Her Frontier Sweethearts, Book 2 in Frontier Matches
October 17, 2022 (Edwards and Williams)
A chance for a whole new life?
Ciara O'Rourke learned to bake sweet treats from the best, her older sister. Now determined to step out on her own, she agrees to start the first cookhouse at Wallin Landing, a tiny settlement north of frontier Seattle. But nothing goes as planned, from the local loggers, who seem more interested in courting than being paying customers, to the baby who's thrust into her arms by a stranger who rides off whispering warnings.
Kit Weatherly sailed away from his controlling family on a tea clipper to explore the world. He's since found a true family in the Wallin Landing logging crew. That is, until the pretty new cook informs him he's uncle to a niece he never knew he had! One look in little Grace's face, and Kit knows he'll do anything to protect her. And one taste of Ciara's cooking has him wondering what he'd have to do to convince her to take a chance on them both.
“Regina Scott has created a story that will grab your attention and help you relax after a rough day. She knows what readers want in their stories, and she delivers!” Huntress Reviews
“Her Frontier Sweethearts was a winner for me. I love books about protecting children and books about fake engagements so this was a special treat for me. A+” Hott Book Reviews
“Whether it is set in an alternate history or the real past, in England or the US, Regina Scott writes novels that are peopled with relatable characters in realistic situations. Romantic but clean and suitable for young teens and up, I highly recommend this entire series, as well as anything else this author writes!” Lynda’s Reviews
Seattle, Washington Territory, late July 1876
She was about to enter a whole new world.
Ciara O’Rourke hugged her carpetbag close, watching as the rough skyline of Seattle disappeared behind a wall of trees. The July sun speared through the limbs and warmed the shadows of the forest bracketing her. Still, she couldn’t help her shiver.
“Everything all right back there?” Harry Yeager called from the bench of the wagon, as if he’d heard the thoughts piling up inside her head like a storm over the Olympics.
Ciara shifted to set the carpetbag among the other belongings crowding the bed of the wagon. “Fine, Harry. Thanks for asking. And thanks again for driving me out to Wallin Landing.”
“I was coming for the mail anyway,” the logger said. She glanced over her shoulder at him in time to see his broad shoulders move in a shrug of muscle inside his red flannel shirt. “Besides, I can’t wait until you’re the one doing the cooking.”
She drew in a breath. The mixed scent of briny salt water and dusty mill shavings was fading, to be replaced by the moist tang of the forest. Above the tall tree tops, clouds scudded across a blue sky. Somewhere in the wood, a bird called.
Her whole life, she’d seldom stepped outside the borders of a city—first the warren of tenements that was Five Points in New York, where she’d been born, then Seattle. Oh, sailing through Patagonia and the Straits of Magellan to reach Washington Territory had been a grand adventure, but that had been ten years ago, when she’d been only eleven. Then, she and her brother, Aiden, had been mostly confined to the ship. Now she was going into the wilderness to start her own business.
The first restaurant in the settlement of Wallin Landing.
Another shiver went through her, and she raised her chin. Already, the breeze was tugging strands of her dark hair out of her coronet braid to flick past her eyes. She should have worn a bonnet or a hat, but she’d been in too much of a hurry, as if Harry would have left her, and the mail, behind.
“Sure you don’t want to ride up on the bench?” he asked over the creak of the wagon.
“I’m fine,” Ciara repeated. Harry had made no secret of the fact that he was seeking a wife. She didn’t plan to give him the least encouragement. She’d heard him enlisting the help of her friend, Ada Rankin, in writing for a mail-order bride. He was handsome enough, with his wavy brown hair and confident swagger, and he’d proved up his claim, so some lady might leap at the chance to marry him.
Not her. If she had been looking to wed, she would have had her pick as one of the few unmarried ladies in a sea of bachelors. Since it had become known she was leaving town, she’d had to refuse six proposals. She hadn’t shed a tear over any of them. From what she’d seen, a husband was more hindrance than help, especially when it came to a lady with dreams for her future.
“Looks like trouble up ahead,” Harry said, and she felt the wagon slowing as he must have reined in Lance and Percy, the team of sturdy steeldusts pulling it.
She gathered her blue chambray skirts so she could rise to her knees and peer up over the wagon’s plank side. A black horse stood at the edge of the rutted dirt track that led out to the settlement, an older man squatting next to it. As Harry drew the team to a stop, Ciara could see a baby sitting among the wildflowers, rubbing fists into eyes red from crying. The pitiful sobs pierced the air.
“Need any help, friend?” Harry asked.
The older man rose. He wore pin-striped black trousers and a jacket that looked far too fine for Seattle, much less the forest, even covered as they were in dust. His long face sagged. There was a hint of desperation in his voice as well.
“How much farther to Wallin Landing?” he asked as if he’d already traveled a great distance.
“At a gentle pace for your horse, about an hour and a half due north,” Harry supplied with a nod in that direction. “You’re welcome to ride along with us. We’re heading to the landing.”
The man’s face cleared, and he bent and picked up the baby. Closer now, Ciara could see the little girl had eyes as deep a brown as hers, and black wisps of hair stuck out from the edges of the white ruffled cap on her head. Aiden had been between one and two years when he’d reached that size.
The fellow thrust the baby at Harry. “Take her with you. Please.”
Ciara started, but Harry recoiled, setting Lance and Percy to fretting in their traces.
“There’s room in the wagon for you both,” Harry told him. “I have no call to take her.”
“I can’t keep this up,” the man said, turning his tortured gaze now on Ciara. “I’m a manservant, not a nursemaid. She needs her family, Christopher Weatherly. All you have to do is deliver her.”
“Kit?” Harry asked. “Why? Where’s the mother?”
The man lifted the baby over the wagon’s side and dropped her into Ciara’s lap. Ciara’s arms came around her to steady her, even as the baby hiccoughed her surprise at the sudden movement. Before Ciara could protest, the man slung a carpetbag and an envelope into the wagon bed as well.
“Everything is explained in the note,” he said, backing away from the wagon. “Please. I must go. They’ll be following me. If I disappear, Grace has a chance.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Harry said, but the man flung himself up into the saddle and urged his horse back toward Seattle.
“What’d he mean, grace has a chance?” Harry demanded, as if Ciara could know any more than he did.
She glanced to the baby, who was studying her, one fist lodged in her mouth. At least she’d stopped crying for the moment.
“Grace might be her name,” Ciara mused. “Is that right, Grace?”
Grace dropped her hand and beamed, as if Ciara had done something particularly clever.
Harry shifted on the bench to glance back at them. Grace’s beam turned into a scowl.
“What are we supposed to do with her?” he asked, and now the desperation in the stranger’s voice had infected his as well.
“I suppose we better take her to Mr. Weatherly,” Ciara said. “Isn’t he a member of Drew’s logging crew?”
Harry nodded. “Me, Jesse Willets, and Kit.”
She knew Harry, and she’d met the stoic giant that was Jesse. She couldn’t recall meeting Mr. Weatherly.
“Does his wife live in town?” she asked. She wrinkled her nose at the baby, and Grace’s happy smile returned. She leaned her head against Ciara’s shoulder with a sigh. Ciara’s arms tightened even as something fluttered inside her. She recognized the sensation: a need to comfort, to protect. She’d felt it for her little brother and the children in the home where they’d lived for a time when their older sister, Maddie, had come west ahead of them ten years ago with the Mercer Expedition.
Harry snorted. “Kit doesn’t have a wife. Never had a sweetheart, either, that I can tell. Keeps to himself mostly. That manservant fellow must be touched in the head to send a baby to him.”
“Still, we don’t have any other choice,” Ciara pointed out, rocking Grace gently in her arms. Already the baby’s dark lashes were sweeping down over her reddened cheeks. “We’ll deliver Grace as requested. Let’s go, Harry.”
Shaking his head, Harry faced front and clucked to the horses. Lance and Percy picked up their paces as they headed for home.
Ciara gazed down at the baby in her arms. What sort of man abandoned his child? Maddie might have left her and Aiden behind, but neither sibling had been this little. And Maddie had sent for them as soon as she could raise the fare for passage. Kit Weatherly had been only a couple of hours away, less on a fast horse.
Why had he left Grace behind? Had he no feelings? No sense of responsibility?
Either way, she’d have a few choice words for him once she delivered this precious bundle into his care. And then she would get on with building her dream.
Kit Weatherly stretched sore muscles as he lowered his ax onto the porch of the cabin. A good day’s work, Drew Wallin, their leader, had said, and more logs ready to be shipped down Salmon Bay to the Sound. A satisfaction he’d been searching for most of his life curled around him like smoke from a campfire. Good work, good friends, good weather. A man couldn’t ask for more.
Well, maybe an edible dinner.
He grimaced as he glanced in the window, sighting Jesse staring at the stove in the rear section of the building as if he could cook the food from sheer force of will. He, Jesse, and Harry managed to take care of themselves, but, since Beth Wallin had married and moved into town, her brother Drew had had a difficult time finding a cook for his logging crew. The last few weeks, the three of them had been taking turns at the task. His stomach growled as if protesting another night of it.
But all that was going to change soon. Miss O’Rourke had made a proposal to Drew. She’d cook for the crew, and he’d allow her to turn the bottom floor of the big cabin into a restaurant that would cater to travelers and those around the area who wanted a good meal.
A good meal.
His smile tilted up. Though he’d eaten a treat or two at the Pastry Emporium in town since moving to Seattle two years ago, he’d never crossed paths with the sister of the famous owner. But if she could take over the cooking, he liked her already.
Sutter Murphy came pelting around the cabin, straw-colored hair every which way and untucked cotton shirt flapping about the trousers he perpetually outgrew. “Wagon coming in. Frisco spotted it through the trees. Do you think it’s the baker?”
Kit smiled at the energetic ten-year-old, kin to their local minister, Levi Wallin. “Harry went to fetch her today, so it stands to reason.”
Sutter vibrated faster than the wings of a hummingbird. “I hope she brought cinnamon rolls with her. Her sister, Mrs. Haggerty, makes the best cinnamon rolls.” He heaved a sigh, as if he could see the creamy icing dripping down the sides even now.
“She might not have had time today,” Kit warned him as the wagon rolled into the clearing and pulled up next to the barn.
Sutter took off running anyway. His twin brother, Frisco, came out of the woods to join him.
Their own baker and cook. What a blessing! Wallin Landing was small as settlements went—the main cabin that housed him, Jesse, and Harry in the loft sat on a bench overlooking Lake Union. Along the shores next to the lake lay the mercantile, which included the post office. Across the clearing, beyond the massive barn, Drew and his family had a cabin, with his brother Simon up on the hill. Brothers James and John had spreads just beyond, and Levi had a log parsonage next to the church. At the back of the clearing stood the schoolhouse. Other homesteads were beginning to grow along the lake.
Beth’s old cabin was through the trees to the north. He’d heard Drew intended to allow Miss O’Rourke to use it.
He could just spot a dark head peeking up above the side of the wagon. She didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave its shelter. Was she already reconsidering her decision to move out so far? His stomach rumbled again. Maybe he should welcome her, assure her they were all eager for her help.
Harry was seeing to the horses, so Kit ambled closer. The wagon was full of crates, boxes, and sacks. Some would be supplies for the settlement. Others, he hoped, would be supplies for the kitchen. She’d already sent ahead one wagon load, and he and Jesse had stood over the boxes studying their contents.
“Why would she need a bowl with holes in it?” Jesse had asked, poking a thick finger at the perforated mass of tin.
“I think it’s a colander,” Kit had told him. “For straining things. My sister’s cook had one.”
Jesse had eyed him. People often did that when he mentioned his family, so he mentioned them rarely. It was easier if no one questioned why the brother of one of Tacoma’s wealthier matrons was slinging an ax instead of directing the wheels of industry.
Frisco and Sutter had beat him to the wagon bed and were holding out hands to Miss O’Rourke. She managed to stand, and he stopped in his tracks.
Somehow, he’d expected someone older, more seasoned. Mrs. Haggerty was in her thirties. Her sister was quite a few years younger, with hair as warm and rich as hot chocolate and cheeks as rosy as an apple. Combined with a slender figure and her ability to cook, she was guaranteed to draw the attention of every bachelor within miles.
Likely they wouldn’t have a cook for long.
“Would you hold her a moment, Frisco?” she was saying, bending toward one of the twins.
Frisco opened his arms, and Miss O’Rourke surrendered a chubby-faced baby into them.
A baby? Funny. He didn’t recall hearing she’d married. Would her husband be moving out with her? Why did that disappoint him?
“That’s Kit,” Sutter volunteered, pointing at him as if Miss O’Rourke had asked his direction.
She jumped down from the wagon, arranged her blue skirts, took back the baby, and marched up to him. Her eyes were as dark as hot chocolate too, but at the moment they were more fire than warmth.
She held out the baby to him. “Mr. Weatherly. Your daughter.”
Kit blinked. “Daughter? I don’t have a daughter.”
“Told you,” Harry said, striding past with a crate in his arms.
Her pretty face set into surprisingly firm lines. “We were told to deliver this sweet child to you. Do you deny your responsibility, sir?”
The baby kicked its feet as if none too pleased to be left dangling between them. Kit reached for her to steady her.
Eyes as dark as his peered into his face. Curls as dark as his escaped her little cap. A smile that reminded him of what he saw in the mirror on a good morning turned up her lips.
Small wonder they thought she was his. She looked just like him!
“She can’t be mine,” he said aloud. “I’ve never had a sweetheart.”
“Told you,” Harry repeated, passing them for the wagon.
Miss O’Rourke’s face melted into confusion. “Are you certain, Mr. Weatherly?”
Kit peered closer at the baby, a frown of his own gathering.
The baby met his gaze, opened her mouth…
And shrieked at the top of her lungs.
He nearly dropped her, but he managed to hang on as the sound rent the air. Crows launched themselves off their perches in the cedars. Frisco and Sutter clapped their hands over their ears. Chickens in the coop nearby ran in agitated circles.
“Is she all right?” Miss O’Rourke asked, moving closer.
The baby grinned at them both, showing a few pearly white teeth.
“I think she’s rather pleased with herself,” Kit marveled.
Miss O’Rourke lay a hand on his arm. “Perhaps we should bring her into the house. The man who gave Grace to us left a note. You should read it.”
He should at that. Tucking Grace a little closer, he joined Miss O’Rourke as she retrieved a carpetbag and envelope and headed for the cabin.
They had barely set foot inside before Jesse ducked his massive frame to poke his russet head through the kitchen archway.
“You cooking?” he asked Miss O’Rourke, holding up a wooden spoon as if ready to coronate her with it.
“I wasn’t planning to start until tomorrow morning, Mr. Willets,” she told him, dropping the carpetbag to the planks. “I have much to do to settle in first.”
Kit could feel Jesse’s sigh from across the room. The big man shambled back to the stove.
Miss O’Rourke handed Kit the envelope and held out her arms. He gave her Grace, and she began walking the baby around the room, murmuring words no doubt meant to calm. Over her shoulder, Grace watched him.
Kit broke open the envelope. The first words took his breath, and the next few took the heart right out of him. He sank onto the bench at the table near the door and devoured the rest. How? When?
He lowered the note to find Miss O’Rourke standing in front of him, waiting. As if she saw the blow he’d been given, she perched on the bench beside him, jostling Grace on her knee.
“What’s happened?” she asked, dark gaze searching his.
“Grace is my sister’s child,” he told her, amazed he could still form sentences. “I didn’t know she had one. She always wanted children, but none came. We haven’t spoken in years, though I write her to let her know where I am and what I’m doing. It seems she and her husband have died, and I’m all Grace has left.”
“Take a moment,” she murmured. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
He shook himself as she rose with the baby and turned for the kitchen. “But you’re just getting settled,” he protested.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t help,” she countered before disappearing into the kitchen with his newfound responsibility.
Help, she’d said. He had a feeling he was going to need it.
You can learn more about some of the real-life Seattle pioneers in my article.
And remember the other books in the Frontier Matches series: