Excerpt from The Bride Next Door
Turnabout Texas April 1895
The ornery, splinter-ridden door refused to budge, no matter how hard she shoved. Or how hard she glared.
Daisy Johnson stood on the darkened sidewalk, glowering at the weathered barricade that stood between herself and her new home. She absently scratched a splinter from her thumb as she glanced down at the black and white dog sitting patiently at her heels. "Don't worry, Kip, I'm going to get us inside, one way or the other."
Kip gave her a supportive yip, then began scratching his side.
A noise from over to her left caught Daisy's attention. Down the street, a shadowy figure exited the livery and headed unsteadily down the sidewalk toward the hotel. Probably coming from one of the poker games the locals held there - an activity she was unfortunately all too familiar with.
Other than that, things were quiet. Which was fine by her. Kip was the only company she needed tonight.
Daisy spared a quick glance at the adjoining building which housed the newspaper office, and thought briefly about knocking on the door to see if she could borrow something to use as a pry bar. But she discarded the thought almost before it had fully formed. Not only was the hour late, but from what she recalled about the man who owned the place, he was an uppity gent with a highfaluting accent of some sort. His attitude reminded her too much of her grandmother. Not the sort who would take kindly to being roused from his sleep. Or someone she'd wanted to owe any favors to.
Turning back to the stubbornly closed door, she jutted her chin out and tilted her hat back. No warped slab of lumber was going to get the better of her, not when she was so close to her goal.
Using her foot to shove aside one of the rotten boards she'd pried from across the doorframe, Daisy jiggled the key and turned the knob again. There was just enough light coming from the glow of the nearby street lamp to confirm the door wasn't locked. Which meant it was just stuck.
"If you think you can out-ornery me," she muttered at the door as she rolled up her sleeves, "then you better think again." With that, she took firmer hold of the knob, twisted it as far as it would go, and led with her shoulder as she rammed against the door. Kip stopped scratching and gave her a you-can-do-it bark.
The door held a moment longer, then scraped noisily open a few inches. Progress. But not enough. Kip might be able to squeeze through that opening but not her.
Steeling herself, Daisy threw her shoulder into it one more time, grunting at the impact. With a last creak of protest, the door gave up its fight and opened wide enough to allow her to pass.
With a triumphant grin and a prickling of anticipation, Daisy retrieved her pack, tossed her bedroll up on her shoulder, and met Kip's curious glance. "This is it, boy. We're home."
With a deep breath, Daisy took her first step inside the building, Kip at her heels. The room was mostly cloaked in shadows, illuminated only by what light filtered in from the street lamp, and it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust.
As she surveyed what little she could see of the room, her grin disappeared. "Jehoshaphat!" She'd spent the night in abandoned barns that were cleaner and neater than this place.
Striding farther into the room, Daisy muttered a few unladylike epithets under her breath as she batted at cobwebs and felt things scrunch beneath her boots that she wasn't ready to examine more closely.
She spied a lamp sitting on the counter and was relieved to find a bit of oil still in the base. It took several attempts but she finally managed to get it lit and then took a closer look around.
She could hear Kip sniffling around, picking up goodness only knew what kind of scents. A couple of loud doggy sneezes confirmed that it was as dusty at his level as it was at hers.
She hadn't expected a servant-scrubbed palace, but hang it all, she'd hoped to find something in a little better condition than this. No wonder the previous owner had been so quick to gamble it away.
She started to close the outer door, then changed her mind. It wouldn't hurt to leave it open for a little while to help air out the place.
Daisy tromped across the room, ignoring the skittery scrambling sounds coming from just outside the circle of lamplight. Hopefully whatever critters had taken up residence in here were on their way out. Still, she was glad for Kip's company.
The back room wasn't much better than the front. In the yellowish light of the lamp, she could see dust, debris and a smattering of rickety furniture scattered higgledy-piggledy across the space. Daisy kicked at an old sack lying in her path, then let out an explosive sneeze as a cloud of dust billowed up in her face.
Great! This was just pointy-fanged-rattlesnake perfect.
She fanned the air in front of her between sneezes. Why should the day end even a gnat-speck better than it had started?
Then she caught herself up short. Not that I'm complaining, mind You, Lord. I know You answered my prayers in a powerful way when You took Pa's weakness for gambling and turned it to good by providing me with the deed to this building. And I truly am mighty grateful. Besides, I do know there's nothing wrong with this place that a bit of honest sweat and elbow grease won't fix up just fine and dandy. You've done Your part and now I aim to do mine.
Daisy looked around again. Make that a lot of elbow grease.
But that didn't scare her none. No sir. The place was more than roomy enough for what she had in mind. She could already picture how it would look all cleaned up and put to rights. It would be so wonderful to have a place of her own, a place to set down roots and build a proper life. And to finally make some genuine friends of her very own.
And maybe, if she was very, very good, she could have a family of her very own one day as well.
I know, Lord, baby steps. I asked for a family of my own, one like all those close-knit, loving families I saw during my travels. And instead You gave me the seeds of one by providing a means for me to settle down in one place. So here's my promise to You. I'm going to do my best to make myself an acceptable helpmeet in the eyes of some god fearing man so I can start that family as soon as possible. And I promise to look past appearance, manner and finances to see the heart of whoever You send my way.
Feeling focused and enthusiastic once more, Daisy went back to work. First order of business was to clear herself out a place to sleep. There was no way she could lay down in the midst of this gritty, grimy, cluttered mess, so if she was going to get a good night's rest she'd best start clearing and cleaning.
She tested the soundness of a crate near the doorway then set the lamp and bedroll down. Plopping her hat and pack beside them, she rolled up her sleeves. No time like the present to get started.