Nate Bohannan won't let anything stand in the way of his grand plans in California. Even if it means traveling there with unreliable huckster Robert Salali. But after a destructive bender in Simpson Creek, Texas, the unscrupulous Salali runs out, leaving Nate to carry the blameand the debt. He can fix broken furniture but can anything fix the despair in café owner Ella Justiss's eyes?
When her café was destroyed, Ella felt sure she'd lost her dreams along with it. Yet somehow Nate's cheerful care and optimism fill her with hope again. Painful secrets from her childhood make Ella wary of men. When danger threatens, will Nate be the hero Ella can finally trustand love?
Brides of Simpson Creek: Small-town Texas spinsters find love with mail-order grooms!
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Simpson Creek, Texas
"Could I interest you in a sandwich, cowboy? Maybe a bowl of chili?"
Ella Justiss didn't like the look of the man who leaned on the counter, studying her instead of the menu posted behind her. He had a scraggly scruff of a beard, narrow, calculating eyes and smelled of sweat, stale whiskey and the cheroots that peeked out of his shirt pocket.
"So here's where Detwiler keeps his best gal!" the drifter crowed, staring at her with red-rimmed eyes. "I knew he had to have somethin' better than the ones he's got out there servin' rotgut. What's your name, pretty gal?"
Pretty? Me? The drifter must have drunk a powerful lot of the saloon's whiskey before coming to her little café in the back of the building. "Whoa, cowboy, I think you misunderstood. I'm not one of the saloon girls. See the sign?" she said, pointing behind her. "I'm selling food, cold tea, lemonade and coffee, nothing else." There was no one else in the café at the moment, and nothing between her and the drifter but a long, battered and scratched pecan-wood countertop with a narrow opening at one end so she could bring orders out to the tables. She'd have to leave its safety and go right by him to reach the saloon or out into the alley behind her café. And something in his avid gaze told her she'd never make it past him, that he might try to force his way behind the counter. Then she could be trapped between the stove and the wall.
"Are you hungry? Would you like something to eat?" she prompted, keeping her voice natural, hoping to distract him.
His eyes went narrower still, and she knew she'd said the wrong thing.
"Oh, I'm hungry, all right, gal. An' you look purdy enough to eat. C'mere." Before she could think to back away or try to call for George Detwiler, the saloonkeeper, the stranger made a grab for her, pulling her out from behind the counter, snaking an arm around her waist and hauling her toward him.
Suddenly she was a frightened child back in the asylum at night, waking at the sound of the creaking of the floorboards in the darkness. Her eyes strained to see through the gloom, but she couldn't make out what had roused her. Around her, she could hear snores from some of the cots, the quiet breathing of children from others. And then there was a hand over her mouth
Ella could never remember further than that. She didn't know why confrontations with overfriendly customers made her think of the asylum, but they always did. Her stomach clenched, as it always did when this half memory paid a visit.
"Stop it!" she screamed. "George, help me!" She boxed her assailant's ears and clawed at his face as he succeeded in pulling her out of her sanctuary, but she might as well have pounded on a tree trunk.
The stranger guffawed, amused by her attempts to free herself, and clamped a smelly hand over her mouth, muffling her screams. "Settle down, woman, I jes' wanna kiss You don' weigh any more'n a minute, you know that?"
Oh, yes, she knew folks said she was thin as a fiddle string and short as an ant's eyebrow, and now her size was a distinct liability in the fight. The tinkly piano music in the saloon had probably drowned out her cries. Detwiler would never hear her in time to come to her aid.
Dimly she was aware of the door opening behind her, but she was too busy fending off her attacker, who had begun to paw at the neckline of her dress, to pay any attention to what the sound might mean. Then all at once she was free, and the drifter, his nose bloodied, had fallen heavily on his backside, out cold. Ella found herself looking into the clear blue eyes of yet another stranger.
This one was as well favored as the drifter had been ugly, with a lock of curly light brown hair falling over his forehead.
"You all right, ma'am?" he asked, his Southern drawl like a caress.
"Yes, I think so Thank you," she said fervently. "You came along at just the right time. I knew the saloonkeeper wouldn't hear me over his piano " Ella glanced uneasily at her unconscious attacker lying just a few feet from her, wondering if he would come around and launch himself at her again.
"Don't worry about him," the newcomer said, following her gaze. "He'll be out for a while, and when he wakes up, his head will ache too much to think of bothering you. I'll get the saloonkeeper and we'll drag him out of here." He left for a moment, and when he returned, he had Detwiler in tow.
"Again, Miss Ella?" Detwiler said, glancing from her unconscious attacker to Ella and back again.
She nodded. "I'm afraid so, George."
Detwiler said nothing more to her, just grunted as he reached under the man's shoulders, and with the newcomer hoisting the attacker's booted feet, and Ella holding the back door open, the two men hauled the drifter into the alley. She knew they would leave him in front of the saloon, and hopefully, he wouldn't find his way back.
When they returned, Detwiler trudged back into the saloon, leaving Ella once more alone with her rescuer. As much as Ella had wanted to scuttle back behind the counter, she had been too shaky to move, and she still stood clutching the doorknob.
"You get a lot of that sort of thing, men bothering you like that?"
Her rescuer look concerned, but what was he going to do about it? She nodded and tried to look unperturbed, despite the fact that she was still shaking inside. If this man hadn't come along And being alone with this man now, without the counter between them, made her nearly as uneasy as the drifter had.
"Not usually as bad as that," she said, hoping she sounded calm. "Guess it was too much to hope that some fellows wouldn't get the wrong idea from my little café being in the back of the saloon." It couldn't be helpedit wasn't as if she had the funds to buy a lot and erect a building on it. Using the back room of George Detwiler's saloon for her little eatery and paying him a small sum that covered rent and provisions was supposed to be a temporary measure until the profits would enable her to have her own café, but it seemed she'd be old and gray by the time that happened.
She could think of that later. Meanwhile, she owed this stranger some sort of thanks for his timely intervention.
"Can I offer you a cup of coffee, mister? And a sandwich?" Ella asked, though she couldn't help wincing inwardly at the loss of the three bits it would cost her to give away what she was supposed to be selling.
"Thank you, but I'll pay for two sandwiches, since I came in with money to buy food anyway," he told her. "I'll eat one now, but would you wrap up the other sandwich for a friend, please?" Suiting his action to his words, he sprinkled some coins onto the countertop. "You could tell me your name."
"Ella," she said. "Ella Justiss."
"Nice to meet you, Miss Ella. I'm Nate Bohannan."
After making the first beef sandwich and pouring his coffee, she studied the man from under her lashes as he ate. He wasn't one of the local ranch hands, and he wasn't dressed like a cowboy. He wore black trousers, a clean white shirt and a silver brocade vest with a gold watch fob. All of his clothes were clean and well cared for, if a little well-worn. If it weren't for the fancy vest, she might have thought him a doctor, or maybe a preacher. He was well-spoken and polite, but the vest revealed a showier side to his character than a man of one of those professions.
"What brings you to Simpson Creek, Mr. Bohannan, if I may ask?" she said as she fashioned the second sandwich for his unseen friend. "Are you a gambler, by any chance?" Detwiler operated a faro table at night, so maybe the man had come to try his luck.
Bohannan threw back his head and laughed. It was a hearty laugh, as if he enjoyed a good sense of humor. "No, I'm not a gambler, though you might say our business is a kind of gamble. I'm the assistant to Mr. Robert Salali. He runs the Cherokee Medicine Show, and we're visiting your fair town to sell his amazing product."
"'Salali?' Is he Indian? Or is that some kind of foreign name?" she asked.
Bohannan smiled as he answered. "As American as you and I, though he was given the Cherokee name Salali by a Cherokee chief. He considers it an honor and uses it for his medicine business. Say, Miss Ella, why don't you come see the medicine show. The bottled medicine he sells is a wondrous potion. It'll cure whatever ails a bodythough looking at you, I'd say you're not troubled by lumbago, catarrh or rheumatism," he said with a wink of a twinkling blue eye.
What was it about this man that made her want to laugh and smile at everything he said, despite her unease with his charm? It was more than the gratitude inspired by his rescue.
"No, I'm not subject to those complaints," she said, trying to sound tart but failing miserably.
"It's good for lots of other things," he assured her. "Things that might not be apparent on the surface. Melancholy, dyspepsia "
"Fortunately, I'm in good health, but I have to watch my pennies too carefully to spend money on such things," she told him. "I want to open my own restaurant someday, one not attached to a saloon." She had no idea why she was sharing her dream with a man who was next to a stranger to her, a man who sent disquieting emotions zinging through her.
"A completely worthy ambition," he agreed. "But come see the presentation, won't you? It's entertaining, if nothing else. Salali puts on a good show." He'd finished his sandwichwolfed it down, more like. "Our wagon's pulled up in front of the mercantile. And you just might think of a need for our wonderful Cherokee medicine."
Entertaining? Ella couldn't remember when she'd last been entertained. Life was hard for an honest woman on her own. "What's in this amazing medicine of yours?" she asked, letting her skepticism reveal itself.
"Ah, but that'd be telling," he said with a wink. "Suffice it to say, a little of this, a little of that, and all good for what ails a person."
"You'd better be glad our Dr. Walker and his wife are off in Austin this week," she told him. "He doesn't hold with quackery. Says calomel is poison, and most of the other things in patent medicines are, too."
Bohannon regarded her seriously, though amusement danced in those blue eyes. He held up a hand and looked straight at her. "On my mother's grave, I swear that there's no calomel or any other harmful thing in Salali's Cherokee Marvelous Medicine."
"When does the show start?"
He smiled, a smile that wrapped itself around her soul, a smile that made her regret her long-held beliefs about men, and think that this man just might be the exception. Reaching inside his vest pocket, he brought out a gold pocket watch.
"In fifteen minutes," he said. "Thanks for the sandwiches and that fine coffee, Miss Ella Justiss."
"You're welcome. Come back for supper, if you like. My fried chicken is the best in San Saba County."
"I just might do that," he said. He picked up the wrapped sandwich and exited through the saloon.
If she wanted to take a few minutes out to watch a medicine show, she could, Ella told herself. She'd been her own boss since leaving her job at the hotel restaurant and Mrs. Powell, the tyrannical cook who'd made her life miserable. She didn't do business in midafter-noon, anywaythose looking for a bite to eat at noon had already found it, either at her café or the hotel restaurant, and no one was seeking supper yet.
Ella locked the door to the alley, just in case the drifter woke up and tried to find his way back inside, then reached into the cigar box that held the pitifully paltry revenue from the day so far and emptied it into her reticule.
She went into the empty saloon and caught sight of Detwiler sitting on a chair at the piano, picking out a tune she didn't know, though she did recognize the fact that the piano badly needed tuning. So George had been the one playing at the time the drifter had been attacking her.
He looked up as she approached. "Sorry about what happened, Miss Ella. Guess I shoulda known that fellow was too shifty-eyed to let him go back there, what with you bein' alone."
She forced a bright smile to her lips. "No harm done, George. Mr. Bohannan intervened."
"Seemed like a nice fella, even if he is one a' them snake-oil salesmen." Now the saloonkeeper's eyes turned apologetic as he cleared his throat. "I'm not sure our arrangement's gonna work out, Miss Ella, from the number of times I've had to step in and keep some yahoo from botherin' ya. I don't want anything bad t' happen to ya, after all."
Desperation gripped her with icy fingers. She could not lose the use of Detwiler's back room, not when she had nowhere else to run her café. And there was very little in the way of other work for a decent woman if one was not a wife, like some of the ex-Spinsters, or a schoolteacher, like Spinsters' Club member Louisa Wheeler.
"Please, George," she said, clasping her hands together. "I'll only need the space until I can get my own place," she said, refusing to think about how long that would take. "I can't go back to the hotelMrs. Powell's already hired Daisy Henderson to wait tables in the restaurant." Even if her job had not already been taken, it would be too galling to submit to the cook's bullying again. Nor did she want to move on to yet another town.
Detwiler sighed. "All right. You kin stay for the time bein'. I know ya don't have any other good options. I'll try to keep a better eye on your customers. Maybe we could rig up some kinda bell rope that would ring behind the bar or somethin' if you get another bad'un."
Ella smothered a snort. As noisy as it got at times in the saloon, she could probably fire a cannon back there and he wouldn't be able to hear it. But it was nice knowing Detwiler cared about her safety, at least. She knew him to be a decent man. Even the women who served the whiskey in his saloon weren't compelled to do anything more, and if they took customers upstairs, that was entirely up to them. Detwiler took no cut of it. And Detwiler had given her a chance to go into business for herself instead of remaining under Mrs. Powell's bullying thumb at the hotel.
"Thanks," she said. "I'm just going to go down the street for a few minutes and see the Cherokee Medicine Show. I'll be back before anyone's likely to mosey in looking for supper."
"Gonna buy ya some snake oil, eh?" Detwiler asked with a chuckle.
"Hardly," she said, and pushed through the batwing doors to the outside.
Down the street she could see a buckboard with an extralong wagon bed pulled up in front of the mercantile. The wagon bed was gaily painted in emerald-green with navy trim and an inscription along the side in fancy script lettering. As she drew closer, she saw that the inscription read The Cherokee Marvelous Medicine Show. In the middle of the wagon bed stood a narrow podium, with a box on either side stacked full of amber bottlesno doubt the famous Cherokee elixir.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this book. I had a hard time putting this book down.
“A Hero in the Making” by Laurie Kingery is her seventh book in her 'Brides of Simpson Creek' series but it is a perfect stand alone book. We do get to see a few of the prior book character's but in the way of people who live in the same community, and see how they are faring after so many books. In this book we get to see Ella and learn a whole more about her as well as what drives her to work so hard not to mention her tendency stay off to the side so much of the time. She holds a secret so close to her chest that part of it she has blocked out, but everything makes sense as to why she is the way she is when the whole truth is revealed. She is trying so hard to make a living for herself by running her own cafe and trying to control her fear of strange, new men since she is working in the cafe she runs. She is also very self-conscious about what others think about her and with good reason too. Nate is a man who is determined to get where the grass is going to be greener that he is willing to do things that might make him a little uneasy in order to get there, until things fall apart on him. Nate is a gentleman who will protect women not to mention do what is right in order to correct a wrong, even if that wrong was done by someone else. Things start getting a little complicated for him when things start happening that makes him to start questioning where exactly the grass is the greenest. This is a story of trust and forgiveness. Trusting oneself is something that is part of the trust issue for one character is not sure who they can fully trust and what is happening to them as well. Could they be going crazy or is their past getting the best of them? Trusting others when things might be new to them, and trusting others to not hold things against them. When trust is not an easy thing it is easy to see the struggle. Then there is the forgiveness of oneself for things that were beyond their control. These seemed to be subtle but they are what I took away from the story. There seems to be several different type of conflicts, several internal and one or two external conflicts. The internal conflicts are within the main characters without being overwhelming, but just enough to show the struggle that each are going through. The external conflict has a few twist and turns that I didn't expect. This is a book that I just couldn't wait to see what happened next. I hope that all who read this book enjoy it as much as I did.
Ella is trying to make her own way. She operates a café in the back room of the local saloon. One evening a stranger saved her from an unruly man. Soon after her café and the saloon are trashed and the stranger stays to help repair the damage when it’s figured out it was his boss who did the damage. As much as Ella wants to trust Nate her past keeps her from embracing a future with him. What I liked: Nate and Ella were very likeable and the towns people made this book interesting. I have not read the books preceding this one but the author did a good job of telling enough of the previous characters that I did not feel like I need to go read any of the other books. Both Nate and Ella had issues from their past they needed to work through which gave the book depth. What I did not like: This book felt short. Time seemed to jump around and I felt like there could have been more to the story. I know that these books are shorter in general but I really felt it with this book. The climate of the plot felt rushed. Overall the book was okay but not as good as it could have been.
This book is the same quality as all of Ms Kingery's books. I find most all writers of this Historical fiction line to be well examples of good chrustain fiction. Their stories alway flow easily and harmonious. Ms Kingery'sSimpson CReek spinsters club brides are exceptional. Each book the same but unique in story line but exceptional in the contunious of the Simpson Creek community. Its nice to read of the characters in the others books and how their luves have progressed
4 STARS This seems to be a good series I have only read the last two books, but I would love to go back and read the first 5 of them. This was a nice story. Some things you could see what was going to happen but others had no idea of. Nate did not have much left but skills his father taught him. He did not have to make right the wrongs is boss Robert Salali did. He was talented and wanted to help others. Ella Justiss was a good cook, but she had a hard time trusting men and others. The more you learn about Ella you want to help her. She had some tough things in her life. Makes you glad that I had loving parents. The setting for this book is Simpson Creek, Texas 1869 Ella Justiss has a café in the back of saloon. She wants to someday have her own café with a building. She works all the time. It is not the best location with the drunks. Her business and saloon were destroyed by Salali and Nate was left behind and everything he had taken. Nate was working with Salali medicine show for a little money but mostly to help him get to California. He has big plans. But he wants to help rebuild the furniture that was destroyed. If he can get tools and would he could fix things. So he trades his skills for room and board. Dose talk a lot about prayer, scriptures and church in a good way that is natural to the story. It does inspire you. Makes for a clean read and thankful for what we do have. I was given this ebook to read so I could give a honest review of the story by Net Galley and Harlequin.