Pete has been a character in my series from the first book. He owns the livery and he's also the town blacksmith. When his likeness and demeanor grew in my mind, it was the famous legend, John Henry, that I saw. I've always loved JOHN HENRY, and writing a romance for a hard-working, giant of a man was something I couldn't wait to do.
I hope I did him justice. We'll see what everyone thinks soon enough. So....without further ado, I give you MAGGIE'S SONG.
Pike’s Run, Texas, 1883
In the dead of night, Maggie Nelson flees New Orleans with her five-year old daughter, Iris. Maggie can’t live with her abusive husband any longer and seeks safety in the home and arms of her aunt, Aletta Williamson in Bordersville, near Pike’s Run, Texas. When she arrives, surprising her dear aunt, Maggie tells her Haywood died. She is too ashamed to tell the truth about her marriage.
Pete Jerkin, the town blacksmith and livery operator, is a leader in Bordersville. He is taken by Maggie and Iris, especially since the child doesn’t fear him. With his large stature, he usually puts off females and children. As Iris tugs on his heartstrings, his gaze strays to the lovely Maggie. But he’s promised himself he wouldn’t ever court a woman. Not again.
However, love is sneaky, and Pete can’t help himself. Neither can Maggie. As the weeks pass, she grows more scared each day that Pete will learn the truth about her husband, that Haywood will come knocking. And ruin everything.
His boots crunched on gravel as he arrived at the third house with its cheery yellow curtains, but a lilting voice caught his attention just before he stepped onto the stoop. He paused and listened, the angelic sweetness gripping him.
The words to “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” drifted on the slight breeze, pulling at him. Curious, he went around to the back of the house. When he found the widow bent over the washboard, he drew up short. The sight of her, her otherworldly voice, and the ease with which she moved, made his gut clench in longing. He couldn’t move.
She sang as she scrubbed, a vision of loveliness, a picture a painter could never capture. He swallowed, his dry throat a testament to how much she affected him. He stood stock still for several moments.
He couldn’t stay here. He was spying. If she saw him, he’d frighten her to death. But he couldn’t make his feet cooperate with the commands of his mind.
He should have known she would help Aletta with her washing. Why hadn’t he guessed he’d be dropping off his clothes to the pretty widow? Perhaps he should turn around and handle the chore himself. But Aletta needed the money, and he didn’t own a washboard.
As the last line died on her lips, he snapped into motion. He took a step forward, and thankfully it was loud enough that she looked up. A flash of discomfort flickered in her gaze, and he held back a grimace. Too late, he realized he could have gone back around to the front and perhaps left his bundle with Aletta, and the widow wouldn’t have been the wiser. Damn it.
“Morning, Miss Nelson.” He hoped the smile he offered settled her nerves. “I have a sack of clothes.”
“Oh, of course.” She nodded at the back stoop as she pressed her forearms into her stomach. “You can put them on the porch.”
Why hadn’t he gone around to the front? He gritted his teeth and set the canvas bag down where she’d indicated. He turned to face her and couldn’t stop himself from noting how her dress hugged her curves, how the fabric only accentuated her round hips and full breasts. A yellow handkerchief covered her hair, making her dark skin glow. Curls peeked out from beneath the material, and his fingers itched to tug on them.
He cleared his throat. “Have you settled in all right?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Why was he talking to her? She looked about as comfortable as a mouse around a snake. “And your daughter?”
Miss Nelson gave him a slight smile. “She’s very happy. She went to school yesterday. She made friends with the boys next door.”
“The Haps are good people,” Pete commented. “And she got along with Mr. Oberton?”
Miss Nelson nodded. “She did. She was excited to show she knew all her letters.”
“Good.” He cleared his throat again. “Well, your daughter might have the day off today, but I don’t. I gotta get to town.”
“Of course. Thank you for the washing.” Her smile was too bright to be called easy.
“And thank you for doing it. Can’t say as it’s a chore I like.” He tipped his hat to her then walked away. Every step he took, he berated himself and cursed his size. He knew better than to spend time with a pretty woman. It only made him long for things he would never have and reminded him of deep pain.
And the widow was very obviously afraid of him. He didn’t like frightening people, especially females. He had to keep his distance from the attractive newcomer. He sensed if he got too familiar, he would ignore her discomfort and the grief from his past and make a fool of himself. He couldn’t afford a repeat of the heartache from his first and only courtship.
He took long and hard strides back to his cabin to fetch his horse. A mistake like the one just now would not be made again. He would not be alone with the woman a second time.