HOLDING THE FORT by REGINA JENNINGS
The Fort Reno Series, Book 1
Genre: Historical Western Christian Romance
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Date of Publication: December 5, 2017
Number of Pages: 353
With Miss Bell as the Teacher, Everyone's Bound to Learn an Interesting Lesson
Dance hall singer Louisa Bell has always lived one step from destitution. When she loses her job at the Cat-Eye Saloon, she has nowhere else to go but to her brother, a cavalry soldier stationed in Indian Territory. But he's run afoul of his commanding officer. Unsure what she can do to help him and desperate for a job, she doesn't protest when she's mistaken for a governess at the fort. How hard can teaching really be?
Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno, especially raising two adolescent daughters alone. If this new governess doesn't work out, his mother-in-law insists she'll raise the girls herself--far away from the fort. Miss Bell bears little resemblance to Daniel's notion of a governess--they're not supposed to be so blamed pretty--but he finds himself turning a blind eye to her unconventional methods. Louisa has never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough to help her brother and to secure the respectable future she's sought for so long?
PRAISE FOR HOLDING THE FORT & THE FORT RENO SERIES:
"The first book in Jennings' new Fort Reno series is a delightful read that helps solidify what a wonderful and imaginative writer Jennings is. She manages to create unique stories with interesting and well-developed characters while combining humor, mystery and a sprinkle of faith."
--RT Book Reviews
"In this character-driven series launch, Jennings offers a powerful lesson on the freedom of truth and forgiveness wrapped in a delightful story of love against the odds."
"This series launch is a charming historical romance set in 1880s Fort Reno, OK. . . . Jennings kicks off a new series with a light and enjoyable tale that will delight her fans as well as lovers of historical romance."
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EXCERPT: CHAPTER ONE, PART TWO
FROM HOLDING THE FORT BY REGINA JENNINGS
“Come in,” she answered to the knock at her door. Not because she wanted company, but because she was too stunned to refuse it.
Cimarron Ted entered, scratching at a spot of mud dried to his white beard. The metal on his gun belt jangled as he shifted his wiry frame to avoid bumping up against a satin dress hanging from the clothing rack. “I had some news for ya, but I don’t figure you want to hear it right now.”
Louisa’s lips settled into a rare frown. “Tim-Bob is kicking me out. I don’t know where I’m going to go.”
Through the thin walls, she could hear the applause as Persephone sang the last of her number. The men were fickle. As long as they had some pretty entertainment to go along with their drink, it wouldn’t matter much who it was. The important thing was that Louisa find another place to work. Something to keep her head above water so she didn’t sink to desperate measures.
The lace on her wide neckline chaffed against her collarbone. Snapping out of her daze, she hopped up. “Here, help me out of this gown. I need to make plans.” She turned her back toward the old mule driver as she considered her options.
Where else could she sing? She knew every house of entertainment in Wichita, and none were looking to hire. Finding a job outside of the smoky rooms on Douglas Avenue seemed unlikely, too. Even if her singing career hadn’t tainted her, her mother’s reputation had forever doomed her.
“My old fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be,” Ted said. And he wasn’t lying. The gown loosened slowly.
Louisa held the ribbons of the decorative front lacing in her hands, her feet tapping through her options. She’d always thought about giving voice lessons, but no respectable family in Wichita would welcome Lovely Lola into their home. If she had enough money for train fare, could she find work in another city?
“There you go,” Cimarron Ted said. “If it weren’t for you being like a daughter to me . . .”
Louisa stepped out of her gown. From the red tint spreading up Ted’s neck, she should’ve asked him to wait outside before stripping down to her corset cover and petticoats, but for the company Louisa kept, she was dressed as modestly as a bride.
She reached for her silk dressing gown. “I met my father, and he wasn’t you.” Although she’d much rather have a crusty mule skinner as a father than the wastrel that sired her. Bradley’s pa wasn’t any better, either. Best that they just relied on each other, as they always had.
Thinking of her brother brought a terrible suspicion to her mind.
“Ted, you said you had news for me?” Her hands shook as she hid them in her fur-lined pockets.
“Well, I thought you should know that Bradley is in trouble again. From what I’ve heard, he’s been thrown in the guardhouse.”
Louisa clutched her hands into fists. There couldn’t be a worse time for him to mess up. “What’s he in trouble for?”
“Nothing for you to worry about. Just a little drinking, from what I hear. I doubt it amounts to much. Major Adams is known for having a stiff collar, and Bradley’s known for tomfoolery. You got troubles of your own.”
This was no time for Bradley’s hijinks. As bad as her situation was, at least she’d been assured that her younger brother was out of the rain. How could she fix him when she didn’t know what to do herself?
“I’ll go see him.” The decision was made even as she spoke. “I need a job, and maybe they’re hiring at the fort. Besides, he needs to know that he’d best walk the straight and narrow, because I can’t help him right now.”
“Pardon me for saying it, ma’am, but you ain’t going to Fort Reno. There’s nothing there but a passel of ornery cavalrymen and some irate Indians. There’s no way you can help Bradley while he’s under Major Adams. You’ve done all you can for the boy.”
But even as he was talking, a plan was forming.
As long as she’d been in Wichita, Kansas, Louisa had never known the Cat-Eye Saloon to send performers on a tour, but with that many men in one place, there had to be a need for diversions. She didn’t know if the officers at Fort Reno would allow it, but it was worth a try. If only she could convince the U.S. Cavalry that their troopers would benefit from some wholesome entertainment. Or halfway wholesome entertainment, at least.
Even if she wasn’t a respectable lady, Louisa had her standards. No drinking, no carousing, and no fraternizing with the customers—even if all the women in town assumed she did.
Even if such behavior would make her as popular as Persephone.
“Where is Fort Reno, exactly?” Hangers skidded across the clothing rack as she examined her wardrobe. She might have to fight Tim-Bob for them, but she’d sewn most of these costumes herself. They were the only gowns she owned.
“It’s in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation, due south of here, but maybe you should write your brother and have a look-see over what to do next. I’d be sorrowed if you went all that way only to have to come back.”
But she had to go somewhere. There was nothing in Wichita for her. She’d collect her last pay from Tim-Bob, pack her bags, and go see her only blood kin in the world.
It sounded like he might be in as much trouble as she was.
Regina Jennings is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a minor in history. She's the winner of the National Readers' Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award. Regina has worked at the Mustang News and at First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She lives outside of Oklahoma City with her husband and four children.
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