Kendrick Denham left his family farm back east, fought in the war with Mexico, then answered gold’s call after it was discovered in California. In late 1852, when he reached Columbia, known as “The Gem of the Southern Mines,” he realized the easy-to-find placer gold was no longer that easy to find. He decided he would do better providing fresh meat to the townspeople. With extremely few women in the region, and most of the respectable ones already married, Kendrick entertains no ambitions for a wife and family. Then the county sheriff rides over from Sonora. With a cryptic expression, he hands Kendrick a six-month-old baby girl. “The mother named you as the father.”
Now her late husband’s stepson, whom she finished raising, is of age to inherit the farm left to him by his birth father, Lydia Meyer and her two young sons have been forced out of her home of over ten years. She leaves Pennsylvania headed for the wild gold fields of Columbia, California. She dreads living off the charity of her older sister who is just as disagreeable and overbearing as their late mother had been. Warned that most of the miners in California, many of whom left families back east to seek their fortunes, tend to be unsettled, uncouth, and prone to drinking and gambling, she worries it may be impossible to find a good father for her children. Even if she weds again, will it be another loveless marriage like her first?
Then there is baby Madeline, who is cast adrift in the world, all alone, with no one to love her. What will become of her?
KENDRICK is a stand-alone sweet American historical romance that is part of the multi-author series, Bachelors & Babies. Under the sub-title, “Too Old for Babies,” it is also part of the author’s own series, Too Old in Columbia.“
The sheriff offered Kendrick a wry smile. “The mother named you as the father.”
“Mother named –” Kendrick choked on the words. “I couldn’t have fathered a baby, especially not this one. You figure she’s what? A few months old? It’s been over three years, long before I came this far south to Columbia –” Kendrick clamped his lips shut. How he conducted his personal life was none of the sheriff’s business, not to mention he once again became aware of Jeb, a grin on his face, lurking in the far corner and taking in the entire scene.
“Didn’t say, but I figure about six months. You’re listed as the father in the family’s Bible packed in the trunk, plus the mother listed you as this baby’s father in her last will and testament. No one is going to question the words of a dying woman, not even one like her.”
Kendrick felt anger welling up inside of him. A small part of his brain warned him yelling at the sheriff would not be wise. His present state of being was not conducive to him exhibiting wisdom. His frustration won out. His question came out in a bellow. “One like her? Who—“
The sheriff turned to his deputy. “Josh, hand that baby over and go get that crate of foodstuffs for her. Don’t forget the carpetbag full of napkins for her backside. Then we best to be on our way.”
After the deputy walked over to the counter, he sat her on top next to the basket and shoved her toward Kendrick’s arms. Kendrick instinctively grabbed her to keep her from falling as the deputy walked toward the door.
His eyes wide, Kendrick stared at the cherubic face with its dark eyes and lashes. At first, the baby stared at him in surprise. Next, she scrunched her face into a frown. His anger transformed into panic, he turned his gaze back toward the sheriff. “No, wait! You can’t leave this baby with me.”
“We can and we will. I’ve got other duties to attend to. I wouldn’t have wasted my time and that of a deputy hauling this issue of yours up to you except I figured if I sent word for you to come get her, you’d ignore me. Now, accept the consequences of your actions and live up to your responsibilities. Just because most men don’t get caught doesn’t mean, once the truth is known, you can walk away from your own.”
Wrapping his left arm around the child and propping her on his hip so she faced outward, Kendrick walked around from behind the counter until he stood within a few feet of the lawman. “Sheriff, I’m telling you—I’ve been set up. This can’t be my child. What was the name of her mother, anyway? Where did she live?”
In the staring contest that developed between him and the sheriff, Kendrick refused to be the first to look away. No one played him for a fool. He needed answers.
Finally, the sheriff huffed and glanced at the floor before, once more, his gaze met Kendrick’s. “She lived in Sonora. Died a couple of weeks ago. Took this long to sort things out. The mother’s name was Margaret Pearline Mayfield.”
Kendrick suspected his face looked as blank as his mind felt. The name meant nothing to him.
“She’s better known by some of the finer residents of Sonora as Miss Pearl.”