“The Sisters of Bethlehem Springs series delivers exactly what readers have been waiting for—smart, confident women who are not afraid to defy convention, live their own dreams, and share their lives if the right man comes along. In A Matter of Character, book three in the Sisters of Bethlehem Springs series, it's 1918, and Daphne McKinley, heiress to a small fortune, has found contentment in the town of Bethlehem Springs. But Daphne has a secret. A series of dime novels loosely based on local lore and featuring a nefarious villain known as Rawhide Rick has enjoyed modest popularity among readers. Nobody in Bethlehem Springs knows the man behind the stories … except Daphne. When newspaperman Joshua Crawford comes to town searching for the man who sullied the good name of his grandfather, Daphne finds herself at a crossroads, reassessing the power of her words, re-thinking how best to honor her gifts, and reconsidering what she wants out of life.”
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About the Author
Robin Lee Hatcher is the author of over 80 novels and novellas with over five million copies of her books in print. She is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. Her numerous awards include the RITA Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, the HOLT Medallion, the National Reader’s Choice Award, and the Faith, Hope & Love Reader’s Choice Award. Robin is also the recipient of prestigious Lifetime Achievement Awards from both American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. When not writing, she enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, Bible art journaling, reading books that make her cry, watching romantic movies, and decorative planning. Robin makes her home on the outskirts of Boise, sharing it with a demanding Papillon dog and a persnickety tuxedo cat.
Read an Excerpt
A Matter of CharacterThe Sisters of Bethlehem Springs
By Robin Lee Hatcher
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 RobinSong, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOctober 1918
Maybe it was time to kill Rawhide Rick. He'd served his purpose, the old rascal. He'd hunted buffalo and fought Indians and stolen gold from hardworking miners and sent men to the gallows. Now might be the time for him to meet his Maker. The trick was deciding how to kill him.
Daphne McKinley rose from her desk and walked into the parlor, where she pushed aside the curtains at the window.
A golden haze blanketed Bethlehem Springs. It had been a beautiful autumn. The prettiest one yet in her three years in this serene Idaho mountain town. The trees had been the brightest of golds, the most fiery of reds, the deepest of greens. Daphne had spent many a mild afternoon walking trails through the forest, enjoying the colors and the smells.
If Rawhide Rick-who by this point in the series of books had become the infamous Judge Richard Terrell-was dead, what would become of the dashing Bill McFarland, hero of The McFarland Chronicles? Without his arch enemy, his life might become rather dull. Or perhaps it was Daphne who would find life dull without Rawhide Rick. Wicked he was, but he certainly kept things interesting whenever he was around.
She rubbed her eyelids with the tips of her fingers, and when she pulled them away, she noticed ink stains on her right hand. Her fountain pen was leaking. Perhaps it was time to buy a typewriter. But would writing on a machine feel the same?
Daphne turned from the window, her gaze sweeping the parlor. She'd come to love this small house on Wallula Street. Since moving into it soon after Gwen-its previous owner-married Daphne's brother, she'd delighted in making it her home, decorating and furnishing it in ways that pleased her. Daphne's childhood homes had been large and filled with servants waiting to attend to her slightest wish. But she had often been forced to live by the timetables of others. Now she could do as she willed, when she willed. The freedom she enjoyed was intoxicating.
The best part was when she wanted to be with family, she got into her motorcar-her very own, quite wonderful McLaughlin-Buick-and drove to her brother's home to play with her young nephew and infant niece. She was completely dotty over the two of them. She loved to crawl around on the floor with Andy-he would turn two at the end of November-the both of them squealing and giggling. And there was nothing like cuddling three-month-old Ellie. Daphne thought the baby girl smelled like sunshine.
A sigh escaped her. She hadn't time for daydreaming about Morgan's and Gwen's darling children. She must decide what to do. If she was going to kill the judge, she needed to notify Elwood Shriver at once. Wavering in indecisiveness served no good purpose.
She returned to her small office. The floor around her desk was littered with wadded sheets of paper. It was always thus when words frustrated her. "So wasteful," she scolded softly.
As she sat down, she took up the five-day-old newspaper. News of the war half a world away was splashed across the front page. More than a million American men-just boys, many of them-were now fighting in Europe alongside the Allied Powers. The end was near, some said. She prayed to God they were right. Too many had died already. Others, like Woody Statham, would wear the scars from their war wounds for the remainder of their lives-if not on their bodies then in their souls.
She flipped through several more pages of the newspaper, but nothing she read captured her imagination or sparked her creativity. Besides, she'd read every article before, some of them several times.
Maybe her problem wasn't with Rawhide Rick. Maybe the problem was Bill McFarland. Maybe she was tired of him. Maybe he should die.
"Maybe the whole lot of them should perish," she muttered as she laid the newspaper aside.
She spun her chair toward the bookcase beneath the office window. There, on the bottom row, were copies of The McFarland Chronicles by D. B. Morgan, all ten volumes. And if she didn't decide soon what to do about Rawhide Rick, ten volumes would be all there were.
There was no question that Daphne loved writing stories of adventure and danger in the West of forty and fifty years ago. And while she would concede that her books were not great literature, they were entertaining, for readers and for herself. But there were days like today when she was tempted to contact her editor in New York City and tell him that she (D. B. McKinley, whom Elwood Shriver thought to be a man) was retiring and thus so must D. B. Morgan (the pseudonym used on her books). However, she knew she would miss the storytelling were she to give it up. After all, it didn't take much effort to clean her small house or cook the occasional meal. Without her writing pursuits, what would she do with her time?
It would be nice if she could discuss her feelings with someone, but there wasn't another person, in Bethlehem Springs or elsewhere, who knew she was the author of dime novels. She wasn't sure her brother would believe her if she told him. The only soul who might suspect anything was Dedrik Finster, the Bethlehem Springs postmaster, because of the mail she sent and received, but his English wasn't the best and he probably had no idea that Shriver & Sons was a publishing company. Why would he?
Maybe what she needed more than anything was a drive out to the Arlington ranch and a long visit with Griff Arlington, Gwen and Cleo's father. That man had given her more story ideas in the last three years than she could ever hope to put on paper. It was Griff who had told her about the escapades of the real-life Richard Terrell, every bit as much a scoundrel as her fictional character, although perhaps in different ways. Yes, a visit with Griff was just what the doctor ordered.
Her mind made up, she rose and went in search of hat, gloves, and coat.
* * *
Joshua stepped from the passenger car onto the platform and looked about him. A large family-father, mother, and six children-were being escorted into the railroad station by a young man in a blue uniform. They were on their way to a hot springs resort located north of Bethlehem Springs. He knew this because they had spoken of little else during the journey, and Joshua couldn't have helped but overhear their conversation as they'd been a rather boisterous group.
He, on the other hand, was headed into the town that appeared to be about a quarter mile or so up a dirt road that passed between two low-slung hills. Switching his valise to the opposite hand, he set off in that direction.
The first building he saw upon entering Bethlehem Springs was a church. All Saints Presbyterian, according to the sign out front. Catty-corner from All Saints was the Daily Herald, his destination. He crossed the street and entered the newspaper office. Familiar smells-newsprint, ink, dust-filled his nostrils.
An attractive but pale-looking woman, dressed in black, came out of the back room, hesitated when she saw him, then moved forward, stopping on the opposite side of a raised counter. "May I help you, sir?"
"Yes." He set down his valise and removed his hat. "My name is Joshua Crawford. I'm here to see Nathan Patterson."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Crawford." Her voice broke, and it took her a moment to continue. "Mr. Patterson passed away." She drew a long breath and released it. "I'm his widow. Perhaps I can assist you."
Either Nathan Patterson had been much older than his wife or he had died tragically young, for Joshua guessed the woman to be no more than in her early thirties.
"I ... I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't know. Mr. Patterson recently offered me a job as a reporter for the Daily Herald. I've just arrived in Bethlehem Springs."
"Yes. I'm sorry. I'd forgotten your name. Nathan told me to expect you."
Joshua had counted on this job. Without it, he couldn't afford to stay in Idaho. He would barely have enough money for train fare back to St. Louis, as long as he didn't spend a night in the hotel, and even then he wouldn't have much left over to buy food. He would be extremely hungry before he reached Missouri. Not to mention that he wouldn't have a job waiting for him when he got there-unless he was successful here first.
"I'm glad you've come, Mr. Crawford. My husband would be heartbroken to see this newspaper fail. I assume you can do more than report?"
"You are qualified to manage the paper, I trust."
Manage it? That was more than he'd expected. But if it worked out ... "Yes, I am qualified," he answered-with more confidence than he felt.
"Good. Nathan's final instruction was for me to offer you the job as managing editor of the Daily Herald. If you're interested, that is."
He hadn't thought to be in Idaho more than a month or two. Surely he could discover the information he needed, take care of matters, and return to Missouri before Christmas. On the other hand, success as a managing editor would look good on his résumé, would give him many more opportunities than simply working as a reporter for a small paper.
"Are you interested, Mr. Crawford?"
He had few other options. None, actually. Not if he wanted to honor his grandfather's memory. Not if he wanted to restore his own good name and get back his old job. Taking the job as managing editor didn't mean he would be here forever. He could keep the newspaper running until Mrs. Patterson found his replacement. It was the least he could do for the man who had paid his train fare from Missouri to Idaho. "Yes, Mrs. Patterson. I'm interested."
"The pay will be ninety-five dollars a month to start. I know it isn't the sort of salary you must have received at a large newspaper, but you'll have a place to live for free." She pointed at the ceiling. "There's an apartment above the office with a kitchen and bath. It hasn't been used for several years, but with a bit of elbow grease, it should clean up well and prove adequate for a bachelor such as yourself."
Ninety-five a month. Not quite twelve hundred a year. Less than Langston Lee had paid him back in St. Louis, but more than the sum Nathan Patterson had offered when he'd applied for the job with the Daily Herald. With a place to live thrown in, the salary would allow him to put money aside for when he returned to Missouri.
"That sounds fine," he answered.
Mrs. Patterson gave him a fleeting smile. "Good. Now let me show you to your quarters. I'm sure you must be weary from your journey. We can begin work in the morning."
* * *
Daphne was invited by Griff Arlington to have supper with the family and to spend the night at the ranch as she occasionally did, but she declined. Griff's storytelling about his early days in Idaho had done just what she'd hoped. Ideas were rolling around in her head, and she was desperate to get them on paper before they disappeared like a puff of smoke in the wind.
As soon as she walked into her house, she tossed her coat over the nearest chair, dropped her hat on the table, and hurried into her office, where she lit the lamp and began scribbling as fast as she could. It seemed she barely drew a breath for the next hour. When she looked up at last, she saw that night had fallen over Bethlehem Springs. Her stomach growled, reminding her that she'd missed supper. Still, she had little desire to cook. This seemed like a good evening to pay a visit to one of the town's restaurants.
Daphne had three choices - the Gold Mountain, which served the most wonderful breakfasts; the restaurant inside the Washington Hotel where she liked to dine before an evening at the Opera House; and the South Fork, famous for their pies and home-style fare. She decided on the latter.
As she walked briskly along Wallula Street toward Main, her way was lit by street lamps, one of many improvements made during Mayor Gwen McKinley's term of office, which had ended almost ten months earlier. Daphne thought it unfortunate for the town that her sister-in-law had retired from public service. She hoped that, when her nephew and niece were older, Gwen would run for office again.
As Daphne neared the office of the Daily Herald, she noticed light spilling through the windows of the apartment above it, something she'd never seen before. Was the newly widowed Christina Patterson up there, perhaps sorting through memorabilia from her marriage? Should Daphne postpone her evening meal another hour and see if she could offer the woman any comfort or assistance?
Nathan Patterson's death had been a shock to the town. A man of thirty-seven years, he'd looked in the pink of health. To have him weaken and die so suddenly had taken everyone, especially his wife, by surprise. And even while they grieved the loss of a friend, many wondered about the future of the Daily Herald. It had been almost a week since the last edition. What would become of the newspaper without Nathan at its helm?
A shadow fell across the nearest window, and Daphne stopped on the sidewalk, still pondering what she should do. Would Christina welcome a visit from her or had she gone up there to escape intrusion? Daphne remembered all too well how difficult the death of a loved one could be. She'd been a girl of sixteen when her beloved father died, a young woman of twenty when she'd lost her mother. Even now, all these years later, she felt a painful sting in her chest, knowing she wouldn't see either of them again this side of heaven.
She also remembered that sometimes she'd wanted to be alone with her memories, alone to cry and mourn. And so she decided not to disturb the new widow and instead moved on, rounding the corner onto Main Street and entering the South Fork Restaurant a few moments later.
Delicious scents filled the dining room, making her stomach grumble once again. It was late enough that the dinner crowd had come and gone. There were customers at only two tables-Mabel and Roscoe Finch, who worked for her brother and sister-in-law, and Ashley Thurber, the elementary school teacher. Daphne greeted each one of them before sitting at a table in the corner, her back to the wall. Whenever she dined out, she preferred similar seating. It allowed her to study others without being too obvious. She loved to watch and listen to people. She'd learned a great deal from the habit, and much of what she'd learned had made it into her stories at one time or another.
Sara Henley - a shy, plain girl of eighteen - approached Daphne, a pad in her hand and a smile on her face. "Evening, Miss McKinley.
"Good evening, Sara." Daphne returned the girl's smile. "How are you?"
"Wonderful." Sara lowered her voice. "My dad's agreed I can study art. I won't leave for school until spring, and I have to save every cent I earn to help cover my expenses. But all winter I can look forward to going."
Daphne touched the back of Sara's hand with her fingertips. "I'm glad for you. You have a wonderful talent. You must promise that you'll write and tell me all about the school and its instructors once you're there."
"'Course I will. If it wasn't for your encouragement, I never would've had the nerve to ask my dad to let me go."
Daphne had done little besides tell Sara that she shouldn't give up on her dreams, no matter how long it took, that God could open doors in surprising ways if she would simply trust Him. But she was glad Sara had found her words to be helpful and even more glad that Sara's father had consented. "I believe art school will be the making of you. Wait and see if I'm not right."
Sara blushed bright red. "I'd better take your order, Miss McKinley." She glanced over her shoulder toward the kitchen. "Mr. Boyle will wonder what's keeping me."
"Is there any meatloaf left?"
"Then that's what I'll have. With gravy on the potatoes, please."
"I'll bring it right out."
As Sara disappeared into the restaurant kitchen, the front door opened, letting in the cool night air along with a man Daphne had never seen before. He was tall, at least six feet, perhaps a little more. He had brown hair that was shaggy near his collar, and unless the poor light in the restaurant deceived her, there was the shadow of a beard under the skin of his jaw and upper lip.
Who was he? Not a cowboy nor a miner. That was clear by the clothes he wore. His suit appeared of good quality, but even from where she sat she could tell it had seen its share of wear. A man of trade perhaps or a salesman. Definitely not a guest of her brother's spa, for he looked neither wealthy nor in poor health.
Excerpted from A Matter of Character by Robin Lee Hatcher Copyright © 2010 by RobinSong, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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