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A Forever Home With Her Mountain Man

He’s the lonely cowboy who’s made his ranch a fortress.

I am his unwanted bride, a stranger in a wild land.

But his piercing gaze won’t soften my resolve… I have nowhere else to go.

Ada’s desperate bid for a better life leads her to Jack’s doorstep, where she’s met with a chilling welcome—a gun aimed squarely at her. “I never asked for a wife,” he growls. It can’t be… What’s Ada gotten herself into now?

Jack guards his family’s ranch fiercely against intruders. Until he finds himself facing not only an abandoned baby but also a mysterious woman claiming to be his mail-order bride. What is happening, and why can’t he turn away the stubborn lady determined to disrupt his solitary existence?

In the sprawling wilderness of Colorado, uninvited guests might be the least of their worries. When a threat from the past emerges, they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect what’s theirs… But at what cost?

 

Amongst the Rockies, rugged and grand,

Hearts entwine in the mountain land.

In Colorado’s peaks, where eagles soar,

Love’s journey begins, heeding nature’s call.

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.4/5

4.4/5 (95 ratings)

Prologue

New York City, New York

1880

 

Ada Maeve woke to an enormous rat with raggedy brown fur sitting on her pillow, perched right next to her head. It was chewing, yellow teeth chomping away at her tousled black hair.

Ada caught her breath, staring at the rat. The rodent stiffened from his ears to his tail, seeming to glare right back at her.

When walking to and from the market, Ada saw rats all the time, parading around without any fear at all. There sure were a lot of them in the area of the New York Harbor, just off the Hudson River. Lately, she’d been hearing scratching in the walls of the hut she shared with her brother, and once or twice, she’d actually seen the critters. She thought she even recognized this one sitting so boldly at her bedside because of that ugly scar on its flank, showing pale white skin under the greasy brown fur.

She snapped out of her sleepy daze and screamed. The rat screamed, too, letting out high-pitched squeaks as it scrabbled to get away, clawing up her hair in the process. Ada sat bolt upright and swatted the awful thing with her pillow. She heard the heavy thump of its body as it fell to the floor and the skittering as it ran off to whatever hole it called home.

The door to her room burst open, rattling on its aged hinges. Her brother, Oliver, leaped into the room with a cast iron skillet in hand, gripping the handle so hard that his knuckles were white.

“Where is he?” Oliver yelled, swiveling around and waving the skillet. “I’ll mess him up real good!”

Ada dragged her fingers through her hair, feeling the jagged ends left behind by the rat’s chewing. “Where is who?” she cried in confusion. Oliver was frightening her with the way he was waving that skillet around. They had so little. If he broke it….

Her eyes burned.

“The intruder! You screamed, an’ I thought….” Oliver stopped and took another look around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “There’s no one here. Did you have a bad dream?”

Ada shook her head. “There was a rat.”

“A rat?” Oliver laughed slightly, like he couldn’t believe her. “We see those all the time. You scared me for no reason, Ada!”

She leaned forward and covered her face with her hands as the burning in her eyes morphed into a rush of tears.

“Hey, now.” Oliver’s tone changed. Her bed creaked and shifted beneath his weight as he sat beside her. He patted her on the arm in that awkward manner men had when they were mystified by what they saw as a woman’s antics. He carried with him the distinctive muddy smell of the river, so she knew he had already been to the docks before dawn, before she woke up, to scrounge up whatever work he could. “What’s wrong?”

She just kept crying into her hands, unable to explain the difference between seeing rats around and having one wake her up. The worst part was, this was just the latest in a string of terrible things to have happened to them. First, she had been turned down for a job at a bakery because of where she lived. The owner had curled his lip at her and said the stink of the slums she brought with her would turn his customers away.

Then, Oliver had come home bruised and without any money after working all day, saying he was mugged.

Then, the garden….

And now, this with the rats.

Ada ran out of energy to keep crying. She used a corner of the bedsheet to wipe her face, dabbing the last tears away. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this,” she admitted. “If I can keep living this way.”

Oliver sighed and nodded. Her older brother looked a lot like her, with the same slightly wavy black hair and big, deep, honey-brown eyes, although he was much taller and skinnier. Well, she was getting thinner, too, now that their garden was gone….

“It’s a good thing I came home when I did,” Oliver said.

“What do you mean?”

Oliver reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He handed it to her and motioned for her to look at it.

The thin, crinkly paper had clearly been torn from a newspaper. Ada unfolded it and scanned the contents, her brows knitting together. A rancher? Colorado?

“What is this?” she asked. Oliver never brought home newspaper clippings unless they pertained to work opportunities, and this was not that.

“It’s an advertisement for a wife.” Oliver took the paper back from her and smoothed it on his leg. “There are men out West, lots of them. Not many women, though. They write about themselves in the newspapers to try and find a wife who will come live with them.”

“You don’t have to explain it to me.” Of course, she knew about such things. She knew some women who had packed up only their most important belongings and taken trains out West to go and marry a man they had never met. She had never imagined herself as being one of them. Oliver must have brought this advertisement to her for a reason, though. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“No, I’m not!” Oliver tapped the paper with one long, deft finger. “Look here, Ada. This man has a nice ranch out in Colorado. I hear it’s a real pretty place—Colorado. He says he’s got a comfortable house with a good family, and there’s a town not far away that has everythin’ you could ever need. He says it’s a stable life with a steady income.”

Ada hesitated as she read the article for herself. Everything Oliver said was written there as plain as day, yet she couldn’t find it in herself to agree. Was this really what her life had come to?

Shaking her head, she muttered, “If this life is so perfect, what does he need me for?”

“It says right there. He just needs a wife to keep house so he can focus on his work.” Oliver took her hand and squeezed it. “It would be a better life out there. You can’t deny that.”

Ada pulled her hand away and stood from the bed. She grabbed the skillet Oliver had set aside and marched out of the bedroom and into the short hallway. Every step made the floor creak and groan.

The little parlor was beyond the hall. It was a parlor in name only since they never had any guests over to entertain. There were no walls separating the parlor from the kitchen or from the nook that served as the dining room. The lack of closed, defined spaces often contributed to the house feeling larger than it actually was, but not that day. Ada felt cramped and uncomfortable.

Oliver tailed after her like a puppy to the kitchen. She hung the skillet up on the rack next to the rest of their sparse cookware.

“Come on, Ada,” he implored. “Just think about it a little.”

She whirled around, hands clenching into fists at her sides. “I’m not running off and leaving you here, Oliver.”

He blinked and held up his hands. “Well, I’d come, too.”

She just laughed at him. “He’s not going to marry the both of us.”

Oliver scowled. “You know that’s not what I mean. If you go on out West, you can get started with your new life. I’ll just have one mouth to feed, and I can save up some money. I’ll follow you in a few months. I’ll stay in that town nearby, or maybe I’ll be able to get some work at the ranch. You won’t be abandonin’ me, just gettin’ a little ahead.”

“Can I see the paper again?” She wanted to at least know the name of the rancher. She had missed it while skimming the first time.

Oliver handed it to her.

Ada searched for the name amidst the sea of other words and finally found it: Jack Wilson.

Jack Wilson.

She repeated it slowly, telling herself it just might be the name of her future husband. She still didn’t know what to think about this idea, but at this point, what did she have to lose?

She looked up from the paper at the dismal little house, the windows she could never keep clean because of the river fog, the rusting hinges on all the doors, and the patchy roof that leaked so badly she feared a flood with every rainstorm. There wasn’t anything to keep her there anymore, nothing but memories and her brother.

The memories would come with her. Oliver, too, in a few months’ time.

Ada closed her eyes, sucked in a breath, and opened them again. “He might not want me….”

“We won’t know unless we try.” Oliver took her by the arm, pulling her to the splintery, old dining table just off the kitchen, where they used to have breakfast every morning with their parents when they were little.

She nibbled on her lower lip. “Will we have enough money to send him a letter? And what about a train ticket?”

“Don’t you worry about that. I’ll take care of it,” he reassured her.

He probably meant he would find extra work to pay for the ticket, which made her cringe, her stomach turning with familiar guilt. He worked too hard already.

Oblivious to her inner turmoil, Oliver said, “I’ll get some paper. You start thinkin’ about what you’ll write to him.”

“What should I tell him?” Her heartbeat picked up. Now that she had committed herself to this, she was afraid of losing out. “I don’t know what to say about myself so he’ll choose me.”

Oliver walked over with an old notebook and a pencil, placing them both down before her. He sat in a chair across from her and leaned over the table to look her right in the eyes. “Just tell him the truth.”

Chapter One

New York City, New York

 

“Do you have any mail for me today, Mr. Slater?”

Ada approached the man at the back of the post office after waiting her turn in line for nearly twenty minutes. The small building was hot and cramped, with an unpleasant odor of sweat lingering at the edge of every breath. Breathing through her mouth wasn’t any easier because then, she could taste it—the salt of hard work and the dusty grit of paper envelopes that had passed through uncountable hands to arrive there.

Mr. Slater was a slight man with beady black eyes, hardly taller than Ada, who was a touch shorter than the average woman. He reminded her of a rat, an ancient one. Every single one of his forty-five years showed on his lined face, wrinkles carved as deep as canyons on his cheeks and forehead.

He studied Ada with a frown from across the counter. He always frowned. She couldn’t recall if she had ever seen him express any emotion other than mild displeasure and irritation.

“Miss, you have been in here every day since you mailed your letter. Every day,” Mr. Slater repeated slowly. “How fast do you think the trains run?”

Her cheeks grew warm as the older man scolded her. Someone behind her let out a muffled laugh, as if they were trying to cover it up with a hand over their mouth. Everyone in line behind her had to have heard. They must have all thought she was an uneducated simpleton, unable to understand how the mail system worked. She could picture them rolling their eyes at each other and shaking their heads. When she was gone, they would joke with Mr. Slater about how she must think her letters were the most important in the world.

“They must be running quite swiftly,” Mr. Slater continued. He bent and picked something up, placing it in front of her. “Here you are, Miss Maeve. Just came in an hour ago.”

Ada gasped and snatched up the letter. She searched for the address, her frantic gaze flicking over the stamp and falling upon the word Colorado.

She clutched the letter to her chest, crumpling the paper. “Thank you!”

The slightest smile graced his usually humorless lips. “Hope it’s what you’ve been wanting.”

“Oh, I hope so, too, Mr. Slater! Thank you again!”

Ada rushed out of the post office and stood on the side of the street, people passing her by on both sides. She jumped for joy like a child, her excitement bursting out of her, and darted across the street. A horse-drawn carriage rushed past her, the driver shouting obscenities she barely heard. She dashed past a florist and a barber’s, senses assailed with perfumes and rich oils, alongside the sounds of snipping scissors from both establishments. She took a turn just before the market, skirting a wide loop around a lingering man in rags who looked as if he meant to cause trouble if anyone looked at him in the wrong way.

Before too long, she reached the slums. The rats were out today, drawn from their hidey-holes by the garbage lying all about, rotting in the heat. The shouts of the men working the docks rang up and down the streets, bouncing off the rows of tiny houses and apartment buildings. Someone, somewhere, was singing in a drunken yet angelic manner, pure notes rising without abandon or shame into the air.

Ada reached her street, her run slowing as she absorbed the sight of two dozen men tromping all over the ground near the hut where she lived. She watched them as they did their work, which seemed to consist mostly of standing around, pointing, and yelling at each other.

When her parents first moved to the area, things had been different in this part of the city. The houses weren’t so close together, and there hadn’t been so many people. Most houses had gardens, and people had known their neighbors—even been friendly to them. It wasn’t uncommon for a small crowd to gather at one house to drink and dance and swap food and stories from all the different cultures.

Everything had changed as more people moved to the city and filled up the slums. More houses had been built, and the friendly faces became few and far between—up until it was every person for themselves.

As far as Ada knew, her garden had been one of the last remaining. Her mother, Sara, had taught her to grow vegetables, to diagnose various diseases and deficiencies in the plants. Those memories were some of her most cherished.

A couple of months ago, she woke to terrible noise outside and discovered her garden had been destroyed to make room for an addition to the neighboring apartment building. The pain she had felt then was almost as terrible as the deaths of her parents. Losing the garden was like losing the remaining piece of her mother. She’d taken to her bed to sleep for days afterward. It was all she’d been able to do to endure that pain.

She’d only been able to get up when Oliver forced her to, threatening that he would feed her himself and bathe her like he had when he was a little boy and she was just a baby.

The door to the house creaked open, pulling Ada from her reminiscing. Oliver peered out at her, curiosity in the sideways tilt of his head. She waved and picked up her pace.

Oliver hugged her as she crossed the threshold. “Is that it? The letter?”

“I think so.” Ada shut the door and brought the letter to the dining table. “I hope…I hope he said yes,” she said, her voice wobbling.

She wasn’t certain if she actually did hope for that.

If she could move to Colorado and begin a new life, it would solve so many problems for them. That was the part she did hope for—an end to poverty and an end to burdening her hardworking brother.

She’d always wanted to have a family of her own, ever since she was a little girl. She wanted to be a mother. That meant getting married, and she would have liked to marry for love, as no one would marry her expecting monetary or status gain. Now, she faced the possibility of marrying a man she didn’t even know. She only knew what little was included in his personal advertisement in the newspaper. She’d read that advertisement over and over again while awaiting a response, memorizing the words, searching for deeper meanings, and finding little.

The entire situation was confusing and frightening, too. It scared her to not entirely know her own opinions.

Oliver flopped into a chair at the table. “Are you kiddin’? He wouldn’t waste money to tell you no. I would bet he got a lot of responses. That’s a lot of money to reply to all the women he turned down.” He grasped Ada’s hands. “I think this is it. Open it.”

She nodded and sat next to him. They huddled together as she opened the letter and pulled out a piece of paper covered in large, neat writing. She felt Oliver quivering with excitement, his breath hot on her cheek.

“To Miss Adalee Maeve,” she read aloud, “my name is Riley Wilson. I am one of Jack Wilson’s brothers, and I am writing this letter to you in his stead. Jack has chosen you to be his wife and to come to live on our ranch. Please find enclosed in this envelope a train ticket that I have purchased for you in advance.” She stopped there. “Is there a ticket?”

Oliver shook the open envelope, and a ticket drifted out. “Looks like we’ve been savin’ up our extra pennies for nothin’.”

Ada continued reading. “You will get off the train at the station near Pitkin. Jack will be waiting there to pick you up. We are all very eager to meet you.”

“Is there more?”

Ada turned the paper over. “No. How weird; he didn’t end it properly.”

She disliked that this letter hadn’t actually been written by the man who was going to be her husband. She was going to have to wait even longer to get to know anything about him.

“Maybe he doesn’t send many letters,” Oliver suggested. “You know what this means, right?”

“It means I’m going to go off and start a new life in…” Ada took the ticket from Oliver, “tomorrow!” she exclaimed. “I’m supposed to leave on the train tomorrow?”

“Yes, that’s what it said.” Oliver stood, pulling her up with him. He embraced her tightly and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You won’t be a spinster for much longer.”

“I am not a spinster!”

But at twenty-one, time was running out for her.

She scowled and hugged Oliver, burying her face against his shoulder. Her voice caught in her throat when she spoke again. “Are you sure you’ll be okay without me? Who will cook your meals and do your laundry?”

Oliver gave her a squeeze and leaned back. “I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself.”

She touched his cheek, running her thumb over the freckles on his skin. She had freckles, too, though not quite as many as he did. It was those freckles and mischievous smiles that tricked her into still picturing him as the boy he had been some years ago, not the twenty-five-year-old man he had grown into.

His jawline was square, and his muscles were lean and strong when he embraced her.

Oliver caught her fingers and patted them. “Anyway, it won’t be too long before I come after you and you have to clean up after me again.”

“I’m already looking forward to that day.” Her voice threatened to catch again. She broke away from him and pushed her hair back over her shoulders. “I should start packing. The train leaves very early tomorrow morning.”

“Packin’ can wait.” Oliver reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out the palmful of coins they had so painstakingly saved up over the past few weeks. “I think we should celebrate. I’m goin’ to the market to get us a chicken breast. You start heatin’ up the rest of those beans from last night and cook the rest of that rice we’ve got in the pantry.”

Ada agreed, and Oliver went off on his way. She watched him from the window until she could no longer see him, even when craning her neck. She bent her head and said a quick prayer to God that no one would hear the jangle of coins in his pocket and decide to mug him again.

When he had gone, she walked into the dilapidated little kitchen to start cooking up the rice, as that would take the longest. They had no salt and few other seasonings in the house, as those were an expensive luxury, and she decided to save what they did have for the chicken Oliver would be bringing back.

When the rice was cooking quite nicely, sending up its thin waft of starchy steam, she got the beans warming up. Her stomach clenched, and she realized how hungry she was. She’d only eaten a piece of bread before heading out to run errands and visit the post office, and that was some hours ago.

The front door banged open as Oliver returned with the chicken breast. Ada took the small slab of pink meat and seasoned both sides with a pinch of pepper and basil. The meal came together quickly, and they sat down at the table to eat, each with half of the chicken on their plate.

Ada sliced into the succulent, tender meat and placed a small cube in her mouth, letting the savory juices roll over her tongue. She chewed and chewed until almost all the flavor was gone before swallowing and slicing another bite-sized piece.

Oliver took the opposite approach, picking up his chicken and devouring the whole thing in a few messy bites. “Remember the roast chicken Mom made for Dad’s birthday that one year?”

Ada knew exactly what year he was talking about, even though their father always got roast chicken and potatoes on his birthday. There was one instance that always stuck out. She must have been only six or seven.

Ada replied, “You were sick, and she took care of you all day. She had to hurry up and make dinner as fast as she could before he got home from his work.”

“And it was mostly raw inside.” Oliver paused in shoving forkfuls of beans and rice into his mouth to laugh.

“And he wasn’t even mad when Mom had to take it off the table to finish cooking it.” Ada smiled. “We ate all the potatoes and bread before it was ready.”

“And it was dry as heck,” Oliver added.

“But we ate it anyway,” they said together.

The sound of their laughter filled up the small house. Ada realized how little they laughed and joked around anymore. This would be their last chance to have fun for quite a long while.

“Oliver…” her heart ached, “when you come out West to join me, I’ll make you a big chicken dinner. It won’t be dry at all. It’ll be the best you’ve ever had.”

He kicked at her under the table, though she didn’t miss the softening of his grin. “Don’t say sad things anymore. We’re celebratin’. The rest of the night is goin’ to be us having fun like old times.”

Ada kicked him back, smiling again. It was only a little smile, but it was good enough.

They finished eating, and she washed the dishes while Oliver went into his room, the room that had been their parents’. He brought with him an old leather trunk their parents had used when they left Scandinavia for the United States of America. That had been before Oliver was born. The huge piece of luggage had already been vintage back then.

Oliver set the trunk down outside her bedroom door with a thump and dusted off his hands. “There. Should be big enough to fit all your womanly possessions.”

Ada dried off her wet, soapy hands on a rat-chewed towel and walked over, frowning. “I can’t use that. It belongs to Mom and Dad.”

Oliver ignored her and picked up the trunk again to put it in her room, on her bed. He undid the dingy clasps and opened it. “Take some of your best dresses. You’ll want to get married in somethin’ pretty, won’t you?”

She sighed and relented, seeing as there was no way to argue with him. In a way, it was fitting that she should use the trunk to start her new life, just like their parents had.

She packed up what she thought she might need, which was nearly everything she had. As times had gotten harder, she had sold off many of her possessions, leaving her with a few changes of clothes, one good dress, a hand mirror and a brush, her sewing kit, and a few priceless childhood belongings she wouldn’t have ever parted with, even if anyone cared to buy them. When she had finished packing, there was still plenty of room.

“You should bring with you somethin’ of value,” Oliver suggested. “Just in case.”

“Something to sell?” Ada frowned. “But what should I bring?”

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    • Thank you so much! I hope the rest of the story captivates you just as much. Happy reading!💖📖

    • Thank you so much!🥰 I hope the rest of the story captivates you just as much. Happy reading!📖

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