“Cara! Beca’s here!” Cara heard her father’s voice booming up the stairs. She closed the book she was reading, slid it under her pillow and hurried out of her room. She took the stairs two at a time, nearly tripping over herself as she rushed down to the saloon and inn. Her father owned both. The saloon was downstairs, and the inn was upstairs.
They didn’t own a large place, but it was big enough to keep them both busy all the time.
Cara came to a skidding stop, nearly running into her father.
“Don’t run down the stairs, Cara. It’s not ladylike,” her father scolded her, but his eyes were twinkling.
“I know, I know. Sorry, Papa. Where’s Beca?”
“She’s back by the kitchen.” Her father motioned to the back, and Cara hurried through the doors behind the counter.
Beca was there, just like her father promised.
“Cara, there you are. I’ve been waiting forever.” Beca grinned.
“Forever? Pa just told me you were here like one minute ago.”
“I know, but it feels like forever.” Beca grabbed her arm and pulled her over to a corner where they were alone. “So, are we still going?” she whispered.
“Yes. I already spoke to my father. He said that I could spend the day with you. It’s going to be the best thing ever.” Cara could already imagine it.“Do you think we can get back in time? What if it takes longer?” Cara asked anxiously.
“Don’t worry, Cara. You and I have been planning this trip forever. We are going to go and come back, and no one is going to be the wiser. It’s already arranged with Adam.” Beca gave her a confident grin.
“All right. Are you sure that Adam is going to be all right with not mentioning anything to our parents?” Cara was skeptical about including anyone else in their plans.
Cara knew Adam, and Beca certainly knew him well enough. The question was how trustworthy he was.
“He is not going to tell anyone. I told him if he told anyone, I was going to tell his mother that he’s been taking Laura Wingly on rides in the family wagon.” Beca’s eyes were wide, and Cara believed her. If anyone told a secret like that, it would be Beca.
“All right then. Now come on and help me start with clean up. If we stick around here much longer, my father is going to suspect we are keeping secrets.” Cara led the way behind the counter and grabbed two brooms, handing one to Beca. There were lots of reasons that Cara loved having a best friend. One of them was that on particularly busy nights, Beca would often stay and help Cara with her duties in her father’s saloon and inn.
Working in the inn was something that Cara did not enjoy. It was something she did and tolerated because her father wanted her to.
“All right then, let’s do this.” Beca gave her an encouraging smile, and the two crossed the saloon to the back. There were plenty of people in the saloon; in fact, it was full of loud talking, the smell of smoke, and the sound of singing.
Two of the men who frequented the saloon had banded together and were singing as loudly as they could, accompanied by the man who played the tack piano.
“It sure is loud in here.” Beca’s face crumpled in discomfort.
“I know, but if we hurry, we can go up to my room. Are you staying for the night? I don’t think my father will have me work late tonight.”
“I am staying the night. I didn’t come to help you just to go back home.” Beca shook her head.
Cara tried to hide the sadness on her face. She wished that her father was more like Beca’s parents. Beca’s parents owned the butcher shop in town. They were very much okay with her coming and spending the night at Cara’s home whenever she wanted to.
Cara’s father let her spend plenty of time cleaning, serving guests, and preparing rooms in the inn and the saloon, but as soon as she stepped foot outside, it was something else.
He hated her to go anywhere. He would rarely agree to her going over to Beca’s house. When she didn’t come home for the whole day, he would probably go looking for her.
Cara knew it was risky, and they would probably get caught, and her father would be furious, but she had to try. Her itch to see a different town was too great. She wanted to explore the world. She wanted to meet new people, see different sights and know what was out there.
She wanted to have the experiences she read about in her books. She understood her father’s fears, but she was no longer a child. She was nineteen, almost twenty years old, and her father was going to have to realize someday that she had grown up.
“Cara, where did you go?” Beca was staring at her in concern.
“I’m fine; just let myself trail off a bit.” Cara forced a smile, then turned back to her sweeping. She was looking forward to going to bed early tonight. The long days and then longer nights at the inn and saloon were tiring. Her father tried to take care of everything himself every once in a while, but Cara knew it was hard for him too.
Cara tried to calm her thoughts as she continued sweeping. It took much less time than it normally would have for her to clean the saloon. When she finished, she pulled Beca along with her, and the two went to find her father. He was busy dishing up several glasses of whiskey behind the counter.
“You girls are already done?” he asked, looking surprised.
“Yes, the whole dining area and the saloon have been swept. I cleaned the rest of the empty rooms yesterday, and the dishes are done, besides the ones that are currently being used.” Cara held her breath as she waited. She knew there was always something more to be done in the inn and the saloon, but she lived for these moments when she was allowed to have some extra time just to herself and her best friend.
“All right then, the two of you can go. Make sure not to stay up too late.”
Cara barely heard her father; she was already rushing up the stairs and opening the door of her room for Beca.
When the two of them stepped into the room, they sank down on the bed with a sigh.
“I don’t know how you do it. That is a lot of work. Why don’t you just tell your father you don’t want to work here anymore?” Beca asked as she leaned against the wall.
“I can’t do that. You know how much he needs my help. Besides, it’s just me and him left. I know that it seems rough with how strict he is, but it’s just because he cares about me.” Cara kept the fact that life without her father or parents was much worse. Her mind wandered momentarily to a time in her life when she’d been alone and wondered whether she would ever have a family again.
Then her new parents had adopted her, taking her into their family like she was their own daughter and setting everything right. She would never forget what her father had done for her or how much she owed him, no matter how difficult it was sometimes.
“Let’s talk about something else. Tell me, have you met anyone you are interested in courting yet?” Cara wiggled her eyebrows. She knew that Beca wanted to get married. She’d been making it pretty clear to anyone willing to pay attention.
“Well, there is this one young man in town. He comes into the shop all the time. I don’t think he just comes to buy meat if you know what I mean.” Beca laughed, and Cara joined in.
Beca made everything more cheerful, and just when Cara started to think that her life was restraining or that she wanted to leave, Beca would remind her of all the reasons she had to stay, even though it didn’t seem like that.
Cara took a breath. She was going to go to the next town the following day, and she was going to get her first taste of exploring. Nineteen years was too long to spend in one town. Even she knew that.
Jesse squinted against the evening wind. Snow was starting to fall. Snow was normal for Missouri around this time of year. Even so, he was starting to worry. The snow was coming down fast and hard, and soon, it was going to be hard to see.
Jesse hadn’t planned his trip well. If he had, he would have already been at Steve’s house. Jesse shook his head. His bad planning might just cost him his trip.
Jesse squinted when he saw dim lights up ahead. It appeared to be a town. He tried to remember what towns were on his route. The one in front of him was definitely not the town that Steve Weston lived in. It had to be Bluespring, Missouri.
Jesse dug his heels into the horse’s sides. He needed to get to the town in front of him before the snow made it impossible to see. It was swirling and screaming around him, getting in his eyes and making him nervous. It wasn’t unheard of to have snowstorms that disoriented travelers to the point where they got lost and then were never seen again. Jesse was determined not to be one of those travelers. He had been planning to visit Steve, his mentor, for a long time now. He wasn’t going to let himself get killed when he was so close.
The town came closer and closer into view. Its lights grew brighter, and the buildings grew bigger. Jesse looked for the nearest person he could find. It happened to be a man leaning up against a small building that had a sign on it which read, “post office.”
The man seemed to be trying to move things on the porch to get them ready for the storm. Jesse pulled his horse to a stop and dismounted. The wind was howling and shrieking.
“Excuse me, good evening.” Jesse did his best to speak loudly to get the man’s attention.
The man looked up with surprise on his face. “Well, howdy. I didn’t expect to see any travelers in this weather.”
Jesse shrugged. “I didn’t expect to be traveling in this weather. What do you think of the storm?”
“It’s going to be a bad one. For sure, you shouldn’t be out traveling after dark on a good day, much less today. It’s dangerous, you know.” The man’s eyes had concern in them.
Jesse nodded. There was no point in explaining all the issues he’d had with his travels, and that was why he was riding into town at dusk on the heels of a snowstorm.
“Can you tell me, is there an inn or a boarding house? Somewhere I can stay for the night?” Jesse hoped that the following morning, there would be a couple of inches of snow, and then he could be on his way. It had snowed several times in the past week; this time should be no different.
Even as he had the thought, he worried that he might be wrong. The snow was coming down harder and harder, stacking up on itself faster than Jesse had seen in a long time, and the wind had an edge to it that threatened something bigger than just a little snowstorm.
“There is an inn. It’s down this road; at the last turn-off, you go right. It’s up the mountain a little way, about fifteen minutes, I’d say. Once you get close, you’ll see the lights. Mr. Reis, he will give you a room any time of the night.”
“Thank you,” Jesse glanced down the road where the man had motioned.
“No problem. The saloon is connected to the inn, so it’s a pleasant place to stay. They have good food too. You can’t go wrong.”
Jesse nodded again, though he wasn’t exactly happy to hear about the saloon. Saloons were loud and not exactly his favorite place to be. He didn’t drink, and he was looking forward to a night of uninterrupted sleep. But he didn’t want to be rude, so instead, he thanked the man and mounted his horse. He would go and find Mr. Reis’s inn and find a place to stay for the night. Besides, it was just going to be one night, and he would be on his way. Anyone could deal with anything as long as it was just for one night.
The way was a good distance, just like the man had described. It took Jesse at least half an hour before he spotted the inn. It was tucked right into the side of the mountain. It was a decent-sized building, not too small and not too large. It had a big sign that said, “The Reis Inn and Saloon.”
There were lanterns shining through all of the windows and the sound of someone playing the piano filtered out into the cold winter air. Jesse was ready to get out of the cold and have something to eat.
He tied his horse to the hitching post, then pushed through the front door. He took a moment, scanning the area and taking in the surroundings. There weren’t as many people as he expected, maybe a half dozen scattered about, including the man at the piano. The place was clean and comfortable, with bright lighting from the many lamps hung all over the place.
It looked quite inviting, even though it had the saloon connected to it off to the side where most of the people were.
An older man approached him, maybe in his fifties. He had dark brown hair that was greying at the edges. He was wearing a thick apron and wiping his hands on a cleaning cloth.
“Good evening, and welcome to the Reis inn. Can I get you a room? Or something to eat perhaps? It’s quite a little snowstorm we’re having, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Jesse glanced toward the window. “It is. I was actually hoping to get both of the things you mentioned. My horse is outside, and I am not sure if you have somewhere to leave him. With the way the snow is falling, he’ll be too cold outside.”
“Of course, I’ll have one of the ranch hands take the horse out to the stable. It’s right out back. Why don’t you find a table, and we’ll get you something to eat straight away?” The man motioned to a few empty tables in the saloon. “Usually, my daughter helps me with things, but she’s not here tonight, so things are a bit slow.”
Jesse didn’t miss the fondness in the man’s eyes when he spoke about his daughter.
“I’m Mr. Reis, if you were wondering. I suppose I forgot to introduce myself.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Reis. I am looking forward to my stay.” Jesse gave a quick smile and then turned and headed over to one of the tables. The warmth of the inn overcame any dislike he had for the people drinking their whiskey or the fact that the noise was just a little louder than he would have liked.
Being anywhere out of the storm was better than nothing. He didn’t think there was any way he could have stayed outside, even if he didn’t want to stay somewhere for the night.
He watched the window intently. It was still snowing outside with a vengeance. At this rate, he would be staying at the inn for a lot longer than he originally intended.
After a delicious meal and several cups of warm coffee, Jesse headed up to the room he had paid for. It was simply furnished, with a bed, a small table, a wash basin, and a chair. It had just the necessary items, but then it had a few extra things that made it feel homey as well. There was a plain rug on the floor and a picture hung on the wall that looked like it had been hand-painted.
It was warm from the fire roaring in the fireplace below and several thick warm quilts were thrown over the bed.
The frost on the window reminded him of how lucky he was to have a warm place to sleep. He shuddered involuntarily. He had spent the night out there in the snow once before, and it hadn’t been pleasant.
Jesse made quick work of washing up and getting under the quilts. His priority was keeping warm and getting some much-needed sleep. The next morning, he would better assess the situation and how long he would be in Bluespring, Missouri.
He certainly hoped it wasn’t for too long. He had a job to get back to and someone to visit. As he closed his eyes, he tried to push back the thoughts of bounties and criminals.
Being a bounty hunter was a rough job. No one really saw it as a job, and yet the people benefited from his work more than they would typically admit. He put criminals behind bars where they belonged. Yes, he was paid for his service, but he wasn’t always appreciated for it.
Then there was the fact that he had been thinking more and more about leaving the business behind. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad to become a rancher, to hang up the searches and the traveling and start a real life for himself somewhere. Steve had decided to leave it all behind, and he seemed happy, at least from the letters he wrote, it seemed that way.
Maybe that was why Jesse wanted to visit Steve so badly. His old mentor had taught him everything he knew about being a bounty hunter. Maybe Steve could advise him about having a normal life too. Jesse sighed. He was going to have to think about all this tomorrow. For now, he just needed to get some rest. He forced his eyes to close and banished more thoughts from holding him to consciousness.
The next morning, when Jesse awoke, he immediately knew something was wrong. The delicious warmth that had filled the room the night before was gone. He felt as if there were a thin layer of ice over his bed, and the air was frosty.
He shivered, pulling what bit of warmth was left under the blankets closer. He didn’t want to get up to investigate, but he needed to know the reason for the sudden chilliness. He stood and pulled on his shirt and then his two coats as quickly as he could. He followed that with two pairs of pants and two pairs of wool socks.
Once his feet were in his boots, and he’d made a few rounds around the room to warm up, he was feeling much more awake. He took a few minutes to throw the quilts over his bed and then went to the window. It was white for as far as he could see. The outside was covered in a thick layer of snow. So thick, in fact, Jesse was fairly certain that if he reached out of his window, he could touch the snow, and he was on the second floor.
There was way too much snow. This was more than a normal snowstorm. Jesse hurried out of his room and rushed down to the dining area below. Mr. Reis was standing beside two other men. The three were chattering and had worried looks on their faces.
Behind Mr. Reis were two young women. They, too, were discussing things amongst themselves.
One of the young women caught Jesse’s eye. She had a slight build but a determination in her shoulders that took him off guard. Her soft brown eyes were full of disappointment as she glanced at the window. Her hair was bright red like a desert flower.
Jesse pulled his gaze away and focused on the men’s conversation.
“I hear tell that half of the mountainside came down into the pass.” Mr. Reis’s voice was full of disbelief.
“It’s true. My sons rode out there this morning. There is no way out of town. You know that is the only way in and out,” the second man said. “We’ve really never had a storm this bad. It’s no surprise it caused such a big avalanche.
Jesse thought back to the road he’d come through the night before. He’d noticed that there was a fork in the road before he’d come into town. One way led around town; the other led into town. It seemed that Bluespring only had one entrance and exit. It was a terrible setup but also something that no one could do anything about.
“What about the mountain paths? We’ve used those before when we go hunting,” one of the other men spoke up, hope in his voice.
“No, it’s much too dangerous. With the amount of snow from that storm, you’d never find your way, and even if you did, it would be much too dangerous to take a horse.” Mr. Reis shook his head. “We are all stuck in this town until this storm blows over. Don’t worry. We are all ready for winter here. Things will be fine as long as we depend on one another and work to clear a path through the avalanche after the snowstorm is over. Either that or we can wait for it to melt. Soon, things will be back to normal.”
The other men looked uncertain, but after a few minutes, they nodded and seemed to agree with Mr. Reis.
“All right then, I’ll get together with some of the other men, and we’ll make a plan for trying to find a way through the avalanche. I hope there is a safe way to clear a path. Otherwise, we will be stuck in this town until spring,” one of the men said.
“Even so, that’s only a couple of months away. This storm was so unexpected. It’s crazy.” Mr. Reis still looked like he could barely believe the situation.
“Beca, come along; we have work to do.” One of the men motioned to the young women. The one who had been talking with the red-haired girl moved away with a little wave. She followed the older man out of the inn, and after a few minutes, Jesse was left alone with Mr. Reis and the red-haired young woman.
“Good morning.” Mr. Reis turned to Jesse. “What was your name again?”
“Jesse. What’s going on? The storm caused a lot of damage?”
Mr. Reis nodded, a tired look his eye. “You could say that. It’s blocked the only way in and out of town. I’m sure you heard a little of what we were discussing a few minutes ago.”
“I did.” Jesse tucked his hands into his pockets to keep his hands warm. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help it.”
“No problem at all. As far as I can see, you’re going to be staying a while.” Mr. Reis offered him a grin.
“Do you need help getting the fire started?” Jesse glanced toward the fireplace, which had been roaring the night before. Now it was empty, only a few bits of coal stuck at the bottom.
“That would be great. I need to go and help the cook. The other guests will be down any minute. Cara, show Jesse here where we keep the things for the fire.” Mr. Reis motioned to the red-haired young woman who had been standing and observing the whole time. Her eyes were full of intelligence and curiosity that almost amused Jesse.
She nodded and obediently motioned for Jesse to follow her.
She led him out to the side of the saloon, where there was a small lean-to connected by a door. The lean-to was much colder than the inn itself, but it was stacked full of dry chopped wood.
“We have more wood in the barn and in the shed out back. But this should work for now. The fire doesn’t usually go out at night, but it got so cold last night …” Cara trailed off as if she wasn’t sure how much she should tell Jesse. “You’re not from town,” she said at last.
“No, I came from Chicago, I suppose. That’s where I’m originally from, but I travel a lot.”
“Chicago.” Cara said the word wistfully.
“You ever been?” Jesse asked, trying to keep the conversation going since it didn’t appear as if Cara was about to leave. She was stacking her arms full of wood.
Jesse began to do the same, intent on helping to get the place warmer. That would benefit everyone, and he wasn’t sure if Cara usually did it alone, but regardless, he was more than happy to offer his assistance.
“No. I’ve never been out of this town.” Sadness filled Cara’s soft brown eyes. “One day, I am going to travel the world. I can’t wait to see all the sights, the ocean, goodness, the ocean.” Cara’s face filled with a certain curiosity and expectancy that made Jesse envy her innocence.
He’d thought of travel that way once, but then he’d also become familiar with the realities of travel. The cold nights, the times when it wasn’t so nice to sleep out in the middle of nowhere with no protection. Many other things came with traveling that made the experience a bit further away from enjoyable.
“The ocean is quite beautiful.” Jesse thought back to the first time he’d seen the ocean. He thought he wanted to live there, never leave it again.
Cara’s movements paused. “You’ve been there?” She looked both shocked and in awe of him.
“Yes, a couple of times. I had a man I was chasing who quite enjoyed hiding in those areas.”
“Hiding?” Cara looked confused, and Jesse realized he hadn’t mentioned what he did for a living.
“I’m a bounty hunter. I hunt down criminals and take them to jail.”
Cara’s eyes widened. But instead of judgment or the normal avoidance that Jesse often experienced, all he saw was admiration and wonder.
“You probably have lots of exciting stories to tell.”
“A few, I suppose.”
“Would you tell them to me?” Cara’s face reminded Jesse of a child who was eager to discover new things.
“Maybe, if we get the chance. Right now, let’s get a fire going before we freeze to death.”
Cara nodded and led him back through the door to the fireplace. Jesse couldn’t help but like the idea of sharing some of his stories with her. It wasn’t often that he had such an interested audience. Maybe staying at the inn wouldn’t be too terrible after all.
“Rescuing His Wandering Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ever since the loss of her mother, Cara Reis has lived a sheltered life under her father’s watchful eye and protection. She struggles to accept the life set out of her, while secretly wishing for adventures beyond her grasp. A snowstorm will change everything completely though, when a mysterious stranger shows up to take shelter at her family’s inn. Cara has never left her hometown, so when she hears about this intriguing man’s life and travels, she starts dreaming of a wider world. Soon, she finds herself swept off her feet, despite her father’s warnings about keeping her distance from danger. Will Cara manage to overcome the seeds of doubt and follow the call of her heart?
Jesse Mitchel is a seasoned bounty hunter who has always worked hard to stay ahead in life. He used to think he would stay on this path for the rest of his life, but with the job starting to get to him he’s longing for a quieter life. On his way to visit his mentor though, he gets trapped in a small town by a terrible snowstorm. Cara, a young woman full of joy and enthusiasm, tumbles into his life there, just when he had abandoned any hope of finding true love. However, fate may have other plans for him… Will Jesse have the courage to trust in what he feels for Cara? Or will ghosts from his past stand in his way?
Seeming opposites, Cara and Jesse end up discovering a connection they had never anticipated, despite wanting different things from life. Yet before long, someone Jesse’s past shows up unexpectedly, putting Cara’s life in sudden danger… Will Jesse save her in time, no matter the risk to his own life? Can the powerful feelings between them survive the forces threatening to destroy everything in their path?
“Rescuing His Wandering Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.