She is a bride with God in her heart, he’s a man in denial. How can they find each other’s hearts when faith in His plan is all they need?
Read and ye shall find Me…
After her mother’s tragic death, Anna, a scarred young woman, grew up in the orphanage. When her beloved orphanage burns down, and a scorched mail-order bride ad finds her way to her, it seems like God shows her the way out West. However, Anna struggles with her husband because he’s chosen a purposeless life. How can she warm his soul when he’s so dismissive of God’s plan?
Houston is a stubborn young rancher and he doesn’t easily accept help from others. Placing an ad is just out of necessity to find a mother for his brothers. His growing feelings about Anna will start to soften his heart, but that will scare him away making him even more distant. How can he finally let go of his fears and accept this Godsent bride in his heart?
God brought the two together with a command but it is up to them to make things work. How can they defeat danger coming their way and trust in God’s plan even if it’s terrifying to open up their hearts again?
Light blinded Anna Patten, but it was not painful. Rather, she felt as if there was something warm and comforting about it, as if it were there to protect her.
The light felt as if it was from the Lord himself.
Read and ye shall find me.
The voice was all around her, as if she were in an echo chamber and it was coming at her from all sides. It was deep and smooth, a kind and gentle tone.
Suddenly, the light grew even brighter until it was swallowed up by a sound like the roaring of an ocean wave.
Anna’s eyes snapped open and with a gasp, she sat up in the bed, panting. What was that? What sort of dream had it been? It felt as though it was directly from the Lord, as if He had been trying to show Anna His will. There was something in this dream for her to follow, she just wasn’t sure exactly what it was.
Anna fidgeted with her single, blonde braid that fell to her waist. For some reason, the comfort of the dream was over. Now, she was nervous. Something was wrong and she couldn’t figure out what it was.
All at once, she smelled something. Smoke. Something was burning.
Still confused by the daze of sleep, Anna tried to figure out what was going on. She knew that she needed to hurry up and gather herself, to figure out what was burning, but she was groggy and uncertain.
At first, she looked around her small room, at the wool blanket on her bed and then to the finely crafted oak rocking chair next to the window. The curtains were tinged with an orange glow, as if there was light coming from outside, but not daylight.
Finally, Anna went to the window and pulled back the curtain. Instantly, her heart pounded with panic.
Across the churchyard, the orphanage was aflame!
With her blood running cold, Anna froze for only a second before springing into action, desperate to ensure that the children were safe. She ran from her room and across the dead grass of late winter wearing only her thin, white nightgown. She had forgotten to grab a cloak, but she had no time to think about it. For now, all that mattered was saving the little ones.
She closed in on the building and saw the blend of children and adults outside, some of them crying, others rushing to the well and drawing water.
“Anna!” cried Sister Esther, her own braided hair exposed as she must not have had time to dress in the modesty of her habit.
“Is anyone still inside?” Anna asked desperately, her feet not stopping as she waited for an answer.
“Yes, yes! The first years! Oh, Anna, don’t go in! It’s my duty!” Sister Esther called.
But Anna was faster, even in the thin soles of her cotton house slippers. Sister Esther would have been in a very grave state to have gone inside and tried to rescue the children. She was a mother to them all, but age had weakened her knees and back. She had the heart of a lion, but not the agility. So, Anna ran on.
She entered the building where there were no flames, but the smoke choked her at once. The deafening sound of crackling fire and screams could not be drowned out. Her only choice was to press on, while wrapping her braid over her nose and mouth to try and keep some of the smoke at bay. It was a poor attempt, but it was all she had.
The younger children stayed in two rooms at the far end of the orphanage, the rooms nearest to the kitchen, where the fire appeared to have originated. After a few moments, Anna reached the first room with her eyes stinging from the soot in the air.
“Help! Help!” cried the children, easily sixteen of them altogether.
Anna realized the problem at once. There was a large support beam in the way, blocking off the doors of both rooms. It must have fallen in the fire and one end was charred. The children—most around the ages of eight or nine—could not push their doors open fully with the beam where it lay.
“It’s all right. I’m going to get it out of the way,” she said, moving the hair that was covering her mouth.
Anna crouched over and gripped the beam, pulling with all her might. It was too heavy. She could not do it alone.
“I need you all to push against the doors. All at once. With me, all right? At the same time on the count of three,” she said. The little faces peered at her through the small gaps in the door and she saw many of them nod.
“One, two, three!” she cried, pushing with every ounce of strength she had.
Groaning with the effort, Anna continued to push until the beam moved far enough and the children could open their doors.
“Come on! Hurry!” she shouted before descending into a fit of coughing. But even as she coughed, Anna ran behind the children, the boys dressed in their cotton nightshirts and the girls in their similar nightgowns. They made their way through, as quickly as they could and finally reached the door before bursting out into the night where the air was fresh and clean.
“Oh, Anna! You are all right! You saved all the children, God bless you!” Sister Esther exclaimed, grasping Anna’s hands in her own.
But there was still much work to be done. Sister Esther instructed everyone as they worked in teams, with the nuns and the older children putting forth efforts to put out the fire with blankets and wooden buckets of water retrieved from the well. It was a grueling effort, but a successful one.
At last, Anna collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. The courtyard was still a mass of confusion and panic, but at least the fire was out, and the children were gathering to the nuns for comfort. She was exhausted and overwhelmed, but relieved that she had managed to help. The children were safe and that was all it took to give her peace.
Anna noticed a half-burnt piece of paper fluttering by her foot. Any other day, she would have disregarded it, not bothering to see what it was and simply allowing herself the rest after such a chaotic event. However, her mind immediately flashed back to the words she had heard earlier in her dream and she picked up the ashen paper.
Houston Grady, Rancher, Pinebrook, Texas. Looking for a wife with a strong Christian sensibility to run my household. There is a good amount of land—
And that was the end of it. She knew nothing more than this. With the bottom of the paper having burnt away, Anna could not be sure of anything more. She did not know if Houston Grady had said anything else or what else he might be looking for in a wife.
The words she had heard in her dream—the ones Anna attributed to the Lord—suddenly made sense. Could it be? Was this what the Lord had wanted her to read?
Eager with anticipation, Anna wondered if this really was from the Lord and if He was the one who had guided her to this place. He had inspired her to pick up the paper. He had been the one who urged her to wake up and come out. None of this could have happened if she had not heard those words in her sleep and startled awake.
At once, Anna knew that she had to reply to the advertisement. This was the answer she had been waiting for over the past two weeks since the nuns told her that being eighteen now, she needed to think about departing from the orphanage and making space for more children who were coming all the time.
Of course, it had come as a shock to Anna, but she could hardly argue with the nuns. She had always known that her time would one day come when she had to leave the orphanage, hadn’t she?
But the thought was so painful! How could she leave behind the place that had been her home for the past twelve years? She had lived there ever since her mother passed away and the nuns had come to mother her in a whole new way.
Especially Sister Esther Gibbs.
Anna knew that the nuns would make every effort to find a way for her to stay if she really wanted them to, but there was a part of her that didn’t want that. It was going to be nearly impossible to tell Sister Esther that she was leaving, but it was the right thing.
If Anna was going to let go of her past, if she was going to be free of the burdens which weighed her down, there was only one choice. She needed to go. She needed to make a fresh start in a whole new place, away from the orphanage and away from Virginia.
Was Houston Grady the one who could make that happen? Was this snippet of newspaper a door to God’s will for her life?
Houston Grady woke up in a cold sweat, gasping from the same nightmare he had been haunted by over the past few months. His pale blue eyes, naturally hooded even when he was wide awake, struggled to stay open.
But the agony of the nightmare forced him not to sleep again that night. He didn’t want to revisit that dream. It was far too painful, and Houston didn’t think he could bear to suffer through it again.
The dream was the same every time and Houston thumbed along his circle beard—as black as the hair on his head—as he recalled every detail.
First, there was the intense light. Then, the flames threatening to take hold, to destroy, to burn up rather than to simply warm. And the beautiful girl running away.
Could it be his mother? He wondered, thinking maybe he was dreaming about this because he was still so grieved by how she had vanished so cruelly.
At first trying to push away those thoughts, Houston could not seem to resist allowing himself to suffer. He could hardly stand to think about everything that had happened between his mother and father, but it was difficult to let it go and give her any sort of grace for what she did to them. And if the woman in this dream really was her, he didn’t want to even think about what it meant.
Unable and unwilling to return to sleep, Houston sat by the window and stared outside. He had hope in his heart that everything was just fine, but there was something within him that couldn’t help wondering. There was so much he had been considering lately, so many things that could bring him hope and many that could cause disappointment.
But the moment he saw a bluish tinge along the edge of the horizon over his fields, he knew he may as well get up and start cooking breakfast. Houston made his way to the farmhouse kitchen and got to work preparing the food and trying to ensure that everything was ready before his brothers woke up. But it was only a short time later that Kurt came in through the kitchen door from outside, apparently already having been awake. The outside air, a blend of morning dew and compost, whipped into the kitchen until Kurt closed the door behind him.
“Kurt? What are you doing up?” Houston asked, looking at his brother who was dressed haphazardly in his tan trousers and white shirt buttoned up incorrectly. He wore his leather cowboy boots without the spurs.
“Had a bad feeling,” Kurt replied, his eyes downcast. “Turns out I was right.”
Houston’s gut churned. He didn’t want to hear that at all. Kurt’s bad feelings were always right. There was nothing new about that.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Two more horses got rustled in the night. That makes seven in the past three weeks,” Kurt said.
Houston could hardly bear the weight of disappointment. He always felt so heavy these days. They were stretched so thin and he’d had to let the ranch hands go. Now, over the past few months, they had been defenseless against the rustlers.
Suddenly, anger stirred in his chest. Hadn’t God already punished their family enough? Wasn’t it enough that their mother had abandoned them? And then He took their father? And then Levi becoming a mute after the trauma?
Was it really not enough?
Now Houston had to carry the responsibility of the ranch and also his younger brothers. Kurt seemed to recognize how hard it must be on Houston but he was still just a young fella and Houston didn’t want him to know the weight of the burden.
How much more did God expect him to be able to handle?
“You going to ride into town and let Sheriff Larimer know?” Kurt asked.
“What’s the point?” Houston snapped back in agitation. He couldn’t think why he would waste his time doing something like that. There was nothing good that would come of it, after all.
Sheriff Larimer had already let Houston and the other ranchers know that he suspected the Paine Gang could be the ones behind the rustlings. For the ranchers who had been targeted, this was terrible news, for sure. The county sheriff had sent Sheriff Larimer a warning about them and how they might be rustling and sabotaging the local ranches.
“I know that he can’t do much, but he should still know, shouldn’t he?” Kurt asked, thumbing his chin in the same exact gesture that Houston did when he was anxious about something. They had both picked up the habit from their father years before.
“He already made it clear that he and the deputy don’t have the resources needed to fight the gang,” Houston said. He then added with great annoyance, “He promised that he’s doing the best he can. Little help that is to us …”
As if he could not escape it, a flash from his dream the night before flared up in Houston’s mind. It was still bothering him and now he had to deal with the news of the rustlings. It took all his self-control not to throw one of the plates sitting on the counter. He wasn’t a violent man by nature, but right now his frustrations were unbearable. He reined in his fury to maintain a calm, dignified demeanor.
“Say, have you checked the post office in town? Any replies from that advertisement you placed?” Kurt asked for what had to be the millionth time.
Something snapped inside Houston. He gritted his teeth and exhaled through his nose, desperate to remain calm despite everything going on around him.
“I should never have let you talk me into that,” he said gruffly. “It was a mistake. It’s been two months and the last thing we all need now is for me to go marrying a stranger and bringing even more complications into our lives. Think about it, Kurt.”
“I have thought about it. I stand by what I urged you to do. You can say all you want that you regret it or that it was some kind of a mistake, but the fact of the matter is that this is a good idea for you,” Kurt said.
“Enough of that. It’s not. Not for me, or you, or Levi. None of us,” Houston insisted.
“I may be your little brother, but I’m not going to let go on this one, Houston. Look at us. We’re struggling to cope—especially you—and we need help around the house. And a mother for Levi. You know it’s true,” Kurt said.
Houston narrowed his eyes at his brother, but Kurt didn’t give him even a moment to respond.
“Things around the ranch are never going to come right if you stay like this. You’re so stubborn, Houston. You’re always refusing to admit the sad truth, but I’ll tell you that we can’t keep denying we need help,” Kurt said.
“Why does that help have to come in the form of a wife?” Houston challenged.
“Because I care about your own happiness. Don’t you? What happened to the brother I used to know? He was so full of life. He had fun. He was energetic and adventurous. Where’s he at now?” Kurt asked.
“That person died when our mother deserted us, and our father was killed. That’s what happened to him, Kurt. I don’t have the luxury of thinking about myself. Maybe I didn’t back then either, but I sure didn’t realize it. Now I do. It’s not about me and it can’t be,” Houston said.
He turned in his anger and was shocked to see Levi standing behind him, staring wide-eyed at the two of them.
Houston dropped to his knees before his littlest brother, feeling absolutely dreadful that he had just allowed Levi to see him arguing with Kurt like that.
“Levi, bud, what are you doing up? I’m sorry you saw that. I really am. I promise you that everything is fine. You don’t need to worry, all right? I was just getting worked up and I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry,” Houston apologized.
Levi nodded to show that he understood. He said nothing, but Houston was used to that. He hadn’t heard his little brother speak in four years. The pang in Houston’s chest reminded him about the little boy who was so full of laughter, so quick to laugh, smiling like there was nothing wrong in all the world.
But that was back when their father was alive. Could Houston have done more for Levi? How could he do more for his little brother when he had barely managed to keep things together himself over the past four years? What should he have done differently to help Levi through everything he had seen?
“All right, let’s get to it,” Houston said, standing and gathering the food, parceling it out for his brothers so that they each had two links of browned sausage, a large scoop of scrambled eggs with lots of black pepper, and a crust of bread. He needed to distract himself, but breakfast was largely a quiet affair as they ate the meal and drank their coffee.
There was no reason to bring up any more of the difficult topics and Houston wanted a semblance of peace, even if it was only on the surface. The last thing he wanted to deal with was acknowledging that he had probably hurt the feelings of both his brothers through that display of anger. He was supposed to be the one keeping everything together and running the house well. How could he do that when he was so upset?
Once breakfast was over, Houston went to his room to sit on his own for a while. Kurt had gone out to spread the feed and Levi was going to milk the cows, one of his main duties on the ranch.
It was a relief for Houston to have this time on his own to think about everything he was feeling of late. He didn’t want to be this man he had become, the kind who would fight with Kurt and upset Levi. It was frustrating to know that he had allowed himself to behave in this way.
But Houston’s eyes drifted to the cabinet next to his bed. Was it time yet? Did he need to take action? Before he was able to talk himself out of it, to convince himself to hold off, he opened the drawer and pulled out the letter lying there.
He hadn’t been willing to tell Kurt about the letter that had arrived at the post office a week before. He was too anxious about it to admit it to his own brother. Maybe his courage had failed him, or maybe he wasn’t ready for marriage at all anyway. Whatever it was, Houston just couldn’t bring himself to actually open and read the letter.
But something in him had changed that morning and he couldn’t put it off any longer. He needed to be strong, to do what he had committed to doing when he placed that advert in the paper. Not only that, but he needed to do the right thing for his brothers. Kurt had been right. They needed help and Levi needed a mother.
Despite the trembling of his hands, he had to read the letter.
Dear Mr. Grady,
My name is Anna Patten. I currently live in Alexandria, Virginia, at an orphanage here. I am eighteen years of age and I saw your advertisement in the paper and wished to share with you about my skills in homemaking. I am an excellent cook, keep a tidy, well-organized living space, and I am thoroughly skilled with sewing, gardening, and assisting with a variety of activities that are required. Although I have never lived on a ranch, I am a quick learner.
I would be interested in corresponding with you if that is something you would like. It would mean a lot to me to hear back from you and to know whether or not you are interested.
Houston stared at the letter for a moment. Her penmanship was decent, and the parchment was quality, so the orphanage must have been a nice one, perhaps run by a church as opposed to the sort he had heard of used as workhouses.
But he couldn’t quite believe that he had just read these words. Some young lady really did want to correspond with him? Did she know anything at all about him?
Houston still hesitated. He wasn’t sure if he actually wanted this. Why would he want to bring another woman into his life? Hadn’t he been through enough with his own mother? And yet, after that argument with Kurt, he knew that his brother was right. He wasn’t coping. He never had. And it was making him an ugly person.
Beyond that, Anna Patten had made no mention of the other things being a problem. She hadn’t complained about the fact that it was purely a marriage of convenience like he had said in his advertisement. She hadn’t said anything against the knowledge that she would be a mother for Levi.
Sure, he didn’t feel ready for this massive commitment he was making, but what other choice did he have? This was all there was. Even though he felt such pains of hurt from his mother and he had never expected to get married, this was the best thing for his brothers and the ranch.
At least he was protected. He had made mention in the ad that it was just for convenience. He wouldn’t end up like his father, deeply in love and then abandoned. Houston could protect himself from rejection since foolish things like love were more fantasy than fact.
Houston figured that this might be the price he had to pay, the way he had to earn God’s favor again. Maybe if he made this sacrifice then God would forgive him for all the years he had turned away, choosing to live for himself first and foremost.
Bearing these things in mind, Houston heaved a sigh and grabbed his inkwell.
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