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Authors: Once Upon a Thanksgiving

Linda Ford

BOOK: Linda Ford
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Praise for Linda Ford

“A tender, sweet love story with characters who
only want the best for others and themselves.”


RT Book Reviews
on
Dakota Cowboy

“Ford’s sweet, charming love story has well-written
characters that demonstrate strong faith, even
though they stumble along the way.”


RT Book Reviews
on
The Cowboy’s Baby


The Journey Home
is a splendid tale of love,
hope and faith.”


RT Book Reviews

Praise for Winnie Griggs

“Griggs pens a terrific and lovely story.”


RT Book Reviews
on
The Heart’s Song

“Griggs is a wonderful storyteller.”


RT Book Reviews
on
The Hand-Me-Down Family

“Griggs delivers the perfect blend of romance,
adventure and laughter. Her characters are
charming, quirky and unpredictable.”


RT Book Reviews
on
The Christmas Journey

LINDA FORD

shares her life with her rancher husband, a grown son, a live-in client she provides care for and a yappy parrot. She and her husband raised a family of fourteen children, ten adopted, providing her with plenty of opportunity to experience God’s love and faithfulness. They’ve had their share of adventures, as well. Taking twelve kids in a motor home on a three-thousand-mile road trip would be high on the list. They live in Alberta, Canada, close enough to the Rockies to admire them every day. She enjoys writing stories that reveal God’s wondrous love through the lives of her characters.

Linda enjoys hearing from readers. Contact her at [email protected] or check out her website at www.lindaford.org, where you can also catch her blog, which often carries glimpses of both her writing activities and family life.

WINNIE GRIGGS

is a city girl born and raised in southeast Louisiana’s Cajun Country who grew up to marry a country boy from the hills of northwest Louisiana. Though her Prince Charming (who often wears the guise of a cattle rancher) is more comfortable riding a tractor than a white steed, the two of them have been living their own happily-ever-after for more than thirty years. During that time they raised four proud-to-call-them-mine children and a too-numerous-to-count assortment of dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, turtles and 4-H sheep.

Winnie has held a job at a utility company since she graduated from college, and saw her first novel hit bookstores in 2001. In addition to her day job and writing career, Winnie serves on committees within her church, on the executive boards and committees of several writing organizations and is active in local civic organizations—she truly believes the adage that you reap in proportion to what you sow.

In addition to writing and reading, Winnie enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and exploring flea markets. Readers can contact Winnie at P.O. Box 14, Plain Dealing, LA 71064, or email her at [email protected]

LINDA FORD
WINNIE GRIGGS
ONCE UPON A THANKSGIVING

SEASON OF BOUNTY

Linda Ford

 

Among the things I am thankful for is my family.
Each and every one of them holds a special place
in my thoughts. This book is dedicated to them:

I am privileged to have every one of you
in my family and in my heart.

May you realize how much you are loved
and how much we have to be thankful for.

 

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good:
for his mercy endureth forever.


Psalms
136:1

Chapter One

Hopewell, Montana
November 1890

K
athleen Sanderson cracked open the door. Before her stood a rough-looking man twisting a battered Stetson in his hands. His bent head revealed overgrown, untidy brown hair. Her glance took in the trail-worn, dusty, shearling-lined coat.

“Rosie, I know you told me to stay away, but I need your help.” He raised his head to reveal demanding brown eyes that widened before they bored into Kathleen. “You’re not Rosie.”

“True. She’s busy with the baby. If you’ll wait—”

“Buck.” Rosie’s voice rang with shock as she joined Kathleen in the doorway. “I thought I’d made myself clear.”

“I’ll take the baby.” Kathleen lifted nine-month-old Lilly from her mother’s arms and retreated to the far end of the room, wishing the house was larger so
she could escape and let these two work out their differences without her as audience. Yet this way her curiosity might be satisfied.

“Buck,” Rosie continued, keeping her words low but not disguising her concern, “I told you I don’t want to be associated with—” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “You know… Go away before you ruin every thing.”

Buck lifted his head, glanced past Rosie, saw Kathleen and shuttered his feelings, but not before she’d seen stark misery. He didn’t shift his gaze away, making it impossible for her to get a satisfying breath. Then he returned his attention to Rosie and her lungs expanded with a whoosh.

“I wouldn’t be here if I knew what else to do.” A beat, two, in which Kathleen wondered if Rosie found his statement as demanding as she did.

“Rosie, I have a son and he’s ill. I can’t chase after cows or live in a bunkhouse with a sick kid. You’re my sister. My only relative. Surely you’ll help me for the sake of my son.”

Rosie gasped. “You’re married? Without even letting me know?”

“Not married. I adopted the boy. Help us?”

“I don’t know.” Rosie glanced over her shoulder toward Kathleen as if seeking some signal one way or the other from her.

Kathleen sensed how troubled Rosie was. Understood something about this man made her tremble.

She shifted Lilly to her hip and moved to Rosie’s side to indicate her support, but it wasn’t clear in her
mind if she meant to encourage Rosie or her brother.

“Rosie, how would you feel if it was one of your boys?” She had two—Mattie, two and a half, and Junior, four years old—who both nosed around the corner of the bedroom where they’d been playing to eye this stranger at their door.

Buck sent Kathleen a grateful glance before he appealed to Rosie. “I’d help you. You know it.” The emotion in his tone caught at Kathleen’s heart. A man who cared deeply. Her heart buckled and bowed with feelings she didn’t recognize. Had never before in her nineteen years experienced.

Buck stepped aside. “Look at him.”

A child of no more than six or seven slumped on the back of a pinto horse, wrapped up against the elements until he could barely move. Kathleen wondered for a moment if he was alive. Then he swayed, righted himself to keep from falling and lifted his face. Black eyes. A pale, thin face framed by black hair and a gray knitted hat.

“He’s an Indian.” Rosie’s tone carried a hefty dose of disbelief and shock.

“Half-breed.” The way Buck said it made Kathleen think he must have said so enough times to grow weary of making the explanation.

“You adopted him?”

Buck nodded. “I’ll tell you the whole story if you let us in. He needs to be warm and dry.”

Rosie rocked her head back and forth and gave careful consideration to the faces of each of her children.

“Rosie,” Kathleen urged, knowing this was none of her business, yet not able to turn her back on a man and child needing help. More than that, who needed a welcome.

Not everyone would understand her concern. She knew that well enough. If her parents saw this pair on the street they would turn their backs and pretend they didn’t exist. They’d rush Kathleen by and try to shield her from seeing them. Her parents had objected strenuously when Kathleen mentioned she would like to befriend Rosie.

“She’s not our sort,” Father said.

“The children are always grubby,” Mother added, shuddering and pressing her lace-trimmed, monogrammed hankie to her nose as if the mere mention of them offended her senses.

“She’s alone,” Kathleen pointed out, not adding that Kathleen felt almost as alone much of the time. “Her husband is working in a logging camp and she has three little ones.” At least Rosie had her babies. Kathleen had no one but Mother and Father. Not for the first time, she wondered why her friends never seemed to last. Was there something about her that made her forgettable? Or worse? Maybe she somehow, unknowingly, repelled people. “I think she appreciates me visiting.” She helped as much as she could without offending Rosie.

Father studied her for a moment. “How did you meet her?”

She’d told them before but they hadn’t listened. “She was leaving the store with an armload of gro
ceries, trying to hold the baby and keep track of little Mattie, who was set on exploring the display of shovels. She dropped a letter in the confusion and I picked it up and offered to help her get home.”

“She lives across town, doesn’t she?”

“Yes.” He knew that, too, of course. He only wanted to make sure Kathleen realized how inappropriate he considered her association with someone from the poor side of town. “She’s new in Hopewell and doesn’t know anyone. Everyone needs friends.” Neither parent relented, but she knew exactly what to say to get their permission to visit again. “Aren’t we, as Christians, commanded to welcome strangers?”

Her father’s silence meant reluctant acquiescence.

She had been back several times and thought Rosie welcomed her. On her part, Kathleen enjoyed someone her age to visit with.

As she thought how they were slowly becoming friends, Rosie stood at the door, patting her fingertips together in a rapid dance. “I don’t want any trouble.” She flung about to stare into the center of the room. “Once people learn who Buck is and see his kid…” She didn’t say what she expected would happen.

“Who is he?” Who was this man who took in a half-breed child and begged an unwelcome invitation to care for him? It made her long to enter his thoughts and explore them.

She hadn’t even finished the question when he said, “I don’t intend anyone should find out I’m here. I won’t stay any longer than I need to. Only long enough for Joey to get his strength.”

“Joey? That his name?”

Buck nodded and smiled, changing his worry into affection, and if Kathleen wasn’t mistaken, a whole lot more.

She jerked her thoughts back to the present. Why did she think he seemed a loyal, committed sort of man? She didn’t know anything at all about him except he faced Rosie on behalf of his sick son. But he’d informed Rosie he didn’t intend to stay. Why not? She wanted to demand an answer. But it was none of her business. Just because she wanted someone…anyone…to stay in her life long-term was no reason to pin her longings on Rosie’s transient brother. Poor unsuspecting man. She touched Rosie’s elbow in appeal. “He needs a friend. What better friend than a sister?”

Rosie took Lilly and stepped back in silent permission.

Buck trotted to the pinto, spoke softly to the boy and lifted his arms. The child slid into them so smoothly that Kathleen caught her breath, as if feeling the weight of the youngster land against her own heart.

Kathleen opened the door wide and ushered Buck into the house. She shoved a chair closer to the stove for him to sit on.

“Thank you.” Buck sounded weary and wary. No doubt he wondered who she was and what role she played. Then he gave his complete attention to Joey, slipping the heavy winter wear from him.

The boy shivered, though Kathleen knew by the
bright red spots on each cheek he was fevered. His breathing whistled in and out.

“I don’t want my children sick,” Rosie murmured, and backed away from the door until she reached her sons.

Buck sighed. “I’m sorry.” He looked into Kathleen’s eyes. “But what could I do? What would you do in the same circumstance?”

“I’d go home.”

His eyes crinkled in a mixture of humor and regret. “This is the closest place to home I have.”

Kathleen felt herself being drawn into something in his look. Couldn’t say for certain what it was—only that it filled her with sadness that a man should not know a welcome any better than what Rosie offered. “If there’s anything I can do to help…”

His smile widened and dipped into her heart. Startled at her reaction, she dropped to her knees to look more closely at his son. “Joey, I’m pleased to meet you.”

Joey’s unblinking gaze revealed nothing.

“My name is Kathleen Sanderson. I’m a friend of your aunt’s. That’s her over there, Aunt Rosie. Those are your cousins.” She named them.

“Hello.” Junior stepped forward, but his mother caught his shoulder and pulled him back.

Kathleen spared Rosie a moment’s consideration. Shouldn’t she be more charitable toward her brother and this child? If Kathleen had a brother or sister, she would do anything she could to help them. But
it seemed Rosie was unaware of the blessing of a sibling.

“Never mind. They’ll soon be your friends.”

Joey turned his face up to ask Buck a silent question. In the moment of wordless interchange between the pair she sensed a connection, an affection needing no words, yet so evident it brought a sting to her eyes.

Buck cupped the boy’s head and pressed it to his chest. “We’ll be okay, little buddy.”

Joey let out a sigh ending on a gasp as he fought for air.

“How long has he been ill?” Kathleen asked.

“Longer than I care to admit.” Buck sat the boy up and brushed the long black hair off his face. “I haven’t been fair to him, dragging him along with me. I guess I figured it was the sort of life he was born to.” He shook his head. “He deserves more.”

“Children get sick. It happens.” She longed to reassure him. She ached to give him the welcome Rosie refused. “Now that he’s here, he’ll start to mend.” She touched his cheeks. Hot. Dry. Parchment-paper fragile. Her knuckles brushed Buck’s and she jerked back. Pushed to her feet. Turned to Rosie. “He’s burning up.”

“Sponge him. A good washing wouldn’t likely go amiss.”

“Rosie, you surprise me.” Buck spoke in a flat tone.

Kathleen silently echoed his words as she prepared a basin of water.

“Take his shirt off,” Rosie instructed.

Kathleen waited as Buck did so, then knelt at his
side and lifted a wet cloth. Joey shrank back, his eyes widening.

“I’ll do it.” Buck reached for the cloth. Again their fingers brushed. She stilled herself not to react. He paused. Slowly she lifted her head to meet his steady consideration, sat back on her heels as his look went on and on, peeling away protective layers she didn’t even realize existed—layers established by her upbringing, of being sheltered to the point she often felt she was a lonely spectator of the world. Her parents had long taught her that their station in life demanded certain requirements of her. Namely, to associate only with appropriate people and marry within their circle, meaning to marry well. Yet nowhere in the approved acquaintances had she seen a man so devoted to a child not his own, from an often despised race. Nor had she ever felt a reaction that made her heart beat so erratically.

She drew back to one of the mismatched chairs around the table and watched Buck sponge Joey, murmuring softly as he worked, sometimes in foreign sounding words. All the while, Joey watched him with utmost faith.

Kathleen knew for a fact a man who could earn such trust from a child was a man worthy of the same kind of trust from others. Yet there was something about him that put Rosie on edge. What could it possibly be?

 

Buck wondered about the young woman watching him. She didn’t seem the kind who normally hung out
with Rosie, nor visited in a shack barely big enough for a family. He looked about the room. A battered wooden table. Mismatched chairs. A stove and one cupboard in the kitchen area. Beyond, a rocking chair and a small bookshelf containing two books and a basket of mending. One door next to the bookshelf where Rosie hovered, her eyes guarded. His visit would seriously crowd the place, though the floor provided more than enough room for the pair of them. In his twenty-two years he’d slept in far worse places.

Kathleen Sanderson. She’d said her name with pride and confidence of one familiar with respect. No doubt she would be shocked to learn his identity.

Nor did he intend she should. Marriage had provided Rosie with an escape and he didn’t plan to ruin things for her.

Being a cowboy, moving from job to job, had given him his only escape.

Kathleen leaned forward. “He’s certainly fond of you.”

Buck chuckled. “He’s smart enough to know where his next meal comes from.”

She blinked as if startled by his frank words. Then laughed. “You’re teasing, but I’d say it was more than that.”

He looked at Joey who watched him with those dark, unblinking eyes of his. “We’ve formed a sort of mutual admiration society, haven’t we, buddy?”

Joey nodded, his expression still solemn.

Buck cupped his son’s head and brushed his thumb along the boy’s cheeks. When had they shrunk so
badly? “I’m sorry, little guy. I should have realized sooner just how sick you are.”

“He needs some nourishing broth.” Rosie sighed. “Guess I’ll have to get some.” She handed the baby to Junior. “You kids stay here and play.” Then she marched toward the stove and pulled a pot forward. “Good thing for you soup is about all we eat around here.”

Buck chuckled. “I knew you couldn’t stay mad at me for long.” He turned to Kathleen to explain. “She likes me a lot more than she lets on.”

“She hides it awfully well.” Her smile lit up her face, sent dancing lights into her blue eyes, riveting him motionless.

He studied her. Blond hair carefully pulled back in a wave ending in a roll at her neck. An oval face that belonged on a cameo, pretty pink lips. Everything about her said
rich, refined.

What was she doing here?

BOOK: Linda Ford
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