Trailblazer, book 1 in the Cowboys & Harvey Girls series by Anna Schmidt, is out now!
MEET THE HARVEY GIRLS
These real-life pioneering women were symbols of elegance in the wild frontier: taming rough manners, falling in love, and changing the face of the West forever.
Grace Rogers is ready for the adventure of a lifetime. With her family’s farm falling on hard times, she accepts a position with the prestigious Fred Harvey Company and heads for Juniper, New Mexico. There she meets a handsome cowboy who quickly turns her head. Too bad the Harvey Girls are forbidden to marry...
Nick Hopkins has a plan: buy a little land, marry, and raise a family—in that order. But after meeting Grace, he can’t keep away. Their only choice is to marry in secret...but Nick isn’t the only man entranced by Grace’s charms, and this unexpected rival doesn’t plan on taking no for an answer. He will have her, no matter the cost: to Grace, to Juniper, or to the happily ever after Grace and Nick fought so hard to make their own.
READ ON FOR AN EXCERPT:
She glanced at him, saw his lips quirk in what might be a smile and then turn his attention to the window. His skin was tanned to a burnished gold except for a lighter stripe across his forehead. His head was probably usually protected—her father had the same line on his face for the same reason—though in the cowboy’s case, it would have been by that black hat on the seat next to him. His thick, chocolate-colored hair kept falling over his forehead even though he repeatedly brushed it back with his fingers. He needed a shave, but there was something appealing about the stubble of whiskers. He was tall; that much was evidenced by the fact that even when occupying a seat meant for two, he seemed to need more space. He had broad shoulders that stretched the limits of the dark-gray sack coat he wore. The tan cotton shirt underneath it was in need of a good ironing. His trousers were a dark brown and his boots black, with fancy tooling.
“Do I pass inspection?” he asked, jarring her back to reality—and the realization that she had been studying every inch of him.
Her cheeks grew warm and red. “I…”
He waved away any excuse she might offer. “Look, Miss…” He waited.
“Rogers,” she said, her voice cracking. “Grace Rogers.” She saw no harm in giving him her name, and she didn’t want to be rude.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Rogers.” He hesitated, then added, “Like Ollie said, I’m Nick Hopkins. I wonder if you would do me the honor of joining me for supper?”
The offer was more tempting than it should have been. She had looked forward to dining in a real Harvey eatery, but even though her first-class ticket included meals, having dinner with this stranger—even paying her own way—simply would not do. “I have food with me. Apples and cheese and some bread.” She nodded reluctantly toward the carpetbag and the sack of food inside it that Miss Culver had given her at the station.
“But did you ever eat in a Harvey House, Miss Rogers?” he asked.
“Yes. In Kansas City.” She took pleasure in his surprise. He probably saw her as some country bumpkin. She straightened her back and shoulders and met his gaze directly for the first time. “You see, I work for the organization.” She flashed the practiced smile she’d developed in training.
His return smile took her breath away. How could any man be this good-looking? She felt her cheeks begin to turn pink, but she shook off the attraction. She had no time for flirting. She was on her way to a job, a new life that would hopefully provide adventure for her and much-needed financial assistance for her family.
Still, she couldn’t help but cast him a quick look from beneath her lashes.
“Well now,” he drawled. “In that case, it seems to me it would be to your advantage to try as many of Mr. Harvey’s establishments as possible. You could look at things from the customer’s view and see how the one we’ll be stopping at soon is different from the one where you’ll be working.”
“Oh, there are no differences, Mr. Hopkins,” she replied, parroting the information she’d absorbed during her training. “At least not when it comes to service and quality of food. Our organization adheres to the same standards no matter where we are. It’s the Harvey way.” As the train pulled into the station, Grace pressed her hands over her skirt. “Enjoy your meal, Mr. Hopkins,” she said brightly.
Nick Hopkins grinned and stood. He reached past her and took her carpetbag from her, lifting it into the overhead rack, then stepped back to allow her to go ahead of him. “If you change your mind, Miss Rogers…”
A dozen different thoughts flashed through Grace’s mind. She reminded herself that going with this man might be construed as breaking the strict rules for conduct set forth in her training. She reminded herself of her mother’s warning not to talk to strangers. She reminded herself that she had no time for exploring a possible friendship with a man—or more.
She was a Harvey Girl now and, as such, represented the high standards of the company. “I won’t,” she said, “but thank you for your kind offer, sir.” With that, she made her way to the exit.
The establishment was a far cry from the place her train to Kansas City had stopped. Greeters met passengers at the entrance and discreetly directed them to the appropriate washroom. By the time Grace returned to the dining room, Mr. Hopkins was already seated at a table near the door. He looked up, arching an eyebrow and nodding toward the empty place across from him in question.
She hesitated. The truth was, now that she was actually standing in the dining room filled with people, it struck her that she was alone and knew no one—other than Mr. Hopkins. Where would be the harm in sitting opposite possibly the most handsome man she’d ever seen, a man who also appeared to be quite intelligent, and genuinely concerned for her welfare? After all, the conductor had vouched for him.
On the other hand, given how strict Mr. Harvey’s standards were for his employees, how did she know someone wouldn’t be watching and report her? Maybe Mr. Hopkins worked for Mr. Harvey and was supposed to be testing her.
She straightened to her full height—just over five feet—scanned the room quickly, and made her way to a vacant chair at a table occupied by two other women. Seating herself, Grace smiled up at the waitress in her pristine uniform: a black dress covered by a crisp white pinafore apron, black shoes polished to a sheen, and black hose, all topped off with a perky white bow in her upswept hair. “Milk, please,” she said and watched as the waitress set her coffee cup next to its saucer, its position a simple cue to the girl who served the beverages.
As soon as the waitress walked away, the drink girl arrived, glanced quickly at the way the cups had been set, and poured coffee for Grace’s tablemates, leaving a full pot on the table in case they wanted refills. Moments later, she delivered a tall glass of milk to Grace, presenting the beverage on a small silver tray. A girl could be fired for simply carrying a glass or plate to a customer. Serving on a tray was the Harvey way.
This is my future, Grace thought, not some cowboy who is far too handsome for his own good.
Award-winning author ANNA SCHMIDT delights in creating stories where her characters must wrestle with the challenges of their times. Critics have consistently praised Schmidt for the reality of her characters—exposing their flaws as well as their strengths as she delivers strong tales of hope and love in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She resides in Wisconsin and Florida. Visit her online at joschmidtauthor.com.