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December love, p.1
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       December Love, p.1

           Mildred Colvin
 
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December Love
Historical stories of Mail-Order Brides

  and their Texas grooms

   

   

   

  December Love

   

   

   

  Jamie Adams, Mildred Colvin,

  Linda Cushman, Regina Tittel

   

   

  http:www.facebook.com/midwestchristianromanceauthors/

   

   

   

   

  Historical Christian Romance

  December Love

  Copyright ©2016 by Mildred Colvin, Jamie Adams, Linda Cushman, Regina Tittel

  All Rights Reserved

  Cover photo copyright © Steve Debenport

   

  Scripture portions are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

   

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to events is entirely coincidental.

   

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without permission in writing from its author except for brief quotations in printed reviews. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

   

   

   

   

  Dedication

   

  To our readers! Without you, we’d have no reason to write.

  May God’s best be yours!

   

   

  Chapter 1

   

   

  Florence Foster stepped through the door of Rex and Lily’s new store, Barlow’s Tack and Trade, as a bell clanged overhead. Her daughter, Lily, turned from the bolts of fabric. Her hands stilled on a length of printed blue and white floral. “Florence, I didn’t expect to see you again this week. This is the third time you’ve been to town, isn’t it?”

  Though the words held a hint of accusation, Florence pretended not to notice. Time would see them past their strained beginning as mother and daughter. She eyed the piece of fabric Lily had finished folding. “A return?”

  “Not exactly.” Just then the bell rang again, and Lily brushed past to attend a customer.

  Florence weighed the folded material in her hands. More than likely, someone had intended to make a dress. Had Lily cut the amount in advance only to learn the hopeful buyer couldn’t come through with the money? Tsk. Tsk. Running a business was quite a leap from handling mere secretarial duties. Lily could benefit from Florence’s years of knowledge.

  Once the customer left, Florence caught Lily’s attention. “You’ve made lovely choices in your selection of fabrics … but do you think anyone here can afford them? I imagine the average income in Mesquite Gulch is quite lower than in Chicago.”

  Lily’s chin lifted. “Trust me, I’ve spoken with most of the women here. Everything you see on our shelves is in response to what Rex and I have been told.”

  Now it was impossible to dismiss the tone in her voice. Why was she taking offense? Florence had only meant to help. “If you want my advice—”

  “I don’t!” Lily snapped. Her sharp comment was followed by a deep breath of air before she closed the distance between them. Lily took Florence’s hands in hers. “I know you mean to help, but I need you to believe in me. Rex and I can do this.”

  The bell rang again and Will entered. He smiled broadly, “Looks good. You young’uns seem to know what you’re doing.”

  Florence’s eyes widened at his comment. How could he think that? Didn’t he see they had overstocked in several items that would take forever to sell? Not to mention the niceties that were outside the pay range of the community.

  Lily left her standing there and welcomed Will to a shelf of jarred vegetables. “We’ve traded with some of the residents around town. See anything you like?”

  “Are those hot peppers?”

  Lily read the label. “Yes, would you like one?”

  “Give me two.”

  Back in the buggy, Florence sat quiet on their return to the ranch. With her secret aired out, she was free to love Lily as the daughter she truly was … if only Lily would accept her. Why couldn’t her daughter see she was only trying to help? Somehow, she had to find a way to open Lily’s eyes to all she had to learn.

  Will pulled the horses to an abrupt halt. Florence grabbed hold of his arm and the side of the carriage to keep from careening forward. “What on earth?”

  “That’s what I want to know. You haven’t said a word since town. What sort of bee has gotten under your bonnet?”

  She swallowed the sudden rise of emotions and stared off to the side.

  “You know I don’t have any patience for secrets—”

  “Believe me, Will, I know.” An exasperated sigh tumbled out. “It’s Lily. Could you not see the errors she and Rex are making in their store? I tried, gently mind you, to show her where they might consider stocking less of certain items or—”

  Will’s bark of laughter cut her off. “And let me guess, she wants to do things her way and not listen to Mama?”

  Florence didn’t know how to respond. Yes, that was it, but it was hardly amusing. If she and Rex didn’t listen, they could easily lose the business they’d only just begun.

  “Florence, you’ve only been her mother for a month and a half, and ever since then you’ve tried to tuck her under your wing like a little chic.” He held her attention with a rough-skinned finger under her jaw. “She no longer needs you leading her to corn. She’s a grown woman.”

  She jerked her face away. Who was he to say her daughter didn’t need her? Will had all the tenderness and understanding of a thunderstorm. Though the ground might need watered, a slow soak benefited the plants far more than a torrential downfall.

  ~*~

  Florence peeled another carrot and nicked her finger. “Ow.”

  Mabel heard her small cry of distress and hurried over to peer at her hand. “Not again.” She grabbed a rag and held it against her finger. “Why don’t we take a little break? You have a seat while I grab some coffee.”

  Florence eagerly complied. It wasn’t like her to make mistakes in the kitchen. She had to clear her head and concentrate. If only it was that easy.

  Mabel slid a cup in front of her and sat down. She took a sip and waited all of two seconds. So much like Will, she didn’t beat around the bush. “You’ve been distant ever since you and my brother came back from town. Did something happen between you two?”

  A sarcastic laugh fought to be released, but always poised, Florence held it back … but not her thoughts. Nothing ever happened between her and Will. That was part of the problem. Did the man not feel the same for her as she did for him? For months, she’d tried to control her building affections. Although he’d already outlived his doctor’s dire prognosis, he still wasn’t a healthy man. Common sense said not to give away her heart, yet her heart had taken the leap without her consent. And here she was, stuck in Texas with an outspoken, dying man and a new daughter … neither of whom wanted her.

  “Florence,” Mabel touched her arm, “you can talk to me.”

  “Sorry, Mabel.” She patted her hand. “I know. I’m just not sure where to start.”

  ~*~

  Will Logan knocked the dust from his hat against his leg as he left the barn. Restless and needing more to do, he’d helped Zack and his men lead sheep onto different pasture. Though everything had gone well, the work had left him more tired than he’d expected. He missed the times when he could jump a mount and ride all day. Yet, he was still able to keep up with several ranch hands. Perhaps the doctor had misdiagnosed him. After all, he hadn’t h
ad a spell in over a week. The doctor hadn’t expected him to live past Christmas and here it was already nearing the end of January. Maybe he was getting better.

  His stomach growled. There was no mistaking he still had an appetite. Will hoped the women had a mess cooked up as he was hungry enough to eat a whole steer.

  He stepped through the kitchen door and breathed deeply. “I smell fried potatoes.”

  Mabel turned from the stove. “But you won’t get any standing there as dirty as a pig. Go wash before you touch something.”

  He laughed and made his way across the floor as Florence entered the kitchen. He drew to a stop and their gazes locked. She sure was a pretty woman … no, she was beautiful. Like a water-hole springing up in the dry desert, she had a way of making him thirst.

  She leaned to the side and pointed behind him. “You’re leaving a trail.”

  He glanced back at the dust left in his wake. “That’s what happens when men have been working.”

  Her perfect brows rose in the way he’d become accustomed to and knew he was in for a reprimand.

  “The women have been working too. So march yourself back outside and dust off before you mess up the rest of the house.”

  Beautiful and bossy, Florence had a way of controlling everything around her. But he couldn’t complain. Between her and Mabel, the house had never stayed so clean. He crooked a grin and waved his hands in surrender. “Fine. Fine.” He passed his sister again on his way to the door. “Stop rubbing off on her, will you?” he laughed.

  “Like you’ve ever listened to me!” Before he stepped outside, he saw her turn and say to Florence, “I’ve never known that man to go back out and clean off for anyone before. I wish you would’ve come sooner, you could’ve saved my back a lot of work.”

  The women’s laughter faded as he considered what was said. Why did he take extra care for Florence? He couldn’t remember doing this for his first wife. Of course, she never called him out on much. Raised in Texas like him, they were both accustomed to the dirt of the ranch.

  Although Florence was as refined a woman as he’d ever met, she didn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave Texas. In fact, she seemed intent on staying since Lily had married Rex. The thought warmed his heart. The house would never be the same if she did leave. He enjoyed teasing her as much as she liked to boss him. They’d formed a solid friendship, and as far as he was concerned, she was welcome to stay as long as she wanted.

  After cleaning up, Will joined the women at the table. He never failed to be affected by the remaining empty chairs. However, now that his sons were married, in time the table might become crowded with grandchildren. With a smile, he bowed his head for prayer. “Father, we thank you for the food we’re about to eat and for the many years you blessed us with a full household. Thank you for blessing this ranch and all those who call it home. Amen.”

  He lifted his head and concentrated on filling his plate. The women seemed quieter than normal, but one could never tell what went on in their heads and for the most part, Will knew better than to ask. He dove into his meal, savoring every bite. “Oh, where’s the peppers I bought from Lily today?”

  Mabel’s mouth firmed. “Will, I don’t think those would be good for you.”

  “Nonsense.” His eyes searched the kitchen. “I see them.” After retrieving a jar he enjoyed several with his meat and potatoes. Although he’d gone to town several times this week, it always seemed to be after lunch. He’d missed the spicy dishes offered up by the Sagebrush diner, although tonight’s potatoes were plenty flavorful. “Whoever fried the ’tators did a perfect job.”

  “That would be Florence,” Mabel nodded across the table with a pleased smile. “Adding garlic to them was a wonderful idea. I’ll have to make them this way for Oswald.”

  “Speaking of your husband,” Florence asked, “how is he? You mentioned receiving a letter, but I forgot to ask.”

  “Good but ready for me to come back home.” She looked at Will. “Considering how well you’ve been doing, I might be making the trip fairly soon.”

  “Well, don’t get yourself all hurried up.” He glanced between the women. Mabel’s presence acted as a hostess of sorts between him and Florence. He didn’t want Florence to feel she could no longer stay, and he sure didn’t want her to leave.

  He took a long drink of water then wiped his chin with a napkin. The peppers were hotter than he’d expected. A twinge of pain shot across his chest. Was he already stressing about Florence leaving? Surely it was too early to start worrying.

   

   

   

   

  Chapter 2

   

   

  Florence walked beside Mabel and listened to her talk about the coming garden. Why she was sharing the information was beyond Florence. It was too early for one thing and by spring, neither of them would be here. Oswald wanted his wife home and Florence … where was she to call home? She didn’t feel it would be right to leave Will until she was sure he was healthy enough to survive on his own, but without Mabel’s presence, she couldn’t very well stay. And with Lily and Rex still newlyweds, she wouldn’t invite herself into their home.

  “Have you heard a word of what I’ve said?” Mabel stopped with her hands on her hips.

  “I’m sorry, Mabel.” Florence stooped to pick up a weed and twirled it between her fingers. “You’re telling me about a garden I won’t be here to tend.”

  “Why won’t you be here?”

  “I can’t stay here forever.” She picked off a leaf, then another. “I should move to town anyway, to be closer to Lily.”

  Mabel’s eyes narrowed. “Lily loves you, that much is evident, but right now she needs to spread her wings.”

  “Right now she and Rex are blundering decisions about what to stock—”

  “You have to trust it all to God.”

  Florence huffed. “I’ve heard preachers say that, but they’ve never been in my situation. After leaving Lily in an orphanage most of her life, I can’t deny her now. Even if she doesn’t see her need for help, I can’t sit back and let her fail.”

  Beside her, Mabel took a deep breath. “Tell me something, while she was at the orphanage, weren’t you a constant in her life?”

  “Of course I was. And I didn’t just bring her toys and clothes, I taught her all I knew.”

  “And you’ve trained her well. You’ve done all the watering you need to, now watch her grow.”

  Florence tossed the weed to the ground. Mabel was right, but it wasn’t in her nature to not do anything. “Then I’ll go back to Chicago.”

  Mabel waved a finger at Florence. “Name one thing Chicago has over Texas?”

  Her pride.

  Chicago had nothing over Texas, but in the city, she could hide her broken heart from the man she loved and busy herself enough to give Lily room. She turned, pretending to take in the landscape while letting her eyes dry.

  As always, Mabel’s perception missed nothing.

  “And honestly, what would you do in Chicago? Your business manager is doing fine without you there to oversee things.”

  Escape Will and his lack of interest in her? Her heart twisted with the self-omission.

  Mabel linked their arms and steered them back to the house. “I think there’s more at stake here.”

  Uh, oh.

  “Tell you what, why don’t you take some time off. Leave your worries behind, and that means your business too. Go to Fort Worth for a while.”

  “What’s in Fort Worth?”

  “I will be, soon. Consider it a vacation from everything that’s troubling you. Just unwind.”

  ~*~

  Will stomped around inside the barn, making more noise than needed. A stalled mare, healing from a sprain, raised her head and snorted.

  “Something bothering you?” Richard Barlow, Rex’s father and Will’s foreman, sauntered in from the pen.

  “You might say that.” Will rubbed his hands together. His
calloused palms made audible from the friction. “My sister’s thinking about heading back to Fort Worth.”

  Rich nodded his head. “Makes sense. I’m sure her husband has missed her.”

  Will ground his teeth. Yes, Oswald would like to have his wife back, but the selfish truth of the matter was, Will still needed her. “If she leaves, then Florence will feel she can’t stay … we wouldn’t have a chaperone.”

  Rich shrugged. “Then marry her.”

  “You must have sand between your ears.” Will yanked a towel from a hook and swiped dust from a saddle. “What good would it do to marry Florence if I die a month down the road?”

  The man grew quiet as he glanced over toward Will. “So far the doctor has been wrong.”

  Will sighed and swiped the towel over the toe of his boot. “I had another spell last night.” His head shot up. “But they don’t need to know. I don’t need hens smothering me day and night.”

  Rich simply shrugged. “Have it your way. As long as you figure your way is what’ll work out best.”

  Will grumbled under his breath and left the barn. As he came up on the front of the house he spotted Florence sitting on the porch. If she was out here, then breakfast wasn’t ready yet, he might as well join her.

  Will climbed the front steps as Florence smiled good morning. The act didn’t reach her eyes. Was she as troubled as him?

  He sat in a nearby chair unsure what to say. The awkwardness grew until he couldn’t sit still. “Did you not sleep well?”

  Florence startled before her widened eyes narrowed in thought. “No, I slept fine.”

  He waited for her to add something else and when she didn’t, his aggravation grew. “Then what’s wrong? You’re not still upset over Lily, are you?”

  “You have all the tenderness of a cactus, Will Logan.” She rose from her seat. Will wasn’t ready to let her leave. He jumped up and grabbed her arm, causing her to fall back against him.

  The scent of Florence, roses and lilacs and everything pretty, embodied his senses. Suddenly, all Will could think of were her lips and the honey-dewed sweetness he was sure they held.

  His gaze reluctantly left her mouth and slowly climbed to her eyes. Like a shy colt, something new and lively skittered across their vibrant blues. Did he dare venture further?

  She made the decision for him as she pulled away. A hue of crimson climbed her neck. “Excuse me, I’m needed in the kitchen.”

  “Hold up a minute, Florence.”

  “Yes?” The hopeful tone held a link to her heart. A heart he had no right to. Not in his state of health.

 
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