For the Love of Annie
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by Sabrah Huff Agee
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction EPPIE Award Winner
Description: In 1889, Sheriff Cooper Matthew's life is turned upside down when he suddenly finds himself the legal guardian of a baby girl named Annie. Cooper hasn't seen his late wife in nearly eight years, but because he'd never obtained a bill of divorcement, her child is legally his. Feeling unfit to raise a child, especially a baby girl, Cooper plans to give her to a suitable family. But before such a family is found, Cooper loses his heart to the blonde, blue-eyed pixie. Though she is not a child of his blood, Annie is the child of his heart. Mary Louise Markham, is a blue stocking from Tennessee. Well educated and independently wealthy, Mary Louise is determined never to marry. After all, she says, why should she give up her name, her property, and her freedom for the dubious honor of becoming some man's live-in servant. But when her dying brother confesses he has a child by a local actress, Mary Louise is determined to find the child and raise it as her own. She later learns that her niece's mother has also died of the fever and that the child is in Texas being cared for by Sheriff Cooper Matthews. She assumes the Sheriff will be happy to give up the child and is therefore unprepared for his refusal to hand over Annie. What ensues is a rollicking custody battle between two bullheaded opponents, as they fight For the Love of Annie....
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2002 Hard Shell
eBookwise Release Date: April 2003
35 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [432 KB]
Reading time: 288-404 min.
"Secondary characters add charm and a good balance to the story. For the Love of Annie is an endearing book that is sure to leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling. I enjoyed the latest book by Sabrah Huff Agee."--Tami Sutton, Escape to Romance
"A typical ending to a marriage that was suppose to be a business arrangement, For the Love of Annie is a sweet historical that touches the heart as Cooper reunites with his brother and Annie gets the family she deserves. Agee's epilogue then sets the stage for future sequels as the Matthews' children come of age ready to begin a family of their own."--Brenda Ramsbacher, ScribesWorld Reviews
IN THE privacy of his inner office Sheriff Cooper Matthews leaned back in his swivel chair, clasped his hands behind his head, and propped his booted feet on his cluttered desk. He'd been up all night battling a brush fire and he desperately needed a nap. He'd only just closed his eyes when he heard the bell over the front door jingle, telling him that someone had come in. Cooper listened without moving, praying that his deputy could handle whomever it was. But it wasn't to be.
Cooper opened one eye and scowled at the anxious, freckled face of his young deputy. "What is it, Simmons?"
The lanky deputy stammered," T -- There's somebody here to see you, sir."
"S -- Said their name was Wheeler, sir. Said they come from Memphis."
"Can't you take care of it, Joe Bob? I'm dead tired ."
"Yessir, I know. And I tried, I swear I did, but Mr. Wheeler says he cain't talk to nobody but you -- says it's real important."
Cooper sighed heavily, lifted his feet off the desk, and cursed under his breath. "All right. Tell him to have a seat and I'll be out directly."
When his deputy returned to the front office, Cooper dragged himself from his chair, yawned, and stretched. Damn, what did it take to get some rest around here? He was worn slap out. Cooper scratched his ribs and shuffled over to the wash stand. There, he poured tepid water from the pitcher into a chipped bowl, splashed his face, then dried it on an almost clean towel. Finally, he squinted into the cracked mirror hanging on the wall, rubbed a spot of soot from his chin, and finger -- combed his hair into place.
When Cooper walked into the front office, he spied a man he assumed was Wheeler and groaned inwardly. From the looks of things, Mr. Wheeler's entire family was with him. Seated on a wooden bench beside the timid -- looking little man was a large, scowling woman holding a baby. Cooper supposed this was Wheeler's wife, though the two were grossly mismatched. The woman was enormous, at least twice her husband's girth and a head taller. He was surprised that two such dissimilar people ever got together. But there was little doubt that they did get together and quite often, judging from the infant in her arms and the six, stair -- step children lined along the bench.
Wanting to get the matter over and done, Cooper turned to the little man. "I'm Sheriff Matthews, Mr. Wheeler. My deputy said you wanted to see me."
The man jumped to his feet as though he'd been shot from a cannon. Then, shifting nervously from one foot to the other, he twisted and untwisted his sweat -- stained hat. "Yessir, me and Mabel is movin' to Mo -- bill, so Mr. Atkinson, he give us some extry money to drop the chap off with you."
Cooper blinked in confusion. Chap? What in the hell was he talking about? "Who is Mr. Atkinson?"
"He's Miss Etta's lawyer up in Memphis. 'Fore Miss Etta up and died - - rest her soul -- she told Mr. Atkinson what to do about the chap."
Even more puzzled now, Cooper shook his head. "You've completely lost me, Mr. Wheeler. Who is Miss Etta? What's this chap you mentioned? And, more important, what does any of this have to do with me?"
The bench groaned in what sounded like relief when the large woman heaved herself off it. Cooper watched as she shifted the infant to her other arm and smacked Wheeler on the back of his head. The little man ducked. "Ow, Mabel! You didn' have no cause to do that!"
"Sit down, Horace, and shut up." She snorted in disgust. "I might'a knowed you'd get everthang mixed up." She lumbered across the room until she was standing nose to nose with Cooper. "What my man wuz tryin' to say, Sheriff, is that we wuz hired to brang yore young'un to you." And with those words, she shoved the baby into Cooper's arms.
Flabbergasted, Cooper almost dropped the child. "Wait a minute!"
Mrs. Wheeler turned toward the bench and crooked her finger at one of the children. "Randy Lee, brang that there poke you got and give it over to the Sheriff."
The tallest of the Wheeler children dragged a nearly -- filled flour sack to Cooper. Feeling as if he were trapped in some crazy dream, Cooper to made no move to take the sack from the boy. Randy Lee glanced at his mother for direction, shrugged, and then dropped the sack at Cooper's feet before rejoining his brothers and sisters. Immediately, Mabel Wheeler clapped her hands and shooed her family toward the door. "All right, kids, y'all don't dawdle. We done what we come to do, so let's us get back on the road to Mo -- bill."
The Wheelers had already begun filing out of his office before Cooper was able to find his voice. "Wait a minute!" he croaked, urgently. "There has to be some mistake. I think you must have me confused with someone else, ma'am, because this baby can't be mine."
Mrs. Wheeler stopped just outside the door, spat a steam of liquid snuff into the dirt, and glared at Cooper as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "You sayin' you ain't got no wife named Etta Blake?"
"Etta Bla -- Do you mean Marietta Blake?"
The woman shrugged. "All's I knowed was Etta. She was one'a them actress women up in Memphis. You saying you ain't her husband?"
"Well, no...I...Marietta is my wife...but--"
"There's a letter from Mr. Atkinson pinned to the young'un's blankets. I don't know what it says, I ain't never learned to read. Alls I knows is Mr. Atkinson paid us to brang that chap to you and that's what we done. You got a problem with it, you best take it up with him."
"B -- But--"
Mabel Wheeler didn't wait to hear more. While Cooper stood with his mouth hanging open, she herded her husband and six children out into the dusty street and ordered them into a heavily -- laden buckboard. As the creaking wagon rolled away, Cooper dropped his gaze to the squirming child in his arms. The baby appeared to be about a year old -- give or take a month. A baby! Why in God's name had Marietta sent it to him? Cooper looked helplessly about. The letter! Mrs. Matthews had said there was a letter pinned to the baby's blankets.
Tired and irritable, Cooper bellowed for his deputy. "Simmons!"
The earnest young man hurried from the back room. "You called me, Sheriff?"
Cooper thrust the baby at him. "Yeah, hold this."
The surprised deputy took the child in his wiry arms and grinned at it. "Well, lookee here. Ain't you the cutest thang." He glanced up at Cooper. "Where'd the little feller come from, Sheriff?"
"The Wheelers dumped him on me."
"You mean they just dropped him off and then up and left him?"
"That's about the size of it."
"Why that's terrible. How could somebody just go off and leave their baby?"
"They said he wasn't their baby."
"Well, whose baby is it?" Joe Bob asked, looking as confused as Cooper felt. "Did they tell you his name?"
"No, Simmons," Cooper retorted irritably. "They didn't tell me his name. They didn't tell me anything except--" He stopped abruptly, suddenly unwilling to divulge that the Wheelers were under the misconception that the child was his. "Hold still while I look through this blanket. Mrs. Wheeler said there was a letter somewhere in here that explains everything." He fumbled in the blankets wrapped around the child. "Ah, here it is."
Cooper quickly tore open the envelope and pulled out the folded letter. He glanced at the first few words and then slowly lowered himself to a chair. "Jesus," he muttered.
Copyright © 2002 by Sabrah Huff Agee