Today's Wednesday Wonders features
Courting Carrie in Wonderland
by Carla Kelly
About Courting Carrie in Wonderland:
Struggling through college and balancing her summer job in Yellowstone Park with the Wylie Camping Company, Carrie McKay simply doesn't have time to consider romance. Spanish American War Veteran Sergeant Major Ramsay Stiles also isn't looking for love, busy with his own complicated affairs. But as the magic of Yellowstone starts making its way into their hearts, both begin to see love move up their priority list.
Even though she was short, Carrie McKay had a purposeful stride. She led him past the dining hall toward a nondescript shed with a sign reading, “Mr. Wylie’s Office” tacked above the door. He noticed a daily chore board outside the door, where employees wrote in their names and hours.
He waited for her to open the door, or at least knock, then he felt flattered when she seemed content to stand there with him.
“When I was a little girl, I saw a tall lady in Bozeman who walked her really small dog on a leash. My, but that little fellow could move. His feet were a blur.” She laughed. “Thanks for slowing down a bit.”
He smiled, because the picture she painted of the little dog trucking along was so vivid. “You have a way with a phrase. Are you one of Mr. Wylie’s storytellers around the campfire?”
“I’m a kitchen flunkie, and I sing at the campfires. I worked mostly at Lake Yellowstone Camp last summer, and in Gardiner the summer before, where Mr. Wylie keeps a temporary office. Lots of times the soldiers came over from their station at Lake to listen. Were you one of those? I don’t remember you, sir.”
“I was in the Philippines last year,” he said.
He thought he had tossed off the sentence with a certain unconcerned air, but maybe not, since she gave him a gentle look. He didn’t know how else to explain that look.
“And now you’re here,” she said, so matter-of-fact. “I’ll wager this is better.”
She knocked on the door and then opened it and stuck her head in. “Mr. Wylie, you have a visitor of an official nature, I think.” She looked back at Ramsay, eyeing his chevrons and hash marks. “He’s some sort of sergeant, but maybe a bit more.”
“Send the man in, Carrie, no matter what sort of sergeant he is.”
Carrie opened the door and ushered him inside. Ramsay removed his campaign hat because the ceiling was low but then wondered what to do with the thing that seemed to grow to enormous proportions, because he felt suddenly awkward.
He shouldn’t have worried. Carrie deftly plucked his hat from his hand and hung it by the chin strap from a hook. She stood there, hands clasped in front of her, so proper but still with that amazing twinkle in her eyes, as if life itself was the adventure.
Mr. Wylie stood up and held out his hand. “Will Wylie,” he said.
“Sergeant Major Stiles,” Ramsay said, glad to have something to do with his hands. Gadfreys, where was this sudden shyness coming from?
“Mr. Wylie, would you like me to get you two some pie?” Carrie asked.
Pie. He couldn’t help himself and sighed. “Mr. Wylie, I dreamed about cherry pie from this very dining room for the last year and a half.”
“He was in the Philippines,” Carrie added, frowning. “I’m afraid it’s only a reconstituted dried apple pie. We haven’t unpacked the canned cherries yet, but there is whipped cream. Mounds of it, if you’d like.”
Shoot me dead right now and I will die a happy man, Ramsay thought.
“Will apple pie be an adequate substitute?” Mr. Wylie asked him. “I hate to disappoint the army.” He looked closer and Ramsay saw the respect in his eyes. “Sergeant major, are you?”
“As of February, Mr. Wylie. “You might remember me from B Company. We patrol this district.”
“Indeed I do,” Mr. Wylie replied. “I remember more than that.” He gestured toward a Nabisco box. “Have a seat in my well-appointed office. Carrie, bring us some pie, and while you’re at it, get a piece for yourself and join us.”
Thank you, Mr. Wylie, Ramsay thought.
“Bring a note pad and pencil too. I suspect Sergeant Major Stiles is here on business, even though he’d like pie.”
“On my way,” she said, closing the door quietly behind her.
“The Philippines?” Mr. Wylie asked. He leaned back in his swivel chair and regarded Ramsay with interest. “Stiles, Stiles. There was an article about you in the Bozeman paper last winter, wasn’t there?”
Here it came. “Yes, sir, there was.”
“Something about a Medal of Honor.”
“That’s the one.” He took a chance. “It’s good to be back here in Yellowstone, sir.”
“I feel that way at the start of every season,” Mr. Wylie said, letting him change the subject, to Ramsay’s relief. “You have some business with us?”
No, I’m just here to eat pie and admire the help, he thought but had the sense not to say it. “Out in my saddle bag. I’ll be right back,” Ramsay said.
Xerxes gave him a patient look, the look that told Ramsay he wasn’t measuring up, but a horse is just a horse, even a smart one. Ramsay took the letter from the saddlebag, gave Xerxes a pat, and turned around in time to open the door for Carrie, who held a tray of pie.
She was about to hoist the tray to her shoulder to get a free hand when he made his move. He opened the door with what he wished was a flourish, except that it’s hard to give a grand gesture to a door on a shed.
“Yours is the one with all the whipped cream,” she said as he stepped back for her to pass.
She set the tray on another Nabisco box and handed a plate to Mr. Wylie and the other to him, after he resumed his perch on his box. He set the letter on Mr. Wylie’s desk, but the man just waved it away.
“Pie first. That’s my rule. Dig in, Sergeant Major Stiles.”
After tucking a napkin into the neck of his uniform blouse, he dug in with no hesitation. It took every ounce of discipline not to utter small cries of delight as the first bite went down so smoothly, well-lubricated with whipped cream. He glanced at Carrie, who was watching him, her face full of good humor.
“It’s edible?” she asked.
“You cannot imagine how good this is,” he assured her.
“I made it,” she said and took a bite of her own, one not burdened with too much whipped cream.
“In addition to shorthand and some secretarial classes, Carrie is taking the domestic science course at Montana Agricultural College in Bozeman,” Mr. Wylie explained, after he took his own bite. “Did you make an A in pie?”
“Fruit and cream pie, plus eclairs, creampuffs, and cookies,” she told Mr. Wylie. “Cake is fall semester this year.”
“You know shorthand too?” Ramsay asked, knowing he was here on business, but tossing all discipline to the wind, if only for the moment.
Carrie gave a kind look in her employer’s direction. “Mr. Wylie says I should maximize my efficiency in all areas, because we live in a modern century.”
Who could argue with that? Ramsay nodded and applied himself to the more important issue of eating pie, grateful down to his boots that the First Cavalry was still garrisoned at Fort Yellowstone and not back in Arizona Territory, staring down surly Apaches.
My Book Review:
I thoroughly enjoyed this book set in 1903 in Yellowstone National Park. The hero, Ramsay Stiles, was a career soldier recently returned from fighting in the Philippines. A promotion to Sergeant Major and a Congressional Medal of Honor did not drive away the nightmares over the men he could not save or the injuries he received. At a time when the U.S. Army patrolled the national parks before the days of park rangers, he was tasked with solving problems, protecting the natural features of the park from careless and souvenir-seekers, keeping the tourists safe and prevent them from making trouble. According to his commanding officer, and befitting his new station in life, he was to find a wife, possibly from among the tourists and workers that flocked to the park. Etiquette book in hand to help this man who had little experience with being around females, he went about to do his duty.
I love the pacing of the story line of this highly accomplished author as she introduced her characters and developed the start of this sweet romance. Her characters were excellent and very believable. It was hard to not fall in love with them, especially as the author shared enough about each character's history for us to understand them and what made say and act the way they did.
The suspense created by the circumstances which threatened to tear Ramsay and Carrie apart kept me reading. At the end, the two had choices to make. Considering what I knew of the characters from the story, the decision made did not come as a total surprise.
There was a lot of research that went into this story. I felt like I was transported back to Yellowstone Park over one hundred years ago as I was introduced to some of the real people who were there and who helped to develop the park. I better appreciated the plight of the buffalo, bears and wolves. I enjoyed the after notes with some historical tidbits almost as much as I did the story itself. I highly recommend this book.
Purchase Links for Courting Carrie in Wonderland:
About Carla Kelly:
Carla Kelly is a veteran of the New York and international publishing world. The author of more than thirty novels and novellas for Donald I. Fine Co., Signet, and Harlequin, Carla is the recipient of two Rita Awards (think Oscars for romance writing) from Romance Writers of America and two Spur Awards (think Oscars for western fiction) from Western Writers of America. She is also a recipient of a Whitney Award for Borrowed Light, My Loving Vigil Keeping, and Softly Falling.
Contact Carla Kelly at: