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He craved her like the earth craved the rain…
Sam Carver had the kind of body that turned a woman’s head, and the kind of eyes that had seen more than his share of trouble. But he couldn’t get enough of the mysterious, ethereal beauty who had showed up in his little Wyoming town, working at the Blue Plate, keeping to herself.
He knew Angeline Hunter was running scared, pursued by a fanatic who threatened her life. But no matter what it took, Sam would convince his angel to put her trust in him, to put the painful past behind her and learn just how pleasurable the present could be….
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Angeline Hunter lived a lie, each moment of each day. She endured the guilt because she had no other choice. It wasn’t as if she could simply forget everything she’d escaped, or announce to the world just who she really was. No, she had made a choice and there was no going back.
She refused to feel sorry for herself; after all, she was alive and free.
Her day started before dawn in the kitchen of the Blue Plate restaurant. It was an exceptionally cold spring day and she was glad to be in the warm kitchen making biscuits.
She put the pan of biscuits in the stove and tucked two more pieces of wood into its big belly. The first pot of coffee had just finished burbling, so she poured cool water in to settle the grounds, then sneaked a cup. As she sipped at the brew, she enjoyed a few moments of peace before the rush of the morning customers.
The back door slammed and Angeline nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Mornin’, Miss Angeline.”
She turned to see ten-year-old Dennis Fox step into the kitchen with a bucket of wood for the stove. His mother, Karen, was a waitress at the restaurant. She always made sure he helped out everyone who worked at the Blue Plate. He was a good boy, a hard worker who seemed to get things done before anyone even had to ask him.
“Good morning, Dennis. Thank you for the wood. We’ll definitely need it.” She wrapped her hands around the ceramic mug, trying to absorb as much heat from it as she could.
“Frost was thick this morning.” Dennis set the bucket beside the stove, and held his chapped hands up to the heat pouring off it.
Angeline looked out the tiny window above the sink, but the glass was fogged from the warmth of the kitchen. She lived above the restaurant in a room just large enough for a bed and a crate upended to keep a lamp nearby. Lucky for her, she didn’t need to go outside in the cold most days.
Dennis set a paper-wrapped package on the table. “Somebody asked me to give you this.” With a little grin, he was out the backdoor before she could ask him any questions.
She stared at the package, wondering who had given it to him and why. It had been six months since she and Lettie had arrived in the small town of Forestville. During the last year, the two of them had grown closer than most folks would ever be. They were both trying to flee the past, and they shared a secret no one must ever learn. Angeline had even dropped the last name Brown and kept the name she was born with, Hunter.
Angeline needed to make another batch of biscuit dough, but the package aroused her curiosity. Her father had always called her curiosity a sin, something to be ashamed of. That thought alone made her pick up the package and untie the twine.
She peeled the paper back and peered inside. It was a book. Angeline stared at it, as if she couldn’t believe someone had given her a book. The title read Sense and Sensibility. She’d never heard of it, but judging by the condition, it was brand new. Since she’d left home, she had discovered the joy of reading books, and had become a voracious reader. This was the first new book she’d ever held.
Growing up in Utah, she’d led a structured, regimented life in the Mormon church. She lived in a ward, where everyone was controlled by elders who told them what to do and how to do it. It was all based on church doctrine, but Angeline now realized just how narrow her world had been.
“What do you have there, child?” Marta Gunderson, who ran the Blue Plate with her husband, Pieter, came into the kitchen with a bowl of eggs for breakfast. She was a German immigrant who was an amazing cook and a wonderful person. Along with her husband, she had blond hair, a big heart, and made the restaurant feel like a big family. Angeline knew she’d been lucky to find a job and a home with the Gundersons.
“A book.” Angeline smiled at her boss. “Dennis brought it to me wrapped in paper. He said someone had given it to him. It’s a bit of a mystery.”
“You don’t know who gave it to you?” Marta peered at it. “That is mysterious. It looks new.”
“I think it is new.” Angeline felt the cover, and ran her fingers along the spine. “It’s a lovely gift.”
“Well, maybe you have an admirer.” Marta smiled. “You’re a beautiful girl, Angeline. I’m sure more than one young man in town has an eye on you, wanting to court you.”
Angeline’s face flushed at the mention of the young men in town. She couldn’t possibly accept any man’s courting her, and she couldn’t tell Marta why.
“I’m not interested in young men courting me, Marta.”
“Of course, you are. You should get married and have babies.” Marta patted her cheek. “Love, that’s what you need, child.”
The book, which had been a lovely, unexpected gift, now represented the lack of possibility in her future. Angeline couldn’t accept it because if Marta was right, it was a gift from a young man who was wasting his time. She set the book on the stool in the corner.
Angeline could never marry because she was already married, and there was no hope of love in her future.
The morning passed quickly with a steady stream of customers. Angeline and Marta cooked side by side as they had each day since her arrival in Forestville. It was an easy partnership, with the older woman concocting her delicious recipes at the stove while Angeline chopped vegetables and potatoes, and made all the baked goods.
By ten o’clock, they were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee with the waitresses, Lettie, Karen, and Alice Peters. It had become a ritual for the five of them to spend time together between meals. Pieter avoided the kitchen during those times, claiming a rooster didn’t belong with the hens.
“Did you hear someone gave Angeline a gift?” Karen, a dark-haired, plump woman, who’d been widowed during the war, smiled at Angeline.
“Go on. Who gave you a gift?” Alice sat up, her brown eyes full of interest. A twenty-year-old with a pretty smile and curly brown hair, she was the favorite of most of the young men who visited the restaurant.
“I don’t know.” Angeline shrugged. “It doesn’t matter because I can’t accept it.”
“What? Of course, you can. What was it?” Alice looked around the kitchen.
“It was a book, a new one too.” Marta nodded sagely. “I think it’s very sweet.”
“Maybe it was a mistake.” Angeline wanted the conversation to be over.
“Oh, I don’t think it was a mistake. My Dennis told me a man stopped him outside the restaurant and specifically told him to give the package to Angeline, the blond angel in the kitchen.”
Cold fear crept into her stomach. She lived in fear that her past would catch up with her one day. After Karen’s mention of the man who gave Dennis the package, Angeline’s instincts were screaming for her to run, to leave Forestville. Immediately.
She got to her feet, unable to sit there any longer. Perhaps one day she might find a place where she could be safe from Josiah, but it obviously wasn’t in Forestville.
“Don’t be afraid, Angeline. You look as white as a sheet.” Karen patted her hand. “It was Samuel Carver, the man who does carpentry work around town. He eats here every day and has taken a shine to you.”
Samuel Carver. She didn’t even know who he was.
“Who is he?” Angeline was proud of the fact her voice didn’t shake.
“His father runs the newspaper. Samuel was just a young man when the war started and he enlisted.” Marta shook her head. “Poor boy looked like a skeleton in rags when he came back.”
Angeline, despite her initial fear, was caught up in Samuel’s story. “What happened?”
“He left an eager boy of eighteen, came back a man much older than twenty-two. Now he’s quiet, standoffish even. He bought some supplies here and there until he had himself a set of tools; he works with wood, fixing things, making furniture.” Marta patted Angeline’s hand. “It took a few years, but now it looks like he’s set his sights on a pretty girl to court.”
“I don’t want him to court me.” She turned toward the sink, eager to change the subject. Even if the man was a longtime resident, a man with ambition, she wanted nothing to do with him.
“If she doesn’t want attention from a man, then we need to respect that.” Lettie met her gaze, understanding clear in her brown eyes. The two of them had a secret no one knew about.
“Well, give the man a chance, Angeline.” Karen slurped her coffee noisily, a habit that annoyed even her friends. “He’s actually quite handsome.”
“Yes, he is handsome for a half-breed. His mama was an Indian, you know. But he does have good hair and teeth, which are important. Plus his father educated him, so he’s a smart half-breed.” Alice sat prim and proper at the table, speaking of Samuel as if he were a horse up for auction. “It wouldn’t be so bad to have him as a beau, since you don’t have any family and all.”
Half-breed? Angeline didn’t even know what that meant, but from Alice’s snide tone, it couldn’t be good. Honestly, it didn’t matter if this man was rich and had a big house, she didn’t want to have anything to do with any man. Ever.
“None of that matters to me. I don’t want to have a beau. I’d like to be left alone.” Angeline washed her mug by rote, not really seeing it. She was desperately trying to keep her memories locked away, but the darkness pulsed behind the locked door within her.
“Oh, Angeline, you can’t mean that. No one wants to work here unless they have to.” Karen sounded sad and angry at the same time. “I would take him if he wasn’t younger than me.”
“You can’t be that choosy, you know. The men in this area aren’t all finds,” Alice joined in. “And like I said, for a half- breed he’s—”