The Wrangler's Mail Order Bride

By: Cindy Caldwell

Wild West Frontier Brides Series

Chapter 1

Clara looked up at the gray, dreary sky and held out her hand, watching as the snowflakes settled on her palm. She wished she’d known it was going to snow this hard when she’d left for work at the bakery. She would have grabbed her winter hat, but this early spring snowstorm had come as a surprise.

To everybody, she guessed, as she closed the door of the bakery behind her and looked up to see the horses pulling the delivery wagon stomping their feet, their breath coming out in great bursts of white.

“Oh,” she said under her breath as she looked around, wondering what had happened to the driver, and why he’d left the horses so long that they had clumps of snowflakes in their manes that were turning to ice. She imagined that the storm had caught them, too, with no time to put blankets on the horses to stave off the cold.

Pulling on her gloves, she walked to the two chestnut brown horses hitched up to the delivery wagon. As she approached the horses, they turned toward her, slowed their stomping and quieted. “There’s a good horse,” she said as she stroked their noses and patted their manes, pulling out as much ice as she could and tossing it to the ground.

When she’d gotten out as much ice as she could, she stroked their heads again. “It’s too cold for you to be standing here. I’m going to look for your owner.”

Their reins hung on a post at the side of the street and she spun in a circle, searching for the owner of the wagon. The wooden back was covered with a tarp, making it impossible to see what the items were that were being delivered. Clapping her hands together to keep warm, she walked to the back of the wagon and tried to lift up a corner of the tarp to see what was inside and maybe get a hint to where the driver might be. As she lifted the corner of the tarp and leaned down to peek under it, the cases of beer bottles flashed in the light and she stood quickly, taking a step back toward the wall. “All right. Beer. Now, where might that…”

She turned to her right. Light, music and loud voices spilled out from the saloon next to the bakery. She normally did her best to ignore it, as her brother, Robert, had specified that as a requirement for her to take the job at this bakery after her friend, Sadie, had closed the bakery she’d worked in since she was in school and had left for Arizona to get married.

She took a quick look back to the horses, one of them turning its ears in her direction. Breathing deeply, she walked over to the saloon, almost sure the horses’ owner was inside. If he is, he shouldn’t be. Heat rose in her cheeks as she hesitated outside the door, peering inside with the top of her bonnet pulled down. It wouldn’t do for her to be recognized here.

Close to the door, men laughed, and she could make out a few of their words.

“Charlie, pour me another, would you? I’ve got a little time before I need to get this load of beer to the next stop,” a man’s voice said.

Her blood boiling now, she looked back at the horses as they stomped their feet even harder and started to whinny, tugging at the reins that held them in place under the frosty onslaught of snow and ice.

Standing as tall as she could, she squared her shoulders and took a step toward the voice, hoping against hope that no one she knew would see her. But what choice did she have? Right was right, and it was not right to leave dependent animals out in the cold with no way for them to find shelter.

The brim of her bonnet covered her eyes as she strode to the sound of the man’s voice she’d heard moments before. As she looked up, she stood in front of a tall, burly man leaning against the bar, a bottle of beer in his hand.

She cleared her throat and said, “Sir, are those your horses hitched to the delivery wagon out front?”

His eyes widened with surprise and he looked from Clara out the door and back to her, his chin jutting out as he folded his arms across his chest. “Maybe yes, maybe no. What’s it to you, young lady?”

Her heart beat faster as she pulled back her bonnet and looked up at him. “They are very cold, sir. Their manes are full of ice, although I removed what I could. It’s snowing even harder now and they need to be sheltered, somewhere warm.” Her face flushed as the words came out in a rush.