Sparks fly between a prim piano teacher and a charming saloon owner in this “sweet and sassy, rollicking and rambunctious” romance novel (Patricia Gaffney, author of To Love and to Cherish) from USA TODAY bestselling author Stef Ann Holm.
Frank Brody never gives a second glance to the starched and stiff type of woman. But when Miss Amelia Marshall arrives in Weeping Angel, Frank’s stare puts a flush on her cheeks hotter than the sun wilting her prim apparel. She’s come to town to forget a busted romance and make a living the only respectable way she can: by giving piano lessons.
When the only piano in town turns up at Frank’s rundown shebang of a business, the Moon Rock Saloon, Amelia must compromise…never suspecting her temporary arrangement with the disarmingly handsome Mr. Brody will lead to a passion more glorious and unpredictable than anything she had dared to imagine…
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About the Author
USA TODAY bestselling author Stef Ann Holm lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband, extended family, and her squirrel-crazy Yorkshire, Cocoa Puff. Visit her website at StefAnnHolm.com.
Read an Excerpt
Every female out of diapers thought Frank Brody handsomer than a new catalog bonnet, and Miss Amelia Marshall was no exception.
The upstanding ladies in the small Idaho town didn't know Amelia harbored a secret attraction to him. What they did know was that the odds of Miss Marshall ever associating with a man who served alcoholic refreshments were nonexistent. After all, it was because of a saloon her chance for a beau and romance had been snatched away.
Since Miss Marshall's embarrassing incident, she'd turned rigid as a washboard. The ladies said Amelia had enough starch in her little finger to stiffen every shirtwaist west of the Mississippi. They also said Miss Marshall's temperature never went above ninety-eight point three. Except on those days when yard thermometers bubbled over the ninety-nine degree mark.
But while waiting for the 3:00 P.M. Weeping Angel Short Line to arrive on a cooker of a Wednesday, Amelia felt herself wilting. She looked out the corner of her eye to view the other occupant at the far end of the train platform. Amelia knew who he was. That tapper of strong waters from the Moon Rock Saloon none other than the owner himself, Frank Brody.
A heat ripple undulated in front of Amelia, practically scorching her skirt. If Mr. Brody had been any kind of gentleman, he would have offered to switch places and allow her the luxury of standing where the limbs of a giant oak shaded the platform. But he obviously wasn't a gentleman.
And she wouldn't consider moving closer to him. He might try something objectionable like talking to her.
Mr. Brody stood next to the ticketing window, one knee bent and his foot on the wall, eating a peach. From Amelia's vantage point, he looked as cool as peppermint candy. The instant she thought about his comfort in the shade, dewy perspiration had the audacity to trickle in a slow, itchy line between her breasts. Her bolero-style jacket, lined with silk taffeta and trimmed with lilac crocheted buttons, suddenly seemed two sizes too small. She longed to blot the moisture dampening her skin but dared not, for fear of drawing attention to herself. Instead, she turned her head a wee smidgen for a better look at the man who'd thrown her lady friends into a dither.
Beneath his straw panama hat, he had hair the same jet black, as the ink Mr. Spivey used to print the Weeping Angel Gazette. His profile came across strong. And if she were to be objective, his, mouth seemed kindly. By leaving his coat behind, he'd gone against the social standards. Both a white shirt with the collar softly turned down and a scarlet silk vest with a trail of gold buttons he'd neglected to fasten made him appear casual and unconcerned over his appearance. His black linen trousers were pleated at the waist and tucked into knee-high boots of a matching-color.
He brought the peach to his lips and sucked its juice. Amelia's stomach jumped like popcorn on a hot skillet. Straightening her spine, she quickly removed her gaze from his person and stared dead ahead at the empty train tracks. She remained that way for all of seconds before her gaze wandered toward him again.
The way he ate bordered on indecent. After every bite, he licked peach juice from his full, lower lip, catching it before it ran down his clean-shaved chin. Amelia felt the pulse beating in her throat and absently brought one hand to her high collar as she studied him. He sank white teeth into the fruit, chewed, then looked right at her. A knowing smile slowly curved his firm mouth.
Gaspng, Amelia abruptly turned her head and feigned interest in seeking the train through the aspens. Her heart thudded noisily, and surely her cheeks were the same bright color as his vest. He'd caught her staring and they both knew it. From now on, she would ignore him.
Summer heat carried the wonderful sweet smell of ripe peach, and the scent kept reminding her he was there. She tried to view him from the corner of her eye but was struck with such a fierce headache that sheinstantly shifted her gaze forward.
Agonizing minutes ticked by. Her hairline became damp, and she felt her smart, brown, velvet hat drooping. If she hadn't been so caught up in meeting the train on time, she wouldn't have forgotten her parasol the kind of blunder she never committed. And an unnecessary impopriety, what with the Short Line so late; she needn't have rushed at all. Without her crook-handled umbrella, her skirt of lightning-blue serge bound with velvet felt like a bearskin rug.
She shaded her gaze with a gloved hand and stretched herself up on the toes of her laced kid shoes. Where was the train?
A sweltering wave of nectar-scented air slapped Amelia's cheeks. Resuming her usual posture, under the guise of reading the thermometer on the side of the yellow-and-brown depot, she discreetly permitted her gaze to roam in Frank Brody's general direction. He wasn't looking at her anymore, and she let out a silent sigh of relief but did not readily turn away. She watched as he held on to the pit, drawing the last bit of yellow flesh into his mouth before tossing the stone over the railroad tracks into the dirt. While he thoughtfully gazed at his masculine hands, she felt a queer sense of justice. He'd gummed up her insides let him have sticky fingers. Now he'd do something repulsive like wipe his hands down the sides of his pants legs. That would put an end to her preoccupation with him.
But to Amelia's utter chagrin, Mr. Brody strode casually to the nearest horse trough, dipped his hands inside, and swished them around a bit. Lifting his arms, he snapped the water off his fingers with abrupt flicks. He went so far as to remove his straw hat, tucking the brim between his knees while he scooped handfuls of water onto his face, before combing hair away from his forehead with wet fingers and replacing his panama.
She'd nearly convinced herself his crude method was repugnant by thinking of all the green algae clinging to the sides of the trough and dead insects floating on the surface not to mention the animal slobber. But then she remembered Ed Vining came by every Wednesday with his water wagon to drain, clean, and refill the metal tubs.
Suddenly Amelia's spine lost its tautness. She imagined that cool, invigorating water and caught herself in a deflated slouch. She would have given anything to push the tight leg-of-mutton sleeves up to her elbows and plunge her hands into the water, too.
The wire forms clamped over her bosom began to pull the air from her lungs, while the canvas and whalebone lashed around her waist squeezed her ribs in a crushing grip. The steel bustle protruding behind her became a sinking weight, and her knees started to buckle. Had the Weeping Angel Short Line not taken that moment to blare its steam whistle, Amelia would have collapsed.
Frank didn't move a muscle as a tuft of white billowed from above the treetops and the chugging locomotive came into view from around the bend. The No. 1 was a massive black machine, panting in labored puffs and belching a wide plume of gray smoke from its funnel stack. One boxcar and one combination mail-passenger-baggage car were sandwiched in between the 4-4-0 engine and the red caboose. In a drawn-out sigh, the beast screeched into the depot with a final wheeze as the hand brakes snuffed the drive in the pistons.
Frank waited in the sluggish shade as both Grenville Parks and Herbert Fisk, the ticket agent and porter, scuttled out of the depot house to greet the No. 1.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Frank propped his leg up on a flatbed luggage dolly. It was a damn hot day to be exerting himself, but he figured in the next minutes he would be. As soon as he got his delivery loaded up, he was going to head back to the Moon Rock, shoot some seltzer in a glass of ice, and let Pap worry about getting the eight-hundred-pound crate through the door.
Lew Furlong, the chief engineer and only engineer for the Weeping Angel Short Line leaned. out the No. 1's cab window and sneezed with gusto. His short-billed hat flew from his head onto the oiled gravel. "Sorry we're late, Grenville. Had us some trouble deer carcass on the tracks. Saw it hooves-up when we came to the Thom Creek grade. Some blame fools out of Cottonwood must have put the remains there as a prank there were ladies garters on his antlers." Lew tugged a large bandanna out of his overall pocket and noisily blew his nose. "Hardy and I had to stop to yank the buck off." Stuffing the wadded bandanna back into his bib, Lew sneezed again. "Else I would have had to clean the fur and bones off the cow catcher."
"But Lew, that's what the cow catcher is for," the brakeman, Hardy, grumbled as he stepped out of the caboose. "To fling the cows or deer out of our way."
"Bah." Lew hopped down from the engine and bent to pick up his hat. Replacing it on his windruffled hair, he sniffed off a sneeze. "Good afternoon, Miss Marshall."
"Mr. Furlong," she greeted in a prim tone. "May I suggest a nasal wash of salt tonic for your hay fever?"
"You may, but I'm not apt to stick anything up my nose except my handkerchief."
Frank choked on a laugh and gave Miss Marshall a speculative glance. Looking as though she was about to expire, she didn't yield her spot in the blazing sunlight. He wondered why she'd chosen to wither like a daisy when she could have shared the shade with him. Her austere face appeared rather flushed. He'd been trying to decide whether the heat put the bloom on her cheeks, or if it had been his confronting stare. He rather liked to believe he'd been the culprit. He'd caught her sneaking haughty peeks at him. He might have been inclined to return the perusal if she'd been something to kindle his interest. But his tastes ran toward warm women, and despite the heat curls rising from the platform, she looked as stiff as the dead deer Furlong had almost run into.
The unnaturally straight way she stood reminded him of the stodgy nuns at St. John's Catholic Orphanage for Boys. Put her in a crow black dress, toss a veil over her head, and wrap a wimple up to her chin, and she could have passed for one of the sisters. Sister Mary Prim.
He'd seen her walking across Divine Street on several occasions, and once she'd passed by the Moon Rock when he was opening up. But she moved on swiftly, her eyes forward and without acknowledging him. He'd only been in Weeping Angel three months and trying to refurbish Charley Revis's run-down shebang into a decent thirst parlor hadn't left him with quality socializing time. Not that he would have socialized with the likes of Miss Marshall. He liked encounters to be with ladies willing to keep their hair spread out on his goose down pillow for a few hours.
The only liberal-thinking takers thus far had been Arabella Duchard, an actress from the traveling Shakespearean performers who had stayed a week in May, and Emmaline Shelby, the not-as-virtuous-as-the-town-thought laundress who saw to his shirts as well as ironing some steam into his pants. Each woman had shared his company, but not his bed. He and Arabella had gotten amorous under the stars, and Emmaline wasn't willing to risk her character by going in to his room in back of the Moon Rock. Their brief liaisons were conducted on the flipped-down strainer lid of her granite laundry tub. Just once he'd like to do it with Emmaline without standing up and getting his boots splashed with soapy water.
Disadvantages aside, the idea of dirtying up som e clean clothes so he could take them over to Emmaline aroused his imagination. She had long legs; and he liked that in a woman. Lazing his forearm on his knee, Frank watched as Fisk yanked the handle on the boxcar door and slid the cumbersome panel on its runners.
"Any incoming passengers?" Grenville Parks asked while arranging the knot in his neck scarf.
"Nope," Lew replied, rubbing his watery eyes. "Any outgoing?"
"Got a crate this time, though," Hardy commented as he unloaded a dozen milk cans into a nearby dairy cart. The hollow ring of metal mixed with his words. "All the way from Boston, Massachusetts."
"Big deal," Grenville said, then flopped down on a wooden bench.
"Yep, it's big all right." Hardy stepped inside the car and rummaged around. "Haven't seen a crate this size since we brung up that Acme Royal Range for Mrs. Beamguard. Herbert, I need a hand with this."
"If it's as whopping as you say," Fisk said as he poked his head inside the dark opening, "you're going to need more than my hand."
"Get the luggage cart and we'll load it up on that."
"Yup." Fisk turned around and headed toward Frank.
Straightening, Frank put his foot down.
"How do, Mr. Brody." Fisk grabbed the T-handle on the dolly and started pulling. "You waiting for something?"
"I wouldn't be standing here if I wasn't."
Hardy tried to shove the crate, but it wouldn't budge. "Lew, get on in here. And bring Grenville with you.
Frank watched as the four men shoved, grunted, strained, and sneezed to push the crate toward the edge of the, boxcar floor.
"Oh, do be careful!"
The slightly throaty voice caused Frank to turn his head in Miss Marshall's direction. An expression of distress overtook her features as she clasped her dainty hands in a worried knot at her waist.
"They're all right," Frank drawled. "They've had enough practice lifting my liquor crates to know when to be careful."
She eyed him with reservation, a suspicious line at the corners of her mouth. No further comment, she merely stared at him as if he had egg on his face.
He stared right back.
She wasn't really a bad-looking woman. In fact, he could admit in all truth, she was rather pretty. Ivory-skinned with nice cheekbones heightened by an agitated hue of rose, brown eyes reminding him of the Circassian walnut bar in the El Dorado, and lips that could have been tempting if they weren't expressing so much disdain.
She made a noise from her throat sounding like humph before whipping her gaze back to the boxcar where Fisk's and Lew's sorry behinds were wiggling like hootchy-kootchy girls as they shimmied the crate onto the dolly.
Frank didn't much care for women who made disapproving noises in the backs of their throats. Her humph leaned toward the croak of a frog. Could be she used too much of that nasal wash she'd suggested to the engineer.
"It ain't moving much," Grenville panted, leaning against the five-foot-high wooden crate.
Walking toward the freight car door, Frank braced his hands on the floor and jumped inside. "Slide over, Fisk, and give me some room."
Huffing, the porter readily obliged.
Frank flexed his knees, expanded his lungs with several deep breaths, then positioned himself behind the box. "On the count of three, everybody shove the crate forward. One. Two. Three."
The crate protested and groaned, but once it got started, it took off like a cat with its tail cut.
"Hold it!" Frank ordered in a rush. "Hold it!".
The five men bolted in front of the mammoth receptacle just in time to steer its foundation snugly on to the dolly.
Frank's thigh muscles burned, and he could feel the blood rapidly pumping through his body. Leaning on the backside of the crate, he wondered how many free beers it would take to bribe Lew, Hardy, Fisk, and Parks to give Pap a hand at the Moon Rock.
Lew swabbed his brow with his handkerchief, then squinted to read the bold inscription burned into the side of the wood. "Rogers and Company, Piano Manufactory. Boston, Massachusetts. Don't say who it's for. Just says Weeping Angel."
"That's quite all right, Mr. Parks." Miss Marshall sauntered forward, every curve of her body steadfast. "I sent away for the piano."
Frank swung around. "Hold on, sister. I didn't work up a sweat just to have you take the goods."
She blinked once, her eyes shimmering with dislike for him. He hadn't done anything to her to deserve her snub. "I beg your pardon?" she said in a tone lacking sincerity.
He didn't miss the cool challenge in her voice. "A woman's never begged for my pardon before. Begged for a few other things."
Aghast, her brows shot up. "Well!"
"Well yourself," he said, feeling the sun pour over him like hot buttered rum. "I ordered this piano three months ago."
"So did I."
"Fisk," Frank shot over his shoulder, "is there another crate on this train from Rogers and Company?"
"I dunno." The porter shrugged. "Is there, Hardy?"
Frank gave her a polite smile with enough forced charm to set his teeth on edge. "Then that settles it. This piano is mine."
She stiffened her spine to a ramrod, her brown eyes lashing a warning. "You're sadly mistaken, Mr. Whoever-you-are."
"Brody. Frank Brody. Owner of the Moon Rock Saloon. And owner of this upright piano."
"You may own that whiskey mill, but you don't own this piano. I do. I am a piano teacher and I "
"Weeping Angel doesn't have a piano teacher."
"They do as soon as I get my piano into my parlor."
Frank didn't like being burned at the stake by a woman he could easily picture with a rosary swaying in her hand. "Put your ruler away, sister. I'm not one of your pupils."
Her mouth dropped open.
Grenville came forward. "I do believe this is an official matter for the ticket agent to handle. Might I suggest we bring this discussion inside and find a solution to the problem in the depot where it's cooler?"
Frank was already walking.
The station house remained cooler, but not by much. Frank gave the large clock mounted on the wall enough of a glance to note the hour. 3:48 P.M. He had twelve minutes to get the piano to the Moon Rock in order to open on time.
He'd put his all into fixing up the saloon, sparing no expense on the decor to revive the western showplace of the sixties and seventies. The upright piano was his mail-order ace in the hole.
Lloyd Fairplay who owned the Palace four doors down and around the corner from the Moon Rock, had music a discarded church organ. The instrument wasn't in the best shape, but music was music. When Lloyd's feet pumped the rubber-cloth bellows, passable notes burped up the done for reeds. And depending on how many drinks a customerhad, they could make out the songs and sing right along. Lloyd's organ was orchestrating Frank's business down to virtual stragglers, basically just those who passed through Weeping Angel and didn't realize the Moon Rock's menu was minus musical entertainment until after they'd plunked down their two bits.
Without a piano, the Moon Rock Saloon would continue to play second fiddle to the Palace. Dammit, he needed a New American upright. He'd paid for one. He owned one. And woman or not, he aimed to fight her strings and keys for the crate.
Sliding a taxidermic hoot owl out of his way, Frank put his hands on the hardwood counter and drummed out his irritation. Miss Marshall came inside and stood a healthy six feet away from him.
Grenville, slipped through a double-hinged door the same height as the counter. He made a big to do about putting on a pair of half glasses with tarnished wire frames before fitting a green-billed visor on his head. His expression took on a professional air as he lifted his gaze. "Now then, do either of you wish to file a complaint with the Union Pacific for lost or damaged goods?"
"Cut the bullshit. Parks," Rank returned, slamming both his hands down on the counter.
"Mr. Brody!" she exclaimed. "May I remind you, you are in the company of a lady."
He might have taken a moment to remember his manners if she hadn't been looking at him as if he were something she needed to scrape off the bottom of her shoe. "May I remind you to loosen your corset, you're laced too tight."
"Well yourself." Frank turned his glare on Grenville. "Parks, I ordered a New American upright parlor piano from Rogers Pianos in Boston. I paid one hundred and fifty-nine dollars for it not to mention the goddamn shipping."
"Excuse me, Mr. Brody," she disputed as if she had him over a barrel, "but why would you order a parlor piano?"
"Because I have a drinking parlor. And a man's thirst isn't at its prime unless he can drink his liquor while he's listening to a piano player belt out obscene songs.
Her lips parted in surprise.
Grenville shook his head. "Well, I can't release the piano until someone can prove ownership. Does either one of you have a bill of sale?"
"Certainly." She set her black-tasseled pocketbook on the counter, opened it, and produced the proper document.
"I didn't plan on having any trouble," Frank said, irked she would come so prepared. "I don't have mine with me."
"Ah ha!" she blurted.
"Sister, nobody your age should ever say 'Ah ha!' You just put ten years on yourself." Frank ignored her offended gasp and yanked his hat off. "Parks, trust me when I say I have the bill of sale. It's at the Moon Rock. Where it should be." He swiped his hair out of his eyes before putting the Panama back on. "I'll concede, by some damn coincidence, both myself and the lady here have ordered the same piano from the same manufacturer. There's apparently been a mix-up at the company, and they've only sent us one upright."
"But only one of you has shown proof of sale," Grenville said. "If you can't produce your receipt, Mr. Brody, I have to give the piano to Miss Marshall."
"I've got it at the Moon Rock," Frank repeated. "I'll show you the receipt after the piano is at my saloon."
"No, that won't do. Even if you do have a proof of sale, there'd still be only one piano and two receipts. Nothing like this is in the Union Pacific manual," Grenville mumbled. "If we had a telegraph in town which we don't this matter could be cleared up right away. But because this will have to be handled through the Wells Fargo, I can't legally let either one of you take it."
Miss Marshall gazed at Frank. "You're right, there's obviously been a dreadful mistake made at the factory. One that will take weeks, perhaps a month, to figure out. Time I don't have to sit and wait. If you would be so kind as to give me this piano while "
"Look," Frank said in what he felt was an indulgent tone, "I don't begrudge you your hobby ".
"Hobby!" she cried as if he'd paid her a paramount insult.
"If you want a piano as an ornament in your parlor for some kids to dabble on, that's fine with me. In fact, I think lessons would be a good thing."
"Well, thank you so much," she snapped.
"I don't think you meant that."
"And I don't think you meant what you said. You were maligning my intentions."
"I wasn't. I was trying to make a comparison here which is my point there is no comparison. I need this piano, Miss Marshall. If I don't get this piano, my business is going to be busted. So, you're going to have to do your teaching on another piano when one arrives."
She boldly met his eyes. "I can't."
"Why not? One good reason."
Flushing, she grew very distraught; her fingers twisted the fringy stuff on her purse. For a moment, he thought she might cry. Wrong choice on her part. Hell, he could squeeze out some tears, too, if he thought of something to rip his gut. If he was so inclined to turn on the waterworks. Which he was not. Men didn't cry. And smart women didn't either. A fatal mistake because this man never surrendered to theatrics.
Frank rested his hip against the counter. "Are you having trouble thinking up a good reason, Miss Marshall"
She showed no signs of relenting. "I don't need any reasons, Mr. Brody. I paid for the piano and the piano is mine."
Feeling every muscle in his body grow taut, Frank nodded and turned to the ticket agent. "Parks, I've been about as pleasant as I can, this being a hot day and all." He pressed his palms on the countertop and leaned toward Grenville until they were nose to nose. Frank kept his tone level and low. "Just so we're clear on this. I want my piano. And I'm going to have my piano. Not in a few weeks or a month. Now. Right now. As of" Frank shifted his gaze to the clock and back "four-oh-three, it's mine. I think we're clear on this, Parks. I know I am."
Grenville's eyes bulged, making them appear twice their size through the short lenses of his glasses. "B-But I've explained you can't take immediate possession."
Frank backed away and shrugged his shoulders in mock resignation. "Hell, then I'm just going to steal it."
"You can't let him!" Miss Marshall implored the ticket agent. Twirling toward Frank, her fancy skirts swished around trim ankles and sounded like a high wind in tall grass.
He tipped his head with a challenge. "Step outside and watch me."
"You couldn't possibly roll the crate over the boardwalk yourself!"
"I have thirsty men to help."
"They won't help you unless I tell them they can," Grenville warned. "It's like I said. We're going to have to go through the Wells Fargo office. Until that time, I have to keep the piano here."
"I'll be damned if I'm going to let a perfectly good piano sit in a train depot," Frank ground out. "It's either coming with me, or I'm setting up my bar here. What's it going to be, Parks?"
"That's not at all acceptable to me," Miss Marshall broke in.
Frank kept after the ticket agent. "What's it going to be, Parks?"
Grenville ruffled the tidy edges of the Union Pacific manual. "My official ruling as a representative of the railroad is to organize an emergency town meeting to decide what to do. We've got ourselves a monumental problem."
The only monumental problem Frank could see was standing in front of him with a hat of garden foliage and duck wings on her head.
Copyright © 1995 by Stef Ann Holm
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love this book. Have it in my paperback library. Would love to be able to get it in my NOOK Book library.
Enjoyed the banter and the characters.
In days gone by, Stef Ann Holm brought to life another time when things maybe were simpler but love and relationships were almost the same, except perhaps more innocent. That does not mean that her previous historical novels were not sensuous. They most definitely were and I have most of them on my "keeper" shelves. There are at least 8 or 10 of them. I followed her work into the modern age but something seemed to be missing in the stories and I now hear she may no longer be writing. All of her novels from the late 1800's and early 1900's are a joy to read and the characters are unforgetable. I hope she will continue to write and especially capture the magic of the historical stories. I would love to have all of them for my nook!