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Excerpt for Mail Order Widow by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Deslisle Publications




Mail Order Widow



By



Ellie Lynn




CLIMAX, SK

CANADA

***




Other Books By Ellie Lynn



Courting Carlie

Rebel Heart

Getting Over It

Calico Bride

Under A Calico Moon

Wyoming Wild

Matters Of The Heart

One Man's Treasure







Writing As Jennifer Lynn



Signed, Sealed & Delivered

Melting Miss McCool

New Prints In Old Calico

***





Chapter 1


Life was never going to be the same. Katie sat on the porch, staring out into the yard. This was it, this was what she had to look forward to for the rest of her life. She shook her head. With no family of her own, she’d answered a mail order bride advertisement, came all the way west and married a handsome rancher. Things were supposed to be better now that she was married. He was attractive and witty, and they got along as well as two strangers could in those early days. They’d even talked about starting a family of their own straight away. She was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen, since her time had come and gone in the few weeks they’d been together. Her entire world came crashing down when George took a horse’s kick to the head. He died without ever regaining consciousness.

She was still in shock, and now stuck all alone on a ranch in the middle of a dusty desert. The nearest town wasn’t that far away, but she didn’t know a single person in Calico. Heck, she hadn’t even known the town existed until she arrived to meet her new husband.

He’d wanted to give her a horse of her own as a wedding gift. He’d found a beautiful chocolate brown mare, but she’d never been ridden before. He said he had to break the horse, which wouldn’t be too hard, seeing how she was a little mare and all. George had tamed many horses on his ranch and wasn’t too concerned. He left Katie baking bread while he went out into the corral with the horse. Something must have gone wrong though, for when Katie realized she hadn’t seen George in hours, she went outside to look for him. She found him unconscious in the corral, with a severely bleeding head wound. She screamed, and one of the ranch hands came running. After helping get her husband into the house, he rode into town to fetch the doctor, but it was too late.

The horror of that day rushed through her mind over and over. What was she to do now?

She sighed and got up to go back inside.


* * *


O'Farrel's General Store was at the end of the street, near the hotel on the corner where she'd gotten off the stagecoach upon her arrival in Calico. She'd been there only a handful of times with George, but this would be her first time venturing into the store without him. This was the first time she'd ventured into town without him, period.

A brass bell clanged as she opened the door, alerting the shopkeeper to her presence. A male voice with a light Irish brogue called out from a back room, “I’ll be with ye in a moment.”

Katie browsed the items on the shelves, pausing over some brightly colored fabric. She glanced down at her black mourning dress and sighed. Would she ever be able to wear yellow again?

He came into the room and slammed two sacks of flour onto the counter, cheeks ruddy from the exertion. “Sorry about that, just fetchin’ supplies from the cellar.” He turned to look at the new arrival. “Oh, Mrs. Cavanaugh, I was sorry ta hear of yer husband’s accident. What brings ye to town today?”

“Thank you,” Katie bowed her head for a moment as fresh tears threatened to spill out of her eyes. She swallowed, then looked up, making eye contact with the shopkeeper for a few seconds before her gaze danced away. “I need some kitchen supplies and can’t put it off any longer. I don’t know anything about George’s accounts with you, but…”

Mr. O’Farrel pushed a red curl off his forehead, then smiled. “Don’t be worryin’ about that. Yer husband had a very large credit account with me, so you’ll be just fine for a long while. Now, what can I get for you today?”

“I’m in real need of some flour, sugar, baking soda, and molasses. Probably a few other things that I can’t think of right now,” she said, looking longingly at the cheerful yellow fabric.

“I’ll take yer wagon round back and start loadin’ it up fer ye,” he said with a nod. “Go ahead and wander about. Perhaps ‘twill jog yer memory for what else ye’d like to take back with ye. And don’t forget to check at the Post Office for yer mail. Probably have a few pieces waitin’ for ye. Mr. Cavanaugh came into town once a week to check the post, ye’ll need to remember to do the same, or have someone do it for ye.” He looked over his shoulder. “Jenny!” he called. “C’mon out and help Mrs. Cavanaugh with the rest of her needs.”

Katie listened as the shopkeeper spoke, adding his suggestion to come to town weekly to check the Post Office to her chore list. It wasn’t something she normally thought of. Before she’d come to Calico, it was a simple matter to walk down the street to check the Post. Everything was much closer back home. This was the most remote she’d ever been.

She glanced about as ‘Jenny’ came into view. The other woman hurried into the front of the store, giving Mr. O’Farrel a swat on the arm as she passed.

“Don’t mind my husband,” she said with a smile. “John’s bark is what makes him so endearing.” She wiped her hands on her apron. “Now, what is it that you’re needin’? I saw you eyeballing that lovely yellow fabric.”

She nodded sadly and again looked down at her black dress. “I would love some, but it isn’t appropriate right now.”

“Oh heavens,” Jenny said and waved a hand in front of her face. “If every woman in Calico waited a year before changing out of mourning clothes, we’d be a dark and dreary town!”

“I suppose that could be true,” Katie said. “I’m still so new here, I don’t know how everything works.”

Jenny patted the younger woman’s shoulder. “You are going to be just fine, dear. Now, let’s take a look at what you need before you head home. Very few people come into town daily unless they really must.”

“You are quite right. I am already tired and I just arrived. I don’t plan on doing this again for at least another week, maybe longer.” She glanced around, nodding to this and that while Jenny made a list. The shopkeeper was pleasant, keeping her company as she looked through the store’s shelves and making the occasional suggestion. It was nice to have another woman to talk to, even if it would only be for the short time she was in the general store.

They finished up their tour of the shop, and while Jenny hurried to fill the remainder of her order, Katie wandered back through the store.

A shadow filled the doorway of the store, and a tall man entered. On seeing Katie, he removed his hat and smiled.

“Good afternoon,” she said, and stepped around him.

“Howdy.” He smiled and turned, offering his hand. “Travis Sutherland. You must be Mrs. Cavanaugh. Sorry to hear of your loss.”

“Yes, Katie Cavanaugh.” She took his hand then quickly let go. “Thank you. It’s been a very trying few weeks.”

“What brings you into town today?”

“I needed some supplies,” she said. “I also need to check for mail at the Post Office. Would you be so kind as to point me in the right direction?”

He took her by the shoulders and gently spun her around. Pointing to the store, she’d just exited, he replied, “Just need to head back inside the store and go to your right. The Post Office is right there.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Katie said. She flushed at her oversight. “I didn’t look that way when I came inside. It seemed like a dark corner, so I didn’t investigate further.”

He nodded and pushed his brown hair out of his eyes. “Yeah, when the sun is on this side of the building, it makes parts of the store’s innards a bit hard to see. There’s almost always a mean game of checkers going on, too.” He squinted. “But not right now, it seems.”

“Well, thank you very much for your assistance, Mr. Sutherland. I should probably check with the Postmaster now.” She tilted her head upward and smiled.

“It’s just Travis,” he replied. “That’s what we do out here, Mrs. Cavanaugh. We help each other out.”

He held the door wide for her as Katie made her way back inside, this time going to the right. As her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she made her way toward the barred window marked ‘Post Office-Calico’.

After stopping to retrieve the mail from the post office, Katie left O’Farrel’s and strolled along the walkway for a few minutes, before retracing her footsteps. The heavenly aroma of fresh baked apple pie wafted toward her as she neared the General Store. The doors to the Calico Hotel stood wide open, so she followed her nose inside for a cup of tea and a piece of that pie. At this time of the day, the dining room was empty save for the cowboy with his back to her a few tables away, so she had her pick of tables. Crossing the room, she settled herself into a table beside a window.

She was grateful for the solitude. If one more person offered their condolences, she might burst into uncontrollable tears at any moment. Pity was almost worse than the loss of her new husband.

Katie sipped her tea and stared out the glass pane. It wasn’t a big town, but there was enough activity outside to hold her attention. Horses with dusty riders and wagons rode up and down the street. The jingle of spurs coincided with heavy boot steps on the wooden boardwalk, and the swish of skirts made her feel that she wasn’t completely alone, even though she felt very alone indeed.

The scrape of a chair drew her attention to the other occupant in the restaurant. He got to his feet and turned toward her, a look of recognition crossing his face.

“Mrs. Cavanaugh, I see you did the same thing I did—followed the delicious aroma of fresh baked pie.” He came closer and lowered his voice. “I think they leave the door open on purpose. Then all they have to do is cast their bait and reel us in like hungry fishes.”

She smiled and made a pretense of looking around. “I haven’t gone fishing in years, and I doubt there are many places around here to do so.”

“I beg to differ, ma’am,” he said. “But it all depends on what you’re tryin’ to catch. Pretty lady like you shouldn’t have any problem reelin’ in a new husband, if’n you were so inclined.”

She stiffened. “How dare you?” she demanded. Her blue eyes flashed like the hottest flame. “My husband is barely cold in the ground. I’m certainly not looking to replace him so soon. And certainly not with the likes of you!”

He took a backward step as she all but threw her napkin on the table, pushed herself to her feet and stormed out of the restaurant.

Her wagon was hitched and waiting outside when she exited the hotel. Climbing up onto the bench, she gave the reins a snap, and the horses moved forward. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied Mr. Sutherland coming out of the restaurant. She huffed. In the General Store, she thought he’d been nice, but it just proved that first impressions could be oh so deceiving.


* * *


She pulled up on the reins in front of the ranch house and jumped down from the buckboard. Her eyes grazed the fence leading into the yard. While the fencing appeared sound, the gate didn’t close properly. George had just commented on it the day before his accident. Katie frowned. She’d either have to get the ranch hand to fix it the next time he was there or take care of it on her own.

When her husband was alive and working the ranch, he’d only had two additional helpers. With his death, one of the men had decided to return east, leaving her with only one helper. He didn’t live at the ranch, and they decided he would only come a few days a week to help her with odds and ends until she sorted things out. Truly, she had no idea what she was going to do. It was George who found and tamed the horses to be sold at market. She certainly couldn’t do that.

She signed and climbed the two small steps up to her small covered porch. Unlocking the door, she carried the first of her packages through the sitting room and into the kitchen area. It wasn’t large, but it was more than enough space for a woman on her own.

After bringing her purchases in, she stowed them in the cupboards and pantry, then settled onto the porch swing. It was peaceful, serene, and absolutely beautiful. She’d never tire of the open space. Back east it was so congested with stores, full boardwalks and carriages everywhere. Here, the quiet and solitude was so different. She listened to some birds chirping and leaves from the shade trees gently rustling, and knew she’d be able to heal out here.

***





Chapter 2


Katie stretched and opened her eyes. Sun poured through the lemon-yellow curtains in her bedroom. She’d slept better than she had in ages. The trip into Calico exhausted her more than she thought it would. All the people offering their condolences had been her undoing. It still felt odd being so completely on her own.

She dressed and made her way downstairs, going straight to the kitchen. After adding kindling to the stove, she soon had a fire blazing and the coffee pot perking. Clem, the ranch hand would be in soon for his morning coffee before starting the day. Katie honestly didn’t think they’d ever get back into the business of selling horses, so maybe the one helper was all she’d need. Who would tame the wild ones? Certainly not her. She didn’t even want to go near the horses anymore. Especially that mare.

She sighed and looked out the window toward the corral. A couple of horses were already out, including the mare. Katie watched the filly wobble to the side, as if she were drunk. Her brow furrowed. She didn’t know much about horses, but she knew enough to know that horses didn’t wobble like that.

Wiping her hands on her apron, she watched a few minutes longer. The mare wasn’t doing any better. She wasn’t simply stumbling on uneven ground. No, something was wrong.

She wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and stepped out onto the porch, then down into the yard. Moving swiftly toward the corral, she called to the ranch hand. “Clem, can you check on that mare, please? Something doesn’t seem right with her.”

The hand piled the bale of hay he was holding on top of another and headed to the chocolate-brown mare. He neared, watched the horse for a few minutes, then entered the corral. After running his hands along the lines of the horse’s body, he lifted her legs, one at a time, and eyed her hooves. Straightening, he pushed his hat up higher on his head and looked at Katie. “Don’t know what’s wrong, but she’s not right, that’s for sure. Want me to ride into town and fetch the vet?”

“Yes, please,” she replied. “I may not like the horse, but if she’s ill, that could explain a lot.” If the horse was ill, perhaps that was the reason she had kicked George. Katie wasn’t sure how she felt about that. It didn’t matter. Either way, George was dead, and the mare was at fault.

Several hours later, a wagon rolled into the yard. Katie looked up from hands and knees, where she was weeding the vegetable patch. She stood, brushed the soil from her skirt and went to meet the newcomer. Her mouth dropped open before she quickly closed it.

It was the same man who’d insulted her in town yesterday. “Your hired hand said you have a problem with a young mare. What’s going on?”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m the town veterinarian. You have a sick horse?”

“You’re the horse doctor?” She raised an eyebrow. “That certainly explains your bad behavior yesterday.”

He seemed to ignore her, instead asked again about the horse. His brown eyes focused on the corral. “Animal doctor,” he corrected. “Horses, cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats. Pretty much anything that you might find on a farm. I think I see your problem.”

Katie walked with him toward the fence. “She stumbles and can’t seem to stay upright.”

“Okay,” he said and leaned toward the mare. He gave her a long once over, then climbed over the fence into the corral. “Hey girl, how are you doing today?” He spoke softly, and rubbed her nose as he looked her over, then carefully inspected both ears. Speaking over his shoulder, he pointed to one of the mare’s eyes. “Do you see how her eye here is going back and forth quickly? It’s enough to make you dizzy, and that’s what she’s feeling.”

“Oh, my goodness, I hadn’t noticed,” she said. The horse’s pupils slid back and forth in rapid succession. “Would something like this make a horse violent?”

He nodded. “This is the horse your husband was working with when he...”

“Yes,” she said quickly. “That’s her.”

“Could be what happened,” he said and climbed out of the corral. “I think she has a middle ear disorder, and it’s causing the imbalance. She may get worse before she gets better, but some medication will help with the dizziness. It will probably take a couple of weeks, but she should be okay. Don’t be alarmed if she throws up. That off-center feeling likely makes her nauseous.”

He was direct, in control, and it gave Katie a sense of calm. He knew what he was talking about when it came to animals, even if he didn’t know how to talk to young widows.

“I’ll just get that medication from my wagon. If this doesn’t help her, let me know, and we’ll try something else. She’s going to be all right.”

“Thank you so much,” she said and sighed. “I know I shouldn’t hate her, she’s just a horse, and I’m really trying not to but...”

Travis put his hand on Katie’s shoulder. “I understand. Probably more than you can imagine. The mare is going to be okay.”

She nodded, suddenly realizing how alone she was, and how far away she was from help if she needed it. Perhaps staying out here wasn’t such a good idea after all. Once the ranch help went home for the evening, she was alone. All alone. Was it silly to think she could stay by herself in the middle of nowhere and be all right?

And then, of all the people in the world to show up, the last person she expected to see was the man from the day before, and yet today he was a completely different person. He was reassuring, made her feel safe, and helped comfort her. Odd.


* * *


Travis hadn’t expected to see the new widow so soon, but when he got the message about her horse and came out to the ranch, he was reminded of how pretty she was. Even though she’d been working in her garden, she looked like she’d just climbed out of bed, with her long black hair loose and framing her face. When she looked up at him, scared for the mare, with those gorgeous blue eyes, he didn’t want to look away.

“I’ll just get that medication from my wagon,” he said.

He returned with the tablets, and instructed Katie how to use them, how often to give the doses, and reminded her to send a message if she got much worse.

“Yesterday,” Katie finally said quietly. “I think we got off on the wrong footing. And thank you for your time today.”

He nodded, and his voice softened. “It was my fault; I came off sounding very callous. It’s nice to meet you.”


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