My newest release is available TODAY! The Gunsmith’s Bride, my newest novella, is available only in GUNSMOKE & GINGHAM, an anthology of five brand-new sweet western historical romance novellas by five USA Today Bestselling, Amazon Bestselling, and Award-Winning Authors.
Best part of the story? The box set is only $0.99!
Because my story is #4 of 5, a preview of my book won’t show up in the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. Read on for a sneak peek inside The Gunsmith’s Bride–the first two chapters, in their entirety.
Morgan Hudson can’t begrudge his widowed father a second chance at happiness. So when Dad’s mail-order bride arrives in Mountain Home with a beautiful daughter, Morgan’s life flips upside down. The lovesick fifty-year-olds need a chaperone, and Morgan can’t remember to treat Lizzy like a sister. Will their emergent love survive their parents’ romance, threats from the past, and a law forbidding kissing on the streets of Mountain Home?
Can Morgan welcome the same difficult woman as stepmother and mother-in-law?
Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC
Mountain Home, Colorado
“Son, I’ve decided to marry the woman I’ve been writing.
Morgan Hudson paused in the smooth, rhythmic motions of sweeping the workshop floor. He’d known this decision would be coming. He’d seen Dad’s smile when pale blue, floral-scented stationery arrived in the mail. The old man deserved happiness wherever he found it.
Morgan shook himself and resumed sweeping. Dad wouldn’t look Morgan in the eye while admitting another woman would take Mama’s place, so no sense looking up from the chore. He pushed the business-end of the broom beneath the workbench and caught curls of English walnut and chips of maple.
He drew deeply, inhaling scents of gun oil, seasoned wood, and freshly cut grass. The windows stood open to allow the evening breeze through the shop. Familiar scents. Comforting. Perfect, just as it was.
His days working in comfortable silence side by side with his father were numbered.
A woman had come between them, just like he’d known she would. At least that woman wasn’t Arrah Cresswell. Thank God for that small favor.
“Congratulations.” Morgan squatted and swept the leavings into the dustpan. “I’m glad it worked out.”
Dad continued reassembling the Colt .45, his hands moving with surety and confidence bred into him. He’d learned the trade from Grandpa before him, who’d learned from his father. Four generations of Hudsons smithed the finest guns—and repaired every make.
Not for the first time, he was grateful Dad had taught him everything there was to know. He’d rather be a gunsmith than a farmer any day of the week.
Long streams of sunlight poured through west-facing windows. This time of night, mothers called their little ones in for supper. Fathers made their way home from the fields or the shops. Families gathered for a meal around the table.
For three years, it’d been just Dad and Morgan. For a while, he’d believed Arrah would join them, that he’d be the one to take a wife. But now the bride would be Mrs.—
Star? Spar? Speare. That was it. Speare. With an ‘e’.
“When will Mrs. Speare arrive?” He set the broom and dustpan in their place.
“Next Wednesday.” Dad finished the reassembly, tested the movement, and wiped excess oil from his hands with a cloth.
Five days. Dad had known for at least a week. Why hadn’t he said anything?
Dad looked up, sunlight glinting off his eyeglasses. “It’s time you marry.”
“No, thanks.” The thought of marriage gave him a gut ache. Any reminder of Arrah gave him a gut ache.
“Only twenty-seven.” Dad had turned fifty in March. Simple arithmetic.
“Your birthday’s around the corner. You’re losing daylight.”
“Tried that route, remember? Didn’t work out so well.”
“Marriage worked out mighty fine for your mother and me. You just need to find the right woman. Get back on the horse, so to speak.”
“Maybe I’ll find her. Someday.” A load of hog-wash and they both knew it, but no sense arguing over something that wouldn’t change. “If she’s in Mountain Home, I haven’t noticed her.”
“You ought to take up a correspondence courtship.”
Just because Dad had found his bride-to-be that way didn’t mean Morgan could. “No, thanks.”
“I thought we’d move into the first house, give her and her children privacy in the new house.”
Just like Dad to change the subject when Morgan dug in and held his ground. As an only child, and his father’s apprentice, he’d spent more time alone with his Dad by age twelve than most boys did through their entire lives.
“Figured so.” The new conversation path suited him fine.
The first house—the one-room cabin Dad had built upon arriving in Mountain Home had kept their family snug from winter’s storms and comfortably cool in summer’s heat. They’d moved into the big house less than two years before Mama took sick with the cancer that slowly drained her of life. She’d lived in that two story, wood frame, upright and wing construction for only four years.
She’d been so proud of the proper house, but refused to allow Dad and Morgan to turn the first house into a shed. Consider the memories inside these four walls.
Three years gone, and he could still hear his mother’s voice in his memory. Fading, sure, but still there. He liked the idea of living in the old place, nearer to her. It’d be like coming home. No hardship at all.
Morgan shut the two windows, latching each with care. “Children, huh?”
“Two. Boy and girl.”
Morgan couldn’t picture children in the house, the clatter of button-up shoes on the stairs and the ring of little voices. Just ‘cause he’d never had children around didn’t mean he wouldn’t get used to it.
Or maybe he’d remain in the first house and give the new family privacy well after the wedding. Living with Dad and his new wife, along with her children—and more babies?—no, thank you.
The last of the tools put away, the workshop put to rights, Dad opened the back door on soundless hinges and removed the key ring from his pocket. He locked up tight.
They walked side by side along the path through the lot, past the shed, a carriage house and barn, alongside laundry drying in the breeze, past the kitchen garden Ina kept tidied of weeds and producing until the hard frost.
Nothing more to say, but they didn’t need to.
Dad had been gloriously happy, married to Mama, and he intended to be happily married once more. The plans were set in motion. In his twenty-eighth year, he knew loneliness and just might consider his father’s suggestion…if Arrah hadn’t left such a bad taste in his mouth.
Five more days. Given the weekend, and the train arriving at four on Wednesday afternoon like clockwork, that meant three more days alone with Dad in the shop.
Three days until his relationship with Dad changed forever.
Elizabeth Speare longed for the final leg of the journey to end.
Less than two hours, and they’d arrive, finally, in Mountain Home. She could stand anything for two hours, couldn’t she?
The train car rocked in time to the incessant clatter of wheels. Summertime heat made the shut-in space miserable, and amplified gnawing hunger pangs. Everyone aboard was uncomfortable—but only Mother complained. Well, her mother and a pair of exhausted children across the aisle. The little ones tussled, chattered, cried, and fought over toys. They’d grown more and more irritable since Denver.
“Those dreadful children.” Mother complained every few minutes, rehashing the same ten irritants, ensuring the misery of everyone else. One by one, the other passengers had tiptoed to vacant seats farther away. Mother hadn’t noticed.
Two hours. Only two more hours. “Mother, I’ll go to the dining car and buy us something cool to eat. Maybe they have ice for your beverage. You’d like that.”
Stay, Elizabeth Louise.” She rearranged the damp handkerchief on her forehead. “Don’t leave me. I can’t bear to be alone.”
She shut her eyes against the urge to scream. Why had she agreed to accompany Mother west?
“Why is it unbearably hot in this car?” Mother shifted, as if trying to find a more comfortable position.
The little boys tangled into a knot, the eldest punching the little brother—a toddler of no more than two. Their mother, an olive-toned, brunette beauty remained pleasant, despite her children’s distress at being cooped up in a hot train. She displayed unfailing patience with her little ones. And a cranky old woman.
In contrast, Zylphia Speare was short tempered and impossible to please—especially when stressed.
The closer they drew to Mountain Home and Mother’s husband-to-be, the more insufferable she became. If Elizabeth were the bride, she imagined she’d be nervous. At twenty-six years of age and firmly on the shelf, what did she know of bridal jitters?
“My head,” Mother simpered. “The dreadful pounding won’t leave me in peace.”
The young mother leaned forward, bright blue feathers on her stylish hat waving with the sway of the train. “I’m sorry to trouble you,” she whispered, “but I need assistance.”
Elizabeth owed the woman a peace offering. She glanced at the children just as the bigger one bellowed—the baby had knotted a fist in his brother’s hair and pulled. “Help?”
“My name is Mrs. Felicity Gideon.”
“Miss Elizabeth Speare.”
“Would you be so kind to tend my sons, please, while I hurry to the dining car? They wouldn’t eat when we stopped in Denver. If I feed them, they’ll settle down. Maybe sleep.”
“They’re so noisy.” Mother shifted her handkerchief upon her brow. “My children were angels. Never made such a deplorable racket.”
Mrs. Gideon winked at Elizabeth in good humor. Near Elizabeth’s age, she traveled without husband or nanny. Her children were handfuls—expensively dressed handfuls. Wrestling them all the way to the dining car and back wouldn’t be easy. “Of course, yes, Mrs. Gideon. I’ll help.”
Mother whipped the sodden hankie off her brow. “If you’re tending those terrors, Elizabeth Louise, you cannot tend to me.”
Elizabeth counted to five, then to ten, urging her temper to cool. “Mother, I’ve done everything either of us can think of. If I sit with the boys and tell them a story, you’ll have more space.”
“Do make the wretches stop their infernal fussing.” Mother covered her eyes with the lace-trimmed linen.
Elizabeth stood just as the other woman rose. “You’ll hurry back?”
“Immediately.” She smoothed her fashionable skirts, blue silk embroidery on cream cotton. “In payment, I’ll bring you and your mother a bite to eat.”
Food! Gratitude swelled. She quickly removed a half-dollar from her reticule.
“I couldn’t eat a morsel!” Mother pressed a hand to her slender midsection. “The ceaseless rocking of this coach has upset my delicate digestion.”
Elizabeth’s hunger was the only misery she could do anything about. “Thank you.” She tried to press the coin into the other woman’s hand.
“No, no. My treat. As thanks for giving me two minutes to myself.”
She indicated her sons with a tip of her chin, but they both knew she included Zylphia Speare. With a quick smile, she hurried up the aisle.
Elizabeth sat. The boys quieted long enough to take her in with big brown eyes. Their dark hair stood on end, as Mrs. Gideon had never combed it. Perspiration dampened their hairline and reddened their cherub cheeks.
The little one tucked a thumb into his mouth.
“Who are you?” the bigger one asked.
“Do stop prattling on.” Mother again. And her blasted sick headache. And her nerves. And the heat.
Elizabeth glanced up the aisle at Mrs. Felicity Gideon’s retreating back and prayed she returned.
Against his better judgment, Morgan joined his father at the train station to collect Mrs. Speare and her children.
Dad had closed the gunsmith shop early and asked Morgan to come along to help lift the trunks into the wagon, but Morgan saw through all that.
If all Dad needed was Morgan at his side, in order to greet his bride with confidence, that he could do. And pretend to be happy.
Dad clutched the cabinet card of his bride, studied the image, then the disembarking passengers. “That’s her. There. In gray.”
Willow slim, in a simple, dove-gray dress and standing on the platform. Dad’s bride clutched the hands of two small children. Naughty children, who fought with all their might to free themselves of her grip.
Morgan wasn’t so sure, not without a clear look at her face. She bent to say something to the older of the two, then straightened, and he caught a glimpse of light brown hair tucked beneath her far from fashionable hat. One of those styles worn by old, penny-pinching ladies.
Dad’s bride might dress like an old woman, but she wasn’t old.
She lifted her chin, scanned the crowd, and yes, he was right. Youthful, fresh of face and figure. Not what a man wanted to see—his dad’s bride, not a day older than himself. Probably younger.
Immediate attraction warred with wariness. Same build as Arrah, same feminine grace.
“Her?” Morgan pointed, disliking her already. “How old is Mrs. Speare?”
Dad shrugged and tapped a finger on the face of the cabinet card. “That’s her, all right.”
Morgan clamped his jaw. Why hadn’t Dad asked important questions—like her age—before proposing marriage and bringing her to Colorado?
One of the miscreants hanging from Mrs. Speare’s hand broke free and ran. Before he’d made it two steps, she caught him around the middle and sat herself squarely on the platform, both children locked in the circle of her arms, upon her lap.
Not Arrah-like at all.
First, Arrah never would’ve tended her own children. Second, Arrah never, never would have sat upon the platform.
Morgan nudged through the crowd, Dad close behind. No matter what the woman was or wasn’t, she needed assistance.
Two men blocked Morgan’s view, one of them settling a bowler upon his pate. Conversations swelled all around them. The train whistled a shrill blast.
The crowd thinned, and they finally reached her side. Morgan instantly dropped to his haunches and, thinking only of helping, moved to take one of the children. He pulled up short. No mother would hand off her child to a stranger.
Mrs. Speare looked up and smiled. Warm and genuine, an open smile that punched him hard in his gut.
Stepmother-to-be. He clamped his jaw and fought to break eye contact.
Thankfully, her gaze quickly darted to Dad. “Hello, Mr. Hudson. I recognize you from the photograph you sent.” She smiled at him, every bit as warmly and genuinely as she had smiled at Morgan.
He hated himself for feeling jealousy for Dad’s good fortune.
This whole thing—Mrs. Speare, in the house, in his father’s life—would not be easy.
One of the children wrested free from his mother’s hold. Morgan caught him easily and swung him onto his shoulders and caught his bowler as it tumbled. “Hold on, little man. You’re not going anywhere.”
The child held on tight—nearly pulling Morgan’s hair out by the roots.
And Mrs. Speare looked from the child on his shoulders to Morgan, smiling like an angel.
Perfect teeth. White. He adjusted his initial assessment. This woman couldn’t be mid-twenties. Barely twenty. Plenty of childbearing years before her. He’d known Mama and Dad had wanted more children—was that why Dad had intentionally chosen a much younger bride?
Morgan would move out.
In with the child-bride and out with the twenty-seven-year-old son. He didn’t know where he’d go, not yet, but he’d go. Quickly. The first house wasn’t far enough. He’d find a room in town. And stay away. Far away, from his much too-lovely stepmother.
“Thank you, sir.” Her smile widened, deepened, and caught him with another quick jab to the gut. “You must be Morgan.” She turned back to Dad with ease. “Mr. Hudson, my mother will join us shortly. She needed a moment to compose herself.”
Dad had been willing to take on a bride with two children, but three generations moving in? All at the same time? A mother-in-law? Morgan expected distress on Dad’s face, but he merely reached for the smaller child, nestled the monster on his arm and offered Mrs. Speare a hand up from the platform floor.
“Oh, thank you.” She stood easily, in a whoosh of gray skirts…and barely reached Morgan’s shoulder—uh, Dad’s shoulder.
One look at Dad and his bride, side by side, and he knew—with unshakable confidence—the two were horribly mismatched. What man, fifty years of age married a twenty-year-old? Yes, discordant marriages happened all the time. Young women wanted men who were settled, had made their way in life, could offer a comfortable living.
The naughty boy on his shoulders fought for freedom. “Mama!” He nearly dove off Morgan’s shoulders, reaching hard, but not toward Mrs. Speare.
The little fellow reached for Rocky Gideon’s wife, Felicity.
He should have recognized those little rascals, spitting images of their father. Rocky had brought them into the shop last week.
Felicity, dressed in blue and cream and the high fashions Morgan had learned to recognize because of Arrah, reached for the boy. “There you are. Were you good for Miss Speare?”
Relief—no, not relief!—recoiled like an old .50 Hawken. He did not want to hope this young woman wasn’t committed to marry Dad.
“He wasn’t any trouble at all.” Miss Speare greeted Felicity as if they were friends—had they met on the train?
“Hello, Mr. Hudson, Morgan.” Felicity set her son on his feet and reached for the little guy Dad held. “Give Mama a kiss.”
The boy plastered a wet kiss to Felicity’s cheek.
Miss Speare asked, “You caught the baggage handler in time?”
“I did. Thank you for watching them. Gentlemen, thank you for helping. Say good-bye, children. We’ll call on you soon, Elizabeth. Good-bye Mr. Hudson, Morgan.” Felicity turned toward the street, “Oh, there’s your mother now.”
Felicity called to her husband and hurried to meet him. Morgan would’ve said hello to his friend and customer, but the woman disembarking in a flash of immense purple in the sunlight, snared him and wouldn’t let go.
Purple hat. Purple silk dress.
And not in an appealing way.
For Pete’s sake.
Morgan cleared his throat and clapped Dad on the back. “That is Mrs. Speare.”
Disoriented, Dad consulted the picture. Compared the woman destroying the color purple for everyone else, to the girl in gray who closely resembled her, to the portrait and back again.
Mother and daughter. Had to be.
“Oh, good,” Dad murmured. “Very good.”
“There she is, now.” The young, flaxen haired woman nodded at the woman dressed from head to toe in garish purple. The hue might be acceptable for a widow’s late mourning, but complimentary to her pale skin and hair the same color as her daughter’s? No.
Arrah had taught him many things, the least of which was a thing or two about fashion and a woman’s duty to dress to best set off her features. Arrah’s white-blonde beauty had been showcased in palest of greens, blues, and pinks. Never had she worn anything so tasteless.
Mrs. Speare and purple got along as well as Morgan and Arrah—which meant not at all. The jet black of full mourning would have done her no favors.
Dad didn’t seem to notice. He doffed his hat, held it over his heart, and took in Mrs. Speare. “Zylphia?”
Dad nodded and offered his hand.
The woman, Zylphia Speare, gushed. Simpered. Smiled—but not as lovely as her daughter’s.
For Pete’s sake—making a grown man watch his father’s courtship was wrong on so many levels.
The introductions went all around. “Mr. Hudson and Mr. Hudson, may I present my daughter, Miss Elizabeth Louise Speare.”
Ah, so the young one was a Miss Speare. Rocky’s wife hadn’t been mistaken.
“Your letter said you’d bring two children?” Morgan couldn’t help but ask. He’d expected two children—and that had led to an unnecessary and uncomfortable span. He needed justification.
Elizabeth held his gaze, and slipped her arm through her mother’s…for support? “My brother decided to remain behind in St. Louis.”
“I see.” But he didn’t.
Children? Who called a woman in her twenties a child? Just how old was this brother?
Befuddlement must’ve shown because Elizabeth filled in the blanks. “My brother is a carpenter, a journeyman with a successful furniture-building company. He thought it best to remain in the city.”
“Welcome to Mountain Home.” Dad took Elizabeth’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to have you join us. This is my son, Morgan.”
The girl smiled. Again.
Mrs. Speare leapt into the conversation’s lull. “We’ll be the happiest of families.” She opened her arms—silently demanding a hug. From him.
Morgan backed up a step, the thought of embracing Dad’s bride a horror he’d failed to anticipate.
“Oh, stop,” she chided. “Don’t be shy, young man.” She looped her arms about his neck and pulled his spine into a bow. She enveloped him in a cloud of floral perfume.
He nearly choked. He didn’t like anyone too close, and didn’t enjoy the casual touch of friends. This woman, a complete stranger, ran amok over every boundary, everything comfortable. She’d offended, in too many ways to count. If not for Dad, he’d break her hold and put distance between them.
“You and I,” she said, her face far too close to his, “will be the best of friends, you and I. Mother and son. You must call me Mother.”
Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC
Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC