by Gina Welborn
The American State Flower Series
Excerpt from Six Little Sunflowers
All Rights Reserved.
February 1908 - Wichita, Kansas
“Carp’s our best smoke-eater.”
“Got that fire out in no time, he did.”
“I heard electrical fire.”
“Carp will know.”
“Don’t know what we’d do wi’out Carp on the job.”
Félicie gritted her teeth as she wove through the people on the sidewalk to get closer to Mama Helaine’s shop. By the way everyone raved about Carpenter Yeary, one would think he was the only person working the fire. She stopped in front of the cigar shop next door. Five vehicles blocked the east side of the street in front of the red-brick building she knew all too well. No flames engulfed the dressmaker’s shop, no burn scarring on the building either, at least from what she could tell in the dusk. Only one window broken. The firemen seemed to be preparing to leave. None of the dresses behind the windows looked burned either.
That was a good sign.
While she knew nothing about fires—barring the ability to start one with flint and a knife—this one looked to have been small and short-lived. She drew in a breath to steady her nerves, releasing the tension inside. Rena and Mama Helaine had to be safe. She had no reason to worry. None. Not at all.
Two firemen stepped out onto the front steps, both holding axes and lanterns.
“Hot spots out!” one yelled.
“All clear!” said the other.
They stopped at the bottom of the steps and spoke to a policeman. Another set of firemen worked on pulling down the ladder. Another checked the ladder truck’s wheels. A half a dozen others lingered about the horse-drawn wagon, rolling the hose and checking equipment.
The highly-esteemed captain was nowhere to be seen.
She would wager Alta and Pearl knew the names of every fireman from Engine 2—which were bachelors, which ones had girls they were courting—even though Pearl had only moved to Wichita in December.
If Pearl and Alta were felines, men in uniforms would be catnip.
Félicie shivered. Right now, a warm fire would be nice. Once the sun set, the temperature seemed to remember it was still winter. She blew on her gloveless hands then rubbed her arms. The threadbare woolen coat she wore over her uniform only gave the appearance of warmth. Nose and ears red from cold, she must look a sight. Her cheeks had to be splotchy, too. This was why she rarely left the hotel in the winter. She stood on her tiptoes to get a better look around. Rena and Miss Trudy-Bleu were nowhere to be seen. Neither was Mama Helaine.
Oh, the ambulance wagon! Perhaps they were in it. It had to be on the other side of all the emergency vehicles.
Félicie stepped onto the street and made her way along the crowd’s edge, swerving around the ladder truck.
A horse neighed.
She stopped. Horses? All the other vehicles were motorized. She stared at the two horses attached to the engine wagon. The brown horse neighed. The white one shook his—her?—head. In warning? Since her experience with large animals was non-existent, she took a precarious step forward.
“Do not bite me,” she whispered, “please.”
She eased closer.
The horses continued to watch her as she approached them.
“Nice horsies,” she muttered.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
Félicie froze, grimaced. The man’s voice was hoarse. Likely from yelling, from breathing smoke. “I know, sir. I am sorry, but I am looking for—” She turned to her left.
Her breath caught. No. No, no, no, no, no. Why him? Of all the policemen and firemen on this street, why did it have to be him?
But it was.
He was right there, a few feet from her nonchalantly standing between the ladder truck and the engine wagon. They had never been this close. Every other time she has seen him, he had been surrounded by minions, sycophants, or adoring fans. At church even! Although shaded somewhat by his burn-scarred leather hat, even with those dark, heavy brows, his green eyes stood in stark contrast to the soot and stubble on his face. She had forgotten how remarkably beautiful and intimidating Captain Carpenter Yeary was.
No, not forgotten.
She never had any reason to notice. In fact, she had several reasons not to notice him. She ought to say something.
Her mind went blank.
His intense gaze traveled the length of her before fixing on her face. He frowned, a V deepening between his brows.
He was looking at her as if—
“You have no idea who I am, do you?” Félicie blurted, and then realized how snooty her question sounded, how her words implied she was someone of importance. Which was not true. She was someone of non-importance. He had no reason to know who she was. They were not in the same social sphere. She was the help. He was the town’s hero. He saved lives. She cleaned toilets.
He gave her a strange look, as if she were an oddity. In light of her most recent comment, that was fair. It was.
And then he shrugged.
Félicie blinked. Really? Of all the...
With a growl under her breath, she lifted her chin. He would not get the best of her. “Shrugs can be an ineffective means of communication. The shrugger assumes the person to whom the shrug was conveyed will understand correctly what the shrug means. Sometimes this does occur, especially if people know each other well. In this instance, sir, I have no idea what your shrug was meant to imply; thus, I am sorry to say, your attempt at communication has failed.”
“Carp?” A policeman strolled up. “Is there a problem?”
He said nothing. Not at first. He stared and stared and stared at her. Then—
“Nah, Seth. I got this.”
Félicie kept her face bland. Rolling her eyes at him would not be good form.
The police officer’s brown-eyed gaze shifted in her direction. The corner of his mouth quirked upward creating a dimple that, she was sure, he knew caused ladies to swoon. Or at least pledge undying devotion. “Well, now seeing how it’s my job to keep watch over the civilians—this time, my friend, I got this.” He tipped his hat then struck his hand out. “Sergeant Seth Beaufoy.”
Beaufoy? She seemed to recall Rena attended last year’s Flower Parade with a policeman named Beaufoy. Delightful had been Rena’s summarization of the parade. Flatteries as polished as the brass buttons on his dark uniform had been her summarization of the officer.
Sergeant Beaufoy looked at her quizzically. “Can I help you, Miss...?”
Félicie shook his hand. To not do so would be rude on her part. Thankfully, etiquette did not require she share her name. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Beaufoy. Could you direct me to the building’s owners?”
“Are you friends with Miss Laurent?” he asked, still shaking her hand. “Or family?”
“I know her.” Félicie smiled because, in her experience, a smile distracted people from realizing she had not answered their question. Smiling rested nicer on her conscience than lying did.
Yes, there was that, too.
“I have business with Madame Laurent,” she explained.
“Oh, yes, of course.” Sergeant Beaufoy flashed her another one of those swoon-inciting grins that, strangely, made her want to chuckle. “They make clothes, you wear clothes, et cetera, et cetera.” He waved at nothing in particular. It struck her that even if he realized the clothes she wore were not items Madame Laurent would make or sell, he would not care. Why that made her sad, she had no idea.
“Seth, let her go.”
“Carp, be honest. Does she look like she wants me to let her go?” Sergeant Beaufoy winked, and her cheeks felt as warm as the hand he continued to hold. “I think she doesn’t.”
Félicie looked to Captain Yeary. Unlike Sergeant Seth Beaufoy, he wore no smile. He looked down his perfectly straight nose at her. What was that supposed to mean? If she were she Pearl or Alta, she would know how to respond. Rena would know how to respond. Rena knew how to flirt and be coy and how to interpret a man’s glances, winks, and shrugs. Even Mama Helaine could, and she was fifty!
But for the last twelve years, Mama Helaine and Rena had not lived in a hotel or spent their time cleaning a hotel room like Félicie had—alone. Except for church on Sundays, her interaction with men—really, with people—was limited.
Both men looked at her in expectation of a response.
Félicie pasted on a smile. When in doubt, smile.
“Seth, let go of her,” repeated Captain Yeary.
“Alas, my dear.” Sergeant Beaufoy raised her hand to his lips. “Until tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” she echoed, tightening her coat around her chest.
“The Leap Year Day festival. I’ll look for you at the concert in the park.”
Oh. That. The last Leap Year Day festival she attended had been in the previous millennium—1892, to be precise. Back when her twelve-year-old self still believed in fairies, good luck, and love conquering all. Nothing in the world could convince her to attend tomorrow’s festival.
Félicie indented the corner of her mouth. “You may look for me.” There. She could be coy.
“Yes, indeed I will.” After a slap to Captain Yeary’s shoulder, Sergeant Beaufoy walked off.
“It was nice speaking with you,” Félicie said to be polite. “To you both. I shall leave now.”
Captain Yeary stepped forward.
Félicie stepped back...and then stepped again to put even more distance between them.
His gloved-hand grabbed her arm. “Wrong way.”
Félicie said nothing as he gently pulled her out of the middle of the street. She hurried to keep pace with him. She did, however, noticed the number of people looking their way. She could only imagine what they were thinking: There goes our Carp gallantly rescuing another stray. Another orphan.
“I am not a lost pet needing rescue,” she muttered.
His hand readjusted its hold on her. He kept walking, giving no indication of having heard her. If he had, he clearly felt her comment needed no response. Best course of action was to say as little as possible to this man.
Félicie looked to where his grip encircled her forearm. Even if she tried to free herself, she knew he would hold on as long as he felt necessary. How could she know that? How? She did not know him. She did not know his character. She only knew what she had heard about him and how she had seen people at church adore him. So much was hero worship. She did her best to keep her distance, so no one would take her for being a part of the fawning crowd.
Why did everyone think he was a prince among men? He was just a man. Flawed, human, and alone like everyone else.
SIX LITTLE SUNFLOWERS is available on Amazon!
In celebration of Gina's 11th release, she is giving away digital copies of SIX LITTLE SUNFLOWERS to three commenters during the Release Party this week. Let us know in the comment you want to be entered and leave your email address so we know you aren't a troll (such as LovesWildfires (at) gmail dot com).
SIX LITTLE SUNFLOWERS is the 9th release in Forget Me Not Romances American State Flower series, sweet romances based around state flowers. Felicie has been a linen girl, a chambermaid, and is about to start her new job as hotel calligrapher! What is/was your favorite job of all the ones you've had since you entered the workforce?
DRAWING DEADLINE is MARCH 31, 2016, 5 PM CST
GINA WELBORN worked for a news radio station until she fell in love with writing romances. She’s the author of eleven inspirational romances, including the ECPA-bestselling Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection. She serves on the ACFW Foundation Board by helping raise funds for scholarships. Gina is a lifetime member of the National Corvette Museum and a founding member of the Southwest Oklahoma Corvette Club. She lives with her husband, their five Okie-Hokie children, two rabbits, two guinea pigs, and a dog that doesn't realize rabbits and pigs are edible.