She’s an unlucky widow with no future and he’s a scarred rancher with no hope. How can they devote themselves to each other when falling in love requires resilience and grit?
Bonnie is a spirited young woman who has been working her fingers to the bone after the tragic loss of her husband. Together with her five-year-old son, she travels West and marries a mysterious man who never shares his past with her. Bonnie needs to come to terms with her new reality—a child who reacts, a husband who stays silent and a ranch that needs a woman’s touch. How can she show her new husband the way to a wholesome love?
Jeremiah is a scarred man who has been battling with grief. His lame leg doesn’t help him carry himself around like he used to. A marriage of convenience means having at least someone around to take care of the chores he can’t. However, when he meets Bonnie, his heart loses several beats. She’s everything he could have asked for, feisty yet sweet and challenges him a lot. How can he reveal his true feelings when he’s just so afraid of losing her?
Violent men will come to finish off what they started in Jeremiah’s family ranch. Amidst all danger, how can Bonnie and Jeremiah protect their son and what is theirs and share the deep love for each other?
April 6, 1882
Bonnie watched as Seth eagerly slurped his broth from a finely-crafted bowl. The bowl had once been a source of pride, imported from England. It was all that remained of the set and was only left because it was chipped and she hadn’t been able to sell it. The delicate red pattern over the white seemed faded now, but, then again, everything seemed faded now. Seth set the bowl down and dipped in his spoon, fishing one of the meager pieces of chicken from the soup and biting down with an exaggerated, open-mouthed chomp.
Bonnie’s stomach clenched and rumbled with hunger. Hunger had become a growing concern. Normally, she would’ve scolded Seth for such poor table manners, but today the sight of him greedily eating only prompted feelings of love and gratitude. Seth was only five, but already he reminded Bonnie so much of his father. Besides, this was the first real meal he’d had in days, not counting stale bread or watery porridge. For at least this moment, she could feel like a good mother again.
Her stomach churned, and she shifted in her seat, hoping the movement would ease the pain. It didn’t, but it did draw Seth’s attention from the soup to his mother. Miraculously, he showed no sign yet of malnutrition, despite the almost constant hunger they both endured. She felt a wave of gratitude for that, and, briefly, her pangs faded.
“Thank you, Ma,” he said, “This is superbly delicious.” His voice still carried faint traces of the lisp of infancy, so the l’s came out sounding more like w’s. The effect was adorable and made her smile. Superb. It was a new word learned from his reader.
“You’re welcome, baby. Make sure you finish it, so you can grow up big and strong like—” like your pa. Tears threatened to fall, but she blinked them away and finished, “like a big, strong man.” She smiled again, hoping Seth wouldn’t notice the moisture in her eyes.
He turned back to the soup, lifting another spoonful to his mouth. He paused, frowning, and turned back to her. “Ma? Why aren’t you eating any?”
She forced another smile and said, “Oh, that’s okay. That’s for you, Seth.”
He thought for a moment then lifted the bowl, extending it toward her. “Would you like some?”
She smiled again and said, “No, thank you. I’m not very hungry right now.”
“But you haven’t eaten all day!”
“I ate a big meal yesterday, honey.”
“The porridge?” he said, raising his eyebrows in disbelief. “That wasn’t a big meal!”
“Well, grown-ups don’t need to eat as much as growing boys. Now eat up; I want you dressed for bed in twenty minutes, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, finishing his soup
She stood and walked to the bedroom they shared, stopping to regard herself in the vanity mirror. It was a wedding present from Isaac— the only item remaining in the house with any monetary value—and it pleased and grieved her at the same time. A beautiful lady deserves beautiful things, Isaac said when he gave it to her, smiling that radiant, kind smile she’d fallen in love with; the same smile that had its echo in Seth’s beautiful grin.
The figure she saw in the mirror was still beautiful, but hunger began leaving traces in her features. Her cheeks, once full and rosy, were now slightly sunken and added to the alarmingly hollowed appearance of her hazel-green eyes. Her hair, once a beautiful sandy blonde, now seemed drab and mousy. Her collarbone showed too obviously through her dress. Though anyone who saw her would consider her a fine-looking woman, she seemed to her own eyes to be older than her twenty-four years. How long, she wondered, before the hunger took its toll and the beauty that remained faded? A more sobering thought came to her: how long before Seth felt the same effects? She shuddered at the image of her son’s face, hollow and pinched from starvation.
She glanced out of the open door toward the dining room where Seth was clearing his bowl and spoon. He looked at her, his expression far too somber for a young boy. She’d grown all too familiar with that look. Her gaze fell to his feet, bare and dangling below the table. She looked over at the fireplace where his shoes sat, worn and tearing in several places. She intended to replace them last summer, but her dwindling resources forced her to spend only for what little food she could afford. She would have to sell the mirror. She hated the thought of losing the last keepsake she had of Isaac, but she had no choice. She needed to provide for Seth.
But what about after? The mirror would fetch a fair sum, but the money would run out far too soon. Something had to change. She could no longer live like this. She could no longer force Seth to live like this. The denial she possessed since Isaac died no longer held the power it once had. Her beautiful son was no longer the happy, excitable little boy she knew. Moments like earlier came few and far between, and she knew the day would soon come when they no longer arrived at all. It would hurt terribly to leave the farm behind, to leave Isaac behind, but no doubt Isaac would want better for Seth. Perhaps he wanted it even now, if the preacher was right and Isaac watched them from heaven. Faith, like food, seemed in short supply for Bonnie these days. Nonetheless, she knew Seth deserved more than to starve on a farm that was little more than a shrine to Isaac’s memory.
It was time to leave. She recalled a conversation she’d had the week prior, with her neighbor, Helen, of her financial worries and fears for Seth. “You should consider advertising as a mail-order bride,” Helen had said. “I know you can’t bear the thought of leaving the home you and Isaac built. I know you’ll do what you can to care for Seth. I think that you know that the best thing for him is to grow up with a father. I know the best thing for both of you is to have three square meals a day and a comfortable home to sleep in. I don’t like this any more than you do, Bonnie, but you need to find a husband—love or no love.”
She’d rejected the idea, initially, unable to cope with the thought of sharing someone else’s name, sharing someone else’s bed, wearing someone else’s ring. Now, as she looked at her son, she realized she had no choice. Her fingers softly stroked the indent in her finger where, up until recently, Isaac’s wedding ring once sat. She had pawned it the month prior, having sold everything valuable of the farm’s equipment, the household furnishings, and the modest family heirlooms she’d taken when she married Isaac. Only the mirror remained, and she grew tired of looking at herself.
She wrote a short, simple letter
Hard Working Wife Available:
My name is Bonnie Newton. I am recently widowed and seeking a husband to provide for me and my son, Seth. I am twenty-four and Seth is five. I am tall and slender with elegant features. I can cook, clean, and tend house, and am no stranger to hard work. I have experience with farmwork and can help with crops and livestock if needed. I do not want or expect romance, only a home for myself and my son. I ask only that those who respond are not inclined to violence or excessive drink.
She smiled at Seth. “Seth, how would you like it if we moved away? We could live in a big house in the country where you’d have all the room to play you could want. Food too, and maybe even horses you could ride. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
He looked at her with wide, questioning eyes. “What about Pa? If we leave, how will he find us?”
His words cut Bonnie like a knife, and she marshaled every ounce of her remaining strength not to collapse in tears. She took a ragged breath and paused, wrestling with her thoughts. Finally, she decided there was no point in lying anymore. She got to her knees so her eyes were level with Seth’s and clasped both of his hands in hers. He regarded her with the same serious expression he always wore, looking far older than any child of five should. She took another breath and forced herself to smile.
“Seth… baby…” The words stuck in her throat. She swallowed and continued, “Your pa’s not coming home.” He regarded her gravely as she softly stroked his hair with one hand while her other held both of his. “Your pa’s in heaven now. He’s laughing and playing with God and the angels, and he’s so happy.” Her voice cracked on the last word and she took another breath. “And I know we both miss him so much, but we need to be strong now. Your pa would want us to be happy and healthy so that’s what we need to do. Can you do that for me?”
Tears welled in Seth’s eyes and his lower lip trembled. “You’re lying!” he shouted. “Pa’s on a hunting trip!”
Bonnie forced back her own tears and said, “No, Seth. I’m so sorry.”
“He’s not dead!” Seth shouted. His hands balled into fists and he shouted again, “He’s not dead!”
Bonnie felt her vision swim and knew she could not hold her tears back much longer. “I’m sorry, Seth.”
“No!” Seth began beating his fists against Bonnie’s chest, all the while shouting, “Pa’s not dead! Pa’s not dead!”
Bonnie pulled him into her arms. He struggled, kicking his legs and flailing his arms, continuing to cry as she held him. Finally, he stopped fighting and burst into tears, burying his face in Bonnie’s dress. She held him until his cries subsided. When he was asleep, she carried him to the bedroom and laid him on the bed.
Through the gradually dimming light, she could see the small wooden chest that used to contain Seth’s toys. Only one remained now, a wooden model train Isaac bought him for his fifth birthday, only weeks before he died. Her gaze traveled to the rocking horse in the other corner of the room. Isaac built it himself for Seth’s third birthday. She remembered how Seth’s face lit up when he first saw it. She smiled down at Seth, and pulled the covers up to his chin. She kissed him softly on his forehead then left him to sleep.
Tomorrow she would deliver the letter to the post for advertisement. She wondered if anyone would respond. Mothers were not preferred as brides, especially when the child was as young as Seth. If someone did respond, what kind of man would it be? She had asked for someone who wasn’t violent, but a man could easily lie about that. Her heart ached with fear for the future, and the tears she’d held all day finally began to flow.
May 15, 1882
The horse had to die. Jeremiah could hear his father’s voice as clearly as if he were standing next to him. When Jeremiah saw the horse this morning, however, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. How could he shoot Willow when he, himself, was lame? So instead, he left Willow in his pen and hitched Dewdrop to the buckboard. She was inexperienced with the harness and that, combined with Jeremiah’s limp, meant hitching her took nearly an hour.
If his father hadn’t died so recently, he wouldn’t fixate so much on the memory of his voice. With every problem he faced hitching up the new horse, though, he found himself reminiscing about how much easier things were when his father was alive. The same villains who killed him had left Jeremiah lame.
Riding towards the general store, he felt a sense of dread. He could hardly remember how easy it used to be to load the cart with enough food and supplies to last the ranch for weeks. Not long after starting, his leg would scream in pain, forcing him to stop loading. He rubbed it, not looking forward to the struggle of getting down from the buckboard.
But this trip into town, the one he made every few weeks, couldn’t be skipped. The ranch was difficult enough to run with everything in place—without supplies, he wouldn’t be able to manage at all. He glanced around. The streets were empty, and he decided facing the pain now was a better idea than facing it later when he’d be observed and humiliated.
He steadied himself and rolled slightly to the left, grasping the side of the seat with his left hand and praying he wouldn’t just tumble to the ground. He managed to swing his right leg over awkwardly, shame flowing over him at his clumsiness. Even a toddler would manage to get off a buckboard better than him. He balanced with his left side still on the wood and his right side slightly off. He lowered his leg until he found purchase, and then, grimacing, he lifted his left, straightened up, and gingerly lowered it to the ground.
Pain emanated up from the contact and he cried out. Dewdrop, already unhappy with the harness, stepped forward nervously, setting Jeremiah off balance entirely so his full weight came down on his leg, sending explosions of pain upward.
“Stop,” he spat, pulling on the straps with a harsh yank. Dewdrop stilled. He put a hand against the seat and felt his breath come in bursts.
“Jeremiah,” came Brownie Garrett’s voice from behind him. He was the general store proprietor. “I told you before—”
“God as my witness, Brownie,” Jeremiah said. “You offer to deliver my supplies again and I’ll finally get around to cleaning that Henry rifle my father left me.”
“Same order as last time?” Brownie asked.
“I’ll get started putting it together. Also, you got a letter at the post office. Jube told me to let you know when you came in. And I saved a catalog from Montgomery Ward for you. I know you’re looking for a new pair of boots. They have good deals on hats and spurs too.”
“Maybe you should keep it,” Jeremiah replied. “It sounds like you want more from that book than I do.”
Brownie grinned. “I already bought a new vest and a holster. They’re circled on page nine if you want to look.”
Jeremiah chuckled. “All right. Order’s the same. A few extra pounds of salt pork this time.” He didn’t know how to respond to Brownie’s kindness. With his father gone, so was Jeremiah’s sense of belonging in Rosboro. As a boy, he’d think of the trips into town every week or two like an adventure. Now, they were just more of the same drudgery. He was right on the edge of— Wait, a letter? Could it be a response to his advertisement? “Jube say where that letter’s from?”
“No, sir,” Brownie said. “I could send my boy to go fetch it for you.”
“I can get my own mail, Brownie,” Jeremiah said. He worried about his tone a little and added, “but I’m grateful all the same.”
“You want me to get your order together while you get your letter?”
“Suppose. Much obliged.” He nodded to the man and walked along the edge of the raised porch. “You behave, Dewdrop,” he said to the horse as he passed her. It was slow-going, but with the street still empty, at least he didn’t feel like all eyes were on him. He passed a new shop; a tailor. There was a long hitching rail in front of the shop, and it made the walk past a bit easier. He knew his dignity would have kept him from leaning on it for support if there were people in the street.
His blasted pride already caused enough problems. He should’ve let Brownie send his boy for the letter. The drop from the cart had done its damage and his leg would be sore until he got home to rest it. Walking normally caused only mild irritation. Now, the pain was enough to exaggerate the limp that didn’t need any exaggeration.
The post office was only six more shops down the block, but it felt like miles. It didn’t help that, on top the dull pain in his leg sharpening with each step, people were starting to do business by the time he reached the office. He hobbled his way up the steps and inside faster than he wanted. Jubal Kent stood behind the counter. His eyes lit up when he saw him, and again Jeremiah felt disconnected from the town—a stranger, almost.
“Good to see you, Jeremiah,” Kent said. He lifted a gnarled hand to scratch at the gray scruff that peppered his weathered face. “How’s the herd this year?”
“Just fine, Jube,” Jeremiah said. It wasn’t. Oh, the cows had birthed well and the herd was healthy, but he couldn’t keep up. Ever since his father died, the work had steadily piled on until Jeremiah finally had to admit he couldn’t handle the work with his injury and the few hands who remained. When he sold the steers this year, he’d sell some of the cows as well and plan for a smaller herd.
“Hear it’s a good year for that,” Kent said. “Sheep and pigs, too. Don’t know why this year’s good but we’ll just thank the Good Lord for it and that’ll be that. My Mary sent me with preserves from her apricots and apples, too. I can get you a few jars.”
“Oh, no!” Kent said. “My Mary won’t let me take a cent for them. She says if God lets her trees grow, it’s her duty to share the bounty.”
Jeremiah didn’t want them, but to refuse would be to offend. “Much obliged, then,” he said. “And please pass that along to Mary.”
“Of course. You here to send a telegram?”
Jeremiah, grateful the man was getting down to business, said, “Brownie said you have a letter for me.”
“Yes!” Kent said, far more excited than he ought to have been. “Near forgot. My Mary says one of these days I’ll forget my head, leave it right on the porch when I come to town. Lemme find that for you.”
The man strode to a cabinet filled with partitioned shelves and moved a thick index finger along the bottom. He paused in front of one and smiled.
“Here we go.” He took an envelope from it and said. “From Bonnie Newton, Lexington Kentucky.” He stepped forward and slid the envelope across the counter to Jeremiah.
“I owe you anything for the post?” Jeremiah asked.
“No postage due. This Bonnie a relative?”
“Much obliged for your time, Jube,” Jeremiah said and turned around.
“Hey, wait!” Kent said. Jeremiah turned around again, slowly. He imagined the man wanted to apologize for prying, but Ken said, “My Mary would never forgive me if you left without the preserves.” He reached under the counter and produced two jars; one was bright orange and the other, a reddish-brown.
Jeremiah slipped the letter into his pocket and then stepped forward to take the jars. “Much obliged,” he said and made his way to the door. It took some finagling with both jars, but he managed to get the door open and get out onto the porch. His leg still hurt from the buckboard ride and the walk, and he wasn’t happy he’d have both his hands occupied and couldn’t read the letter yet. He had no idea who this Bonnie Newton was, and he pushed back the hope that rose when he saw her name.
He’d given up hope already on the advertisement. Three women responded just a week after it ran. None replied when he sent a letter in return. He’d been so discouraged that, if another potential bride responded, he felt tempted to hide a bit of his ‘situation’. “You’re being foolish,” he whispered under his breath. Bonnie Newton couldn’t be a potential bride. He’d already pulled the advertisement. She would’ve had to have held onto it for months before writing.
Of course, with no way to open the letter until he got a hand free… He felt tempted to throw the apple preserves away and just tear the paper open. He didn’t, of course, but the frustration grew. He made his slow and painful way back to the mercantile and there saw Brownie and his son putting a burlap sheet over the supplies, already loaded into the buckboard. “I put in ten pounds of pork. Could give you more if you need it.”
“That’s fine.”He limped a few steps over and slid the preserves under the burlap.
Brownie chuckled and said, “That wife of Jube’s. She keeps it up and none of the wives in this town are gonna learn to make preserves.”
“She’s a good woman, s’pose,” Jeremiah said.
“I guess you’re right,” Brownie said. “Need any…” He stopped. Jeremiah knew he was going to ask if he needed help getting in the buckboard. “…other supplies you might have just thought of?” he finished.
“All good,” Jeremiah said. “The bill in there?”
“You need a payment on the account?”
“Next time’s fine, Jeremiah.”
“Then I’ll be off,” Jeremiah said. “Appreciate you getting the extra pork for me.”
He waited for the two to make it back into the store before going through the long process of getting himself up onto the buckboard. He clicked his teeth and Dewdrop reluctantly moved forward. The town was almost fully awake now, and he urged her on faster to get away from the growing hustle and bustle. About three miles out of town and two from the ranch, he stopped the horse and reached into his pocket. A prairie dog chittered and scampered under Dewdrop’s feet. The horse snorted and the prairied dog jumped and ran across the sand, diving underneath a creosote bush. Jeremiah watched the scene play out, suddenly afraid to open the letter. He stared at the envelope for a minute or so and then sighed. It was no good waiting and wondering. He opened the letter and read.
Mr. Jeremiah Donovan,
My name is Bonnie Newton. I am recently widowed and seeking a husband to provide for me and my son, Seth. I am twenty-four and Seth is five. I am tall and slender with elegant features. I can cook, clean, and tend house, and am no stranger to hard work. I have experience with farm work and can help with crops and livestock if needed. I do not want or expect romance, only a home for myself and my son. I ask only that those who respond are not inclined to violence or excessive drink.
What I have written above is the advertisement I placed with an agency who promised me results. I have received no responses and I am left believing perhaps my friend was right when she suggested I should not have admitted my circumstances so readily in the advertisement. I could not bring myself to lie and write differently, however. My friend, on seeing I was unmovable, suggested I write you, having seen and saved your advertisement in case I received no responses on mine. Everything I wrote above is true. However, I believe I should add a clearer picture of our circumstances.
While I can help with the work, the months since my husband’s passing have proved I am not capable of handling the sheep by myself. I have already sold my stock and an agent has been commissioned to sell the farm. Once it sells, my son and I will take residence in town at a boarding house and I will eke out a meager existence for us as a seamstress. It is not the life I wish for myself but far more, it is not the life I wish for my son.
You may find a prettier wife or a wife with no child, but I can promise you you’ll not find a woman more willing to work and keep your home. Perhaps with the two of us, we can make your ranch succeed as your advertisement mentioned it once did. I hope you will consider the value of a humble woman, truly gentle in spirit, fully willing to perform all the duties of a wife and a keeper of a home with no expectation other than that you refrain from violence or excessive drink. I repeat myself now so I will await your response hopefully.
Jeremiah stared at the note for several minutes and then folded it and returned it to his pocket. He’d given up hope of a wife. The lack of response after his letters left him disappointed beyond measure. His ad spoke of difficulties running the ranch without help but it was only upon replying to the letters he mentioned his leg. The woman intrigued him, especially the frank admission of her situation. On the other hand, he dared not think of the depression that would result if even this woman rejected him. If a woman desperate to avoid a life of poverty wouldn’t have him, who would? He stared ahead. Two more miles to home. He looked behind him toward town.
“One last letter,” he said. “No more.” Dewdrop whinnied and he said, “Come on, girl.” He got her turned around and headed back to town again. If the woman didn’t reply… He forced the thought from his mind.
When he arrived, many of the shops had already closed for lunch. He had to hurry if he wanted to catch Jube before the post office broke for the midday meal. He directed Dewdrop back to Jube’s storefront and managed to get off the buckboard. Wincing, he limped up the steps and into the shop. “Jeremiah!” Kent said in surprise. “Is everything all right?”
“Fine, Jube,” he said. “I wonder if you might have some paper and an envelope. I need to write a letter and thought I’d save myself a trip back to post it.”
“I’ve got some, and you’re welcome to it,” he said. “Do you want to come around?”
“Much obliged, Jube.”
Kent opened a batwing door to the back and Jeremiah hobbled his way through. A moment later he sat at a desk with paper, pen, inkwell, and blotter. Jeremiah opened the letter from Bonnie Newton and set it next to the blotter for reference and then penned a response. It was short, but he made clear the injury to his leg and the difficulties it caused, as he had with his previous letters. After he sealed the envelope and posted it with Mr. Kent, he got back in his buckboard and headed out. The extra times off and on the buckboard added to the soreness in his leg but far more distressing was the nagging worry that this letter, like all the others, would result in disappointment.
“One last letter. No more,” he said. Dewdrop whinnied.
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