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Other Books By Ellie Lynn
Love In Calico Series
A Note From Ellie
A Love In Calico Novella
Other Books By Ellie Lynn
Hide and Spook
Writing As Jennifer Lynn
Signed, Sealed & Delivered
Getting Over It
New Prints In Old Calico
So, this was Calico. Brianna Campbell stepped down from the stagecoach into the dusty dirt roadway in front of the hotel. She glanced up and down the street, wrinkling her nose at the horse manure liberally littering the thoroughfare. Lifting her long skirts and petticoats high above her ankles, her only thought was to protect the hem of her gown from becoming soiled.
The last eighteen monthshad been extremely difficult. Influenza had struck Savannah, and Mama and Papa had died within a week of each other after taking ill, leaving Brianna and her little brother to manage on their own. She shook off the memory as she glanced at the hotel. This had been a very long and unpleasant trip from her family home to the relatively untamed state of California.
The bills had piled up quickly as Brianna tried to keep what was left of her family together, but providing for her younger brother had proven too difficult. The family lawyer had suggested putting her little brother to work in one of the factories but she’d staunchly refused. A factory was no place for a young boy! After the bank took the house for unpaid debts, the only option she could find was to load him onto the mercy train heading out west.
She’d kissed him and gave him a fierce hug, promising Marcus that she’d join him just as soon as she was able. Once they were reunited, they would be able to make a new home together. Surely, she wouldn’t have trouble finding suitable employment in an area rife with opportunity for hard working people.
Skilled in the domestic arts, she could cook up a storm. Mama had made sure of that. Thanks to Grandmama, she was a competent seamstress, and she could parse sentences and keep accounts. Papa had taught her well, expecting she would take over the plantation with her brother one day.
Unfortunately, those skills had not been enough to keep the roof over their heads and feed herself and a growing boy. When the mercy train had pulled into Savannah, Brianna had begged the matron in charge to take her brother along with them, with the stipulation that Marcus would not be put up for permanent adoption. She’d given the woman a little bit of her fast dwindling cash to help with expenses.
The desert breeze whipped at Brianna’s skirts and her hat almost flew off her head. Almost on reflex, she reached up with one hand to hold it in place. With her situation just shy of desperate, she looked up and down the main street of the small town searching for any place where she might find employment.
“Miss Campbell?” The deep gruff voice of the stagecoach driver broke into Brianna’s thoughts.
Taking a deep breath, she shook away the disturbing memories and focused on the situation at hand. She was eighteen years old, and alone in a small California town with only ten dollars to call her own. She bit her lip. That wouldn’t last long once she’d paid for room and board. She had to find employment as soon as possible.
“Miss?” The driver repeated again. “Where you wanting me to set down yer bag?”
Brianna looked up at the hotel sign and sighed. How much of her small hoard of money would be left after she stayed there? She needed to spend as little as possible of what was left of her meager funds until she found employment. Yes, her situation was very close to desperate.
The stagecoach driver seemed to read her thoughts. “Dory runs a boarding house at the end of the boardwalk. It might be a might easier on yer purse strings than the hotel.”
Brianna let out a big sigh. “Yes, thank you. I’ll just take my bag then. I appreciate all of your kind help and a most pleasant journey. Good day, sir.” It wasn’t his fault she’d been uncomfortable for most of the trip.
Lugging her large carpetbag, Brianna made her way down the wooden walkway. She swallowed hard, fighting down her nerves, and did her best to ignore the blatant stares of some of the unkempt-looking men along the boardwalk of the rough-hewn facades of the various establishments lining the street.
As she passed Lil’s Saloon, her eyes widened. She’d never seen ladies of the evening before. The flashy women lounging in the doorway with filmy dresses and painted faces were strange and fascinating to behold. A horrible thought entered her brain. If she couldn’t find decent work soon, she might end up standing before the saloon and advertising her wares alongside those fancy ladies.
Dear Lord, please don’t let that be my fate. Help me find respectable work so I can make a good home for my brother.
Brianna was so busy minding her steps and keeping her eyes lowered that she crashed into the solid chest of a man she hadn’t seen coming out of the general store. She gasped at the impact and dropped her bag. If not for the strong hands gripping her shoulders to hold her steady, she would’ve fallen on her bottom.
“Careful, ma’am. Where are you going in such a hurry?”
Brianna swallowed hard and looked up at the rugged face of the man still holding onto her arms. His skin was tanned and lines crinkled at the outer corners of his green eyes, as if he’d squinted in the sunlight most of his life. He wore a black Stetson and black boots; in fact, the man was dressed completely in black.
His touch sent tingles down her spine, and her breath caught in her throat as the handsome stranger held her gaze for a long moment.
“Brianna! Brianna! You’re here! You’re finally here!” Her brother’s youthful voice cut through the odd dreamlike state hovering between Brianna and her rescuer.
“Thank you for not letting me fall.” She stepped back and bobbed a quick curtsey. “If you’ll excuse me, that’s my brother and I haven’t seen him in over a year.”
She turned away from the man just in time to be enveloped in a great big bear hug by Marcus. Brianna smiled through her tears at the brother she loved more than life itself. He’d grown like a weed since she’d seen him last.
“I thought you were arriving last Monday, but they said there was a delay with the stagecoach.” Marcus threw his arm around his sister’s shoulders and held her close. She had to tilt her head upward to look into his dark brown eyes. He’d been a boy of thirteen when he’d left Savannah, and now he stood on the cusp of manhood. “Oh Brianna, I’ve missed you so much!”
“I’ve missed you, too.” She laughed and cried, and he hugged her close. “I’ve missed you more than I can say.”
“Sean lets me come to town every day to meet the stage. Today, he decided to come along. He was going to send a telegram if you weren’t here, but here you are! Safe and sound.”
Brianna dug a handkerchief from her skirt pocket to wipe away her tears. “That was very kind of Mr. James. I’m afraid we must trespass further on his kindness, and see if he’ll let you stay at his ranch a little while longer. Only until I find a job and a place for us to live.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Marcus said. “Sean says he has the perfect solution. He needs a housekeeper and cook, and you need a job. He said he will hire you to work at the Silver Cactus Ranch. We’ll be snug as a couple of bugs in a rug. Three, if you count Sean.”
Brianna frowned. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly impose on him like that. I’m sure to find a job in town.” She stuffed her handkerchief back in her pocket. “Where is Mr. James? I’d like to thank him for giving you a temporary home and allowing me to reclaim you so we can be a family again.”
A deep and vaguely familiar voice spoke low in her ear from directly behind. “Sean James, at your service, ma’am.”
Brianna swallowed hard and reached for her composure before turning around to formally meet the rugged rancher who had broken her fall just minutes earlier. This was Sean James? Oh my goodness.