Read Wolf Creek Father (Wolf Creek, Arkansas Book 3) Online

Authors: Penny Richards

Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #19th Century, #American West, #Western, #Christian, #Religious, #Faith, #Inspirational, #School Teacher, #Sheriff, #Lawman, #Widower, #Children, #Unruly, #Mother, #Wife, #Marriage, #Busy, #Frustration, #Family Life

Wolf Creek Father (Wolf Creek, Arkansas Book 3)

A Wife for the Sheriff?

Schoolteacher Allison Grainger loves educating the children of Wolf Creek, Arkansas. She’s nearly at her wit’s end, though, when it comes to Sheriff Colt Garrett’s two unruly youngsters. But when Allison is forced to work with the prickly lawman, the handsome widower and his children prove to be both charming and the perfect complement to her own life.

Colt Garrett is too busy taming the West—and his children—to worry about the concerns of the only schoolteacher in Wolf Creek. That is, until he meets the striking Allison, whose infectious smile warms his heart. Could she be the mother figure his children have always wanted…and the wife he so longs for?

“Children need parents invested in their lives, Sheriff Garrett,” Allison said.

“They need boundaries. They
ache
for boundaries. They need to be brought up, not just allowed to grow up.”

The indictment had the ring of truth that hit Colt like a blow to the solar plexus. “Now, just you hold on a minute! You’ve gone too far.”

“On the contrary,” she retorted. “I’ve not gone far enough. Consider this a warning, Sheriff Garrett. Either you get your children in hand, or I am leaving Wolf Creek. And I expect you to have my spectacles that they destroyed replaced at your earliest convenience.” With that, she slammed the door behind her.

Colt watched her stomp down the walk, conflicting emotions darting through him. Anger, guilt and worry for certain. And just a hint of something he couldn’t put his finger on. It felt a little like grudging admiration.

Books by Penny Richards

Love Inspired Historical

Wolf Creek Wedding
Wolf Creek Homecoming
Wolf Creek Father

Love Inspired

Unanswered Prayers

PENNY RICHARDS

has been writing and selling contemporary romance since 1983. Confronted with burnout, she took several years off to pursue other things she loved, like editing a local oral history project and coauthoring a stage play about a dead man (known fondly as Old Mike) who was found in the city park in 1911, got a double dose of embalming and remained on display until the seventies. Really. She also spent ten years renovating her 1902 Queen Anne home and getting it onto the National Register of Historic Places. At the “big house” she ran and operated Garden Getaways, a bed-and-breakfast and catering business that did everything from receptions, bridal lunches, fancy private dinners and “tastings” to dress-up tea parties (with makeup and all the trimmings) for little girls who liked to pretend to be grand ladies while receiving manners lessons. What fun!

Though she had a wonderful time and hosted people from every walk of life, writing was still in her blood, and her love of all things historical led her to historical fiction, more specifically historical mystery and inspirational romances. She is thrilled to be back writing and, God willing, hopes to continue to do so for many years.

WOLF CREEK FATHER

Penny Richards

And be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

—Ephesians
4:32

This book is for Colt Garrett Cleaves, my red-headed, never-walk-when-you-can-run, daredevil, two-year-old great-grandson whose infectious smile and cheerful disposition lights up everyone’s world. Love you bunches, baby boy!

Chapter One

Wolf Creek, Arkansas
—1886

S
heriff Colt Garrett sat behind the desk that faced the jail’s front door. His chair was cocked back on two legs and his booted feet rested on the desk’s scarred top. Hands laced behind his head, he stared in moody contemplation at the rough-sawn wood of the ceiling.

He was in the doldrums and his life was in a rut. Ever since Ellie Carpenter had told him there was no sense in taking their fledgling relationship any further than the friendship they shared, his life had settled into a grating sameness. A few words and
poof!
Another potential wife was gone, a reminder that change could happen fast and without warning, something he’d forgotten in the years since his wife, Patrice, had been taken from him.

Though he’d be the first to admit that he was not suffering from a broken heart over Ellie’s rejection, he’d looked forward to the time he spent with her. Now his days had settled into boring predictability. He felt like some of the older folks in town must feel. They had their set routines and heaven help anyone who disrupted them. Except Colt wished something
would
happen to shake up the even tenor of his days. He came to work, ate lunch at home, the café or Hattie’s, and then went home, slept and repeated the sequence day after day.

There hadn’t even been any major crime lately to take his mind off things—not that he was complaining about that. The robberies he’d dealt with in the spring had seen one of his friends injured and another wrongly incarcerated. No, Wolf Creek didn’t need any more crime. It was just that he was lonesome, as lonesome as the rain crow outside his open window sounded.

He hated going home and having no one to share the ups and downs of his day with except a couple of kids. Not that he didn’t love them. He did. But he wasn’t too proud to admit that he not only wanted a wife, but also needed one. His kids needed a mother. Cilla was growing up, and more and more Colt felt that a woman’s influence was essential. What did he know about young girls on the verge of womanhood?

Brady needed a mom to kiss his cuts and scrapes, and he himself...well, he was tired of trying to deal with problems he had no earthly idea how to solve, so he supposed he could add that he was an ineffective father to his general misery.

He wanted to hold hands with a woman as they walked along Wolf Creek. Wanted to have someone listen as he talked about his day, and he wanted to hear about hers. He wanted someone next to him at night. He wanted a wife.

Since taking the sheriff’s position more than a year ago, he’d courted a few of the town’s single ladies, but the relationships had reached a certain point and fizzled out, and pickings were mighty slim in a town the size of Wolf Creek.

To top it all off, Ellie had flat-out told him that part of his problem was that whenever he showed interest in anyone, his two children launched an all-out campaign to sabotage the courtship. She’d been the recipient of some of their ploys, and that, along with her own reasons for not becoming more involved, had ended that!

He was so caught up in his unhappiness that the turning of the doorknob didn’t register. Not until the sound of the door slamming and someone stomping across the room penetrated his reverie did he lower his arms and his gaze to see what was afoot.

He was shocked to see Brady and Cilla’s teacher bearing down on him, her bosom heaving as if she’d run for several blocks. Miss Grainger’s sassy little chipped-straw hat sat cockeyed on her head, and a lone fabric rose dangled over one eye. Her freckled face was as red as the hair scraped back into a severe bun atop her head. One curling, recalcitrant strand trailed down one cheek and onto her shoulder. She was squinting at him as she neared the desk, but even though her eyes were narrowed to mere slits, there was no mistaking the fury blazing there.

What now? Putting on his most professional mien, Colt swung his feet to the floor and sat up straight, as befitting his station. He offered her a friendly smile, which fled when the usually polite teacher slapped something onto the desk with a gloved hand. He stared down at the mangled item. Hmm. Gold wire and a round piece of glass with a webbing of cracks that looked as if a spider had been plying its skill.

He glanced up at the squinting Miss Grainger and back at the object. Glasses! He was looking at a pair of beyond-redemption eyewear. The metal frames were crunched, one lens was cracked and the other missing completely.

He was about to ask her what on earth had happened when a familiar feeling sent his stomach into a sickening lurch. His mind whispered that while he might not know
what
had happened, he was pretty sure he knew
who
had done the deed.

“Well?” the teacher snapped. “Aren’t you going to say something?” Her usual warm contralto was shrill with outrage.

Resisting the urge to bury his face in his hands, Colt looked up at her with a puzzled expression as fake as the roses adorning her bedraggled headpiece.

“Uh, what happened to your glasses?” he managed to say, after swallowing a lump the size of Texas.

The petite, plump teacher placed her palms flat on the desk and leaned toward him, her crocheted reticule dangling from her wrist. “Your children happened!” she spat out. “They accosted me!”

Colt’s heart sank, but he sat even straighter. This young woman—obviously too young and inexperienced to be in charge of a classroom of children—had just accused his two offspring of a disgraceful act. Parental outrage kicked in, erasing the fact that Miss Grainger had only confirmed his own suspicion that Brady and Cilla were responsible for the damage he was looking at. Never mind their guilt or innocence. This woman had verbally
attacked
his children! Flesh of his flesh. Blood of his blood. It would not do. It would not do at all.

“Perhaps you should explain yourself, Miss Grainger,” he suggested through clenched teeth. “Tell me what happened to put you in such a snit.”

“Snit?
Snit?
” Her eyes widened and her voice climbed at least two octaves. Then she squeezed her eyes shut, drew herself up to her full height—all of five feet and maybe an inch or two if he had to guess—and took a deep breath, trying to regain control of her emotions and her temper.

When she opened her eyes, it was a toss-up as to whether it worked or not. The heat of battle still smoldered there.

“By all means, Sheriff,” she said in a well-modulated, low-pitched voice, taking care to enunciate each word with utmost care. “I am in a
snit,
as you put it, because I was assaulted by your...your hooli—” Her mouth snapped shut and she pressed her lips together to keep from crossing the invisible line of civility. “Your
children
in the mercantile.”

Colt bolted to his feet, mimicking her stance. He leaned across the expanse of the desk, his tawny eyes as narrow as hers as they faced each other almost nose to nose. He was a tall man, with more than enough muscle to make most men back down, and he possessed a ruthless expression he could muster in a heartbeat. Many a lawbreaker and bully had been known to tremble before the combination.

Pint-size Miss Grainger didn’t budge an inch.

“Now see here!” he growled. “Those are pretty harsh words. How can two kids, age seven and twelve,
assault
a grown woman?”

Still regarding him through narrowed eyes, she spluttered, “Brady...
p-pushed
me.”

Was it Colt’s imagination or was there a hint of trembling in her voice?

“Your children, sir, are a menace to polite society, and I begin to fear that much of the fault must be laid at your feet.”

“My fault?” Colt exploded. He told himself that his thunderous response was a normal reaction to this...this mousy little...
twit
speaking about his precious children in such a derogatory way. Miss Grainger’s eyes widened in sudden fright and her face paled, making her freckles stand out against the chalky whiteness. Colt suspected he’d overreacted.

Not very professional, he chided himself silently as they stood glaring at each other. He’d always prided himself on his professionalism, but this woman rubbed him the wrong way. Always had, though he had no reason why.

Okay, Colt. No more yelling.
He had a reputation to maintain, after all. But dagnabbit, it was a blow to his image that she stood there so defiant and unafraid. He decided to try “the scowl” once more.

He folded his arms across his chest and fixed her with another intense look. As he let his gaze bore into hers he couldn’t help noticing that her eyes, an unusual sherry-hued brown, were set beneath delicately shaped eyebrows a couple of shades darker than her hair and framed by thick, curly lashes. The hazy, almost unfocused softness he saw in them belied her anger, and went a long way toward cooling his.

She licked her lips in a nervous gesture, drawing his gaze to her mouth. Funny. He’d never noticed just what a nice mouth she had, maybe because more often than not her lips were pressed into a prim, no-nonsense line. Now, all moist and soft-looking, she gave the impression of a woman who had just been well and soundly kissed, though it was hard to imagine any man being interested enough in the fiery-haired, fiery-tempered teacher to do so.

Colt reined in his thoughts. No way did this termagant have any softness. Kissing her would be like kissing a board. No, a wildcat, maybe. He gave his head an imperceptible shake and straightened, breaking the strange spell that seemed for a moment to bind them.

In response, she blinked and squared her shoulders, drawing attention to the rows of ruffles marching down the front of her pale yellow shirtwaist, intended no doubt to disguise her plumpness.

“Yes, um, your fault,” she reiterated, but she sounded vague, as if she’d lost her train of thought. Then she raised her chin, mustering her indignation once more. “As I have said on more than one occasion, your children are out of control. I have requested time and again that you do something about it, but this time I demand that you take them in hand.”

The words themselves condemned and challenged, but her voice seemed to have lost some of its sharpness. She
had
told him more than once that Brady and Cilla were disruptive in school. Now with Ellie’s newest accusations echoing through his mind, he realized it was time he stopped delaying the talk he should have had with them long ago and get to the bottom of things. Just one more thing a woman would be much better at handling.

Still, it didn’t sit well that she’d gone from asking to demanding that he take charge of his children, but it was plain to see that there was no getting around this latest transgression with one of his glib apologies and a promise to “take care of it.” He sighed and waved a hand toward the chair across from him.

“Have a seat, Miss Grainger,” he offered, struggling to make his tone professional and conciliatory. “I need to hear your version of what happened before I decide on a course of action.”

Regarding him with more than a little suspicion, she perched on the chair’s edge, almost as if she were readying herself to jump up and flee should the need arise. Her back was ramrod-straight, and her rounded chin was lifted to an angle just shy of haughty. Her gloved hands clutched the small drawstring purse resting in her lap.

Colt took his own chair, pressed the tips of his fingers together and, resting his elbows on the wooden arms of the chair, pressed his tented fingers against his lips while he regarded her with an expression of polite inquiry.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning, Miss Grainger,” he suggested, happy to hear that he sounded more or less like his usual controlled self.

Looking a bit taken aback by the sudden change in his attitude, Miss Grainger blinked again, cleared her throat and began with a bit of hesitation. “I, uh, went into the general store to pick up the Earl Grey tea Mr. Gentry had specially ordered for me.”

Tea! What sort of red-blooded American drank tea instead of coffee? Colt wondered. He managed to hold back a disgusted snort—just. Still, he noticed that she, too, sounded more like the concerned schoolteacher he’d dealt with so often the previous school year. He rotated his hand at the wrist, indicating that she should continue.

“I saw Brady and Priscilla at the counter,” she told him, leaning forward. “They seemed to be trying to decide what kind of candy they wanted. I smiled at them and asked Brady how his summer reading was going and if he thought it was helping him be better prepared when school took up again.”

Colt felt a jolt of guilt. Brady was falling further and further behind in all his subjects, and Miss Grainger seemed to think it was because his reading wasn’t up to snuff. She’d called Colt to a meeting before school let out, suggesting that he not only encourage his son to read during the summer, but also that Colt spend time each day working on it with him.

Brady had been furious. So had Colt. When he’d expressed his displeasure to Ellie and suggested that perhaps her sister wasn’t the teacher everyone thought she was and that maybe she was picking on Brady, Ellie had told him in no uncertain terms that her youngest sibling was very qualified and pointed out that the suggestion had nothing to do with “picking” on anyone. Instead, it demonstrated her concern over Brady’s continued lack of progress.

Put in those terms, Colt had bowed to the teacher’s wisdom. Now, faced with the upstanding Miss Grainger and the look of expectancy on her face, he realized that he’d been more than a little lax carrying out her request. His only excuse was that Brady’s reading was pure torture for them both, not something he wanted to do at the end of a hard day. It was the sort of thing a wife should contend with.

If he had a wife.

When he made no comment, she continued. “Brady became very...agitated and told me he hated reading, and that it was summertime and he had no intention of doing schoolwork when he was supposed to be having time off from it. I suggested that it was for his good and explained that reading can be very pleasurable. I told him that when a person reads he can go anywhere, be anyone and do anything within the pages of a book.”

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