From Sandra Dallas, the bestselling author of A Quilt for Christmas, comes the irrepressible story of one woman's quest to find love without losing herself in the American West.
Ellen is putting the finishing touches on a wedding quilt made from scraps of old dresses when the bride-to-beher granddaughter Juneunexpectedly arrives and announces she’s calling off the marriage. With the tending of June’s uncertain heart in mind, Ellen tells her the story of Nell, a Kansas-born woman who goes to the High Plains of New Mexico Territory in 1898 in search of a husband.
Working as a biscuit-shooter, Nell falls for a cowboy named Buddy. She sees a future together, but she can’t help wondering if his feelings for her are true. When Buddy breaks her heart, she runs away.
In her search for a soul mate, Nell will run away from marriage twice more before finding the love of her life. It’s a tale filled with excitement, heartbreak, disappointment, and self-discoveryas well as with hard-earned life lessons about love. Another stunning, emotional novel from a master storyteller.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
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The bright morning light that seeped through the attic window fell in streaks on the trunk which Ellen had opened. It was the third trunk she'd searched. She'd already gone through the contents in the barrel-back trunk and in the black metal one that had belonged to her grandmother. Now she looked through the leather trunk that she had brought with her when she'd gone to housekeeping on the ranch. She hadn't opened it in years. "At last," she muttered, pulling out a swath of white. She held out the fabric, slightly yellowed, then hugged it to her chest.
"What are you doing?"
Ellen whirled around. She hadn't heard him come up the stairs. "Looking for this," she replied, unfolding the garment. "Do you remember it?"
"You bet I do. You wore it when we were married. It's a dinger. You were, too." His eyes lit up.
Ellen smiled at him, surprised that such a little thing had stuck in his mind.
"What do you want that for?"
"For June's wedding quilt. The piecing's done, and I'm stitching it together. This morning I remembered it. I want it in the quilt. I'll cut a piece of it and tack it on."
"June's getting married?"
Ellen took a deep breath. She shouldn't have climbed the stairs. Her doctor had warned her, had said it wasn't good for her heart. She had taken the stairs slowly, resting on each landing, but still, she could feel the exertion. "June is getting married."
"Well, good for her. I hope he's worthy of her. She's the best of the bunch. When's the wedding?"
"You can ask her. She's downstairs in John's room, sleeping."
"June's here. Why didn't you tell me?"
Ellen clinched her fists, not at her husband but at fate. She had told him. In fact, he had gone into Durango with her the night before to meet June's plane. She had told him about the wedding, too, several times, and he had met their granddaughter's fiancé when the young man visited earlier in the year.
He turned his head to look out the window. "Maybe you did tell me. Maybe I just forgot," he said, sitting down on one of the trunks. "I forget an awful lot, don't I?"
"Your brain's just not big enough to cram everything into it. Some things have to get shoved out to make room for the new." She took his gnarled hand, the fingers twisted from where a devil horse had stepped on them, the skin mottled with scars and bumps, so many she had forgotten how he got them all. She loved his hands — gentle hands that caressed the horses, caressed her. She remembered those first years on the ranch, when he couldn't keep them off her, and even now, when he reached for her in the night, just to hold her, to know she was beside him. His hands remembered, even if he didn't.
He had forgotten so much. "It's age," the doctor had said, "age and being a rancher. How many times do you suppose he's been bucked off a horse?" Ellen had shrugged. "I don't know. Too many to count. Surely there's something you can do. I won't have it. This just isn't fair."
There was nothing to be done, however. The confusion and the memory loss would only get worse, the doctor said.
"He mixes up things. He talks about something that happened forty years ago as if it were last week. And then he can't remember what he did yesterday."
"Old age is like that, Ellen. Just keep an eye on him so he doesn't wander off." He paused, then added that wouldn't be easy with her own health. She couldn't go gallivanting all over the countryside following him around. She and her husband would be better off living in town, finding a little house or better yet an apartment, so she wouldn't be tempted to overdo things. "I don't suppose old Ben would do that, would he?" he asked.
"We're not that old," Ellen replied. "Wild horses couldn't drag Ben into an apartment. He'd dry up if he couldn't be in his mountains. And I'll die before I let anybody take him away from the ranch. You just wait and see."
"You might do just that. With that heart of yours, you'd be better off in town, too. Think about it, Ellen."
The doctor was right. Another year on the ranch might kill both of them. Still, Ellen wasn't willing to give up, not yet, anyway. Oh, she had talked to a realtor. Prices for ranch land were good, and the ranch would sell quickly, but she wouldn't sign the papers. She'd wait until spring and see how things were. She wanted one more winter in front of the fireplace Ben had built out of rocks he'd collected, the two of them warm in her quilts spread over the solid wooden chairs. They would talk about their life together. What did it matter that Ben couldn't remember all of it? She would remember for both of them. Then the memories would die with her. Nobody cared about the stories of an old woman.
"Come on. Let's go downstairs," Ellen said, gripping her husband's hand as she stood up, the white fabric under her arm.
Ben looked confused. "I know I came up here for something, but I can't remember what."
"You came up here for me."
* * *
Later that morning, after Ben was gone, Ellen sat in the sunshine on the porch, sewing. The branches of the cottonwood tree sent shadows across the quilt top. Here and there, the sunlight seeped through the leaves, illuminating the swatches of silk and brocade, causing them to shimmer. Ellen stopped with half-drawn thread and smiled at the patches in the dappled light. She set down her needle and touched a scrap of the white stuff with the tip of her finger. It was as soft as butter and dear-bought because it was French and old even back then. She rubbed her finger against a bit of lace, now discolored with age, remembering. Then she slid her nail over the plain white piece of cotton she had rescued from the trunk, stitching it into place. It was still as sturdy as the day it was woven. As she flicked away a yellow cottonwood leaf that had fallen onto the quilt top, she lingered over a slip of brocade, still white as starlight. She had saved the scraps for years. They marked the moments in her life, her mother's and grandmother's lives, and the lives of friends. So many memories, she thought. She tucked under the raw edges of the tiny piece of white she had cut from the sash. It was plain cotton and didn't quite fit in with the other scraps, but it held memories — the best memories, she thought, knotting her thread. It should be part of June's wedding present. She took out a large-eyed needle and threaded it with embroidery floss.
"Is that my quilt?" June asked.
Ellen had been too lost in remembering to hear the girl approach. She looked up and nodded. "This will be the last one, the best one," she said, remembering that Ben had said just that morning that June was the best. She had made a quilt for each of her grandchildren when they married. June was the youngest, and now, with the girl's wedding set for the end of October, little more than a month away, before her fiancé was shipped out to fight in the war in Korea, June would get the last patchwork bride's quilt.
"It's beautiful, Granny, but it's not at all like the one you made for Elizabeth."
"No, it isn't." Ellen had quilted a blue-and-white Irish Chain for June's sister. That quilt and the others Ellen had made for her grandchildren had been pieced from cotton, with a mixture of ancient scraps of calico and new-bought percale from Penney's in Durango. Ellen wasn't sure why she had made a Crazy Quilt now, using cuttings of silk and satin and lace, with only here and there a bit of white cotton. She'd never liked the old-fashioned pattern. Crazy Quilts had always seemed indulgent and useless, too delicate for a ranch house. Many of the patches were irregular and wouldn't work for any other design. Besides, you couldn't piece a Lone Star or a Sunbonnet Sue or a Double Wedding Ring with such fragile fabrics.
She'd been a little shocked at herself for cutting up the old-fashioned dresses, although two of the garments were never finished. They had been stored in the cardboard box for too long. Some patches were foxed, others dark with age. The silk was split in places. It was foolish to cut apart the dresses, but what else would she do with them? They had been put away for fifty years, maybe a hundred. It was ridiculous to think anyone would ever wear them.
Besides, she thought, June was special. She deserved something unusual. June was the grandchild most like her, the one most like Ben, too. She loved the ranch, coming out from Chicago each year to spend her summer vacation with her grandparents. Those days would be over now that June was getting married. Ellen would miss her. Ben would, too. He had taught her to ride, had even given her one of the colts out of Little Texas. The other grandchildren had visited the ranch when they were small, but they had since gone on with their lives, sending postcards and thank-you notes for Christmas and birthday gifts, but they were too busy to visit. June was different. Instead of going to college in the East, like her brother and sister, she'd chosen the University of Denver, where she was closer to her grandparents and closer to the mountains she loved as much as Ellen did. When June couldn't visit, she wrote long letters to her grandmother, telling about college classes and boyfriends.
Ellen knew before June's mother did that June had fallen in love. In fact, she had met the young man even before June had taken him home to meet her parents in Chicago. David Proctor, his name was. June knew he was special or she wouldn't have brought him to the ranch that summer. He was a nice enough man, a little stiff, but maybe that was because he'd never ridden a horse before. Ben had taught him, and he'd taken to it. June liked the way he'd helped around the place and how he'd understood that Ben was slipping. Dave had been gentle with Ben, hadn't been annoyed when Ben forgot something or asked the samequestion three or four times. He told Ellen he wished he would one day know as much about ranching as Ben had forgotten.
"I was going to wake you, but I decided you needed your sleep. I'd thought you might want to go into Durango with your grandfather," Ellen told June. "He took Little Texas to the vet."
"Grandpa Ben still drives?"
"No, but he would if I didn't hide the truck keys." They'd argued over it, Ben demanding the keys and Ellen refusing to give them up. Ellen hated telling her husband he couldn't drive anymore, but she'd had to. He'd already gone into the ditch twice. Wesley, one of the ranch hands, took him, she explained.
"He's getting worse, isn't he?"
Ellen nodded, taking a stitch in the quilt. She was using creamy white floss to embroider designs along the seamlines of the quilt. Gold embroidery floss was traditional in Crazy Quilts, but Ellen had thought it too brassy. The white was more elegant, more appropriate for a bride. She had almost finished the embroidery when she'd remembered the white fabric in the attic and had gone to get it that morning.
"Will he get better?"
Ellen shook her head. "I suppose the time will come when he doesn't recognize even me. Frankly, I was a little surprised he knew who you were when you got off the plane. This morning, he didn't remember you were here." She paused. "The doctor says we should move into town."
"Leave the ranch? Oh, Granny, how could you?"
"I won't!" She paused long enough to settle down, then added, "I'll see how your grandfather is in the spring."
"And see how you are, too, Granny?"
Ellen didn't reply. If it weren't for her heart, she could manage the ranch, but she was winded just walking down to the corral. She got palpitations when she made an error in the ranch's books, too. "Damn heart," she muttered.
"I'm sorry." June took Ellen's hand and stilled it for a moment.
Ellen looked down at their hands threaded together, just as she and Ben held hands sometimes. She had no reason to be angry. Theirs had been a wonderful life, the best she could imagine. She just had trouble accepting it. "If we move into town, well, I'll still have my memories."
"I want you to share them with me."
Ellen smiled then and brushed away a tear, embarrassed. She was a tough old bird and didn't cry often, not anymore. She patted the seat beside her on the swing and told June to sit down. "You tell me your story. Why are you here?"
"Isn't it enough that I wanted to see you?"
Ellen harrumphed. "You're getting married in a few weeks. You didn't just up and decide to visit your grandparents when you were in the middle of all those preparations. What's wrong?" She wrapped floss around her needle to make a herringbone stitch.
"I imagine your mother has everything in order, down to the last detail. She's the most efficient woman I know," Ellen said about her daughter-in-law. She liked Evelyn, June's mother, although the woman could be a taskmaster.
"I know. She's arranged everything. All I have to do is show up."
"And will you?" Ellen glanced at her granddaughter out of the sides of her eyes, but June was not looking at her.
"That would be a memorable wedding, wouldn't it, if I didn't show up."
Ellen didn't say anything. She fastened her needle to one of the scraps and pushed the quilt top aside. She wondered if June was having second thoughts. Perhaps she wasn't ready to marry and Dave was pushing her, using the war as an excuse. Ellen understood that, understood it better than June could imagine. David would be shipped off to Korea and would want to know that June was waiting for him. It wasn't enough that they were engaged. June could always break an engagement, write him a Dear Dave letter. No, he would want the assurance that June was locked up, a wedding ring on her finger. June was strong-minded. She was Ellen's granddaughter, for heaven's sakes. Still, she was young and in love, and perhaps she didn't know what she wanted.
Ellen glanced at the girl and thought, again, that although they were separated by fifty years, the two of them were a great deal alike. Not that they looked alike. Ellen was tall and thin, with blue eyes and dark brown hair that was mostly gray now. June was shorter, with coppery hair and freckles that had come from Evelyn's side of the family. June had Ellen's hands, however. Her long fingers and long oval nails were just like Ellen's, too. Of course, June's hands were still sleek and pink, while Ellen's were brown and gnarled, toughened by the ranch work, the veins prominent, and the skin spotted from the sun that burned through the thin mountain air. Hands like Ben's. The two women's appearances were different, but inside, they were similar. June had Ellen's spirit, her sense of adventure, her love of the mountains.
"Do you have doubts?" Ellen asked.
"Maybe just a little."
"Of course all brides do, and with good reason. Marriage isn't easy."
"You had them, too?"
"Oh, my, yes." Ellen laughed. "I wouldn't have been human if I hadn't."
"But you and Grandpa Ben are so happy. Mom said once that the two of you beat with one heart."
Ellen smiled, thinking she was lucky to have a daughter-in-law who was so generous with her appraisal.
"You know, Granny, when I was little and came here in the summers, I thought you had the perfect marriage. I wanted mine to be just like yours."
"No marriage is perfect."
"I know. But I remember the way Grandpa Ben looked at you back then, the way his face lit up when you walked into the room. It still does, you know. I saw that last night. And you, Granny, your eyes follow him."
Ellen knew her granddaughter was right, and she felt fortunate. Theirs had indeed been a good marriage, the best she knew. They hadn't always agreed. Lord, no! She remembered the time she had wanted Ben to put a bathroom in the house, which back then was only three rooms. She was pregnant and wanted to take a bath without having to set up the tin tub in the kitchen and heat bathwater in a kettle on the stove. Ben said he was going to spend the money on a mare. Ellen had been so angry that she'd gone into town and withdrawn the cash from the bank to pay for the bathroom fixtures. Ben threatened to use the tub for a watering trough and didn't speak to her for a week. Once he got used to the indoor bathroom, however, he stopped complaining. They still had the tub, the porcelain cracked and nicked and stained orange from minerals in the water. It was in the old lean-to off the kitchen with the washing machine.
Remembering how silly that fight had been, Ellen turned her face back to the mountains. She could see the dark places where the clouds made shadows on the slopes, the horses running in the meadow, the snow in the crevices that had been there as long as she had lived on the ranch. "I'm a lucky woman," she told her granddaughter.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Patchwork Bride"
Copyright © 2018 Sandra Dallas.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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