Bran (Prairie Grooms, Book Six)

Bran

 

Prairie Grooms, Book Six

 

By

 

Kit Morgan

 

ANGEL CREEK PRESS

Bran

(Prairie Grooms, Book Six)

by Kit Morgan

 

Copyright 2014 Kit Morgan

 

Find other titles by Kit Morgan Including:

 

The Prairie Bride Series:

 

His Prairie Princess (Prairie Brides, Book One)

Her Prairie Knight (Prairie Brides, Book Two)

His Prairie Duchess (Prairie Brides, Book Three)

Her Prairie Viking (Prairie Brides, Book Four)

His Prairie Sweetheart (Prairie Brides Book Five)

Her Prairie Outlaw (Prairie Brides Book Six)

Christmas in Clear Creek (Prairie Brides, Book Seven)

 

The Holiday Mail Order Bride Series:

 

The Christmas Mail Order Bride (Book One)

The New Year's Bride (Book Two)

His Forever Valentine (Book Three)

Her Irish Surrender (Book Four)

The Springtime Mail Order Bride (Book Five)

Love in Independence (Book Six)

Love at Harvest Moon (Book Seven)

Coming Soon:

The Thanksgiving Mail Order Bride (Book Eight)

The Holiday Mail Order Bride (Book Nine)

 

Prairie Grooms:

 

August (Prairie Grooms, Book One)

Ryder (Prairie Grooms, Book Two)

Seth (Prairie Grooms, Book Three)

Chase (Prairie Grooms, Book Four)

Levi (Prairie Grooms, Book Five)

 

For more about Kit Morgan, follow her on her
Face Book Page

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without permission in writing from the publisher.

All characters are fictional. Any resemblances to actual people are purely coincidental.

Cover design by Angel Creek Press, The Killion Group and Hotdamndesigns.com

 

License Notes

 

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

Purity and innocence are many times looked upon as weakness in our culture today, when in fact, purity, in it’s rawest form, is great power, and takes great strength to wield. Apple has this, and reminds us that such purity is to be treasured, not mocked. This story is for all those who have come to treasure this beauty and strength within themselves, and to wield it alongside the shield of self-control.

 

 

The Weaver Farm, 1871

 

Tom Turner awoke with a yawn, kissed his wife, and caught the faint scent of coffee as it drifted up from the kitchen. Their visit done, they needed to return home to the town of Nowhere, and get back to the business of living.

Of course, if Tom had his way, he’d make his living as a storyteller rather than a deputy. Not that he didn’t like being a deputy, he did. It just didn’t give him the time to hold an audience captive with his tales.

“Deputy Turner?” someone called through the door. “Ya up yet?”

Speaking of captive …

Tom sighed. “We’ll be down shortly, Calvin,” he called back. He wrapped his arms around his wife, Rose, and kissed her.

“If you don’t finish telling those boys your story today, they’re going to hogtie you and lock you in the barn,” she muttered into her pillow.

Tom smiled. “I reckon so. But after they hear about Apple, those boys ain’t gonna be fit to live with.”

“Why couldn’t Mrs. Weaver send off for a couple of mail-order brides? It worked for Arlan.” She turned to face him. “Not to mention us.”

Tom smiled at his wife, and kissed her again. “Yeah, it sure enough did, didn’t it?” He sighed, turned onto his back, and stared at the ceiling. “The problem with Benjamin and Calvin is they ain’t quite ready to handle a wife.”

“How old are they again?”

“Few years younger than me. I guess that puts em’ right around twenty-three?”

“Do you know any menfolk who married at that age?”

“Sure, but they wasn’t the pranksters Calvin and Benjamin are. Arlan told me they need to settle down a bit before either one of em’ is ready for marryin’, and I tend to agree.”

“Maybe we should go back to Nowhere and forget about Apple’s story.”

Tom shook his head. “No, best to tell it to em’ and let them try to handle it as best they can.”

Rose sat up and flipped her long, dark braid over her shoulder. “You make it sound like this story doesn’t have a happy ending.”

He looked up at her. “I ain’t sayin’ if’n it does or doesn’t, seeing as how you ain’t heard it either.”

“Oh c’mon, can’t you just give me a hint at how it ends?”

“No siree! My lips are sealed!”

Rose settled herself against her pillows. “I still can’t believe Apple took off like that. Where did she go? How long did it take Deputy Bran to find her?”

Tom sighed, got out of bed, and reached for his clothes. “We might as well get dressed and go downstairs. I can tell you’re not gonna let this rest until you hear it.”

She smiled at him. “You’re right.”

Downstairs, the entire Weaver clan was in the kitchen. They scattered like rabbits when Tom and Rose entered, and moved to sit at the table so fast, they knocked several chairs over in the process, including Arlan’s and Samijo’s.

“Pick them chairs up!” their mother cried. “The man has to eat first anyway!”

Arlan picked up the chair he’d knocked over, and gave his mother a sheepish grin. His wife Samijo, did likewise.  “Sorry, Ma,” Arlan said.

“I expect that sort of thing from your brothers, but not you,” she scolded and set a huge platter of pancakes on the table. “Eat up. Deputy Turner has to be on his way.”

The Weaver men dove for the food, amongst a cacophony of clashing forks and plates, and then soon settled into the business of breakfast. Tom and Rose sat, stunned. Was this all because they knew Tom was to tell one last tale, and then be gone? Obviously his story telling had had more of an effect on them than he thought. He stabbed a couple of pancakes, plopped them onto his plate, and prayed that the Weaver Clan didn’t lock him in the barn! He might not make it home after he told this one. And to think this story didn’t hold a candle to the ones he really wanted to tell. But no one would believe him if he told those anyway.

Tom wolfed down his pancakes with the rest, finished his coffee, then cleared his throat…

 

 

One

 

 

Clear Creek, 1861

 

Bran O’Hare spilled out of the safe and landed on the floor in a heap. He choked and gasped as hands gripped him, and pulled him to his feet.

“Breathe! That’s it, get a good lungful!” Doc Drake ordered as he rubbed his back.

Bran looked at him, then Sheriff Hughes. He couldn’t speak yet, which was just as well. What he had to say wasn’t pleasant.

“You’re going to be all right,” Doc Drake told him as he led him to a chair. “Sit down and get some air in you. Harlan, get him some water.”

Sheriff Harlan Hughes nodded, still in shock, then glanced at their surroundings. He went to a small cabinet on the other side of the room where a water pitcher sat next to some glasses and filled one. He brought it back and shoved it at his deputy. “What in Sam blazes were you doing in that… that thing?!”

Bran glanced up at him, his look murderous. “That’s what I’d like to know!” he said, his Irish brogue thicker than ever. 

“We thought you was an outlaw,” said Harlan.

“Far from it,” Bran growled. “Just wait until I get my hands on the varmint that shoved me in there!”

Harland and Doc Drake exchanged a quick glance. “The important thing, is that you’re alive and well,” said the doctor.” A few minutes more, and you wouldn't have been.”

“Then I’d have had to haunt whomever did this!” growled Bran. “Where are they?”

“Yes, about that.” Sheriff Hughes began. “I think you'd better settled down some before we explain what happened.”

“Happened? I’ll tell ye what happened!” Bran spat. “Some fool shoved me into that safe and tried to kill me, that's what happened!”

“Now don't go jumping to conclusions, son, that's not how it went,” Sheriff Hughes consoled.

Bran's face twisted up in consternation. “How can ye say that?”

“Because the person who pushed you into the safe thought you were an outlaw,” explained Dr. Drake.

“Cyrus knows better than that, even he should be able to recognize my backside when he sees it!”

Doc Drake took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I'm afraid it wasn't Cyrus that accidentally pushed you in.”

“Accidentally?  How does one accidently push a man into a safe? And if it wasn't Cyrus, then who was it?” Bran snapped.

“You wanna tell him, or should I?” asked Sheriff Hughes.

Bowen Drake scratched his head and sighed. “Promise us you won't get angry?”

“It's a little late for that,” said Bran. “I'm already mad as a rattler, and now this! Just tell me who it was!” He sat and stared at them both. Now that he finally had his breath back, he was ready to let whomever did this to him have it with both barrels. Unfortunately…

“It was Apple Sayer,” said Sheriff Hughes.

Bran looked up at him, and scowled. “You mean that little scrap of a girl did this to me? We
are
talking about the runt aren't we?”

“Now don't be calling her that,” said Doc Drake. “She thought you were an outlaw, what else was she supposed to do?”

Bran groaned. “This is unbelievable, I could have
died
!”

“But you didn't, did you?” pointed out the sheriff. “I'm sure by now she's suffered all kinds of grief and regret at what she done. I also know she's gonna be relieved to know you're alive.”

“Barely,” grumbled Bran as he stood. He rubbed his head and winced.

“Are you hurt?” asked the doctor.

“I hit my head when that little scamp pushed me in. For someone so scrawny, she sure is strong.”

“Well, when a person gets panicked enough, it's amazing how strong they can be,” explained the doctor.

Bran glared at them both. “If ye say so, Doc, but it doesn't make me any less angry. She should've known better.” He scanned the area for his hat, saw it in the safe, walked over and snatched it up. “I think I'll go have myself a wee talk with my assailant right now.”

“Go easy on her son,” suggested Sheriff Hughes. “The poor thing was sobbing her eyes out she was so upset. The last thing she needs is for you to be upset with her too.”

Bran put on his hat. “Aye, but if she'd had any brains, she would've asked what I was doing. Come to think of it, what was
she
doing in the bank with no one else around? I thought it odd no one was here, but then figured maybe Cyrus went to lunch and forgot to lock the door.”

“Well, the short of it is,” began the sheriff. “Levi dropped his key in the street, she found it and let herself in.”

“Let
herself
in? That seems a little strange, doesn't it?”

“I'm sure we’ll get the whole story as soon as we sit down and have a talk with her. Are you calm enough now to do that?” Sheriff Hughes asked.

Bran let out a frustrated sigh. “Aye, I’ll behave myself. But what I'd really like to do is turn that little scamp over my knee and…”

“We understand how you feel,” said Doc Drake. “But for now, rein in that Irish temper of yours and settled down. She reacted when she saw you come into the bank, and did the only thing she thought of at the time. After all, what if you
had
been a real outlaw?”

Bran hadn’t thought of that. He supposed if he was a frightened female, he might have done the same thing. In fact, come to think of it, most women would've either fainted or started screaming. Maybe the wee thing had more grit than he thought. “Fine, let's get this over with. I've got work to do.”

“That's the spirit, son,” said Sheriff Hughes as he slapped him on the back. “Let's go tell that little gal everything's all right.”

The men left the bank, locked it up, and headed to the mercantile where they knew the women had gathered. “I suppose I’ll have to tell Cyrus to keep his safe locked up from now on,” said Sheriff Hughes as they strolled down the street.

“Good idea,” the doctor agreed. “If I hadn’t been around, this wouldn't have turned out as well, especially for you, Deputy.”

Bran grimaced and stared at him. “I never thought I'd say this Doc, but I’m sure glad you used to be on the other side of the law, and know how to crack open a safe.”

“And I never thought an old talent like that would come in so handy, or save a life. But then, Harlan can tell you how I had to use it on that same safe to save folks a few years back.”

“It's true,” said the sheriff.

“You'll have to tell me all about it,” said Bran as they approached the mercantile. “I've only heard bits and pieces of the story, never the whole thing.”

Bowen Drake patted him on the back and smiled as they went up the porch steps. “I look forward to it.”

They entered the mercantile and were surprised to find it empty. “Where is everybody?” asked the sheriff.

“I don't know,” said Bowen. “Maybe they're all at the house?”

“Wilfred?” Sheriff Hughes called.

No answer.

“What's going on?” asked Bran as he scanned the storefront for any sign of trouble.

“Irene?” The sheriff yelled a second time, this time at the ceiling. Still, no answer.

“What in tarnation?” Sheriff Hughes muttered as he headed for the curtained doorway that separated the front and back of the building. He disappeared for a moment but soon reemerged. “There ain't anybody here.”

“Poor Apple must be more upset than we thought,” said Bowen. “Everyone’s over at the house across the street. Come on, let's go.”

They left the mercantile, crossed the street and quickly traversed the short distance to the doctor's house. They entered only to find it as abandoned as the mercantile. “Elsie?” Bowen called out.

Elsie came out of one of the upstairs bedrooms and quickly came down to join them. “Bowen! Did you save him?”

Bowen looked at Bran. “He's alive and well.”

“Deputy O’Hare?!
You
were locked in the safe?”

“Yes,” he said flatly. “Now where is she?”

“Oh dear…” said Elsie. “Maybe it's a good thing she didn't know it was you.”

“What are you talking about? Where's Apple Sayer?”

“That's just it,” she told him. “We don't know!”

 

* * *

 

Apple didn't know which was worse. The way she raced her horse across the prairie like a mad woman, or the fact that she'd left in the first place. But she'd been so upset with herself that she had to do something! And so, in a fit of anger and despair, she'd mounted the Cooke’s mare, Juliet, and took off across the prairie.”

Her tears dried by the wind, she slowed Juliet to a canter and continued to let the horse put some distance between her and Clear Creek. By now the man was either safely out of danger or dead. A gasp escaped her at the thought and she choked and coughed in response. Juliet flipped her head at the noise, and her canter quickly turned into a gallop again. “Whoa!” Apple cried through her fresh tears. “Slow down!” But the horse, sensing her distress, didn't slow, and instead sped up even more.

Apple stopped fighting and let Juliet have her head. Maybe she was running straight to Constance and Ryder’s house, which wasn't a bad idea. She knew their place was east of Clear Creek, and that it would take her a couple of hours to get there, and right now a long ride was just what she needed. She couldn't go back to town, not yet. Not until she could keep from falling apart when they told her about the outlaw. Was he dead? Or had the sheriff locked him up?

Juliet began to tire and so naturally slowed her gait. The horse went from a gallop, to a canter, and eventually a trot. Soon, she was walking. The slower pace gave Apple’s fear a chance to turn into shame. “Juliet, what have I done?”

Juliet, of course, ignored her and kept walking. Her only response was a flick of one ear.

“What a coward I am! I should turn you around and go right back. But I can't, not yet. I feel so stupid!”

Juliet, for whatever reason, stopped.

“You think I'm stupid too, then? Well that makes two of us.” Apple leaned forward and patted Juliet on her sweaty neck. “You poor thing, you must be tuckered out. Best we walk a while.” She nudged the horse to get her going, and then took in their surroundings. Apple turned to look behind her, and saw only rolling prairie. Clear Creek was out of sight.

She looked at the sun and tried to figure out what direction she was heading, even though she knew when she left town she'd been going east. But during her frenzied flight, could Juliet have changed directions? She supposed it was possible, but didn't think so. As far she knew, the horse was heading due east, and that meant they were going toward Constance and Ryder’s place. “I guess we'll just stay the course,” she said to the horse. Juliet gave another flick of her ear in response. “Is that all you have to say?” Apple asked. The horse snorted, and Apple had to smile. “I'll take that as a yes.”

Apple and Juliet pressed on, the horse breaking into a trot now and then as if she knew where she was. As Apple didn't, she let the horse pick the route. As long as they kept going east that was all that mattered. After all, they were bound to run across Constance and Ryder’s place at some point, it was only a matter of time. But after another half an hour, Apple was beginning to wonder if they really were going in the right direction. The tree line was clearly visible at this point and Juliet was heading straight for it. Again Apple noticed how Juliet seemed to know where she was going, making a direct path for the line of pine in front of them. She tried to remember any sort of landmark she and Harrison had passed when they'd traveled to see Levi and Fina. Of course, if it weren't for the fact she'd been chatting up a storm the entire time, maybe she could recall something. But no, she couldn’t remember anything of significance that would mark which way she and Harrison had gone. At least she knew their place was also east of Clear Creek. Yet, wasn’t it much closer to the tree line? If she was going in the right direction, she should've come across Levi's farm, not to mention August and Penelope’s.

Where was she?

She pulled on the reins and brought Juliet to a stop, glanced around, but still couldn't get her bearings. She then turned and looked at the expanse of forest that lay before her. It curved around in a horseshoe shape and she wondered if she wasn't in the middle of it. “Oh crumbs! Fina and Levi must be that way,” she muttered to herself and looked to her left. “If I'm heading due east, then that means Levi and Fina are northeast of town, and Ryder and Constance are a little
more
northeast of town?” She again stared at the pine trees not a quarter-mile away. “Am I heading southeast?”

Juliet decided she'd had enough of the conversation and started off again.

“What are you doing?” Apple cried. “I wasn't ready to go yet!” She yanked on the reins and tried to bring the horse to a stop, but Juliet would have none of it. She sidestepped a few paces, ending in a crow hop. Apple almost flew out of the saddle. Almost.

“Stop it you bloody horse! This is no time to be acting up!”

Juliet suddenly stopped, let out a loud snort, and started to sidestep again.

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