FIRST PLACE - 2002 ERA AWARDS - HISTORICAL ROMANCE
THIRD PLACE - 2002 LAUREL WREATH AWARD - HISTORICAL ROMANCE

THE WISHING TREE
Book I - Texas Brides Series
by Catherine Snodgrass
Historical Romance
February 2006
Amber Quill Press
ISBN: 1-59279-492-0 (Electronic)
ISBN: 1-59279-756-3 (Paperback)

Jake Tanner goes to collect on a debt and comes back with a bride he doesn't want and can't keep his hands off of. Grace Marshall is determined to honor her marriage vows, but one step forward with Jake always leads to two steps back. When Jake's past shows up on the doorstep in the form of a wife he thought was dead, Grace has had enough. Now Jake has to figure out how to keep the wife he wants and shed himself of the wife he doesn't want. And one of those wives wants him dead.

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~ Reviews ~

FIVE HEARTS! This historical is beautifully written by Ms. Snodgrass with very vivid, colorful characters. This story touches every emotion and really strengthens your feelings about love. You won't be able to put it down. After reading this story I wanted to go visit Grace and sit under the wishing tree. The story of Grace and Jake is beautifully enhanced by a number of wonderful supporting characters - A.J., Jake's brother, Paul Harrington, the minister, Belle, Grace's sister, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus, Sheriff Brady, Doc, Hoyt, Judd, Cisco and Hank, ranch hands, Justina, Hoyt's wife, and Millie Barnett, Joe's teacher. I can't wait to read Book II of The Texas Bride Series. I want more of Ms. Snodgrass' wonderful characters and story. I loved this book and recommend it to everyone. Ellen ~The Romance Studio

SIX MAGICAL WANDS! The best thing about this book – and there are many good things – is the voice and style of it. Grace, Jake, indeed all the characters, and even the settings, all speak so eloquently to give the reader a real sense of being in that place and time. This is a great, deeply passionate story with a pair of mismatched lovers who deserve to be together from the very start but who don't quite realise it until much later. You'll root for them all the way through this engrossing and truly romantic book. ~Autiotalo, Enchanted Ramblings

RECOMMENDED READ! FIVE ANGELS! [This] is such a compelling book, I couldn’t stop reading once I started. Catherine Snodgrass has done such an excellent job of bringing about a story with a touch of superstition, humor, and a tender love story. The Wishing Tree is definitely a keeper and one of the best books I’ve ever read. ~Jaymi, Fallen Angel Reviews

FIVE KISSES! Ms. Snodgrass writes the perfect historical romance. The characters charm you from the beginning. The plot is intricately written, and Ms. Snodgrass guides the reader through it with finesse and grace. This reviewer doesn’t want to give anything away. When you pick up this book, you won’t be able to put it down until the end, and then you will wish for more. Superbly written with a unique voice that takes you back to Texas, 1878, Ms. Snodgrass delivers a read that will be embedded in your heart forever! ~ Cia Leah, Romance Divas

FIVE STARS!!! Catherine Snodgrass has the talent to "capture the moment" in her writings...she is really good at writing about all different kind of emotions that people can go through when "the heart" is involved, and this really comes forward in this book. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time to come, and I can hardly wait to read more of her work! ~Sylvie, Euro Reviews

4-1/2 HEARTS! [A] delightful read that all historical romance lovers and fans of Catherine Snodgrass should not miss. The action never lets up. The characters are well written and even the ones you love to hate will entertain and delight you. Sit back and enjoy. You will not be sorry you did. ~Penny, Love Romances

Very highly recommended! Catherine Snodgrass introduces one of the most endearing casts of characters in 'The Wishing Tree' she's ever created, but she gives them terrible odds to overcome in order to find true happiness. Grace and Jake's story is a wonderful, funny, heart-warming one that will make you laugh, cry, and wish you lived in the same town, could hitch up your buggy, and go visit a while with Grace on her ranch. You'll want to sit under the spreading branches of the wishing tree and make your own wish - that Catherine Snodgrass writes more stories about this wonderful family. Maybe one about Paul, the mysterious preacher? ~ Jennifer Macaire, Word Weaving

THE WISHING TREE begins with humor, builds the sensuality between the likable Jake and Grace, adds the endearing motherless children and the grieving, wounded A.J., and it's already a warm, charming story. Then come the zingers. For not only is the new marriage dead instead of the first wife, but someone wants Jake dead as well. I thoroughly enjoyed THE WISHING TREE, and highly recommend it as having something for everyone. It's very well written and edited; it's fast-paced but misses nothing. The main characters are fully formed, and the minor ones are brought alive with a few telling strokes of the pen. Before you're through, you'll wish you had a wishing tree just like the one on the Tanner ranch. No excuses for letting this one go by. ~ Jane Bowers, Romance Reviews Today

FIVE STARS!!! ~ Word Museum

Love, hate, greed, generosity, despair and passion fill this story from the very first word and just when you think it s over, there s still more to come. Once again, Ms. Snodgrass has left this reader feeling more than just fulfilled. The Wishing Tree will reaffirm your beliefs in the amazing powers of love and family. ~ Laura Drewry, Romance At Its Best.

FIVE ANGELS!!! The Wishing Tree was not only a great story but it had a plot that holds you throughout the end. Hard to put down...a great addition to this reviewer’s keeper shelf. Ms. Snodgrass has written a book that I have found to be every girl's dreams coming true, she has great characters that are life like and full of life. The story was enchanting and made this reviewer not want this book to end. This reviewer will recommend this book to her friends as a great book to curl up with some tea and read considering that it was a pleasure to read. Alma, Fallen Angels Reviews

I recommend THE WISHING TREE for its pleasurable trip into the past and the author's skillful portrayal of human nature, love, and perseverance. Marie DisBrow, The Road to Romance

EXCERPT

CHAPTER 1

Texas, 1878

Grace Marshall thought she was alone. Her brothers and sisters had left for school hours before. Her mother took the wagon to town for supplies. And Pa? He was somewhere on the far side of the empty cornfield knee-deep in muck.

A hot breeze tickled the damp curls sticking to her neck. It wasn’t enough to dry the sweat. It never was. Swelter in the summer; freeze in the winter. Work and toil. Everyday. All day. The circle of life...or death. Like a hangman’s noose.

She bent to haul yet another piece of laundry from the basket. Lord, how her back ached! Barely kissing twenty and her body was failing her. She tossed the long johns over the line and stabbed them in place with the wooden pin.

There it is again. That feeling that she wasn't alone.

Shielding her eyes against the afternoon sun, she scanned the horizon. She didn't have to look far.

A lone rider watched her from the knoll. Broad, dusty, bedraggled. His black horse looked in better shape than he.

Despite the distance, she felt their gazes lock. It was then he moved, urging his mount forward. He was coming her way, stepping into her world, and somehow Grace sensed her life would never be the same again.

This time the creak of leather reached her. His saddle, the holster strapped to his thigh, those dusty cowboy boots in the stirrups. The stubble of a beard darkened his suntanned face. A bedroll was perched on the horse's rear. This man looked like he'd been on the road for a while.

Closer still, other details hit her. The red kerchief tied around his neck. The Colt .45 glinting from his well-used holster, the hilt of a bowie knife in a scabbard behind that, and the butt of a Winchester rifle rocking along with the stride of the horse.

Grace's heart quickened. What if he were a bank robber or a gunslinger? He had come to their home to steal what little they had. To take advantage of the womenfolk. Why just the thought of being ravished was enough to make her scream, even if she wasn't quite sure what that meant. All she knew was that it was different than what normally happened between a man and his wife. It was horrible to be ravished. Ma said so. And this man looked like he could crush her with one of those big, powerful hands. He'd haul her to the nearest pile of hay, lift her dress, and...and...

She fanned the heat from her cheeks and reined her thoughts to a standstill. Ma was right. Grace spent too much time reading those blasted dime novels Pa brought home. A waste of precious time and money, Ma said. But Grace caught Ma devouring the contents on more than one occasion.

Nearly to her, the man tipped the brim of his gray cowboy hat in greeting. "Ma'am. I'm looking for Damon Marshall."

Grace looked up. Eyes a shade darker than the sky studied her. Rider and horse guarded her from the sun. "That'd be my Pa."

"Name's Jake Tanner. Mind telling me where I can find him?"

Her gaze fell to the .45.

"I've been on the road for two days, Miz Marshall. A smart man doesn't travel unarmed. I've just come to collect on a note he gave my brother."

She narrowed her eyes. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Tanner, but you look a little worse for wear for having been on the road only two days."

A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He scratched at his whiskers to cover it. "Sorry, ma'am. I was out with the herd before heading this way. Didn't think to clean up first."

"You look more like a gunman than a cowboy."

He glanced around their dilapidated farm then crossed his forearms over the saddle horn and leaned forward. "And what kind of notorious act could your farmer father have done to bring a gunman to this place?"

Point taken, even if his tone mocked her. Grace pointed to the sprawling field beyond the house. "You'll find him on the far side of the field."

He flicked the brim of his hat once more and nudged his horse in that direction.

Grace pulled a bed sheet from the basket and draped it over the line. Peeking around the edge, she watched Jake move away. He looked as good leaving as he did coming.

The breeze caught the line of clothes and tangled the sheet around her. Grace slapped it down and shoved a pin over the line. The sheet curled around her again. Grace grabbed a fistful and tugged. The line snapped. A full morning's work lay on the grass. Now she'd have to start all over again.

She glanced around. Still alone. No one would know the difference. It was grass, for crying out loud, and she had a lot more work to do.

She plucked the heavy cording from the ground. Weighed down with wet wash, it took two hands to haul it over her shoulder. Stretching on tiptoe, Grace tried to thread the end into the hole on the wooden brace. It might as well have been a needle. The line was too heavy. She was wasting as much time trying to tie the dagblasted thing than she would if she'd taken the wash down in the first place.

A pair of hands covered hers. Dark, long-fingered, callused. Startled, she jumped, then craned her neck backward. Jake Tanner. He tied the cord off with nary a blink, standing so close Grace could count the whiskers in his growing beard.

"Ma'am." He tugged the brim of his hat her way, and swung back into the saddle.

He was almost out of hearing range when Grace finally remembered her manners and hollered a thank you. Without turning, he raised his hand in response.

Grace allowed herself a smile. He was just about the best thing she'd seen in Sleepy Eye...ever. She'd be thinking about him for a long time to come. Oh, yes...a long time.

***

Jake didn't know what made him turn around. The young woman wasn't that much to look at. Of course, it was hard to tell as work-worn as she was right now. She wasn't short or tall--just average. The same could be said of her shape, except that her bosom was lost in that faded gray dress she had on. Patches of it were damp from the wash and clung to her. Even that did nothing to bring out a hint of a figure. Her brown hair defied a thousand pins, strands of it drifting down her neck, around her face, into her eyes. And those eyes, again nothing special--big, round, brown just like every single head of cattle on his ranch.

So why turn around for another peek?

It didn't matter. Doing so called him back to her side to help her with the broken clothesline.

Thinking about it made Jake smile. She had pluck. He'd give her that. And more common sense than any other woman he'd ever met. Most would have tossed all the laundry back in the tub to wash. A waste of time as far as he was concerned. It was only grass, not a hog wallow. The laundry was on the ground for a total of five seconds. Still clean by his standards. Finally, he'd found a woman who agreed.

He twisted around on the saddle to check again. Yep, there she was hanging clothes as if nothing had happened. She looked like a half-drowned puppy. The laundry fought her in the fast building breeze. She sidestepped it and tripped over her own tub. Jake bit back a laugh as she tumbled to the ground. She glared up at the line of wash, then dusted herself off and went back to it.

Yep, pluck...and determination. From the look of this farm, she needed both. The barn was a little bigger than the clapboard house, but not by much. Both looked like they were held together by will rather than by nails. Jake didn't know how in the world the place held... How many younguns did A.J. say the Tanners had? Seven? Plus two adults?

He shook his head. His brother was right. This was a wasted trip. But a debt was a debt and a man had to make good on it. If Jake let Damon Marshall get off without paying, how many others would start to take advantage? As it stood, he'd had plenty of time to pay for the cow. The damn thing had been with the Marshalls for a year. A.J. should never have let it get this far. But then they'd had other problems to deal with.

Jake skirted the horse around the field down a narrow road. It was the only place not mired in mud. The field itself, though newly plowed, looked hopeless. Just row upon row of goo and dirt clods. He didn't know how these people were going to carve out a life in this mess. But that's what the weather did to people. A blessing and a curse. Jake knew that all too well.

The land took a gentle slope downward. A line of trees nearby hid the river. This was where Marshall had made his mistake. He planted on a flood plain. No man could be that stupid. Jake could only guess that Marshall hoped to take advantage of the water in the dry season by using it to irrigate. But one good downpour even miles upriver could wash it all away.

He and Marshall saw each other at the same time. They both raised their arms in greeting. Marshall dropped the plow harness from his shoulders and started Jake's way.

Jake waited by his horse. He could do little else. There was no place to tie the reins and he wasn't about to destroy Marshall's hard work by tromping the horse over the field.

He watched the man's progress. Every other step sucked his feet into the sludge. In a week, maybe two, the mosquitoes in this place would be eating him alive.

"Hello there, neighbor. What can I do for you?"

"I'm Jake Tanner. My brother, A.J., sold you a cow about a year ago. I've come to collect on the note."

Marshall slowed, his head bent to the task of getting through what remained of the field. The gesture was clear. Marshall didn't have the money. Jake's spirits dipped lower.

Marshall took the last step onto the road, swept his hat off, and mopped the sweat from his forehead with a threadbare piece of gray calico. The same color as the daughter's dress...the same material and in just about the same condition.

"About that...you see..."

Here it comes. Jake didn't want to hear it. Didn't want to put the man through an awkward explanation. A.J. was right. He should have stayed home and let the matter go. True they needed the money, but not near as much as the Marshalls.

"We've had some rough times this last year. I kinda hoped to get her with calf then sell it to pay the note, but..." He let the excuse die. "I suppose you'll be wanting the cow back. She's a good one. Puts out the sweetest milk."

The last thing Jake needed was another cow. No matter how sweet the milk.

Marshall scuffed the road with his boot. "We really need her for the milk. If I could have a little more time." Forcing a smile, he waved his hand over the field. "I doubled my area. I'm hoping to have a good crop this year."

Jake scanned the rows of clods. Only a miracle would turn this place around. Still a man had his pride, and Jake wanted this done. "Do you have something to trade for the cow?"

He scratched his head then smoothed his hair back in place and hid it under a hat so full of holes Jake doubted its effectiveness. "Got a couple of good layin' hens, but my wife would skin me alive if I gave you one. She sells the extra eggs to the general store. Kept us from starving a time or two."

Awkward. Real awkward. Jake stared down the road in the direction of the cabin. There was a thought. "What about one of your children working off the debt?"

The man gave a nervous laugh. "Out of seven kids, I got two boys. One's just about at the age to start helping me. The other one's the baby."

"I wasn't thinking about one of the boys. I've got plenty of ranch hands. What we are shy on are womenfolk. My brother lost his wife last year. The woman we hired to help us is heavy with child and leaving soon." He pointed in the direction of the house. "I was thinking about your daughter."

Marshall's forehead wrinkled. He slapped his hat on. "Grace?"

Grace? Her name was Grace? The image of her falling over the washtub hit Jake. It was all he could do to keep from laughing. "Yes. She looks plenty sturdy."

"She is that. Girl's got a strong back." Marshall mopped his neck. "Real good with the younguns. A fair cook. A big help to her ma."

"That's what we need. Since you've had the cow a year, she can work a year to pay the debt. If she's willing."

"Oh, she'll do what she's told. Once the year's up?"

Jake thought he heard a different question. Did he have to bring her back? No matter how much help she might be, she was just another mouth to feed. There were other daughters in the house to help out.

"After a year, we'll offer her pay to stay on."

A smile broke the man's weatherworn face. He stuck out his hand. "You got yourself a deal. You'll stay to supper. We'll tell the women afterward and you can head out by first light."

They shook hands to seal the bargain.

Jake smiled. It was a good deal after all. A.J. could eat his words. "Now, Mr. Marshall, if you'll show me a place to tie up my horse, I'll help you with the plowing."

It was hard work to be sure, even Marshall's older boy came out to help after school. By the time they made their way back to the cabin, Jake was ready to call it a day. His mouth watered as he, Marshall, and Marshall's eldest son slipped behind the barn to wash up for supper. Whatever was cooking was heaven sent. He was hot, dirty, and starved.

"Smells good."

Standing at the rain barrel, Marshall stripped to his waist and poured a ladle of water over his head. The second ladle went down his throat. "Grace makes the evening meal. Girl's a good cook."

"She makes the best biscuits this side of the Mississippi," the boy added. "I could eat a pan all by myself."

Jake could too this evening. He was covered in mud up to his knees. At least he had an extra set of clothes in his bedroll. The boots? Looked like he'd spend as much time cleaning them up as he had plowing. As they were he'd have to leave them outside the front door and go to supper in his stocking feet. Marshall and the boy did the same thing. Then they crowded around the table to eat.

Fried chicken, corn, biscuits, and gravy were piled in the center. Jake even caught a whiff of apple pie. His mouth watered in response. Sure beat anything he cooked up.

Grace couldn't help staring at the man across the table from her. He had more manners and patience than anyone she'd ever met. He needed them since her mother sat him between her next younger sisters. They ogled him. Asked him one stupid question after another. Then giggled like the schoolgirls they were. Through it all Jake was a gentleman. He ate the meal Grace cooked like it was the best thing that ever passed his lips. She was glad she managed to get it on the table without a mishap. Stepping over children, that was a miracle.

"So, Mr. Tanner," Ma began, "what brings you to these parts?"

Before he got the chance to answer, Pa broke in. "I bought that cow from his brother last year."

Oh, he was one of those Tanners. They had more money than anyone could count. At least that's what Grace heard.

Ma set her fork aside while Pa sopped up the last of his gravy with a biscuit. She looked sick or like she was going to cry. Grace couldn't tell for sure since she'd never seen her mother do either of those things...unless she was expecting.

Grace glanced around the table. Another baby? That was just what they didn't need.

"Relax, Mother. Everything's taken care of." Her father tilted his chair back on two legs and hooked his thumbs on his suspenders.

He looked mighty proud of himself. But Ma wasn't buying it. She gave him a look that asked what in the world he had done now. Company kept her from demanding to know.

"Grace will be going to work with the Tanners until the debt is paid. They're in need of a woman to run the house and care for the children."

Grace's jaw dropped. She was going to live with the Tanners? Glory be! Fresh cotton sheets every night. Beds so soft you sank into them--alone. She wouldn't have to share with her two sisters anymore. And a house so big you needed a map to get from one room to the next. She couldn't believe her good fortune. Finally, finally, she was out of this godforsaken place.

"Absolutely not," her mother said.

Grace's hopes fell with her chin. Her heart squeezed so hard, it was all she could do not to cry. She stared at her tin plate and prayed she wouldn't start blubbering like a baby.

"Leave it to a man to come up with an addle-pated plan like that." Apparently, company manners were no longer important. "Whose idea was this?" Ma's gaze nailed Pa. "Yours?"

He fidgeted in his chair. "Well, no."

Her head whipped around to Jake. "Yours?"

Not as easily blustered--he obviously didn't know her mother--Jake looked her straight on. "Yes, ma'am, it was. You see--."

"Do you have a daughter, Mr. Tanner?"

"No, I--."

"Do you honestly think I would allow my daughter to live with a bunch of cowboys for a year all alone much less travel with you un-chaperoned for...how many days to your ranch?"

"Two, ma'am."

Ah, he was backing down. Not too many people could stand up to Ma when she got going. Not even Pa.

"Two days alone and one night with you on the trail. Alone, Mr. Tanner."

He spread his big hands on the table and pressed forward. "Mrs. Marshall, I would never take advantage of any woman. Neither would my brother or any of my men."

Her mother stretched toward him, placing her fingers over his arm. Jake was doomed.

"Mr. Tanner, I have no doubt your word is good. A lesser man would have taken the cow from us and left by now." She leaned back. "Just her living with all those men and traveling with you alone is enough to ruin her reputation. You know how people are--they always think the worse."

"Now, Mother..."

She held up her hand, silencing Pa. "Mr. Tanner, you've offered us an honorable solution to this problem and we are grateful. You have something we need and we have something you need. That's the way of things, isn't it?"

"Well...yes, ma'am."

His response was slow. Grace didn't blame him. He was right to suspect a trap. Experience had shown Grace to be careful when her mother used that tone.

"That's what I thought."

She gave him a small smile. She was ready to strike. Grace longed to warn him that something else was coming.

"Then I would expect you to continue to do the honorable thing." Ma pulled in a breath. "Mr. Tanner, the only way my daughter is leaving here with you is if you marry her."

The silence in the house was complete. Not even the crickets dared make a sound. Grace's mouth dropped open. All she could do was stare at her mother.

What was she thinking? She'd only met Jake Tanner hours before. But that wouldn't matter to Ma. She and Pa had never met until they stood before the preacher. That's just how things were done back then. Obviously, it looked like that's how Ma intended things to be done now too.

Grace dared a look Jake's way. His gaze shifted between her and Ma then finally settled on her. She was surprised he still sat there. Only his manners kept him from grabbing that cow and heading for home.

She watched him watch her and wondered what he was thinking and why he didn't tell her parents they could go to blue blazes.

He scratched at the stubble on his face, looked at her mother, then her father, and back to her. Then again. Then to every face at that table.

"All right...I'll marry her."

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