She’s another Magdalene repenting for her sins. He’s an aloof rancher who has recently found God. How can their newfound love persevere amongst lies and deception?
Μyra is a dauntless but deeply wounded young woman who was forced to become a soiled dove. Becoming a mail-order bride in the West seems to be what God wants of her and she willingly accepts His guidance. However, she hides her saloon past and the fact that she’s estranged from God. Slowly she realizes that even if her lie might cost her everything, at least she’s met a person who makes her believe again. How can she heed God’s words and show devotion to her new husband without feeling unworthy?
Hayden is a distant deputy and a born-again Christian. He asks for a marriage of convenience because his sister is failing at school and he also needs help around the ranch. Meeting sweet Myra though will change his world. She doesn’t seem like the cultivated Christian girl she wrote him she’d be. She always avoids talking about the past so he’s certain that she hides something. How can Hayden follow God’s plan when he learns the truth about her?
To let go of past sins and purposeless life, Myra and Hayden must recommit their hearts to God’s will. When an unforeseeable danger arrives at their doorstep though how can they let God inspire their bond?
Myra Peters took a moment to check her hair in the looking glass over the dresser. It was currently pinned up atop her head with long strands, set in ring curls, hanging down on either side of her face, framing it and setting off her other features. She’d used stain on her lips that almost perfectly matched the deep scarlet gown she wore.
With the black lace and low-cut bodice, she surely would have drawn a judgmental glance or two from the church-going ladies of the town, not that Myra cared. They’d done nothing to help her when she’d first come to town and she owed them nothing.
Her attire blended with her dark black hair and alabaster complexion. Her deep blue eyes were surrounded by dark lashes and she smiled as she mentally prepared herself for the night ahead. She left her bedroom and headed for the stairs.
It was almost dark outside and as she reached the landing at the top of the stairs, she paused for a moment. She could hear sounds coming from below, the voices and clanking of glass – indications that the saloon below was already beginning to fill up. It was a Friday evening and besides the normal customers, the Last Bottle saloon would have a fair number of men celebrating the fact that they would be heading out on the Oregon Trail in just a few days’ time.
Men who would be looking for a friendly face and perhaps a beautiful woman to spend a few hours with, celebrating the beginning of their new lives. For the right money, Myra would gladly share a drink with them or even invite them to accompany her upstairs. Only time would tell how this evening would work out.
One of the things that had drawn Myra to stay in Independence had been the sense of adventure and excitement that always seemed to surface as another wagon train prepared to set out on the Oregon Trail.
It had been a long, cold winter, and now that the weather had finally turned, the ice on the river had melted, large numbers of birds had returned from their southern winter retreat, farmers and ranchers alike were welcoming new life to their barns, and men were flocking to the city, seeking something new themselves.
Another one of the saloon girls sidled up next to her, “Sounds like a busy night.”
Myra smiled at Sienna, one of the oldest girls who lived and worked at the saloon. “Let’s hope everyone keeps their tempers tonight. The sheriff wasn’t too happy last weekend when those two started brawling.”
“Parker took care of things quick enough,” Sienna reminded her.
“Yeah, but not before they busted up the place and left us to clean it all up,” Myra told her, remembering how long it had taken to get the shards of glass swept up. During their altercation, one of the men had decided it was a good idea to try and hit his opponent with the glassware.
His aim had been deplorable, and all of the glasses had ended up smashing into the wooden floorboards, sending slivers and pieces of glass in all directions. It had been almost closing time and Parker had kicked everyone out of the saloon and the entire staff, men and women included, had started the arduous task of cleaning up and putting the saloon back together. Myra was most definitely looking for a different ending to tonight’s activities.
“Yeah, Parker wasn’t happy, at all.” Sienna started down the steps and then turned to look over her shoulder, “You coming?”
“In a minute. Got to get myself into the right frame of mind. I’m thinking I might become some lucky man’s good luck charm tonight.”
“Okay, see you down there,” Sienna waved over her shoulder as she finished descending the stairs.
Myra stayed where she was, breathing in and out slowly and telling herself that maybe tonight she’d meet the man who would take her away from all of this. She envied the people who were getting their wagons and supplies ready outside the doors of the saloon. Escaping their mundane lives in search of something new and exciting. Heading for the great unknown west of the Mississippi.
But then reality set in and she shook her head to dispel the dreams that would never come true for her. Myra would never have such an adventure herself. Orphans and saloon girls spent their days trying to scrape out a living and claim a small piece of the town to call their own.
They avoided those who would pass judgment on their chosen occupation and mainly kept to themselves. From what she’d seen, the women who frequented the wagon trains would not be very accepting of her soiled dove status. Best to just put those dreams aside and focus on the life she had today.
She pasted a welcoming smile on her face and put a slight swing in her step as she descended the stairs. George was already at the piano in the corner and he waved to her briefly as her feet hit the bottom main floor. His hat was askew, and he hadn’t shaved today, or in several days from the look of it, but his large grin was endearing.
George was more like a big brother to the saloon girls. He nodded toward the card tables and Myra returned it with a wink. The other girls who worked both in the saloon and the rooms above the stairs were already circulating with trays of drinks.
A card game was just beginning in the far corner and Myra took a moment to examine the players as she looked for a willing target for her attentions.
Given the pile of bills sitting in front of several of the men, and their clothing which indicated they were more than normal farmers or ranchers, she headed in their direction. She was almost there when she heard her name.
She turned her head to see Parker, the saloon’s owner, and the man responsible for providing her a place to earn a living, waving to her from behind the bar. He was tall and lanky, with graying hair and a beard to match.
His gray eyes seemed to take in everything going on around him at the same time he managed to give each customer at the bar his attention. A few feet away from him, Nan poured another drink and handed it across the bar with a smile.
Nan was Parker’s wife, having at one time been a saloon girl, just like Myra and the others. Nan often recounted how Parker had rescued her from an abusive father, but Parker always saw things differently. He believed Nan had rescued him from a life of drunkenness and allowed him to make his saloon a success. Either way, the pair were made for one another and anyone and everyone who met them agreed.
As far as Myra was concerned, they had both rescued her. At the age of eighteen, Myra had made the decision to leave the orphanage where she’d been living for the last ten years and had made her way to Independence.
She’d thought to find work and after saving up some money, find a family that wouldn’t mind having her accompany them West.
Little had she known at the time that finding work where she could pay for her necessities and save money at the same time was going to be nearly impossible. After exhausting almost all of her funds in the first two weeks, she’d met Clara and Jasmine at a small park.
Myra had been sitting on a bench, feeling sorry for herself and dreading having to return to the orphanage and beg for them to let her stay a bit longer. Clara and Jasmine had been talking about how much money they’d each made the night before.
Myra had been listening so intently, she hadn’t even realized when the two girls stopped talking to stare at her. She’d blushed furiously and scrambled to her feet, intending to run away, when Jasmine had called out to her.
“Hey, don’t leave. What’s your name?”
That had been the beginning of a friendship between the three women. After learning of Myra’s funding problem and inability to find a job she liked, they’d invited her to come and meet Parker and Nan. A few days later, she’d become the newest saloon gal. A few weeks later, she’d taken her first admirer up the stairs.
Myra wasn’t proud of her actions, but she also refused to beat herself up over something she didn’t see as changeable. Jobs for single young women included becoming a nanny, a shopkeeper’s helper, a schoolteacher, or getting married and becoming a rancher, farmer, or store owner’s wife.
Myra didn’t have the necessary papers to become a schoolteacher. She’d helped with the younger kids at the orphanage from time to time, but she truly didn’t see herself taking care of someone else’s children for the rest of her life, so she’d decided not to even go down that road.
As for becoming a shopkeeper’s helper…well, she’d given that a try upon arriving in Independence. When the owner, Mr. Harkin, had decided part of her duties was giving him certain liberties, she’d hit him over the head and run out the back of the shop. That only left marrying someone.
Since Myra had never met a single man that she would consider spending great lengths of time with, she had already discounted the idea of getting married in the near future.
Besides, now that she’d dared to flout the rules of society, she doubted marriage was ever going to be in the cards for her. She’d already adjusted to the idea of remaining single for the foreseeable future.
“Parker?” Myra asked, coming to a rest with her forearms on the bar top.
Parker dropped the rag in his hands and retrieved an envelope from behind the bar. “This came for you earlier today while you were out with the girls.”
Myra frowned, but took the envelope from him, glancing at the address on the back and then shaking her head in confusion. “I don’t know anyone in Oregon.”
Parker shrugged and replied, “Well, given that your name is on the front, someone there knows you.”
Myra glanced at her name written on the front and then her frown intensified when she saw the orphanage’s address underneath. “Parker, how did this get delivered?” She’d sent word to the orphanage that she was living in Independence and doing fine, but she’d left out what she’d been doing since leaving their care eight months earlier, choosing only to give them an address.
“The nuns took the letter to the postmaster in Columbia and he forwarded it to this address. Not sure how the nuns knew where…,” Parker started to speculate.
Myra interrupted him. “I sent word to the nuns with this address.” She sagged in relief and when Parker raised a brow at her, she hurried to explain. “I was afraid that they had attempted to come here in person.”
“Nuns? Here in my saloon?” Parker pursed his lips and then shook his head. “Never gonna happen.”
“Let’s hope not. I don’t even want to think about the lecture Mother Superior would have for me then.”
Nan, who had been listening from a few away, sidled up beside her husband and added, “Those nuns come looking for you here, we’ll just sic them on Jasmine and Clara. Lord knows those two girls could use some soul-saving lectures,” Nan cackled as she walked away to help someone else.
“Don’t you worry none. If any nuns or priests show up looking for you here, we’ll steer them away,” Parker told her with a knowing smirk. He shook his head and then assured her, “No. Protecting you girls is my mission in life.” Myra nodded in silent thanks. It was well-known on this side of town that Parker and Nan’s saloon had girls who were happy to show a man a good time in exchange for a bit of his money, but those men had better mind their manners or deal with Parker.
He didn’t tolerate any abuse, verbal or physical, as several men had found out when Parker escorted them from the premises, not even caring if their drawers were down around their ankles. He wore two six-shooters on his hips at all times and kept a loaded rifle just above the racks of liquor behind the bar.
Rumor had it that Parker had been a sharpshooter in the Army at one point, but he never talked about his past, except to say that it was there, and he’d survived it. All of the women respected those boundaries, leaving the mystery of Parker to others.
Parker waited for a heartbeat and then tipped his chin toward the envelope still clutched in her hands. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
Myra nodded and then slowly slid a fingernail beneath the seam. A single sheet of paper was inside, along with some money. She silently unfolded the paper and began to read:
I know receiving this letter will come as a shock and be accompanied by some anger and disbelief, but I beg you to read my words and try not to think too badly of me. I am your father’s sister, Lydia. You won’t remember me, as you were barely three years old when I ran off with my late husband Jackson, but I remember you.
I know you’re probably wondering why I’m just now contacting you when your parents have been dead these last ten years, but life has a way of not going the way you think it will, and as I near the end of my life here on this earth, I find I am too selfish to die alone. As you are my only living family member, I implore you to consider my request.
When I was first notified of my brother’s passing, bringing you West just wasn’t an option. Jackson and his business partner had just started their sawmill and we were having almost weekly skirmishes with the local Indians. I couldn’t stand the thought of bringing you into such a volatile situation and after several sleepless nights, I decided your best chance at having a long and fruitful life was to go to the orphanage and get a proper education.
I’m hoping that was indeed the case and that somewhere in your heart you can find some Christian charity toward me. You see, I am dying.
There, I’ve admitted it. Probably not tomorrow and more than likely not next week, but the local doctor has assured me that my time is short. I’ve done many things in my life I’m not proud of, most of which I cannot correct, but where you are concerned, I believe there is still time for me to earn your forgiveness.
I’ve included enough money to get you to Oregon and I hope you will not delay in fulfilling my request. Find a family with small children and offer your services and money in return for transport in their wagon. If I could travel to you, I would, but alas, that is not possible.
Please consider my request and come to me. I need to ask your forgiveness and see for myself that I made the right decision so many years ago. I implore you to honor my request.
Myra finished reading the letter and then stared at the paper blindly for several long moments before she heard another voice calling her name. She turned her head to see Clara staring at her quizzically.
“Everything alright, sugar?” Clara asked, her Southern drawl just as charming as ever.
Myra slowly shook her head, a thousand questions suddenly buzzing around inside, like a nest of hornets. “No. No, I don’t think so.”
Parker was eavesdropping and leaned over the bar to ask, “Who was the letter from?”
“My aunt,” Myra whispered.
“Your aunt? I thought you were an orphan,” Clara queried.
“So did I,” Myra told her, confusion marring her brow. “She says she’s dying and is sorry she couldn’t take me in when my parents died a decade ago.”
“She wrote you a letter just to apologize?” Clara asked.
“No. She wants me to come to Oregon to see her. Maybe…to take care of her?” Myra hedged, unsure of anything at the moment. So many emotions were clouding her brain.
A man sitting at the bar a few feet away spoke up, “My missus and I would be happy to escort you to Oregon if you’re of a mind to visit your aunt.”
Myra turned to the man and raised a brow at him. “Listening to other’s conversations could get you in trouble.”
“Lots of things could get a man in trouble, but I just offered to help you solve a problem. We leave the day after tomorrow. The name’s Jeb and my wife’s name is Laura. I’ll stop by tomorrow after you’ve had a night to think about things.”
The man tipped his hat at Myra and Clara and then tossed a few coins on the bar top before leaving. He was huge and had to duck as he pushed through the swinging doors of the saloon and out onto the boardwalk.
Myra watched him go and then turned to Parker. “Do you know that man?”
Parker nodded with pursed lips. “Yes. He’s leading a group of twelve wagons West. Been doing it for several years now, but this time he’s taking his wife and not coming back. If there’s anyone I’d trust to get you safely to Oregon, it’d be him.”
“So, you think I should go?” Myra asked.
“Do I want you to go?” Parker asked and then shook his head. “Not hardly. Do I think you should go?” Parker nodded. “As much as it pains me to think about losing one of my best girls, I do think you should go see your aunt.”
Nan appeared at his side and added, “Besides, you’re only nineteen. You deserve more than this life can give you. A family of your own. Maybe a kid or two?” she added with a wink.
Clara laid a hand on her arm and added her own opinion. “Go to Oregon and see your aunt. Who knows what might happen. You could start your life all over again without anyone out there judging you for working here.”
Myra looked around the saloon, giving half-hearted smiles to several of the men who visited her several times a month. As a soiled dove, she and the other girls were looked down upon by the modest, church-going women who lived on the other side of the town. Myra had quickly learned that some places within the town were best left alone, and that no one’s opinion, but her own, actually mattered.
As a little girl, she’d often dreamed of a family and children to take care of. She’d imagined a farm or ranch, with animals and a garden to tend.
Never had she dreamed she’d be where she was today, with no prospects for ever bettering her situation. In the eyes of all God-fearing, Christian folk, she was tainted. Sinful.
Going to Oregon could be her one chance at making another life for herself. One that honored the way her parents had raised her and didn’t leave her feeling dirty inside. Knowing her window to decide was short, she took off after Jeb, leaving the saloon and finding him several buildings down.
She raced after him, holding back the urge to call out his name as she didn’t want to draw any more attention to either of them than she’d already done by leaving the saloon in her current attire.
She waited until she was only a few feet away from his back before she said his name, “Jeb.”
He stopped and spun around, looking at her in shock as he took in her flushed face and the way she struggled to catch her breath. “Miss Myra did you just run after me?” He glanced around, frowning when he spied several groups of people on the other side of the street, gawking at them. “You shouldn’t be out here…dressed…er, well…you shouldn’t have run after me.”
“But…I did,” Myra told him. “I would like to accept your offer of an escort to Oregon, if the offer still stands?”
He reared back in shock for a moment and then seemed to compose himself. “Well, of course it does. I just made it a few moments ago. Are you sure?”
“I’m positive.” Not really but I feel like I’ll be missing out on a big opportunity if I don’t.
“Very well, then. We’re leaving the day after tomorrow. It’ll be a push to get you outfitted for the journey, but I’ll send Laura around first thing in the morning and she can help you. We’ll need to find you some wagon space…”
“Wagon space?” Myra inquired.
“For your things. Furniture might be a bit hard…”
“I don’t have any,” she rushed to tell him. “It’s just me and some clothing, shoes…”
“Ah! Sorry, I guess I should have realized,” he replied hesitantly. “Very well, I know there’s plenty of room for a few trunks…”
“No trunks either,” she assured him. “Just a carpetbag…maybe two?”
Jeb gave her a confused look and then nodded. “I guess I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
Myra nodded and then smiled at him. “Thank you. I’ll make sure I’m ready.”
Jeb nodded and then shooed her back the way she’d come. “You’d best get back to the saloon and get your affairs in order there. A new life awaits you.”
Myra nodded and returned to the saloon. She told Parker she’d made her decision and he immediately sent her upstairs to begin packing.
Throughout the evening, the other girls stopped by her room and offered advice, well wishes, and even a few items they believed would come in handy on her journey. She hugged them, cried tears with a few, and promised to write and keep everyone informed about her adventures.
It was the wee hours of the morning before they finally all left her alone and she had time to finish sorting through her own belongings.
She mostly packed those items she believed would be serviceable on her journey. She had removed the scarlet dress from earlier in the evening, and on a whim, she tucked it into the bottom of her bag.
It was a reminder of the life she was getting ready to leave, and while it would have been easy to leave all remnants of that life behind, she found she needed a tangible reminder. Possibly even a connection to this present life she could reach for should she ever again find herself in such dire straits as when she first left the orphanage.
She finished packing up the items she wanted to take and then turned to look at the pile of clothing and shoes lying in a corner by the wardrobe. These were the things she wasn’t going to take with her.
She would gladly donate these things to the other women, but not until the morning. Everyone needed a few hours of sleep before the new day began.
Just before drifting off to sleep, she pulled her aunt’s letter from the top drawer of her dresser, where she’d stashed it earlier for safe keeping. She re-read it, several times, until exhaustion overtook her, and she was forced to give in to sleep.
No matter what the future brought, she knew she would never forget her time at the saloon or the other girls who had befriended her when she was all alone.
But it seemed those days of being labeled soiled and considered unworthy of being in polite company were past.
For some reason, she’d been given a chance to start again and regardless of the fact that she was scared of what the future might have in store for her, she was stepping out in faith.
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