Julie walked down the crooked little path that led to the barn. It was a sunny morning and the bright light glared into her eyes, making her squint. Her fingertips brushed over the smooth skin of the red apple she carried in her pocket.
Prince loved apples. Her father and everyone else who knew this had told her not to feed them to the horse. They said he was going to get spoiled and misbehave on the days that she didn’t bring him one.
She had ignored them. They were wrong. Prince didn’t get upset when she didn’t bring an apple. In fact, Julie was certain that Prince understood her a lot better than people gave him credit for.
Prince had been Julie’s horse for five years now. She had been there watching when he was born, and she had raised him from his very first moments in the barn. She was the one to teach him to walk on a rope. She had brushed him and taught him that her hands meant good things. They had a connection like nothing else, and Julie loved that horse more than she loved most people.
Prince gave a whinny as Julie stepped into the barn. It smelled of sweet hay and musk. The barn was one of Julie’s favorite places, as was her father’s study.
She loved the atmosphere and being close to Prince. Of course, her father didn’t understand her preferences at all and because of this, most of her visits to the barn or the study were done in secret or when he was not at home.
Right now, he was going to be home from town at any moment. She knew that he wouldn’t want her out in the barn first thing in the morning—he would want her sewing a sampler or learning how to be more ladylike instead of spending time with the animals.
Julie detested both these activities, as well as her father’s recent determination to find her a husband.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it? We’ll have to find ourselves a husband who likes horses, won’t we?” Julie whispered as she stroked Prince’s cheeks. She held out the apple and he took it, crunching it between his large teeth.
Prince bobbed his head up and down, tossing his thick black forelock. Julie loved his color. He was black all over, so black that he seemed to be darker than the night. He had one small spot of white on his left shoulder, about the size of her fist. He was very princely, and Julie could imagine no other name for him. In the sunlight, his coat gleamed, and his muscles rippled when he ran. He was the most handsome horse she had ever seen.
“Pa said that someone might be coming for brunch today. He said I should get myself ready. Would I be terrible if I wore something hideous so that they would never ask me to another brunch?” she asked the horse.
Prince’s deep chocolate eyes stared at her and he nickered as if in response. If he could talk, Julie was certain he would say that she would indeed be terrible if she behaved in such a fashion.
“I know, I should cooperate, but the men he brings are such a bore. I don’t want to marry a scholar or some man who thinks I’m nothing more than a pretty face. Is it a bad thing to want to travel? And is it a bad thing to want a man who will truly love me and my beautiful horse?” Julie sighed, leaning against the stall door while she rubbed Prince’s forehead.
This topic was important to her, but she had no one she felt she could discuss it with. Her father would hear none of it, and her one friend in town thought that Julie was out of her mind for not wanting a go with some of the richest and most eligible bachelors in Texas.
Julie knew that status and wealth were important to her father, but they weren’t nearly as important to her.
The sound of someone calling her name made Julie push off from the stall and stand up straight. It certainly wasn’t ladylike to be leaning around on things like that.
“I’m in here,” she called out reluctantly.
Hank appeared a moment later. He was one of the ranch hands who worked for her father. He took care of most of the affairs of the house and often helped her father with any specific errands he needed doing.
Julie let out a little sigh of relief. She trusted Hank. He was kind and wise and was often very sympathetic to her plight. He had a bald spot starting on the very top of his head, and was a stout man.
His eyes twinkled and his voice always sounded as if he was about to share something funny.
“I was tending to the upper rooms and saw your father’s carriage starting up the road. I thought you might like to know since he said we might be expecting guests.”
“Oh, goodness. What time is it?” Julie brushed a hand over her hair. It was a mess, as expected.
“You still have a little bit of time, but I would hurry if I were you,” he advised with a wink. Hank didn’t sound stern, but more amused by her choice of activity for the morning.
“Thank you, Hank.” Julie brushed past him and picked up the sides of her skirts with her hands, rushing toward the house as quickly as she dared.
Running was another thing that her father thought inappropriate for a young lady. She knew that a lot of his thoughts and mindsets came from his upbringing in the big city. Her father expected her to be like a woman raised in society, not like one who grew up in the middle of the wild west.
Julie envied the young women she saw in town. Some seemed so carefree and happy. She had even seen some women in the saloon. Of course, she knew that their profession was anything but respectable, but that didn’t make her envy their freedom any less.
She rushed through the back entrance, through the kitchen. Margaret gave her a knowing look and clucked her tongue in a disapproving way as Julie passed. Margaret was the family cook and was no doubt preparing something delicious that Julie was going to enjoy eating later on.
In a way, Margaret had taken on the role of mother for Julie during the last several years—though Julie couldn’t be sure what having a mother was like, since she had never known her own mother. She had died a few days after Julie’s birth.
Nearly tripping on one of the large chairs in the entrance hall, Julie caught herself and rushed up the large set of stairs leading to the second floor. The house she shared with her father was much larger than necessary. There was a total of fifteen rooms and three baths in the house. Of course, some of the servants lived in some of those rooms, but most of them were empty.
Julie slipped into her own room just in time to glance through the window and see her father pulling up in front of the house. Hank opened the carriage door and her father stepped out, with a young man behind him.
Julie stifled a groan of despair. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the man. He was average looking, relatively tall, and seemed to be quite full of himself. He fairly pranced behind her father, with his chest puffed out.
Julie shook her head. She had tried to tell her father that she wasn’t interested in this type of man for a husband, but he had refused to listen. Her father had introduced her to the sons of nearly all of the bankers who worked for him.
He had also brought home one of the top railroad officials, who was a bit too old for her. In total, this would be the sixth suitor that he would try to set her up with.
She hated every single minute of these encounters, but she really had no choice but to go along with it and turn them down at the end of the evening. Julie pulled out one of her least favorite dresses, a pale blue gown that her father said brought out her eyes.
She thought pale blue was one of the worst colors on her, but she knew that her father would appreciate the effort. She hurriedly pulled down her hair and brushed it out before tying it back up in a twisted bun. A few rebellious strands stuck out, hanging about her ears.
Julie knew it wasn’t perfect, but she didn’t have time to fix it. She managed to wiggle herself out of the dress she was wearing and into the new one. She could hear Hank coming up the stairs, no doubt to tell her that their meal was prepared. It was a bit later than most people ate breakfast, and it was a bit earlier than Julie preferred to eat lunch.
But her father liked a meal at this time and everyone in this house did what her father liked. She loved her father, likely more than most daughters loved their fathers, but there were things about him that frustrated her to no end.
Julie managed to fasten the last clasp on the back of her dress just as Hank knocked on her door. “Miss Brandt, your visitor and your father are waiting for you at the table.”
“Thank you, Hank,” Julie called out.
She closed her eyes and forced herself to take several deep breaths. Then, she plastered a smile on her face and stepped out of her bedroom door. Hank gave her a smile of approval and Julie felt a small amount of pride.
If Hank was happy with how she looked, there was no reason why her father wouldn’t be.
She started down the stairs, holding her dress up a bit with her left hand as she put her right hand on the banister. She took slow and careful steps, not wanting to trip on her skirt as she went. Hopefully, she would get through this meal without incident.
“There she is,” Julie’s father said as she approached the table. While Julie was certain she looked composed and in control on the outside, on the inside, she was a mess.
She was worried that her chin wasn’t high enough or that she might be slouching. She worried that she might have something on her face, the way the young man beside her father was staring. At least he seemed to be her age this time, but Julie was not attracted to him in the least.
Even though she hadn’t even met him properly and knew nothing about him, she had a feeling her lack of interest was because he was one of her father’s choices.
“Julie, this is Eric. His father owns one of the banks two towns over. Eric, this is my daughter, Julie.”
Julie extended her hand and tried not to cringe as he took it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she forced out.
“The pleasure is all mine.” Eric took a seat and Julie followed suit.
She kept her mouth shut and listened to her father and Eric talk as two of the young women who worked for them passed food around the table.
There had been a time in her life when Julie had felt uncomfortable having hired help, but her father had convinced her that he paid them nearly double what anyone else would pay. He had the money to do so. For the most part, she knew, everyone who worked for her father was very happy and did not resent their job but appreciated it.
Even so, she liked to do most of her things herself. She didn’t like to have people brushing her hair or picking up after her. Julie dressed herself, did her own hair, and kept her room clean. She did let them do the cooking for her; that was one thing that she wasn’t going to complain about. Margaret made wonderful food.
The meal stretched on and on. Every once in a while, her father would direct a question at her. She would answer, and Eric would sometimes ask a couple more.
But Julie did not offer to participate more in the conversation and, to her relief, her father did not make her.
When the meal was finally done, Julie stood. She knew what was coming next. Her father would give her some time alone with Eric, allowing him the opportunity to suggest that they might pursue a longer-term relationship.
Julie always turned it down and her father was always unhappy about it, but she wasn’t about to change their little tradition now.
“I have a few things to get from my study. Julie, why don’t you walk Eric out to the front?” her father said with a little twinkle in his eye.
Julie nodded. “Of course, Father.”
What she hated most about these exchanges was that her father did mean well, and he did truly want to find someone that she approved of. But he also didn’t want to let her choose a man for herself.
She waited patiently for Eric to come around the table. He offered her his elbow so they might walk together properly, but Julie pretended she didn’t see it. There was something about Eric that she just didn’t like.
Once her father was out of earshot and they were standing in the large entryway, Julie took a step away from Eric and turned toward him. “I hope you enjoyed your meal and have a wonderful day,” she said politely.
“Actually, I wanted to ask you something, if I may, before I take my leave,” he offered rather unsteadily.
Julie nodded, even though she wanted to tell him that he was absurd even thinking it.
“I think it is quite clear that your father approves of me as a future husband for you. If you are agreeable, I do believe that we should see each other at least once a week until we can be wed.”
Julie rose her eyebrows in surprise. Eric was much more straightforward than most previous suitors had been.
“While my father may approve of you as a future husband, I do not.” Julie accompanied her own blunt words with a little smile.
“With all due respect, I believe that it is your father’s opinion that counts the most, is it not?
After all, it is his estate that I would be in charge of. Do you really know much about men and who would make a good husband for you? I believe I am quite knowledgeable on the subject, and you, being only a woman, surely know nothing of the subject.”
Julie held back a giggle. This man was so much ruder and condescending than she had initially thought. She was glad that, at least for now, she did have a say in who she married.
“With all due respect to you, sir, since it would be me married to you, my opinion is the one that counts. And yes, I do know very much about what sort of a husband I am looking for—and you, Eric, are nothing close to the type of man I want.” Julie was careful not to raise her voice or change her expression while she delivered the words.
“Is your father going to be down soon? Maybe he would be instrumental in changing your mind.”
Julie took a step back. “He will be down shortly. When he does join you, it does not matter what you say to him, he will not change my mind. I implore you not to get your hopes up.”
Julie turned and walked away without another word, filled with a mixture of anger and frustration. She hated that her father thought the best potential husband for her were men who had lots of money. Most of them were arrogant and treated her as if she were no more than a servant.
As his daughter and the heiress to his estate, she was uninterested in how much money a man had. After all, she already had money. She cared about integrity and kindness and how he would care for her and make her happy throughout their marriage.
She passed her father on the stairs without saying a thing. She was certain they would have a word when he returned after saying goodbye to their guest.
Julie paced back and forth in the parlor upstairs. Not many people had two parlors, but her father did.
She would normally sit in the overstuffed chair by the fireplace, but not today. She couldn’t keep herself still. This whole business of finding her a husband had to stop.
“Goodness, what is wrong with you my child? Why was this one not good enough?” her father burst out as he walked into the room.
Julie turned to face him, indignation welling up inside of her. “He said he only wanted to marry me for your money.”
“Did he honestly say that? I do not believe that a man of his etiquette would say such a thing.”
Her father pulled off his spectacles and wiped them with a handkerchief. “I don’t know what to do with you, my daughter. I have done my best to find the best suitors, the most suitable men in this town and surrounding towns to take your hand in marriage, and yet you turn them down at the slightest of things.”
“It’s not the slightest thing. Whoever I marry will decide the rest of my life. I will have to wake up to them every day and they will tell me what I will do. They will be the father of my children. It is not a choice to be made lightly. They will determine who I will be.”
“That is not true. You will still be you, regardless of who you marry.” Her father leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Really? If I have a husband like Eric, I am sure he won’t want me riding about on a horse or going out and doing what I please. He will want a pretty wife who does and says the right things to further his own reputation.”
“Is that a bad thing? It is a team that makes a great reputation.”
“Do you really think that, Pa? Is that what you thought of my mother?” Julie knew it wasn’t kind to bring her mother into this. She knew her father had loved her mother as a best friend. He’d told her countless times how much he loved his wife.
“Of course not. Your mother was special. She was better than anything in my entire life. The day I lost her, it was as if I died a little myself.”
“Are you saying that I’m not special enough to deserve someone who thinks of me like that? I want a man who truly loves me for who I am.”
Silence stretched between them and Julie could see that her point had struck home.
“Julie, I never meant it like that. We can keep looking.”
“Why do we have to keep looking? I don’t want to be married right now. I want to fall in love with a wonderful man who will love me for who I am and treat me like a person. I’m not looking for a ticket to wealth.”
“You need to be married. You’re already nineteen. Do you want to be an old maid?” Her father pushed his spectacles up a little higher on his nose and raised his eyebrows.
“Would that be a bad thing? Maybe I don’t need a husband.”
“Don’t speak such nonsense, Julie. Who would manage the ranch? The cattle? The banks I own when I get too old to do it?”
“I would. I could hire people to help me, just like you do.” Julie held her breath. She hadn’t spoken to her father about her thoughts on these things; she had been too afraid that it sounded ridiculous.
“You couldn’t do it, Julie. That’s a man’s job. You need a husband to help you manage my estate, and that’s the end of it.”
“No. I have been quite understanding with you. I have invited different men to meet you and I have given you the option to choose among them, which is more than many have. You need to start deciding who it is that you have an interest in before I have to decide that for you.”
Julie closed her mouth and kept her thoughts to herself. She didn’t want to fight with her father. She stopped her pacing and, a moment later, hurried from the parlor.
She rushed down the hall toward the one place that made her feel in control—her father’s study. She let herself in and hurried over to the corner that she often occupied. The book that she had been reading was still resting on the little table, and it wasn’t hard to find the chapter where she had left off.
She wanted the words to carry her away to another world where she didn’t have to think about marriage or decisions, but the only thing she saw were the tears building up in her eyes.
Normally, she had a good relationship with her father. Of course, there were things she didn’t like that he made her do, like lessons with a tutor on how to be ladylike, or the side-saddle lessons he had set up just a few days ago.
But she loved him, and she knew that he loved her. She just wished that he would listen to her. She didn’t need to get married right now. Why couldn’t he let her decide who and when she wanted to marry?
Resting her head in her hands, she took a deep breath. She didn’t like any of the men that her father had brought over, not in the slightest. She couldn’t choose any of them. She just couldn’t.
She was independent, and not one of those types of men would put up with her. She was sure of it. They would demand that she sell her precious horse and become a delicate flower of the home for them to show off to guests. She would be forbidden to roam in the woods, becoming a prisoner in her own home.
What was she going to do? She could only hope that her father brought someone suitable, or she was going to be stuck with a terrible man who would make her miserable for the rest of her life.
Julie closed the book and put it back on the table. She was unable to digest the words. She needed to do something other than sitting inside and thinking about a dreaded future. She needed to get outside.
She remembered the last time she had gone bareback riding into the woods. Her father had not been happy. But that wasn’t going to stop Julie. There wasn’t much worse that he could do besides what he was doing already.
She stood up and quietly walked out of her father’s study, back to her bedroom. She needed to be wearing something suitable so that her ride would be enjoyable. She had loved bareback riding ever since she discovered it.
She knew it wasn’t ladylike. Ladies rode sidesaddle. But bareback, she could feel the rippling muscles of the horse beneath her. She could feel the heat of his back and almost felt as if she became one with him, flying across the field like a gazelle.
When she was ready, Julie felt a thrill of excitement run through her. Half of the fun of sneaking out and riding her horse the way that she wanted to was the feeling she got when she did it. Today was going to be no different.
“A Soul Bonding Moment” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Julie Brandt has found out the hard way that being rich does not guarantee happiness. On the contrary, wealth comes with huge expectations, especially since her father happens to be the richest rancher in the area. Julie dreams to fall in love one day, but her father insists on her finding a financially equal match. She feels trapped and everything will get even worse when a terrible accident occurs; one that almost takes her life. This proves to be a nightmare and a blessing at the same time, as she meets Alex, the doctor who will change her life forever. Will she manage to recover or is she doomed to a miserable life? Could she find common ground with her father or her fate has already been determined?
Alex Holden’s dream has always been to become a doctor. When his mentor dies, he sets out to make a name for himself in Texas. Finding a job has been challenging until an ad for a private physician will get him on Julie’s track. His duties seem simple enough at first, but soon, Alex will find himself tangled up in much more than he bargained for. Will he stay focused on his dream or will he let his feelings carry him away? When he realizes that his own life may be in danger will he choose to stay close to his loved one over his safety?
Alex and Julie’s relationship turns out to be something much more intense than they could ever expect. Alex tries his best to heal her and secure her well being but there are too many hurdles keeping him behind. Some suspicious behaviors will make him doublethink her accident and will push him to examine what truly happened. He needs to protect her no matter what, however, what seems to be the answer he is looking for is actually a misleading plan to drag him away from the truth. Finding the culprit proves to be harder than Alex imagined. Who can he really trust? As Alex races against time to find out who would want to hurt Julie, the two begin to fall for each other badly. Will they be able to overcome the hardships that lie ahead?
“A Soul Bonding Moment” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.