Since Romance at Rinehart’s Crossing releases on Friday (yeehaw!), I thought it might be fun to share an excerpt from the book. There are three complete novels in the book, and this excerpt is from the second story, Claire.
“Nice to meet you folks. I’m Worth King. I haul freight for Taylor Brothers General Store in Rinehart’s Crossing.” He motioned to the two heavily loaded wagons behind him. “I’ve got a full load, but I can gave you a ride to town.”
Frank shook his head. “I won’t leave the mules or wagon unattended, but if you’d take my wife and daughter with you, I’d be much obliged.”
“Happy to do that,” Worth said, then glanced at the girl who seemed as reluctant to leave with him now as she’d looked eager to flee earlier. “Do you have enough food and water for the night?”
“I do, especially if it’s just me and the beasties.” Frank gave his wife a nudge forward. “Go on, Eulah.”
“Well, you might give me a moment to gather a few things. If Claire and I have to spend the night in town, we’ll need a change of clothes at the very least.”
“Mr. King is waiting, Eulah. You can primp and fuss another day,” Frank said in a condescending tone.
Eulah looked as though she might slap him before she spun around and marched to the back of the wagon, climbing inside as quickly as her skirts would allow. The girl gave the mule a final pat, then followed her mother into the wagon.
“Sorry about that, Mr. King. You know women. It’d be easier to herd a dozen cats through a room full of rabid dogs than get them to hurry along.”
Worth remained silent. He’d waited on his sister often enough through the years to know not to rush her, especially when it came to getting ready to go somewhere.
While the two females gathered their things, Frank picked up the broken wheel and set it beneath the seat of Worth’s second wagon. “Might be something useable on it,” he said.
Worth nodded, and glanced up as the girl, Claire, as her mother called her, helped Eulah out of the wagon, and took the small traveling bag the woman carried.
“We’ll wait for you in town,” Eulah said, tossing her husband a curt nod. She didn’t wait for him to offer her a hand as she started to climb onto the wagon.
Worth had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing when Frank moved forward, placed his hands on the woman’s backside, and gave her a shove that nearly sent her sailing over the seat. Worth grabbed her arm to steady her and she nodded to him gratefully, then turned with a look of fury aimed at her husband.
The man held out a hand to his daughter and she gracefully climbed up, settling next to her mother.
“Be careful, Papa,” Claire said and lifted a hand to wave as Worth released the brake and snapped the lines. She turned in the seat and watched until they rolled over another hill before shifting so she faced forward again.
“Thank you for rescuing us, Mr. King,” Eulah said. “You’re quite an unexpected knight in shining armor.”
Worth chuckled. “I’m not a knight, ma’am, but I’d hate to see anyone stranded out here for long on a day like this.” While he’d grown accustomed to the unrelenting heat, he could see the women weren’t used to such high temperatures. Both of them had sunburned faces, although the daughter boasted a healthy sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks. He looked for similarities in the two of them, but Eulah was on the shorter side, plump, with dark brown hair, and brown eyes. Her daughter, as he’d noticed earlier, was unusually tall and slender, with hair that looked red in the sunlight, and eyes he hadn’t yet seen close enough to tell if they were blue or green or brown.
Claire cast him a furtive, hooded glance before looking away, feigning fascination with the passing scenery that wouldn’t change in the next ten miles.
“Where are you folks from?” he asked, hoping to find some topic of conversation to engage the Clemons women, otherwise the afternoon would drag by.
“Missouri. A little town up by the Iowa border. Frank and I both grew up there. He’s a carpenter, you see,” Eulah said, looking to her daughter, then back at Worth. “He figured there are lots of opportunities in these newly established towns in Oregon. You ever heard of Grass Valley?”
Worth nodded. “Heard of it, but never been there. Sounds like a nice place. There are a few big ranches that direction. Before people began settling in town, they said the grass was as high as a man’s head.”
“Really?” The daughter leaned around her mother, giving him a look of interest. It was then he discovered her eyes were hazel, although they tipped more toward blue than brown or green. Absently, he noted they were surprisingly pretty.
“So they say.”
“What about Rinehart’s Crossing? Have you lived there long?” Eulah asked.
“All my life. My folks came across the Oregon Trail back in 1861. My brother was a little tyke then, but my sister and I were born on the family ranch. Austen, that’s my sister, and I are twins, although you wouldn’t know it to look at us.”
“A twin sister. That’s wonderful,” Claire said, smiling at him. “I always wanted a sister, or a brother. Or both.”
Worth chuckled. “Sometimes they’re handy to have around.” He guided the team past a coiled rattlesnake, then returned to describing the area to distract the two women who stared at the reptile as though it held the powers to spring at their throats from twenty feet away. “Anyway, I grew up at the Diamond K Ranch. My father raised beef cattle. We lost my mother when I was seven, and my father in November. Tenner, that’s my brother, came home for the funeral, and stayed to take over the ranch since Austen and I aren’t interested in it. Austen just opened the first bank in town.”
“Your sister opened a bank?” Eulah asked, her expression relaying her shock. “A woman opened a bank?”
“Yes, ma’am. She’s got a head for numbers like nobody I’ve ever seen. She recently married Alex Taylor. He owns the general store.”
“What other businesses are in town?” Claire asked, sounding curious.
Worth thought of the growing town he called home. “There’s the store and bank, of course, and the blacksmith shop I mentioned earlier. We have a post office and telegraph office, a newspaper, a barber, a hotel with a restaurant, a saddle shop, a druggist, and a Chinese laundry. They can get shirts so white they sparkle like new snow. Doc Johnson is the town doctor, and Pastor Gibbons holds a nice service at the Community Church on Sundays. We have an attorney, a dentist, two mine offices, a sheriff’s office, and a boardinghouse.” Worth decided it was probably best not to mention the saloon.
“That’s wonderful,” Eulah said, looking more relaxed the further they got away from her husband. “Do you think the town could use a carpenter?”
“Yes, I’m sure they could. It seems like every time I turn around there’s talk of a new building going up. You’ll see some of the buildings are made of sandstone taken from this area. Other buildings and homes are made of brick. A few are constructed of wood, but we have to have the wood shipped in, so it’s expensive.”
“I suppose it would be.” Eulah said.
“Does your husband build furniture, or houses?” Worth asked, wondering what sort of work Frank did.
“Papa can build anything if it’s made of wood,” Claire said with a note of pride in her voice. “He can make carved wooden boxes and wooden toys, or build a house that will still be standing in a hundred years.”
Eulah’s quelling look silenced Claire, then she turned back to Worth. “Are there many women in town?”
“Yep. We even have a school house we’re hoping to have ready to open this fall. Rinehart’s Crossing is a town for families, a place to settle in and call home.” Worth looked over at Claire and noticed a soft look on her face, one that made her seem older than what he’d assumed to be her tender years. He smiled at her, as he would one of the Smith children. “And what grade will you be in, Miss Clemons?”
“Grade? At school?” She glowered at him. “I’m nineteen.”
“Oh, begging your pardon,” he said, uncertain what to say when she turned away, clearly perturbed with him.