It is hard for a woman to make a decent living in the Wild West of the late 1800s, and as the Christmas season approaches, prospects for a happy celebration seem dim.
A Pony Express Christmas by Margaret Brownley
Stranded alone in Nebraska Territory in 1882 with a broken wagon and two stubborn mules, Ellie-Mae Myers has no way to continue searching for her twin brother along the deserted Pony Express route or of returning home to Kentucky. Could a man on the verge of being hanged be the answer to her prayers?
A Wife in Name Only by Rosey Dow
Katherine Priestly seeks a job to help support her mother and brother. A local ranch seeks a cook, but by 1884 standards, the owner, Brett Masten, will only hire a married woman to work among his men. Desperate, Catherine claims she is a married woman at the tender age of eighteen. Will her charade become a barrier to true love and send her home without enough money to buy Christmas presents?
Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter by Darlene Franklin
Lucy Ames’ dreams come true when her sharp shooting makes her the star act of Major Paulson’s Wild West Show in 1891. Gordon Paulson is traveling with his parents for one last season before accepting a teaching position at West Texas Christian College. As Lucy’s and Gordon’s love for each other grows, will God weave their gifts and dreams into a single calling?
A Badlands Christmas by Marcia Gruver
Noela Nancarrow and her pampered sister have been dragged into the Badlands by their adventurous father to live penniless in a sod house in 1885. When a local rancher invites Noela to a lavish Christmas party, will her holiday spirit return or will she learn a lesson far greater from the experience?
Unexpected Blessings by Vickie McDonough
Anna Campbell sets out to deliver two small orphans to their uncle in Texas during December of 1880. Erik Olson knows it’s impossible for those cute little pests to be his brother’s and refuses to accept them—regardless of Anna’s persistence. Little do they know that behind the scenes, Erik’s Uncle Lars and his buddies are doing a little matchmaking, hoping to give the children a father and a mother.
A Grand County Christmas by Debra Ullrick
In 1883, Awnya O’Crean is on the brink of starvation and homeless in the Colorado Mountains. When she goes hunting for food, God places her in the path of Amadeus Josef. Will Christmas with the Josef family teach Awnya how God works in mysterious ways?
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About the Author
Rosey Dow is a bestselling and award-winning author with more than half a million books sold. Her novel, Reaping the Whirlwind, won the Christy Award for excellence in fiction. A former missionary and lifelong mystery buff, Rosey now makes her home in Delaware, where she edits, writes, and speaks full-time. She invites her readers to connect with her on Facebook.
Bestselling author Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She lives in Oklahoma, near her son and his family, and continues her interests in playing the piano and singing, books, good fellowship, and reality TV in addition to writing. She is an active member of Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Christian Authors Network. She has written over fifty books and more than 250 devotionals. Her historical fiction ranges from the Revolutionary War to World War II, from Texas to Vermont. You can find Darlene online at www.darlenefranklinwrites.com
Marcia Gruver’s southern roots lend touches of humor and threads of faith to her writing. Look for both in her Texas Fortunes and Backwoods Brides series. When she’s not perched behind a keyboard, you’ll find her clutching a game system controller or riding shotgun on long drives in the Texas Hill Country. Lifelong Texans, Marcia and her husband Lee have five children. Collectively, this motley crew has graced them with a dozen grandchildren and one great-granddaughter—so far.
Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of nearly 50 published books and novellas, with over 1.5 million copies sold. A bestselling author, Vickie grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams penning romance stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Her novels include End of the Trail, winner of the OWFI 2013 Booksellers Best Fiction Novel Award. Whispers on the Prairie was a Romantic Times Recommended Inspirational Book for July 2013. Song of the Prairie won the 2015 Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award. Gabriel’s Atonement, book 1 in the Land Rush Dreams series, placed second in the 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Award. Vickie has recently stepped into independent publishing.
Vickie has been married over forty years to Robert. They have four grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and a precocious granddaughter. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, doing stained glass, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website at www.vickiemcdonough.com.
Debra Ullrick is an award winning author who is happily married to her husband of thirty-seven years. For over twenty-five years, she and her husband and their only daughter lived and worked on cattle ranches in the Colorado Mountains. The last ranch Debra lived on, a famous movie star and her screenwriter husband purchased property there. She now lives in the flatlands where she’s dealing with cultural whiplash. Debra loves animals, classic cars, mud-bog racing, and monster trucks. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, drawing western art, feeding wild birds, watching Jane Austen movies, COPS, or Castle. Debra’s other titles include, The Bride Wore Coveralls, Déjà vu Bride, Dixie Hearts, A Log Cabin Christmas, The Unexpected Bride, and come January 2012, The Unlikely Wife.
Read an Excerpt
Nebraska Territory, 1862
Are we there, yet?
— Carved into Chimney Rock in 1861 by Jimmy Watts, age eight
Oh no you don't!" Hands at her waist, EllieMay Newman glared at the back of her fast-retreating trail guide. She'd paid the man good money to take her to Chimney Rock, but at the least sign of trouble, he'd taken off like a horse with his tail afire.
Chasing after him, she stumbled over a rock. "Come back, you hear? Come back or I'll —"
By the time she scrambled to her feet, it was too late to follow through with her threats. Already the scrawny lad had leaped into his saddle and raced away.
Sputtering, she marched back to her covered wagon and gave the broken wheel a good kick. It did nothing for the wagon and didn't do much for her foot either, except make her want to scream.
A fine pickle! Now she was stranded in the wilds of Nebraska Territory with two stubborn mules, a disabled wagon, and 190 miles still to go. All because her guide thought he saw a couple of ...
With a quick glance around, she choked back a cry and rushed to the wagon for her double-barrel shotgun. Weapon in hand, she turned slowly and scanned the nearby woods. A slight breeze rustled the trees and tugged at the hem of her knee-high skirt and bloomers.
Molly the mule perked her ears forward — not a good sign. Next to her, Josie flipped her skinny tail and turned her short thick head toward the thick growth of trees at the side of the rutted trail.
Ellie-May followed the mule's gaze, and her nerves tensed. After seeing nothing for days but brown prairie grass and prickly pear cactus, the tall cedars had been a welcome sight. But since her guide ran out of those very same woods looking like he'd seen a ghost, danger now seemed to lurk behind every moving shadow.
Holding her shotgun as steady as trembling hands allowed, Ellie-May ducked under a low piney branch. Ever so softly, she stepped over a fallen tree trunk and crossed a dry gully. A twig snapped beneath her foot, and she jumped. She stopped and listened. Tom-toms! She was just about to turn and run when she realized that the thumps came from her fast-beating heart.
Moistening her lips, she moved forward on what seemed like wooden limbs. The trees closed in overhead, blocking out the hazy sun. No bird call joined the chorus of whispering wind and pounding heart.
She stepped into a small clearing. Voices. Something moved, and she ducked behind a tree. Holding her breath, she peered ever so cautiously around the trunk. Two saddled horses were tied to a bush. Her fool guide was wrong; those weren't Indian horses.
Head low, she followed the sound of voices to where three men stood. Two had their backs turned. Only the top of the third man's head was visible.
She hesitated, but only because she didn't want to interrupt what sounded like an argument. God, please don't let them be robbers or murderers or ... or worse.
Gathering as much courage as she could muster, she called out, "H–hello there."
Two men swung around, and one reached to his side for his gun. After looking her up and down, he withdrew his hand with a smirk.
She was used to people laughing at her bloomers, but this man had the nerve to leer. She kept her shotgun pointed straight at him. A woman alone couldn't afford to take chances.
"Well, what have we here?" He raked her up and down with bloodshot eyes; a toothless grin parted a scraggly beard.
"I wonder if you would be kind enough to help —" She realized with a start that the middle man's hands were tied and he had a rope around his neck. The other end of the rope was slung over a tree branch and tied to the saddle of one of the horses. Dumbstruck, she could only stare.
The man pointing a gun at the prisoner's chest didn't fare much better than his partner, appearance-wise, though he was a tad thinner. A nasty red scar cut a path from his brow to his chin whiskers, making his face appear lopsided.
Scarface looked her up and down, while next to him, Toothless lifted a brown jug to his mouth and took a swig. The two hangmen weren't exactly drunk, but they weren't exactly sober either.
Of the three strangers, the one with the rope around his neck looked the most promising. Or at least the most clearheaded.
Swallowing, she found her voice. "Surely you don't intend to hang that man." They didn't look like lawmen, at least no lawmen she'd had occasion to meet.
"Found him snoopin' around," Toothless said. "Cain't have no thievery."
Doubting that Toothless and his partner had anything worth stealing, she studied the prisoner. The whiskers shadowing his square-cut jaw didn't seem to belong with his neatly trimmed hair. Cut shorter than the current style, his brown hair fell to the side of his head from a single part. Intense cobalt eyes appeared to be conveying a private message.
Scarface spat, and a stream of chewing tobacco hit the ground with a plop. "As you can see, ma'am, we're kind of occupied at the moment. So 'less you have bus'ness here, I suggest you mosey along."
She pulled her gaze away from the captive. "I'll leave. Soon as you tell me where I might find a nearby farm or ranch."
Toothless scratched his chest. "Used to be about ten miles north, but you won't find nothin' there now. Indians burned it to the ground."
Her heart sank. Since leaving St. Jo, good news had been scarce as hen's teeth.
"How far to Plum Creek?"
"I'd say about fifteen miles. What do you say, Big Red?"
His partner nodded. "Sounds 'bout right to me."
She would never make it that far on foot before nightfall. That would mean spending the night alone on the trail without so much as a guide.
"Is there nothing closer?" she asked.
Toothless hung his thumbs from his suspenders. "You look like one a them — whatcha callums — a modern miss." The gummy smile grew bigger. "So you probably won't take no offense if me and my pardner here invite you back to our cabin. It's only a half mile downstream." He took another gulp, tossed the empty brown jug to the ground, and wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve. "You're welcome to stay long as you want. We'll show you a good time."
Scarface concurred. "A real good time." He licked his lips and scratched his belly with his weapon-free hand.
She glanced at the jug on the ground and then swung her gaze to the prisoner. "I can offer you both a better time."
Big Red's eyes grew round as wagon wheels. "Can you now?"
"I'll give you twenty-five dollars to let the prisoner go." It was money she could ill afford to part with. The proceeds from the sale of the family farm would have to last until she found another source of income, and who knew how long that would take? Already the trip had cost more than she'd planned. Still, she wasn't about to let a man be hanged at the whim of a couple of hard-drinking scoundrels.
"You can buy a lot of moonshine for twenty-five bucks," she added.
Toothless considered this a moment before advancing toward her. "I like our plan better."
"Don't ... don't come any closer, or I'll shoot." She pointed her shotgun and thumbed back the hammer. The shh-click-click of metal did what her threats failed to do — stopped him in his tracks.
"Now what'sha want to go and do that fer?" he slurred.
She stepped back. The heel of her boot snagged on a tree branch, and her feet flew out from under her. Just as her backside hit the ground, her shotgun fired. The blast blew the hat clear off his head. He turned white and slapped his hands on top of his shiny bald pate.
Her mouth dropped open. If she was in any way responsible for the lack of fur on his head, she'd proven herself a better shot by accident than she ever was on purpose.
Fortunately, she managed to regain her composure before Toothless found his. She staggered to her feet and, moving her finger to the second trigger, swung the barrel of her gun from man to man.
The captive's gaze followed her shotgun from side to side. He looked more worried about her weapon than the rope around his neck.
She cleared her voice. "Twenty-five dollars for your friend there. Do we have a deal or don't we?"
Toothless looked at Scarface, who shrugged. He then turned back to Ellie-May. "Deal."
She nodded. Whew! That was close. Confidence restored, she lifted her chin and rose to her full five-foot-five height. "Now tell your friend to put away his gun and cut the prisoner loose."
Toothless reached for his crownless hat. He slapped the felt brim on his head, and his shiny bald cranium stuck out like an egg in a nest. "You heard the lady," he slurred.
Scarface pulled an Arkansas toothpick out of his waist and cut the rope. He then replaced his knife.
"Now step away from him," she ordered, indicating with her weapon where she wanted them to go. She reached into her skirt pocket, drew out two gold coins — one a double eagle — and tossed them onto the ground. "Not git, both of you!"
Scarface scooped up the money and ran, spurs jingling, toward the horses, his partner at his heels. Soon the pounding of hooves signaled their fast departures.
The prisoner picked his wide-brim hat off the ground, slapped it against his thigh, and pressed it on his head. He stood straight and tall, shoulders wide, giving his dusty trousers, rumpled shirt, and wrinkled vest more dignity than they deserved.
"Thank you, ma'am. Sure appreciate it. The name's Corbett. Michael Corbett. And you are ...?"
"Much obliged, Miss Newman." He then turned and casually walked away, the second man to do so that day.
"Wait!" she yelled. "Where do you think you're going?" He kept walking, so she lifted the shotgun skyward and fired.
That stopped him. He held his back toward her for a full moment before making a slow turn. "Gonna get the horse those hombres stole from me."
She frowned. "That sounds like a bad idea."
"I paid ten dollars for that sorry mare not two days ago."
"And I paid twenty-five dollars for you."
He hung his thumbs from his vest pockets. "That was your mistake, ma'am. I'm not worth more than fifteen."
"Maybe so, but I intend to get what I paid for."
He considered this a moment before asking, "And what might that be, Miss Newman?"
"You, Mr. Corbett, are going to help me find my brother."CHAPTER 2
Traveled 1,000 miles and aged 10 years.At this rate I'll be an old man by Christmas.
— Carved into Chimney Rock in 1862 by Edgar Dobbs
Mike Corbett circled Miss Newman's covered wagon. It was a simple farm conveyance, homemade by the looks of it, and fitted with a canvas bonnet. The wagon had seen better days, but he doubted the mules had. The woman said she was heading for Chimney Rock. She had to be kidding. She'd be lucky to make it to the next farm.
"Where'd you get them mules?" he asked.
"They belonged to my pa, and I kept them when I sold the farm," she said. "Bought the wagon from a neighbor." After a pause, she added, "Cost less than you did."
"I believe it."
The iron rim on the back left wheel had slipped and the wood cracked, but at least Miss Newman had the good sense to carry a spare.
"Tools?" he asked.
"In the wagon."
He walked to the back and peered inside the wagon bed. Two polished wooden trunks sat side by side. He opened the nearest one, and a faint smell of lavender wafted from its depths. A white lacey garment lay on top of a pile of neatly folded clothes. His gaze traveled through the inside of the wagon.
He could see Miss Newman tending the mules through the canvas opening in front. She'd removed her floppy straw hat, and tendrils of blond hair had slipped out of her bun and blew around her face.
She was pretty, he realized with a start. Mighty pretty. Couldn't imagine why it took so long to notice, unless it was that confounded outfit. Is that what women wear these days? Knee-high skirts over ankle-bound trousers? A man is locked away for two years, and look what happens.
His gaze settled on the satiny under-riggings in the trunk. It was hard to believe that the strong-willed, gun-wielding woman would favor such feminine frippery. Especially one who obviously preferred comfort and practicality over fashion. He closed the lid of the first trunk and opened the second.
This one was filled with bolts, linchpins, skeins, and nails. It also held a homemade jack.
She left him alone as he worked, and in no time at all, he'd changed the wheel and checked the other three.
He hung the broken wheel on the outside of the wagon and returned the tools to their proper place, but he couldn't help taking another look at the wooden trunk carrying the lady's apparel. The sweet smell of lavender still lingered in the air. Deprived of anything pleasant for longer than he cared to remember, he allowed himself the luxury of inhaling the delicate fragrance for a moment before turning away.
At the nearby stream, he washed his hands and face, the cold water stinging his skin. Still, it felt good. Just being alive and free felt good.
He still couldn't believe he'd let those ruffians sneak up on him. Nothing like that would have happened in the past. The last two years hadn't just knocked the stuffing out of him but had evidently dulled his senses.
Returning to camp, he accepted a cup of coffee from the lady. It was hot and strong, just as he liked it. The smell of bacon sizzling over a campfire made his stomach growl, and he tried to recall the last time he ate anything that smelled that good.
Miss Newman sat by the fire and tended the bacon, allowing him to study her unnoticed. In the light of the fast-fading sun, her hair looked like spun gold.
"Soon as you reach civilization, you better have a blacksmith repair that wheel to use as a spare."
"I'll do that, Mr. Corbett."
He leaned against the wagon and sipped his coffee. The crisp air promised a cold night ahead. The blanket spread out on the ground was set with two tin plates and silverware.
"Why are you looking for your brother?" he asked.
She glanced up at him. "He's missing."
"I figured that."
She stabbed at the bacon with a fork and placed the strips one by one on a tin plate. "He was a Pony Express rider. After the company shut down last fall, I expected him to come back home to the farm. He didn't."
"No surprise there. Once a man sees the world, he's not likely to want to go back to his old ways."
"Speaking from experience, Mr. Corbett?"
"Experience is all I have, ma'am."
She studied him a moment before rising to her feet. She set the plate in the center of the blanket, along with a loaf of bread. "Sorry I can't offer you more."
He sat on a rock next to the blanket. "Looks mighty appetizin'." He filled his plate and gobbled his food. He'd almost forgotten how good a meal could taste. Aware that she was staring at him, he frowned.
"Would you care to join me in grace, Mr. Corbett?"
"Anything you say, ma'am." He dropped his fork and lowered his head and tried to remember the last time he'd talked to the Lord. Giving thanks for the slop fed him over the last two years would have been an insult to God.
The moment she said amen, he dove back into his food, giving no mind to manners. That would come later. Now he had to fill the hunger gnawing at his insides.
"So when's the last time you heard from your brother?" he asked between bites.
"It's been awhile, and there's been nothing from him since the Pony Express stopped running. However, I did receive a package from the Russell, Majors, and Waddell Company."
"The express firm."
She nodded. "The package contained a small calfskin Bible with his name inside. I tried contacting them for more information, but the company was bought out, and no one knows what happened to the records."
"Every express rider was given a Bible and a gun," he said. The riders had been told to use the Bible at all times and the gun only when necessary. Seemed to him they got that backward.
"The package contained nothing else. Not even a sketch."
He looked up from his plate. "A sketch?"
"My brother was an artist." She reached into a pocket and drew out a sheet of paper, which she carefully unfolded. It was a drawing. "It's called Chimney Rock," she explained, "but my brother named it the Hand of God." She pointed to the tall, funnel-shaped rock surrounded by clouds. "He said this was God's finger pointing the way."
Corbett was no expert in art, but even he could see the boy had talent. "It's a fine drawing." His compliment brought a smile to her face, and he suddenly realized how young she was — probably no more than nineteen or twenty.
She carefully refolded the paper. "His dream is that one day his work will be displayed in art galleries around the world and maybe even kings' palaces."
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and reached for the remainder of the bread. Her brother's aspirations struck him as odd. Who cared what hung on obscure walls viewed only by the rich or elite? Nonetheless, he envied the boy his dreams. Been a long time since he had dreams of his own.
"You said the company mailed the Bible to you," he said.
She nodded. "That's what makes me believe my brother's in trouble. He would never willingly give up his Bible."
He helped himself to more bacon and slapped it on the bread. "How do you propose finding him?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Old West Christmas Brides"
Copyright © 2013 Margaret Brownley.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Pony Express Christmas,
A Wife in Name Only,
Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter,
A Badlands Christmas,
A Grand County Christmas,