- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Springton, Northern Nebraska 1897
"You've got a good line, cowboy, only the clothespin fell off." Tessa Alderman tilted her red gold head to one side and gave the tall cowboy a slanted look as she cleared away his breakfast dishes in the restaurant she and Sophie Alderman owned.
Springton's main restaurant did a lively business Saturday mornings. The cowhands and farm workers who came in on Friday night for a weekend of shopping, drinking and meeting their friends usually stayed overnight at the small hotel, or at Lizzie Turner's Rooming House. They most often ended up at Tessa's Arrowhead Restaurant for breakfast.
The cowboy's face reddened and he grinned good-naturedly at her. "Well, Tessa, since I can see you're up to your usual witty self and I'm already full as a tick on a hog's back I might as well leave. I'll see you at noon."
"Your tongue is plumb frolicsome too this morning, Ned. Go along with you." She briefly watched as Ned shook his head, turned and went toward the outside restaurant door into the bright early morning sunlight.
Tessa felt proud of her restaurant today. She'd awakened this morning with the feeling something momentous would happen. With great anticipation she wondered what it would be.
The green checkered tablecloths were clean and crisply starched. Her famous peach pies were already baked and the pork roast in the oven began to smell delicious. It would be done just right for her noon crowd.
Tessa put the used dishes in the dishpan under the counter and wiped her hands on a damp towel kept nearby for that purpose. She grinned, feeling ready for the anticipated "happening".
"Those boys sure likebantering words with you," Hilda, Tessa's very reliable kitchen help, said from the kitchen. She moved her iron gray head from side to side while a smile quirked the corners of her small mouth upward. "I'll take those dirty dishes." Tessa had found Hilda wandering outside in an early Nebraska snowstorm, snatching garbage from the restaurant's throw-aways. She was about to hurry away when Tessa stopped her and offered her the job she had had for some months now. Both found it a very satisfactory arrangement, especially when business became overwhelming for her and Sophie. Besides, Sophie often had midwifery work that took her away from the restaurant and that had left Tessa alone.
The sunlight coming through the outside front doorway suddenly disappeared causing Tessa to looked up and stare.
The man in her doorway was very tall and had shoulders so broad they filled the doorway, cutting off the light. He ducked his head coming further into the room. He paused, squinting into the darker interior of the restaurant, then strode over to a table in the middle of the room.
He was no back-to-the-wall type of man, Tessa noted. He sure wasn't like any of the local cow handlers or farmers she had ever seen. The valise he set down beside the chair looked to be of expensive leather. His gray bowler hat came off and was put on the chair beside him. An indention showed in a ring around his dark hair from the pressure of the hat. As he sat down it seemed to Tessa that his big arm muscles strained every seam of his gray corduroy jacket. His thigh muscles tightened the matching gray corduroy of his trousers.
Tessa felt heat rise in her face. The guilt of staring at him was exaggerated further when he grinned at her in friendly, but amused fashion. A lock of black hair fell on his high white forehead and Tessa thought the pale blue of his eyes would drown her. What a combination to start even a cold girl's temperature to rise.
"Could ... could I help you?" Tessa managed. She clutched her white apron in trembling hands.
"I hope so." His deep voice sent tremors to her stomach. "I need coffee first, and a place to room for a few days. I also heard of Tessa's famous peach pie and I'd like some."
The way he stared at her lips Tessa wondered if peach pie and coffee was all he would like. In the kitchen she shook herself back to being Tessa, the efficient, and to Tessa, the uninvolved banterer who held men way out at arm's length and beyond.
She cut an extra big piece of peach pie with shaking hands. How deep was that dimple in his chin? With the plate of pie in one hand and a filled coffee mug in the other she miraculously made it to his table without tripping herself on her full yellow checked skirt.
He looked up with questioning eyes.
"Oh. Oh, yes, fork for your pie and a spoon for your coffee." Tessa hurried away with her face burning. She was so furious with herself she wasn't sure how or when she got back in the kitchen and out again with his utensils. Luckily Hilda had taken the dishwater out to dump it and didn't see how upset she'd become over one handsome man. This couldn't be happening; not to her. Not after all these years.
Tessa frowned. More than one good looking man had come in the restaurant over the past eighteen years. Why this one? It had to be the unusual dimple Tessa told herself and she smiled at him past the cross-through from kitchen to counter area.