Josie Johnson opened the back door of the ranch house and called for his brother.
“Fred, you in there?”
There was no answer, and the kitchen and living room were empty. Josie sighed and went inside. He found his brother sprawling in a chair on the front porch with his eyes closed.
“Wake up, Fred. I need a hand with these fence posts.”
“Can Marcus not help?” the man on the chair answered without opening his eyes.
“Marcus and Luke are out rounding up the stragglers.” The two hands came in each day from the town, which was not far away. “Do you want me to ask Mom to come and hold the posts because that is the only other person around?”
“Alright. Alright.” The older brother struggled to his feet and reached for his Stetson. Josie set off for the fencing and then looked back. His brother was still standing on the porch. Josie started back to the house and felt his anger growing. Freddie saw the expression and came towards him.
“Right. I just needed a minute to straighten up.” The two of them walked to the corral, and their mother waved from the kitchen window of her bungalow. There was no doubt that they were brothers. Freddie’s light brown hair was showing signs of going grey. Josie was still a blonde young man who sported a small mustache. They were both tall and moved easily, and although they didn’t know it, quite elegantly. They walked with an easy grace, although Fred was so miserable since his girlfriend had walked away that he had lost any spring in his step. Josie worried about him, but it seemed there was nothing he could suggest. He loved the ranch and the animals, and Fred did not have the same interests. Josie wondered what would spark some life into his brother.
“Bit of fresh air and some work will do you good,” Josie remarked.
“Just got no energy these days,” his older brother replied.
“Rose has been gone for two years now, Fred. She has never even written. You have to pull yourself together. It has happened to plenty of other folks.”
“I just wish I knew why she went away. Was it my fault? I never thought she would just not tell me about it. We were so close.”
“I have done something,” Freddie said and gave a quick glance across at his brother. “I wrote an ad for a woman to come and marry me.”
“You what?” Josie stopped in his tracks. “We need someone else around here to look after like a hole in the head. You have trouble looking after yourself.”
Freddie argued that help around the house would make things easier for him.
“You do nothing around the house to help with. I do that when I finish outside, and Mom comes over and cooks for us.”
Freddie shrugged and then resumed the walk to the fence. He took a post and held it in the hole. Josie hit it with such force that it almost went in with one blow.
“Mind my head,” Freddie grumbled.
“Mind your head? I could knock it off your shoulders.” He hit the post twice more, and they moved on to the next one. When six posts were in place, Josie wiped his brow with his bandana. “I can manage the rest on my own, thanks.”
Freddie walked away without saying anything, sat back on the porch, put his hat over his face, and went back to sleep. Josie hammered in the nails to complete the repair with some force and went over to his mother’s bungalow. She poured him a coffee, and he sank into a chair.
“Freddie actually came and helped you?” He nodded and smiled at her.
“I threatened to ask you to hold the posts, and he came and did it.” Her younger son paused and then told her about the advert for someone to come and marry Freddie. Susan Johnson stopped with the cup halfway to her mouth and then put it back on the table.
“Say that again.”
“He wrote an ad for someone to come and marry him.”
“Dear Lord above, who knows who will answer it?”
“We have to hope that nobody does.” He sighed. “I know Rose leaving knocked everything out of him, but it has been two years now.”
“He never wanted to be a rancher, did he?” His mother asked a rhetorical question. “I wish I could work out what would help him.”Josie nodded.
“It was Dad’s dream, and I could make it work, but Freddie wants it without doing anything. He has no interest in the animals.”
“He is coming to help now.”
Josie stood up and kissed her cheek.
“I am making dinner here. I will carry it over when it’s done.” She stood up as well. “I had better collect the eggs.”
She watched Josie walk to the barns and bit her lip. She did not want her younger son to work himself into the ground as his dad had done.
“Oh, Edward. This was such a dream for you. I wish you were still here.” Her husband had been the love of her life. They had a wonderful marriage, and she missed him so much.
Josie sat on a bale of hay in the barn and thought about his brother.
“We are alike in so many ways,” Josie reflected. “But have such a different attitude.” He started to rake out soiled straw without finding a solution to his problem. Then he saddled his horse and told his mom that he was going into town.
“You need anything?” She shook her head.
The man rode away, and his brother was still lying in a chair with his hat over his face.
Sentinella was a small place where everyone knew everyone else, and there was little trouble most of the time. There was a cluster of essential stores, workshops like carpenters and a blacksmith, a couple of saloons, and one hotel. Sentinella was a stopping place on the road west, and one or two lodging houses offered rooms and food for travelers. The railroad was a day’s journey away by stagecoach.
Josie slipped from the horse and tied it outside of the carpenter’s. The woodworker was a good friend. It was someone that Josie confided in. He went inside and sat on a tree trunk that was used as a seat.
“Mornin’ Sam. Mornin’ Edith,” he said as he saw the girl from the lodging house next door was there as well. Sam was eating a bowl of stew that smelled delicious, but Josie refused the offer of some from Edith.
“Carmella made a whole lot because she expected lodgers, but they never arrived.”
“I had better save myself for Mom’s dinner when I get back, thanks,” Josie said. He did accept a coffee from the pot brewing on the stove and asked Sam about making him some new hay holders for the horses in the barn.
“Easy peasy,” Sam grinned. “I like jobs like that. I can make them here, and you can put them up. I guess they are the same as you had before.” Josie nodded and drank his coffee. “Now, tell me what you are worrying about.” Edith looked across as well and smiled.
“We will keep it to ourselves.”
He told them about Freddie writing the advert.
“You know,” Edith said. “It might work. Before Rose went away, Freddie was always a decent sort of man. It is being deserted that has torn him apart. Maybe another woman to help him would be the best thing that could happen.”
The two men both looked at her, and then Josie nodded.
“Thanks, Edith. You are right. I am so annoyed that he does nothing that I forget what he used to be like.”
“If she arrives, Carmella will be happy to offer a room.” The girl suddenly realized that her employer would wonder where she was, took the empty bowl, and hurried away.
“Good to talk to both of you,” Josie said as he stood up to go.
“You sure you want the hay racks?” Sam queried.
“Yes, please. We do need them. Will have to hire some temporary help when we drive to the railroad.” He went outside and was untying the reins when he saw the owner of the hotel crossing the street.
“Mornin’ Mister Munro,” Josie said.
“Hang on a minute, Josie. Can we have a quick word?”
Sure,” Josie agreed and retied the reins to the rail.
“Come and have a beer.”
Richard Munro was the richest man in town. He really owned most of it. The stores were rented from him, and he ran the hotel and one saloon as well as the livery stable. The man loved his horses, and although he was landlord to most of the town, folk liked him, and he did his business fairly. He did work hard and expected everyone else to do the same.
Josie had no idea why the man wanted to talk to him, but they had a love of horses in common. He followed the man into the hotel.
The manageress came forward to greet them.
“Hello, Richard. Hello Josie. Can I get you drinks?”
“Whisky, please, Marlene,” Munro said and looked at Josie.
“The same thanks,” Josie replied, and the two men found a table. The drinks came over, and Munro cast his eye around the place.
“Marlene is good at running this place,” he said. They both sipped the whisky. Munro smiled. “You are wondering why I want to talk to you.” Josie nodded but said nothing.
“That is what I like about you. A man of few words who works hard.”
“Compliments. You must want a favor,” Josie grinned. Munro nodded and knocked back the rest of his drink. He was a man not really that much older than Josie but had seized opportunities and worked hard.
“Horses. We both love them. I trust you with them, and I need some extra land for a little while. I would pay you, of course, to take some and look after them for me as I build the new livery.”
“I like the idea, but the two men I have working would find it hard to run the livery as well.”
Munro nodded and sat back in his chair.
“I can send a man to help you as well if you like. Glen Harrison will be happy to do it.”
“How many horses are we talking about, and do you want them exercised and ridden or just left to graze?”
“You know I have a lot, and some of them are at my own place, but the ones at the livery all need to be looked after whilst we rebuild.”
“So, I will be the livery until you are ready to take them back?”
“I understand if it is too much to take on. I know your brother is under the weather.” He paused. “But they are good stock, and you will enjoy it.” He added that his own ranch was full of cattle, and he could not risk the horses.
“When?” Josie asked and added that he would prefer to get the drive to the railroad over first. “Then I can just concentrate on the horses.”
The businessman agreed and said that he would hold off the building work for a couple of weeks.
“In fact, I can lend you a couple of men for the drive if you like.”
“That would be a great help,” Josie told him. The men talked over the details. Josie agreed to exercise the animals and rent them out if it was needed. They shook hands on the deal.
“This deal is in your name, Josie, and not your brother’s, if that is okay. He is a nice guy, but I want to be able to trust the person looking after valuable stock.”
Josie agreed and told him that he had just ordered extra hay racks.
“Must have been sixth sense,” he said.
“Let me know when you are ready to drive, and I will send you some help.”
The two men parted and went their separate ways. Josie had a few words with Marlene and collected his horse.
At home, his dinner was waiting, and his brother had gone to bed.
It was dark and unpleasant in the city as Maryanne Williams helped her mother pack up their belongings. She was directing the younger brothers and sisters to carry things as well as making sure they were quiet. It was not the first time she had helped her mother move on when her dad had been in trouble. The man was absent as usual, and they knew that they had to move before he came back or he would be drunk, make a noise and raise the alarm.
Maryanne was wearing two or three sets of clothes as it was the easiest way to carry them. She had her own money that she had saved from working tucked in a homemade money belt that was strapped around her body underneath the dresses. She and her mother had a routine for these moves now, and the two teenage brothers, who were sixteen and seventeen, were now old enough to be a real help. There were three younger children, and even they were more help than her father would have been. They had a handcart at the door, and when their belongings were on board, the three youngsters climbed on the top. The two brothers managed to haul the small wagon along until they were out of sight and sound of the rented rooms.
“Shush,” Maryanne said to the youngsters. “Ben and Carson, go and try to find your dad.” Her mother was sitting on the back of the cart and crying quietly.
“Come on, Mom. We have done this before and made it work.” She put an arm around her mother’s shoulders. The woman shivered and pulled a blanket around herself. “Here come the boys, and Dad is with them.”
“Off we go,” George Williams was loud and had been drinking.
“Shush,” they all said together.
“Never mind shush,” he answered. “I have enough money for the railroad out of here.” He pulled a wad of notes from his pocket, and they all looked in amazement.
“Give it to Maryanne,” Katherine Williams told her husband. “She will look after it.” It was a godsend, and she did not question how he had come by it.
The man was still in a pretty drunken state, and for once, he was happy. He handed over the money but took some dollars to put back in his pocket.
They pushed the cart to the railroad depot, and Maryanne went to find out when the next train was due and how much it would cost for all of them and the handcart to climb aboard.
“It is another hour before the train arrives,” she said when she came back. “We need to stay out of sight, but the people with the diner have food ready. I can use some of this money, and we can eat.”
That was greeted with enthusiasm, and she went back, taking the two older boys along to help her carry the food. The others tucked the handcart behind a shed and waited. The food was devoured as the family all knew what it was like to be hungry.
George Williams was not hungry as he had eaten at the saloon. For once, his gambling had paid off, and he had been lucky that nobody had robbed him when he had been drinking. The family felt better with full tummies, and they heard the rumble and felt the shake of the ground as the engine steamed noisily into the depot.
The boys took the cart to a luggage truck and ran it up a ramp. Maryanne dealt with the tickets and proved that she had paid for the space. Then the family moved into the last of the passenger carriages and found seats.
There were few other passengers traveling in the dead of night, and after a delay whilst goods were loaded and unloaded, the engine huffed and puffed its way down the line. They all relaxed and sat back in comfort for once.
“Where are we going?” Maryanne’s mother asked after a while. Maryanne looked at the tickets.
After the train had traveled until the following afternoon, it rolled into the destination, and the boys retrieved the handcart. Dexterville was a small town, and they headed for the main store to see if there was a house anywhere they could rent.
Maryanne took charge, as she had done so many times before. She was tired of the constant running and moving and tired of being the one who made decisions. Her mother looked after the family but was not strong enough to stand up to her husband. He had made decisions, and they had always been bad ones until Maryanne grew up and intervened. She talked to the woman in the store and told her that they had money to pay rent in advance. With that information, a small house was suddenly remembered, and they went to view it.
Katherine Williams smiled for the first time when she saw the place. It was clean and had furniture, a stove, and a pump to bring water into the kitchen. It was like a palace compared to the apartment they had left behind.
Maryanne paid the man who owned it and took a receipt. He went away, and the family carried in their belongings and made a new place their home once again. She went shopping for food supplies and took her two youngest sisters along with her to get them out of the house.
“Dad,” she said when they were all together. “Can you get a proper job this time?”
“This is a good place,” his wife added.
“The boys can find work, and there would be plenty of money coming in.” Maryanne knew that it looked good right at that moment. Still, when her father drank too much, got into fights, did some petty thieving, and ended up in jail, it would start all over again. The leather belt he wore would come off and be used on the younger ones when he was drunk and lost his temper. The two big boys were safe enough now because they were as big as their father. Maryanne bore the scars across her back from days gone by, and she just yearned for a normal life.
Right then, the family agreed that she was right. Things looked better than they had for a long time, and Maryanne looked at the newspaper that she had bought in the store. One advert stood out, and she read it over again and tucked the paper away.
For a week, all went well, and the boys actually found work in the local mart where the man needed extra hands as stock of all sorts came and went. Maryanne was still looking for a job to match the last one she had in a bakery. She had liked that. The younger children were started into school. The two women had a mercifully quiet time to sit and talk. She showed her mother the advert and confided that she had written and answered it. The woman read an advert from a man looking for a wife for company and to help around the house. It was well-written.
“Oh Lord, Maryanne. You don’t know what you are walking into.”
The girl nodded.
“I know, but you have a decent place here, and I feel that I should do something for myself.”
Her mother did not want to lose her main support.
“If it works out, you could come and join me,” Maryanne reasoned. “I will see what he says if he does reply.” They left it at that, and the days went by peacefully until her father’s money ran out as he drank away the last of it. He arrived home in a furious temper because the barman had refused another drink. The boys tried to stop him from hitting their mother. She tried to calm things down, but he would not listen and wielded the leather belt. The youngsters were in bed, and it was her mother that took the brunt of the beating. Some of it landed on Maryanne but she picked up a kitchen knife and held it at his throat.
“Enough is enough. Get out of the house.” The two boys took an arm each, and they threw their father out and locked the door. Katherine Williams sat and wept and said that she couldn’t help still loving their father. The man in question was outside, banging on the door and letting the neighbors know there was trouble.
“Tomorrow, I am leaving,” Maryanne told them. “I have a letter from this Freddie Johnson, and he wants me to go and meet him. I cannot live like this any longer.”
That brought more weeping from her mother. Maryanne went and pumped water into a bucket.
“Carson, open the door.” She said angrily. “He has to sober up.” Her brother flung open the door, and Maryanne threw the bucket of water over her father, who had sunk onto the steps. The two brothers dragged him inside, and his wife brought him a towel and tried to help the man. He pushed her away. Maryanne knelt down beside him.
“You stupid man. You are throwing away the best chance you had for a new start and looking after your family. The rent is paid for another six weeks. The rest of the money is going in Carson’s pocket, and he will buy what Mom needs. You hear me?” she shouted at the man still on the floor. He nodded and started to say how sorry he was.
“You are always sorry. It never lasts. I have scars across my back from your belt and so have the others. It is time to end it. I was leaving tomorrow, but I am leaving now. This is the same old story over again. You are a drunkard and lazy. Pull yourself together and try to be a man.”
Maryanne stood up and saw the two teenage brothers looking at her in amazement. She took out the money that was left and put it in Carson’s hand. She had her own money safely tucked away.
“I will write down where I am going for you. Try and protect Mom.” She knelt down beside her mother. “you can come with me if you like.” She made one last offer, but her mother just repeated that she loved George and the man heard her. He stood up and said how sorry he was to her mother. She held out her hand, and he took it. Maryanne shook her head and went to pack her things. They would never change.
In fact, most of her things were always packed. It was a system that had developed over the years as they moved from one crisis to the next. She looked in on the youngsters, and they had slept through it all. Then she hugged her two brothers and kissed her mom on the cheek. She did not look at her father.
“I’ll write and let you know.” Maryanne Williams walked out of the little house that she had found for them. She left her drunken, useless father and hoped that her two brothers were old enough to take over where she was leaving off. She closed the door and went to the railroad depot to find out when the next train out of there was due to arrive.
She had not told the family that Freddie Johnson had sent her the money for the journey. Her own cash could be kept for emergencies. She climbed up the steps into the carriage that she had booked and tried not to feel guilty about leaving her mother behind.
By the time the train had traveled for two days, Maryanne had managed to change into her best things, eat properly when there was food to buy, and at one depot, she bought two quite smart carpet bags and transferred her belongings to the new luggage.
She had decided that this was to be a new Maryanne who wore smarter clothes, worked hard, and made enough to keep herself. If Freddie Johnson turned out to be a good man —, she decided to leave that decision until she knew him.
She sat back with her eyes closed and went back over the start of her life.
The early days had been enjoyable. Her mother and father were happy, and she enjoyed school. They had lived in a small town called Canderstan Heights.
“We had such fun as school children,” she mused. “We thought the good times would last forever.” She smiled as she remembered the traveling shows and the excitement she had felt as a thirteen-year-old. “Connie and I talked about boys all of the time then.” She frowned and thought about how her father had started to drink, and everything had gone downhill. “I had that terrible crush on that blonde boy who was sixteen and seemed like a real grownup. He worked on the traveling show and all the girls clustered around him.”
She smiled to herself and opened her eyes. The train trundled on, and she asked the people opposite if they were near Paxington.
“Almost there,” the man said. “Start getting your things together.”
Her heart started to beat a little faster. She was stepping into the unknown.
Paxington was a busy place as the railroad had transformed the place into a hive of activity. It was not as noisy and dirty as the city but a bustling place just the same. She knew that she had to find out where she could find a stagecoach to Sentinella and the station office pointed it out.
“Starting early in the morning and there before evening,” the man said, took her money, and gave her a ticket. She saw a small hotel nearby and booked in for the night. The manager was pleasant, and she had a meal in the dining room. It was good to sink into a feather bed and only have herself to think about. There was guilt there about leaving her mother, but she pushed it to one side.
“I have spent all of the time since I was sixteen helping the family. The boys will manage.” The tiredness took over, and she drifted away.
It was a very early start, and the hotel roused her as promised. She ate her breakfast, paid the bill, and took her bags to the coach.
“Confidence. I have to make a new life for myself,” she told herself firmly. There were two couples on the stagecoach, and as they bumped away on the journey, they introduced themselves. They talked at first, but the dust and the shaking of the coach stopped any real conversation, and when they made stops for refreshment, they were all glad to dab away the dust and breathe fresh air. By the late afternoon, one man said that they only had a few miles to go.
“Thank the Lord,” his wife added. Sentinella was a welcome sight for the travelers. They climbed down. The man who had told her they were almost there offered a hand and helped her down. The driver passed down her two carpet bags. She looked around to see what sort of place this was and if anyone was waiting for her.
As everyone went about their business, a tall, blonde man with a neat mustache came over and tipped his hat.
“Miss Williams?” he asked. “My brother could not come to meet you. I am here instead.” He offered a hand, and she shook it.
“I, I,” Maryanne was struggling to find words. “Hello. Yes, I am Maryanne. I feel as if I know you from somewhere.”
The man laughed and said that he did not travel far.
“Cattle drive to the railroad is the only place I’ve been.” He picked up her bags. “Let me drive you to meet Freddie and my mother.” He had a small carriage and helped her aboard. The bags were stored beside her, and they drove out of town. It was not far, and she saw two houses as they drove into the gates.
“My mother has the bungalow, and my brother and I run the ranch from the main house. Come and say hello to Mom.” He led her up the steps of the bungalow and knocked at the door. His mother made her welcome, and Maryanne started to relax. She had not come to a robber’s den or a house of ill repute. It was a family place and seemed safe.
She smiled and introduced herself.
Susan Johnson had been prepared for anything but, like Maryanne, was pleasantly surprised.
“I have made a meal for all of us,” she said. “Have a seat. Josie will go and find Freddie.” The blonde man left the two women together and went over to the ranch house. Freddie had roused himself and changed into clean clothes.
“You okay?” his brother queried, and the man nodded.
“Thanks for going into town.” The two brothers went across the yard together. “What is she like?” Freddie asked, suddenly apprehensive.
“She is very nice, pretty, and well-mannered.” Freddie was even more worried.
“She will think I am useless and too old.”
“You never used to be useless, Fred. Think how good it could be if it worked. If it does not, you can both walk away.” He patted his brother on the shoulder and opened the door.
Freddie saw a young woman with long auburn hair that shone from a lot of brushing. She was dressed neatly in a purple dress and held out her hand. The man shook it but seemed tongue-tied. His brother punched him on the arm.
“Two Hearts, Lost and Found” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Sick and tired of living with the consequences of her father’s drunken actions, Maryanne Williams decides to take charge of her own life. Responding to an ad for a mail-order bride, she heads out West to be with the man she hopes will be her break in the clouds. Yet a twist of fate is about to test her heart in the most unexpected way. Meeting her fiancé’s brother brings back strong memories of a time long gone, and Maryanne finds herself trapped in a painful dilemma…Could the happiness she’s been longing for be tied to a past she has so desperately been running from?
With his mother mourning his father and his brother finding his way through heartbreak, Josie Johnson has had to step up to take care of their ranch. Conscious of his family’s past troubles and misfortunes, he is determined to be vigilant with both his business and his heart. Everything is about to change though when his brother’s fiancé enters their lives. Maryanne might present his brother’s last hope for happiness, yet Josie cannot shut his eyes to his undeniable attraction towards her. Will he be able to resist his emotions when he realizes that their pasts are more entwined than he could ever have imagined?
Fate meant for Maryanne and Josie to find each other again under the most impossible of circumstances. Caught between revelations about a painful past and an increasingly uncertain future, they must decide if they are willing to spend the rest of their lives wondering “what if?” But in the end, will the choice even be theirs to make?
“Two Hearts, Lost and Found” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.