Read The Rancher Takes a Cook Online

Authors: Misty M. Beller

Tags: #harlequin, #inspirational romance, #wholesome, #clean, #love inspired, #christian historical romance, #sweet historical romance, #harlequin historical, #love inspired historical, #histrical romance

The Rancher Takes a Cook

THE RANCHER TAKES A COOK

Misty M. Beller

Copyright 2015 Misty M. Beller

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Cover Art by Joan Alley

Editing by Paula Mowery

This book is a work of fiction and any
resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or
locales is purely coincidental. The characters are the product of
the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal
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Published by Prism Book Group

ISBN-10: 1943104115

ISBN-13: 978-1-943104-11-6

First Edition, 2015

Published in the United States of
America

Contact info:
[email protected]

http://www.prismbookgroup.com

DEDICATION

To Nana and Pop.

For the love, wisdom and kindness you share
with everyone you meet.

I’m honored to be your granddaughter, and I
treasure everything you’ve taught me.

I love you more than words can say.

 


Cast your burden on the Lord,

And He shall sustain you;

He shall never permit the righteous to be
moved.”

Psalm 55:22 (NKJV)

 

CHAPTER ONE

Columbia, South Carolina

February 17, 1865

The acrid air was thick and hazy as
nineteen-year-old Anna Stewart struggled to sit up in bed. Confused
and disoriented, she looked around. What woke her? Her mind refused
to focus.

“Anna…” The voice was distant, as if coming
from another world.
Why is it so hot in my room?
Edward must
have put too much wood on the fire before bed. She tried to focus
on something—anything—but her mind was thick mud and her chest
ached.

Need air
. The craving consumed her.
Bolting from her bed, she ran toward the doorway.
Thud.
Clang
. Her hands hit rough wood and warm metal. Scrambling to
her right, she tripped and fumbled for something familiar. Panic
rose in her chest. The darkness slowed her down like a sea of murky
water, then Anna’s shin struck solid metal and she lost her
balance. The floor rose up to meet her, and she landed hard, a moan
escaping between gasps.

“Anna.”

Edward’s voice broke through the smoke like
the sun parting the clouds. Or maybe it wasn’t her brother, but God
calling her home to heaven. The fog in her mind suffocated every
thought. And then strong arms lifted her like a limp sack. Thick,
smoky air whispered across her skin as she was jostled down the
stairs.

* * *

Air.
Anna gulped in a blessed breath
then forced open her stinging eyes. Her chest was on fire and a
coughing fit seized her. Sucking in another breath, she looked
around in the dim light. She lay on a rough blanket in the grass,
with people scurrying around. Confusion muddled her mind as she
struggled to sit up.

“Edward?” She croaked past the shooting pain
in her lungs.

“Here, sis. I’m here.”

Relief flooded her and she twisted around.
Concern etched her fifteen-year-old brother’s youthful face as he
knelt beside her.

“What happened?” Anna rasped.

“It burned, Anna. All of it.” Edward’s voice
cracked. “All of Columbia’s been burned to the ground by them
heathen Yanks.” His words tumbled faster as his brown eyes grew
wide.

“Our candle shop?” Her heart thudded faster
as she waited for his answer.

“Gone. Everything we own. And Emmett’s Dry
Goods, too.”

“Thank God Mrs. Emmett is away visiting her
sister,” Anna mumbled. Her mind ached as she forced it to focus on
the words her brother uttered.

“Thank God?
Thank God?
How can you
thank God when people are homeless or dead all around us?
We
are homeless.” The vehemence in Edward’s voice wrenched Anna’s
heart as she stared at the ache in his wide brown eyes.

She pulled him into an embrace and his body
went limp. Her little brother… How she wanted to make his hurt go
away. But, what now? Surely not
all
of their things were
burned. With Papa away in the war, would God leave them totally
stranded?

Taking a deep breath, Anna sat back and
tried to turn on her soft southern drawl that always seemed to
soothe. “C’mon, honey. Let’s go home and see what’s left.”

As she rose, a breeze tickled Anna’s ankles.
She glanced down at her cotton nightgown, coated in soot and grime
and a bit worse for the wear. To maintain a scrap of modesty, she
crossed her arms in front of her.

Anna glanced around to get her bearings.
People milled around the small grassy area. Most of those present
were huddled in little groups—some crying and some appearing to be
in shock. Remnants of smoke still clung to the air, shrouding the
atmosphere in a dismal cloak.

“This way.” Her brother led the way down the
muddy street. As they walked, they passed black skeletons of
buildings—charred remains sticking out in jagged angles with smoke
still rising from their midst. The buildings looked eerily
familiar, like dear friends who were disfigured almost beyond
recognition.

Edward paused in front of a structure that
was almost unrecognizable in its horrid condition. The candle shop
and their home. Nothing was left. No bright red sign over the door
announcing Stewart’s Candle Shop. No second story windows with the
pretty blue curtains where their home had been. Just two stairs
leading up to the porch and black smoldering ashes. Her heart sank
and tightness pulled in her chest. What now?

CHAPTER TWO

Seguin, Texas

August 14, 1865

The stagecoach shuddered and swayed as it
had done for five days now. Wincing at an extra-hard jolt, Anna
stared out the window at the group of cows grazing on scattered
patches of brown grass. These cows were rather funny
looking—scrawny, with long legs, colorful hides, and an immense set
of horns that appeared to be almost as long as the cow itself. They
were so different from the round, healthy milk cows on the
plantations at home.

Home… Anna pushed their former happy life
out of her mind. Had it only been a few short years ago when Papa
left to fight in General Hampton’s cavalry? Now, not only had she
lost Mama when she was eleven, but the War had stolen Papa, their
home, and everything she cared about in the world. Except
Edward.

He slouched against the side of the stage
and glared into an unseen distance. His glazed eyes looked like he
had passed boredom long ago. Poor fellow. Edward was used to
scampering about Columbia, not sitting locked in a stage for days
on end.

Attempting a smile for her brother, she
forced a tone more cheerful than she felt. “You hungry? I think
there are biscuits left from lunch.”

His head shot up like a dog who had just got
a whiff of the aroma of meat. Anna pulled a small, paper-wrapped
bundle from her reticule, and Edward nearly pounced on it. He
scarfed down the dried bread, and his enthusiasm brought a genuine
smile to her lips. He still resembled an overgrown boy, despite how
he’d been forced to grow up these last few years. The baggy cotton
shirt, too-short woolen pants, and cloth suspenders, only enhanced
his lanky limbs and boyish awkwardness. The clothes had been a
donation from a neighbor after all their things had burned in the
fire. Something was better than nothing.

Anna shifted to look out the window again.
The driver called, “Whoa,” and the coach slowed. A tickle of
anticipation fluttered in her chest. Had they made it to Seguin at
last? It would be such a relief to see Uncle Walter and Aunt Laura
again. And this would be her chance to start fresh. Create a new
life for herself and Edward.

They entered a pretty little town with
white-washed buildings and normal-looking people going about their
normal lives. Anna caught a glimpse of a pair of blue uniforms and
shivered, shrinking back from the stage window.
Yankee
soldiers.
Would she ever be able to look at that awful color
without a tremor running down her back?

Anna drew a deep, muggy breath to reinforce
her courage then turned from the window to gather her things. She
cringed at the needles shooting through her legs, but her seat
muscles were still numb. Recent experience had taught her the pain
would come later, after the brain-jarring bumps stopped and her
muscles had a chance to wake up. A sigh sneaked out before she
could catch it.

The stagecoach pulled to a stop next to a
tall, two-story building made of the same solid, whitewashed
material that covered many of the structures they’d passed.
Magnolia Hotel
was painted in faded red letters over the
canopy shading the front door. As Edward helped Anna step down from
the stage, the front door opened and their uncle stepped outside, a
pleasant-faced man in his fifties. He was followed by their aunt, a
willowy woman of about the same age, dressed in a white shirtwaist
and lavender skirt. When his eyes met Anna’s, the man’s face broke
into a grin and his voice boomed, “Well, if it isn’t the Stewart
family.” Uncle Walter’s smile was infectious, and her mouth pulled
into a responding grin.

As Edward stepped forward to shake his
uncle’s hand, Anna was engulfed in Aunt Laura’s warm embrace and
the sweet scent of roses. The tenderness caught her off guard and
left a burning sensation behind her eyes. How long had it been
since she’d felt such a motherly embrace?

Stepping back to hold her at arm’s length,
her aunt’s dark brown eyes twinkled as they gazed into Anna’s.
“Welcome home, my dear. It is so good to see you.” She tucked Anna
under her left arm and turned to the lanky boy standing next to
Uncle Walter. “And, Edward, if I didn’t know better, I would have
thought you were your father. You’ve grown so tall. We’ll add some
meat on your bones, and you’ll be the talk o’ the town.” Aunt
Laura’s eyes crinkled around the edges, as they appeared to do
often by the deep smile lines etched in her face. “Now let’s get
the two of you home. Supper’s on the stove, and I bet you haven’t
had a decent thing to eat in days.”

Uncle Walter grabbed their single carpet bag
with a wink. “The store is just down the street a ways. You won’t
get to see much of the town now, but you’ll have plenty o’ time to
get a look at things later.”

Aunt Laura slipped her arm around Anna’s
waist as they strolled down the rough board sidewalk. The clang of
iron echoed from the livery on their right as a blue-uniformed man
stood with his shoulder cocked against the doorway. He glared a
haughty scowl as they passed then turned away. Across the street, a
young woman exited a shop carrying a toddler in one arm and a
basket in the other. A wagon passed them with a golden-colored dog
perched on the seat next to a hunched old man, straw hat pulled low
to shade his face from the scorching sun.

Uncle Walter stopped in front of a light
green building with the words
Stewart Mercantile
painted
over the door. “Here we are, folks. Welcome to our humble home.” He
opened the door for them to step inside.

As they walked through the store, Uncle
Walter nodded at a tall, broad-shouldered cowboy standing by the
front counter. “Howdy, Jacob. You gettin’ all set for the fall
drive?” The man caught Anna’s attention. It wasn’t just his unusual
attire that made her stare, but his clear blue eyes framed by wavy
brown locks. They were breathtaking. If this is what Texans looked
like, it might not be that difficult to live here.

* * *

Over the next week, Anna and Edward settled
into something of a routine in their new lives. Anna took on most
of the cooking duties for Aunt Laura and helped with the housework,
too, while Edward picked up odd jobs around town. The townspeople
seemed friendly enough, and Uncle Walter was a respected member of
the community, but all the soldiers milling about made Anna
nervous. The War was over and the North said it was trying to
re-unite the country. But were the Union soldiers really ready to
put the hard feelings behind them? Power had a way of going to a
man’s head, and some of these men had lived through some gruesome
battles. They may not be ready to forgive a town full of Southern
sympathizers.

Anna stepped outside the mercantile and
squinted in the bright sunlight. Her wide-brimmed bonnet helped,
but this Texas sun was a scorcher. She gripped the package for
Reverend Walker’s wife in her left hand and recounted the
directions Uncle Walter had given her. Right on Crockett Street.
Left on Milam. The Walker home was on the corner of Elm and Milam.
She enjoyed helping with occasional deliveries for the store, since
it gave her a chance to breathe the fresh air and see a bit more of
this pretty town.

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