My last two blog posts have led up to this FREE scene I want to share with you from the middle of The Drifter’s Proposal:

  1.   Butter-making in the Old West
  2.   100+-Year-Old Never Fail Pie Crust Recipe

I’m pleased to share the first scene of Chapter Four. (This novella has just ten chapters, so this segment falls relatively “middle”.)

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Copyright © 2015 Kristin Holt, LC

USUALLY, SATURDAY late afternoons saw a brisk business. Folks came in to buy fresh yeast rolls and pies for Sunday dinners. But with snowflakes the size of pennies tangling in the wind, they’d be lucky to see one-fourth their usual business, so Adaline baked accordingly.

She removed another pair of bubbling, perfectly browned dried cherry pies from the ovens and set them on the work table to cool alongside six others already setting up. She slid buttered tins of rolls into the available ovens.

Typically, it wouldn’t be dark ‘til half-past four, but she’d lit a lamp near two-o’clock as the storm worsened.

Mr. Malloy had become so fully absorbed in the ledgers, neither building storm, pie baking, nor memories of a kiss could distract him. From all she could see, he dug into ledgers with the same utter concentration he focused on savoring baked goods. Adaline tried to avoid disappointment.

That first kiss had been…

Everything.

More than she’d imagined.

Yet he worked as if she weren’t present. He traced a blunt forefinger over the entries, paused to tabulate. He opened two previous ledgers and compared. He’d removed spectacles from his shirt pocket and pulled the wire ends behind his ears when he’d first tucked into the project. The lenses winked in reflected lamplight. He jotted down several lines of notes.

The minute she had a stew for supper simmering, six batches of rolls baked and on cooling racks, and sent Juliette upstairs to check on Mother, she decided to ignore Mr. Malloy and tackle the next project on her to-do list.

She withdrew a clean sheet of paper and fountain pen from the cabinet and pulled a stool to the work table in the center of the kitchen. She folded the sheet of paper crisply down the middle, top to bottom, and labeled the left column KNOWN, the right, UNKNOWN.

She penned Father, March 4th, Denver in the KNOWN column.

First National Bank, mortgage = $700.00.

In the same column, Mother says no loan.

From memory, she jotted down the Denver address she’d seen in Papa’s day book.

Malloy had said he’d trailed Lockhart to the hotel, so she jotted that down. What had he learned from the hotel clerk? Or the Western Union telegraphist? She didn’t know yet.

She drew a breath, steeled herself to list all she could think of in the UNKNOWN category.

Hotel clerk…? Telegraphist…?

Lockhart, bank employee?

Why: Lockhart call on Saturday?

Reason Papa needed money?

Money went… ?

Father’s copy, documents. This would have been so much easier if Papa had simply told his family what he’d done.

Mortgage ledger? Knowing her father, he’d hidden it with his copy of the mortgage. She’d continue searching the residence and shop for his hiding place. If they were here, she’d find them.

She glanced up the moment Mr. Malloy stretched, removed his spectacles, and set them on the open ledger before him. He searched the kitchen as if he’d completely forgotten where he’d been, but the second his gaze settled on her, he smiled.

Dazzling, like clear midday sunlight glinting on fresh-fallen snow. Blinding. Beautiful. Almost painful to the eye.

Drat. If she kept losing bits of her heart to him, it wouldn’t be long until she had nothing left.

“What delicious things are you baking now?” He inhaled with appreciation, rose and approached. “Supper? Fresh bread and cherry pie? Please tell me some of those delicacies are for me.”

His attention never deviated from her face, nor did he give her a chance to respond, before he said, “What are you working on?”

“Figuring out where to go next, what to do.”

He stood behind her and rested both hands on her shoulders. “Good idea.”

She cleared her throat. “I think better on paper.”

He leaned in to read all she’d written. He probably didn’t intend to snuggle so close, but the warmth of his solid body, pressed against her back brought new, delicious sensations.

Yes, his kiss had been wonderful… but he’d become so… close. His ease and comfort in touching her had grown like Jack’s mythical beanstalk, from a mere seed into full bloom.

Did courting couples behave this way? She had no idea.

Did he assume more familiarity now, because of that kiss? Even after he’d rejected the mere thought of marriage, especially to her?

Confusion marred the sheer grandeur of his closeness.

He tapped the notes she’d made in the KNOWN column and she forced her attention to the subject at hand. “I take it March fourth is the date on the mortgage papers.”

“Yes. Pa jotted the address in his day book.”

“Hmm. When we go to the bank in Denver, we’ll trace the address.”

She’d never had reason to go more than ten miles in any direction from the bakery, never traveled by train. The thought of Denver City both thrilled and terrified her. At least she’d have Mr. Malloy at her side.

She wrote TO DO mid-page and started a list beneath.

Call on First National Bank of Denver, and trace address.

Speak to Papa’s friends, she wrote. “Maybe one of them knows something.”

“Good thinking.”

“Papa was friendly with all businessmen in town and close to many. Because we’re in distress, someone might confide—” Her throat closed up and she fought to swallow.

Mr. Malloy’s thumbs found their way onto the bare skin of her neck. He tugged on the little hairs that slipped out of her bun and raised goose flesh. “I’m sure you’re right.”

He tapped the QUESTIONS column with a blunt, strong forefinger. “While we’re talking to the neighbors, let’s find out if any of ‘em carried his monthly payments to the bank in Denver.”

That caught her by surprise.

“Sure,” he said. “From March ‘til the day he died, he must’ve made regular payments. I talked to the Western Union telegraphist on duty, and he swore your pa never wired money to Denver or anywhere else.”

She wrote no wire transfers and lined through the question about the telegraph operator.

“You’re sure your Pa never made trips out of town, say, every other month?”

“No. I’m certain. He was always here, spent seven days a week with us. Shipments come by train for ingredients we can’t buy from local farmers. He never went on buying trips.”

Malloy seemed to think that through, his gaze focused at some great distance for perhaps fifteen seconds.

He touched her arm, just a nudge, but it felt like a caress. “That’s another thing that don’t make sense. He died when, early September?”

“Yes. The sixth.”

“Lockhart said the payments are sixty days past due, so that’d put the last payment roughly middle of October.”

How had she missed the obvious? “Who made the September and October payments?”

“My thoughts, exactly.”

She penned the question on the note paper. Paused, thought it through. “Could he have taken this mortgage for someone else in town? Someone whose credit couldn’t get them a loan?”

“Maybe. But you tell me. Who would he sacrifice everything for?”

Until today, she would’ve easily responded, his wife and daughters. She thought of Mr. Malloy, who’d easily sacrificed a great deal for her… a woman he didn’t want to wed, barely knew, and had no obligation to assist. The comparison left her confused.

“I don’t know.”

“Just wondered if you have a sibling I’ve not met, say, a brother who wants to buy a tract of land?”

“No.” Bleak emptiness settled, bone-deep. “But never mind that idea. He wouldn’t have taken a loan for someone else.”

“Okay. Let’s see if anybody knows anything. In this weather, we’ll find most home. Unless they’re out searching.”

Poor Noelle Finlay.

Adaline had contributed to the rescue efforts the only way she knew how. Baking a dozen loaves to help feed the posse, and wishing she could do more to help.

She focused hard on the to-do list. So many questions. They piled higher and deeper, just like drifts of snow against buildings. More and more questions, and still no answers.

Malloy rose. “We start with the neighbors. Everything else can wait ‘til it’s too late to knock doors. If it’s okay with you, I’ll ask around. You stay here and take care of business.”

What he hadn’t said meant even more— he’d leave her here, out of the weather, warm and safe.

He pulled her to her feet. “Mind if I join you for supper? It smells mighty good, and I’d like to share everything I learn with you.”

She could have kissed him. Could he be any kinder? “We eat at six-o’clock. Closing time.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He shrugged into his coat.

He nearly had it buttoned when she remembered to ask, “What did you find in the business ledgers?”

Will you kiss me once or twice?

He lifted his hat from a peg by the back door. His blue eyes twinkled as if lit with silver sleigh bells. “Don’t know, yet.”

She fought to hide an avalanche of disappointment.

“Might take a few more hours of careful assessment.”

She tried to smile. “No rush.”

One long stride brought him near. “Darlin’, I hate to raise my rates, when we already have an agreement, but…” He smoothed fingertips over her cheek, along her jaw, and finally came to rest with a knuckle beneath her chin. “…twice the work ought to be worth twice the pay.”

Joy effused every limb. “Indeed.”

She settled her hands at his narrow waist, wishing he hadn’t put on his bulky winter coat. How she’d love to hold onto him.

He lowered his head, just a bit. “Sound reasonable, Miss Whipple?”

He could triple his rate, and she wouldn’t complain. “Yes.”

“How ‘bout an advance?” He brushed his nose against hers, just a whisper of movement, but golly, did it ignite sparks of sensation. “It’d keep me warm, ‘til then.”

“Adaline?”

Mother?

Adaline spun to face her parent, yanked away from the most delicious almost-kiss, ever. Worse timing had never existed.

Malloy mentioned extracting additional kisses, and her entire body sang a jubilant chorus of hallelujah. No wonder she’d failed to hear three sets of shoes on the stairs.

The trio had, apparently, traversed the entire staircase, for Mama stood on the second-to-bottom step, the twins flanking either side, just below.

Adaline gaped in panic. Apparently, having nothing to say, she closed her mouth.

Mr. Malloy rested a steadying hand on Adaline’s shoulder, stood tall at her side, and smiled at Mother. Oh, he so didn’t know what he was in for.

After all Mama had just witnessed, she knew this wretched day was about to get a whole lot worse. The sharp side of Mama’s tongue could cut a swath a mile wide.

Malloy would never kiss her again. The opening strains of Mother’s lecture on decorum, propriety, and moral decency would burn his ears. He’d leave town on the four-o’clock train, blizzard be damned.

“Mrs. Whipple, it’s good to see you up and about. Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

How could he sound genuinely happy to meet her mother?

Mother had bathed, fully dressed for the first time in weeks, and had artfully arranged her hair as she did for only the most special of occasions… like Christmas, an engagement party, or wedding.

Adaline blanched. Malloy might want a kiss or two, but he didn’t want to marry her. Mama would be utterly beside herself.

Copyright © 2015 Kristin Holt, LC

If you enjoyed this scene, please forward the link to others who enjoy Sweet (Rated G/PG) Western Historical Romance.

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Copyright © 2015 Kristin Holt, LC