The sweet smell of roses in the summer heat was oppressive. Joseph did his best not to begin sneezing as the smell clogged his nose. After all, it was his wedding, and it wouldn’t do for the groom to be sneezing all over the place. Joseph simply wished his fiancée hadn’t needed so many flowers. She’d insisted on turning the entire church into a garden paradise, and with the heat, it was starting to smell like a funeral was about to take place instead of a wedding.
Joseph was nervous. He couldn’t stop running a hand through his blond hair. He knew that he was mussing it out of place. He knew that his fiancée wouldn’t be pleased, but he couldn’t seem to stop. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so antsy. He could barely stop himself from shifting from foot to foot and readjusting his tie constantly.
“Calm yourself,” his best friend William said. He wasn’t just his best man, but he was also the brother of the bride.
“I’m plenty calm,” Joseph lied. He’d barely slept last night in anticipation of this day, and now, he found that he practically had to be held back so that he didn’t preemptively walk down the church aisle.
“You look like a spooked horse,” William said. “I don’t remember being this nervous when I got married.”
Joseph laughed. He’d been at William’s wedding and served as best man. William had been the calmest groom anyone had ever seen. Unlike Joseph, he stood still as stone and had waited for his bride to walk down the aisle.
“Why are you so nervous?” William asked. “You and Rebecca have been heading towards the aisle since childhood. I can’t remember a time when the two of you weren’t attached at the hip.”
Joseph smiled. There was never a doubt in his mind about who he was going to marry. Rebecca and William’s family were Joseph’s neighbors. Their families were exceptionally close. As Rebecca and William got older, they grew closer, and things between them changed from friendship to something more romantic.“I’m just anxious to get on with it,” Joseph said. “I want to be married.”
That was true. Joseph was ready to be a husband and hopefully have a family of his own one day. His parents had passed away a few years ago, and he’d been lonely since. Having Rebecca in his house would bring life, family, and love back into his home.
William clasped a heavy hand onto Joseph’s back. The weight of it kept Joseph in place for a few moments. William and Joseph were standing in the church doorway, waiting for the music to usher them to their places.
“Everything is going to be fine,” William said.
Joseph said nothing. He wasn’t worried. What was making him so anxious was that he did not enjoy being a spectacle. He’d begged Rebecca for a simpler ceremony, but she wouldn’t hear it. She’d wanted to have a big event that would bring out most of the town. Now, Joseph was faced with walking down the aisle and pledging his love to his childhood sweetheart in front of a packed church. He felt a bead of sweat forming on the back of his neck. The sounds of soft violins playing were the cue that he’d been waiting for.
“Seems that they are ready for us,” William said.
Joseph swallowed the lump that formed in his throat, and he pressed his sweaty palms down the front of his trousers. He walked out into the church, smiling slightly to the people sitting in the pews.
“How exciting a day,” the pastor said as William and Joseph took their places at the top of the aisle. They both shook the minister’s hands.
“Thank you, sir,” Joseph said. He barely managed to get the words past his lips.
He turned, staring into the crowd of friends and family who’d all come to wish him and Rebecca well. He looked at the door waiting anxiously for his bride to make her appearance. He was sure that the second he laid eyes on her, he would be instantly soothed.
He waited and waited, unsure if things were running behind schedule or if his nerves were just causing it to feel that way.
He smiled out into the crowd, but when he took his eyes off the church entrance, he noticed that everyone seemed to be whispering amongst themselves.
“What’s going on?” he asked William. There was clear upset in his voice.
William gave him an easy smile. Despite being the eldest son of a rancher, and all the responsibility that came with that, William had an easy-going manner. Nothing seemed to faze him. Joseph could not claim to be the same.
“Rebecca is probably just late,” William said. “You know how she can be.”
Joseph nodded. Like William, he was sure that must have been it. Rebecca was a lovely woman, and she took great care to make sure her appearance was always spectacular.
That’s probably all that is going on, he thought, taking a deep breath.
Everyone seemed to be waiting with bated breath for Rebecca’s arrival. Joseph tried not to laugh as he considered how much Rebecca would like that, and he tapped his foot on the aisle floor. His nervous energy was getting greater and greater, and he could barely contain things.
The sound of the violin starting again brought everyone to attention. Joseph smiled. He was glad to be getting on with things. He straightened his suit jacket, which felt tight against his shoulder. He was wearing a light gray that apparently was a la mode in Paris—this according to Rebecca.
The music played, but Rebecca wasn’t walking down the aisle. Instead, it was Rebecca’s father. Mr. Jones ran down the aisle so quickly that he nearly tripped over his shoes.
“What in the world?” William asked. He stepped away from Joseph’s side as his father got closer.
Joseph’s heart hammered in his chest. He immediately knew that something was wrong.
“Pa?” William asked. “Are you alright?”
Mr. Jones was breathing heavily. His face was red, and Rebecca seemed to be nowhere in sight. “I need to speak to you,” Mr. Jones said to his son.
“Where’s Rebecca?” Joseph asked. He was getting more and more worried by the moment. Rebecca had been getting ready for the wedding at her family home, and Joseph couldn’t fathom what might have befallen her.
Mr. Jones looked all around the church, his eyes shifting around at the concerned faces. “Can we step out of the rectory for a moment?” Mr. Jones said.
Joseph’s fear grew. “Of course,” he said. He took his soon to be father-in-law by the shoulder and guided him out of the church. The back of Joseph’s neck was red with embarrassment. He tried to ignore all the whispers and focus on the emergency at hand, which was finding out where his bride was.
“Oh Joseph,” Mr. Jones said. “I’m so sorry.”
Joseph cocked an eyebrow, unsure of what he should be saying. He didn’t know why Mr. Jones was apologizing.
“You’ve got nothing to apologize for, sir,” Joseph said. “I was getting a bit flustered waiting up there.”
“Pa?” William asked, jumping in. “What is going on?”
The worry in William’s voice made him nervous. Mr. Jones said nothing. He simply gave William a piece of parchment. Joseph watched as William’s eyes scanned the parchment. As he did, his face became pale.
“What’s going on?” Joseph asked. He was truly concerned now. This was not a case of Rebecca simply being late. Joseph knew that something direr was going on. Rebecca loved a bit of drama, but she wouldn’t keep him waiting this long.
“You might want to take a seat somewhere,” William said.
“What is it?” Joseph asked. This time he was truly fearful. “Has something happened to Rebecca?”
“Joseph …” Mr. Jones walked towards him. The pity in his eyes was something that Joseph had never seen before. He’d never been a man who inspired pity in others. He was well-to-do with a large ranch and a fiancée who was the most beautiful woman in all of Wyoming.
“What is going on?” Joseph asked once more. This time he was nearly shouting. He took a deep breath as a way to calm himself. After all, they were at his wedding, and half the town was waiting to see him and Rebecca wed. “Where is Rebecca?”
Mr. Jones and William shared a look.
“What is it?!” This time Joseph was yelling. His heart was beating quickly in his chest as if it were a hummingbird. He worried that it would burst out of his chest if he didn’t get answers soon.
“Rebecca isn’t coming.”
“What?” Joseph asked. His mind was racing, and he wasn’t sure who was talking or what they were saying. He simply pictured Rebecca somewhere hurt and in need of him. “We should be going to Rebecca. If she’s hurt, she’ll need us.”
William reached out and grabbed Joseph’s arm. His actions stopped Joseph in his tracks. “What are you doing?” Joseph asked.
William gave him a sad look. “Rebecca isn’t coming,” William said.
“Because she’s hurt.”
William shook his head. “She’s not coming because she’s run off.”
“Run off with who? Where?” Joseph’s head was spinning. He couldn’t make sense of anything. Rebecca wasn’t coming to the church, but Joseph couldn’t understand why. Rebecca had been planning their wedding for a year. She wouldn’t just abandon everything, would she?
“Joseph,” Mr. Jones said as he walked towards him, “you have to know that Mrs. Jones and myself had no idea.”
“Idea about what?” Joseph still was not understanding what was happening.
“Here,” William said.
He pressed the parchment into Joseph’s hands.
Joseph unfolded the parchment. The note was in Rebecca’s feminine, loopy handwriting. He smiled as he saw it. Rebecca used to write him love letters when they were younger, and her loopy scrawl reminded him of the early days of their courtship. But as Joseph read on, his smile faded. He couldn’t believe what he was reading. Rebecca had fled town, and she fled with another man. She’d written her apologies but offered no other explanation.
“Why would she do this?” Joseph asked.
He didn’t expect William or Mr. Jones to have answers. From the look on Mr. Jones’ face, he was just as shocked. Joseph ran a weary hand over his face. He could not believe what Rebecca had written. She’d said that she’d been unhappy and did not wish to marry a man she didn’t love. She apologized for not having the courage to walk away sooner and for embarrassing her family. Joseph crumbled the parchment in his hands. His anger was hot and fierce. It was probably for the best that Rebecca wasn’t around because Joseph wasn’t sure he could keep himself cool-headed.
“Please know Joseph that we will do whatever we can to make this up to you. Mrs. Jones and I are devastated by what Rebecca has done here.”
Joseph tried not to laugh. He didn’t wish to make Mr. Jones feel terrible. He wasn’t the one who left Joseph at the altar. He was just as much Rebecca’s victim as Joseph. “There’s no need,” Joseph said.
“What can we do?” William asked.
Joseph looked into the church. They were still close enough to the door that Joseph could see inside. He caught the pastor’s eye and shook his head slightly. He wasn’t sure if the pastor understood what he was saying, but Joseph felt the urge to do something.
“Nothing,” Joseph said. He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his curly blond hair as he began walking towards the church door. This was his worst nightmare. Rebecca, whom he loved so much it hurt, was gone. She’d chosen to leave him. It felt like a knife had been plunged into his chest and twisted until his heart was shredded to pieces. Joseph thought back to the last couple of months, searching his mind as he tried to think of any warning signs that she had fallen out of love with him. Joseph couldn’t think of anything. He hadn’t seen her for nearly a day, but before that, she’d seemed excited about their wedding. She’d teased him with tales of the beautiful dress that she had designed.
Joseph chuckled sardonically and shook his head. Wherever Rebecca ran off to, he hoped that she was pursuing a career as an actress.
“I suppose I’ll have to go and tell the town the news,” he said.
“We can do that,” William told him.
Joseph shook his head. This was one of his worst nightmares, but he needed to see this day through. He might not be getting married, but it seemed he would not be spared some sort of public spectacle.
Charlotte blew a strand of dark hair out of her face. The summer wind was picking up, and she’d been in such a rush to get to the train that morning that she hadn’t tied her curls back tight enough.
That was only one of the reasons she was frustrated this morning.
It had been nearly a year since Charlotte walked into her father’s Philadelphia brownstone, and it seemed that things hadn’t changed one bit. She chuckled to herself at that fact. Her father was a creature of habit. He wouldn’t have changed anything in his home unless it had become worn and useless. As it were, things seemed to be all in their place just as they were when Charlotte left eleven months ago. The oriental rug lined the floor––an expensive gift from one of her father’s business partners. A sturdy mahogany table stood in the entryway under a portrait of her mother. That painting was the only thing Charlotte liked about the house. The rest of it was cold and empty.
Just like the man who resides inside it, Charlotte thought as she walked further inside.
“Good afternoon, Miss,” one of her father’s servants said. Charlotte didn’t know his name. He hadn’t worked here when she left.
“Good afternoon,” she said. “Is my father inside?” She pointed to the office door. Her father was always inside. If he wasn’t, then he was likely doing business outside the home.
“He is Miss,” the butler said. “He’s expecting you.”
Charlotte gave him a tight smile. She knew her father was expecting her. After all, he’d summoned her. She took a deep breath, steeling herself for her father’s presence. She had no idea why he’d summoned her back home, but she knew him well enough to know that it couldn’t be good.
“Father?” she said as she stepped into the room. The office was surprisingly light. The curtains were pulled back, and she could see the people outside on the streets.
“Ahhh,” her father said. He walked towards her with his arms outstretched as if to embrace her.
Charlotte was immediately confused. She and her father had a standoffish relationship at best, and one that was downright hostile at worst. She couldn’t remember the last time he embraced her. She wasn’t sure he ever had.
“I’m so happy to have you home,” he told her, laying a small kiss on her hairline. His lips were dry, and he smelled of tobacco.
Charlotte was sure that her face showed her confusion as she looked at her father. His dark eyes were hard and stiff as if merely playing a part. It would certainly make more sense than … whatever this was.
“It’s so nice to see a father and daughter as close as you two,” a masculine voice called out.
Charlotte looked over her father’s shoulder at their guest. He was a thin, young man, with curly dark hair, and very well dressed.
“Charlotte,” her father said as he practically dragged her over towards the man. “Meet James Foster.”
James bent his head in greeting, giving her an odd little bow that she found completely unnecessary.
“Good afternoon,” Charlotte said politely. She glanced at her father, who had a smile plastered across his face. It was eerie. “I’m shocked to see you here, Mr. Foster. If I’d known we were expecting guests, I would have changed out of my traveling attire.”
And hidden in my room, she thought.
“You look lovely,” he said.
Charlotte gave him a small smile. She appreciated the compliment, but it made her uncomfortable. This was starting to feel nefarious.“What brings you to our home?” she asked.
“I invited Mr. Foster for tea,” her father said. He ushered her towards a settee in his room, one with a small jug of tea and some sandwiches on the table.
Curious, Charlotte thought. But she was starving, so she was glad to see some food. Her father made it clear he expected her before noon, and she’d needed to break her back to make that happen. Now, she was wondering if Mr. Foster was part of the reason. Charlotte narrowed her eyes at her father as she took her seat and arranged her dress.
What in the world is he up to? she wondered.
“How were your travels?” James asked.
Charlotte grabbed the teapot and began pouring. She assumed that the men had waited for her since the pot was heavy in her gloved hands.“They were fine,” she said. She wasn’t about to discuss herself with this man. It wasn’t that she did not like him; after all, she didn’t know James from any other man, but she did not plan to make nice conversation with one of her father’s associates.
“Charlotte has come from New York where she served as a governess,” her father said. There was a tone of pride in his voice that Charlotte knew was fake. The only thing her father liked about her position was that it kept her out of his hair.
“How exciting,” James said.
“Not really,” Charlotte told him. “Mostly running after children. I’m sure an accomplished man such as yourself would find it boring.”
James said nothing, but Charlotte could feel her father’s stern eyes on her. For a moment, the three of them sat there in awkward silence. No one knew what to say. Charlotte refused to play the hostess. She hadn’t invited James to their home, so she was content to simply munch her sandwich.
“I came here today to ask if you would be so kind as to accompany me to Mrs. Hannity’s ball this weekend.”
“Mrs. Hannity is throwing a ball?” Charlotte asked, playing ignorant. She knew exactly what he was talking about. Mrs. Hannity had six daughters, and for the past decade, she’d thrown a lavish coming-out ball for each of them.
Charlotte hadn’t missed a single one. She wasn’t much for balls, but these were the social events of the season, and her father wouldn’t allow them to miss it.
“She is,” James said. His teacup shook slightly, and his cheeks pinkened. His nervousness was slightly endearing. “And I was hoping that you might like to join me for the evening.”
Charlotte said nothing. She knew that she didn’t have a choice. Her father was sitting next to her, and she got the sense that he would not be allowing her to say no.
“Why me?” Charlotte asked.
“Why me? We hardly know one another, and yet, you wish us to attend the largest social event of the season together.”
James looked at a loss for words. His eyes immediately went to her father as if begging him for his intervention.
“Charlotte,” her father said, his tone scolding, “don’t be so rude.”
Charlotte said nothing. She simply pressed the tea to her lips, enjoying how the warm liquid slid down her throat and warmed her insides.
“It’s no trouble,” James said. His good manners required him to interject. “I wish to get to know you, Miss Lewis. That’s all.”
Charlotte tried not to roll her eyes at his very diplomatic and false response, but she knew that would simply make things worse.
“I accept the lovely invitation,” she said.
James looked like he was suppressing his desire to clap his hands together in delight.
“Oh dear,” James said. He looked down at his pocket watch. “I must head back to the office.”
Charlotte and her father both rose from their seats. They said their goodbyes to James, and as he walked out of her father’s office, she felt the little bit of warmth that James brought into the room.
“What was that?’” Charlotte asked angrily once the click of James’ shoes was out of earshot.
“What do you mean?” her father asked. He dared to resume his seat and sip his tea as if nothing happened.
“Is that why you demanded I leave my post and return home today?” Charlotte asked. Her anger was red hot. Her father ordering her to return home meant that she’d had to give up a position she’d enjoyed.
“I demanded you return home because you’ve been away long enough,” her father said.
Charlotte snorted and plopped down heavily onto the settee. She reached out for her unfinished tea sandwich and shoved the remainder into her mouth. “I’ve stayed away from this house for most of my life,” she reminded him. “You’ve never had a problem with it before. You sent me away to boarding school for most of my life.”
“You are nearly twenty-one,” he told her.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “I’m aware of my age, but I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.”
Her father sighed, and Charlotte knew that he was growing frustrated with her. She didn’t care much. Her father could feel whatever he wished towards her. It wouldn’t change the fact that for most of her life, her father ignored her.
Why stop now? she wondered.
“You should be married by now,” he said. “I won’t have you being a stain on your family like your aunt.”
Charlotte’s mouth dropped open in shock. Her father had not shown any interest in her as a child, so she’d always assumed that he wouldn’t care who she married or when, especially when Charlotte went off to take a job as a governess. She wasn’t surprised that he talked about her aunt. Her Aunt Mary had married late in life to a man very much below her station. Charlotte’s father never got over it.
“Is that why Mr. Foster was here? Are you playing matchmaker?”
“Don’t be insolent,” he ordered.
Charlotte pursed her lips, but she said nothing.
“James Foster is from a very influential family. His father holds a seat on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange,” he said.
She was suddenly starting to see why James had been invited over for tea. “I won’t marry him,” Charlotte said. She knew she was being childish. James might be a perfectly lovely man. He seemed earnest enough, and he was handsome. Charlotte knew that she should give him a chance. She wasn’t against marriage, per se, but she had no desire or need to rush into a union. The only thing James had working against him was her father.
“You’ll marry whoever I say you’ll marry,” her father told her.
This made Charlotte laugh. “Not likely,” she snipped. “Unless you plan to force me down the aisle, you’ll have to find a new way to get whatever it is that you want from the Foster family.”
Her father slammed his teacup down so hard that a small crack formed into the cup, and the hot liquid sloshed over the sides. “You’ll do as I say,” he told her. “Because if you don’t, you’ll be disowned and tossed out on the streets.”
“What?” Charlotte asked in shock. “You’d really do that over some silly man?”
“I’d do it because you need to learn your place.”
His words felt like a slap across her face. Charlotte knew her place. She’d been reminded of it her entire life.
“I know my place,” Charlotte said. She swept up her dress. She wanted to retire to her room and be away from her father.
“Then, you’ll marry Mr. Foster,” her father said. There was no joy on his face. They could have been discussing the weather for all it mattered.
Charlotte said nothing. She grabbed another sandwich and walked towards the door. She had absolutely no intention of marrying James Foster, but her father did not need to know that. Charlotte was a smart woman. She’d been sent away to boarding schools and relatives most of her life, and during that time, she’d learned to be crafty. Charlotte chewed her sandwich, contemplating her next move. She was sure that she could outsmart her father. She just needed to figure out how.
Joseph mucked the horse stall with a vigor he’d never had before. Mucking was his least favorite job. It reminded him of being a child and how he’d barely been able to pick up the rake. His father had still made him muck. He’d thought of it as the backbone for a good work ethic. These days Joseph did every terrible, backbreaking job he could find. He’d even offered his help to some of the local ranchers. Of course, they’d all turned him down.
“Woah there!” Tommy Baker said to Joseph as he walked into the barn. His boots thundered across the wooden floors.
Tommy was Joseph’s foreman, but Joseph didn’t expect him to be to work so early.
“What are you doing here?” Joseph asked. “It’s barely sunrise.”
Tommy raised an eyebrow at the question. “I suppose that I could ask you the same thing.”
Joseph said nothing. Tommy had been ribbing on him for the past month, since the day he had been left at the altar. Joseph worked harder and faster. It was early still, but he needed the backbreaking work to keep his mind off of things.“I wanted to get a start on the day,” Joseph said. In truth, he’d been struggling to sleep. His mind had been troubled since Rebecca had left him at the altar. He hadn’t been able to understand why she’d done such a thing, and more importantly, couldn’t grasp how he missed all or any of the signs.
“Looks like you might have begun before the sun,” Tommy asked. He walked further into the barn, dropping his lunch pail onto the ground. The clang of the metal would have startled Joseph, but he spent most of his days wrapped up in his head.
“Did you eat?” Tommy asked.
Joseph said nothing. It wasn’t required. This was a routine that the two of them had developed.
“Not hungry,” Joseph said.
Joseph didn’t need to look at his friend to know he was rolling his eyes. Joseph continued his work. He was coming to the end of it, and he hoped Tommy would be going off to do something else before Joseph completed his task. Joseph wasn’t in the mood to talk, which seemed to be all that anyone wanted to do these days.
Joseph could hear Tommy rustling into his lunch pail, but he didn’t pay much attention to it. He focused solely on the task at hand. Joseph had been so engrossed in finishing his task that he hadn’t heard the sound of Tommy’s boots as he came behind him. Now, he could smell the scent of salted meat and warm bread. He turned and saw Tommy standing not too far behind him holding out half of a sandwich. “I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t want to take your lunch.”
“It’s breakfast,” Tommy said. “And I’ve got more. Ma is worried that you haven’t been eating. I told her I’d give you the extra sandwich she packed.”
Joseph sighed. He hated how kind everyone was being to him. He knew that it was coming from pity. Everyone felt terrible that he’d been left at the altar by Rebecca. When they saw him, they gave him looks of pity, which turned his stomach. Because of that, he stayed away from the town as much as possible. When he did need to go, he sent Tommy. But Joseph was hungry, and he wasn’t about to pass up anything Mrs. Martin sent him.
“Thanks,” Joseph said. He let go of the rake and walked towards a bale of hay. A few of the horses whinnied, probably from the smell of meat and cheese.
“Yea, yea,” Tommy said. “We’ll feed y’all soon.”
Joseph smiled. Tommy was a great foreman, but he wasn’t the biggest lover of animals.
“Why’s your Ma packing me extra food?” he asked.
Tommy took a seat next to him, unwrapping his sandwich. Joseph took a bit out of his food and suppressed a moan of contentment. The combination of meat, cheese, and fresh bread on his tongue was incredibly satisfying. He could hardly remember the last time he’d eaten something so delicious.
“Ma’s worried that you aren’t eating,” Tommy said. His mouth was full of food, which muffled his voice.
“Have you said something to her?” Joseph asked, his voice accusatory. Tommy was one of the few people who Joseph kept close. After all, Joseph couldn’t run the ranch without Tommy’s help. He wasn’t naive enough to think he could.
“No,” Tommy said. “She just shows her love through food. If this job wasn’t so backbreaking, I would be much portlier.”
Joseph can’t help laughing. Tommy was a tall, slender man. Despite constantly eating, he was thin as a reed.
“Thank her for me,” Joseph said as he munched his breakfast. He felt bad for giving Joseph the third degree, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. These days he snapped at the slightest thing. Joseph sighed. He remembered when he had been a fun and easy-going individual. It felt like a lifetime ago.
“You know you can’t keep going on like this, right?” Tommy asked.
Joseph said nothing. This was part of their routine. “I don’t wish to talk about this,” Joseph said. He got up from his seat and brushed the crumbs from his trousers. It was barely morning, but he was already caked in dirt. Joseph didn’t care, though. These days he only cared about getting things done on the ranch.
“You need to talk about it,” Tommy insisted. “It’s been over a month, and you’ve barely left the house.”
Joseph grabbed his rake and began continuing his work. “A month is hardly a long time,” he reminded his friend. “Especially considering we were together for years. “Joseph had yet to be able to say Rebecca’s name. These days he could hardly even think it. When he did, it felt like the little bit of his heart remaining was torn into smaller and smaller pieces. Rebecca had truly destroyed the person he used to be, and he felt weak for allowing this.
“I’m not saying you have to go off and catch a wife, but I’m also saying that you can’t stay ensconced here on the ranch for the rest of your life.”
“I’m not hiding,” Joseph said.
“You are, and you shouldn’t be,” Tommy said.
“And why is that?” Joseph snapped. He was not in the mood for any of this, but he knew that Tommy would not let things go. He was like a dog with a bone, and he’d decided that Joseph was going to be his next project.
“Everyone feels for you,” Tommy said.
“That’s part of the problem.” Joseph didn’t want people to feel for him. He’d lived on the ranch his entire life; his family had helped establish the town, so he knew nearly every person in town. They also knew him. They’d be able to see how Rebecca’s behavior had left him a shell of the person he once was.
“You’re upset that people are worried about you?” Tommy asked. Joseph turned to see him rolling his eyes. “That’s silly. You’re basically the first son of Douglas.”
Tommy’s tone was teasing. Joseph didn’t find it amusing. “And I was supposed to marry its first daughter. It’s too bad that she ran off before that could happen.”
Tommy shrugged. “People think that says more about her than you.”
“What?” Joseph asked.
“The town is buzzing, but it’s all against Rebecca. Not a single person can believe that she ran off with her pa’s foreman instead of marrying you. Her pa has been hiding as hard as you.”
Joseph’s frown deepened. He didn’t want the Jones family suffering. He didn’t blame them, and he didn’t think that anyone else should either.
“Rebecca’s choices were her own. Her family shouldn’t pay for any of what she did.”
“But you should?”
Joseph sighed. “That’s not what I’m doing. I’m simply not interested in seeing anyone these days.”
Tommy sighed. It was clear that he was frustrated by Joseph’s words. Joseph didn’t care. It was the truth. He wanted to work hard so that he had the best ranch in town. He wanted something to be proud of.
“You’ve got to get back out there eventually,” Tommy said. “There are a slew of eligible young women who are just waiting for you to pick them up.”
This time Joseph laughed. He couldn’t believe what Tommy was suggesting. “I have no plans of marrying. Not ever.”
Tommy swept his hands outwards. “Who will you leave all of this to if you don’t marry?”
Joseph hadn’t thought about that. He’d been trying his hardest not to think about anything concerning marriage. He simply knew that it was something he was not interested in. Why would he be after what happened to him? The only issue was that Joseph was the only heir for the ranch. If he didn’t marry and have a child of his own, there would be no one to inherit The Smyth ranch. It would be sold off probably in pieces. The thought was worse than anything he’d experienced with Rebecca.
“You should look into one of those mail order services,” Tommy said abruptly.
“What?” Joseph asked. He’d heard a bit about mail order brides, but he did not know a single person who used the service. While Joseph understood why the west needed mail order brides, it was not something they’d had use for in Douglas.
“My cousin used an agency out in California. My aunt told Ma his wife is a beautiful Yankee, and they couldn’t be more content.”
“I don’t think they have agencies here in Douglas,” Joseph said. He had to admit that he was intrigued by the idea of such an arrangement. Though Joseph had no intention of falling in love again, that did not necessarily mean that he did not need to take a wife. A mail-order agency would solve all of his problems.
“There’s a place two towns over,” Tommy said with a shrug.
Joseph raised his brow at his friend. He opened his mouth to ask Tommy why he knew so much about mail order brides but quickly shut it again. If he started teasing Tommy, then it would go both ways, and Joseph still wasn’t looking to have such a conversation with his foreman, especially as the sun was starting to rise. More workers would be coming soon, and though Joseph trusted Tommy, he didn’t want his business spread about town more than it already was. “Well,” Joseph said, “I’m sure that they’ll get lots of business, but they won’t get mine.”
Tommy shrugged. “Just a suggestion. But I’m sure after a couple of months, you’ll find some beauty to make you believe in love again.”
“Let’s get back to work, huh?” Joseph said. He could hear his other workers starting to congregate, and he was relieved. Their presence would keep Tommy busy and off of his back.
“Looks like the men are here, so you’re off the hook.” Tommy started walking backward out of the barn door. “But be sure to stop by and see my ma. If you don’t, she’ll be sending me with platters of food next.”
Joseph laughed. “Will do,” he said, shaking his head.
Though he had no intention of taking a mail order bride, Tommy had sparked his interest and given him a lot to think about.
“True Love’s Surprise” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Charlotte Lewis may have been born into one of Philadelphia’s wealthiest families, but she has never been able to find her place in polite society. Her refusal to marry certainly hasn’t done her any favors, but having her life controlled by a man is something she simply wants no part of. So when her father tries to force her into an arranged marriage, she’s left with no choice but to flee to her Aunt’s farmhouse in Wyoming. There, in an unexpected turn of events, her powerful connection with a kind rancher tempts her to reconsider her harsh preconceptions about love and marriage. Caught in a whirlwind of emotions, will her growing attraction to him be strong enough to overcome such deep-seated fears?
Humiliated and heartbroken after his fiancé leaves him at the altar, Joseph Smyth refuses to fall victim to his emotions again. Swearing off romance once and for all, but still needing a wife to help him run his ranch, he seeks out a mail-order bride. When Joseph meets the town’s charming new teacher, however, it feels like a ray of light has appeared in the darkness of his life. As he gets to know her better, his cynical attitude toward love begins to thaw. Before too long though, forgotten obligations come knocking on his door when his betrothed arrives. With his sense of responsibility weighing heavily on his shoulders, will Joseph be forced to sacrifice his second chance at true love and happiness?
Life in Wyoming brings Charlotte and Joseph closer than they would have ever expected to be, and undeniable feelings grow between them. Joseph is torn between duty and true love, while Charlotte worries that he may prove to be just another man who will let her down. Yet, when the line that separates right from wrong becomes blurred, will they decide to follow their reason or their hearts? Will they find a way out of the tangled web they’ve found themselves in?
“True Love’s Surprise” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.