Title: Wandering Home
Author: Linda Carroll-Bradd
Genre: Historical Romance
Widow Vevina Bernhard sees mysterious lights at night and believes her Texas ranch Shady Oaks is haunted. She needs protection for herself and her 4-year old son but the town’s sheriff offers no help. On hiatus from his Texas Ranger duties, Kell Hawksen hires on as a farrier at the ranch while keeping an eye out for clues to a stagecoach robber in hopes of collecting the bounty. On Samhain, fire erupts and Vevina and Kell battle both the danger and the depth of their feelings.
Muscles tense, Kell pressed his lips tight to hold back a protest. What kind of sheriff expected this personal treatment from a widow? Not one who was on the up and up. Maybe he didn’t need to introduce himself or reveal his purpose for being in town. At least, not yet. Attitudes changed when folks learned he was a bounty hunter. Better to wait and see how this plays out.
He stepped out onto the boardwalk and, with quick strides, moved to his saddlebags and grabbed the carving stick he liked to whittle. From his pocket, he pulled a jackknife and settled into a chair opposite the hitching rail, stretching out his legs full length. In his experience, people were more liable to start up a conversation with someone otherwise occupied than with a stranger sitting and staring at passersby. Several minutes passed and he moved the knife in even strokes, his hands shaving at the wood. The rhythmic motions proved calming, but he kept his gaze alert and moving over the sleepy town.
At his right, the metal knob rattled and the door opened, increasing the volume of the conversation.
“I expect ye to do yer job and check me fields fer evidence of mischief, sheriff. I’m not promising ye’ll be allowed entry farther than me front porch.” The door shut with a bang, and Mrs. Bernhard huffed out a sigh. “Blasted lazy man. Oh now, Timmy. Don’t ye be using that bad word.”
“As cuss words go, that’s one not too bad.” Kell pulled his long legs close, stood, and lifted fingers to the brim of his hat. The sweet scent of lilacs teased his nose, and he pulled the scent into his lungs. “Ma’am, I couldn’t help but overhear what you said inside. About problems at your ranch.”
Mrs. Bernhard turned to face him and her head made the slow climb until their gazes met. “I suppose our voices were a wee bit boisterous. I’ll not be apologizing. As a widow, I have to take charge when issues arise.”
The woman was just a mite of a thing, had to be eight or nine inches shorter than his more than six foot height. But she apparently had the heart of a lioness. “Name’s Kell Hawksen, and I’m new in town. Actually, I arrived only minutes ago.”
“Mr. Hawksen.” She bobbed her chin, making her bonnet strings bounce. “I’m Vevina Bernhard, and this is me son, Timothy. With such a big name for a little boy, he’s known as Timmy.”
The boy gazed upward, his eyes a perfect match to his mother’s.
“Since you live around here, maybe you can point out a good hotel.” He hadn’t seen one on his ride in and had no doubt he’d locate one with little trouble. But he couldn’t deny he was intrigued by this spirited woman, and he wanted to keep her talking.
Granted, he’d been without female companionship for a while now. Some quality he’d not yet defined drew him to this woman. Her face was alight with intelligence surrounded by strawberry-blonde wisps of hair at the edges of her bonnet.
“Of course.” A smile emerged before she twisted her stance toward the street and pointed with her free hand. “No hotel, but I’ve heard of a rooming house operated by Mrs. Treadwell that also serves good meals. Go to that corner, turn right, and it’s the third house down that block.” She turned and glanced at the full length of his body then squinted at his face for several seconds. “Ye being here in Dorado on business? Is that yer purpose in town?”
“Looking for work, actually.” And getting to the bottom of your mysterious lights might be quite entertaining. “I’ve served as a sleuth and a guard, I’m handy with a hammer and know my way around horses and cattle.”
“Oh, be ye a farrier, by chance?” Her eyes widened, and she leaned forward. “Several of me horses need tending, and the new blacksmith is busy enough here in town he doesn’t often travel to outlying ranches.”
Outlying? He wondered how far outside of town the ranch was. Too far and he couldn’t keep an eye on arrivals in Dorado. “Not by profession, but I’ve always tended my own horses.” He watched several emotions cross her expressive face as she considered his statement. Speculation changed to caution and then to resignation.
After a long look at her son’s face and a few strokes of his shiny straight hair, Mrs. Bernhard dipped her chin then lifted her gaze to meet his. “I can offer ye room and board plus twenty dollars a month. Ye’d be rooming in the bunkhouse with two cowhands who are wintering over following this fall’s cattle drive.”
Her words were music to his ears. This was just the type of job he’d been hoping to secure. Not having to pay rent at a boarding house meant he could save almost all his wages. “No foreman on the place?” His preferred job.
“Tully and his wife have their own small house. Right now, he’s laid up with a broken leg.”
Biting back a satisfied smile, he gave a curt nod. “I thank you for the job offer and accept, ma’am. How far outside of town is your ranch?”
“Shady Oaks is about three miles on the westerly road.” She shifted her son within her arms and jerked her head in that direction. “I need to shop at the mercantile before heading back. But if ye’d like—”
Lifting a staying hand, he shook his head. Although the thought of a hot bath beckoned, he wanted to stick close to his new employer. Lured by lilacs.
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In this story, an independent widow is forced to ask for help in protecting her ranch and relies on the help of an ex-Texas Ranger. They both find more than they expected from the arrangement. This novella kicks off a 9-book series about a small town in Texas.
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As a young girl, Linda was often found lying on her bed reading about fascinating characters having exciting adventures in places far away and in other time periods. In later years, she read and then started writing romances and achieved her first publication--a confession story. Married with 4 adult children and 2 granddaughters, Linda writes heartwarming contemporary and historical stories with a touch of humor from her home in the southern California mountains.
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