This week’s Romance Cafe features an inside look into Author Linda Ford’s ‘The Cowboy Father’

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This week’s Romance Cafe features an inside look into Author Linda Ford’s The Cowboy Father.

Synopsis

With Alberta in the grip of the Depression, Louisa Morgan is desperate to bolster her family’s finances. But how can she tutor bedridden Ellie Hamilton? The little tomboy is more interested in making mischief than studying sums. And the girl’s bond with her handsome papa is another reminder to Louisa of the children she’ll never have.

For Emmet Hamilton, strength means shouldering burdens alone. He never thought he’d let himself share his child, or his heart, ever again. But before long, Louisa’s kindness and optimism start to change the cowboy’s mind. Maybe he can gain the courage to trust again?in Louisa, in God’s grace, and in this new family?

About the Author

Linda Ford grew up devouring books and making up stories in her head—often late at night when she couldn’t sleep. But she hadn’t planned to write. Instead, she dreamed of running an orphanage. In a way, that dream came true. She married, had four homemade children, adopted ten and lived (at times, endured) the dream. During one of those times when the dream seemed more like a nightmare, when several of the kids were teens and acting out in weird and awful ways, she discovered the wonderfully controllable world of writing.

Writing first took her to non-fiction human-interest articles for newspapers and eventually a non-fiction book about tuberculosis set in the 1930s and 1940s (Touched By The White Plague). But romance had always been her first love and she turned to writing love stories. She is multi-published in the CBA market.

She still finds a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction in creating imaginary worlds, only now she does it on paper—or rather, at the computer.

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Chapter One

Golden Prairie, Alberta
April 1933

Louisa Morgan paused before the battered door of the Hamilton house. She’d prayed for an opportunity to earn money to help pay the medical bills—bills accumulated on her behalf. Influenza had struck many over the winter, but Louisa had been particularly ill with infection raging throughout her body. The doctor, meaning to be encouraging, said it was amazing she was alive and she should be glad. She was. Truly. But the illness had cost her something very precious…the ability to have children.

She vowed daily she would not let her disappointment turn into bitterness. She would enjoy what God still had in store for her. There was much to be grateful for…the ability to walk about and breathe in the spring air, the chance to continue her studies. She might have been content to keep on with her self-studies at home and not consider looking for a job, except she’d seen Mother slip cardboard into her shoes to cover the worn soles. She’d been about to confront Mother and insist she buy a new pair, but she noticed the pile of bills on the desk and knew Mother wouldn’t buy anything until they were paid.

From that day, Louisa had prayed for a way to earn some money. Unfortunately a depression held the country in its grip. Able-bodied men were out of work. Many of them rode the rails or worked in government-run relief camps. Why would anyone hire a woman with no experience and a history of ill health when there were strong, family men eager to do any available job?

Then the teacher at the local school had asked her to tutor a bedridden little girl.

This job was truly an unexpected blessing and opportunity.

Still she did not knock.

A blessing it might be—and she had no doubt it was—but she had not expected to be thrust into a position that mocked her dreams. Dreams of a child of her own, a family and home of her own. Things she could never have now.

If she stood here long enough, she’d change her mind about the opportunity and answered prayer, decide it was only cruel mockery and walk away. Lord, I believe You are in control and have opened a door for me in answer to prayer. Pushing determination into her limbs, she knocked. Her heart battered against her ribs in determined anticipation.

The door opened. Louisa stilled her face to reveal none of the surprise she felt at the sight of the man in the doorway. He was stocky yet gave the impression of strength and authority. He had a thick mop of dark blond hair. His eyes looked as if they smiled, even though his expression revealed only wariness.

She’d expected an older man. A widower, she’d been told, and for some reason she’d imagined someone like old Mr. Knowles, who had married late and lost his wife to some unnamed illness a couple of years back. Mr. Knowles was bent, his hair almost gone except for a comb-over that caught in the wind, should he remove his hat. Mr. Knowles’s face resembled a pale orange.

The man before her looked like someone used to being outdoors. The clothes he wore bore no resemblance to the broadcloth suit jacket and shiny trousers Mr. Knowles wore. No town clothes on this man, but a yoke-fronted shirt and soft denim jeans. Louisa knew he’d left his ranching life to bring his little girl home to recover from her broken leg.

The little girl was why Louisa was here. “Miss Ross, the teacher, said you need a tutor for your daughter.” Adele Ross had said Mr. Hamilton insisted he approve the tutor she recommended. “I’m here to see if I’m—” Suitable. The word stuck in her throat. She wasn’t suitable. She knew that. She had no formal education, unless one counted the few months Judd Kirk had tutored her last summer, before he married Louisa’s sister, Madge, and moved to a nearby farm.

No formal education. No experience. A history of poor health. And barren. The word thundered through her head.

However, she was not here as a marriage candidate. She simply needed the job. She had no intention of letting her emotions become involved in any way. That would only lead to deeper sorrow.

“My name is Louisa Morgan, and I think I can provide your child with adequate tutoring.”

“Miss Morgan.” His voice was deep and gravelly. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Emmet Hamilton, as I’m sure you know. Please come in and we’ll discuss the position.” He stepped aside and indicated she should enter the house.

She tucked courage under her heart, strength into her legs and crossed the threshold. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Something brushed her ankle and she pressed her fingers to her mouth, stifling a squeal of alarm. It was only a cat, and she sighed.

“Auntie May is very fond of her cats. If you have an aversion or dislike of them, best you say so right away.”

“I’m quite fond of them.” She bent and stroked the big gray cat that meowed at her feet. Suddenly cats sprang from every corner until six crowded around, demanding attention. Louisa chortled at their antics. “Well, look at you guys. Aren’t you pretty little things?”

“They’re a nuisance.”

She straightened and met his eyes, wondering if he objected to his aunt’s pets, but she could read nothing in his expression. Seems the man had learned to hide his opinions rather well. Or perhaps he found it inappropriate she should spare the animals attention. Despite the continued demands of the cats, she determinedly ignored them, hoping it would prove her seriousness.

“Have a chair.” He pointed toward a wingback chair in maroon upholstery.

She sat and glanced about. The room was crowded with furniture—three armchairs, a sagging brown sofa, at least eight little tables, their tops cluttered with knickknacks. And not only the sort of pretty decorations one would expect. Among ornaments of birds of various colors and in various poses there were also china and wooden cats, bits and pieces of hardware, a doorknob, a lantern, books, dog-eared catalogues and magazines… Would she do the same as she grew older? Fill the lonely places that called for children with pets and possessions?

“Goodness me, boy.” May Hamilton burst into a doorway on one side of the room. “Bring the miss into the kitchen where it’s warmer.”

So the cold in Louisa’s bones wasn’t just nerves.

She half rose then subsided, waiting to see what Mr. Hamilton intended to do.

He nodded. “Come along then.” His eyes said far more though. They said he found his aunt both amusing and endearing.

Louisa relaxed marginally and followed Auntie May into a warm room as crowded with furniture and odds and ends as the front room. The whole place had the appearance of many projects on the go or abandoned at some point.

Auntie May studied Louisa. “Hello, my dear.”

“Hello, Miss Hamilton.”

She snorted. “Since when does anyone call me Miss Hamilton unless they are about to present a bill? I’m Auntie May. Always have been. Always will be. Now park yourself and talk to my nephew while I pour us tea.”

Louisa “parked” on one of the mismatched chairs crowding around the table, as if Auntie May normally fed a large family instead of being on her own most of the time. Louisa had heard how she’d taken in her brother’s son after his parents’ untimely death and finished raising him. But he had left before Louisa and her family moved into the community. He’d returned a week ago with his injured daughter. Some suggested he came back so Auntie May could care for the child, but Louisa said where else would one go but back home if they needed help?

Auntie May nudged her way through a swarm of cats to set cups of tea in front of Louisa and Emmet. “I know Emmet will have hundreds of questions to ask you before he accepts you as tutor to little Ellie, but Emmet, let me say this. I’ve watched Louisa these past few years. I’ve seen her overcome challenges and emerge stronger and sweeter and kinder for them. I’m here to say you couldn’t do much better than her.”

Louisa’s face burned with embarrassment at the praise. But at least Auntie May hadn’t gone into detail about the challenges Louisa faced. Thankfully, only her family and Doc knew of her greatest challenge. One she must face with dignity and faith every day of her life.

“Thanks, Auntie May. I’ll certainly take your opinion into consideration.”

“Of course you will. Now come on, all of you.” She spoke to the cats running after her as she stepped into the porch. “I’ve got some food ready.” The meowing made conversation impossible until the door closed behind them.

Emmet laughed. “My aunt and her cats.”

Louisa, twenty years from now—the local cat lady. “She’d be lonely without her pets.” Auntie May was slightly eccentric but a good soul. There wasn’t a person she wouldn’t help, and the entire community knew it. The thought cheered Louisa marginally.

“Shall we get down to business?”

Louisa nodded, her tension returning tenfold.

“There are things I need to know about you.”

“I understand.” She’d tried to guess what questions he’d ask and how she’d answer them.

“First, what sort of training and education do you have that qualifies you to teach my daughter?”

She’d rightly guessed that would be uppermost in his mind. “I’m sure Miss Ross explained my education.”

“I’d like to hear it from your lips.”

“I do not have university education. Nor have I attended Normal school.” If finances and health allowed it, she would love to go to Normal school and train to be a teacher.

“I see. And yet Miss Ross feels you are well educated. Tell me, formal training aside, what qualifies you for this job?” His voice was low, his look insistent.

Apart from the fact that it’s the only one I’ve been offered and I need the money? “I did well in school and have continued my education since. Mostly I am self-taught, but last year my mother hired a tutor with a teaching degree and he helped me. I have a strong background in English, Greek, the arts and history.”

“I see.”

She wondered if he did. She must prove she could do this job. “I am also uniquely experienced for a situation such as your daughter’s. I spent three winters unable to attend school. I kept up my studies while at home. I learned how to work on my own and how to amuse myself while confined to bed.”

He studied her, then sighed. “Unfortunately, Ellie is used to being outdoors, riding her pony, climbing trees, running across the fields. School has always been a necessary evil in her opinion. I don’t think she is going to find contentment in quiet activities.”

“Does she have a choice?”

“Not at the moment. What else can you tell me about yourself? How old are you?”

“I’m twenty. Almost twenty-one.”

“I would have taken you for much younger.”

She squared her shoulders and tried to look wise. Realizing how silly her reaction, she had to steel herself not to chuckle.

“I assume you are only passing time until you marry.”

“You, sir, assume incorrectly.” He could not possibly know how his words hurt. For that she was thankful. “Marriage is not part of my plans.” No man would want her, nor would she marry if one did momentarily profess love. It wouldn’t be fair to deprive a man of children. Besides, wouldn’t he grow to resent her? Better to remain single than take such a risk.

He gave her narrow-eyed concentration.

She refused to blink before his study, instead choosing to try to decide what color his eyes were. Green? Blue? Just when she’d decided on one, they shifted to the other. Ah. She’d learned something that might be useful in the future, should she get the job. His eyes changed color with his emotions. He had gone from green-eyed doubt to blue-eyed relief. For some inexplicable reason, it pleased her to have learned this tiny bit of information.

“Are you saying you have no beau?”

“I am indeed.” She fully intended to protect herself from further pain by avoiding anything but friendship with any man.

“Daddy. Where are you?” A young, demanding voice called from a room past the kitchen.

The smile on the man’s face made Louisa blink. The man looked as if the sun had come out and the sky turned blue at the sound of a little girl’s voice. He was obviously very fond of his daughter. “I’ll be right there.”

Her eyes stung. Her father had loved his daughters in such a fashion. It had been almost four years since his passing, but she missed him as though it was yesterday.

“Would you like to meet Ellie?”

“Yes, please.” Did this mean she had the job? Or would if she could relate to his daughter? Please, God. Give me wisdom.

“Come along.”

She followed him into the adjoining room. A china cupboard and sideboard, groaning under a collection of mismatched dishes, took up most of one wall, but in the middle of the room stood a bed, raised to elbow level on blocks. A blonde child lay on the bed, her chocolate-brown eyes watching Louisa with unblinking interest.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Louisa Morgan.” She glanced toward Emmet, but he stood back, observing her. Apparently he meant to see how she would handle the situation on her own. “And you are Ellie Hamilton.”

“So?”

“Ellie?” Her father’s voice carried gentle warning. “Be polite.”

The little girl gave Louisa an unrepentant stare, then smiled at her father. “Okay, Daddy.”

“Good girl.” He stepped forward. “Her cast goes from here—” he pushed the blanket to show a cast up to her chest “—and down to here.” This time he lifted the bottom of the covers. Only her toes peeked out. “So you can see she can’t move around much.”

“I’m sorry, Ellie. It can’t be much fun.” Louisa reviewed what she knew of the child. Seven years old. Motherless. Had fallen out of a tree and broken her leg.

“It’s not any fun. I hate it.” Crossing her arms over her chest, she put on a full-blown pout.

“It’s necessary so your leg will heal.” Emmet’s voice was tight. It must hurt to see his child like this. “Even as it’s necessary for you to continue with your schoolwork. Which is why Miss Morgan is here.”

“No. I don’t want to. Don’t make me.” The child screamed and cried at the same time. “Please, Daddy, don’t make me.”

Emmet stepped to Ellie’s side, cradled her face between his palms. “Hush, sweetie. Don’t upset yourself like this.” He crooned wordless comfort.

Ellie wrapped her arms about Emmet’s neck and pulled his face down to rest on her cheek.

Louisa turned away, her throat clogged with emotion at seeing his gentle pain over his daughter. Feeling his helplessness. Understanding how Ellie felt. How often had Louisa had to watch life move on while she observed from the sidelines? Lord, all I want is a job, but perhaps You have something more for me here. She would follow God’s leading, but she would keep her heart under lock and key.

Emmet extricated himself from Ellie’s grasp. “You’ll be okay. I need to talk to Miss Morgan for a minute, then I’ll be back.”

“Then will you play with me?” A quiver in her voice tore at Louisa’s resolve. The poor child. If she got the job of teaching her, she would do everything she could to make the days pass quickly with fun activities.

“Miss Morgan?” Emmet indicated she should follow him. He led her through to the front room. “I don’t want Ellie to hear us.”

She sat while he went from one side of the room to the other, his strides long and hurried.

“I’m sorry. I can’t imagine how you feel.”

“No, you can’t.” He ground to a halt and jerked his thumb toward the room where his daughter lay. “It’s my fault—”

“How can you blame yourself for an accident?” She ached to explain that sometimes things just happened despite our best efforts. For no good reason. A person simply had to accept it and move on. The only other choice was to be angry and bitter. Not a pleasant alternative, to her way of thinking.

“I should— Never mind. It has nothing to do with the job.” He sat down and faced her. “I need to get Ellie into a routine of sorts as quickly as possible.” He sighed deeply, as if he regretted the decision he must make. “Miss Ross spoke highly of you. Let’s see how you do with Ellie. If you’re still interested in the job…”

At first all she cared about was getting paying work, but seeing the child, witnessing their affection, sensing the frustration in both of them…well, now she wanted the job. “When do you wish me to start?”

He laughed, his face suddenly years younger. “Is tomorrow too soon?”

“I’ll have to get lesson plans and advice from Miss Ross but tomorrow is fine.”

“I hope you can make her happy.”

“I’ll do my best.” Though she knew a person, whatever age, was only as happy as they chose to be. But she could imagine getting Ellie to laugh, seeing Emmet smile at his daughter’s cheerfulness.

It wasn’t until she stood on the street, smiling with anticipation, that she realized she was imagining all the things she could never have—teaching a child in the safety of home, sharing the pleasure with a man.

She’d strayed wildly from her intention of guarding her emotions. This was only a job, she scolded herself. A child who needed to learn. Nothing more.

Now all she had to do was face Mother and inform her of her decision. She already knew how she’d react. Warnings she would make herself sick. Advice that she must take care of herself. But Louisa was tired of being coddled, of being careful. It certainly hadn’t prevented her from getting sick in the past. From now on, she intended to enjoy every bit of what she could squeeze from life. Certainly she knew her limitations. But no amount of hard work would make her barrenness more…or less…than it already was.

An ache the size of Alberta lay tightly tied and buried in a secret corner of her heart—where she would make sure it stayed.

Did this little taste of romance leave you hungry for more?  Buy ‘The Cowboy Father’

online or in-store at Kmart!

Are you excited to read Linda’s book?  Share your thoughts with us.  If you’ve already read it, leave your book review in the comments below!

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