THE MARSHAL NEXT DOOR by Vickie McDonough (1885)
The marshal’s deputy claims he’s seen the marshal’s young sisters snooping around businesses where there have been recent thefts. Marshal Yates can’t believe his sisters might be the thieves and seeks out a woman to mentor the impetuous teenagers. But when evidence is found against his sisters, will he have to arrest them at Christmastime?
THE SPINSTERS NEXT DOOR by Susan Page Davis (1886)
Rachel Tanner’s family harbors secrets that may lead her and her aunts to financial ruin. When Stephen Worth rents a house on the Tanner property, he gets to close to family business, insisting Rachel open a locked box her dead father guarded closely. Can the schoolmaster persuade Rachel to defy her aunts and open the box—or will she remain alone with a tangle of unanswered questions?
THE OUTLAW NEXT DOOR by Vickie McDonough (1887)
Dane McDermott, a reformed outlaw born into a gang of thieves, has buried his past deep. As respectable business owner Dane has finally met the woman of his dreams. But when his father shows up, will it ruin his chances for love with the preacher’s daughter?
THE GUNSLINGER NEXT DOOR by Susan Page Davis (1888)
Alice Singer’s new neighbor has her worried. He’s a retired gunslinger with delusions that he is Ben Franklin and needs a printing press to produce his almanac. Enlisting the postmaster’s help, Alice seeks to understand her odd neighbor, his many packages, and mysterious visitors. Is he really just a harmless old fellow?
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About the Author
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than ninety Christian novels and novellas. Her historical novels have won numerous awards, including the Carol Award, the Will Rogers Medallion for Western Fiction, and the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Contest. She has also been a finalist in the More Than Magic Contest and Willa Literary Awards. Reader favorites include the Maine Brides series, the Prairie Dreams series, and the Maine Justice Series. She lives in western Kentucky with her husband. She’s the mother of six and grandmother of ten. Visit her website at susanpagedavis.com.
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.
Read an Excerpt
Wiseman, Texas November 1885
Seriously, Marshal Yates, there's no call to point a rifle at us."
Though he doubted the Spencer brothers were dangerous, Justin Yates tightened his grip on his Winchester as he stared out his front door at the troublesome duo. On more than one occasion he had calmed irate townsfolk after the meddlesome brothers had egged a home, stolen a pie off someone's porch, or any number of things the problematic pair was known for. How they had the nerve to show up at his door and ask what they had, he'd never know.
"Yeah — I mean ... yes, sir. All we want is to take Emma and Ella out for a walk." Barry Spencer, freshly shaven and armed with a flower bouquet instead of a slingshot, still looked more than a little dangerous. The sixteen-year-old stood an inch taller than his younger brother, Carl, but a good half a foot shorter than Justin.
Behind him, Justin heard a gasp then excited whispering. Evidently, his twin sisters were eavesdropping from the dining room. That was nothing new.
"Yeah, that's all." Carl cleared his warbling throat and jerked his head, flipping his shaggy blond hair out of his eyes. "Just walkin'. No ... uh ... hanky-panky." The boy's tanned cheeks turned the color of a ripe apple. His brother scowled and elbowed him.
More gasps from the twins.
Justin tucked his rifle in the crook of his arm, drawing the brothers' gaze back to him. Shifting from one foot to the other, Carl swallowed an audible gulp that made his Adam's apple bulge for a moment. Justin bit back a smile at the youth's discomfort and struggled to maintain a sober expression. But really, there was nothing humorous about their interest in his sisters. "Sorry, fellows, Ella and Emma are only fourteen. They're far too young to be courting."
"C-courting!" Carl shot a frantic glance at his brother. "You said a walk. I ain't interested in gettin' married." Without waiting for Barry, he spun and leaped off the porch, tossing the half- wilted bouquet of daisies in the yard.
"No," one of his sisters cried.
Justin lifted an eyebrow as he stared down Barry Spencer. "My sisters aren't about to be seen walking around town on a man's" — and he used the term generously — "arm, if said 'man' has anything on his mind other than marriage. And when the day comes that I do agree to let them, it will be with upstanding, God-fearing men."
Barry ducked his head, the flowers hanging from his limp hand. "Aw shucks."
"I suggest before you call on a young lady again, you straighten up your life. You two are a bit old for tomfoolery. No self-respecting father — or brother — is going to allow his daughter — or sister — to walk around with the town prankster. Get a job — and keep it — and maybe in a couple of years the men of this town will look at you differently." He closed the front door and shook his head. He couldn't believe the nerve those boys had. He braced himself for the chugging locomotive of emotion barreling toward him.
"Jus — tin!" His twin sisters screeched his name, making it sound like the high-pitched squealing brakes of an arriving train.
"I'm mortified." Emma covered her face then peeked through her fingers. "Why did you send them away?"
"Yeah." Ella, a perfect image of her sister, shoved her hands to her waist. "We wanted to go walking around town with them. They're the cutest boys in school."
Justin narrowed his eyes and prayed for patience. "Do you know how much trouble those two have caused in this town?"
Emma cast a glance at her sister. "But they're the only boys in school near our age."
"Barry is still in school?" Justin shook his head. "Isn't he sixteen?"
Ella had been staring at him as if she could burn holes through him, but her expression wilted. "He might've had to do a year over."
"Or two," her twin mumbled.
That's just dandy. "You need to set your sights substantially higher than those two. When you're old enough to step out with a man, I suspect God will provide each of you a good and decent one. You both need some patience — and a few more years — before you think about marriage."
Ella, older by four minutes, stamped her foot. "We are old enough. Mamie Sanford and Elizabeth Young both got married when they were fifteen, and we almost are."
"And Liza Mae Green was only sixteen." Emma's stern glare would have been comical if the topic wasn't so serious.
"Well, you're not stepping out, so get used to the idea." Justin sent them a glare that made grown men cower, but his sisters didn't even flinch. "And until you grow up, take more responsibility, and prove to me that you are maturing, you're not leaving this house."
"That's not fair!" they cried in unison.
"Does that mean we don't haveta ...," Emma started.
"... go to church tomorrow or back to school on Monday?" Ella finished for her.
"I don't believe I need to answer that." Didn't that question prove he was right? He stared at his sisters, identical twins with honey-blond hair and sky-blue eyes. Perfect little angels — if you didn't know them well. The only way to tell them apart was by the faint smattering of freckles on the bridges of their tanned noses. Emma had a few more than her sister. Justin blew out a sigh. "I need to get back to work. You're not to leave this house or open the door should those yahoos return. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, sir." Ella nodded.
"You're not our father." Emma crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. "I still don't think it's fair we can't go for a walk with Barry and Carl. It's just walking."
"Your efforts would be put to better use starting supper and cleaning your rooms." He yanked his hat off the rack in the entryway, opened the door, then hurried out. He knew better than Emma that he wasn't their pa. He was only a big brother doing the best he could to provide for and raise his emotional adolescent sisters. Difficult, stubborn, troublesome sisters — whom he loved dearly and needed to protect.
The idea of those hooligan boys wanting to step out with the twins curdled his gut. Those Spencer brothers had better stay away from his house. He'd been sixteen — only seven years ago — and walking with a girl certainly hadn't been foremost in his mind. Thank goodness his pa had been around to talk to him about how a man should protect a woman and her reputation. And he'd also taught him that certain things should be saved for the sanctity of marriage.
The twins needed their ma at this pivotal age. If only his parents hadn't been killed when a train derailed two years ago. What was he going to do with those girls? They certainly needed a woman's influence.
Justin nodded at Mr. Maynard, owner of the only shoe store in Wiseman, who swung his broom back and forth across the boardwalk. When the man didn't have a customer, he could be found rearranging or dusting the shoes and boots in his shop or sweeping the constant dust that clung to everything.
Justin spun around to see John Goodwin, the postmaster, striding toward him. "What's wrong?"
"I thought you'd want to know, there's a big ruckus at the mercantile."
* * *
Marta Buckley stood behind the fabric table of Lawson's Mercantile, watching the Begley cousins arguing over a dress they both wanted. Marta's hands fisted on the fabric she planned to buy, wishing her ears were covered. She'd never desired a dress so much in her whole life that she was willing to make such a racket, not to mention a public display.
"I told you yesterday that I had my eye on this dress." Phyllis Begley jerked on the hem of the dark blue day dress with mother-of-pearl buttons down the front.
"Well, Cousin, I'm the one who first laid hand on it today, so it's mine." Serinda hiked her chin and refused to let go.
Phyllis pursed her lips. "The only reason I wanted to come here was to buy this dress. You knew that."
"I knew no such thing."
Marta couldn't believe how the two fiftysomething women could make such a public spectacle. She tried to focus on the supplies she needed to make a new apron, but it was difficult with such a commotion nearby. And where was Pete? Her brother was supposed to meet her at the mercantile to pick out fabric for a shirt she wanted to make him.
Marshal Yates strode in the door, looking tall and in charge. His gaze scanned the store, landed on Marta for half a second, then moved on. "What's going on, Henry? I heard you had some trouble."
Henry Lawson, owner of the mercantile, swatted his hand at the Begley cousins. "Nothing serious, Marshal. Just those two cackling hens squabblin' over a dress."
"Well, I never." Phyllis Begley released her hold on the dress.
Serinda shoved the wrinkled garment back on the hook it hung from. "I'll not tolerate such rudeness. Shall we go, Cousin?"
"Most certainly." Phyllis stormed from the store with Serinda right behind her, giving the marshal and Henry Lawson a glare that could freeze boiling water.
Marta ducked her head, fighting a smile. Those ladies could be as nice as the preacher's daughter, but once crossed, they were a force to reckon with.
Henry chuckled. "Those ladies could scare a tornado into spinning backwards on a sunny day."
"Sorry if I caused you to lose a sale." Marshal Yates leaned his hip against the counter.
Marta's eyes drifted from the marshal's broad shoulders, past his shiny badge, to his trim waist. With his brown hair and blue eyes, Justin Yates was a mighty nice-looking man and wore authority like a tailor-made frock coat. Marta turned away, her cheeks burning at her thought and the fact she had been staring.
Shame on you, Marta Buckley. You know better than to ogle a man's physique — especially the lawman's. Marta's hand shook as she selected thread to go with the yellow calico she'd chosen for a new apron. Why did she always get the shakes whenever Justin Yates entered a room? Even though he was only a few years older than her, he'd earned the job as marshal, but that should hardly make her nervous, since she'd known him for several years. More than likely, it was because she'd been infatuated with him since her father first moved them to Wiseman three years ago and bought the house next door to the Yates family. Not that Justin had ever noticed.
He must have sensed her stare — oh dear, she was doing it again — because he looked at her and tipped his hat. Heat engulfed her face, but she returned his greeting with a smile. She dipped her head and checked the items in her hand, deciding that would do for today. If Pete didn't care enough about his own shirt to inform her what kind he wanted — for everyday or church — she'd simply not sew one for him.
As she approached the counter, Marshal Yates straightened. Her breath escaped in a gush. My, but he was tall.
"I reckon I'll mosey along since your crisis has been averted. Afternoon, Miss Buckley." He touched the brim of his hat again and ambled out the door.
"Is there anything else I can get for you, Miss Buckley?" A throat cleared, drawing her gaze to Henry.
She tugged her attention away from the marshal's fine form, shamed at her thoughts and ever so glad Henry had no idea what was on her mind. She smiled. "I believe that will be all for today."
He wrapped her fabric and supplies in paper and tied it with twine. She paid him then walked out the door. She stopped suddenly when she saw Marshal Yates standing in front of the store. He glanced at her, looking as if he had something on his mind, but she couldn't for the life of her imagine what it was.
He cleared his throat, his feet shuffling. He looked away.
She could hardly believe he was waiting for her, but he certainly seemed to be. "Was there something you needed, Marshal?"
"I ... uh ..." He yanked off his hat. "It's my sisters."
She gasped and touched his forearm. "Are they ill?"
"Uh ... no. It's not that." He looked around, as if checking the town like she often noticed him doing. "Do you mind if we walk? Can I accompany you to wherever you're going next?"
Her heart fluttered. She dare not get her hopes up. Justin Yates had never shown the least interest in her. "You're welcome to walk with me. I'm headed home."
"Thanks." He ambled alongside her as they made their way across the town square. "I really could use some help — with Emma and Ella."
"What kind of help?"
He lifted his hat and forked his hand through his thick pecan- colored hair and sighed. "There are things they need to know that I can't teach them."
"Cooking, sewing, how to deal with men ... and" — his ears turned red as he swatted his hand in the air — "female stuff."
"Men?" Marta's cheeks heated. She stopped and turned toward him, glancing around to make sure no one had overheard him. What made him assume she knew much about men? Yes, she'd had a father, before he died last winter of influenza, and she had a brother, but she'd never had a beau — not with Pete scaring them all away.
The red crept down his neck, coloring his tanned skin an unnatural shade. "Yeah, you know ... how to relate to men."
"It seems you would be able to teach that better than I."
He shoved his hands in his pockets then yanked them out, obviously as uncomfortable with the conversation as she. Was it because he was talking to her or because of the topic of their chat? "What exactly is it you're asking?"
His gaze lifted to the porch roof as if he were searching for a response. But then his expression hardened. "Never mind. It was a bad idea anyway."
Marta's mouth dropped open as he stalked away. The marshal had barely talked to her previously. Why had he picked her to chat about his sisters? Was he asking her for help in finding someone to work with his sisters, or was he wanting her to do the job? Had he found her lacking, not up to the cause?
If he did want her to work with the twins, he'd picked the wrong woman. Oh, she could show the girls how to cook and sew, but not how to deal with men. How could she teach anyone a thing about men when she found them utterly confusing?CHAPTER 2
Marta sprinkled flour on her hands and bent over the blob of dough lying on the cupboard counter. A movement outside the back window snagged her attention. She leaned closer. Emma and Ella Yates dashed across her backyard, giggling and running like hoydens with their skirts bouncing up to their knees. Their behavior was far too childish for girls their age. They certainly needed mothering, but obviously Justin thought she wasn't the person for that task.
She pressed her forehead to the glass to see where they were. They'd already run past her yard and turned toward the next street. What were they up to?
The marshal sure had his hands full upholding the law in town and watching over his pretty sisters, although she suspected the twins were the more difficult task. It was a good thing there weren't all that many young men in the small town to chase after Emma and Ella. What would Justin do next summer when the girls finished their schooling? She almost felt sorry for him.
Marta blew out a heavy sigh, sending a cloud of flour dust into the air. She fanned her hand, turned away from her work, and coughed. As she returned to kneading the dough, she thought about the first time she'd seen Justin Yates when they moved to Wiseman. Just like when she saw him at the store earlier, her heart had sped up. He had been so comely at twenty, but in the years since then he'd muscled up more — his chest had expanded, and his shoulders were wide enough to carry the weight of the whole town's troubles on them. And yet his sisters burdened him.
What if there was a way she could help him? The twins more than likely could cook some, but perhaps she could teach them to prepare things they were unfamiliar with. Most girls their age were adept at stitching, having made a sampler or two in their younger years. They probably sewed their own clothing, although she remembered seeing Justin in the mercantile with them looking at ready-made dresses, so perhaps not.
She placed the dough in the pan then formed another loaf. What would Pete say to inviting Justin and his sisters to Sunday dinner? Surely the two men could take time off to enjoy a Sabbath meal. If Justin agreed, then she could casually chat with the girls and see what they knew and didn't. After that, she could come up with a plan — once she'd taken the matter to the Lord, of course. Prayer always helped, even when Pete was in one of his moods, which seemed to be more often these days. "Please keep my brother healthy and safe, Father."
She had hoped to be married by now, at twenty-one, with a child or two in tow, but that hadn't been God's plan for her. Even though her heart ached for children of her own, she attempted to satisfy her longing by holding her friends' babies.
She stared out the window. "One day, Lord, in Your timing. Help me to be content until that day."
The front door banged open, causing her to jump. Pete stomped in. "When's supper?"
"Same time as always — five o'clock."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Christmas Next Door"
Copyright © 2019 Susan Page Davis and Vickie McDonough.
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.
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