Lockets and Lace Series
Cassie Taylor's parents died years ago and her father arranged for her to stay with his sister's family. Aunt Ethel treated Cassie more like a hired worker than stepdaughter. And her two daughters, Annette and Babette, were as spoiled as Cassie was forced to do all the chores. That leaves Uncle Sean, he's a man of slight build and of even smaller courage.
The only thing Cassie has to remember her parents by is a locket that her father bought from a Bavarian watchmaker in St. Joseph, Missouri. At twenty-one, Cassie could have gone out on her own, but her father's dream had been to go to Oregon. So, she'd agreed to go along. Once in the promised land, she could get her own homestead and leave Aunt Ethel
Travis Andrews and his partner, Matt, have been on their own for years. They'd traveled to the California gold fields, become tired of the rough life and had headed back east with a herd of horses and mules to sell to pioneers going west.
From the moment he first saw Cassie, he was drawn to her. Just maybe he'd settle down in Oregon, marry her, and start a horse ranch.
But Aunt Ethel has other ideas for him. Namely to have him marry Annette.
Join the wagon train to Oregon and see if Cassie and Travis can find one another among the several surprises along the way.
Here's part of Chapter 1 of Cassie's Surprise.
With hands on her hips, Aunt Ethel stared at Cassie. “Go over there and help Sean with the oxen.”
Cassie’s aunt had her usual look of disapproval. Whether it was aimed at Cassie or her uncle, she wasn’t sure. With a disgusted sigh of her own, Cassie ran to help her uncle. Shaking her head, Cassie saw the big red ox stubbornly sitting down. “Mozart, what are you doing?”
Looking embarrassed and hen-pecked, Uncle Sean shrugged. “I can’t get the beast up. When Mozart doesn’t want to go, the others follow his lead.”
Cassie went to the giant ox at the front of the team. “Moz, you're a bad boy again. Please, get going, or we’ll never get to Oregon.” She tugged on the beast’s horns. “Remember, I’ve told you about Oregon. A land of milk and honey. Lush green grass that grows as high as your belly, and you’ll never have to work another day in your life. But we need you now. And the others, Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin, they won’t go unless you lead the way.”
Slowly, Mozart stood and stepped forward. He snorted, let out a big sigh, and picked up the pace to keep up with the other wagons.
Cassie smiled at Uncle Sean. “There we go.”
“You’re a wonder with the animals, Cassie. Thank you.” He kept his pace with the oxen and tapped them with the guide stick as needed.
Wishing she could do the same to Aunt Ethel, Cassie whispered to her uncle. “Is it all right if I visit Abbie?” Cassie preferred walking with her friend than being with her aunt and cousins. Abbie was the same age, and they’d confided with one another about what they thought they’d find in Oregon. Of course, their conversation usually turned to the husbands they expected to find.
Uncle Sean looked back to the wagon. “It’s fine with me. Might check with Ethel. Annette and Babette have been tired, so they’re riding in the wagon.”
Cassie rolled her eyes. No wonder Mozart didn’t want to pull the wagon with the three women riding inside. Not to mention all the heavy furniture and goods Aunt Ethel had stuffed inside.
Already, Cassie knew she’d be responsible for finding the fire starters. Chips, they called them. Cow pies and buffalo pies were other names. A dirty job, but there weren’t many trees on the prairie for firewood. Pioneers quickly learned the value of buffalo and cow dung in starting fires on the trail.
She walked back to the wagon and hoped her aunt wouldn’t see her, yet Cassie knew better. Aunt Ethel had a third eye as sharp as an eagle’s, and she always caught Cassie before she could leave to visit Abbie. Of course, Annette and Babette got away without doing anything. It bothered Uncle Sean, but he never spoke up.
Her cousin, Annette, was a year younger than Cassie’s twenty-one years, and Babette was three years younger. Her cousins were spoiled and of not much use to anyone mostly because Aunt Ethel let them do whatever they wanted or nothing, as was the usual case.
Cassie had almost made it past the wagon when Aunt Ethel yelled out. “Cassie, you better start gathering the chips for the fire.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Cassie knew not to argue. It was her payment for staying with the family. Sometimes, Cassie found it to be a high price to pay, but then the idea of being alone frightened her more than the chores.
After taking the bucket from the back of the wagon, Cassie called out to Abbie in the wagon behind them. “Let’s collect chips.”
Her friend grinned. “You mean, Nik-Nik.” Abbie laughed and ran to grab her bucket.
“Yes, although I like the term meadow muffins much better.” Cassie laughed and met Abbie on the side of the wagons. “Isn’t it amazing how God made so many bison on the plains so that the pioneers would have fuel for fires?”
Abbie nodded. “You never cease to amaze me how you can find God in everything. Even to thank Him for buffalo dung.”
“Well, I have learned that life can be a challenge, but if I look for the blessings that the Lord sprinkles about me, it makes life so much more pleasant.” Cassie smiled at a red flower rising out of the prairie and pointed it out to her friend.
Abbie sighed. “I guess you’re right. It couldn’t have been easy for you to lose your parents and have to live with your aunt and uncle and those girls. They don’t ever smile.”
“Annette and Babette can be a burden. I don’t know why they are always so disgruntled. They should be out walking like the rest of us. Mozart tells me they are too heavy to be in the wagon.”
Laughing, Abbie threw a cow chip at her. “Really, Cassie, you think you can talk to the oxen. I suppose you can talk to the birds and the horses, too.”
Cassie picked up a meadow muffin and put it in the bucket. “Oh, I just get an idea of what they’re thinking. I wish we could have brought Jack with us. I loved that little dog.”
Abbie frowned. “We had to leave so much to go on this venture, but Papa says Oregon will be worth it all.”
Cassie picked up another chip and almost had half a bucketful. “Do you ever wonder who you’re going to marry?”
Abbie nodded. “Yes. Sometimes, I fear that I left my man back in Missouri. What if I missed out, and now, I end up an old maid?”
“With you’re beautiful blond hair? You’re sure to find a man. As for me, I just don’t know if anyone will want to marry me. Aunt Ethel says I’m too skinny and my hair too fine and wispy, not to mention the odd color.”
“Cassie, you’re a beautiful woman waiting to mature. You’ll have no trouble finding the right man. I’ve been looking about, and several young men on our wagon train do not have wives. There is talk of a dance.”
Cassie bent to pick up a few more muffins. “Well, I’m sure Aunt Ethel will say that I have too many chores, and she won’t let me go, but it would be fun. I love dancing. What would your perfect man look like?”
Abbie stopped and stretched her back. “My man will be tall and have dark hair. And a mustache. I’ve always liked them. I dream about what it must be like to kiss a man with a mustache.”
Cassie laughed. “You’re so funny.”
“I suppose it would be like kissing a fuzzy caterpillar. Anyway, I want him to be strong, so he can pick me up and twirl me around. He will have blue eyes that adore me. A deep voice, to tell me how much he loves me. So far, I haven’t found him.” Abbie looked up. “We better catch up to the wagons.”
The wagons had moved far up the trail. Cassie nodded. “Yes, we better.”
Abbie ran beside her. “All right, I told you about my dream man. What is your idea of the perfect man, Cassie?”
“Oh, I don’t have any ideas. I’m not sure I’ll ever belong to anyone. I guess I’ve been alone for so long that I don’t know what it would be like to belong to another person.” Cassie dodged a prickly plant and then stopped to wait for Abbie.
Untangling herself from a briar, Abbie stared at her. “You have your uncle’s family.”
“Yes, but they, well, I hardly feel like I am one of them. Aunt Ethel treats me like I’m the hired help, and Annette and Babette despise me even though we’re almost the same age. At least, Annette and I are. Babette is a couple of years younger.”
“What is wrong with your cousins?”
Laughing, Cassie threw another chip into her bucket. “They’re spoiled as milk that’s been left out in the sun for a week. Aunt Ethel lets them get away with everything. Uncle Sean is nice to me, but sometimes, I think he feels like an outsider in his own family.”
“My ma said that very thing. I don’t think she likes your aunt, and my mama likes everyone.” Abbie ran a few yards.
Cassie caught up to her. “Well, I would like to find a wonderful man. Like a prince. He’d be respectable and mannerly and ride a fine horse. He’d also be strong and would sweep me off my feet.”
Abbie laughed. “We’ve only been on the trail for a few weeks, and already I feel like I’ve walked a thousand miles.”
“Yes, me too. We could pray for one another to find the right man so that we don’t wind up old maids. Although some days after walking behind the wagons, I feel like an old maid, and I’m not even twenty-two yet.”
Abbie grinned. “I do, too. I’m hoping we can meet more people on the train, but by the time we stop for the night, I am so tired I can’t go another step.”
Cassie patted her bucket. “Mine is full. Do you need more?”
Abbie frowned. “Of course, I do. You’re such a hard worker.”
After putting some chips in her friend’s bucket, Cassie went about picking up a few more meadow muffins. “Sometimes, I become afraid because I don’t see a future for myself. I feel like this will be my life forever. Just doing chores for Aunt Ethel.”
“Cassie! That is so sad. Don’t you ever think of Oregon?”
“Only when I am trying to get Mozart to move.” Cassie laughed. “I guess I should try and think about what my ideal husband will be like. I think deep down, I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed. What if he’s a mousy man that is afraid of his own shadow?”
Abbie put a hand on her hip. “Oh, Cassie. What if he doesn’t speak English?”
Cassie laughed. “Then we wouldn’t have disagreements.”
“What if he is shorter than you?”
“Then I would kiss the top of his head.” Cassie grinned. Abbie was a good one to find fun in just about anything.
“Look, the wagons stopped.” Abbie pointed.
Cassie nodded. “I wonder why. We better catch up.” She ran, holding her bucket so that she didn’t lose her chips while Abbie followed behind, muttering about her sore feet.
TO Celebrate the release of Cassie's Surprise - my first Locket and Lace book Oregon Dreams is free March 20-21, 2020. Enjoy https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078RTDMB8
Patricia PacJac Carroll