Gold Rush Brides: The Beginning
By Cassie Hayes
Who needs a man? Certainly not Miss Delilah Price!
Abandoned by the man who ordered her as a mail order bride, Delilah struggles to get by in Gold Rush-era San Francisco. Not willing to return to her father's restrictive home — or face the arduous six-month voyage back to Boston — she hatches a plan to start her own business. She'll never have to trust her future to a man again.
Jack Dalton struck it rich in the Sierra Nevada and is having a mighty fine time spending his gold at dance halls and saloons in town. He can't for the life of him figure out why so many of his drinking buddies are signing up for ads in the matchmaking paper that snooty 'Miss Priss' is starting up. The last thing *he* wants to do is to settle down.
When an unscrupulous charlatan threatens to shatter Delilah's dream, Jack takes pity and steps in to lend a helping hand. Then he gets suckered into partnering with the very woman he desperately wants to avoid. Long hours working together force them to face their deepest fears and admit they're drawn toward one another. Can they let go of their pasts and find hope for their future or will they let their fears tear them apart?
Jack caught a whiff of lemon verbena as Dell swept past him and up the stairs to her room. His eyes closed of their own accord and his lungs took a deep pull of the heady scent. When he opened his eyes, Sam was staring at him with a knowing look.
Sam shrugged and turned back to the griddle. “Not a gol-damn thing, Jack.”
Jack pulled a cup off a rough plank that served as a shelf and poured himself some coffee. Settling in at the table, he took a sip of the black liquid and moaned.
“Sam, this is the best coffee I’ve ever had. Nothing’s better at taking the edge off the morning after than a good cuppa joe…unless it’s a good cuppa hooch.” He laughed merrily, wincing at the pain that shot through his head. Darned if that little party girl didn’t nearly drink him under the table.
Sam harumphed in reply.
Sitting in silence, the men fell into their own thoughts. Jack’s kept returning to the vision of Dell standing in her doorway in nothing but her nightgown. He couldn’t help imagining what was beneath the loose flowing cotton. And never in a hundred years would he have thought her hair could be so lovely.
When he’d entered the kitchen, she’d been looking at Sam with so much affection that her normally hard features were softened to the point that he had to do a double-take before he recognized her. He wondered what it would feel like to have her look at him with such tenderness…
He gave his traitorous head a hard shake, drawing a moan of pain at the sudden movement. Rubbing his temple, he squinted one eye open at Sam, who was shaking his head with his back turned toward him.
“You got something to say, Sam?” he groused.
Flipping another batch of flapjacks, Sam bobbed his head. “Since ya asked. Ya blow in here like you was king o’ the world, throwin’ yer good luck in everyone’s face, and you expect folks to thank ya for it. That ain’t how life works, son.”
Sam gave him a look over his shoulder. “You seem like a nice ‘nuff fella, Jack. You done good up in the diggins, and ya done blowed off some steam after working yer tail off for a year. But dontchya think it’s time to start lookin’ to the future?”
Jack couldn’t believe his ears. It was the second time in as many days that he’d heard this same lecture. First from Miss Priss and now from Sam. And he saw the way the other men in the house gave him the stink eye when he entertained company of the feminine variety, all disapproving-like. What was wrong with everybody?
“Sam, don’t you remember what it was like being a young man? I bet you was a real heartbreaker back then, am I right?”
Sam blushed and turned back to the griddle. His half-hearted shrug was all the answer Jack needed.
“Yeah, thought so. You know I’m just having a bit of fun, right? What’s so wrong with that? I got more money than I’ll ever need, so why not live a little?”
“Don’t ya want to have a nice nest egg for when ya settle down?”
“Psh! Settle down? Me?! Sam, you musta got me confused with some other chump. No way some little filly’s gonna trap me into that life. Nuh uh, no sir!”
Sam gave him another sly look.
“So you ain’t gonna take out an ad in Dell’s paper?”
“Ha!” Once again, Jack laughed a little too hard for his tender head’s liking. Rubbing his temples, he added more quietly, “Not a chance.”
“All the other boys in the house is doin’ it. Never know, might find yer one true love.”
Sam had a twinkle in his eye that Jack didn’t like one little bit. Why was everyone so eager to tie themselves down to a boring home life? Look at what he’d done in his short twenty-eight years — traveled the eastern seaboard with a small circus as their horse wrangler, sailed west on a ship around Cape Horn, worked on a ranch owned by a rich Spanish landowner — known as a Californio — breaking broncs and then found his fortune in a creek bed in the Sierra Nevada. For a poor farm boy from Missouri, that was an awful lot of living.
And he didn’t intend to stop anytime soon.
Cassie Hayes grew up pretending she was Laura Ingalls (before that pesky Almonzo arrived on the scene) in the middle of Oregon farm country. She lives with her husband and cat on the Pacific Ocean and loves to hear from her readers.