#2: The Nutcracker Bride
While gathering walnuts, someone throws a bag of money into Lucy Langdon’s wagon. Now Chad Prescott, a Texas ranger, is determined to recover the bag, but not before he is shot as a prowler. Waking up in a house full of German nutcrackers is rather disconcerting for this lawman, but not as troublesome as feeling his heart fall for the lovely Lucy.
Don't be late! Watch for all 12 stories:
Available Now - #1: The Advent Bride
Available Now - #2: The Nutcraker Bride
Available Now - #3: The Evergreen Bride
Available Now - #4: The Gift-Wrapped Bride
Available Now - #5: The Yuletide Bride
Available Now - #6: The Gingerbread Bride
Available Now - #7: The Nativity Bride
Available Now - #8: The Christmas Tree Bride
Available Now - #9: The Festive Bride
Available Now - #10: The Christmas Star Bride
Available Now - #11: The Snowbound Bride
Available Now - #12: The Fruitcake Bride
...have yourself a Cozy Little Christmas!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Nutcracker Bride
By Margaret Brownley
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Margaret Brownley
All rights reserved.
Thunderous hoofbeats broke the silence on that gray December day. Even the air crackled with urgency.
Lucy Langdon dumped a handful of hulled nuts into her bucket and looked up from beneath the walnut tree. Someone was in a big hurry. Such haste generally meant an emergency: a tornado, prairie fire, or locust invasion—a doctor needed. Or maybe Mr. Jones had been attacked by one of his chickens again.
She craned her neck, but the road curved around the Holbrook orchard, preventing her from seeing much beyond the bend.
Even her sorrel, hitched to the wagon, sensed something amiss. Ears pricked forward, she pawed the ground and whinnied.
"It's all right, Penny," Lucy called as she hastened to calm her skittish mare. As the pounding hooves moved closer, Penny tried pulling free from the traces. In the struggle to contain her horse, Lucy's strawbonnet flew off.
A shiny black steed sprang into view and galloped at full speed toward her. The horseman reined in next to her wagon, his powerful mount rearing back on its hind legs and pawing the air. A flash of blue eyes and a handsome square face greeted her from beneath his wide-brimmed hat.
"Save that for me!" the stranger yelled, spinning his mount around in a tight circle beside the wagon.
Startled, she called back, "Save what?" But her question went unanswered, for already the man had raced away.
No sooner had he vanished than three more horsemen rode into view, their faces half-hidden by scarlet kerchiefs. A shiver of panic raced through her. Outlaws!
Lucy released Penny and grabbed her shotgun from the back of the wagon. Her rapid heartbeats all but drowned out the pounding of hooves as the desperados raced past.
Paying her no heed, the masked men headed in the direction of her house. Her first thought was for her grandfather. God, please don't let them stop there!
She swooped up her bonnet, reached for the bucket, and tossed them into the wagon along with her shotgun. She would have to pay old man Holbrook later for the nuts.
Scrambling onto the driver's seat, she grabbed the reins and released the brake. "Gid-up!" she shouted. Cracking her whip, she drove home helter-skelter, the wheels of her wagon kicking up dust in her wake.
* * *
Less than twenty minutes later, Lucy ran into her house, calling out to her neighbor. "Mrs. Abernathy! Mrs. Abernathy!"
The older woman looked up from her needlepoint, her spectacles slipping down her nose. "Good heavens, child. Why are you yelling? You'll wake your grandfather, if you haven't already."
Lucy locked the door and ran around checking all the windows. It wasn't like her to lose her ladylike composure, but this was an emergency.
"You won't believe what happened—" She talked so fast her tongue tripped over her words. On and on she went. "—and then he said, 'Save that for me' and—"
Mrs. Abernathy stared at her with rounded eyes. "Are you saying that a handsome black horse stole your nuts?"
Lucy drew her gaze from the window. "What?"
"I was asking about the handsome horse that stole your nuts."
"The man was handsome, not the horse. And the robbers—"
"My word. Did you say robbers? Are you all right, child?"
"I'm fine." Lucy collapsed in a chair and pulled off her bonnet. She wished she could say the same for the stranger on the black steed. Three against one; that wasn't very good odds by anyone's count.
Mrs. Abernathy looked visibly shaken, and Lucy felt bad for worrying her. "The highwaymen are probably gone by now," she said, sounding more confident than she felt.
"I certainly hope you're right."
In an effort to ease her neighbor's mind, Lucy changed the subject. "Did Grandfather give you any trouble?" What would she do without this kindhearted neighbor's help? Mrs. Abernathy sat with Opa every Wednesday while Lucy drove into town for supplies and to deliver baked goods to her customers.
Lucy's tactic worked, and Mrs. Abernathy's worried frown faded away. "Your grandfather is a love. He and I had a nice chat about old times."
"A nice chat" meant Mrs. Abernathy had done all the talking. The only word Grandfather had uttered in more than two years was his late wife's name. Mrs. Abernathy probably preferred his silence. She never could understand his German accent, which had remained as thick as the day he landed in America thirty-five years earlier.
Mrs. Abernathy gathered up her sewing. "I better take these old bones home, dear."
"Maybe you should wait." The bandits were probably gone, but it never paid to take chances.
"I only have a mile to go. Besides, what would a robber do with an old lady like me? The only things I own of any value are my wedding ring and the family Bible."
After donning her woolen shawl, gloves, and hat, Mrs. Abernathy reached for her sewing basket. She was round as a barrel and waddled as she walked to the door.
"I wish you would reconsider," Lucy said.
Mrs. Abernathy patted her on the arm. "It's better that I go now while it's still light and before it begins to snow."
Lucy kissed her on a parched cheek. The old woman smelled like violets and cloves. "Be careful and don't forget your pastries." She handed Mrs. Abernathy a tin of her special fruit and nut Christmas cakes.
The woman chuckled. "Harold would never forgive me if I did."
Lucy followed her outside to the horse and wagon parked in front. The road was deserted, and a cold wind cut through her woolen skirt. A strand of coppery hair pulled free from her bun, and she brushed it away from her face.
"Don't you go worryin' none, you hear? You have enough troubles as it is." Mrs. Abernathy climbed onto the seat of her wagon. "I wish you would let me watch him on Sunday so you could go to meeting." Nobody in town went to "church." It was always "go to meeting," a phrase left over from the days the town had no church and worship was held in private homes.
"It's kind of you to offer, but I wouldn't feel right keeping you from worshipping with your husband."
Mrs. Abernathy discounted her concern with a flutter of her hand. "Harold wouldn't mind, long as you don't wake him when he falls asleep. The reverend believes that 'life everlasting' refers to the length of the sermon." She chuckled as she gathered the reins in her hands. "I just hope that handsome horse returns with your walnuts."
The memory of blue eyes flashed through Lucy's mind. "I do, too," she said, and laughed. Hugging herself for warmth, she watched until the back of her neighbor's wagon vanished behind a wall of gray haze.
A few snowflakes began to fall. Winter was here at last. Turning toward the house with a shiver, Lucy caught a glimpse of her grandfather wandering about the yard dressed only in his red long johns. Oh no, not again!
Lately, all he wanted was to escape outside ... searching, always searching for Eva, her dear, deceased grandmother and his beloved wife.
Chiding herself for not closing the door all the way, she hastened across the yard. Just before leading him back inside, she glanced at the dark, angry sky, and a feeling of foreboding washed over her.CHAPTER 2
Good intentions to the contrary, Lucy sat on tenterhooks the rest of the day. The brave front she'd managed for Mrs. Abernathy's benefit had long since deserted her.
The narrow dirt road was deserted, but that didn't keep her from flying to the parlor window every few minutes in search of lurkers. She'd posted signs on the wooden fence in front of her property, warning any passersby to watch for outlaws.
Sensing her anxiety, her grandfather seemed especially restless. Every time she turned her back, he made a beeline for the front door.
She pulled him away for perhaps the tenth or eleventh time. "You don't want to go outside, Opa," she explained patiently. "It's cold." He'd always insisted she call him Opa, the German word for grandfather.
"Don't worry," she added for her own benefit. "The thieves are probably miles away by now." She didn't want to think about what might have happened to the man on the black steed. She only hoped his commanding presence was enough to save him.
She seated her grandfather on a chair in front of the blazing fire. The doctor had a term for Opa's condition, which she refused to embrace. She didn't know why a kind and loving man had, through the years, become an empty shell, but she refused to believe him insane.
How much he heard or understood, she couldn't guess, but talking to him helped her feel better. At least it made the silence bearable, though it did little to abate the loneliness.
"Stay here and I'll get our supper, Opa." She had made his favorite lamb stew, and the delicious smell wafting into the parlor made her mouth water.
She walked into the kitchen and grabbed an apron. Orders for her baked goods were stacked on the counternext to her recipe file and notebook. The numbers assured her that it would be a merry Christmas indeed. With the money left over after living expenses, she would finally be able to hire someone to make much-needed repairs on the sod house and barn.
The house had been built by her grandfather's own hands thirty years earlier. He'd cut the sod into blocks, sawed cottonwood for rafters, and made the wooden roof shingles by hand.
Through the years, additional rooms had been added as needed, like tiles in a game of dominoes. Now they had the luxury of three bedrooms. But the kitchen remained her favorite place. Not only did it remind her of the many happy hours spent learning the baking trade at her grandmother's side, but the process of sifting flour and cracking nuts offered a welcome respite from her troubles.
She set to work at once, pulling ingredients from her pantry. Dumplings would go nicely with the stew. She reached for the bag of flour and found the shelf empty. It was then that she remembered leaving her groceries and walnuts in the back of the wagon. She'd been so upset by her earlier encounter, she'd unharnessed the horse but had forgotten to unload.
Donning her shawl, she left the house quietly, hoping her grandfather wouldn't try to follow. It was still light enough to see her way to the barn without benefit of a lantern.
The wind was icy and the air hung thick with the promise of more snow. Penny greeted her in the barn with a soft neigh, and a hen clucked from its roost.
Her nuts were scattered on the bottom of the wagon,and she decided to leave them till the following day, when the light would be better. Tomorrow she would remove the hulls and start the curing process by spreading the black walnuts out to dry for next year's baking.
She reached for the crate of groceries purchased from Walden's Mercantile. As she lifted the wooden box out of the wagon, an unfamiliar gunnysack caught her attention.
"Now where did that come from?" It hadn't been there when she'd loaded her groceries. Of that she was certain.
Curious, she set the crate down and pulled the coarse cloth sack out of the wagon. Setting it on the barn floor, she released the drawstring tie, and her eyes widened in astonishment.
Heart pounding, she jerked her hand back. Had she seen what she thought she saw?
With a nervous glance around, she grabbed hold of the gunnysack and dragged it over to the open barn door where the light was brighter. This time the shock of discovery hit her full force.
The sack was full of money!
* * *
Lucy stared at the stacks of banknotes spread across her kitchen table. Each bundle of hundred-dollar bills was bound with a paper band. The grand total was seventy thousand dollars. Never could she have imagined so much money in one place.
Save this for me.
The memory of the man's puzzling request triggered a disturbing thought. Perhaps she'd gotten it all wrong. Maybe the blue-eyed stranger on the black horse was also a thief. That meant ...
Panic bubbled up inside. What if he came looking for her? There were very few houses in the area. She wouldn't be that difficult to find.
Forcing herself to breathe, Lucy tried to think. This was no time to go off the deep end. She needed a clear head to consider her options.
Riding into town to the marshal's office was out of the question. That would require taking her grandfather out in the cold. Besides, it was almost dark. And what if it started to snow or she ran into bandits on the road?
A sound from the other room made her jump. Quickly rising from her chair, she hurried to the parlor. It was just her grandfather trying to open the front door again. Thank God he hadn't yet learned how to turn the newly installed lock.
Taking him gently by the arm, she spoke in a soothing voice. "You don't want to go outside, Opa. Your supper is almost ready."
She steered him away from the door and, with an anxious glance out the front window, walked him back to his chair in front of the blazing fire. She had a feeling it was going to be a very long night.
* * *
Texas Ranger Chad Prescott tugged on the reins of his black horse. "Whoa, boy."
He turned up his coat collar and stared in the direction of the house. A light shone from the window, and the smell of smoke told him a fire blazed within. He could use a bit of warmth right now. He'd been riding for hours and was colder than a Montana well digger.
After leading the notorious Dobson gang on a merry chase, he was finally able to double back. He'd planned to sneak up from behind, but somehow he lost them.
No matter. He'd find them—all three of them. He always got his man, or in this case, men. First he had to locate a certain pretty, copper-haired woman with eyes the color of a Texas bluebonnet. If he didn't retrieve the money in her possession, he'd have a lot of explaining to do.
As the night wore on, his worries increased. For a state as flat as Kansas, it didn't seem possible that people could so quickly disappear. The sooner he finished his business here and hailed back to Texas, the better.
The temperature had dropped the moment night fell. He was cold and hungry and could sure use some shut-eye. Riding back to town sounded like a good idea. He would begin his search again first thing in the morning.
No sooner had he made the decision than he heard something flapping against the fence that ran parallel to the road. A closer look revealed some sort of sign. He dismounted and pulled a box of safety matches out of his saddlebag. His back against the wind, he lit a match, cupping his hand around the flame.
He was able to pick out the word "bandits" before the match went out. His mouth curved upward as he pulled the sign down and stuffed it in his pocket. Well now. Looka there. A certain young woman had sounded the alarm. Unless he was mistaken, he was standing in front of her house.
As tempting as it was to march up to her door and ask for the money tossed in her wagon for safekeeping, he decided to check in back first. If Frank Dobson and his brothers were hiding inside, he wanted to know about it before walking into a trap.CHAPTER 3
It was late, nearly nine o'clock, before Lucy took the last batch of cookies out of the oven and set them on a rack to cool. The only time she could fill her orders uninterrupted was when her grandfather was asleep.
She'd hidden the money beneath a loose floorboard in the parlor and covered it with a rag rug. Tomorrow she would decide what to do next. Maybe she could flag down one of her neighbors and ask him to take it to the marshal. That would save her the hassle of dragging her grandfather along.
Startled by a loud thud, she dropped her wooden spoon and flew to the window over the kitchen sink. It was too dark to see out, but it sure did sound like the barn door.
In all the confusion of finding the money, she must have forgotten to latch it. Penny and the other animals could freeze to death if she didn't do something.
Reaching for her shawl, she hesitated a moment before grabbing the shotgun. After lighting a lantern, she cautiously opened the door. A blast of frigid air blew out the flame. Knowing the futility of lighting it again, she hung the lantern back on the hook.
Anxious to get the job done and return to the house before freezing her fanny off, she stepped out on the porch. The robbers still very much on her mind, she kept her finger on the trigger.
The wind whistled through the eaves, and her skirt whipped against her legs. The barn door kept up a steady rhythm, like a drummer during a death march. Stomach clenched tight and senses alert, she moved forward.
Excerpted from The Nutcracker Bride by Margaret Brownley. Copyright © 2014 Margaret Brownley. 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
This is a delightful Christmas short story. While the second book in a twelve book series, it does stand alone as a separate story. This book was humorous and sweet. Lucy and Chad meet under the most extreme circumstances. Lucy a lone woman taking care of her sick grandfather shoots a man she finds snooping around her property. Chad is searching for something while on the trail of bank robbers and needs a place to hole up now that he’s been shot. The story of Lucy and Chad goes to show you that love can be found in the most unsuspecting situations. Ms. Brownley nice job.
I hit post before i finished praising this wonderful "feel good"story. I loved every bit of it!
Cute and sweet 58 page short read. Glad it was free
Though the 12 Bridez of Christmas are short, they are fun read. I am looking forward to reading book three od the seres.
Enjoyed this story
This was a beautiful story about Lucy Langdon who during the time of 1880, while picking walnuts hears several horses approaching at a fast pace and one of the riders throws something in her wagon. Lucy finding something totally unexpected in the wagon, money, and lots of it, is not sure what to do about it. The cold December day does not make reporting this incident to the local authorities easy for her, especially while having to take care of her aged grandfather. Her German grandfather, whom she calls “Opa” which is the German version of grandpa, tends to worry her because she isn’t sure if he will walk away or not, his mind no longer functioning as it should. She is now concerned as to whether there are unscrupulous thieves waiting to break into her home, looking for the pouch of money left which had been left in her wagon. She hides the pouch and later when someone approaches her home, is not sure if this is a “good guy” or a “bad guy”. Texas Ranger Chad Prescott had been riding and searching for a band of thieves. And was near her home and she had no idea who was making the noises that she heard. Was it the thieves? Her shotgun that she carried went off and she wasn’t sure whether she had killed or injured anyone as someone began yelling and banging on her door to let him in. Who was this person and what did he want? She finds herself fearful yet he convinces her to open her door. It is the person she has accidentally shot. And it becomes necessary for her to care for him. Lucy provides for herself and her grandfather through her baked goods. Her house is over-filled with nutcrackers and Texas Ranger Chad Prescott is surprised to see them all, made by her German grandparents. I enjoyed the story of their meeting and circumstances. It was a fun read and Book 2 in the 12 part Christmas Bride Series. You will enjoy this read and also the nummy German Cookie recipe at the end. Can’t wait to try it!
I was not ready for this book to end! I wanted to get to know the characters more and wasn’t ready to say goodbye. The Nutcracker Bride was a sweet story about how one little event can change your entire life. For Lucy and Chad that event was when he threw a bag in her wagon before riding away. When Chad returns for the bag Lucy shoots him thinking he is someone else. Lucy feels horrible and now must nurse him back to health. Love sneaks up on them in this short but sweet story. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical romance. I received a copy of this book from Barbour Publishing in return for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own.
This was a great second story in The 12 Brides of Christmas. I loved how they bring in the nutcracker bride. That is a beautiful part to the story. I received the ebook for a fair and honest opinion from Barbour publishers.