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The Rancher’s Spirited Bride

She has spent all of her life proving her brave spirit. When he shows her that it’s God’s plan to be together, will she listen to him?

New Mexico, 1850’s

Sara Jane Lawson is an adventurous, spirited young woman. Growing up in a ranch, she hates what most people consider “women’s work” and would rather be out mending fences than cooking. Of course, she wants to create a loving family, she just wishes someone would recognize the value she can add. Will she admit to herself what she already knows?

Carl Baker is a protective, strong foreman. Having lost his parents, he grew up with his uncle. He wishes to continue living in Lazy L Ranch and wants to create a loving family with Sara Jane, but he is angered that she keeps trying to prove herself. How can he help her come to terms with how God made her?

When Sara Jane is faced with the sudden loss of a loved one, she pushes herself by undertaking difficult tasks in order to deal with her grief. Carl gives her space, but his patience is running thin as he fears for her safety. How can they move forward as God’s plan is if they keep looking in the past?

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author


4.7 out of 5 (217 ratings)


September, 1856


“Okay, gals, I’m holding the rifle tight against my shoulder and slowly pulling the trigger.” Sara Jane demonstrated, using the notch at the end of the rifle’s barrel as a sight. She made sure she had a good view of the fence post in the distance and then evenly pulled her index finger back. The round in the chamber sped out with a loud bark. She barely felt the jolt as the rifle kicked, and she lowered the barrel to the ground, sharing a smile with Riley and Pearl.

“That was amazing,” Riley told her.

“Thanks. Now it’s your turn. Aim for that bush with the red flowers on it.”

Riley nodded, stepped up to where Sara Jane had been, and carefully took aim at the bush about twenty yards away.  Sara Jane watched her position the rifle at her shoulder and tsked. “Pull the butt of that rifle tight against your shoulder or it’s going to kick like a mule. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen.”

Riley gave her a nervous look but followed her directions. Sara Jane stood off to the side to watch Riley take aim and then pull the trigger. When the bush jumped and the red flowers fell down in a shower of destruction, Sara Jane whooped and hollered with her.

“Yee-ha! That’s the way. I knew you could do it.”

Riley nodded and handed the rifle to her, rubbing her shoulder and grimacing in pain. “I don’t think I could do that very often. Ouch!”

Sara Jane laughed and looked at Pearl. “Your turn.”

Pearl took the rifle dubiously. “So, I just point and shoot?”

“That’s the general idea,” Sara Jane told her. “It’s not the first time you’ve shot a gun, Ma. Don’t think about the past, just right now.”

Pearl took a bracing breath before stepping forward. She still had the rifle pointed at the ground when she asked, “What am I shooting at?”

Sara Jane spied a cluster of cacti nestled at the bottom of a small rock outcropping. “See the yellow flowers?”

“I see them.”

Sara Jane raised a brow. “What are you waiting for?”

Pearl looked doubtful. “They look awfully far away.”

“Nothing that rifle can’t hit. Just make sure you can see the flowers at the end of the barrel.”

Pearl lifted the rifle up, took aim, and pulled the trigger before Sara Jane could warn her to keep the butt firmly planted in the crook of her shoulder. The bullet hit the rocks, spraying shards in all directions. Pearl gasped as the rifle kicked backward, sending her reeling to land on the soft earth. To Pearl’s credit, she never let go of the rifle and ended up with it pointing straight into the sky.

Sara Jane tried to hold in her laughter, but when she caught sight of Riley trying to do the same, she started giggling. They helped Pearl to her feet, and she dusted off her skirt before declaring that she hoped she never had to shoot anyone. She’d be black and blue in no time at all.

They took turns shooting for more than an hour, even shooting the pistol Sara Jane wore in a hip holster when she was at the ranch. To her ma’s credit, she did much better with the smaller weapon. Everything appeared to be going well and Sara Jane headed out to set up targets of stones. On her way back, she froze in her tracks.

She heard the rattles before she saw the large diamondback snake sitting only a few feet away. It was one of the larger ones she’d seen and poised to strike.

“Sara Jane, are you coming back?” Riley hollered.

Sara Jane never took her eyes off the snake. She slowly lowered her hand until she felt the comforting grip of the pistol in her palm. She took in one breath and then let it out at the same time she drew and fired, separating the snake’s head from its writhing body.

“Sara Jane! What’s wrong?” Pearl called out.

“A rattlesnake,” she answered as she continued back to the other two women. “It won’t be bothering anyone else.”

Riley was staring at her with wide eyes and an open mouth. When Sara Jane lifted a brow, Riley closed her mouth. “That was pretty amazing. I mean, you just pulled your gun …”

“Pistol,” Sara Jane added.

“Pistol, and then fired at that snake without even focusing on it.”

“Not true,” Sara Jane told her. “I never took my eyes off the threat. That goes for anyone you might want to shoot, or anything. Once you get it in your sights, don’t take your eyes off it. You also need to practice a lot and trust your abilities.”

The three women headed back to the ranch house a short time later, laughing and giggling as they joked about the damage Pearl could potentially do with a rifle, and not because of what she would hit with the bullets.

“Thanks for taking us out there,” Riley said.

“No problem. We’ll have to do it again,” Sara Jane replied.

“I’m not sure James would be comfortable with me practicing anywhere close to the livestock,” Pearl commented.

“Ma, it’s not like you haven’t shot a rifle before,” Sara Jane told her.

“And I’m just as bad now as I was years ago.” It was a well-known fact amongst the men who had lived on the ranch for a long time, that Pearl was dangerous once she had a gun in her hands. Sara Jane loved her ma’s way of expressing herself by moving her hands when she talked, but she didn’t seem to be able to turn that trait off when holding a dangerous weapon. She would move the barrel of the gun around as she talked, causing everyone to duck and dodge away from her. As a result, Pearl had promised to only pick up a gun in case of an extreme emergency and when there was no one else around to protect her.

“Well … you just need to practice more,” Sara Jane told her.

Carl strode out of the barn and Sara Jane watched him walk toward them. “Target practice?” he asked.

She stood taller and explained, “I thought Riley should learn to shoot a gun.”

“Not a bad idea,” Carl agreed, smiling at Riley. “And your ma? How did she do today?”

Pearl shook her head and then turned and stalked toward the ranch house. Carl shared a laugh with Sara Jane. “That good?”

“She hit the rocks; completely missed the clump of cacti at the bottom of them. They were tall cacti, too.”

Carl shook his head. “It’s a good thing she’s never alone around here or needs to use a rifle.”

Sara Jane said, “I think Ma could hold her own if she absolutely needed to. With a pistol, maybe. She’s strong and determined. I’ve no doubt she could put the fear of God into anyone who found themselves standing at the barrel end of her rifle.”

Carl smiled before saying, “She puts the fear of God into everyone around here anytime she threatens to pick up a rifle.”

“I can’t even argue with that and she’s my ma.”

Sara Jane laughed again before heading for the ranch house.  She found herself still smiling as she completed walked. That little verbal exchange was the first time in weeks when she’d not ended up fighting with the handsome man. It seemed that he was always complaining, criticizing her for something, or telling her how to do things. Just like her brothers, Shawn and Gideon, did. But Carl wasn’t her brother.

He wasn’t even related to her, which made the attraction she’d secretly held for him, since she was thirteen, acceptable. If only he would truly return her feelings! There’d been a few times in the past months where she’d thought that maybe Carl was interested in courting her, but then he would find something to criticize her for and she’d lose hope again. She truly hated being told what she could or couldn’t do. Her pa had told her more than once that she needed to learn to curb her enthusiasm and her tendency to act hastily at times, but Sara Jane had never found herself in a situation she couldn’t extricate herself from. At least, not one that she chose to remember. She was independent, confident in her abilities, and determined to never find herself in a situation where she felt helpless.

She stopped at the porch and walked to the railing, looking out over the pasture beyond. In the distance, dark red mountains rose, and storm clouds were gathering. It was a sight she’d seen all of her life, and one she would never grow tired of. This was home.

She considered her day and still felt like smiling, something that was worth considering for more than a mere second. The reason for her happiness was none other than Carl, which was strange considering he normally made her so mad she wanted to stomp her feet and scream. If he could make her smile, maybe there were other men out there that could do the same. It looked like she might have to seriously consider the next beau who came calling. If only she could find one that wouldn’t mind her wearing men’s trousers or hating all things genteel.

She was a ranch woman, and while most men would say there was no such thing, Sara Jane aimed to prove them all wrong. She’d dissuaded the last few contenders for her hand, going so far as to actually embarrass a few of them – something she felt badly about, but then again, they’d tried to tell her what to do, and that was only the first of their many mistakes. One of them had complained that she was arrogant for showing off and besting him in a shooting competition. Another had implied that by wearing trousers she was no better than the women who lived at the brothel in town. Only the presence of her pa a few feet away had prevented her from making that particular suitor retract his words after being hit in the face. By her fist.

Even now she could feel her ire building at the smug way the man had voiced his opinion and then looked around, expecting anyone within earshot to agree. Not a soul had stepped up to support his opinion, and her pa had wisely had him escorted off the ranch almost immediately. Sara Jane had saddled her mare and taken off across the nearest pasture, not returning until both she and her mount had begun to tire and her anger to mellow. After that experience, she’d made sure she wasn’t around when the next suitor came calling. Word had spread through the town and, soon after that, the single young men from Rio Arriba stopped coming out to the ranch with the intent of seeing her.

That was both a blessing and a curse as far as Sara Jane was concerned. She was tired of having to deal with men who had antiquated ideas about a woman’s duties and responsibilities. But she was also longing to see her hopes and dreams come true. Sara Jane dreamed of a man who would admire her abilities, let her continue to challenge herself, and yet be a strong back and source of comfort when she needed him to be. It would take a special kind of man to allow his wife to work alongside him on the range while someone else cared for the house, cooked the meals, and tended to the babies.

Babies. Sara Jane didn’t know much about them, but she could imagine having a few little ones someday. She’d teach them to shoot and track, train their own mounts, and possess all of the other skills of any self-respecting ranch hand. If those children turned out to be females, Sara Jane would make sure they had every opportunity that any male child would have.

She sighed and headed indoors. Her thoughts and dreams were pointless without a man who could accept her for who she was, and she was very doubtful that such a man existed. If only Carl wasn’t so set on badgering me. I could almost welcome him courting me. Almost.

Chapter One

October, 1856

Sara Jane watched her brother, Gideon, and his new bride, Riley—who was her best friend—ride out of town, and felt sadness that she might never experience that kind of love and joy. Shawn came to stand beside her, and she saw a similar look on his face.

“What are you sad about?” she asked.

“Not sad, but just wondering why I can’t find that kind of happiness, I guess.” Shawn sighed.

Sara Jane gave him a small smile and nodded. “You’ll find her, when the time’s right.”

“Are you so sure about that?” When she nodded, he asked, “What about you? When are you going to quit ignoring what’s right in front of you and take the happiness being offered?”

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

“Carl. The man’s so in love with you, he’s sick with it.”

“No,” Sara Jane argued back. Is Carl in love with me? That can’t possibly be true. Shawn’s mistaken.

“Yes. If you’d stop challenging him and every other male around, you’d see that he not only cares about you, he’d move heaven and earth to make you happy.”

“He hates the way I dress, the way I ride, the way I shoot …”

“No. He dislikes the way you dress when other men stare at you. He dislikes the way you ride recklessly at times because he doesn’t want to see you, or your mount, injured. And he doesn’t hate the way you shoot; he wishes, like most of the men on the ranch, that he could shoot that well. He just doesn’t like how you flaunt your abilities and go out of your way to make him feel less of a man because he doesn’t measure up. Men don’t like being belittled, sis.”

“I don’t do that!” Sara Jane replied angrily. The little voice in her head called her a liar. You do exactly that. You gloat and make a big scene when you best the men. You make sure they all know you are just a girl and you were better, faster, more accurate, and smarter than they were.  You could be a little more humble.

Sara Jane set her jaw, ignoring the voice in her head. When Shawn arched a brow, she stared back at him, refusing to acknowledge that he might be correct. Having her faults pointed out to her was another thing she disliked. Her ma always had always said that pride went before a fall and accused Sara Jane of allowing her pride to dictate her actions. Sara Jane didn’t see it like that at all.


It had been a beautiful wedding, even Carl Baker could admit to that. Watching one of the Lazy L Ranch brothers marry a young woman he was obviously in love with had gotten him to thinking that it was about time he settled down and started a family of his own. He already had the gal picked out; she just didn’t seem to be in a cooperative mood where he was concerned. Or where any man was concerned, for that matter.  The Good Lord knew she’d had plenty of suitors come calling, but she always managed to run them off.

Carl couldn’t be run off because he made his home on the Lazy L Ranch. In fact, he’d been in love with Sara Jane Lawson since he’d been seventeen and she’d been twelve. Announcing his love for her back then would not have been appreciated.

He could almost imagine how her brothers would have handled such a declaration from him.

Gideon and Shawn, I’d like permission to court your kid sister.

Gideon and Shawn would most likely have looked at me to see whether or not I was being serious and when they discovered I was, whomever was closest to me would have probably planted their fist in my jaw. 

It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d stayed down, or gotten up and tried to defend myself, they would have made sure I knew that my attentions toward their kid sister were inappropriate. Shoot, Uncle Jace would have regretted ever taking me in and I would have found himself homeless and without a family right quick.

But that hadn’t happened. He’d bided his time, watching Sara Jane from afar, teasing her when the opportunities presented themselves, and watching her grow into a lovely young woman full of spirit and courage. Keeping his affections for her a secret had been no easy task where her brothers were concerned; only Sara Jane herself had been able to do that.  A more disagreeable female he’d never met. She was headstrong, opinionated, and more apt to act and dress like one of the ranch hands than the only daughter of a large landowner. She could outshoot and outride most of the men on the ranch and none of them hesitated to pit their skills against her own.

Carl could still hear her laughter and see the brightness of her smile on the previous time they had a shootout. She’d beaten everyone, including himself, fair and square and then she’d laughed and danced around in glee. None of the hands had minded, for trying to better their skills to best Sara Jane kept them all on their toes. They had laughed at her antics, none of them taking offense at her celebrations, unlike the men from town who’d come calling once in a while.

They took great offense when she bested them, usually ending their visits with harsh words and a personal escort back to the main trail leading to town.

Carl hadn’t really been jealous of the other men’s attention or intentions toward Sara Jane, confident that he knew how their visits would end. In his heart, he’d always considered Sara Jane was his, he just hadn’t told her, or anyone else for that matter. But with Gideon and Riley getting hitched, Carl had started thinking about his own future. The men from town thought they could change her, and he always felt a little sorry for them as they couldn’t appreciate all that Sara Jane was.

Carl didn’t have that same problem. He teased her from time to time just to see her all riled up, but in truth, he didn’t mind her wearing trousers or being able to outshoot him. Not really. Sara Jane in a dress and baking pies wouldn’t be the young woman he’d fallen in love with.

No, he didn’t have any obstacles standing between him and Sara Jane. The five years difference in their ages had mattered when she was still just out of the schoolroom, but now … well, now it didn’t matter so much to anyone. He was twenty-three and she was eighteen, plenty old enough to be courted and married.

The object of his affection stood across the room with her brother Shawn, in some sort of heated debate by the look on her face and her body language. She currently had her hands on her hips and looked like she was ready to take her brother’s head off at the shoulders. Sara Jane was not what anyone would consider an amenable female. She had an opinion about everything and most of the time she was right on the money. When he saw her face begin to turn red, he knew an explosion was imminent.

Not wanting her to embarrass herself or cause a scene that would ruin Gideon and Riley’s special day, he started across the room, intending to intercept her and suggest a walk outside. As he approached, he overheard her conversation with Shawn and realized why she was looking so upset.

“Yes, Sara Jane. You do. You walk around, daring any man to best you, when all they want to do is walk alongside of you and enjoy life.”

“No man wants to do that.” At least, the men who have come calling lately don’t fit into that category. They want me to be some weak, simpering female who is content to cook, clean, and have babies. No thank you!

“You’re not looking with the right eyes. Or in the right direction.” Shawn took her shoulders and spun her around. There, standing a few feet away, was Carl. He watched her carefully as Shawn slipped away, leaving him alone with the woman he couldn’t seem to live without. He’d tried to find some interest within himself for the women in town, but he always found himself comparing them to Sara Jane. And they always paled greatly in comparison. Sarah Jane possessed the things that mattered most to Carl. Loyalty. Honesty. Strength. Determination. Perseverance. She had them all in ample supply.

“He’s right, you know,” Carl told her. He closed the distance between them, pleased when she held her ground.

Sara Jane swallowed and then shook her head. “No. I don’t know.”

“Then give me a chance to show you. Come and dance with me.” Carl extended his hand. The members of the community wasted no opportunity to celebrate and a live band was now playing. For a few hours, everyone seemed content to abandon their chores and just relax and celebrate the goodness and mercy God had shown them this last year.

Sara Jane looked at his hand and then down at the dress she was wearing. She’d stood up with Riley as her maid of honor and the deep blue dress made her strawberry blonde hair shine. Her complexion was like cream and Carl had to resist the urge to reach out and see if it truly was as smooth as it looked.

Sara Jane spent as much time outdoors as he did, and she had a nice sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks to attest to that. Carl didn’t mind; in fact, he thought they were cute, but he wouldn’t tell her that for anything. He knew she’d tried to hide them with face powder for a short time, but the powder couldn’t hide them all and so she’d given up.


“Yes, and I know full well that you know how to.”

She nodded. Carl had been her willing dance partner on more than one occasion as they were growing up, being as he was the closest to her age. Now, their sizes were definitely mismatched, but that didn’t bother Carl at all. He liked being taller than her as it gave him a sense of strength. He stood well over six feet tall and Sara Jane’s head barely reached the top of his shoulder, putting her around five foot seven inches without her boots on.

When it became obvious that Sara Jane wasn’t going to readily agree to his request, he decided for her. He took her hand and pulled her out onto the area where other couples were twirling in a circle. The song was lively and he wrapped one arm around her waist and danced with her, being careful not to step on her toes or her skirt. It wasn’t long before Sara Jane gave herself up to the moment and she was soon smiling and laughing.

Carl wished he could figure out how to put that happy look upon her face all the time. As the band switched to a slower waltz, he pulled her closer and murmured, “I love it when you smile and laugh.”

In a flash, her smile faded away and she told him, “You shouldn’t say things like that.”

“Why not, if they’re true?” Carl asked.

Sara Jane looked around and said, “Because someone might overhear you and get the wrong impression.”

“What impression would that be?” he asked, watching her carefully. They’d had a version of this conversation several times and he disliked that she continued to act as if she didn’t know that he had feelings for her. He’d never spelled them out plainly, and it seemed that he needed to correct that error. Now. Sara Jane needed to know how he truly felt about her.

“Well … that you and I … that you might …”

“Want to spend more time with you? Want to court you? Think that you are the one for me?” Carl asked, holding her gaze.

Sara Jane could only stare up at him. “What? You can’t say things like that.”

“Why not? They’re true, you know. I do believe you’re the one for me. I do want to court you. I’ve prayed about it and after all of these months …”

“Months?” Sara Jane asked incredulously. “We’ve done nothing but fight these last few months.”

Carl inclined his head. “I know, and for that, I’m truly sorry. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Then why do you?” she asked, a note in her voice he couldn’t quite place. It sounded almost hopeful, but there was an undertone of hurt. Carl tugged her gently off the dance floor so that they could talk more easily with each other in the lantern light.

“Sara Jane … sometimes, the way you talk to me or the others, well … it makes us men feel inferior. We enjoy your abilities, don’t get me wrong. I like knowing that you can outshoot me. But, Sara Jane, you have to admit that in a situation where you needed to protect yourself, you wouldn’t stand a chance in a physical fight. Not up against a grown man, but with your shooting ability… you wouldn’t need to.”

Sara Jane’s face relaxed as he continued to list her attributes and she urged him, “Go on.”

Carl smiled and scanned her face. “You ride better than half of the ranch hands. Partly because you’ve been on the back of a horse since you could walk, but also because you trust your mount and communicate with her like nothing I’ve ever seen. That’s special and I would never want to rid you of that.”

“Many men don’t like it,” Sara Jane told him, a note of sadness in her voice he wished he could erase.

“That’s true. There are lots of men in this world who believe a woman should be at a stove, barefoot, with three or four babies around her ankles and another on the way. She should spend her days cooking, cleaning, laundering, mending, and whatever other chores he doesn’t feel like doing. You know me well enough to know I’m not like that. I like having you working side-by-side with me in the barn and out on the range. All of the men from the ranch do.”

He paused for a minute while the waltz ended, and she digested his words. She finally nodded in agreement and he smiled. “Good. For a minute there I thought maybe you hadn’t been paying attention all of these years.”

She ignored that comment and cocked her head to the side as she asked, “So, you’re trying to tell me that there’s not one thing you don’t like about me? You seem to find enough things to complain about. Daily.”

Carl chuckled. “Oh, there are plenty of things I’d like to change. Your tendency to rush into dangerous situations without considering the consequences is one of them. You have a very nice brain that God gave you and you need to use it, not just some of the time. All of the time.”

His response was honest, and Sara Jane obviously didn’t appreciate his candor. He could see the anger rising within her as he finished speaking. “I don’t rush into situations.”

Carl steeled himself for the upcoming battle and nodded “Yes, you do. Case in point is when we went out to find the injured cat. Your father told you. I told you. Shawn told you to stay on the rock ledge and not to come down where you wouldn’t have any way of escape if she doubled back. You had a clean view of the entire pond from up there.”

Sara Jane blushed, knowing he was right, and she’d messed up, but in true Sara Jane form, she wasn’t going to readily admit she’d made a mistake. “Everything worked out okay.”

“Only because Shawn and I saw her tracks turn around and head back to where you were. Or where you should have been. I lost ten years off my life when we stepped into the clearing and saw you swimming in the middle of the pond and the cat starting to get into the water to come after you.” Carl had been dealing with nightmares since that eventful day, unable to ignore the potentially lethal outcome had he and Shawn not gotten there when they did.

Sara Jane tried to explain her actions, but they did nothing to assuage Carl’s fear on her behalf. “I got into the pond when she startled me. I didn’t think she’d try to follow me. I thought big cats didn’t like water?”

“Well, you were wrong. It seems they like water just as much as we do. Anyway, if Shawn and I hadn’t seen what was happening and shot her, you would have been at her mercy. You didn’t even take your rifle with you.”

“I didn’t want to get it wet if I slipped on the rocks. They were covered with moss and I knew they would be slick.”

“If you had stayed up on the ledge, slipping on the rocks wouldn’t have been a concern.”

“Well, I didn’t slip. When I saw the cat coming toward me, I backed up into the water. I was going to swim to the opposite shore and climb up on the rocks.  I was hoping she wouldn’t be able to get up because the rocks were too slippery. My rifle was lying up there.”

“And you were going to handle that challenge how?” Carl argued.

“I don’t know. It didn’t happen because you killed that cat and I got out the same way I got in.”

“But that’s the point I’m trying to make. There was no reason why you should have felt like you had to retreat.”

“I didn’t intentionally …”

Carl nodded and quietly replied, “But you did intentionally put yourself in danger when you got off those rocks. Do you know how I would have felt? How your brothers or Pa would have felt if that cat had gotten to you? We would have all blamed ourselves for allowing you to come along.”

When she started to speak, he raised a hand and stopped her. “Sara Jane, I admire your gumption and there’s no question that you are talented in so many areas. But while I love knowing that you can ride with me anywhere I might want to go, I also will always want to protect you. As will any man on this ranch or worth his salt. It’s how God made us.”

“But I don’t need you to protect me, don’t you understand?” Sara Jane’s voice was petulant, and he could tell from her body posture that she was now on the defensive.

Carl nodded sadly and then sighed. “I do and that’s the problem. Sara Jane, you know I like you. A lot. I always have. Even when you pushed me out of the hayloft on accident and I broke my arm …”

“I didn’t push you, you fell,” Sara Jane corrected his statement.

“It doesn’t really matter now, that was a long time ago.  I still only had eyes for you. I had to hide how I felt about you because you were still so young.”

“We’re only five years apart,” Sara Jane reminded him as the fiddlers started playing a new dance tune.

“Yes, but when you were twelve and I was seventeen … well, let’s just say that both Gideon and Shawn threatened to beat me up and then hide the body if I ever went near you.” Thankfully, they had changed their tune and both men were of the opinion that Carl was the perfect man to rein their sister in. If anyone can get her to settle down, it’s you. Go after her with our blessings.

“They still want you to stay away from me?” Sara Jane asked.

“Not hardly. They are both confused as to the reason we aren’t already married and having our own little family.”

He could tell his comments had shocked Sara Jane. She was quiet for a moment and then shook her head in denial. “Wait! My brothers think we should be married? They’ve discussed this with you?”

“Most of the town thinks the same thing,” Carl informed her. “As for talking to me about it, they just drop hints here and there.”

“I can’t believe they would …”

“Believe it.” He leaned a bit closer to her and lowered his voice. “In fact, I’m glad we’re having this discussion, but now … well, it’s about time you knew exactly how I feel. I plan to court you.”

“But I don’t want to be courted,” Sara Jane fired back. “Haven’t you been paying attention to the suitor’s I’ve run off in the last few months?”

“They’ve been kind of hard to miss. As for you not wanting to be courted—too bad,” Carl told her with a smirk. “My mind is made up. Just thought I’d give you fair warning.”

With that said, he tipped his hat to her and left her standing in stunned silence beside the dance area with her mouth hanging open. She was surrounded by couples still enjoying the music and one another’s company. He wanted to turn around and see if she was still watching him, but he didn’t.

Carl had said what he needed to say and starting now, Sara Jane had been put on notice. Carl intended to make her his, and she could fight and kick all the while, but she would eventually end up at the altar with him, saying her vows and taking his name. There had been a growing tension between them that they had been ignoring. But no more. Sara Jane was his soulmate and if there was one thing Carl had going for him, it was his tenacity. He and Sara Jane were meant to be, and nothing was going to stand in his way. Nothing.

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