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Love's Journey Across the Oregon Trail

She is a pregnant woman, betrayed and vulnerable, with nowhere else to turn.

It was a desperate act, but necessary… I kissed her, claiming her as my wife before the wagon master…

Mary’s life shatters when she discovers an unimaginable betrayal. Pregnant and disgraced, she joins a wagon train back to her hometown. But there’s a catch: no unchaperoned women allowed. Despair settles in until a stranger’s deep voice cuts through the tension, offering her a marriage in name only. Is this the only way?

John faces an ultimatum: marry to inherit the family business. But there is no space for love in his heart. Not after what happened with his fiancé… And then, he overhears Mary’s plight. “She is my wife,” he declares, seizing the chance.

Their journey through the Oregon Trail is fraught with challenges—harsh weather, treacherous rivers, and dangerous men. And unknown to them, a new threat looms. Mary’s past catches up with her. Driven by jealousy, this foe is determined to steal Mary’s baby…

On the Oregon Trail, where dreams are set,

Mary and John’s paths are forever met.

Through dust and storm, with love as guide,

Together they conquer, side by side.

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

Prologue

Independence, Missouri

13th May 1845

 

Mary tucked a stray blonde curl behind her ear as she bent to take a large cake tin out of the oven. As she pulled the door open, the room filled with the scent of warm batter and spiced fruit. She inhaled deeply, and a smile spread across her pale freckled cheeks. She straightened, placing the tin on the counter beside the oven. For a moment, she paused and just gazed down at the golden crust that topped the cake.

Jeffrey will be so happy, she thought. I’ve spent the last four months telling him all about how good my baking skills are—now he’ll finally get to taste for himself!

An excited energy filled her body, tingles spreading from her heart all the way down to her legs. She tapped her feet and beamed. Turning away from the cake, she returned her attention to the supper she was preparing. On the stovetop was a large metal pot filled with broth. She’d started with tomatoes, corn, potatoes, and the finest cut of beef she could afford that morning at the local market. It’d been cooking for hours, filling the whole house with the scent of caramelizing beef and stewed vegetables and a warmth that reminded her of when her father used to cook when she was a child.

She and her new husband had married quickly, and they’d spent a long time since on the road. She’d made do with what was available; there had been jerky, potato stew, and lots of bread, but she’d not really been able to cook anything proper. Her grandmother and her father had both taught her plenty of cooking skills, and she’d been just bursting to show her husband what she was really capable of.

Picking up the wooden spoon that rested across the top of the pot, she stirred the stew. The smell deepened as steam erupted from the pot. She scooped a small spoonful of the stew out and brought it to her lips. Blowing gently, she poured it into her mouth. The flavors washed over her tongue as chunks of corn and fresh, tender beef fell apart.

“Perfect,” she said as warmth pooled in her stomach.

Replacing the spoon, Mary wandered out of the small kitchen and into the dining room. Taking the cloth that she had nestled into the tie of her apron, she began to wipe the table down. It was second-hand, the best that they could afford, so there was only so much she could do to make it look nice. Tucking the cloth back into her apron, she walked over to the small wooden cabinet in the corner of the room. She pulled out a drawer and grabbed a tablecloth. It was white, perfectly so, and crisp where it’d been washed and folded. Carefully, she flicked it out and laid it across the table, covering up the imperfections in the wood. Turning away again, she fetched two placemats and napkins from the same cupboard and positioned them on the table precisely. She stroked a hand across the tablecloth and smiled to herself again.

This is what I’ve been waiting for.

With a contented sigh, she scurried back into the kitchen. She rummaged around to find the prettiest silverware they had. Picking up what they needed, she polished each piece of cutlery on her apron and then returned to the table to place them down as the final piece of the picture. Pulling out a chair, she sat down for a moment and took a deep breath. Her hand moved to her stomach, and she stroked her thumb over the curve. Looking down at her slowly growing pregnancy bump, she felt heat spread across her cheeks.

I can’t believe this is my life, Mary thought. A year ago, I was miserable… and now I’m waiting for my husband, the father of my child, to come home for dinner in our house. It’s all I ever wanted.

She looked up at the clock on the wall. It was almost time for Jeffrey to get home. Her heart skipped with excitement, and she chewed her lower lip. They’d only been living in the house for a couple of days, and it was the first time that he’d gone out to work since they’d arrived in town. It was the longest they’d been apart since they’d married.

She sat and stared at the door, her thumb stroking idly over her stomach as she waited. It was nice to be able to relax. It hadn’t been the easiest thing to do when they’d been travelling. She’d just been grateful to be in the early stages of her pregnancy, not in the later days. Now, though, the baby was getting heavy. Her back ached if she stood too long, and her eyelids felt heavier day by day.

It wasn’t long before Mary heard the front door handle creak. Clearing her throat, she pushed herself up from the table. She placed one hand on the curve of her stomach and waited patiently. The hinges of the door squealed, and warmth filled her chest as she heard Jeffrey’s heavy footsteps coming down the hallway. A moment later, he appeared in the dining room doorway.

She let her eyes take him in, just as she did every time she saw him. He was tall, broad, his arms were surprisingly muscular, and he had dark, mysterious eyes that drew her in. His face was tanned from days under the sun as a salesman, and he had dark hair, eyebrows, and stubble across his angular jaw.

“Hi, sweetie,” she said, a wide smile taking over her face.

Before Jeffery could say a word, someone appeared beside him. A woman. She was small, probably a bit older than Mary, and she had almost black hair. Her eyebrows were fierce and sharp, and her eyes, as dark as Jeffrey’s, were full of rage. She squinted, her gaze locked on Mary. Looking back at Jeffrey, Mary saw a change in him. Where he usually looked at her with softness, now, there was nothing. His eyes had gone from charming to blank. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, almost as if he were nervous or in pain.

“Sweetie?” Mary said, her voice trembling. She had no idea who the woman in her house was or why her husband, a soft and amiable man, was looking at her as if she were a stranger. When he’d left that morning, everything had been fine. Everything had been normal. She didn’t know what was going on. Her stomach twisted, and her throat felt tight and itchy.

“That is not his name,” the woman said, her voice venomous. Her face seemed to contort as she spoke; her brows furrowed, and deep lines formed between them as her upper lip curled in a snarl.

“Jeffrey…” Mary said, trying to keep her eyes off the strange and clearly distressed woman. “Please explain what’s going on. Who is this?”

Her hands instinctively cupped her pregnant stomach as her chest tightened and tears began to sting her eyes. The woman edged closer to Jeffrey, stepping forward and standing so that her arm was pressed against his. Mary glanced back at her face and saw a small smirk that juxtaposed her brows, which were still deeply furrowed.

“I’m his wife,” the woman spat. “And I’m home now, so you need to go.” As she spoke, she slipped her hand into Jeffrey’s and held it tightly. Mary could see her knuckles whiten as she grasped his fingers. Jeffrey remained silent, unmoved.

Mary’s stomach dropped. Her jaw opened, and her gaze shifted from the woman to her husband.

Wife? I’m his wife. She can’t… Surely…

An acidic taste flooded her mouth, and she exhaled shakily.

I’m his wife,” she said weakly.

“No,” the woman said, shaking her head. “You’re a hobby that he got carried away with.”

A hobby? I’m pregnant… We’re having a baby… We were married by a priest!

“I’m carrying his child,” she replied, straightening her back in an attempt to stand her ground despite the frantic pattering of her heart. Why wasn’t Jeffrey saying anything?

“That is really unfortunate,” the woman said, a sarcastic smile on her face. She tilted her head to one side, as if she were talking to a child. “But you are not his wife. You cannot be his wife, because we have been married for three years.”

 

Mary’s eyes widened. She wanted to argue more, to stand her ground. This was her home, with her husband and their baby, but… The woman standing before her seemed so certain, and Jeffrey still hadn’t said a word. He could barely look at her. It felt as if her heart was about to break out of her chest. Her whole world was crumbling away around her.

“Jeffrey,” she managed to choke out as tears started to roll down her cheeks, “is this true?”

The woman jolted her head to look up at Jeffrey. Her eyes narrowed, and Mary saw her yank down on his arm. Jeffrey shot her what looked to be a warning glance, then turned his attention back to Mary. For the first time since he’d appeared in the doorway, his eyes met hers. Where she was used to seeing kindness, love, and passion, there was nothing. His eyes were empty.

“It’s true,” he said. “You need to leave.”

Mary’s heart broke in two. Her entire body trembled. Her husband—the father of her baby—was telling her to leave her own home?

“Where am I supposed to go?” she said. “What about our baby?”

Jeffrey shook his head. “I don’t care about the baby.”

A jolt of pain struck Mary in the heart. She let out a small gasp.

“H-how can you say that?” she asked. “You told me that our baby was the best thing ever to happen to you.”

The woman dropped his hand. An expression passed over her face that almost looked like hurt, and then she laughed. It was a raucous, malicious laugh.

“He’ll say anything to keep his hobbies interesting,” she said. “Now, as he said, you need to go. This is our house. You have twenty minutes to pack your belongings and get out.”

“I have nowhere to go,” Mary protested through the tears that continued to fall. She’d come with Jeffrey from her hometown in Oregon. They’d travelled for months to reach Missouri, where he’d promised they’d live happily ever after. But now? She’d be stranded in a strange state, alone, with a baby on the way…

“You can’t just leave me with nothing.” She looked up at him, her eyes wide, her chest rising and falling with irregular gasps.

“He owes you nothing,” the woman snapped. “Now don’t make me reduce the countdown.”

“Donna, give her the twenty minutes,” Jeffrey finally said. “Mary, don’t make a scene. Just go.”

Mary took another shaky breath. She stared at Donna and Jeffrey. The two of them looked like a couple, she thought, although not a happy one. Both of them were scowling, and Donna had a strange glint in her eye that sat somewhere in between fury and satisfaction. It was deeply unsettling. Jeffrey seemed to have changed completely from the man she thought she had married. His face was hard and his tone hollow. She couldn’t recognize him.

It made what was happening even more confusing.

Clearing her throat, she clenched her jaw and nodded. She had nothing more to say. There was no way she could argue with the two of them, that much was clear. On trembling legs, she walked out of the room. They moved quickly out of her way, and she ran through the house to the bedroom to gather her things. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and her lips quivered as she rushed around.

I can’t afford to go back to Oregon, she thought as she grabbed all of her clothes and shoved them into a case. I can’t even afford a hotel for a night. The money my grandmother gave me when I left is almost all gone… and he’s unlikely to give me anything.

The image of her sleeping out on the street, trying to protect her unborn baby, flashed before her eyes. She hadn’t had the best start in life, but she wanted better for her baby. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t let her little one suffer. She thought that she’d be able to achieve that. But now…

She lifted a hand to her cheek and wiped the tears from her face. Letting out a shaky breath, she closed her case and looked around the room. It had been their bedroom, their marital suite. There was a large wooden bed in the center of the back wall. On it lay the finest bedding that they could afford. Opposite the bed was a large vanity, just in front of a large arched window with net curtains.

It had been the nicest room she’d ever slept in.

“Goodbye,” she whispered under her breath.

She rushed out of the room and walked along the corridor to the lounge, where she grabbed a few of the books she had bought on their journey as well as a blanket that she had crocheted for the baby. She’d started the second she missed her monthly bleed. The blanket was pink and blue, and huge. She’d planned for it to only be big enough for a cradle, but she’d gotten carried away. Sniffling, she filled a second bag with them and headed for the front door.

For a moment, she hesitated. She wondered whether to say anything to Jeffrey and his wife. She was feeling so many things. A whirlwind of emotions rampaged through her head, and her heart was pounding in her chest so hard it felt as if it was going to break free. Despite all of the feelings, though, she couldn’t think of a thing to say, and she didn’t know if she could stomach his empty glare and her spiteful expression. So, instead, she inhaled sharply and reached for the door handle. Twisting it, she pushed the door open and stepped outside.

The sun hit her eyes, and she squinted, but she continued forward, away from the house and toward Main Street, which was only a short distance away. She hoped that somewhere there she’d find a room for the night that was cheap enough for her. She knew she couldn’t afford more than that.

One night, she thought. That’s all that lies between me and homelessness.

She shuddered and tightened her grip on her bags. They were all she had left.

Chapter One

24th June 1845

Mary Margaret’s Boarding House, Missouri

 

With a broom in hand, Mary straightened up and took a deep breath. She could feel her ribs expanding and her lungs filling with cool air. It provided a moment of relief from the dull throbbing ache in her feet and her back. Looking around the reception hall, she scanned the floor for any more dust or debris. The room was large, with wooden walls and a small reception desk, which was usually manned but was currently empty. The early morning light shone through the double doors, warming her slightly.

As she paused, an elderly man shuffled in through the wooden doors. He looked up as he walked in, locking eyes with Mary almost immediately. Just as quickly, he darted his eyes away, letting them linger for just a moment on her pregnant stomach before returning his gaze to the floor. He shuffled on through the foyer, over to the stairs that wound up one side of the building. She watched him leave, but the feeling of his eyes on her stayed, like a chill to her core that she couldn’t ignore.

She continued to sweep, moving slowly. She was ahead of schedule on her work for the day, so she could afford to work at a more leisurely pace, which her exhausted, pregnant body was very grateful for. She tried to start early most days, which was relatively easy since she slept and worked at the same place. She struggled to sleep later than about four in the morning anyway. The baby she was carrying was starting to get big enough to kick, and was seemingly adamant that Mary did not need rest.

She didn’t mind the early mornings, though. It kept her out of the way of most of the other boarders, which meant keeping suspicious eyes away from her pregnant stomach. She was an unwed mother, carrying a married man’s child, and her bump was getting more noticeable by the day. People stared. Even when they didn’t mean to. It happened in the boarding house, and it happened out on the street when she walked to the store.

She was sure that Jeffrey’s wife had been telling the whole town that Mary was some kind of loose woman. Mary herself still didn’t really understand how it had all happened. She’d done everything right—she’d gotten married, fallen pregnant, and yet somehow, she was alone, in a boarding house, at five in the morning.

As she finished the sweeping, she slipped the broom back behind the reception desk. Then, she quietly slipped back upstairs. She headed to her room and pushed the door open, perching on the edge of her bed. She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands and let out a sigh. When she was working, she was fine, but as soon as she was back in her room, her mind started racing.

She still wasn’t over everything that had happened with Jeff. She knew there was no changing it, but a part of her heart could not move on from the life she had almost had. Whenever she was alone, her mind filled with images of what could’ve been versus what really was, and it was like she was experiencing the hurt all over again. Sweat would bead on her forehead, her heart would ache, and her chest would tighten.

To handle it, she’d tried to come up with a plan. Something to help her and the baby, some way out of the boarding house before she hit the nine-month mark… But it was no use. So far, she’d come up with nothing. She only earned enough at the boarding house to cover her costs and her food. Each week she was left with only a cent or two, maybe five, if she was lucky.

In her stress, she’d written back home, to her friend Sara in Oregon, to let her know what was going on. She was the only person Mary had left, really. She had her grandmother, but not in a million years would Mary tell her grandmother how things had fallen out for her. It wasn’t worth the judgement that was sure to come. She and Sara, however, exchanged letters regularly. It was the only comfort that Mary really had, a connection to home, someone who cared.

Reaching over to her small bedside table, she grabbed the most recent letter from Sara. She’d received it the night before but had been too exhausted to read it. Tearing the envelope open, she pulled out the small handwritten note.

 

Dearest Mary,

I do wish I could provide you with more comfort than just a letter. You deserve so much more happiness and love than you are currently receiving. I wish I could click my fingers and have you here, back home, with your family.

 

Have you considered returning? We would all welcome you back, even your grandma, if you explained… You’d be safe here, and the baby would be so cherished. I can’t wait to meet her or him.

 

Oregon City is your home. Not a boarding house in Missouri.

 

Yours always,

Sara

 

Mary’s fingers traced the text for a while after she read the note. The thought of heading home made her heart skip a beat. She had been so eager to leave. She’d grown up with her grandmother after her father had passed when she was only ten, and while her grandmother made sure there was always a roof above her head, she was far from maternal. Mary had never felt loved. It was why she’d jumped at the opportunity to travel with Jeffrey.

To go back, now, with a baby—she simply wasn’t sure how her grandmother would take it.

How would I even get back to Oregon, anyway? she thought to herself. I don’t earn enough. I couldn’t save enough for a train if I waited for months.

She let out a sigh and folded the letter. Carefully she slid it back onto the bedside table. Then she turned and fell back onto the bed, her head hitting the pillow gently. She closed her eyes, hoping to get a bit of rest before her next chore.

There was a knock at the door. Her eyes jolted open.

“Who is it?” she called.

“Joseline,” a sweet voice replied.

Joseline was the woman who ran the boarding house. She’d been nothing but kind to Mary. She had eyed Mary’s pregnant stomach as soon as she arrived, but she’d said nothing. Instead, she’d offered Mary a job in exchange for room and board once Mary’s meager funds ran out. She continued to give Mary the gentlest jobs and an extra portion of vegetables at supper time.

“Come in,” Mary replied, swinging her legs down off the bed and sitting up.

Joseline pushed the door open and leaned up against the doorframe.

“Hello,” she said with a smile. Her eyes scanned Mary’s face, and her brows furrowed across her forehead. “What’s wrong?”

Mary shook her head. “Nothing, why?”

“You look a little upset. Lost in thought,” Joseline said. “Has something happened?”

Mary’s eyes flickered down to the letter. Not exactly, she thought. Just a reminder of what I can’t do.

“I just got some post,” she said with a small shrug. Joseline was friendly, but Mary didn’t want to push it and assume that she was interested in her life. “From a friend back home.”

“Back home… Oregon, right?” Joseline asked.

Mary nodded. “That’s right.”

“Everything all right?”

“She just wants me to come home,” Mary said, shaking her head. “But it’s not possible. Not at the moment.”

Joseline eyed Mary for a moment. One brow furrowed.

“And why is that?”

Mary hesitated, surprised by the woman’s continued questions and not wanting to insult her by mentioning the low pay. She knew Joseline was giving her all she could. Finally, she decided honesty was the best policy and plunged forward.

“It’s expensive. And all I have are two cases. I’m not exactly equipped for a long-distance trip.”

Joseline nodded slowly. “I see. That’s a shame.”

“It is, but it’s just the way life goes, I suppose. I’m sure I’ll figure something out. I just need time. My friend just misses me, I think. We were always close, and my leaving was kind of out of nowhere.” Mary said. She fidgeted, playing with her fingers.

“Oh, I see.” Joseline watched her for another second before saying, “Well, I just wanted to check in on you. I heard you moving around a lot this morning”

“Oh, sorry.” Mary looked down at her lap.

“No, no,” Joseline said, holding her hands up. “I mean it. I wanted to make sure that you were all right.”

“That’s very kind,” Mary said, her heart warming. She looked up at Joseline with a small, uncertain smile. “I’m just fine.”

“Hmm,” Joseline said. She was still studying Mary thoughtfully, and after a moment, she asked, “If you could go home right now, would you do it?”

Mary nodded without even really thinking about it. She’d wanted to go home since Jeffrey had turned up with Donna. Being alone and pregnant was hard, and she didn’t know how much longer she could work without being in agony. She also wanted to know that the baby was going to be safe, and that she was bringing it into a world where it would have a roof over its head and be surrounded by a family that would love it, not a bunch of strangers.

“I think going home would… would be nice,” she admitted. “There’s not much left for me here. And it’d be good to know that I was bringing the baby into a more secure situation, somewhere where it won’t want for anything.”

She glanced up with a sheepish smile, hoping she hadn’t offended Joseline by slighting her situation at the boarding house, but the woman was still watching her with an expression of sympathy—and something else. She looked as if she was weighing something in her mind.

“Is home safe, then? A good family waiting for you?” she asked.

Mary thought about her grandmother, who was likely to be upset with her carrying a married man’s baby, who might not even let her in the house.

“Kind of. I have a grandmother who is very traditional, but I think she will come around eventually. And I have my friend. What I don’t have is a way of getting back. All I have to my name is what I have in here.” She waved her hand around the mostly empty room.

“Would you join a wagon trail?” Joseline asked. “If you could?”

Mary felt her eyebrows arch in surprise. She hadn’t even considered a wagon train as a way back to Oregon. It was a long way to travel alone, even by train. But if it meant getting home and getting her baby somewhere safe…

“I would. I just can’t. I don’t have a wagon or horses, or… well, anything.” Mary shrugged and let out a small sigh, wondering why her landlady was continuing to push the subject. Being reminded how difficult it would be for her to return home was kind of painful. The hollowness within her seemed to only worsen.

Joseline was silent for a moment. Then she pushed herself away from the doorframe and stepped into the room. She squatted down so that her eyes were level with Mary’s.

“Listen,” she said. “I want you and your baby to have the best life you can—and even I can see it’s not this.” She waved her hand around the small room, smiling sadly. “I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but I simply must offer. I have an old wagon and two horses that are just costing me and my mother extra money to keep in a stable. My father was adamant that they’d come in handy, but well, he’s gone, and my mother and I have no intention of traveling away from this town. They’re just sucking our purses dry. If you’d be willing to take them off my hands, I’d be grateful, really.”

Mary’s jaw dropped. Her eyebrows furrowed, and she stared at Joseline for a moment.

Did she just…

Joseline eyed her back, shifting her weight from one foot to another.

“I—I couldn’t take all of that from you,” Mary said when she found her voice. “I can’t pay you.”

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