This week's spotlighted title is A Bandit Creek Miracle by Brenda Sinclair
A BANDIT CREEK MIRACLE
by Brenda Sinclair
City girl Amanda Bailey arrives in Bandit Creek to replace the bank manager who is on maternity leave. After surviving her first day at work, Amanda spends a toe-curling night in the arms of a Hollywood-handsome local cowboy.
Several doctors had predicted Amanda would never conceive a baby, a devastating side effect of her successful cancer chemo treatments. But she is both shocked and elated to discover a few weeks later that she is pregnant!
Joyful thoughts of motherhood swirl in her head, but the baby's grandfather threatens Amanda with his unwelcome demands. Protecting her professional reputation by keeping her condition a secret in this small town is the least of her worries when she discovers something is seriously wrong at the bank.
The local gossipmongers hit an all-time low when rumors abound that Amanda herself is the thief and is covering her tracks by accusing one of the locals.
Amanda must fight to save her career and her reputation, but will this temporary work assignment prove to be her ruin?
BRENDA SINCLAIR BIO
Brenda Sinclair is a writer of historical American West and contemporary romance, a member of her local chapter of Romance Writers of America, a healthy lifestyle advocate and past leader of her TOPS weight-loss group, a gardening enthusiast and dog lover. She is young at heart, regardless of what her driver's license says.
Brenda was raised on a farm in southern Manitoba and taught school on a semi-remote reservation in northern Manitoba where, during frequent visits to a nearby town, she met her husband, a Treaty Cree member of the local First Nations band. Brenda and her husband have been married for forty years, and during that time they managed to raise two sons who are totally normal, productive members of society. She is extremely proud of her three wonderful, fun-loving grandchildren.
Brenda worked in the accounting field for over twenty-five years. A few years ago, she retired and traded in numbers for words when she decided to be a writer when she grew up. The latter part of the previous sentence is still up for debate.
She is currently putting the final touches on a contemporary novella project, the 'Escape to Alaska Trilogy' and completing book three of a historical American West trilogy. During writing breaks, Brenda enjoys walking the beautiful Fish Creek Park trails near her home in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with her little dog, Kelly, checking out what Jack Abbott is up to on today's installment of The Young and The Restless, or snuggling with Kelly on the sofa and enjoying a good book.
Brenda believes life is good, and for days that life isn't so good, just get over it. There's always tomorrow.
You can find Brenda at:
"Where is that damn hotel?"
Amanda Bailey steered her three-year-old red BMW coupe along the streets of Bandit Creek, Montana. The town's population hovered at around three thousand, and she'd convinced herself she could locate her destination without directions. She hadn't planned to arrive after dark.
Glancing at her watch, she discovered the time was already twenty minutes after ten.
Thankfully, the highways were clear. But having driven almost non-stop from Helena, she couldn't wait for this day to end. Her eyes strained to focus on the road ahead, and she still hadn't spotted the New Golden Nugget Hotel.
She continued driving up one street and down another, convinced the hotel would appear around the next corner. As she spotted a diner, her stomach growled a reminder that she hadn't eaten since noon. Several pickup trucks and two cars were parked in front.
Amanda pulled into a parking spot across the street from Ma's Kitchen.
"Well, Ma, I hope you serve up directions as well as meals." Amanda grabbed her purse off the passenger seat and clambered out of the car. She stretched her back, hunched and released her shoulders, and then inhaled the clean country air. There wasn't any familiar city noise. No ambulance sirens screaming, no horns honking. Except for a dog barking in the distance, the town remained eerily quiet.
Amanda dashed across the pavement, dodging a few puddles of snowy mush that threatened to ruin her new leather fashion boots. A tiny bell tinkled overhead as she entered the diner, and the aroma of strong coffee teased her nose. All conversation ceased, and a dozen heads swiveled toward the door to acknowledge the new arrival. Surprised expressions replaced the locals' welcoming smiles when they spotted her. Obviously, at this time of night, they'd expected to see a familiar face.
"Come in, dear." A plump woman with tight curly silver hair done up in a bun strode toward her carrying a menu. Her cheery floral apron covered a short-sleeved white blouse and neat navy slacks, a tea towel rode her right shoulder, and keen eyes peered at her from behind out-of-date eyeglasses.
"Hello. I'd kill for a cup of coffee." Amanda glanced around the diner. A horseshoe shaped counter with red-vinyl upholstered stools caught her eye. A row of booths sat against the far wall, and various square wooden tables and low-backed chairs utilized the remaining floor space. Flimsy red gingham curtains framed the front windows and a variety of historical photographs hung on the white painted walls. The term 'quaint' flashed through her mind. A perfect setting for a 1950's diner scene in a movie, she thought. Do the big-name California film producers know about this place?
"Often hear 'kill for a cup of coffee' first thing in the morning, not at this time of night."
The woman chuckled and motioned Amanda forward. "We don't bother with a PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED sign like you see in the city. Just pick a seat and plant it, honey."
As Amanda cautiously stepped across the slush-spattered linoleum floor, she removed her black wool ¾-length coat revealing a white cashmere sweater tucked into black dress pants.
She chose a table beside a window and slung her coat over the chair back. She lowered herself onto the seat, placed her purse on the table, and loosened the aqua cashmere scarf wrapped around her neck.
Her server set the menu in front of her and then stood hands on hips.
"Thanks, Ma." Amanda picked up the menu.
"Actually, honey, the name's Lucy. And that's George over there inside the horseshoe jawing with them cowboys." Lucy pointed in the gentlemen's direction with her thumb as if hitchhiking on the I-90. Hearing his name, George looked up and waved.
"Sorry, the sign outside..."
"Most newcomers to town make the same mistake. Usually, I don't even bother to correct the tourists." Lucy cackled and stuck out her beefy hand. "You must be the gal replacing the manager at the Ellis bank during her maternity leave. Catherine dropped by for lunch and mentioned you'd be arriving today."
"Amanda Bailey." She shook Lucy's slightly calloused hand. "Sorry, my hands feel like ice."
"As soon as the sun goes down seems the temperature takes a nose dive. I'll fetch you a mug of coffee to warm your insides and lift your spirits."
"Just black, please. Do you have decaf?" Amanda required something stronger than coffee to drag her out of this dark mood, but it didn't look like they served wine here.
She detested winter weather and she hated small towns. Her parents insisted she and her siblings spend summers with her grandparents at her mother's small Minnesota hometown.
There was no movie theater or even a library, and she soon discovered that her grandmother's sole source of entertainment was gossiping with her lady friends.
"Nope. None of them fancy lattes and such neither, just plain old coffee." Lucy turned and scurried away.
"Why am I not surprised?" muttered Amanda. Bandit Creek was the last place on earth she wanted to be. A city girl through-and-through, she'd attempted every means possible to avoid this small town purgatory. But her boss and best friend, Susan Sanders, warned her that if she expected a future promotion to manager of a city bank she should accept this temporary assignment.
She'd barely glanced at the menu before the server returned to the table and plunked down a white ceramic mug of steaming brew.
"Decided what you want?"
Amanda thought the woman appeared a-little-rough-around-the-edges. But a rough edge here and there never hurt anyone.
"I'll have a bowl of the homemade chicken noodle soup, a cheeseburger, loaded, and sweet potato fries, please." Amanda passed the menu back to Lucy. "Does salad come with the burger?"
"Yep, coleslaw comes with your meal."
"I'm sorry, but I don't consider coleslaw to be salad," stated Amanda, smiling. She caught a glimpse of one of the guys seated at the horseshoe counter. The Hollywood-handsome cowboy faced backwards on the stool, slouching, resting his elbows on the counter behind him. He smiled broadly and his big brown eyes met hers for several seconds causing her heartbeat to race. Thankfully, the waitress had seated her before she'd fallen weak-kneed under the spell of this good-looking cowboy. After the horrendous year she'd just endured, Amanda enjoyed the attention he bestowed on her.
"Close enough. We put two kinds of cabbage in it - green and red." Lucy tapped her pen on the order pad. "So that's soup, cheeseburger, sweet tater fries and coleslaw. You're my kind of gal. Healthy appetite."
Amanda grimaced at the comment. She still struggled to maintain her weight, having lost so many pounds during the year-long chemo and radiation treatments and recovery. All of her girlfriends back in Helena envied her ability to eat everything in sight, one consolation for surviving the cancer. She leaned her elbows on the table, tented her fingers. "I might be tempted to order a piece of lemon pie."
"There's one piece of lemon meringue left. Those cowboys dropped by after the cattlemen's meeting for coffee and pie. And the other folks arrived when the movie theater let out." Lucy whispered in a conspirator-like manner, "I'll hide that last piece under the counter until you finish the first course."
"I wondered why there were so many people in here at this hour. Thank you for saving the pie." Amanda smiled. Dessert always cheered her up. "Where's the Ladies' Room?"
Lucy pointed toward the overhead sign in back and then headed toward the kitchen.
Amanda blew on the steaming coffee, took a sip, and then glanced toward the horseshoe counter. The cowboy met her eyes again, and his bushy moustache twitched slightly as his full lips hinted at a grin. She'd spent most of the past year bald, her head covered with a scarf, nauseous and weak as a kitten. Being admired by a handsome cowboy brightened Amanda's mood a notch and ignited her playful side. She copied his position: slouching in her chair, crossing her ankles and arms, staring right back at him. His grin broadened.
A minute later, Amanda regretted her playfulness, her body aching from sitting in a fixed position while driving for so many hours. Her leg muscles screamed 'what the hell are you doing'? And she fervently prayed she didn't slide off the edge of the chair and land on her butt under the table. Feeling her face redden, she struggled to stand, grabbed her purse, and headed toward the restrooms in back.
As she wended her way between the tables, she observed the other patrons. A gray-haired couple occupied a corner booth, and they smiled as she glanced in their direction. The cowboys seated around the horseshoe nodded and touched the brim of their Stetsons as she approached. One fellow appeared older than the others, but none of them stood out as anything other than typical small town guys. Mr. Hollywood-handsome being the exception.
"Evening, ma'am." The handsome cowboy's deep masculine voice rumbled in his broad chest, and he removed the Stetson and set it on his thigh. He wore jeans, a chambray shirt, open denim jacket and well-worn cowboy boots which suggested he was the genuine article.
"Good evening." Amanda stopped directly in front of the good-looking fellow.
"I wasn't eavesdropping, but I couldn't help overhear your conversation with Lucy. So, you're the gal replacing my sister-in-law, Catherine." The cowboy leaned forward, extended his hand. "Jeremy Branigan."
"Please to meet you, Mr. Branigan. I'm Amanda Bailey." Amanda shook his hand and felt an electric current race up her arm. She'd never felt such an immediate attraction to a guy before, and she imagined running her fingers through his dark brown, almost shoulder-length curls. The laugh lines around his eyes hinted at his sense of humor, and she'd always been attracted to a deep male voice that rattled her mind in equal proportion to the degree of rattling in the fellow's chest.
Jeremy introduced her to the other gentlemen seated around the horseshoe, and Amanda shook their hands. She'd never remember them all, but the name Jeremy Branigan was permanently burned into her mind like a brand on a steer's hide.
They just stared at each other for an embarrassing length of time. Amanda cleared her throat and shifted to her other foot. Her brain had dissolved into mush, and she couldn't think of one intelligent thing to say. Those beautiful brown eyes almost spoke to her when he smiled. She mentally shook herself, fearing she might melt into a puddle at his feet.
"I guess I'll be seeing you around town, ma'am." Jeremy replaced his Stetson on his head, touched the brim.
Amanda exhaled, unaware she'd been holding her breath while she watched the cowboy slide his long legs back under the counter. She stumbled down the narrow hallway toward a door labeled LADIES while mentally restarting her thought processes.
She glanced back toward the horseshoe counter and caught Jeremy watching her. Had the handsome cowboy felt a similar attraction to her? Or like most guys did he just habitually check out a woman's behind? She hoped Jeremy hadn't been disappointed. She dashed into the Ladies' room and locked the door, admitting to herself she couldn't fault Jeremy's behavior. She'd been guilty of checking out a few male rear ends on the sly, too.
On her way back to the table, a pleasantly-plump, casually dressed couple waved her over to their table.
"I bet you're the new banker. I could tell right off, you being all dressed up so professional and all." The fellow was obviously expecting her to confirm his guess.
"Amanda Bailey." Introductions were made and hands were shook. She assumed they were customers at the bank.
By the time she returned to her table, the cowboys had left the diner.
Lucy arrived with her soup, and Amanda suddenly remembered she required directions to the hotel. The friendly woman's banter and the testosterone-oozing cowboy had distracted her from her second purpose in stopping.
"Before I forget, Lucy, could you please give me directions to the New Golden Nugget Hotel?" Amanda reached for the soup spoon.
"Yep. I'll draw you a map, honey." Lucy grabbed a paper napkin out of the holder and dug out a ballpoint pen from her apron pocket. "You'll love staying at the Nugget. After the flood in 1911, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderberg rebuilt the hotel. Their great granddaughter, Elsie Rhodes, owns the place now. She's a tad eccentric, but she's a good soul."
Amanda studied the completed map. The combination of lines and squiggles resembled an aerial view of a corn maze in August. The street names were indecipherable. Doctors wrote more legibly. "Could you please explain the route, too?" Amanda memorized the directions as recited.
When she asked for her bill, Lucy informed her that Jeremy Branigan paid for her meal. Amanda started to object, but Lucy waved off her protests. "Don't worry about it, honey. That wealthy rascal carries around hundred dollar bills for pocket change."