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Authors: Janice Thompson

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BOOK: Spring Creek Bride
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And he discussed, in great detail, the shapely legs of the dancing girls at the town’s most notable saloon, The Golden Spike. This certainly got Mick’s attention, though not because of the women who worked there or their legs. Any saloon, notable or otherwise, would soon pale in comparison to his gambling hall. If everything went according to plan, anyway.

On and on Orin went, discussing the exceptionally warm weather and the cost of a meal at The Harvey House, a place he heartily recommended, especially on the nights when Myrtle Mae was cooking. Whoever she was.

Orin snipped away, shifting his conversation to the women in the town. “Not many to be had,” he commented, “so I hope you haven’t come with hopes of finding a wife like the rest of these fellers.”

“The thought never crossed my mind.” Though appealing women back home had drawn his eye, he’d never spent enough time with any one of them to be tempted. Not that he had any negative feelings regarding marriage in general.

No, Mick had no bias against matrimony. And he had nothing against the women in Texas, either, for that matter. He’d already taken note of at least one lovely female. His thoughts shifted to the beautiful blonde he’d just met. Why hadn’t he asked her name?

Well, no matter. In a town this size, surely some
one would know her. He would have no trouble giving an accurate description, having memorized every detail, from the wild hair swept up off her neck, to the blue eyes, to the determination in her step.

The barber finished up his work, and Mick stood to leave. His cheeks stung from the brush of the razor strokes and the pungent smell of the lather lingered in the air. He rubbed his palm across his smooth chin and smiled at the older man. “Thanks so much.”

“My pleasure.”

Mick dropped a couple of coins into Orin’s hand and turned to leave. Exhaustion washed over him. He needed to locate a quiet room for the days ahead, a place where he could sleep off the train trip and begin to sort things out.

After a few paces, he found himself in front of The Harvey House. From what he’d been told, it was the nicest place in town. Hopefully, it would turn out to be the quietest, too. He’d check in first, then visit the local mercantile to make a couple of necessary purchases, then get some much-needed sleep.

Holding back an escaping yawn, Mick climbed the steps to the hotel, wishing a rainstorm would come along to wash away the sticky south Texas heat. He stood atop the steps and turned to look out over the little town. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but Mick actually felt the definite stirrings of a storm ahead. Only this one likely had nothing to do with the weather.

Chapter Four

I
da tended to the shop throughout the afternoon. Seemed no matter how hard she worked, she could scarcely find space enough for all the goods. Every square inch of the mercantile was stacked high with barrels, boxes and bins, from front to back. It always seemed to be this way when the season changed. The goods in the store shifted to accommodate seasonal needs.

With time, Ida managed to make sense of it all, but not without a considerable amount of strategy on her part. Boxes of summer goods were emptied, jars and bins were stacked and spring items that hadn’t yet sold were placed on a sale table.

As she worked, the locals came and went—many making purchases, others just passing the time. Ida swept the wood-planked floor, and then began the arduous task of dusting the upper shelves that housed the store’s finer merchandise, above the pine showcase. She smiled as she studied the handiwork of the
showcases, which held higher-priced glassware. They ran the entire length of the store, from back to front. Papa had worked for weeks on the detailing, and it showed.

After dusting the shelves, Ida opened a showcase and repositioned the china dolls inside. Why in the world Dinah would stock such delicate items in a town like this remained a mystery. Ida had never asked, wondering if perhaps Dinah secretly longed for a daughter, someone who might play with beautiful dolls like these. Regardless, these breakable beauties would likely never sell in a town like Spring Creek.

Ida turned her attention to a hand-painted porcelain washbowl and pitcher. It reminded her of the one her mother had used each morning. Determined not to grow sad, Ida forced the memory from her mind. Only hard work could head off a somber attitude and with the heat hanging so heavily in the air, she could scarcely imagine adding a sour disposition to an already difficult day.

A few minutes before four, the brother of her friend Sophie entered the mercantile, red-faced and clearly upset. Ida didn’t intentionally listen to Eugene Weimer’s dissertation, but his booming voice rang out across the store, leaving her little choice.

“Just came from the barbershop,” he explained in a huff. “A big-city fella in a fancy suit and hat rode in on the afternoon train from Chicago. Really tall fella. Maybe ya seen ’im.”

Ida stopped what she was doing. She knew exactly who Eugene was talking about.

“Chicago?” several of the men echoed. One mumbled “Yankee” under his breath.

Ida hadn’t considered the fact that the man might be from up North. Still, she couldn’t imagine why that would make much of a difference these days.

“What’s he doing here?” one of the fellas asked, his eyes flashing with anger.

“That’s the problem,” Eugene said. “No one seems to know. But be sure he doesn’t look like one of us. Mighty suspicious to me.”

“Traveling salesman?” another man asked.

Ida secretly hoped the man didn’t turn out to be of that particular occupation. Traveling salesmen had poor reputations, at least the ones who’d dared show their faces and their wares around these parts. They were often ushered onboard the next train out of Spring Creek. And Ida was never sad to see them go. They stole business from the mercantile, after all, and their highly touted products usually left much to be desired.

Eugene shook his head and shoved his thumbs into his belt loops. “He was traveling light, from what I could tell, so I doubt he’s selling anything. But my gut tells me he’s got a story to tell, and it ain’t a good one.”

“Likely he has family in the area is all,” Ida said with a shrug, unable to resist joining the conversation. How dare they judge the man without even knowing him! Didn’t they know the Bible spoke against such things?

“Nope,” Eugene said. “Orin weaseled that much out of him. He’s got no people here. And he don’t work for the railroad, neither.”

“Hope he ain’t come to Spring Creek lookin’ fer a wife!” one of the men hollered out. “He’ll have to get in line. And if’n he tries to cut in front of me, I’ll take him down in a minute!”

Ida held her tongue, though it took every ounce of strength to do so. If he had come looking for a wife, he’d jump to the head of the line simply because of his genteel nature and fashionable attire, no doubt about that.

Eugene folded his arms at his chest and shook his head. “I’m guessing he’s here to buy up land, not fetch a wife.”

“I heard someone bought the Salyer farm,” Ida interjected. “Maybe he’s the new owner.” Yes, an explanation like that would make perfect sense, wouldn’t it? Purchasing a local farm wouldn’t make him suspect, by any stretch of the imagination.

“He don’t look like any farmer I ever saw,” Eugene said. “Dressed all uppity-like. And his shoes—never seen a shine like that on any man’s feet. I could almost see myself in ’em.”

“Hmm.” Ida knew the men would find this the most suspicious evidence of all. Every man in Spring Creek wore boots—nothing but.

“What kind of a fella would show up in a place like this, wearing slick, show-offish shoes?” one of the older men grumbled.

Eugene leaned in to the crowd and spoke in a strained voice. “I’m guessin’ he’s here to buy up our local businesses and take over the town. It’s been happening all over the state—not just in Spring Creek. Yankees movin’ in and buyin’ up shops and mills on the sly whilst the locals are lookin’ the other way. I’d wager he’s a sly one, and well trained at that.”

“Well, we ain’t gonna let him get away with it,” one of the fellows hollered out.

“We’ve had enough of that,” another added.

Eugene squared his shoulders and added his final thoughts on the matter. “The whole thing just gripes my gizzard. I’ve had enough of folks sweeping in and taking over.” He began to list all the times such a thing had happened, and Ida sighed. She couldn’t argue the point. Spring Creek had been taken over by out-of-towners, after all.

“What is this man’s name?” she asked when Eugene finished.

“Bradley.” Eugene’s eyes held a gleam of suspicion. “Mick Bradley.”

“Did someone call my name?”

The crowd grew silent and a parting of the waters seemed to take place as Mick made his way through the throng. Ida kept her distance, just in case the men got riled up.

“Someone got something to say to me?” Mick asked as he looked around at the crowd.

No one uttered a word, and the beating of Ida’s heart seemed to drown out everything else for a moment.
Even though he might have come to town to create trouble, she still found him an inordinately handsome man. With a fresh, clean-shaven face, no less.

Focus, Ida.

Nothing in the fellow’s air spoke of ill will for the people of Spring Creek. Surely the others were wrong about him. Likely, he would turn out to be the new owner of the Salyer farm, was all. And, if so, she would take over a pecan pie once he got settled in. Just to be neighborly, of course.

Just then he looked her way and they exchanged a glance. She couldn’t help but notice the pleased look in his eye when he saw her. She tried not to react, but the edges of her lips betrayed her. Ida swallowed hard, trying to maintain her composure.

When no one responded to Mick’s question, he tipped his hat and went on about his business looking over the items on the shelves. He asked Ida to help him with a toothbrush and tooth powder. A feeling of contentment washed over her.
See there. He’s well groomed in every conceivable respect. And he didn’t come in to purchase chewing tobacco, like most of the other men. No, this one is certainly different from the others.

Ida waited on Mick at the register, ignoring the whispers and stares of the others in the room.

When he left the store, another lively conversation erupted. Ida did her best to ignore it, though she was as intrigued by Mick Bradley as they were. But she was hoping for the best, while they were expecting
the worst. Would he be good for Spring Creek, or bad? Ida didn’t know, but she was sure of one thing—she would take a dozen Mick Bradleys over those foolish railroad men any day.

 

As Mick made his way across the street to the hotel, he thought about the reception he’d just received in the mercantile. Just the little bit of conversation he’d overheard while entering the store had been enough to convince him of their distrust. But what had he done to prompt such a reaction? What motivated such a hard and swift judgment on their part?

His suit, maybe? Some of the fellas had seemed to give him a once-over, taking in his clothes. Sure, most of the Spring Creek men were dressed in more casual attire. But a man’s suit shouldn’t make him suspect, should it? A few men had looked at his feet. So what if he opted for shoes over boots? Nothing odd about that, at least where he hailed from. Were Texans always this skittish as far as Northerners were concerned?

Mick tugged at his collar and willed the heat to go away as he entered his room. How in the world would he stand this? Surely in this sort of heat, the pine trees must be whistling for the dogs.

Why had he come to Spring Creek again? From his second-story window at The Harvey House, the town didn’t seem terribly impressive, at least not in comparison to Chicago.

Well, that’s why I’m here. To make it impressive.

He chuckled as he lay down on the bed, remem
bering the greeting he’d received at the front desk when he’d checked in earlier.

“You ain’t from ’round here, are ya?” the clerk had asked.

“No, sir. I’m from the Windy City.”

“Amarillo?”

Mick couldn’t help but laugh. The fellow had looked a bit miffed.

He certainly wasn’t making a lot of friends here in Spring Creek.

Maybe, as Orin had suggested at the barbershop, the local men feared he’d come to town to find a wife. Mick found himself smiling as he thought about the blonde. What a lucky coincidence to see her again. And luckier still that he’d learned where he could find her on a regular basis. She’d given him an impish smile, one that made him want to visit the mercantile again soon.

Well, no matter, Mick thought as his eyes began to close. He shook off any ill-conceived notions of courting her or any other woman in the near future. No, he’d better keep his head on straight while he was in Spring Creek. Otherwise someone might just come along and knock it off.

Chapter Five

M
ick’s stomach rumbled for the umpteenth time. Now that he’d had a good rest, he was ready for a meal. The smells coming from the kitchen caused his stomach to leap as he entered the dining room.
Wonderful, blessed food.
How long had it been since he’d had a meal in a room that wasn’t rocking back and forth as he ate, the clacking of train wheels reverberating in his aching ears? Too long.

He glanced around the noisy room. Dozens of men, mostly railroad workers, he would guess, filled the place. He couldn’t help but notice their inquisitive stares, their eyes filled with distrust. Had the rumors of his presence spread that quickly?

He observed his prospective patrons. He’d seen worse than this scraggly bunch. Before long, these fellas would be his allies.

Mick soon found himself seated across the table from a stern-looking older man with a broad cigar hanging from his lips. Unlike the others in the room,
he was dressed well. Surely he didn’t work for the Great Northern.

“Cain’t say as I’ve seen you ’round these here parts,” the fellow quipped, the lit cigar jumping up and down as he spoke.

Mick nodded. “New to the area.”

“Come in on the afternoon train?”

“Yes, sir.”

The man gave him a pensive look. “Don’t look like the other railroad fellas.” He paused for closer inspection. “There’s something different about you.”

I was just thinking the same of you.

“Ah. Well, that’s because I don’t work for the railroad.” Mick hoped the conversation would shift in another direction.

At that moment, the waitress appeared with a menu in hand. Mick quickly ordered the largest steak in the place, along with sliced potatoes and a huge piece of apple pie.

His dining companion made introductions, though the look in his eye did little to make a stranger feel welcome. “Name’s Chuck Brewster.”

“Mick Bradley.” He extended his hand and gave the fellow a hearty handshake, then turned his attention to a glass of sweet tea.

For the better part of the meal, Mick avoided the older man’s probing questions. Brewster could be a local businessman sniffing out competition. Or maybe he worked for the law. When Mick asked him a question or two, Brewster was as cagey as Mick had
been about answering. For sure, he had something up his sleeve.

Mick left the restaurant at a quarter after six with a very full stomach, surprised to see the sun only just leaning toward the western sky. The slight oranges and reds ran together, casting a colorful haze across the street. For half a minute, the town almost looked presentable. He pulled a map from his pocket and began to walk in the direction of the property where his new facility would go up, passing the land agent’s office on the way. He’d have to stop by first thing in the morning to seal the deal. After that, nothing could stop him.

He located the lot in question, and found it to be an overgrown field next door to the mercantile—a ragged piece of property at best.

Mick looked it over with a careful eye. A considerable amount of work would need to be done before any building could begin, but at least the patch of land was strategically nestled between the bank and the mercantile, perched and ready for notoriety. In his mind’s eye, Mick saw the place—roulette wheels spinning, cards slapping against tables, glasses filled with alcohol, barmaids laughing, the heady scent of tobacco hovering in the air…

Only one thing seemed poised to get in his way. He turned and looked directly across the street at Spring Creek’s largest—and from all rumors most notorious—saloon. The Golden Spike. The name shimmered in lights above the doorway. And stand
ing just beneath the glittering letters was a familiar man with a lit cigar dangling from his lips.

With a silent nod in Chuck Brewster’s direction, Mick turned and headed back toward the hotel.

BOOK: Spring Creek Bride
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