Wyoming was warmer than Suzannah Murphy had expected. Raising a hand to shield her eyes, she stared up at the seemingly endless blue sky. It was immense and an eye-catching cobalt. Her fingers itched for her paints, but they were tucked away in her trunk at the far end of the cart she was riding in. Anyway, it wasn’t like there was time for painting—not when the end of their journey was apparently close at hand.
“Steady on,” Mr. Kline called, pulling on the reins and slowing the cart’s progress over the open plain. It was grassland as far as the eye could see and had been this way ever since they had arrived in Cheyenne the day before.
Cheyenne was a small town and as far as the railroad could currently go. There was apparently talk about extending it, according to Mr. Kline, but he didn’t think it would reach as far as Emerald Springs.
“We’re just a farming community,” he said with a laugh. He was a young man with wavy brown hair and a kind smile that reached all the way to his eyes. “Of course, that’s good for us farm hands, isn’t it?”
“Indeed, it is,” Suzannah’s father said, a slight Irish lilt to his voice. He was on the driver’s seat with Suzannah’s little brother Eric and Mr. Kline. “I don’t know if I expressed our thanks for Mr. Reed sending you out to meet us. This cart is a blessing we weren’t expecting.”
“Think nothing of it,” Mr. Kline said. “Jasper can be quite thoughtful. Also, there’s no other way to get to the farm but by horse, cart, or your own two feet.” He tugged at a long grass stalk, snapping it as they went by.
The cart angled down a dip in the track and Suzannah resettled herself in the back of the cart. After a day of this and a night sleeping under the stars, she was ready to see their new house—the latest in a long line of new houses she’d moved into and out of over the years.
That was what being a farm hand’s daughter was like. Her father had worked many farms all over the country, sometimes for years, sometimes for a season. With the economy in what her mother called a deplorable state, they were so thankful to Mr. Jasper Reed and his father Robert for hiring Mr. Murphy. He wasn’t a young man anymore, but Mr. Reed had assured them in his letters that = he was looking for a mature, experienced farm hand. Someone who could take over some aspects of running the ranch and remove some of the pressure from the younger Mr. Reed, who seemed to be running the place alone with only Mr. Kline’s help.
“So, how large is the farm?” her father asked. “I don’t think Mr. Reed ever mentioned the size in his letters.”
“Well, now,” Mr. Kline said, tipping his hat. He had the grass stalk champed between his teeth and he spoke around it. “There are about a hundred head of cattle, about as many sheep, and we do a little sugar beet farming on the side.”
“Ya don’t say?” her father asked.
“He just did, Papa,” Eric said, sounding exasperated. “I heard him.”
“Did ya now?” Mr. Murphy said.
“Eric, stop pestering the men,” their mother said suddenly, making Suzannah jump. She had thought their mother asleep with her straw hat placed over her face as she lay in the back of the cart.
Eric harrumphed and folded his arms across his chest, sulking. That was the problem with eight-year-olds, Suzannah mused, they were easily upset.
They rode on for a while and she found herself listening to her father and Mr. Kline talking again.
“My wife Lenora and I find living on the farm to be quite enough for us,” Mr. Kline said. “We’re homebodies and hoping to add to the family, you know.”
“Oh, well,” her father said, “I hope it all goes well.”
“Me too,” Mr. Kline said. “So, you only have the two?”
“Just these two,” Suzannah’s father confirmed. His voice was tight and Suzannah knew this was a topic neither her mother nor her father wanted to discuss.
“Hey, Suz, look at that!” Eric suddenly called.
Suzannah sat up and stared to where her little brother was pointing up in the sky.
“What is it?” he asked, excitedly. “Is it an eagle?”
“No, too small,” Mr. Kline said also looking up.
Suzannah shaded her eyes again and looked around, spotting the bird. It wasn’t that high up and she could see it quite clearly. “It’s a kite.”
“You’re right, Miss Murphy,” Mr. Kline said, “that is a kite. But you know, Eric, there are eagles out here, so you keep your eyes peeled and I’m sure before long, you’ll see one.”
Eric’s little face broke into a grin. Mr. Kline ruffled the boy’s deeply copper hair and smiled.
A while later, a mountain range, snow-capped and breathtaking, came into view. It lay in the distance ahead of them.
“You can paint it!” Eric said with enthusiasm.
“Not right now,” Suzannah said.
“Well, you could from your front yard,” Mr. Kline said. “The house is on a little rise and you’ll see. You have a lovely view of the mountains.”
“Are we close to our new house?” Eric asked.
“Indeed, we are,” Mr. Kline said.
He was right. A few minutes later they turned into the Reed Farm, the name printed on a sign over the gate. Eric opened the wooden gate that squeaked on its hinges. Mr. Kline drove the cart through and waited for Eric to close it again behind them. His job done, he looked mightily proud of himself when he climbed back on the seat with their father and Mr. Kline.
From the gate, it was another five minutes’ ride up an incline to their house. It stood on an open piece of land in the middle of a sea of undulating grass stalks. It was made of stone and wood with a pitched roof and was quite a bit larger than the houses they had stayed in before.
“It’s so big,” Suzannah said as the cart drew to a halt in the yard, scattering chickens.
“Is it?” Mr. Kline asked over the din of squawking birds. “It has three bedrooms, so I suppose it is.” He looked around with his hands on his hips and then seemed to decide to give them a short tour. “You have your wood pile here by the back door; there’s the well but there is a pump in the kitchen, too. The outhouse is around the back and there’s your chicken coop. As you can see, they run everywhere. We’ve been tending to the birds in anticipation of your arrival.”
“How thoughtful,” Suzannah said with a smile as she climbed out of the cart and stretched her legs. A chicken pecked at her boot. “Where do you live, Mr. Kline?”
He pointed to her left. She followed his gesture with her eyes and spied another house a little way down the slope. She was surprised she’d missed it. There was smoke rising from a chimney and beyond it was a wooded area, the trees looking like a deserted island in the middle of the ocean.
“We started a little kitchen garden of our own, you know for the vegetables,” Mr. Kline continued. “I can ask Lenora to bring over some of the small plants or seeds for you if you like. It’s the best way to keep yourself in greens.”
“Oh, that would be so kind,” Suzannah’s mother said as she slid stiffly out of the cart. “My goodness, I am glad that journey is over. The town, Emerald Springs, is it far from here? I dare say we will need some supplies.”
Mr. Kline shook his head. “No, about twenty minutes easy ride that-a-way,” he said, pointing in the opposite direction to the way they had come in. “But don’t worry about that,” he continued. “If I know my mother and my wife, they should be along later with a hearty meal for you. Lenora can take you into town tomorrow.”
“You’re so kind,” Suzannah’s mother said, taking Mr. Kline’s hand and shaking it. “You’re just so kind. It’s been so long since…” She broke off and raised a hand on her lips, her eyes tearing up. “I’m sorry. We’ve had some hard times.”
Mr. Kline’s cheeks had gone a little rosier and he looked decidedly uncomfortable.
“Suzannah,” her father called, “don’t just stand there like you’re growing roots, take your mother inside.”
“Yes, Papa,” she said, bristling. Was she eight years old again? She didn’t think so. Being a twenty-year-old woman should count for something. In some circles, she would have been married with a house of her own by now. Or perhaps she would have found herself a job, but they’d moved around so much it had taken all her effort just to keep up with her schoolwork and helping her mother. There had never been time for anything else.
She took her mother into the house, expecting it to be filled with dust and cobwebs as so many of the places they had called home had been. She was surprised to find it clean, aired, and simply waiting for them to put their things into the cupboards and onto the shelves.
She and her mother exchanged looks and smiled at each other. “We’ve found a good place, Suzy,” her mother said. “A good place. I can feel it.”
Suzannah didn’t like to jump to conclusions, but this was certainly a step up from the usual hovel they had to call home. The kitchen was a large room with a long wooden table that could easily seat ten people. The dining room was through an archway and came with another long table and a glass fronted cabinet to put the crockery in. After that, they entered the parlor. This room was smaller, cozier, with a large fireplace and comfortable looking chairs and sofas arranged around a low coffee table. A large window looked out over the back of the yard. A hallway led to the three bedrooms. As promised, they were there, and for the first time since Eric was a baby, Suzannah had a room of her own. She was beyond happy.
For the next few hours, the Murphy family moved in. The house came fully furnished and all they needed to do was cover the beds in their linen, put their books on the shelves in the parlor, and pack away their pots, pans, crockery, and cutlery in the kitchen.
The pantry was bare, but that was to be expected. There was a cold cellar under the house accessible through a trap door in the kitchen scullery. There was even a fancy laundry tub with the mangle attached to the large bucket. Things were certainly going to be a lot easier here.
While her mother and Eric went from room to room, exclaiming how wonderful they were and deciding where to put things, Suzannah went back outside. It was late afternoon and she wanted to breathe the air again. It was fragrant, smelling of dust and grass. She closed her eyes and breathed.
“All moved in?”
She started and turning saw Mr. Kline. He had two women with him. One was clearly his mother. There was a strong family resemblance, mother and son having the same set to their eyes and shape of their jaw, although his was a bit sharper.
The other woman was younger, with auburn hair, a rounded figure, and a bright, friendly smile. She was carrying a dish covered with a cloth.
“You must be Miss Murphy,” the younger woman said. “Theo said you were pretty. He neglected to mention tall. I am so envious.”
“Yes, dear, this is Suzannah Murphy. Miss Murphy, may I present my mother, Mrs. Louisa Kline, and my wife, Mrs. Lenora Kline,” Mr. Kline said.
“Oh, good grief!” his mother said, shaking her head. “We’re not in England visiting the queen. Things are a lot less formal out here. You can call me Louisa and she’s Lenny or Nora, depending on how you’re feeling.”
“Oh, Mother!” Lenora said with a laugh. “She’s right, though, I answer to just about anything.”
“Well, my mother calls me Suzy and my brother calls me Suz, so…have your pick,” Suzannah said, not sure how to respond to this conversation.
“Oh, we brought you dinner,” Lenora said thrusting the covered dish at Suzannah, who didn’t take it. She just stared in surprise.
Just then her mother appeared out of the doorway and came to greet their visitors. As they stood outside, Suzannah noticed something moving in the distance. It looked like a man on a horse. She frowned, watching him. He seemed to be busy with something, stopping every so often. He even dismounted once or twice and strode off into a patch of trees only to appear a little later and mount his horse again.
“…was just saying to Suzy,” her mother said.
At the sound of her name, Suzannah blinked. “What?”
“I was just telling you how wonderful we think this all is,” her mother said. “I do hope we can see Mr. Reed soon and thank him for all he’s done.”
Louisa’s smile stiffened and Lenora’s gaze slid to the ground. Suzannah got the distinct impression her mother had said the wrong thing. Her mother got the idea too and frowned.
“Is something the matter?” she asked.
“Oh no,” said Mr. Kline, whose first name turned out to be Theo. “Jasper’s just…well…he is a solitary type.”
“He’s a little sullen,” Lenora agreed. “It’s a pity, really, because he can be so very caring and thoughtful.”
Louisa said nothing.
Just then they heard the thumping of hooves and the man Suzannah had seen on his horse came riding up to them.
The first thing she noticed about him was his curly blonde hair that stood like a halo around his head, caught as it was by the late afternoon sun’s rays. He was a big man, young and quite good-looking, or so Suzannah thought. He held himself stiffly, though, and gave off the air of being uncomfortable in their company.
“Afternoon,” he said. “I take it you’re the Murphys?”
“Yes, we are,” her mother said.
“I’m Jasper Reed. I just wanted to welcome you,” he said, sliding out of his saddle. His horse, a large chestnut, stamped the earth. “Would you mind calling your husband for me? I need a word.”
“Of course,” Suzannah’s mother said. She had the cloth-covered dish in her hands and she rushed into the house in a fluster. “Douglas! Douglas, where are you?” she called.
Douglas Murphy appeared around the side of the house, his arms filled with logs. Eric was with him, carrying his own little pile.
Lenora beamed at Eric and went to help him. Suzannah took the logs from her father and went to put them inside by the fireplace. When they came out the men had walked off down the grassy slope together, her father, Theo Kline, and Mr. Reed still leading his horse by the reins.
“Well, there you have him,” Lenora said with a shy smile. “Jasper Reed.”
Jasper Reed considered having another cup of coffee before heading out. There was a lot to do on the farm, with Theo Kline off fetching the new farm hand and his family from the train station in Cheyenne. Not for the first time, Jasper wished they could afford one or two more hands around the place. It was a lot of land to cover and a lot of livestock to watch.
He sighed and decided he’d had enough coffee. Anyway, Louisa Kline was sure to make an appearance soon and make his father lunch. Jasper had made do with a ham and cheese sandwich he’d put together himself.
His father hardly ever came out of his room these days and so Louisa had agreed to make him lunch as well as dinner. Jasper always liked being out of the house before she arrived. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Louisa. On the contrary, the kindness she showed his father made Jasper like her all the more, but her gaze could bore right through him. He wasn’t sure he was up to that kind of scrutiny. As it was, he would have to meet Douglas Murphy and the rest of them today, and he didn’t like meeting people much.
He put his mug and empty plate in the sink in the scullery and made his way through the large, mostly empty house. He had it on good authority that when his mother was alive, the house had been full of light, life, and people. His father would tell him elaborate stories about how when she’d been in charge of the house there had been guests at what the locals still called Reed Manor. Every Easter his mother had apparently organized an egg hunt in the then-beautiful gardens. She’d also insisted on a Yule Ball every year, but Jasper had been told it was more a shindig than a ball. And so, his mother had been loved and adored by all. He only wished he’d gotten to meet her.
He passed by her art collection, what was left of it, hanging in the hallway. There had been a fire years ago and part of the manor had burnt down. They had lost some of his mother’s favorite paintings in that blaze. It upset Jasper to think about it, but his father cherished what was left of them and he would never take them down, no matter how looking at them hurt.
At the door, Jasper picked up his wide-brimmed hat and shouldered his rifle on its leather strap. It was loaded. Not because he thought his farm would be under attack, but because of snakes and coyotes. Even the odd fox might try take a new lamb in the lambing season, which was about to begin. Prairie rattlers were common, and he’d heard the mournful howl of a coyote the last couple of nights. It was time to check the fences.
He made his way to the stable where his horse, a large dappled grey stallion called Frosty waited for him. He saddled the horse and the two of them set out. They skirted around what was left of his mother’s gardens. Only some low hedges of plumbago had survived, in the shape of a mini box maze. At the center was the dried-up corpse of a peach tree.
Jasper rode by it, thinking not for the first time that it was time to plant something else there. Just because his mother Mary had planted it didn’t mean that it had to stay for perpetuity. It was pointless and he hoped she would understand.
Past the gardens, Jasper headed out to the pasture where he’d let the cattle overnight. The sheep he’d brought into the barn since the little lambs were still too young to survive Wyoming’s spring nights. The cattle were generally more robust, and he’d left them in the bottom pasture where the grass was especially good this year.
As he rode, Billy Smithers waved to him. He’d hired Billy and his brother Jonas to help out with the sheep. Jasper knew he and Theo couldn’t watch them all the time. With Billy and Jonas’ father laid off from falling off his horse, they needed to help support the family. Both boys were eager teens and took their responsibility of keeping the sheep from accidentally getting themselves killed seriously. It was a full-time job.
Jasper waved back, noting the sheep all looked fine in the west field. Good. One less thing to worry about.
The cattle were also where he’d left them, grazing happily or sitting under the trees that dotted the grassland. In their shade, the creatures chewed the cud. All was well.
“Come on, Frosty,” he said aloud. “Let’s go check the fence and make sure things are fine.”
The horse neighed and trotted through the placidly eating cattle.
The fence was made of stout poles sunk in the ground with long planks as the cross beams. It wouldn’t keep smaller creatures from coming in. He’d even had white-tailed deer, elk, and pronghorn on his land before. Although that had been when one of his fences had succumbed to termites and three poles had keeled over in the dirt. It had been a job and a half to fix that before the cattle realized they could wander away. The nice thing about cattle was that they were largely homebodies and didn’t want to stray away from where the food, safety, and shelter were easy to find. If no one drove them out, they’d probably never notice the fence was down.
Jasper dismounted and walked along the fence. It was fine, solid and sturdy. No sign of those dratted termites. He tied Frosty to the fence and climbed over it, heading into the open prairie. He went a little way checking for signs of coyotes, foxes, or other predators lurking around.
Perhaps they had passed him by. That would be a stroke of luck.
Instead, he found evidence of shod hooves having ridden by his land. Well, that was fine and dandy. It was a free country and people could ride by, yet his gut told him there was something more to this than a traveler taking a shortcut through the prairie.
He walked a little way further down the fence and then up it again, past his starting point.
“Well, now,” he said aloud. “Look at that. Seems they came from up that way and followed the fence. Now why do you suppose they did that?”
There were stories circulating around Emerald Springs of a band of cattle rustlers working the region. Would they leave such obvious tracks without actually stealing any cattle? That didn’t seem likely to Jasper. If he were a rustler, he certainly would never advertise his presence. Still, perhaps they thought no one would check outside the fence—if not for the coyote howling last night, he might not have checked, either.
He walked back to where Frosty was waiting patiently for him and climbed back over the fence. He untied the horse and climbed in the saddle. Turning the horse’s head, he decided to ride up the way the hooves had come down, heading to their starting point. That way, he might learn something new. Every few hundred yards or so, he’d peek over the fence to check that the hoof prints were still there in the soft earth. Thank goodness it had rained a couple of nights previously and the days hadn’t been so hot that the ground wouldn’t keep an impression.
On and on he went, following the hoof prints.
When he hit the west field, Billy and Jonas came over to him.
“Hiya Boss-man!” Billy said with a wide smile. He was sun-browned and had a grass stalk sticking out of the side of his mouth.
“Billy, Jonas,” Jasper greeted them. It was odd but despite his inherent dislike of most people, he found the two young men’s company quite enjoyable. He supposed at fourteen and sixteen they were young men now, the ones earning the money to keep their family in bread. He could respect that.
“What you checking out the fence for?” Billy, the eldest brother, asked.
Jasper explained what he was doing and Billy and Jonas both whistled through their teeth.
“It’s them rustlers,” Jonas said. He had a ripe pimple on his left cheek and a smear of dirt on his chin.
“But no cattle or sheep are missing,” Billy said. “Rustlers steal, stupid!” He smacked the back of his brother’s head. “Sometimes I think Ma dropped you too often.”
“Boys!” Jasper admonished. “Come on now. We gotta keep checking. You two give me a hand.”
The boys were happy to help. Jasper let Billy and Jonas climb over the fence, leaving the sheep for a moment on their own, to follow the prints outside. He rode ahead to check the fence.
The afternoon was waning as they went along. Checking the hoof prints was slow work. In some places, checking the fence proved challenging too. Bushes grew up around the poles and Jasper had to stop and try to remove them before they grew over the wood.
When they reached a clump of trees, Billy and Jonas stopped him.
“Looks like the prints go around the trees,” Jonas said.
“Around?” Jasper asked. “Are you sure?”
“They head out that way,” Jonas said, pointing away from the farm.
“Okay, see if they double back,” he said while he checked the fence. One of the cross poles had come down on the one side. It hung diagonally across the space and did nothing to help with the fence’s integrity. Jasper spent a few moments lifting it back into place. He grunted and groaned, the pole being heavy, but he was a strong man and could manage on his own. He’d had to since his father’s long confinement left him to run the farm.
He waited a few minutes and then Jonas was back.
“Yeah, they come back and go on up the fence,” he said.
Jasper mulled this over. Why would someone have done that? Why would they have ridden long the fence and then away from it only to ride back to it again? He looked around. There were only the trees here, spreading their branches high in the air. He turned around, still looking.
He could see the manor from here. It wasn’t close, but it was visible. He could see the rocker on the porch. Had whoever had ridden here during the night seen something at the house that made them ride away? Perhaps he had come out with a lantern. He usually did stand on the porch a few minutes before retiring for the night. In summer, he’d sit outside for hours before going to bed, enjoying the cooler night air. Had the sudden appearance of the light made whoever was slinking by his property think he knew they were there? It was possible.
Jasper decided to move on. The boys had run on ahead and he had to catch up. As he was looking up the ridge, he noticed a lot of commotion up at the second house there. Had his new ranch hand arrived? That was the only reasonable explanation.
Seeing people moving about in the yard brought home the realization that Jasper would have to go and welcome them. If his father had been up to the task, he would likely have been up the ridge already, pumping the new man’s hand and complimenting his wife on their lovely children. Robert Reed had been that kind of guy when Jasper was a little tyke.
Now, well, now that honor, as dubious as Jasper found it, rested on his shoulders. He sighed and urged Frosty on. Better to get it over with. All he had to do was say the word “welcome,” shake the man’s hand, and tell him to report to the manor first thing in the morning. That was it—and yet Jasper felt his brow break out in sweat and his mouth turn dry as ash. He hated meeting new people. They always looked at his right hand, on which the skin was melted and scarred. Always. And short of wearing long sleeves and gloves all the time, there was no way of stopping it.
And just because he was stuck with the scar reminding him of what had happened didn’t mean he wanted to rehash it every time he met someone. Maybe, this time would be different.
He rode up the rise and came to the yard. There were so many people there and they all turned to look at him. Jasper found his voice rasping out of his throat as he fixed his gaze on the older of the two strange women and spoke.
“Afternoon,” he said, finding it miraculous that his voice was working at all. He spoke so rarely. “I take it you’re the Murphys?”
The older woman nodded and confirmed they were.
He launched into his very short welcome speech and asked to speak to Mr. Murphy. The man appeared around the side of the house with a little boy, both carrying logs. They handed those over to the women and Douglas Murphy and Theo stepped out of the yard to talk to him.
This was better. Jasper dismounted and they walked away from the women.
“I’m so thankful to you, sir,” Mr. Murphy said. “It’s not easy getting a position at my age. Forty-six is not young, but I promise you I bring a lifetime of experience with me.”
“I know,” Jasper said. “That’s why I hired you. I trust the journey was fine?”
Douglas Murphy nodded. “Very comfortable. Those new trains are lovely. And thank you so much for sending Theo here to fetch us from the station.”
“It was Theo’s idea,” Jasper said.
“Well, I was just trying to be helpful,” Theo said. Then he frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Jasper said.
“I’ve been your friend forever, Jasper, please don’t lie to me,” Theo said. “You’ve been checking the fence?”
Jasper knew he couldn’t hide a thing from Theo and so he nodded. “Found some odd tracks. I’ve got Billy and Jonas following them now.”
“Tracks? What kind?” Theo asked.
Just then voices rang out across the fields. Jasper froze. “That was the boys,” he said.
Theo nodded, his brown eyes large and round.
Jasper hauled himself up into his saddle and raced off in the direction the boys had gone in. He hoped nothing terrible had befallen them. No coyote pouncing on them, or a rattler catching them off guard, or the people who had made those hoofprints with their mounts still being around.
He rode hard and soon came to patch of land where runoff from the spring and summer storms over the years had cut a wide swath out of the ground. It was a constant effort to keep the fence up here. Jasper came to a halt, finding the boys standing by a hole in the fence.
“Look, Boss-man!” Billy said when Jasper dismounted. “Someone pulled out the poles.”
“A Bride to Mend His Soul” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
For as long as she can remember, Suzannah Murphy’s family has been moving around the country, never settling down. All that changes when she finds out that her parents plan to make the Reed ranch their permanent home, and promise her hand to the owner’s son. Although Suzannah dreams of starting a family, she won’t abide by an arranged marriage, especially when her betrothed is the most reserved and distant person she has ever met. Yet, as she breaks down the walls surrounding his heart, and his kindness unfolds, she will soon find out the true reason he has been acting so strangely. Utterly unprepared for the challenges that are about to follow, will she manage to stand by his side without risking her own fate?
For almost ten years, Jasper Reed has been blaming himself for the terrible accident that changed his father’s life forever. Immersed in remorse, he devotes himself completely to saving the family ranch from insolvency. When all his efforts fail though, a trust-fund stashed away by a wealthy relative seems to be the only way out. However, there’s a catch… he must get married before his impending twenty-seventh birthday in order to receive the money. Feeling the burden of his duty and needing to act quickly, he is surprised to find himself struck by the unique beauty of the new ranch worker’s daughter. Could she be the answer to his prayers or will life remind him once again that he is cursed to lose everything he cares about?
What starts as a courtship of convenience, soon develops into a powerful and unexpected connection between Suzannah and Jasper, challenging their complicated feelings. When fate brings yet another shocking twist, the arrival of a devious relative with a hidden agenda threatens to tear them apart forever. With such a rocky start and time working against them, will they manage to trust each other and find the happy ending they always hoped for?
“A Bride to Mend His Soul” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.