When dropped from the wagon train along the Platte River for not pulling their load, Clara Fields is determined to find a way to provide for her newly-widowed aunt. So she strikes a bargain with an aging storekeeper that in exchange for finding a bride for his son Clara can have his house to run a boardinghouse. But Dr. Saul Reed is not interested in getting tied down to Buttonwood in the middle of nowhere, and he certainly has no plans for marriage. Can he shake his determined matchmaker, or will he strike a new bargain with Clara?
The Prairie Promises Series:
Book 1 - The Bride Bargain
Book 2 - The Bride Backfire
Book 3 - The Bride Blunder
About the Author
Kelly Eileen Hake received her first writing contract at the tender age of seventeen and arranged to wait three months until she was able to legally sign it. Since that first contract a decade ago, she’s fulfilled twenty contracts ranging from short stories to novels. In her spare time, she’s attained her BA in English literature and composition, earned her credential to teach English in secondary schools, and went on to complete her MA in writing popular fiction.
Writing for Barbour combines two of Kelly’s great loves—history and reading. A CBA bestselling author and member of American Christian Fiction Writers, she’s been privileged to earn numerous Heartsong Presents Reader’s Choice Awards and is known for her witty, heartwarming historical romances.
Read an Excerpt
The Bride Bargain
By Kelly Eileen Hake
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Kelly Eileen Hake
All rights reserved.
Nebraska Territory, Oregon Trail, two weeks journey past Fort Laramie, 1855
That does it!" Clara Field gritted her teeth and tugged harder on her leather glove, which was currently clamped between the jaws of a cantankerous ox. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"I'll get him in a headlock for you, Miss Field, and cut off his air so he'll open his mouth." Burt Sprouse sauntered over. "That should take care of things quick enough."
"Oh, choking him wouldn't be the right answer." Clara struggled to hide her disgust at the very suggestion. "I have to marvel at how similar animals and humans can be. Neither group likes to be forced into anything, and try as I might, I can't seem to convince him we're trudging toward freedom."
"Well, I reckon I could knee him in the chest to make him let go." Sprouse shuffled closer. "Hickory's got an eye on you."
"Thank you, Mr. Sprouse. I'll handle this." Clara waited until the burly ex-lumberjack wandered away before pleading with the ox. "Your antics are going to get us kicked off the wagon train, Simon!"
At the sound of his name, the ox perked his ears and his mouth went slack, allowing Clara to yank away her glove. How an ox had a taste for leather escaped her, but bovine cannibalism counted as the least of her worries at the moment. She held up the mangled thing and sighed.
Thank You, Lord, that I brought an extra pair just in case I lost one. Her lips quirked at the tooth marks on the leather. Though I never thought things would come to this.
Yanking on the length of rope she'd tied around Simon's neck, Clara urged him toward the makeshift corral the trail boss had set up for the night. The obstinate animal refused to budge, his eyes fixed on her glove with a greedy gleam.
"There's lots of good forage and fresh water," she tempted. "And plenty of rest." Oooh, how good that sounded. A verse from Psalms floated into memory: "He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul."
For it being a river, the Platte came as close to still water as any running water could ever hope. Wide, shallow, and dark with mud, it was their constant guide and water source. Clara tried not to compare it to babbling brooks, flowing streams, or any other clear, flowing water with a friendly rush of sound.
As for the earlier part of that scripture ... well, they'd only just stopped for the night. Until she got this last ox to the corral, gathered enough fuel for the campfire, and cooked dinner for herself, Aunt Doreen, and the blessedly helpful Burt, she wouldn't be lying beside anything.
But we're one day closer to Oregon. Eleven miles farther toward a new start. Not even Simon's snacking can take that away.
Tension eased from her shoulders as Simon ambled toward the enclosure. She and Aunt Doreen had already lost two oxen on the trail, and when they settled in Oregon, the remaining stock would be used for food or trade. The sadness creeping over her at the thought explained, at least in part, why Clara wasn't an accomplished driver. Even after weeks on the trail, she couldn't bear to use a whip harshly.
With Simon safely tucked away with the rest of the train's livestock, Clara began hunting for buffalo chips. The tall, dry grass rustled around her skirts as she searched. Typically, the prairie held a large and ready supply of the quick-burning fuel. But the recalcitrant ox had cost her valuable time. The areas closest to the circled wagons were picked over by the other women on the train whose husbands saw to the animals. She needed to go farther, though never too far, to scrape together a fair-sized load.
By the time she got back to camp and started their fire, Aunt Doreen already had vegetables—the same supply of potatoes, carrots, and onions that they'd been using since the stop at Fort Laramie—chopped and in the pot for cooking, and the batter ready for johnnycake. Once the fire burned hot enough to heat the Dutch oven and cook the stew, Clara gratefully sank down beside the makeshift kitchen.
A healthy breeze carried away the smoke from the fire, bringing welcome coolness as the sun faded. The moon came into view, its modest glow bathing the plains in whitish blue light.
"Grub ready yet, Miz Field?" Burt Sprouse's head tilted forward as he sniffed the air like a hopeful bear. In exchange for their cooking, alongside a bit of washing and mending, the exlumberjack provided them with fresh meat whenever possible, took on the night watches assigned to their wagon, and lent a hand when he could.
"Not quite, Mr. Sprouse." Apologies wouldn't make the rabbit cook any faster. "I had difficulty finding enough buffalo chips tonight."
"Looked like the oxen gave you some trouble tonight." Burt's voice held no censure as he squatted down. "I'll take on your watch tonight, like we agreed, but Hickory's getting antsy about having you and your aunt in your own wagon. You were last in the row and last to set up camp tonight."
"Sure were." The trail boss, Hickory McGee, stomped over to glower at them. Disgust filled his tone. "Same as every day on this trail. I warned you gals I didn't want to take on two women with no menfolk to shoulder the night watches, wagons, and livestock. You know the law of the trail—pull your weight or be left behind."
"We know." Clara forced the words through gritted teeth. Men who believed women to be inferior in every way put up her back as little else could. If you spent more time helping and less time harping, things would get done faster. As it is, you accomplish nothing with threats, yet Aunt Doreen and I hold things together in spite of them. A true gentleman—the kind of man a mother would be proud to raise and a woman would be glad to claim as husband—would be respectful and helpful.
She kept the thoughts to herself. Speaking her mind was a luxury she couldn't afford if it angered the trail boss. A quick prayer for patience, and she swallowed her ire.
"I haven't completely mastered the art of unhitching the oxen," Clara admitted before staring him down. "But Mr. Sprouse makes sure our watches aren't shirked, and you know it." She cast a grateful look at Burt.
"You ain't the ones doin' it," Hickory groused. "No call for a man with his own wagon and responsibilities to shoulder yours."
"I don't mind taking the extra watch in exchange for their cooking," Burt put in.
"Don't recall askin' you, Sprouse." Hickory turned his glare from Clara to the lumberjack. "But anyone causin' problems can be left behind."
"Worse comes to worse"—Mr. Sprouse shrugged—"I can sear some meat. Got an iron stomach, I do."
"Glad to hear it." The guide returned his attention to Clara. "You're lagging behind as it is. Not being able to control your animals is one more hassle to endanger the train. One rampaging ox can set off a stampede."
"We managed to sort it out." Aunt Doreen tugged a bucket of water toward them. "We always do."
"It didn't put anyone else out." Clara shoved aside her remorse over Mr. Sprouse's late dinner. "We'll be ready to pull out at dawn, same as everyone else."
"Better be." The disagreeable guide punctuated that statement by launching spittle toward their cookfire. It hissed as he stalked away.
When we get to Oregon, it will be worth it, she vowed to herself for the thousandth time since they left Independence and started out on the trail. The Lord will see us to a new life and a happy home.
"The johnnycake should be about ready." Clara pushed the ashes off the top of the Dutch oven with her ladle handle, wrapped her hand in a dishcloth, and lifted the lid. The sweet smell of warm cornbread wafted toward them. "Let me slice a piece for you to have now while the stew finishes."
"Mmmph." A moment later, Mr. Sprouse plunked himself down and set to munching the hot bread. His obvious enjoyment didn't soothe Clara as it usually did—not when he'd made it clear that their agreement wasn't as strong as Hickory's warnings.
"Here, Aunt Doreen." Clara made sure her aunt got a large portion. After weeks on the trail, not only did their simple dresses boast enough dust to plant a garden, but the calico also hung from her aunt's thin frame. After a grueling day of travel, any moment they could use for a good night's rest was another small loss her aunt didn't deserve to bear. Unacceptable.
Aunt Doreen passed Mr. Sprouse another piece before he asked. Their success on the trail depended on keeping the man well fed. So long as they did that and kept pressing onward, the trail boss couldn't leave them behind.
Clara filled a tin with the steaming stew. Onions came from their supply, greens they'd gathered along the way, and the rabbit came courtesy of Mr. Sprouse's shotgun. If it weren't for their little arrangement with him, she and her aunt would be surviving on jerky.
"Best deal I ever made." His grunt made both of them smile. Burt made no bones about the fact he liked to eat but couldn't cook. Another's misfortune was rarely cause for prayers of gratitude, but ...
"I was just thinking the same thing." Clara knew Aunt Doreen's reply came from the heart, to say the least.
Until now, Mr. Sprouse was just one more example of how the Lord watched over them and would see them through this arduous journey, which had become more wearing than Clara anticipated. A continuous stream of mishaps drained their supplies and energy. And they'd yet to make it past the prairie to the hardships of the mountains.
"When we reach the mountains, things will go more slowly." She meant the words as a comfort to her own aching bones and her aunt's worries, but Burt Sprouse didn't see it that way.
"Yep. Snow can make us lose days, get off the trail, have so many delays food runs out and animals freeze. Everything's harder once you hit the Rockies."
"Our oxen are too ornery to freeze." Clara couldn't help smiling even as she muttered the words.
"Even so, we'll all probably lighten our loads." Burt shrugged. "I hear the mountains are littered with furniture and heirlooms abandoned by travelers so they can get free of a snow bank or make it up a steep pass."
Her aunt's gasp made Clara wrack her brain for something positive to say.
"After that rough river crossing, we already lost several items." She quelled the sense of loss that overcame her at the memory of her childhood trunk, filled with her doll and doll's clothes. The last thing her father gave her, lost in the Platte forever. "So we probably won't need to leave anything else behind." She forced a smile.
"For all those reasons, you have to be careful not to get on the trail boss's bad side." Burt waved his spoon in the air. "We won't make it without him, and he's dead serious about leaving behind anyone who causes problems."
He does care. Surely Burt said that nonsense about having an iron stomach just to placate Hickory. She eyed him fondly as he made his way back to his own wagon. Who would have thought a burly ex-lumberjack looking to make his fortune gold mining would be their saving grace?
"You go on ahead and get to bed," Clara encouraged her aunt after they'd eaten their fill. "I'll clean up and join you in a few moments."
Aunt Doreen's lack of protest and grateful nod spoke of her weariness more eloquently than if she'd carped over the long day. Yet the older woman never uttered so much as a word of complaint. Not that she ever had, even throughout the long years of living under Uncle Uriah's thumb.
No matter how many verses her uncle warped out of context, how often he misinterpreted her own words or actions, Clara held firm to the conviction that Uriah's chauvinism was personal prejudice, not truth. Oft-repeated lectures against the frail values and fragile mindsets of the so-called weaker sex only underscored the quiet strength of the woman who'd raised her.
The few months when she'd had Doreen's sole attention soothed her soul, pulling her from the endless cycle of guilt and anger over Ma's and Pa's deaths. Clara owed everything to the self-sacrificing love of Doreen. Then she'd married Uriah Zeph, and their world tilted once more. For the worse.
Hopes ahead; regrets behind. Grandma's saying had become their motto over the years and seemed more appropriate with each passing day. Tonight, as Clara fell into her quilt, she added one more phrase....
And God alongside.
* * *
Outskirts of Baltimore
Filth everywhere. Dr. Saul Reed shook his head as he made his way from the room he rented to the area of the Baltimore outskirts that housed businesses. Brackish water and mud splotched the street. The odor of stale urine in the alleyways fought for dominance over the smell of stewed cabbages and onions.
To think, this was the better area of town, where most of the residents had roofs over their heads and cabbage to eat. There were others less fortunate, left to burrow under garbage or be chased away from bridges until pneumonia or fever took them away. The illness he could treat, the neglect of hygiene and sanitation he could fight, but all he could do was pray for the indifference neighbors showed for one another.
That's why he'd chosen this place. A cozy practice in a whitewashed building in the heart of Baltimore would bring affluent clients, respectable standing, and a nice living. Here, though, he could put his knowledge to the best use. These were the areas where people otherwise denied medical attention needed his help.
If only You will open their ears, Lord, he prayed as he entered the post office. His youth became an impediment in the eyes of some, who saw more value in years than in his Edinburgh education. They didn't take into account the school's reputation as he had when making his choice. The university's renown for technological advancement didn't transmit beyond the medical community.
"Letter come for ya, Doc." The post office worker thrust the note at him.
"Any packages?" Saul peered into the cubbyholes behind the desk to no avail. "Those forceps I ordered should be coming in any day now."
"Any day ain't today." The man chewed his tobacco before sending a thick stream of sludge onto the floor beside an obviously oft-missed spittoon. "While yer here an' all, though ..."
"What's ailing you?" Saul prayed the man wouldn't do as he had the last time he'd asked for help and pull down his britches to display a carbuncle on his hip.
"M' mouth." The tobacco tucked into his cheek, he opened wide.
Holding his breath to avoid the foul blast of air, Saul tilted his head and surveyed browned teeth, yellowed gums, and a sore the size of his thumb on the man's tongue. Saul pulled back to a safe distance and inhaled.
"You've got an open sore on your tongue."
"Heck, Doc, even I knowed that much." The man rolled his eyes. "What can I do about the thing?"
"I'll make you a rinse of witch hazel to clean it out. Be sure to drink a lot of water and use the rinse after you eat anything." Saul set his jaw. "Most of all, you must stop using the tobacco."
"Wha'?" His jaw gaped, treating the doctor to another view of that open sore and losing the tobacco altogether. It landed with a soft thud on the dusty floor.
"Good. The tobacco is what's causing the problem."
"Naw." The man stooped down, scooped up the wad, dusted it off as best he could, and plopped it right back in his mouth.
"Yes." Saul closed his eyes. "Though taking things from the ground and putting them in your mouth doesn't help, either."
"Dirt don't hurt." Crossing his arms over his chest, he rolled the chaw in his mouth, sending another stream toward the ground. This time it landed perilously close to Saul's boot. "Even a quack'd know that."
"People track in more than dirt." Saul's voice became more stern. "The more you chew, the worse it'll get. Keep on, and you'll see more sores until they spread down your throat and you can't speak."
The man's laughter followed Saul outside—another example of the ignorance that ruled this area. How can I make a difference if they won't let me? What do I have to do, Lord, to make them see how to take care of themselves? Give me the chance to make a difference.
As he rounded a corner, a shaky voice sounded. "Young and untouched. I'll give ya a good time, sir."
"No." He made to move on, but her gaunt face stopped him in his tracks. The girl couldn't be more than eleven. Shadows smudged her eyes, and bony wrists protruded from beneath tooshort sleeves.
Excerpted from The Bride Bargain by Kelly Eileen Hake. Copyright © 2008 Kelly Eileen Hake. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1855 in Buttonwood, Nebraska Territory, lonely Josiah Reed wants his son to remain in town to help him with his general store and to practice medicine here. However, he understands Saul the doctor came home temporarily out of love of his father and frustration with sanitary conditions in Baltimore where he worked as much as he cherishes his dad he feels there is nothing in Buttonwood for him. --- Kicked off the wagon train heading to Oregon, Clara Reed offers Josiah a deal he cannot ignore. If she can persuade Saul to stay and marry a local, Josiah will give her and her Aunt Doreen ownership of his beautiful home. Josiah accepts because a house is not a home without family. Saul learns about THE BRIDE BARGAIN between Clara and his father so he promises himself to teach her a Prairie lesson about intruding in someone¿s life he courts her. --- Combining humor and faith, Kelly Eileen Hake provides her readers with an entertaining pre Civil War romance (make that two romances). The story line is character driven as Clara and Saul engage in a gender war that leads each of them to fall in love. Although the Bleeding Kansas compromise that impacted Nebraska is somewhat diminished, fans will enjoy this amusing inspirational historical. --- Harriet Klausner
Enjoyed all the way to the end. A reminder that trusting the Lord in any difficulty is the only answer.
The beginning pulls you in, but there were places throughout the book that dragged or were confusing.
A very good clean book.
Enjoyed reading this light romance
Loved this book!
This book is packed with great characters and situations. Unfortunately the author didn't know how to use them, so the book got very stale, very fast. It just couldn't keep my interest for more than a couple of pages at a time. It's like being in a room at a gathering and people are bickering the whole time. You know there are interesting people in that room, but you can't get close enough to any of them to talk to.
It has been a long time since I read a frontier romance, but this one seemed fresh. This is a wonderful story, and while we knew how it was likely to end, the path from A to Z was not straight and predictable. It was full of the flavor of the 1850s Nebraska Territory setting without ever overdoing it (threshing, taffy pulling, the difficulties of the Oregon Trail).This storytelling was rich. It was not a comedy, but it definitely had its light side. Neither was it a tragedy, though it had dark threads running through it. This book may have two missed opportunities. In the first, our protagonists have a disagreement about whether anyone does anything from disinterested motives. This question is left hanging unresolved. ...Maybe there is no answer to that one. Finally, the tidying up that occurs in the last couple of pages may be a little too neat.I recommend the book to someone looking for a well-written, entertaining frontier love story that offers strong, appealing female leads; strong, good men; and lots of period flavor.
I have read other historical books by Kelly Hake, but I must say that this one was a favorite! Kelly has the talent to mix history with romance and faith, making a wonderful story! Her story line is tender and loving.When I sat down to read this book, the first couple of pages took a bit to really capture me, but once I got past those pages, I was totally into the book, the characters, the plot and I didn't want to put the book down!Kelly Hake is a young writer, but somehow she captures the life, fashion, faith and work of history. All these things together make a highly enjoyable read, and I totally look forward to book 2 in this wonderful historical series, because I am so not ready to say goodbye to these characters!!This book is a 5 star, two thumbs up all the way! If your looking for a good, clean, Christian book that will capture your heart, I recommend Kelly's book to you!!!*This book was provided for review by Babour Books*
My review is from reading an ARC version thanks to Angie of Barbour Books. An enjoyable read by an author new to me. In the same way that I enjoy, but do not absolutely love the work of Cathy Marie Hake I earnestly enjoy the writing of Kelly Eileen Hake as well. Being the same age as the author also gives me another reason to awe and praise her work. In the future I definitely look forward to reading many more stories from Kelly Eileen Hake to come. First let me start with the only real downside I see to this book or rather to the Prairie Promises Series, I just do not like the covers on bit. Not sure what it is, but in comparison to other covers out there, these just do not do it for me. As for the story, this is a good plot of matchmaking that backfires on the maker as it often will. The witty humor is fun and the characters are enjoyable. After reading the first sections I felt that I knew what was going to happen, but that is okay. Every once in a while you need a story like that. The best part of the descriptions of prairie life for me were the detailed recipe instructions of the food made by various characters through out. for my preference, these are no Mary Connealy (which I absolutely love!), but never the less enjoyable prairie promises of romance and I look forward to the rest of the series.
Good story. Sometimes hard to follow. But worth reading
Loved the story and the style of writing. Great read
Very sweet and a good read however you get kind of lost during a few times throughout the entire book but overall a really good read
I dont care for stories when the heroine thinks she can rule her elders thinking she knows everything.
A fun book, very enjoyable to read Clara Field and her Aunt Doreen Edgerly are headed for Oregon for a new start in life. Doreen married a very cruel man so she would be able to raise Clara after her parents were killed. She didn't know how bad a life she would have with that man and he detested Clara. Now it is Clara's turn to do something for her aunt, and that is to start over. It is unusual for a wagon train to take on a wagon with no man but there is a man who has agreed to help them in exchange for meals so they are headed for Oregon. Their wagon isn't the best and they have a very ornery oxen who likes to eat leather and wander off. These things cause a lot of delays for the wagon train and they eventually find themselves left behind to go the rest of the way on their own, two women on their own. They make it to Buttonwood two days after the wagon train passed through. They don't know what they are going to do when Josiah Reed, owner of the Buttonwood Feed and Dry Goods Store offers them a place to live in return for them taking care of his house and fixing meals along with helping out at the store when he needs help. Clara and Doreen have no choice but to take him up on his offer. Josiah has plans to leave town for a while after his son arrives to oversee things, this is where the bride bargain comes in, he wants Saul to stay in Buttonwood and not return to Baltimore. As a reward for getting Saul married to one of the five single girls in town (six counting herself, but she isn't including herself in the running, although Josiah is) then she and her aunt can have his house and he will build himself another one. It's rather interesting the way she tries to get Saul alone with all of the girls, especially since two of the families don't get along AT ALL. This is a nice story and really kept me interested. Kelly did a good job and I'm looking forward to reading the next two books, The Bride Backfire and The Bride Blunder, knowing Kelly's books they'll be just as enjoyable as this one was.
It was good. A fast read. I would recommend it.