Saturday, December 06, 2014

Sample Saturday - Dec 6, 2014

Welcome to Sample Saturday. This week's sample is from Trail of Storms, where Jessie Bingham gets an unwelcome proposal. (The print edition of this novel is on sale here for $10, personalized and autographed. Hurry. The offer is only good while supplies last!)

After a matter of weeks, the Bingham party made camp near a spot where the westward trails divided. The northern branch led to Utah and California and Oregon. The southern track was still renowned as the Santa Fe Trail, which connected to old Spanish trails that continued through New Mexico Territory all the way to California, following a wagon road pioneered by a party of Mormon volunteers during the War with Mexico in the ‘40s.

Jessie stood over an iron skillet, frying bacon. She looked up from her task when Ned stepped into the firelight.

“Good evening, Jessie,” he began.

“Hello, Ned.” She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Ma’s not nearby, so I can call you that.”

Ned smiled and nodded. “You look very nice tonight,” he said. “Do you mind if I sit a spell?”

Jessie rolled her eyes in mild annoyance and said, “Suit yourself.” She turned the bacon with a fork.

“Thanks.” He found a box and lowered himself onto it. “Lovely night. Stars out and a full moon.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, laying down the fork and lifting the lid on a pot of beans. It needed stirring, so she picked up a wooden spoon and thrust it into the savory mixture.

Ned shuffled his feet

At the sound, Jessie looked up to see him gazing at George and Heppie, who were teasing each other near their wagon.

Ned cleared his throat, then spoke. “Married life seems to suit my brother and your sister.”

“They do seem over the moon.”

“Have you thought about getting married?”

Jessie cast her eyes down to her work. She hadn’t given the topic much thought since … since she’d been left behind when James went west. She bit her lip. It didn’t help. Her heart still hurt more. Slowly she looked up. Ned was sitting there, waiting for her to answer. She shrugged her shoulders. “Not for a long time.”

Ned bent over and fiddled with the top of his boot. “Do you know what double cousins are?”

Jessie frowned. What a strange question! “No.”

“That’s when two brothers marry two sisters, or a brother and sister marry a sister and brother. Their youngsters are double cousins.”

Jessie stirred the beans so vigorously that they sloshed over the rim of the pot.

“Jessie.” Ned paused, fiddling with the lacing on his boot. “I, that is, you, I mean …” His voice trailed off. “Oh, confound it,” he said, rising to his feet. “Will you marry me? We’ll run into a town sooner or later, and we can scare up a preacher or a mayor or a judge to say the words over us—”

“Mr. Heizer,” Jessie interrupted.

“Please, Jessie, hear me out. We’re good friends, that’s a fact, but I’ve got strong feelings for you. I thought of you a good deal during the months that I was lyin’ there in the hospital up north. When I got back to Mount Jackson and found out you were gone, it tore me up inside. I want to be with you now.”

Jessie turned and faced him. “Mr. Heizer, Ned, I—”

“If you don’t want to answer yet, I’ll understand.” He got to his feet, stepped forward, and took her hand. “Take all the time you need.”

Jessie looked at Ned’s hand holding hers. She looked into his eyes. She looked away. “Ned, we’re only friends. I’ve never thought of marrying you.”

Ned dropped her hand and shuffled his feet. “I think friendship is a good start for marriage.”

Jessie stared at him. “But what about love?”

“I’ve never loved anyone but you, Jessie.”

Jessie smiled wryly. “That’s on your side of the matter, Ned. Don’t I need to love you too?” Her smile slipped away as Ned jerked upright, his throat working as he swallowed several times. “Being in love matters to a girl.”

She turned to the bacon and poured the grease into the bean pot. She whacked at the crisp bacon. It shattered into pieces that she scooped into the pot. She looked up. Ned was staring at her, his face somber.

After a moment, he spoke. “Don’t misunderstand me, Jessie. Naturally I want you to love me, but I’m sure that will come in time. For now, consider takin’ a good, hard look at your feelings for me. See if they ain’t sufficient for marriage.”

Jessie laid down her spoon and moved to face Ned. She put her hand on his arm. “I been in love before,” she whispered. “I don’t feel the same about you.”

Ned looked down at the ground, then up again. Finally he spoke, his voice dark. “James Owen?” he asked.


“Is he anywhere around?”


“Then marry me.”

“I don't love you like that. You’re my friend.”

“It doesn’t matter to me what kind of love you bear me now.” Ned took her hand from his arm and brought it to his chest. His heart beat strong, hard. “I hope that will change in time. I care for you enough for both of us.” He nodded sharply, only once, then added, “You think about what I’ve said.”

Jessie lowered her eyes. Her heart thumped in her throat, matching the rhythm of Ned’s. Maybe I do love him, she thought. Maybe I should think about marrying him. Slowly she nodded. “I’ll give thought to your suggestion.” She looked up. Ned was watching her face. “It may take me some time to …” She swallowed, took her hand from Ned’s chest, then said in a gush of air, “To think it through.”

Ned’s eyes looked like the depths of a deep pool. He gazed at her for a long time, not moving, frozen in place. Then he nodded, again only one time. “I’ll wait.”

He strode off, his long legs barely limping, and Jessie wondered how hard it was for him to damp down his pride and give her the time she needed.

Thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoyed the sample. I appreciate your support of my work.

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Author Marsha Ward wrote the novella, Faith and the Foreman, in the best-selling Timeless Romance Anthology Old West Collection. She is the author of an acclaimed novel series featuring the Owen family. Book 4, Spinster's Folly, won the 2013 USA Best Book Award for Western Fiction, and recently was named Finalist in Western Fiction in the 2014 International Book Awards. A former journalist, Ward has published over 900 articles, columns, poems and short stories. She is the founder of American Night Writers Association, a.k.a. ANWA.

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