“A mail-order bride? Angela, you can’t be serious.” Kate Swinson rolled her eyes and poured another cup of tea.
“And why not?” Kate’s best friend Angela stood in front of her, hands firmly planted on her hips, frowning. “Do you have a better idea? I’m sorry to have to say this, but you’re not exactly in a position to be choosy, honey.”
It had been two weeks since Kate’s brother Tommy had been killed in a machinery accident at the mill where he worked and Kate had found herself all alone in the world. All of the siblings’ plans to go west and acquire a ranch had died with Tommy.
Kate was grief-stricken and in turmoil. She hadn’t known what to do once her brother was gone. So she’d decided that she would go out to Montana Territory herself and continue with the plans she and Tommy had made.
“No, I’m not in a position to be choosy, Angela, but I don’t need to marry a complete stranger, do I? Or the first man who comes along.” She stirred a little sugar into the teacup and took a sip. The hot liquid felt good as it traveled down her throat.
“Look here …” Angela sat next to Kate at the kitchen table and placed a newspaper in front of her.
The tiny three-room apartment Kate had shared with her brother was paid up until the end of the following month. Tommy had arranged it that way. Because they were foreign (English, but most people thought Irish), he’d paid for the little flat for three months at a time since he’d arrived in Boston two years earlier. Kate had come along a year later after their father had died and stayed in the bedroom. Tommy had slept on a cot in the parlor that was folded up and hidden under the sofa each day.
“Don’t be like that, honey. You’re too stubborn sometimes. Just have a look at the advertisements. Please? I know you want to go out to Montana Territory by yourself so you can fulfill yours and Tommy’s dream, but it’s just not feasible, honey. Why you don’t know the first thing about ranching. And the land out there … I’ve heard you have to travel across a big bowl of dust to even get there. How are you going to work under those kinds of conditions, much less live under them? All alone? It’s impossible. You know that from your family’s farm in Cornwall. And that was a working farm. Starting a ranch from scratch? A ranch, Kate. Please be reasonable. You don’t know the first thing about ranching. Not that Tommy knew much more, but he could have been a gentleman rancher.”
“I don’t need to know how to rope and ride, Angela. There’ll be ranch hands. I can cook and clean for the men I hire to work for me. Or I’ll hire a girl to help me in the kitchen. I’ll be a lady rancher. How about that?”
“Please, please, just have a look at this paper, Kate. Those men … those cowboys, they have someone who cooks for them. They’re called chuck cooks.”
“You seem to have done your homework; I’ll give you that.”
“Well neither one of us is getting any younger you know. And it’s slim pickings here in Boston. But I know I couldn’t live in a wild, unruly place even if I had a husband.
“Really, Kate. We’re talking about the west. It’s a dangerous place for a woman all alone. If you had a man to look after you, a husband, I’m sure you’d find things much easier. It wouldn’t be fitting for you to have all those men around you on a ranch and you living in a house alone. At the very least, you should have a chaperone. But a husband would be ideal.”
“What about you? Angela, why don’t you come with me? It would be an adventure like we’ve never had before, and you can be my chaperone! Maybe you’ll find a husband too. I mean, you’ve been looking in this paper. How long has that been going on?”
Angela laughed and stood. She crossed the room, smoothing the skirt of her dress as she did so.
“I see what you’re doing, but I have to decline.”
“But why? It would be fun. We could look out for each other.”
“The west isn’t for me, Kate, you know that. I thrive in the city. I need the opera house and the restaurants we have here in Boston. The dress shops and the parties. I’d wither away in a place like Wyoming,” she said with a laugh.
Kate joined the laughter and found herself relaxing a little. It felt good to laugh. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done so. It had been such a miserable, sorrowful two weeks.
“But you on the other hand … you love hard work and nature. That’s why it was such a good plan that you and Tommy had. But, now that he’s gone, you just can’t do it on your own, Kate. I’ll say it yet again … you need a husband to help you, and to protect you. It’s still wild in the west, even if San Francisco is civilized. It’s definitely wild in places like the Montana Territory, that’s for certain. Montana is still a territory. Who knows when and if it will become a state.” She set the kettle on the front of the little cast iron cook stove to heat and went back to the table.
“Come on, Kate. What harm can be done by just looking at the advertisements? Women have been going out west like this for about 30 years.”
“You mean to tell me that women have been indulging in this, this … cattle call for that long? It can’t be true. I simply cannot understand it. What we have to do is to find husbands! It’s utterly ridiculous.”
“It’s not a cattle call. Really, Kate. Eastern women have also begun to place advertisements. Advertisements that seek men in the west for husbands. I suppose it’s just the way of the world.
The men go ahead and make the way. Then women follow or are summoned. Why just look at you and Tommy. He came here, secured this apartment after getting a job, and then sent for you.”
“Well, our father had died, Angela. It wasn’t as if I could run the farm alone.”
“A-ha! See?” Angela pointed her index finger at Kate. “That’s exactly what I’ve been saying. You need a man by your side.”
“Alright. Alright. I see your point. But why are there still so many unmarried men in the territories?”
“The west just keeps getting bigger and bigger! Let’s have a look at the paper, shall we? If nothing else, it’s fun to peruse the advertisements. Does wonders for the imagination.”
Kate eyed her friend warily but decided it wouldn’t hinder her plans to just look at the advertisements.
She did it more as a favor to Angela than anything else. Angela had been a rock for her these last two weeks staying at the apartment cooking and keeping things clean. Angela had stood at Kate’s side at the cemetery, holding her elbow in case she faltered. She’d stayed right beside her. Kate thought she could never pay back the debt she felt she owed her friend. Looking at the marriage advertisements was the least she could do. Angela had taken such good care of her. Her mind went back to the awful day.
It had been like a nightmare. But it had been a regular Tuesday morning. Tommy had left the apartment after Kate had cooked breakfast and they’d eaten. They always ate breakfast together every morning because Tommy never knew when he might get the opportunity to get in some overtime at the mill. And Kate, who worked cleaning houses and taking care of children might get an extra job and not make it home in time for supper. She might have supper at the house she was filling in at.
That last morning had been cold. The winds of February had groaned and blown, rattling the windows of the tiny flat, the draft creeping into every corner of the rooms except the little kitchen where the cook stove was.
They’d eaten breakfast as normal, and Tommy, grinning as usual, had kissed her cheek and gone off to work. Kate, on the other hand, had been feeling poorly. She’d gone back to bed only to be awoken at 11 o’clock by pounding on the apartment door.
And that had been that. The police had informed her that Tommy was dead. He’d been killed in a machine accident at the textile mill.
Thankfully, Angela had just so happened to be in the neighborhood and had stopped by to say hello only to find Kate in tears. And she’d stayed. Kate knew she wouldn’t have been able to get out of her bed if it hadn’t been for Angela. Angela let her grieve but wouldn’t allow her to slip away and be lost in her grief.
“You know, once you’re all settled out there, with a handsome rancher, I can come and visit you. I think I can tear myself away from my parties and social activities for a few weeks. Would you like that?”
“Oh Angela, you know I would. I realize it’s going to be really hard for me. I know I’ll be lonely. But I can withstand anything that comes my way. I have to. To honor Tommy. But if you would come and visit me, it would make things so much easier. Even just looking forward to your arrival would be a balm to my spirit.”
“Alright, then I’ll plan on it. But before we plan my visit, we might want to find a suitable correspondent for you from this newspaper here. Remember, we want to find you a compatible husband.”
“Alright. Let me see.” Kate sighed, moved the paper closer to her, and scanned the column of adverts.
“Well, first of all, I don’t see anybody in the Montana Territory.”
“But you can get an idea of the kinds of men who travel so far from home to find fortune. Although many of them end up miners in gold or copper mines! Still it’s a living.” Angela’s eyes grew wide. “Or a merchant. Yes, Kate. Look for a merchant. They sell all the supplies the other men need. I hear they make quite the profit.”
“By raising the prices of things exorbitantly? That’s a dodgy way to do business, Angela. I don’t want any part of that sort of thing. That kind of inflation drives a man to use scrip. It’s an uphill battle. And those merchants work for the big gold, silver, and copper companies anyway. Those businesses, those mercantiles, they don’t belong to the men who run them. They belong to the companies.”
“Kate, you take everything so seriously. And what you say is partially true, but not entirely true. I’m sure there are many men who aren’t imprisoned by the high prices of the company stores. And there has got to be a merchant, somewhere, who’s not tied up with the big companies. Someone who’s a decent human being. And then there are saloon keepers. I’ve read that the saloons in some western towns never close. Not even on Sunday.”
“Angela! Do you think I want to make my life with a man who keeps his saloon open on a Sunday? My strong feeling is that if he does that, then he doesn’t go to church. I don’t see one of these ads that ask for a Christian woman.”
“OK. A pastor, then? Do you really think you could be a pastor’s wife, Kate? I mean you’re so adventuresome. Why, even Boston has left you bored,” she said with a laugh.
“Hush, Angela. It’s not funny.” Kate’s eyebrows drew together in a frown.
“I’m not trying to be funny, Kate. I’m sorry. But it would behoove you to think about the kind of man you think you could spend the rest of your life with.”
“There are 50 advertisements here, at least. How am I to pick one?”
“Again, what kind of man can you see yourself with? Really think about it. Add details. Make it as clear as you can. It will make your search that much easier. You can just cross off the ones who hold absolutely no interest for you. It can be fun if you’ll let it be.”
“Well, alright. I do like a man who is a hard worker. And he should go to church. He should have nice manners and good penmanship.”
“I like to laugh, so a sense of humor is necessary.”
“Can’t I just look in the paper now?”
“You may! Go ahead.” Angela fished a small pencil out of her pocket. “Here you go. Cross out those ads you immediately don’t like and circle those you do.”
Kate took the pencil and smiled. She was nervous. What if she couldn’t find someone to write to? Better to take everything one step at a time. She didn’t have to decide on a correspondent today.
“Why don’t you give yourself a little time? Say, three months? If you don’t find a suitable correspondent by then, I promise I’ll let it go. Isn’t that a satisfactory compromise?”
“I suppose so. But I have only six more weeks before I must pay the landlord for the second half of the year.”
“Nonsense. You will contact him and tell him you are going to pay by the month from now on.
You don’t want him to kick you out, but you also don’t want to lose money. You won’t be here for a full six months.”
“What if the landlord says no?”
“Kate. I don’t think he will. If he’s disagreeable, you just stay at my house. We have two guest bedrooms. You know you’re welcome.”
“I can’t take that kind of charity from your parents. It’s why I said no when you invited me two weeks ago. I want to stay here, Angela. I need to.”
“As you wish it is how you shall have it, honey. I’m just trying to help. Stop me if I get too overbearing.”
“I love you for your care, Angela. But back to this mail-order-bride business. Three months is a long time. By then it will be summer. How long do the correspondences usually go on?”
“I imagine a couple of months. I mean, the object of the letters is to see who you’re compatible with. We’re talking about marriage, after all, Kate. That’s the endgame.”
Look, you and Tommy were going to leave Boston in two months time anyway, weren’t you?”
“Yes. Tommy wanted to travel during the warmer months.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a proper correspondent by the time you were originally planning to go.”
“But the letters. They’ll hold up my travel. I don’t want to travel when it’s cold.”
“You’ll be held up only as long as you let them hold you up. Now, why don’t you go over the adverts again? The new issue of the Marriage Times is out next week. I’ll be sure to get it for you. This is practice.”
Kate smiled in spite of her misgivings. Angela was trying to help her, and she was being persnickety. She reached her hand out and placed it over Angela’s on the table.
“Thank you, Angela. Thank you for looking out for me. But what happens if I get cold feet?”
“I won’t allow it. It’s as simple as that.” Angela winked.
“No, Boyd. If we wait for the storm to blow over, we’ll lose more of the herd. We have to go after the ones that got out.”
“I know I secured the gate, Troy. I’m absolutely positive about it.”
Troy Kelley nodded and said nothing. His sapphire blue eyes, so vivid in the swirling darkness of the storm, were inscrutable. His gaze traveled over the land, and in the overcast light the scars on the left side of his face could barely be seen.
“We’d best try to round up as many of the strays as we can. Stay within earshot. It’s just going to be you and me. The others aren’t seasoned hands. Luke took off early today to go into Cheyenne, so I don’t want to turn this into a lesson. I just want to get the ponies.”
The two men rode out onto the prairie. It was still light out, and Troy hoped to get all five of the horses that had gotten out of the paddock. It was the second time in three weeks that some horses had been spooked and got out. The first time he’d gotten them all back. He wasn’t so sure if that would happen this time. The storm darkened the sky without any hint of blowing out. Once it was officially nighttime, they would have to turn back.
He knew Boyd was a good worker, and if he said he’d secured the gate, Troy had never had a reason to doubt it. But the second time in three weeks? It wouldn’t be good if Boyd was distracted and had forgotten. But Troy knew Boyd wouldn’t lie and say he’d secured the gate if he hadn’t. There was really only one reason for this to be happening, for the horses to be escaping like this. Troy shook his head. He couldn’t entertain the thought, yet he could think of no better explanation than the one that occupied his mind at that moment.
Just then, lightning flashed, and in an instant, he saw the frantic silhouettes of three ponies running wildly across the plain. He took off after them. For the next couple of hours, Boyd and Troy ran down the horses and finally were able to capture three of the animals and blindfold them to calm them down.
“Well, we got most of them. The other two will have to weather the storm,” Boyd grinned. “At least until morning.”
“Yeah. Good work, Boyd. I wouldn’t have been able to get any of them by myself. Let’s head for the corral. This rain is merciless.”
They rode back toward the house and took the horses down to the corral. The two stable boys came running to relieve the men of the animals. It was late. Troy was famished and cold and wanted to get into the warmth of the kitchen as fast as he could.
He opened the back door and stepped inside leaving the wind and rain behind him. The room was toasty warm and cheerful, two big lamps at either end of the table illuminated the room in a soft glow. Forty-seven-year-old Lola Pelton stood at the stove stirring a pot.
She and her son Boyd had been extended an invitation by Troy to live and work on the ranch after Boyd’s father had been killed in a saloon brawl shortly after Troy and his father, Sterling, had come to Ashridge in the Wyoming Territory. As it was, Troy’s father and Lola’s husband had both died suddenly and within two weeks of one another.
It wasn’t something Troy liked to think about. His father had died in an explosion at the gold mine they’d built north of the town.
For 10 years, Troy had traveled around the frontier territories with his father starting gold and copper mines. It wasn’t what he wanted to do even though he knew the payoff was great. His father needed him because, as a geologist, Troy could identify any kind of rock or mineral they might come across.
When they’d come to Ashridge, Sterling had told Troy that it was the perfect place for them. Troy could have his ranch and Sterling, his gold mine. And the settlement had no direct connection to the Union Pacific Railway line that ran through the county.
Sterling had wanted to build a spur line to the main railroad line. It would make sending and receiving anything from packages to textiles to ore to cattle easier and faster. There was only one catch, and Sterling had been prepared to confront it.
Then the explosion happened.
It had been a beautiful, crisp and bright, early fall day. Afterward, everyone involved would have a sort of survivor’s guilt. For Sterling Kelley had been the only man killed that day. It seemed the blast had occurred around where Sterling had been standing inside the mine with his son, discussing reinforcing the beams that held the tunnels secure.
Someone had called out to Troy with a question. He’d patted his dad on the back and had been leaving his side to go and see what the problem could be. He was about 11 feet away from his father when the explosion happened.
Troy had been knocked another 10 feet along the drift toward the entrance to the mine tunnel. Dazed, blinded by smoke and dust and dirt, he’d tried in vain to get back to his father. Strong hands grabbed him by the armpits, and he’d been dragged from the gaping hole that had been the opening to the mine.
He’d been sick for days, the burn on his face threatening to become infected. But with Lola Pelton’s gentle nursing, Troy had been up and about in a few days. It was weeks before he could go outside, though. The tender new flesh that covered almost half of his face had to heal.
It was when Troy had left his bed that Boyd told him what had happened and that his father was dead and buried. It was a moment when Troy felt as if he was completely alone in the world. The burn scars that ravaged half of his countenance only served to further remove him from the society of Ashridge.
He avoided the searching, squinting eyes of folks. He kept to himself, and he’d taken to pulling his Stetson down low over his eyes and slightly tilted. At a distance it gave him a rakish look and hid the scars as best as could be done. But he still felt as if he resembled some half-forgotten mythical beast, misunderstood and unloved.
So, he’d invited Lola and her son to come and live at the ranch house. It was a rather unusual arrangement with Lola quipping to Troy that birds of a feather flocked together. Her husband, though she’d loved him, had been a drunkard and had often caused problems in town. Sterling Kelley had been tagged a pariah by the people of Ashridge, especially the Henderson family. It was their sprawling ranch that would need to be bisected by the new spur line Sterling had wanted to put in.
The whole town would benefit from the existence of a spur line. It would bring business and allow more people to travel to Ashridge. It would facilitate the business doings in town also. Business owners would be positively affected. There was no down side to it. The Hendersons stood to make money off the line too. They could set up a toll collection point if they didn’t want to sell their land. The tolls would more than make up for the loss of grazing land for the Henderson herds. In fact, Sterling had been thinking about signing over some of the land on his ranch to the family. That way they wouldn’t lose anything. They’d only gain.
But, Preston Hoyle, the self-proclaimed mayor of Ashridge, had convinced the Hendersons and almost everybody else in the area that Sterling Kelley wasn’t trustworthy. He’d done nothing but cause trouble for Sterling and Troy since they’d gotten into town. Of course that fact wasn’t common knowledge. The man hid behind his dirty work that was done by others.
For an entire year leading up to the accident, a year in which Troy and his father were working very hard to turn a profit at the mine, it felt as if just about everyone in town had been turned against them by Hoyle. Troy had known it then, and he knew it just as well now. Only the ranch hands and the miners were loyal because the Kelleys provided work. If only they all would see the benefits of a spur line. It would mean more work, better jobs, and a boom to the economy of Ashridge.
The whole thing had been a sad state of affairs, and Troy had decided to stick to ranching for a while. He had a foreman over at the gold mine, and anything they might get out of the mine would be icing on the cake as far as he could see.
“You must be freezing! Both of you.” Lola’s voice called Troy’s attention into the present as she poured out two big cups of coffee for the men.
“It was cold, Ma. There’s no argument here. We found three of the ponies and got them back to the corral safe and sound. The other two we’ll try to find in the morning.”
Troy shifted in his seat and took a gulp of the steaming coffee.
“Boyd, you’re absolutely positive you secured the gate of the paddock? Absolutely, one hundred percent sure?”
“Why, yeah, Troy. That’s what I told you. It’s always the last thing I do at the end of the day. I secure the fence and mark a tiny notch on the edge of my chaps in groups of six for the six days of the week. This is this week.” He pointed to the new gash in the leather near the bottom of the chaps.
“It’s not that I doubt you or that I don’t believe you, Boyd, as much as it might seem that way. But the reality that presents itself in the light of what you’ve told me can only lead me to one deduction.”
Lola joined them at the table. “What do you think it is, Troy? What’s your deduction?”
“Horse rustlers. And if I had my druthers, I’d say it was Preston Hoyle who hired them.”
“No! Troy, I can’t believe that. Sure, Mr. Hoyle is an odious man, but do you really think he would sink so low as to try and sabotage your work here on the ranch? I mean, you’ve stopped talking about the spur line. There’s no reason for the man to come after you. This is your land. You’re no threat to him out here.”
“I don’t think Hoyle would sink as low as a snake, Lola, I know it. He clearly felt threatened by my father the day we came here two years ago. I’m sure it pains him greatly that I’m still alive in spite of having been in the mine when the accident happened. Hoyle wants control of all the business here in Ashridge. His joking boast of being the mayor is, I’m sure, his very true wishful thinking.”
“But to actually hire horse rustlers? Troy do you really think he would go that far? I mean horse thieves get hanged.”
“Which is why Hoyle has hired people to do his dirty work, Boyd. Frankly, I believe he’d go a lot farther than stealing some horses if it served him. There’s no telling what he’s capable of, but my father died feeling the hatred of many of the townsfolk because of him. Especially the Hendersons. Hoyle made my father out to be a greedy conniving businessman. And the people who live and work around here, the people who make their lives here felt threatened too. Hoyle has had them eating out of his hand for years, I believe.”
“Well, you’ve got that right,” Lola added. She was frowning.
“It could be any one of a half dozen lecherous types I’ve seen around Hoyle lately. It could have been any one of them who rode out and opened that paddock gate tonight. But, since horse stealing is so harshly punished, my guess is Hoyle wanted real outlaws to do the job. It would take the eyes of the town off of him. Of course, he’s smart enough that he knows I would suspect something, but I can prove nothing.
“And it’s not only that. I believe this to be the second time he’s hired rogues. Sure, the paddock gate could be neglected one time. It could be a slip-up by any of us. But for it to happen twice? In three weeks? I’m sure Hoyle is behind it. He’s trying to sabotage me. Why? I don’t know as I’ve given up on the Hendersons ever selling or leasing their land for the spur line. Cutting off their noses is what they’re doing.”
“Well, come now. If you don’t know what prompts the scoundrel, let’s stop talking about him for a little while. It’s time for supper. Go wash up now that you’re all warm. Then we’ll eat.” Lola shooed the men away and went back to the stove.
Troy and Boyd rode back out onto the plain the next morning to try and locate the other missing horses.
“I should have listened to you when you told me to sell half those ponies in the paddock, Boyd. Now, between the last time and this, if we don’t find any more, it will be almost a quarter of the herd that’s gone.” He looked out over the horizon, and a deep sigh escaped him.
“So are you going to tell me what’s on your mind, Troy? And don’t say the horses!” Boyd grinned.
Troy glanced sidelong at his partner. “Is it as obvious as all that? I forgot how observant you are. What no one else would notice, you would.”
Boyd continued grinning. “Yep. You got that right. So? Out with it?”
Troy sighed again. Their horses walked slowly, stopping here and there to graze a little.
“I’ve done something I never thought I’d do. And I’m having, I reckon you might say, some second thoughts about it.”
“Sounds pretty intriguing.”
He smirked. “No, Boyd. It’s not so exciting as all that.”
“Well? Are you going to tell me or not?”
“Well, you know your mother gave me a talking to. It was right after the Christmas holidays.”
“Go on.” Boyd looked confused.
“She told me I need a wife.”
“A wife? What does she mean by that?”
“Your mother thinks that if I had a wife, it would make me, uh, more presentable to the residents of Ashridge. It would give me a kind of respectability that’s now lacking. And she thinks it would help me to come out of myself. She thinks I’m caught in grieving my father. She thinks my worst scars from the accident are on the inside.”
“That sounds like my mother. You know how she always wants those she cares about to be happy. And to her, young people and marriage go together. The notion is something she considers to be a panacea.
“But who would you marry, Troy? There’s no girls out here. I mean unless you count the hurdies. Now they’re always game to find a husband. Trouble is they make more money than a lot of the men in town. They take fifty cents on the dance, you know. That’s a minimum of two dollars an hour. It’s not easy to give up that kind of money to become the wife of an average miner.
“Of course, the hurdy gurdy girls are frowned on by most of the few women living in town. Just because they work in saloons. They think since the good Lord isn’t walking among us, it’s up to them to pass judgment. Some of the men have the same attitude, too.
It’s odd, actually, because Kevin Quinn only hires family acts. My friend, Tina’s two sisters work with her at Quinn’s dancing, and the parents play the hurdy gurdy and the fiddle. They’re all nice girls. Chaperoned. Do you have it in your mind to go after a hurdy, Troy?”
“No. Not that I have anything against them, but Lola suggested a different approach. An approach she thinks would better serve my nature.”
“What is it?”
“Your mother suggested that I put an advertisement in the Matrimonial Times.”
Boyd burst out laughing.
“Oh, Troy, that’s a good one!” He slapped his thigh, his mirth threatened to overtake him. He laughed for a good two or three minutes more before it seemed he noticed that Troy was stone-faced. His laughter faded away.
“So? You did it, didn’t you? Now look, Troy. I didn’t mean anything by my laughter. It’s just that I never took the whole mail order bride phenomena seriously.”
“Well, you should. Those brave women who travel across the country, alone, to marry and make homes out here, should be respected for what they do, even if the institution is based on necessity rather than love.”
“Ah. A marriage of convenience.”
“I reckon you could say that.”
“A business arrangement if you will.”
“Possibly, although that’s not what Lola has in mind. She thinks I’m shy due to my affliction. Courting by letter would suit me better. However, your mother is a romantic at heart, Boyd. She thinks I’ll fall in love. I didn’t want to ruin her fun, you see, so I put an advert in the paper.”
“Really? You did? What happened? Any bites? Or has no one answered your ad?”
“On the contrary. I had nine ladies send introductory letters to me.”
“That seems like a lot of responses.”
Troy shrugged. “I don’t know if it is or not. But I answered the three I found to be the most interesting.”
“Two of the three were in a hurry to get started in their new lives. I’d been enjoying the correspondences, but I reckon I was too slow in making a move.”
“Making a move?”
“Is that really how it’s done?”
“I don’t understand it, Troy. Is it really such slim pickings back east?”
“Mmm, I think it has more to do with a sense of adventure and freedom. I think the women who embark on the path of a mail order bride are looking for something their eastern lives cannot give them.”
Troy grinned. “Maybe.”
“So now you’re only writing to one lady. How’s it going?”
“It’s going fine. She’s from Boston, well, by way of England. And she’s all alone. Her brother died. They’d been planning to come west, and she still wishes to. It’s in honor of her brother that she’s considered leaving Boston on her own.”
“How long have you been writing to her?”
“Two months. But, I … I sent a marriage proposal in my last letter.”
“You what? You sent a marriage proposal? After only two months of correspondence? Have you had a photograph sent? I mean, Troy, what if she has buck teeth or something?”
Troy pushed his hat back from his forehead.
“Do you think I’d hold that against her?”
Boyd’s eyes dropped. “I … I’m sorry Troy.”
“It’s alright. Suffice it to say, I’ve been a little on edge about it all.”
“Getting married is a big move. A natural move, but a big one nonetheless.”
“I, I didn’t tell her about the … the … accident.”
“You mean she doesn’t know about …?”
“No. And I’ve been having misgivings about that. I should have told her. But, I couldn’t. I was afraid she wouldn’t give me a chance if she knew. I was afraid not one of them would write again if they knew.”
“And you thought she wouldn’t come to Ashridge if she knew. Well, is she coming, then?”
“I don’t know. I’d expected a letter from her two days ago. At the same time, I fear I’m getting cold feet about it. I feel I’ve betrayed her in some way by not telling her about my … about the accident.”
Troy’s hand unconsciously went to the side of his face. The skin felt slick and mottled. He should have told Kate about what happened. But deep inside of himself he was afraid that if he’d done so, she wouldn’t have written back.
Once his defect became known in Ashridge, his own fiancée had tearfully told him she couldn’t marry him. Children pointed and whispered when they saw him on the board walkway in town, something akin to fear in their eyes.
And he’d wanted her to write back. They had much in common, and he’d thoroughly enjoyed her letters. She was a horsewoman, she’d written, who craved wide open spaces and a clear big sky. She was independent, and he could tell from her writing, a bit feisty. And she was alone in the world much as he was. He felt drawn to her by a force he couldn’t explain much less fathom.
He’d allowed himself to imagine. He’d imagined meeting her for the first time. He’d imagined the soft tones of her voice and the brightness of her eyes, which she’d said were almost black. With each letter he received his feelings had grown warmer until two days ago when he hadn’t heard anything back from her on his marriage proposal.
That was when he realized that he’d almost let himself slip in too deep. Theirs was to be a marriage of convenience. There was no margin for romantic notions. He knew from experience that romantic notions only led to heartache. If Miss Kate Swinson of Boston, Massachusetts had decided to marry someone else, then it was up to Troy to put another advertisement in the Matrimonial Times. That was that.
“The decision on who to marry isn’t an easy one.” Boyd’s words snapped Troy out of his thoughts.
“She could be corresponding with other men too. Maybe she’s holding out for the highest bidder, so to speak. A gold baron in San Francisco would be preferable to a Wyoming rancher.”
“Don’t think so much, Troy. You’ll just keep going around in circles and wear yourself out. Why don’t we take a ride into Ashridge and visit the post. The three horses are gone. They might show back up in the next few days of their own accord. But, for now, there’s nothing more we can do.”
“You’re right, Boyd. Let’s go to the post. We can stop by Quinn’s while we’re there. You can say hello to your hurdy friend.”
“I won’t argue with you.” Boyd grinned.
Without another word, they turned their mounts and headed toward town. They rode in silence for a bit before Boyd piped up asking a question out of the blue.
“What are you going to do about … you know? I mean, what are you going to tell … her?”
Troy’s back stiffened. “Her?”
“You know who I mean. Miss, Miss … Foster.”
“What about her? I don’t owe her any explanations as to how I live my life.”
“Oh, I know that. What I mean is how do you think she’ll take it if you marry someone else?”
“I don’t care how she takes it. Do I need to remind you that she stayed by me all the while your mother nursed me after the accident? The day the bandages were removed, she was there, in the room, with Doc Masters and your mother.”
“You don’t need to remind me.”
“Well, I’m going to. The next day, she told me she couldn’t be my wife.”
“I’m sorry, Troy. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I … I just, I didn’t know where your feelings were as far as the broken engagement was concerned.”
Troy lowered and pulled his hat forward shading his face. It was an unconscious habit, a tick that he performed when he felt uncomfortable or emotional. And most of his current discomfort came from the fact that, one year earlier, his fiancée had broken their engagement after the accident that had maimed him and killed his father. As a result, Troy himself, had been scarred across his face and then his heart.
“Finding Shelter in her Arms” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When Kate Swinson’s brother is killed in a factory accident, her dreams of moving west, starting up a ranch and a new life die with him. Alone and destitute, Kate fears for the future until she is convinced to head west on her own as a mail-order bride. However, nothing is as it seems and she soon realizes that her life has taken the wrong turn. Her husband makes her feel like something is seriously wrong. What are the challenges lying deep down that she will have to deal with? Coming face to face with a terrifying, well-hidden truth out of nowhere, will affect her life and marriage forever…
Troy Kelley has been trying to cope with his father’s sudden loss and his false accusations that linger in town. He has been struggling with isolation and loneliness that keeps haunting him since a treacherous woman broke his heart. When he realizes that he has to open his heart to Kate or else he’ll end up in a loveless life, will it be too late? Is he actually ready to share his journey and his secrets or has revenge completely absorbed him?
Moving to the Wyoming Territory was supposed to be the beginning of a new and happy chapter, but to Kate, everything seems to be falling apart. At the same time, succumbing to love had never been part of Troy’s plan, as there are too many loose ends to tie up. Will this marriage of seeming convenience evolve into real love? Will Troy be able to protect Kate from his dangerous past? When her life gets in danger will he manage to intervene in time or will it be too late?
“Finding Shelter in her Arms” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.