The Chef's Mail Order Bride

By: Cindy Caldwell

A Sweet Western Historical Romance

(Wild West Frontier Brides Book 1)


Chapter 1





Sadie wiped the flour from her hands onto her apron as she took one last, satisfied glance at the pastry case, filled to the brim with bread, pies and other baked confections, ready for the day’s customers. She nodded her head to Clara, her friend and assistant, and received a warm smile in return.

“Ready for another day?” Clara said, putting the final touches on a cake that had been ordered for a wedding.

Closing her eyes to savor the aroma of cinnamon, sugar and spices hovering in the air, Sadie sighed with satisfaction at a job well done. The bittersweet moment was almost more than she could bear.

It was almost time to open the bakery for the last time, and she could see customers lining up already outside the plate glass window on one of Chicago’s busiest main streets, right by the financial district.

Her parents had opened the bakery when she was young girl. She’d learned at their knees how to make a perfect pie crust, knead dough for just the right texture of bread. They’d taught her how to produce biscuits by the dozen that melted in the mouths of their customers, a sure-fire guarantee that they’d come back for more. And they did—in droves.

“We’d better open soon or the mob might get ugly,” Clara said as she eyed the door, placing the wedding cake in the icebox for the bride to pick up later. “The last day for all of them to have your wonderful pastries and they’re lined up around the block.”

Sadie noticed that Clara brushed at her cheek before she’d picked up the cake. There had been plenty of tears this past month, and Sadie took in a deep breath to steady herself for the end of what she’d always known.

“Not just yet, Clara.” Sadie peered over her shoulder as she re-arranged the pastries in the case one last time. She jumped at a rap on the door and she let out a little yelp as she quickly stood, bumping her head on the top of the pie case.

“Maybe you’re right,” she said as she rubbed her head over the cap she wore covering her blonde curls. She’d learned long ago to tie her hair back so that no strays were found in her pastries—and felt a pang of embarrassment at the memory that had made the cap part of her daily attire.

She peeked at the door, still not quite ready to open for business, and looked at the clock that confirmed that it was still ten minutes until opening time. She looked back at the door and recognized Finn, the son of the butcher who ran the shop next door. He shifted from foot to foot, his eyes wide and face flushed.

Sadie hurried to the door, again wiping her hands on her blue apron. She quickly opened the door, grabbing Finn’s wrist and pulling him inside and closing the door behind him to irritated groans. She looked at him curiously as he caught his breath.

Finn quickly took off his cap and thrust his hand out toward Sadie. “I ran all the way, Miss Sadie. Da asked me to pick up a shipment at the post office, and Miss Callaway said it was real important that you get this right soon. I ran the whole way,” he said, his gulps for air starting to even out.

Sadie looked down at the letter he held out toward her, wondering who it was from and what could possibly be so urgent. She rarely received letters. Everyone she knew—well, almost everyone—was here in Chicago and could just visit.

Her stomach dropped as she took the letter and turned it over in her hands, glancing past the word “Urgent” written on it to see the return address.

The last urgent letter she’d received had not been good news. A month after her parents had died, Finn had done the same thing—run all the way from the post office with a similar envelope, marked urgent. Bank of Chicago, she’d read at the time and her memory reached back to the banker she’d met with over a month ago.

Her parents had died in an accident and hadn’t prepared a will, leaving her and her twin sister, Suzanne, with the business. Suzanne had left long ago for southern Arizona Territory, near Tombstone, with her new husband, James, and Sadie had been running the bakery on her own for quite a while.

But when her parents died, she’d also found out that they hadn’t been as good at managing finances as they had been at baking, and the mortgage was way past due.

Her heart clenched as she remembered that conversation. Mr. Jamison, his black mustache curled and shiny with something that smelled of beeswax, had made her nervous from the moment she’d shaken his limp, sweaty hand.

Her father had always told her that you could tell a lot about a person by their handshake, and she didn’t like this man already.

“Hello, Miss Walker,” he’d said, the ends of his mustache rising with his smile—if you could call it a smile. It seemed to her more like a sneer.

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