When Susannah takes a job on Thomas Gibbs’ Tennessee ranch, she has no idea of the disapproval and social distance she will face.
Thomas, smitten with the new cook, is willing to give up his inheritance to follow her into the hills of Tennessee.
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Susannah Smith pulled at the gloves in her lap as the stagecoach rolled into the town of Jackson, Tennessee. Nerves did a butterfly dance in her stomach as she pondered the job her father insisted she take, cooking on a ranch near Denmark, Tennessee. This was the first time she had left the hill country. She worried her shy nature would be a problem. The driver stopped the coach on the right side of the street in front of a false-fronted building, perhaps a hotel. Jackson Arms was scrawled in cursive script in bright blue paint.
The biting, late November wind whipped at Susannah’s hand-me-down coat as she stepped out of the coach. When leaving the hills of East Tennessee, her father insisted she put on her mother’s winter coat, as it was the nicest coat the family owned, even though the cuffs and collar were threadbare. She clutched her reticule, hiding the ends of the worn sleeves as she looked over the town, hoping someone from the Gibbs’s Ranch would meet her. Only a handful of people scurried from building to building along the rutted street.
The town buildings were constructed of logs and a few were made of clapboard. There was a trading post type store called Pete’s Mercantile and an Apothecary, whatever that was. Also a livery and blacksmith across the way. She gazed through the open door when sparks flew into the air from the anvil. A burly man with a leather apron pounded hard on something that glowed red. There were more shops, but she couldn’t see their signs from where she stood.
Susannah shivered as a man approached from the right. He was tall and whip thin, wearing a worn buckskin coat and brown slouch hat. It reminded her of a picture she had seen of the frontiersman, Davy Crockett. The leather tassels of his coat and chaps swayed in the wind. The handsome cowboy stopped before her, and his stunning blue eyes took her measure. She swallowed while his gaze swept over her. She watched his face but couldn’t tell what he thought.
“You Susannah?” he asked.
“Yes. Susannah Smith,” she said, offering her hand as her parents had taught her to do in polite company.
He ignored her outstretched hand and asked, “Where’s yer gear?”
“My trunk is atop the coach,” she said as a queer sensation settled in her stomach. Perhaps he didn’t notice her hand while his gaze rested on her. The look of awed wonder on his face fell away as he turned his attention to the driver of the coach, spoke to him, and then climbed up to retrieve her trunk. With great care, he lifted it down and carried it to a buckboard that stood nearby. His blue-eyed gaze rested on her once again as he offered her his hand and helped her up onto the high seat. Her heart fluttered in her chest while he supported her climb and then settled her on the hard bench. The wagon rocked when the horses stepped ahead in their traces.
Were they going to run away with her alone, out of control and with no driver? Fear took her breath and she gasped.
“Whoa.” The young man’s voice rang out, calming the animals. He climbed into the seat beside her, causing her to pull her skirts closer to make room for him.
“You all right, ma’am? Ready to go?”
She nodded yes.
He chirped to the horses, snapped the reins, and the buckboard shot forward. Susannah grabbed to hold her seat, but her hand landed on his knee. Heat shot into her face. Quickly pulling her hand away, she whispered an apology for the inappropriate touch. She was off to a bad start and she hadn’t even reached the ranch yet or tried to cook in an unfamiliar kitchen. A sinking sensation lingered in her stomach as they took the wagon trail out of town.