Adelaide Langtry may not be as beautiful as her sisters, but she has determination to spare. She’ll need it if she’s to succeed as a schoolteacher in her old hometown and care for the three abandoned siblings she brought from Boston. In Whispering Pines, Addie hopes to establish an orphanage, but she must also contend with her past, including her outlaw brother, Frank.
Orphaned as a boy, Sheriff Jack Roper understands the turmoil faced by Addie’s young charges. Though he tells himself he has all the responsibility he needs, the handsome lawman is quickly charmed by the children, and by the spirited, generous woman intent on helping them. Still, he has his own duty—to capture Frank Langtry and bring him to justice.
When the children’s safety is endangered, Addie and Jack realize how much they’ve come to care for them, and each other. Keeping their ready-made family together is the greatest challenge they’ve known—but it could also be the greatest blessing . . .
Praise for Christmas at Dove Creek
“This uplifting novel will keep readers warm all winter.”
--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
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For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
Psalms 91:11 (NIV)
It was only the second day of September, but the air was crisp and falling leaves were floating on a gentle breeze, a sure indication summer would soon be saying good-bye. Adelaide Langtry was thankful the journey home to Whispering Pines, Colorado, had been much more pleasant than the trek east five years prior. She, along with her two sisters, had left Whispering Pines on a hot July day, and the entire trip had been one laden with dust, unbearable heat, and cranky, smelly passengers wedged elbow to elbow inside the coach. She couldn't imagine a more miserable experience, and she'd nearly jumped for joy when she'd learned there would be no additional passengers on the last leg of this trip. Actually, it was a godsend; the three children she was taking home were able to stretch out and sleep, as they were at this moment.
After the children had worn her out with their many questions, she'd suggested they settle on the coach's bench seats while she read the story of David and Goliath. It was their favorite Bible story, and she'd read it to them so many times she knew it by heart. The children were quiet, listening intently, waiting for their favorite part of the story, David slaying the tormenting giant. Adelaide didn't make it that far this time; the rhythmic motion of the stagecoach lulled the children to sleep in minutes.
Adelaide's eyes flickered over their innocent faces as they slept. She smiled, thinking of their many questions about their new home and cowboys. Davey, who was twelve years old, going on twenty, wanted to be a cowboy, and to his utter dismay he had yet to see what he thought was an honest-to-goodness cowboy. Adelaide had all but promised him that a cowboy or two would be traveling with them, but it was not to be, and Davey was sorely disappointed.
In truth, Adelaide was as excited as the children to reach Whispering Pines. She couldn't wait to see her grandmother and her sister, Rose. She'd longed to return home for over a year, but she had promised to work for a period of time at the orphanage in Boston, and she had to see it through. It was always her plan to return home to teach, but when she started working with the children at the orphanage, she'd found her true purpose. Once she'd shared her desire to open an orphanage in Whispering Pines, the superintendent of the Boston orphanage lent his full support and plans quickly came together. Everything had fallen into place so perfectly, Adelaide's inner voice told her the orphanage was her destiny. She knew that as surely as she knew her name.
It wasn't without some regret that she was leaving some close friends behind, but Whispering Pines called to her soul. Her thoughts drifted to Prescott. Prescott Adler III and his parents were benefactors of the orphanage in Boston. They had donated the stately Colonial Revival–style home in Boston where the orphanage was located. She'd met Prescott the day she'd interviewed for a teaching position with the superintendent, and not long after their initial meeting, Prescott invited her to dine. Since that night, Prescott had been her escort to every social function he deemed worthy of his time and effort. Over the last few months he'd often hinted that one day he might make an offer of marriage, but it never materialized. She wondered if he missed her now that she was gone.
No doubt, Prescott's mother was overjoyed that Adelaide had left Boston. His mother never failed to remind her how fortunate she was to have caught her son's eye. Mrs. Adler had a way of looking down her patrician nose when she discussed Adelaide's inferior background, as though she'd had a choice in the matter of the family or circumstances into which she'd been born. The Adlers were one of Boston's wealthier families; old money, as Mrs. Adler would quietly discern when introducing her to Boston's elite. Frankly, Adelaide found it difficult to appreciate the difference between old money and new money. As Granny always said, Money didn't determine a person's character.
Pushing aside her thoughts of Prescott, and what might have been, Adelaide decided it was the perfect time to check her appearance while the children were sleeping. She opened her reticule to retrieve the elegant tortoiseshell compact that had been a Christmas gift from Prescott last year, and peeked at her reflection. She fiddled with her hair until she was satisfied her unruly curls were under control, then turned her attention on her pale face. As she pinched her cheeks to add a little color, she wondered what her sister Rose thought when she looked in a mirror. What would it be like to see the image of an uncommonly beautiful woman instead of an average face? She would never know; she had long ago accepted she would never have a face that would launch a thousand ships. Checking the mirror one last time, she muttered, "Not bad for an old maid."
She snapped the compact closed and glanced out over the passing landscape. No matter her accomplishments during the last five years, she worried her marital status would be the first thing everyone would mention when she arrived home. She'd told herself that twenty-six wasn't such an advanced age, yet she was well aware most women her age were married with children. Even her younger sister had recently wed the most handsome man in Whispering Pines, so Adelaide thought folks were bound to pity her all the more. It was generally considered unseemly for younger sisters to marry before the eldest married. Perhaps she wouldn't be subjected to as much salacious gossip, since her eldest sister, Emma, had never married.
It had occurred to her that once she told Prescott she was leaving, he might ask for her hand. But she hadn't made her decision to leave Boston to force his proposal. Even if he had asked her to marry, it wouldn't have made a difference in her decision to go home — at least that's what she told herself when he didn't profess his undying affection. She was fond of Prescott, but she'd always dreamed of marrying a man who took her breath away. Like her sister's husband, Morgan LeMasters. Not only was Morgan considered the most handsome man in the territory, he was also the most eligible, and there wasn't a woman in Whispering Pines who wouldn't have jumped at the chance to marry him. It came as no surprise Morgan had been smitten by Rose, and Addie couldn't wait to hear how he'd wooed her. Rose had had her choice of suitors in Boston, but she'd always kept them at arm's length, not encouraging their attentions. Adelaide sighed. If she were as comely as Rose, she wouldn't worry about being an old maid. Everyone would think she was just waiting for the right man. Sometimes the truth was more difficult to face, and more painful.
She told herself not to waste time worrying about what people might think. She was happy with her choices. Nothing would be as rewarding as opening an orphanage and providing children a home until they were adopted. Like the three children traveling with her now; they were starved for love and attention. Adelaide wanted to fulfill their emotional needs and provide them with some stability in their lives. Faith, hope, love. Isn't that what Granny taught were the most important things in life? What could be more important than loving children? She might die having never experienced the love of a man, but that didn't mean her life would have been meaningless.
Prescott often reminded her she shouldn't become so attached to the children since they would leave the orphanage one day. He'd said he couldn't imagine living on the premises of an orphanage as if the children were his own. Prescott was financially generous, giving the orphanage more support than she could imagine, but that was where his commitment ended. After spending a year with these three children in particular, she almost dreaded the day they would be adopted. If Prescott had asked her to marry and agreed to adopt the children, she might have been tempted to stay in Boston.
She gave herself a mental shake. One couldn't live her life with what-ifs, one had to go forward. She glanced out the window once more and realized they were close to town. "Children, wake up. We are almost there."
Davey's eyes snapped open, and he slid across the bench to stick his head out the opening. "Really?"
Adelaide shook her head at his question. Davey reminded her of a doubting Thomas; he had to see everything with his own eyes to believe. "Yes, really." She leaned over and gently shook the girls. "Girls, time to get ready."
"Ready for what?" Jane asked as she slowly moved to a sitting position.
"Time to straighten your dresses. We are almost there." Adelaide watched as Jane's eyes moved to her younger sister, Claire. Jane was the middle child, and at ten years old, she'd taken on the responsibility of looking after her baby sister.
Jane stood and ran her hands over her blue dress, smoothing out the wrinkles before she squeezed beside her brother to look out the window.
Claire was only four years old, but she understood they were going to a new place where they might find people who wanted to adopt them. She climbed in Adelaide's lap and focused her large, sky-blue eyes on Addie. "Are we going to find my papa now?"
Adelaide ran her fingers through Claire's blond curls and kissed her cheek. The question was asked with such yearning that Adelaide knew it was one Claire had long considered. "We are going to our new home. Right now, that is what is important. You will meet my grandmother, my sister, and her new husband. They will be part of your family too."
Claire scooted off her lap and tugged at her pink dress with her chubby little dimpled fingers. "Does it look good?"
Adelaide smiled at the beautiful child. "Perfect." She glanced at Davey and Jane as they craned their necks out the window. "Do you see anything?"
"No, ma'am, not yet," Jane said. "Miss Addie, do you think your grandmother will like us?"
Hearing that question brought a lump to Adelaide's throat. Sometimes the children would ask such questions so unexpectedly that it would catch her unaware. It never failed to sadden her that they thought no one would love them, or want them. "I know Granny will love you, just as my sister Rose and her husband, Morgan, will love you."
"Are they as nice as you, Miss Addie?" Davey asked.
"I think they are, but you will see for yourself."
"Will we really learn to ride a horse?"
"You most certainly will. To live out here, riding is a necessity." Addie had wanted to teach them to ride in Boston, but the superintendent at the orphanage wouldn't hear of it.
"I think I see something," Jane said. "There aren't very many buildings. Are you sure this is the right place?"
Adelaide felt the coach slowing, and she leaned to look out over Jane's head. "It's a much smaller town than Boston."
"I want to see," Claire said, worming her way to the window.
The coach pulled to a halt in front of the hotel. Davey made a move to open the door, but Addie cautioned, "Wait for the driver."
The stagecoach driver, George, opened the door to see the two older children ready to jump to the ground. "I bet you children are happy to be here."
"Yes, sir," Davey said, leaping from the stagecoach. He looked around, and his eyes landed on two very large men and two women walking toward the stagecoach.
Jane jumped to the ground next, and Adelaide was holding on to Claire's hand to help her out, but Claire pulled away and vaulted out the door.
"Claire!" Addie exclaimed in horror.
Sheriff Jack Roper had been talking with Granny, Rose, and Morgan when the stagecoach arrived, so he walked with them to greet Rose's sister. He was saying hello to George when he saw the little girl out of the corner of his eye. She was holding her arms out as though she expected someone would be waiting to catch her when she jumped. Reacting quickly, Jack took one step closer to the coach and scooped the child up before she hit the ground. His heart was in his throat when he looked down at the curly blond bundle in his hands. Her eyes were fixated on his face, and she didn't seem the least bit rattled by the incident. He couldn't help but smile at her trusting, impish face. He'd never seen such an adorable child. "Well, hello."
"Hello," Claire said, her blue eyes boring into his with more intensity than any outlaw Jack had ever faced.
"Claire! Don't you ever ..." Addie stopped. Claire was safe and secure in the arms of a tall man who had his back to her. Seeing Claire was not injured, Addie's heart rate settled.
"Addie!" Rose exclaimed when Addie appeared at the coach's door.
Jack turned, positioned Claire on his hip, and extended his hand to assist Addie to the ground. She didn't look a thing like Rose. Addie had auburn hair and blue eyes, and she was taller than her younger sister, not to mention she had a much fuller figure. While she might not be considered a heart-stopping beauty like Rose, she had a sweet, innocent look about her, and the bluest eyes Jack had ever seen.
As soon as the man holding Claire turned, Adelaide recognized Sheriff Roper. What she didn't remember, or perhaps she'd never noticed, was his ruggedly appealing face. His features were not as perfectly formed as Morgan LeMasters's, not handsome in the usual definition. More like strikingly dangerous looking. The slash of a thin scar running along the top of his cheekbone, along with his severely square jaw and penetrating silver-gray eyes, lent him a formidable appearance. "Sheriff," she said, placing her hand in his. As soon as her feet were on the ground, Rose and Granny converged on her and wrapped their arms around her.
"Oh, Addie, I'm so glad you're home," Granny choked out on a sob.
"I'm happy to be home." Addie was so overcome with emotion seeing her grandmother that she could barely speak. "It's so good to see you."
Granny pulled back, and seeing Addie's tears, she pulled her handkerchief from her sleeve and started dabbing at her granddaughter's cheeks. "Now, no crying. You're home and this is a happy day."
Addie wiped her tears away. "Of course it is. These are happy tears."
"Addie, you remember Sheriff Roper," Granny said.
Addie's eyes met the sheriff's. "Of course, nice to see you again."
Jack reached up and tipped his hat. "Miss Adelaide."
Addie thought his deep baritone voice matched his intimidating appearance. "Please call me Addie." She turned to Davey and Jane. "Let me introduce you to the children." She placed her arm around Davey's shoulders. "This is Davey, the eldest, and our protector on our journey." Jane was standing behind her, so Addie reached for her hand and urged her forward. "This is Jane, and I don't know what I would have done without her help." She pointed to the young child in Jack's arms. "Claire is the youngest, and as you can see, a real handful." She gave Claire a stern look. "Claire, you shouldn't have jumped from the coach. You could have hurt yourself. Thank the sheriff for catching you."
Claire looked at the group of strangers before she turned somber eyes on Jack. "Thank you for catchin' me."
"Any time," Jack replied.
Running her tiny fingers over the scar on Jack's cheek, Claire frowned. "Hurt?"
The concern on her sweet face tugged at Jack's heart. "Not any longer, honey."
Claire smiled at his reply, and Jack returned her smile, flashing a row of perfectly aligned white teeth.
Like Claire, Addie couldn't seem to force her eyes from the sheriff's face. At first glance he appeared intimidating, but when he smiled, his face transformed from fearsome to remarkably handsome. She held her arms out to take Claire from him, but her eyes remained on Jack's mind-numbing smile.
Claire ignored Addie, shaking her head from side to side, silently conveying she was happy where she was. Jack just grinned at the child's refusal to leave his arms, leaving Addie speechless.
Claire placed her small hands on Jack's cheeks, turning his head until he was nose to nose with her. She studied his face, seriously appraising his every feature. "Are you my new papa?" Jack was taken aback by her question. He didn't know how to respond to the darling little girl. He glanced Morgan's way, hoping his friend might help him out, but Morgan looked as flummoxed as he was.
Claire's question drew Addie's focus from Jack's smile.
Granny realized no one knew what to say to the child, so she spoke up. "Children, you can call me Granny if you like."
"Yes, ma'am," Davey and Jane said in unison.
Addie breathed a sigh of relief when Claire turned to stare at the older woman. "Granny?"
"Yes, Claire, you can call her Granny," Addie said. She wasn't certain, but she had a sinking feeling the child had already decided she now had a father and a grandmother.
Excerpted from "Return to Whispering Pines"
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Scarlett Dunn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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