The Trouble We Keep
A Second Chance Western RomanceBy Cara Devlin
A broken promise brought her West.
A willful heart will fight to keep her there.
Newly pregnant, alone, and a fugitive from the law, Emma Wheat has run out of time.
Though her brother promised to send for her from one of the mining boomtowns out west, he never did. And now, after doing whatever it took to survive on her own—no matter how shameful—Emma has no choice but to flee on a westward train, bound for her brother’s last known location.
What she finds in Williams, Arizona only stokes more questions. Surly saloon owner Dean Morelli claims Emma’s brother robbed him and ran—and he’s not so certain Emma is any more trustworthy. But Dean isn’t all bluster and gloom. The longer Emma stays on to find her brother and prove his innocence, the more willing Dean is to show her his softer side—though her secrets continue to stand between them.
Emma knew escaping her past wouldn’t be easy. When the man she fears most steps off a train and threatens the new life she’s building, she’ll have to trust in herself, and in the kind of love she never dreamed possible, in order to face her future.
Praise for The Trouble We Keep
“Excellent writing here and tip top research … a nice exploration of the human spirit and tenacity.”
Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration
The pretty, brown-haired girl from the night before was called Brianna. She lingered at the massive crock of peanuts in the kitchen, slowly filling a few empty baskets for the barroom tables while stealing glances toward the sink where I stood with my arms elbow deep in soapy water. Throughout the evening, I’d heard a few of the other barmaids—Velma, Marty, and another girl whose name I couldn’t remember—call her that, and I was glad to have a name to go with the only girl so far who had smiled at me. A genuine, curious smile. And I suspected she was hanging around the kitchen, taking her sweet time with the peanuts, in order to speak to me.
Her dark, curly hair hung loosely around her shoulders, which was made only more indecent by the fact that they were bare. Her white frilly, capped sleeves fell just below her shoulders. I’d seen more flesh exposed than that, but still…this girl seemed so young and innocent with the way her big, doe-like eyes kept peeking up at me from her now overfilled peanut basket. I couldn’t help but think that she didn’t belong here anymore than I had belonged at Ms. Lewis’s.
“I think you have enough,” I said before dipping a tall ale glass in the rinse water and then setting it on the drying rack.
Brianna’s hand froze mid-scoop, and she let the peanuts roll back down her palm and into the crock again. She brushed her hands together, a shy smile creeping across her red cheeks.
“I think you’re right,” she said. “Sorry. I got distracted, which shouldn’t surprise me none, since I feel like I’m always getting distracted by one thing or another.”
She let out a sweet laugh and picked up the baskets, heaped with peanut shells.
“What’s distracting you?” I asked. She paused, her eyebrows raised as if surprised I’d asked. After three conversations today that had ended in total frustration, I was ready to speak to someone who posed no threat.
“Oh, it ain’t nothing, really.” She propped a peanut basket against each of her curved hips. “It’s just that…well, I heard you talking yesterday, and you sounded like you was from the east.”
I scrubbed out another glass and nodded. “Washington, D.C.”
Brianna gave a small gasp and loosened her grip on the peanut baskets. The crest of each heap avalanched, and shells scattered over the floorboards.
“Are you all right?” I set the glass back in the sudsy water and went to help her clean up.
We were both crouched down and reaching for shells when Dean kicked open the swinging door and came in with another flat rack of glasses.
“What the—” Dean growled. “Brianna, what the hell? You’ve been in here filling those baskets for five minutes. Come on, those guys out there need salt. The thirstier they are, the more they drink. Now let’s go.”
Brianna stood so fast she ended up spilling another layer of peanuts. I straightened up and helped her steady her arms before she whipped through the kitchen and out into the barroom. I pinned Dean with an exasperated glare before going back to the sink.
He set the rack down with more vigor than necessary. “What’s that look supposed to mean? The two of you’ve been in here running your gums the whole time, am I right?”
“No, you aren’t right, believe it or not.” I snatched back up the glass I’d been scrubbing, also with more vigor than necessary.
“Brianna was only trying to talk to me. You didn’t have to yell at her for it.”
Dean snorted. “What would she want to talk to you about?”
I hated the way he acted as if whatever I said was trivial. That I was trivial. The cloth squeaked along the inside of the glass tumbler as I scrubbed harder.
“Is it so impossible to believe that someone might want to speak to me? That someone might want to actually be nice and ask me where I’m from?”
His dark brows pinched together as he lowered his chin and pressed his lips thin. I realized I’d stopped washing the glass in order to glare at him again, so I quickly turned back to the soapy water and the glass in my clenched palm.
“Never mind,” I murmured. “You don’t have the luxury of giving a damn about anyone but yourself.” I glanced up at him. “Or so I’m told.”
My cheeks, already hot with frustration, warmed with more heat. Ladies don’t use foul language. I had made so many mistakes today.
Dean stood by the sink, his hands on the hips of his dark brown canvas trousers, the pockets of his stained waist apron hanging low with money. My own string purse was tied out of sight, around my thigh. I didn’t dare leave it behind in my room.
“You have a sharp memory. Lucky me.” His humorless sarcasm pricked under my skin.
I ignored him and rinsed the tumbler, then set it on the drying rack with the others.
“Where are you from?” Dean finally said.
“You don’t care.”
“I’m asking, aren’t I?”
“Don’t bother.” I grabbed another glass from the new rack he’d brought in. “You don’t need to pretend.”
Dean slammed his fist down onto the counter. The vibration caused the last dried tumbler to tip off the drying rack and break on the countertop. “Just tell me where you’re from already.”
Another urge to shout right back at Dean bubbled to the surface, but I pressed it back. Angry men were dangerous. I’d learned that with Joe McGalvern. Just the thought of him brought up a flare of sweat between my shoulder blades.
I reached for the shards of glass and frowned when my hand shook.
“Washington,” I answered softly, tensing my hand to stop its trembling. I hissed as one of the shards pierced my palm. I opened my hand, the shards falling to the counter again. A short slice beaded with blood.
Dean swore under his breath and took one of the clean linen towels from a stack next to the sink.
“Give me your hand,” he said.
“I can take care of it myself,” I replied, reaching for the towel.
He gritted his jaw and gave me the towel. As I dabbed at the blood, Dean picked up the shards and tossed them into the trash.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. So quietly it took me a moment to understand what he’d said.
“Shouting,” he answered. I bit the inside of my lip. So then, he’d seen my hand shaking. “I have a temper.”
I brought my palm up to inspect the newest wound. “So I’ve noticed.”
“I’m working on it.”
Maybe he was. But what was it to me?
“Territory?” he asked.
I turned for the trashcan behind me. “What?”
“Washington territory? Or D.C.?”
I closed my palm around the towel, and I winced at the pain. “The capitol.”
Dean’s eyes shifted toward the barroom. He’d been in here for longer than he’d planned, most likely. And what did it matter to him where I was from?
“Do you have a bandage?” I asked.
He nodded and with his hands still on his hips, hooked his chin toward the barroom. “Out here.”
I followed him, though his sudden silence was confusing. Was he just contrite for shouting at me? Velma was behind the bar, serving drinks in his absence. I didn’t know what to make of him as he reached under the long counter and grabbed a tin box. He extended the box to me, and with the towel still wrapped around my injured hand, I took it and turned for the kitchen door.
The male voice stopped me in my tracks. I whipped around and saw the banker from Williams Savings & Loan sliding an elbow onto the glossy wood. He grinned, though his golden brows were pressed together in confusion.
“We met earlier today,” he said when I continued to gape at him.
“Yes, I remember,” I said, fumbling with the dented tin box Dean had given me. How on earth would a woman be able to forget a face so handsome?
Dean took one of the dozens of shot glasses from a rack under the bar and slammed it onto the counter next to the banker’s arm. “Was this before or after you twisted your ankle?” he asked to me.
“Before,” I bit out, instantly irritated.
The banker leaned forward, as if to peer at my injured ankle. “Are you all right?”
“She’s fine.” Dean braced his hand on the counter, his muscled arm blocking the banker’s view. “What do you want?”
The banker straightened and tugged the brim of his hat. Apparently, men didn’t need to take them off inside a place like Grant’s Pass.
“A proper introduction,” he replied, still looking at me. “I’m afraid I failed at that earlier. I’m Adam Kelly.”
Dean peered over his shoulder at me, eyebrow raised. I ignored him, my cheeks warming.
“Emma Leigh Wheat,” I said, pausing between my two first names.
Adam grinned. “Yes, I know.”
I blushed harder. “Of course. Right.”
Dean slid his arm from the counter and turned, slowly, to face me. I expected a barked order to get back to work. Instead, a thunderous expression darkened his eyes and flared his nostrils.
“Wheat?” he said.
I’d already told him my last name. Hadn’t I?
He took my arm and spun me around on his way to the kitchen door. “Come with me,” he said, tugging me along. I nearly tripped over my own feet as we went through the swinging door. He yanked me to a stop, looking ready to breathe fire. “Your last name’s Wheat? And you’re from D.C.?”
I clutched the tin box to my chest. “This is you working on your temper?”
“You got a brother?” he asked, ignoring the jab.
My muscles went soft, and I lowered the tin box. “Jimmy. Do you know him?”
He took a few steps back and raked his hand through his hair.
The kitchen door swung open and the banker, Adam Kelly, entered. His had his hands raised as if Dean were aiming a pistol at him. The black glare he sent the banker made me think he was considering it.
“Get out of here, Kelly. Employees only.”
Adam huffed a laugh. But then his humor vanished. He winced. “You work here?” he asked me.
“I’m washing dishes,” I replied.
“Not anymore,” Dean said, still looking as if he was chewing a piece of leather. “You’re fired.”
I gaped at him. “I’m fired? What for?”
“For being related to that lying, no-good thief. Your brother broke into my safe and stole every last penny I had in there.”
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Cara is an author, history lover, and Netflix junkie. She loves to read and write across genres but has a particular fascination with historical fiction—especially when romance is involved. Her newest book, THE TROUBLE WE KEEP, is a romantic historical fiction novel set in 1901 Arizona. When she’s not writing, she’s either freelance editing, driving her kids everywhere, burning at least one side of a grilled cheese, or forgetting to fold a basket of laundry.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx