Book 2: Knotty Pine, Texas
Love Inspired Historical
SENSIBLE, SETTLED, STEADY...
And not Sadie Lassiter. Eli Reynolds knows what he wants in a wife, and the flighty Texas girl couldn't be further from the mark. Eli has his nine-year-old sister's welfare to consider - Penny deserves a mother who will give her proper care. But when bad weather strands Eli and Sadie together, he sees a new side to her character. She's rash - but also resourceful. Instead of discipline, she has diligent faith. Her housekeeping skills are lacking, but she's filled with humor and sweetness. She may not be a "proper" wife, but to save her reputation - and to take a chance on happiness he'd never expected to find - Eli will take her as his bride.
He needed a wife and he needed one soon.
Eli Reynolds strode through town, ignoring the intermittent drizzle as he pondered his current situation. According to the workmen he'd hired, the renovations to his newly acquired home would be ready by the end of next week. Once that was done he and Penny would no longer have a legitimate reason to remain at the boarding house.
Which meant his time was running out.
Because no matter what the cost, he was determined to be married, or at least have wedding plans, before he moved himself and his nine-year-old sister into that house. Mrs. Collins, the widow who ran the boarding house where he and Penny were staying, was doing a good job of watching over his sister for the time being. But leaving an impressionable young girl like Penny in the care of a housekeeper or governess every day while he went to his office at the bank was an unacceptable option for the long term.
Trusting a servant with such a precious duty had already resulted in one tragedy. He wouldn't make such a costly mistake twice.
This business of finding a proper wife should have already been settled, would have already been settled, if he hadn't so badly misjudged his field of candidates. He thought he'd found the right woman in Myra Willows. She appeared intelligent, mature, of good character, competent in the domestic arts - all the characteristics he was looking for. He'd actually been on the point of declaring his intentions yesterday when he'd been pulled up short by a bit of gossip.
He'd overheard couple of bank clerks speculating that Miss Willows might possibly be the person behind that ridiculous pseudonym of Temperance Trulove, the very woman who penned the ridiculous and highly melodramatic bit of drivel titled The Amazing Adventures of Annabel Adams for The Weekly Gazette. Eli didn't quite credit that the rumor could be true - Miss Willows seemed much too reserved and sensible a female to indulge in such nonsense. But at this point he wasn't willing to risk being wrong, not with his sister's upbringing hanging in the balance.
So he'd been forced to regroup, to review the remaining names on his list, and chose another bride.
Eli turned his collar up against the weather as a spurt of water fell on him from the eaves of the nearby storefront. What a day! He wasn't just damp, he was beat. Bone-deep, soul-achingly beat.
Truth to tell, the turn his life had taken two months ago, and the nonstop effort he'd put into building a new life for himself and Penny since then, was beginning to wear on him. But soon it would be done and he could relax a bit. Until then, he would continue pressing on toward his goal.
"Looks like you could use yourself a rain slicker." Sheriff Hammond lounged against the doorpost of his office, whittling on a stick.
Eli moved closer to the building to take advantage of the meager shelter from the shower. "A bit of rain never hurt anyone." He winced as he felt a trickle of water make its way down his back. "Then again, I may have to look into getting myself one of those slickers if this weather continues."
The sheriff grinned in sympathy. "Spring showers tend to be unpredictable in these parts." Then he went back to whittling. "How's Mrs. Collins' arm doing?"
The boarding house proprietress had fallen and hurt her arm about a week ago. She seemed to be bearing her injury well, but having her out of commission had put the entire boarding house at sixes and sevens. And the arrival of her friend, purportedly to 'help out', had only served to add to the problem rather than alleviate it. Sadie Lassiter had breezed in from whatever distant cattle ranch she called home with all the grace and finesse of a green-eyed, auburn-haired dust devil.
He pulled his thoughts back to the sheriff's question. "The doctor says she should refrain from using it for another week or so. But she seems impatient to be back at work."
Sheriff Hammond nodded. "That's Cora Beth for you. The woman can't stand to sit idle." He tipped his hat back with the point of his blade. "How's Miss Lassiter working out?"
It would be ungentlemanly of him to speak his true feelings on the matter. "She is trying," he temporized. "And I'm sure she's good company for Mrs. Collins."
Sheriff Hammond grinned. "As bad as all that, is she?"
Eli merely spread his hands.
"Ah well, Cora Beth's shoes would be hard for anyone to fill." He shaved another curl of wood from his stick. "By the way, mind giving Mrs. Collins a message for me?"
"Be glad to."
"Tell her I'm heading out to the Martin's place in the morning and I'll be happy to carry a food basket for the Ladies' Auxiliary if she still wants me to."
"Will do." Apparently part of the sheriff's duty in these parts was to periodically look in on the various families on the outlying farms and ranches.
With a wave, Eli moved along the wet sidewalk again, eager to reach the boarding house where he could dry out and get something filling to eat. Too bad it wouldn't be one of Mrs. Collins' always excellent meals. If he was lucky it would be more edible than the scorched roast Miss Lassiter had served last night.
Eli had barely taken a half dozen steps, however, when he found himself hailed again. One of the benefits - and hazards - of small town life he supposed.
Mrs. Danvers, who ran the mercantile with her husband, stood in the doorway of her store. Swallowing the urge to keep walking, he tipped his hat. "Good day, ma'am. Is there something I can help you with?"
"It's such a dreary day I thought you might want to come in out of the weather for a bit." She gave him an ingratiating smile. "I'm sure Imogene would be happy to fix you a hot cup of tea while you dry off by the stove."
The woman would be better served to focus her matchmaking schemes elsewhere. Eli had scratched Imogene Danvers off his potential-bride-list early on. She was too timid, too much under her mother's thumb to provide the kind of oversight he wanted for his sister. And having an overbearing, meddlesome woman for a mother-in-law was not something he was inclined to look favorably on either. "That's very kind of you, but the weather doesn't show signs of letting up any time soon and I need to see to my sister."
A flicker of disappointment flashed in her eyes and then she rallied. "Such a thoughtful brother you are. Perhaps another time."
"Perhaps." He tipped his hat again and moved on.
And yet another reason for him to find a wife soon. He was well aware that his wealth and newcomer-to-the-area status had made him the target of every matchmaking momma and marriage-minded female in the area. Time to take himself off the market.
Which brought him back to making his selection. He'd given the matter careful consideration most of the day and had decided that Mrs. Collins was now the obvious choice. The only reason she hadn't been his first choice was the fact that she had three children of her own and a younger brother to raise. But while this meant Penny wouldn't have her undivided attention, perhaps it would be offset by the fact that Penny would have other children in the house to play with.
Yes, this might work out for the best after all.
Eli finally reached the boarding house and sprinted up the steps, pausing under the shelter of the front porch roof to shed his wet hat, and brush the drops of water from his coat.
After stomping his boots on the porch, he stepped inside and hung his hat on the hat tree in the entry. His attention was almost immediately caught by the sound of unruly giggles coming from the dining room.
Apparently the weather-confined children had found some sort of amusement indoors. There were five other youngsters besides Penny currently in residence here. Mrs. Collins' three girls, Audrey, Pippa and Lottie, and her young brother Danny were, of course, permanent residents.
The other child, Mrs. Collins' niece Viola, had moved in just last week. The child's parents were currently on a trip out of the country. Viola, it turns out, was also Miss Lassiter's niece since Miss Lassiter's brother Ry was married to Mrs. Collins' sister Josie. From what he could tell, that nebulous relationship was the only thing the two women had in common.
It seemed odd that a woman who professed to have grown up on a cattle ranch would be so inept at cooking and housework. Since her arrival, routines had gone out the window, the meals had been barely palatable and housework seemed to be handled with a less-than-impressive 'lick and a promise' approach.
About the best one could say for her in the way of domestic skills was that she had a way with children. In fact, his normally reticent sister had taken a keen liking to the flibbertigibbet of a woman. Then again, the woman acted as if she were little more than an overgrown child herself. It was probably just as well he'd be moving Penny away from her unfortunate influence soon.
Speaking of which, was that Miss Lassiter's voice mingled in with the children's laughter?
4 Stars "Griggs has penned a romantic, laugh-out-loud book. Readers will like the twist that has the hero - and not the heroine - looking to get married."
The Story Behind The Story
I penned a short post about what led me to write Sadie and Eli's story and my publisher has it up on their community site. To check it out, you can use this link - eHarlequin community group blog.
Interview with Eli Reynolds, hero of The Proper Wife
I also allowed my hero, Eli Reynolds, to be interviewed for a blog on the eharlequin community site. To check it out, you can use this link - eHarlequin community group blog - character interviews.