, it was up to him to take care of things.
"Stay here." He snatched the shotgun from the wall of the barn and rolled the door closed, pushing Dave back inside when he tried to squirm out. "I said stay. And don't go up in the hayloft either, or I'll tan your hide later." With the door shut, Adam slid the deadbolt in place, effectively locking his sister and younger brother in the barn ... and hopefully out of trouble.
He strode to meet the Specks, intent on putting as much distance from their stopping place and his family as humanly possible. While Adam didn't hold with the idea of a feud and did everything in his power to maintain peace, he wouldn't stake the safety of a single Grogan on any Speck's intention to do the same.
"Ho." Murphy Speck easily brought his horse to a halt, followed closely by his second-eldest son. The two of them sat there, shotguns laid across their saddles, silent as they looked down on Adam.
Adam, for his part, rested his firearm over his shoulder, vigilant without being hostile, refusing to offer false welcome. Specks had ventured onto Grogan land; it was for them to state their business. Adam wouldn't put himself in the weaker position by asking, and only a fool would provoke them by demanding answers.
Good thing Larry's not here. The stray thought would have earned a smile under any other circumstance.
"Where's your brother?" Murphy's gaze slid toward the corners of his eyes, as though expecting someone to sneak up on him.
Not a good beginning. He sure as shooting wasn't about to tell two armed Specks he was the only grown Grogan around the place. Adam just raised a brow in wordless recrimination at the older man's rudeness.
"What Pa means to say," Elroy's tone held a tinge of apology, though his stance in the saddle lost none of its steel, "is that Pete's seen your brother on our land a few times this past week."
"Oh?" I knew he'd been up to no good when he hadn't been helping fertilize the fields. Something else stank. Adam's jaw clenched.
"Some of our cattle have the bloat." Murphy's statement held accusation, though his words didn't. The man walked a fine line.
"Ours, too." Adam lifted his chin. "Must be a common cause."
"Common cause or no, seemed maybe a reminder was in order." Elroy's level gaze held a deeper meaning.
His father wasn't half so diplomatic. "The next time a Grogan steps foot on Speck land without express invitation, he won't be walking away from it."
Adam ignored the sharp drop in his stomach at the irrefutable proof tensions were wound tight enough to snap. "Good fences make good neighbors." He gave Speck a curt nod.
"Fences and family, Grogan." Murphy's parting words came through loud and clear. "Watch yours a bit closer."CHAPTER 2
"What did you see, Pete?" Opal fought to keep her voice steady when she tracked down her younger brother.
"When?" At fifteen, Pete had shot up to top her by a solid two inches, his limbs long and coltish as he turned to face her.
"Whenever it was you saw Grogan on our land." Opal chose her words carefully. As of now, all she knew was Pete had seen Larry skulking around this week and diligently reported it to Pa, who'd gone over to Grogan land this afternoon to address the issue. Her heart skittered at the thought of Pa and Elroy riding onto Grogan lands for any kind of confrontation, but since she'd only found out after they returned home safe and sound, there were more urgent things to focus on.
Like whether Pete had seen Larry following her or had heard their exchange by the clearing that morning. If so, why he hadn't told Pa about it? And how can I keep it that way?
But these were questions Opal couldn't fire at her brother outright—not if all Pete had seen were glimpses of Larry hanging around. As long as none of the Speck men knew the real reason for Larry Grogan's visits, she could keep their blood safely in their bodies. So she didn't say another word, just waited for Pete to spill what he'd seen and what he'd said about it.
"Two days past I saw someone in the brush bordering the southeast field but couldn't make him out. He beat it too fast for me to get a good look, but this morning I saw him again." Pete's young face hardened, making him look older. "Caught a glimpse of his face, and it was Larry Grogan. Like I told Pa, I could tell he was spoiling for a fight and he'd made it past the meadow."
He followed me. Opal sucked in a sharp breath, drawing an approving nod from her younger brother.
"He turned back when he saw my gun, but that's too close to the house." Pete jerked his chin toward their soddy. "We don't want the likes of Larry Grogan getting anywhere near you, Opal."
A humorless rasp of laughter scraped her throat. He doesn't know. They can stay safe as long as I don't tell them. She closed her eyes for a precious second as the knowledge flowed over her. Thank You, Father, for protecting them. Thank You, too, for having Pete see just enough of Larry to make Pa warn him away....
"You did well to put a stop to it." She stretched out to net Pete in a swift hug before he squirmed free. "I'm so relieved Diggory and Larry didn't try to start something when Pa and Elroy went over to discuss it." Another not-so-minor miracle to add to her praise list that night.
"You and me, both." The martial light in her brother's eyes took her aback for a moment. "I didn't like it when Pa told me to stay home in case things went sour. If it wasn't for him saying he needed to know one of us was here to protect you, I would've followed 'em."
I can take care of myself! The fierce need to make the men in her life understand she didn't need their protection—particularly not when it endangered them—welled up with such force she choked on the resentment before she could say so. Another blessing.
"Thank you." Opal said the words so Pete could hear, but in her heart they went to God. The important thing was Pete stayed home when he could have been in danger. She'd swallow every ounce of pride she possessed in exchange for his safety. But what a pass we've come to, when we're all so busy protecting each other we don't talk about it first.
The familiar wash of regret pulled at her, almost making her miss Pete saying the Grogan men hadn't been on the farm.
"What do you mean Diggory and Larry weren't there?"
"We figure they must've been out hunting or something." Pete shrugged. "Course, now the problem is once they hear that Pa and Elroy went over and gave that warning, they might get furious enough to make everything worse."
Cold swept from Opal's ears to her fingertips, making even her lips numb as she registered the danger. "Tell me they didn't speak to Lucinda!" Surely Pa knew better than to deliver bad news to Mrs. Grogan in the absence of her husband—any harsh words had to be spoken among men. "You know the Grogan men would take that as a threat to their women!"
"I dunno. She's Larry's ma and should keep him in line." Pete's sudden, mischievous grin dissolved when he saw the look on her face. "Naw, don't fret, Opal. Everyone knows this is a matter among men. They talked with Adam."
"Adam," she whispered his name. Her blood started moving again, warming her cheeks, making her lips tingle. It was a mark of how distressed she'd been that she could ever have forgotten about Adam Grogan.
Excerpted from The Bride Backfire by Kelly Eileen Hake. Copyright © 2009 Kelly Eileen Hake. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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