She’s a purposeless window and he’s a hopeless rancher. Will they find love and create their own family amidst danger?
Lauren is a brave widow who has been hit by tragedy countless times. Now she has no other choice but to respond to a mail-order bride ad. Despite her hesitance, traveling West is their only means of survival. But, Lauren willingly hides the fact that she has a son. How can her heart be healed in this ranch in Texas, and how will her newly found husband react?
Robert is a withdrawn rancher living alone after his wife and child’s death. He doesn’t need romance or another family. He dwells on his past but decides to place an ad for a woman to just help him out. Even if Lauren hid her son from him, he grows fond of the young boy and of a woman’s presence in the house. How can he let go of his painful past, fall in love and look forward to the future?
Family sometimes is created from the love we are willing to offer and not by blood.
When a man who wants nothing more than to steal their happiness arrives, how will they find the love they deserve?
New York City, New York
It was almost a year after Steve died that Lauren heard the latest in a lifetime of bad news.
The women at the textile factory, taking a break from producing their clothes and yarns, had all lined up. Many of them held hands with their young children, just as Lauren was. It was Friday, which meant it was time for them to receive their weekly salary.
“Attention,” said Wilfred O’Conner, the factory manager, projecting his voice through a bronze speaking-trumpet, giving it a thin, metallic sound. “Due to financial considerations, your weekly salary will be reduced from seven to five cents, effective immediately.”
The women at the factory erupted into a hopeless mumble. They felt powerless.
“How am I supposed to feed my daughter?” a woman asked one of the supervisors.
The supervisor simply shrugged. He was getting a pay cut, too. They were all in the same boat.
Lauren knew enough to keep her mouth shut.
Bad news seldom arrived at a good time. Under normal circumstances, she could handle a pay cut at the textile factory. She was a careful woman and always put money aside for a rainy day. The problem was it felt like the rainy days kept coming, with no end in sight.
It began with the fire. One day, she’d had two parents and a husband whom she loved. It was a wonderful time in her life—and, like most periods of bliss, it was ephemeral at best. Less than a month after the wedding, she’d lost those two parents after a building fire took both their lives. At the time, Lauren was at the farmer’s market, picking up produce, thinking the worst part of the day would be when she learned that strawberries weren’t in season.
Before she could even imagine recovering from the death of her parents, the economy had taken a sour turn, or at least that was how the papers described what happened. Truthfully, Lauren never fully understood what an “economy” was, exactly. She knew the term related to money and how people spent it, but people always spoke of it as if it was a kind of god that controlled all their lives. When this economy spirit was angry, things turned bad for everybody, then grew worse as people tightened their belts and prepared for things to fall even further.
But the wrath of the economy took her husband Steve’s store, which happened to coincide with the birth of Anthony, whom both Steve and Lauren adored with all their hearts. Fortunately, Lauren could take the loss of the store in stride because the couple had been blessed by Lauren’s parents, who had prepared for such an eventuality. They had saved money throughout their lives and it went straight to Lauren after their deaths, allowing her to stay afloat for a while. Knowing that such a reserve couldn’t last forever, she found herself a job at the textile factory, spending fourteen-hour days on her feet, making garments while keeping an eye on Anthony. She would return home at the end of the day, exhausted, but still with just enough energy to cook her family dinner and tell Anthony a story before bed.
With the textile factory providing a stable income, Lauren had felt like she had things under control, but Steve contracted smallpox and she realized how unstable things had truly been. Lauren had been vaccinated at an early age, but the immunity she conferred didn’t protect her from the agony she felt coming home each day from work, seeing her husband in a greater and greater state of suffering, and having to explain it away to Anthony, who was scared. Every night before she went to bed, Lauren prayed for the suffering to end.
And, eventually, it did.
When Lauren came home with Anthony to discover her husband had finally lost his battle with the disease, she broke down and cried for two days straight, only able to convince herself to eat because Anthony wasn’t particularly hungry and she didn’t want the food to go to waste.
And now, her meager wage was getting a significant cut. Lauren could feel the tension in the room as all the women were wondering the same thing. Some even vocalized it.
“How am I supposed to live?” one asked.
And that was what it all came down to. Lauren was already living on a very tight budget. She was eating as cheaply as she could and, unless she wanted to sacrifice the roof over her head and live on the streets, she was stuck paying rent every month.
There was nothing Lauren could do about the pay cut, either. Arguing with O’Conner, or anyone with any power at the factory, was as futile as trying to convince the weather to change its course. The men in charge made the rules and they were fixed in place, unable to be changed until the men came up with new ones.
Lauren was left with two options: she could accept the pay cut with a smile and a “thank you,” or she could quit.
It didn’t take much mental arithmetic for her to realize that the two fewer cents she was receiving would make it difficult for her to continue living in her apartment anymore, but after she accepted the nickel (providing the requisite smile and words of appreciation) and went home, she put Anthony to bed and ran the calculations. No matter how she moved the numbers around, five cents a week would not be enough to support both her and her child in her one-bedroom apartment.
With this realization, she broke down and cried at the small kitchen table in the dining room, beside the kitchen that was large enough to cook simple meals and nothing more, while Anthony slept soundly in the home’s single bedroom.
She put on a coat and checked in on her son to make sure that he was asleep, then walked out of her apartment, down the street and through the rain, to her mother-in-law’s place.
Sofia Barrett was a widow who hadn’t been particularly close with Lauren until Steve died. With no other children to her name and a husband who was long gone, Sofia needed somebody to care for and look after. As Lauren had been in need of anyone to lean on at that time, they’d formed a strong bond—almost as close as the one Lauren had had with her own mother.
“Hello?” Sofia opened the door a crack.
Tears in her eyes, Lauren said hello back and Sofia let her in, offering her a seat and some hot tea, which Lauren gladly accepted.
“What’s the matter, dear?” Sofia asked. She had filled an old kettle with water and placed it on the iron stove top, lighting a match and tossing it into the charcoal below.
Lauren watched her mother-in-law and admired her ability to seem so strong in the face of a life that was full of challenges. Sofia didn’t seem happy, necessarily, but she had a sense of acceptance that allowed her to keep moving forward and provide stability for both herself and those around her.
“They cut my pay at the factory,” Lauren said. “I won’t be able to make rent.”
While the kettle heated, Sofia sat on the wooden chair across from Lauren, placing her hand on her knee as an act of compassion.
“I’m sorry,” she said in that calm voice of hers. There was no false reassurance, only a hint of sympathy, which was why Lauren had come over. But with the sympathy came a dose of reality. “You’re a young woman with a child. I don’t foresee a way for you to support the two of you, at least not in times like these.”
Lauren was already starting to contemplate possible solutions, but none of them looked good. Sofia’s apartment was even smaller than Lauren’s and couldn’t support her moving in, though she expected Sofia would agree if asked. And there weren’t enough hours in the day for Sofia to get a second job. At four years of age, Anthony was too young to be trusted with the machinery at the factory. Perhaps if he was just a few years older, he would be able to work alongside her and they’d be able to generate enough revenue to keep up their way of life, but that wasn’t the current situation.
“What should I do?” Lauren asked. “If I can’t support Anthony and myself, what am I supposed to do?”
She knew the answer: move out of the apartment and into a shared residence. As she couldn’t properly care for Anthony on her own, she would be forced to place him in the local orphanage, where he could at least receive three full meals a day and be around other children his own age.
But how could she live away from her only child?
“I’m afraid the options you have aren’t to be envied,” Sofia admitted, looking back at the kettle, checking if any steam was beginning to come out of it. “But I do have something that I think you may wish to consider.”
She stood up and took the daily newspaper from her kitchen table, along with her reading glasses, and sat back down, flipping through it.
“Here it is.”
Her hands folded the paper in half and passed it to Lauren.
It was an advertisement for a mail-order bride service, complete with a label to cut out and mail in if she wished to apply.
“Is this a joke?” Lauren asked. “It was only last year that Steve died. How would I explain this to Anthony?”
“Do you think Steve would have wanted you to suffer like this?” Sofia asked. “He was destroyed when he had to close down the store and rely on you to support the family. That wasn’t what he wanted for you or for Anthony. He certainly wouldn’t want to see you like this.”
“But would he really wish for me to remarry?”
Sofia looked at her with a serious expression. “Lauren, my dear, let me talk to you as I would any other woman I care about. I love Steve and I cared about him deeply, but the longer you mourn, the worse it will be for Anthony. You’re young and you’re beautiful, but if you continue working at that factory, you won’t stay that way for long. And once your youth and beauty run out, you’ll have a difficult time finding yourself a husband.
“I missed my chance to remarry and look at me now,” she continued. “I’m living alone with nobody to care for me. I don’t want this for you. I want you to save yourself while you can. You may look back at this pay cut as the best thing that ever happened to you.”
It seemed ridiculous to Lauren. “But I can never love another as I did Steve.”
Sofia looked over at the kettle, at the steam coming out, and she rose to continue making the tea.
“This is not just about you,” she said. “Do you care about Anthony?”
Sofia poured the hot water into two cups, steeping a tea bag back and forth between the two of them. “Perhaps you can’t love another, but maybe, for Anthony, you can find it in your heart to try.”
Sofia handed a cup of tea to Lauren and sat back down in the chair.
“I suggest you send something,” she went on. “Perhaps things will improve and you won’t need it, but it’s possible they won’t and you’ll be glad to have the option available.”
Sofia’s advice came from a place of love, but also regret. Lauren looked at the woman sitting across from her, sipping her tea, and wondered what Sofia spent her days doing. It must have been a lonely existence. What was more, it seemed as though Sofia looked back on her life and wished she had made different choices. Sofia was offering advice that she wished she’d had back when she was a young mother and her own husband died. Through Lauren, Sofia could have a second chance.
To refuse this would be to deny Sofia her second chance.
“Okay,” Lauren said. “I’ll do it.”
It was two weeks later that Lauren started receiving letters in the mail from potential suitors. Many of them didn’t offer photographs or even much about themselves in their introductory letters and, as she didn’t have time to respond to very many, she had to be selective.
She asked Sofia for help going through them.
“What about this one?” Sofia asked, handing her a letter from a man who described himself as “a fisherman” and, as such, promised that Lauren “will never go hungry.”
“I’ll have to pass,” Lauren said. “I don’t care for fish.”
Sofia pulled another one out, from a man who worked in a lumberyard and hunted for sport.
Again, Lauren dismissed the offer.
“Honey,” Sofia said, “you need to realize that men, on the whole, are very much the same. Except, of course, for my Steve, God rest his soul. Stop being so picky and choose one of the letters with your eyes closed, then just respond to that one.”
“Okay,” Lauren said. “Perhaps I will.”
She moved her hand toward the small pile of letters and grabbed the first one her fingers touched. She tore it open and read the paper.
To the Widow Barrett,
I saw your advertisement in the most recent catalog and felt I had to respond, for I feel we may be kindred spirits, of a sort. I, too, lost my spouse and understand the heartache that it entails.
For me, I pass the time working throughout the day on my cattle farm, ensuring the steer are protected, healthy, and well-fed, before taking those that are ready to the nearby butcher to process them into steak.
I understand that it may not be the most glamorous job, but what I can offer is a careful ear to listen to you, a good-sized ranch with room to expand, and the understanding that can only come from someone who lost someone dear to them.
I ask for no more than correspondence at this time so we can better get to know each other and have included a picture so you can know what the man who writes these letters to you looks like.
Thank you for your consideration and I hope to hear from you in due time.
Lauren pulled out the enclosed picture. He was a thin man, with dark hair and a nose that looked a bit off-center but fit his face. But what stood out above everything else were his eyes, sincere and light and achingly sweet. She found herself looking at them longer than perhaps was appropriate.
“You know,” Lauren said, “I believe you may have been onto something, Sofia.”
There was something so impersonal about the land Robert had inherited from his father. At least, that was how he felt as he woke up one morning and began tending to the cattle, making sure they were healthy and had plenty of grass and water to keep them happy.
Their area was closed off by a wooden fence, assembled in a practical, efficient way, but with little consideration for appearance. In short, while the fence worked, it didn’t look particularly appealing.
And that was the case for most of the ranch. There was a simplicity to it, but it was clearly put together and maintained by someone who had no use for beauty in life and only cared to focus on the bare minimum of functionality. That someone was, of course, his father.
Robert had grown up on the ranch, learned how to best tend to the land and the cows, and knew how to read their expressions and body language to tell if anything was off with them. It had become second nature to him and allowed him to fall back into a routine when he returned after his father died.
The difference, though, was now it was only him, the cattle, and his father’s old hand, Ivan, who wasn’t as young as he used to be. Still, Robert kept Ivan on board and doubled his salary in the process.
While Robert dealt with the cattle and the business ends of things, over the past several weeks, Ivan had tended more to the day-to-day work to keep the ranch running: keeping the crops watered and picking them when they were ready for eating. And, though it wasn’t explicitly part of the job, Ivan often came by to check on Robert and see how he was doing.
“It hot enough for you, Mr. Abram?” Ivan asked, approaching the fenced-in area where Robert was working.
“Plenty more than that, I assure you,” Robert said. “It never got this hot back in Kansas, and I can’t say I missed it while I was up there.”
No matter how often Robert insisted that Ivan call him by his first name, Ivan kept calling him “Mr. Abram”—a slight modification from “Young Mr. Abram,” which he had used up until the death of Nicholas, the senior Abram, Robert’s father.
It rubbed Robert the wrong way because, despite the exchange of money, Ivan was the closest thing to what Robert would consider a friend. They saw each other every day, worked and ate together, and took an interest in each other’s lives. Not that there was much to their lives outside of the ranch.
“How’re they doing?” Ivan asked, referring to the cattle Robert was inspecting.
“They’re happy,” he said. “The grass is green and healthy, and so are they. And they’re getting plenty of time to spend alongside their friends on this beautiful day.”
Ivan nodded, removing his hat and wiping his brow before hopping over the fence to take a look at them with Robert.
“The cows like keeping others in their company,” Ivan said. “I think even if the grass isn’t so green, they’ll still eat it, so long as they’ve got their friends. I remember seeing once a cow out here when you were just a baby, maybe, that your dad had to separate from the others on account of she was sick. Try as he might, he couldn’t get her healthy again, so I suggested he just move her back in with the others.
“Now, your dad resisted and maybe he was right to, but sure enough, nearly as soon as we put her back in with her friends, she got better. It’s amazing what being around the other cows can do for their spirits.”
Ivan had that way of talking. He’d dance around what he was trying to say, and Robert had to figure out what he was getting at.
“You’re saying we should get more cows?” Robert asked, with a sly smile on his mouth.
“You know that’s not what I’m saying,” Ivan said. “A cow needs cows. People? They need people.”
It was a subject Ivan had brought up a few times since the death of Nicholas, and each time, Robert tried changing the subject. But among Ivan’s many good qualities were determination and responsibility, and Nicholas had, among his final breaths, given Ivan one last job: “Don’t let my son be alone. Make sure he remarries.”
“And that’s why I’ve got you,” Robert said.
“I don’t think so, Mr. Abram. I’m thinking you need someone younger than myself around, with softer skin and prettier eyes.”
Robert smiled. “And, pray tell, what color would his hair be?”
“Now, Mr. Abram, I know you know that I’m not talking about a ‘he,’ am I? I’m talking about a Mrs. Abram.”
“There already is a Mrs. Abram,” Robert reminded him.
“And she’s gone on to heaven,” Ivan pointed out. “That isn’t very fair, now, is it? She gets to be up with the angels and the harps, while you’re stuck down here, alone except for me and the mosquitos.”
“Don’t forget the cows.”
“How could I?” Ivan said. “You’ve also got the cows, but like I was saying, I think it’s time you moved on and found someone else. You’d be a lot happier.”
“What about you, Ivan?” Robert asked. “Are you looking for someone else?”
“As a matter of fact, I might have been, which is why I bring this up.”
He pulled a small newspaper out of his pocket, perhaps a couple dozen pages of newsprint, hastily put together, and handed it to Robert.
“I’m afraid they’re all a bit too young for me,” Ivan said.
Robert looked at the cover: a crude drawing of a happy bride and groom kissing at the altar with a cake in the background, along with the text, “Mail-Order Brides, Issue 4, Volume 7.”
“You’re suggesting a mail-order bride?” Robert asked.
“Take a look, a lot of them aren’t too hard on the eyes.”
Robert skimmed through the paper and handed it back to Ivan. “I appreciate it, but no thank you. I prefer to meet women the old-fashioned way.”
“See,” Ivan said, “the problem with the old-fashioned way is it won’t work if you aren’t leaving the ranch and actually meeting people.”
“I go to the market.”
“Do they sell wives there? I suspect not.”
Ivan pushed the volume forward in front of Robert, who refused to accept it.
“Okay,” he continued, “here’s the real reason. Your father made me promise him that I’d make sure you remarried.”
“You’ve told me,” Robert said, “I know.”
“Then you also know that I’m not the kind of person who breaks a promise he made with a dying man.”
“So, I suggest you find someone because you’re going to keep on hearing me blathering on and pestering you until you do.” Ivan’s arm remained in front of him, extended, and with the book in his hand. He was not going to take no for an answer.
“Let me see it again,” Robert said.
Robert read through the book twice, cover to cover, but of all the women, only one stood out to him. What drew him in was her short bio:
22-year-old widow. Blonde. Blue eyes. Looking for husband. Not afraid to work.
The part that drew him wasn’t her age, or her appearance. It was that she was a widow. Another woman might have left that detail out, afraid that it would deter a potential suitor—and, perhaps, to another man, it would have made her undesirable. To Robert, however, it made her precious because, if nothing else, they had something in common.
He knew what it was like to lose your other half and, perhaps, two pieces who had lost their other halves could fit together. Not as perfectly as they might have with their original piece, but well enough.
He wrote her at once, including a wallet-sized picture he had of himself, and then tossed the book aside. The work of the ranch distracted him from thinking about it, unless, of course, Ivan brought it up.
When he did, Robert would simply say, “I’m waiting for a response,” and leave it at that.
Weeks passed without a reply and, in the moments when Robert was reminded, he assumed she’d already picked another husband. Likely someone more muscular or wealthier, who had more to offer her. He couldn’t say he blamed her, if she had. After all, Robert may have had land to his name, but it wasn’t much in the scheme of things, and it required plenty of work to keep everything running.
There were times he wished he’d been independently wealthy, but then he imagined how dull a life it would be. Here on the farm, he may have been busy and he may have been lonely, but one thing he never felt was boredom.
One day, when Robert had all but given up hope, he did receive a response in the mail. As soon as he realized what it was, he opened it eagerly and read it at once.
Dear Mr. Robert Abram,
Thank you for taking the time to write to me. It is true that I am a widow and I sympathize with your plight, as well. As much as I would enjoy having an extended engagement and taking the time to get to know one another through correspondence, I would prefer moving forward. If you are, in fact, interested in taking me on as your spouse, I suggest we not waste time waiting on each other’s response and the slow pace of the postal system.
I am in need of financial security during this troubling time. If you can provide that, I suggest we meet and begin matrimonial proceedings. For your trouble, I can offer the ability to cook and assist in some of the ranch duties, but, above all else, I will be a dutiful partner and relieve you of the loneliness left in the wake of your wife’s untimely death.
I look forward to your response.
Lauren Barrett (nee Carman)
That sounded as positive a response as Robert could have hoped for and showed it to Ivan as soon as he read it.
Ivan looked through it carefully, nodding along the way.
“Sir, I’d express some caution with this one,” he warned.
“What do you mean?” Robert asked.
“I can tell from the words, can’t you see it?”
“I want nothing more than for you to be happy, Mr. Abram,” Ivan said, “but I think she might be hiding something. She seems a little eager, is all.”
“Eager is good,” Robert said.
“Yes, eager is good, but too eager suggests there’s something she’s not telling you,” Ivan said wisely.
Robert brushed him away. “I’ll send her money for a ticket from New York to Wimberley. It’s possible she’ll take the money and run, but I won’t miss it. Once she’s here, I can reassess the situation and, if necessary, send her back. But I have a feeling.” He pointed to his gut. “I think she’ll be all right.”
“With matters of marriage,” Ivan said, pointing to Robert’s heart, “that’s where the feeling should come from.”
“Duly noted, Ivan,” Robert said. “Now, forgive me as I excuse myself to work on my response.”
I couldn’t agree more. I will wire you money for the train fare right away. Please arrive as soon as possible as I await meeting you in person.
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