Friday, August 23, 2013

Excerpt Week concludes with Destiny's Bride by Ginger Simpson

Previously published as Prairie Peace

It's 1860 and Cecile Palmer looks forward with eagerness toward the yearly Spring Fling. The gathering of folks from all over the region provides the most excitement imaginable. . .until she experiences love at first sight. . .and with a stranger. After meeting handsome Walt Williams, Cecile's greatest obstacle is convincing her father, the local banker, that his only pampered child is ready to marry and a stranger is the right man for her.

The ranch her fiance describes doesn't turn out exactly as she imagined, and when Walt fails to return from getting winter supplies, another difficult decision presents itself. Can Cecile live among Indians despite being a white woman? And will the brave she nurses back to health turn out to be her real hero?


Chapter One

Dakota Plains, 1867

Cecile’s gaze froze on the striking man leaning against the hitching post. Her heart seized with a gasp as she nearly stepped off the edge of the wooden walkway. She turned her attention back to delivering her father’s mid-day meal, but fixed a smile on her face and slowed her pace, hoping to catch the stranger’s eye.
He’d never been in Silver City before; she would have remembered his rugged good looks. Tight, dark denims clung to his masculine thighs, and beneath a black leather vest, open shirt buttons revealed a well-muscled chest. Her gaze slid boldly down his body, thoroughly enjoying the sight until the reflection of the sun off his silver belt buckle blinded her. She swallowed and averted her eyes. What had come over her? Such brazen leering. Goodness, she wasn’t a harlot.
At almost the exact moment that she walked past, he stepped onto the sidewalk and made eye contact. He touched the wide brim of his hat and smiled. For a second, his blue eyes held her captive.
Suddenly, the weight of the tray tripled, and her breathing quickened. Her cheeks warmed at the crooked smile that told her he knew she’d been staring at him. In her haste to escape embarrassment behind the bank’s doors, just a few steps away, she caught her heel in a large knothole in the wooden sidewalk. She tried to recover gracefully but fell flat on her bottom with a resounding plop, hitting the wood so hard it jarred her teeth. Her dignity suffered as she realized how pitiful she looked, with her father’s lunch spilled all over her. Luckily, most of the mashed potatoes and gravy landed on the ground, but the vegetables and ham slices filled her lap.
Before she could stand, he knelt at her side, plucking green beans from her dress. “Are you all right, ma’am?” His quivering lips failed at masking his desire to laugh.

She’d just made a fool of herself in front of the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Of course she wasn’t all right. What must he think?
Managing a weak smile and struggling for some semblance of composure, she accepted his proffered hand. While avoiding his gaze, she nervously smoothed wet wrinkles from her dress.“Yes, I’m fine,” she croaked. “Thank you for your help.” Her voice trembled in unison with her insides.
“Name’s Walt Williams,” he said, when she finally made eye contact. “I’m visiting my Aunt May. She owns the boarding house here.”
Lost in his azure eyes, Cecile heard very little of what he said. Aware of her bold stare she glanced down, trying not to be so obvious. The evidence of her accident jolted her memory.
“Oh, my gosh…Father’s expecting me!” Although reluctant to leave, she dared not dawdle. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Williams, and I’m sorry to be rude, but I have to hurry home to replace my father’s lunch. He must be wondering where I am.”
Again the stranger touched the brim of his hat. “Mighty nice meeting you, too, Miss...”
“Cecile, Cecile Palmer.” She offered a brief introduction while stooping to retrieve the tray, utensils and her mother’s good china plate that somehow remained intact.
Before taking her leave, she flashed a warm smile, hoping the memory of this incident would fade from Mr. Witman’s mind. She gave a little wave and started for home, tutting in disgust and pulling at the dampened material that insisted on clinging to her legs. The cloying gingham and the glob of potatoes on her shoe served as grim reminder of a ruined opportunity.
Why couldn’t she have met Walt after delivering Father’s lunch? Her thoughts refused to focus on anything else other than Walt Williams. What a grand name. Repeating it over and over again in her mind, she wondered if she’d ever see him again.
She kicked a splintered piece of wood and sent it flying. Why hadn’t she asked him more about himself? Where was he from or had he ever visited before? Had he come to town and she just didn’t recall? No way! She’d certainly remember someone with his good looks. With any luck, maybe he’d stay in town long enough to come to the upcoming Spring Fling. Her heart quickened again.
She had never actually met his Aunt May, but knew her by sight. She was a short, rather plump woman with silver gray hair usually pulled back into a bun. They had exchanged smiles and pleasantries across the aisles of the mercantile on several occasions, but Cecile’s father referred to the woman’s boarding house as being on the “wrong side of the tracks.” He forbade Cecile to step foot into that area; warned over and over again it was no place for a respectable young woman to venture. Cowpokes and drifters traveling through Silver City frequented the saloons nearby. Sometimes her father was far too judgmental.
So, how could she manage to run into Walt again? A mental picture of him flashed through her mind, and determination drove her thoughts.
“Afternoon, Miz Cecile,” a passing resident called, drawing her from her thoughts.
She gave a quick nod then grimaced. Afternoon? Another face emerged in her mind’s eye—her father’s, and he most likely wasn’t happy. Here she dawdled along thinking about Walt and her father still hadn’t had eaten. He’d be furious. She hastened her steps.

Her mother met her at the door, her brow raised. Eyeing the stains on Cecile’s dress, Mrs. Palmer shook her head. “My goodness, what happened to you? You’re a mess.”
Cecile handed her the tray. “You wouldn’t believe it. Let’s just say I had a mishap that involved father’s lunch and I need a replacement.”
Her mother quickly dished up a second platter of food. “It’s not as hot as the first, but at least it’s better than nothing at all.”
Cecile took the tray and headed back to the bank, vowing to be more careful this time.

Copyright (C) 2013 Ginger Simpson

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