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An Unconventional Lady (Heartsong Presents Series #1090)

An Unconventional Lady (Heartsong Presents Series #1090)

by Cynthia Hickey


But her strict mother keeps her close to home, working as a Harvey Girl waitress. Until Dallas Baker shows up in town and takes the job Annie really wants—leading tours through the Grand Canyon. Annie's frustrated, but finds it impossible to ignore the handsome outdoorsman.

With her split skirts and modern hairdo,



But her strict mother keeps her close to home, working as a Harvey Girl waitress. Until Dallas Baker shows up in town and takes the job Annie really wants—leading tours through the Grand Canyon. Annie's frustrated, but finds it impossible to ignore the handsome outdoorsman.

With her split skirts and modern hairdo, Annie challenges Dallas's old-fashioned notions of what makes a lady. To his surprise, he finds her delightful, until he learns she has no interest in settling down. Dallas is ready to win her heart, but is Annie willing to fall in love?

Product Details

Publication date:
Heartsong Presents Series , #1090
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Williams, Arizona, April 1905

A nnie Rollins adjusted her new skirt and smiled at her reflection. How liberating! After making sure her hair stayed secure in its new style, back-combed so it stood inches higher than normal, she felt like a modern woman, even stuck in the backwoods of northern Arizona. With one final glance and pat at her pompadour, Annie sashayed from the room.

"What are you wearing?" Her mother's reaction did not disappoint.

"It's a split skirt, Mother." Annie twirled. "Do you like it? It offers so much freedom of movement."

Her mother planted her fists on her thin hips. "I do not, and what did you do to your hair? It's sky-high. Heaven have mercy."

"It's called a transformation. It's the newest style." Annie brushed past her and glided down the stairs. She might as well get the day started, and one of her jobs was to register guests at the B and B's front desk.

Her mother's heels tapped behind her. "Why do you feel the need to be highfalutin way out here?"

"There's nothing wrong with being modern. We're in the twentieth century." Lord, give me strength. Mother complained more often than not, ever since Papa's death two years ago. It was time to start living again.

"You look ridiculous and out of place in Williams." Mother unlocked the cabinet where she kept the registry book. She lifted the leather volume and plopped it on the counter. "People will laugh."

"Let them." Annie let the cover fall open and ran her finger down the page. "Only two guests registered?"

"Hopefully, there will be more. These two reservations came in by telegram."

Annie leaned her elbows on the counter. "I have an idea."

Her mother rolled her eyes. "Not another one. You and your harebrained schemes."

"We need to entice people to stay here. Offer them extra services." Annie raised her eyebrows, choosing to ignore her mother's attitude. "Have you thought any about my suggestion of offering guided tours of the canyon? I mentioned the idea to you weeks ago. I could be the guide. You know I would love it."

"Absolutely not." Mother shook her head. "That is definitely not a ladylike occupation."

"Sometimes I don't want to act like a lady." Annie lifted her chin. "Ladies don't have a lot of fun."

Mother's hand fluttered to her chest. "What am I going to do with you?"

"Let me be who I am." Annie sighed. Maybe a change of subject was in order. "The new restaurant opens today. Should we eat dinner there?"

"What's wrong with my food?"

"Nothing. It was only a suggestion." It seemed Annie couldn't get anything right in her mother's eyes. Maybe she shouldn't try. Mother hadn't been happy when they'd moved from Boston to northern Arizona, but since Papa's death she seemed to want everyone around her to feel unhappy, too.

"No more suggestions." Mother took a deep breath. "Starting tomorrow, I will be running the boardinghouse alone."

Annie fixed a stare on her. "What do you mean?" Please say she wasn't being sent to a school for ladies. That would be a fate worse than death.

Mother pulled a sheet of paper from her apron pocket. "Tomorrow morning you will report to the El Tovar. I got you a job as a Harvey Girl."

"What? Why? What about helping you?" It wasn't as bad as boarding school, but almost. "What about the women's ministry at church?" What about interviewing for the job herself?

"You have Sundays off." Mother slapped the application on the counter. "They've also agreed to allow you to sleep here rather than in the girls' dormitory. I promised them you were a comely girl with high moral standards and that I was more than sufficient as a chaperone during your off hours."

No doubt there. "So you aren't even going to consider my idea of guided tours?" Annie's shoulders slumped. Why couldn't Mother commend her, just once, for having a creative mind?

"I didn't say I wouldn't consider it, but that is a man's job." Mother wiped her hands on her apron. "Time for work." She turned and unlocked the front door. Business as usual.

Annie blinked against the tears stinging her eyes. Nineteen years old, and she still wasn't in control of her own life. Didn't God give His children the desires of their hearts? Hers was to work outside in His creation, not in a stuffy restaurant.

"I need some air." Annie bolted from behind the counter and dashed outside.

"Annette Rollins." Her mother's screech followed. "Ladies do not run!"

Annie pinched the bridge of her nose between her forefinger and thumb, and then lifted her gaze to the new restaurant. Her prison.

The two-story El Tovar Hotel, built from local limestone and pine, overshadowed the dwellings around it. It was only a matter of time before the Rollins Boardinghouse would be out of business in favor of something grander. That was the main reason Annie presented new ideas to her mother for drawing in business. She didn't want to see her mother thrust out of her livelihood. If only she would listen!

Annie turned and surveyed the rim of the Grand Canyon, barely visible behind the hotel. Her heart yearned to explore the canyon floor, but even she knew it wasn't wise to go alone. Taking a group with her seemed the most sensible way. She headed toward her favorite view.

One of God's wonders for sure, and the real draw to the town of Williams, regardless of what the railroad people said. It might be the trains that brought the crowds, but it was the canyon that made them return.

Annie stopped at the edge and flung her arms wide, taking in the azure sky and the pinks and mauves of the plunging canyon walls. The Colorado River wound like a ribbon along the floor far below. A bald eagle soared under her, bobbing and dancing on the wind's current. What would that feel like-the freedom to soar?

Although the boardinghouse demanded plenty of hard work, it was home. It was all Annie knew. Now, she was being thrust into strange surroundings. Though her mother hadn't spelled it out, Annie was sure this new job was supposed to teach her feminine ways. She'd seen the waitresses flitting around town and going in and out of the hotel in their black-and-white uniforms. They looked fetching, but such a life wasn't for Annie.

She wanted so much more. Letting the tears fall, she lifted her desire to heaven. God would take care of the details. If she could step back and let Him.

Dallas Baker slung his saddlebags from the back of his horse to his shoulder, handed the reins to an older man waiting to take them, and then climbed the stairs to Rollins Boardinghouse. The newspaper advertisement in Dallas, Texas, his hometown and namesake, had come as the answer to a prayer. He didn't hate the rancher's way of life, but wanted something different. Somewhere he didn't have to work under his two older brothers. Love them he did, but not as bosses.

Stamping the mud from his boots, he pushed open the front door and stepped inside. The entryway made a person feel at home, with its hand-braided rugs and polished counter. His footsteps thudded on a scarred but polished wood floor, announcing his arrival. Why some folks preferred fancy hotels over a place that felt like home was beyond him.

An attractive middle-aged woman entered from a room on his right. "Welcome. I am the owner, Mrs. Rollins. Do you have a reservation?"

"No. I'm Dallas Baker, ma'am, your trail guide." He grinned.

"Our what?" A high-pitched voice of protest sounded behind him.

Dallas turned to see the prettiest gal he'd seen in a long time. Blond hair high on her head, flashing green eyes and wearing a brown…what? "I'm the new canyon guide for the Rollins Boardinghouse," he told her.

Miss Attitude marched past him and stood in front of the proprietor. "Mother, how could you? This is my dream." She pounded one fist on her chest. "Mine. And you went behind my back-"

"I'll just step into the parlor." Neither woman glanced his way as he ducked out of sight. Nothing made Dallas skedaddle faster than an upset woman, and he'd managed to step between two of them. And what was the younger one wearing? It looked like a skirt, but was split like pants and was wide. Real wide. His mother would never be caught dead in that getup, and she was active on the ranch.

He set his bags on the floor and tried not to listen to the argument in the next room, wanting to be anywhere but where he was at the moment. Maybe he should go back outside. But that would take him past them again. He sighed and lowered himself onto a flowered sofa.

"You took my idea and went behind my back and hired a man." The younger woman's voice rose. "Have you absolutely no confidence in my abilities?"

"Annette, I will not be spoken to in this way. It's a fine idea, but not one suited for a woman. You need to learn your place in the world."

Dallas nodded. A true sentiment, indeed.

"And my place is dressed as a fancy crow at El Tovar?"

"If that's what it takes to teach you how to be a lady, then yes." Mrs. Rollins's words were clipped and cold.

Dallas had run across a few Harvey Girls on his travels. The term crow did not suit the women at all. They were refined and mannerly, making a man's travels easier with their femininity and smiles. But then he'd been told by more than a few women that he possessed backward ideas about a woman's role in today's modern world.

"Mr. Baker, you may come in now," Mrs. Rollins called. "My daughter will behave herself and, hopefully, offer no more embarrassment. We have an older gentleman who helps with the livery and the trail tours, so I'm sure you'll settle in quickly."

Heart in his throat, Dallas hefted his bags and rejoined the women. The younger one stood to the side, arms crossed. When she caught sight of him, she visibly struggled to maintain control of her emotions. High spots of color dotted her pale cheeks.

"I will show you to your room." Chin tilted high, Annette headed up the stairs.

Dallas hurried after her. "I'm sorry if I stepped on your toes. I'm here because of an advertisement. I've actually been in contact with your mother for a few weeks."

"Don't worry yourself, Mr. Baker. Our family concerns are not yours." She pulled a key from a hidden pocket in her skirt and inserted it into a door on the second floor. "I hope the accommodations are to your liking."

He peered inside, more than pleased with the large bed covered with a colorful quilt. A small table held a gas lamp. A dresser stood against one wall and an upholstered chair against another. "More than sufficient, thank you."

"Let us know if you need anything else." Without meeting his gaze, she handed him the key and stepped back. "I'm Annie. Just give me a holler."

The nickname definitely suited the spitfire better than the more formal sounding name. "Thank you. I'll be fine."

With a nod, Annie stomped down the stairs. Moments later, Dallas heard the front door slam. "Whew. That one is something else." He tossed his bags on the bed and grinned. "But she sure is pretty."

Life promised to be very interesting.

Annie kept running until she reached her favorite spot to be alone, a fallen log that overlooked the canyon. She came here so often the rough bark was as familiar as Mother's rocking chair. How Annie missed her papa. She wiped away escaping tears. She and Papa had come to this exact spot every evening after supper, taking in God's glory, and letting the cares of the day blow away on the breeze.

She sighed and sat. Clouds drifted past her, lower than her feet. Annie almost felt as if she could walk on them to reach the other side of the great expanse. She caught glimpses of the Colorado River meandering at the bottom like a silver ribbon. She so wanted to go down there. Someday she would. Even if she had to go alone.

No handsome hired trail guide would take that pleasure away from her. This was her place, not a stranger's.

• *

The next morning, Annie climbed the stairs to the impressive El Tovar Hotel. The Queen of the Canyon, she was called. It wasn't hard to agree, not with the sprawling split levels, one towering as high as four stories.

With shaking hands, Annie pushed the door open. What had her mother been thinking? Annie, a waitress! She shook her head and asked God for help. There was no way she could serve food without spilling it unless Divine hands helped.

She stepped into the foyer and surveyed the open space, waiting for someone to greet her. A Hopi Indian bellhop shot her a curious glance. Annie smiled and continued studying the grandeur around her. Electric lights blazed from strategic places. One more strike against the Rollins Boardinghouse, which still used gas lanterns. Annie sighed. How would her mother make ends meet with such a modern hotel close by?

"You must be Annette. You look exactly as your mother described." A plump woman in the Harvey Girl uniform bustled forward. Her gaze flicked toward Annie's split skirt, then back to her face. To the woman's credit, she didn't say a word in regard to Annie's attire. "I'm the head waitress, Miss Cartwright, and I'm pleased to meet you. I've met your mother, you poor thing. I will set you to work at the lunch counter once you're trained."

Annie raised her eyebrows. Certainly Mother was a handful, but why would a complete stranger talk about her so negatively? "Yes, I'm Annie Rollins."

"Let's get you fitted for your uniform. Since we opened, the place has moved as fast as the trains that bring our guests. Mr. Harvey, bless his soul, set strict guidelines in place before his death. Now, his company still carries those same values." Miss Cartwright swept aside her flowing skirts and stepped through a door. Annie followed, trying not to slow down and gawk at the wonders of the place.

"Our seamstress, Mrs. Oakley, is truly gifted in the art of the needle." The head waitress pushed through another door, this one leading to the kitchen.

Annie's mouth opened in surprise. How her mother would love the massive stove and walk-in pantry. They could feed all of Williams from here. Maybe Annie could come up with a way to help the boardinghouse so that her mother would not need to work hard to compete where she was bound to lose.

"Here we are." Miss Cartwright beamed, opening a door off a hallway leading from the kitchen. "Once you have your uniform, come to the dining room, and we'll get you situated right away."

Meet the Author

Cynthia Hickey is the author of several cozy mysteries and five Heartsong Presents historicals. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. Cynthia has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at www.cynthiahickey.com.

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