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Faith and Love in Durango

She promised to bring light into my darkness…

But I’ve sworn off love forever…

We’ll be just married on paper…

Durango, 1881

Essie’s life is turned upside down when she’s chased by men seeking to collect her brother’s gambling debts. Desperate, she answers a mail-order bride ad. But upon arrival, she’s stunned to find her husband-to-be speaking about marriage with another woman. Did he ever truly want her, or was she just a pawn in someone else’s game?

Grant, a wealthy heir to a gunpowder mill, has vowed never to marry, scarred by betrayal and his family’s turmoil. Now, he’s confronted with Essie, a determined woman, insisting she is his mail-order bride. Though reluctant, he agrees to a marriage of convenience, her eyes stirring something long dormant within him.

Under one roof, Essie’s resilience and devout Christianity challenge Grant’s distrust and bitterness. Then, past and present collide… nothing is what they thought.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author

4.6/5

4.6/5 (73 ratings)

Prologue

1881, Durango, Colorado

 

As the wagon thumped over the rutted road, Walter Caldwell did his best not to think too much about how he’d ended up in his current situation of homelessness. Though, he wasn’t truly homeless. After all, he was a man of wealth. But when one’s own children treated them so poorly, could a man be anything but homeless?

Fifty-eight years old and kicked out by his son. It was a sorry state of being.

His mind traveled in a circle with despair on one side and hope on the other. An honest man would admit that he deserved Finn banishing him to live with Grant, his older son, after the dreadful fight they’d had—their worst one yet.

Overhead, thick clouds had gathered, promising rain. Hopefully, the driver—a short, stocky man with a foul mouth and flaming red hair—would make it to his son’s ranch before he had to endure a downpour. He had an aversion to getting caught in the rain. He’d hated it when he was still able-bodied, and now that he couldn’t get around well, getting soaked was nothing short of miserable.

The wagon hit an unusually deep rut, slinging him sideways on the hard seat next to Finn’s driver. His hat went askew, and he took it off, gripping it tight as if it might fly away. His wheelchair clattered behind them in the wagon bed, reminding him of his helplessness.

“These ruts are enough to rattle a man’s brains clean out of his head,” Walter muttered.

The driver nodded. “Can’t say you’re wrong. They get worse every time it rains.”

Of course, Finn wouldn’t dump him off on Grant himself. Instead, he sent him off with a driver he didn’t even know. The entire thing was humiliating, bringing him nothing but a wave of shame.

What does it matter? Walter mused.

He was exchanging one residence for another. Living with Finn hadn’t been easy. At least Grant, even if he didn’t want him there, would never behave the way Finn had.

He gazed into the distance, where the beautiful mountains jutted up as if stabbing at the sky. Pine trees covered the foothills that separated the mountains from the lower land where people had settled and made their homes and fortunes, himself included. Durango had been his home for his entire life, and he would never leave it. This was the land he wanted to be buried in when his time on Earth was finished.

He didn’t want to think about dying, though. Maybe he was an awful person who deserved death. Maybe not. At this point, he didn’t know for sure himself.

A breeze picked up, blowing his hair into his eyes. He shoved it back and clapped his hat onto his head.

How had he arrived in such a position? Widowed, with sons who wanted nothing to do with him and enough money to buy the entire town. Perhaps he should have rented a room in town instead of being shuttled between his sons. But the idea of being alone was worse than the idea of putting up with whatever his sons wanted to dish out.

All his money couldn’t undo the disasters that flowed in his wake. Once a vibrant man, despite some heart issues, he’d been rendered into a near-helpless shell of what he’d been in his prime.

Despite it all, he still had fatherly feelings for both sons. He wasn’t sure it was love. Love was a difficult word for him to even say, much less show.

After another bit of bumping over the rutted road, the long hill to Grant’s ranch was in sight. The horses kept a steady pace until the driver pulled them to a halt at the bottom.

“I can’t take you any further,” he said, peering down at his boots.

Why on Earth had the man stopped?

“Pardon?” Walter said, frowning.

They hadn’t reached the house yet.

The driver didn’t look away from his boots. “Finn told me that he doesn’t want me to take you up the hill. You’ll have to get yourself up there in your chair.”

Thunder cracked overhead.

“What?” His insides recoiled, twisting into a hard knot. Surely, he hadn’t heard the driver correctly.

“I’m sorry, but my orders are to let you off here. You’ll have to make it up that hill on your own.”

“But that’s preposterous!”

How could he manage it? The hill was long and steep. He couldn’t walk a step and was dependent on that despicable wheelchair to get around. What if it turned over backward—with him in it? What would he do then?

He sighed. “Yeah, I agree.” His voice sounded strained but resigned. “But I have to do what my boss tells me to do.” The man refused to look Walter in the face.

He refused to beg. He wouldn’t beg any man for anything. But Lord, how was he going to do it on his own?

Walter eyed the hill with trepidation. “I’ll need my chair lifted down. I’m unable to do that.”

“I’ll get it, of course, and assist you into it.”

“You don’t need to do anything except position it beside the wagon.”

If the man couldn’t take him up the hill, he certainly didn’t need him to get into the chair. He would do it himself.

Thunder rolled overhead, closer this time.

The driver climbed down and pulled the wheelchair from the wagon bed. He placed it beside the wagon for Walter.

Walter scooted to the edge of the seat and managed to lower himself into the chair. He wheeled himself away, and the driver climbed back onto the seat, picked up the reins, and turned the wagon.

“God forgive me,” the driver murmured, glancing up at the brewing storm. “Never thought I’d leave a crippled man stranded alone without help.”

Stranded or not, he had to get up that hill. And he would, or he would die trying.

He eyed the hill.

It was steep, so he would have to reach the top without stopping.

If he stopped and couldn’t get moving again, he could careen back down. And odds weren’t in his favor that the chair wouldn’t veer to one side or the other and turn over.

The hill had washed-out ruts, the same as the main road.

Finn had certainly left him in a bind, but there was nothing to do but try his best. No one was expecting him, so no one would come along and rescue him.

He would have rather done just about anything than what he was about to do, but there was no other option.

With dread turning his stomach and shivers wracking his entire body, he pointed the chair toward the hill and started up.

Within a few minutes, his arms grew tired—drooping as they ached. How in the world would he be able to get to the top? He’d barely started, and his arms already felt like boulders weighed them down.

Thunder rolled, and a flash of lightning accompanied it, crackling.

It was going to rain before he made it to the top. That would make things worse.

Wonderful.

He was surely doomed. The hill would probably be the death of him.

His arms started to shake with the strain of keeping the chair moving uphill. Moments later, the first fat drops of rain pelted his face. He began praying out loud as he struggled to keep the chair moving upward.

“Dear, Lord, I’m asking for the strength to make it up this hill and for Your forgiveness for all the terrible things I’ve done to make my children turn away from me. I know I’m an awful person. Maybe dying on this hill is Your plan for me. And if it is, I accept it. If it’s Your will, please let Grant find my body so he can bury it at least.”

Memories of his wife, Elizabeth, flooded in, and he couldn’t stop tears from mingling and running down his face with the raindrops. He’d never found her after she left.

Elizabeth had been beautiful, and he’d been an awful husband. She had been sensitive and faithful. Looking back, it was easy to see that he hadn’t deserved her. She’d offered her all, and he…he’d ruined it.

He openly sobbed.

When he spoke, it was between hiccups. “Please, Lord. Forgive me…and Elizabeth. What she did was wrong, but it was because of me. Please,” he choked out, “I know she died without faith in You.”

If his chair turned over or crashed down the hill, resulting in his demise, he deserved it. Worse than losing the love of his sons was the knowledge that he might have caused Elizabeth a final judgment of banishment to the pits of Hell.

“Please, Lord,” he cried, his voice rising to be heard over the pattering of rain, “the person who deserves banishment to Hell is me, not Elizabeth.”

As he struggled to keep moving upward, the rain came down harder. The ground wasn’t slick with mud yet, but it soon would be.

Maybe God was punishing him with the hill. In an odd way, it was a comforting thought. Maybe Finn had followed God’s will in ordering his driver not to take him to the house.

Maybe, if he made it, God would give him a chance to…do what? He didn’t know. But he was still warmed a little by the thought, and his heaving lessened ever so slightly.

Walter kept praying for the strength to make it to the top of the hill, and it dawned on him that, somehow, he’d managed to make it to the halfway point. It spurred him to keep going, even though his arms shook with strain and his heart hammered in his ears.

He was going to do it. Or he would die on the hill from over-exertion on his battered heart. At fifty-eight years of age, he was hardly a young man anymore. Regardless, he kept the chair moving upward, praying every inch of the way.

“Please, dear Lord. I know I’m a worthless sinner who deserves whatever comes my way, but please, help me make it the rest of the way up.”

He kept going, even though every turn of the wheels was becoming harder and harder. He lowered his head, looking only directly in front of him. He didn’t want to see how far he still had to go. He only wanted to see right in front of himself. Any more than that, and he might not make it. He might give in to the fatigue and strain on his bony arms and the mud that was beginning to accumulate and pull at the wheels.

One turn of the wheels was followed by one more. And on and on until, somehow, he reached the top. He couldn’t believe it and hardly realized he’d made it until he spotted the house before him.

Walter was nearly done in, but he had reached the top.

He sat in the chair, breathing hard. His heart was pounding so hard that he feared he might end up having a heart attack. He just sat there, letting the rain wash over him as he tried to compose himself enough to make it to the house.

He’d made it—somehow. And as soon as he could breathe normally, he would go the rest of the way.

Grant’s house was now no more than a hundred feet away. He could surely make that. And even if he couldn’t, someone would come outside sooner or later and see him.

He didn’t even care if he sat there in the rain for a while before someone found him. He’d made it. Praise the good Lord! He was saved from the treacherous hill.

Maybe the Lord still had a plan or use for him. Perhaps there was some sort of hope for him yet before he left the world.

As if responding to his internal dialogue, the ranch house door burst open, and a stocky man who looked near Walter’s age sprinted down the porch steps and hurried toward him.

He reached Walter in moments. “Mister, are you okay?”

He looked up and met the man’s eyes. “I am now. Thank the Lord.”

“Let’s get you into the house,” the man said, lips pulling into a frown.

“Thank you.” Walter smiled weakly and closed his eyes as peace descended over him. The Lord had spared him.

Chapter One

Boston, Massachusetts

 

Essie Wentworth picked up her pace as the evening shadows grew longer. She wished she was in her apartment, safe and sound. But she’d gotten a late start after some new ladies from upstate had visited and needed repairs to several hats and petticoats. They’d been there long enough to delay her in delivering a stack of dresses.

She always made deliveries once a week to the ladies who didn’t want to make a return trip to collect them. Normally, she didn’t mind because she collected a modest fee for the delivery service.

At least all her deliveries were finished. Now, she just needed to get home.

But it was much later than she liked to be on the street. Normally, her deliveries would have been completed at least two hours earlier, and she would have been home, preparing supper for her and her brother. Now, the street was nearly empty. She’d passed a few people and seen a couple of men go into a restaurant on the other side of the street. But, for the most part, she was alone.

Her stomach twisted at the thought of being out alone with darkness coming on.

She quickened her step.

Hopefully, no one would bother her.

Tension built in her, and her stomach knotted further.

Her heart rate increased.

She didn’t like being out alone so late.

She loved her work as a seamstress, maybe because her mother had taught her the skills necessary to excel in the craft. Whatever the reason, she adored making pretty dresses from scratch. It was art without paints and canvases.

Nothing was more satisfying than making gowns for beautiful ladies and seeing their happiness when they tried on the finished product. It didn’t hurt that she’d become skilled enough to pay her bills and have food on the table for her and her brother.

Although she had to budget carefully, she no longer lived in the abject poverty she’d grown up in. Her mother had been a good seamstress, but Essie had surpassed her ability before she passed away from a heart attack.

Essie tried to force away the memory of finding the only person who’d truly loved her sprawled over their work table, lifeless. But it was too late. It had bloomed in her mind like a poisonous flower. She would never be able to suppress the horror of coming home and finding her mother gone home to the Lord.

Tears sprang to her eyes.

She swiped at them with the back of her hand.

Mother, I miss you so much. Why did you have to leave me?

Would she ever get over the loss? She didn’t think so. Even though time had passed, there was no relief from mourning. Her mother had been everything to her. The only thing that made it possible for her to carry on was knowing she rested in the arms of the Lord.

Her mother had been a devout Christian, as was Essie. She was in Heaven, and one day, they would be together again. Her faith was absolute in that.

If only her brother, Sam, had strong faith like she did. She wanted the best for him, but he tried her patience nearly every day with his behavior. He loved gambling, he drank, and he hung out with frightening people. He’d even taken to stealing money from her.

Fear had become a part of her life off the streets, as well, because of Sam. The people he brought into their living quarters and the things they did…. They scared her.

Maybe when he matured more, he would change his behavior. Though, at twenty-two, he was only one year younger than her. And he most certainly knew right from wrong. Her mother had worked hard to instill good Christian values in her children. But, for some reason, it hadn’t taken hold of him. That didn’t stop her from wanting him to change and see the light of Christianity and all it could offer him.

She prayed for him every night before turning in. He wasn’t a bad person—he couldn’t be. Their mother had been salt of the earth and taught them both through example how someone should live.

He had to get himself together because Essie had her own life to live. And, unbeknownst to him, she’d been searching for a change that could help her find that life. She would have to talk to him about it soon. Maybe that would spur him to change his ways.

For the last month, she’d been looking at mail-order bride ads in the paper. A few days before, she’d spotted one that sounded good. A ranch foreman had written for his boss, who ran a horse breeding ranch in Colorado. That would be far enough away that she wouldn’t have to worry about any of Sam’s dealings causing her harm.

She hadn’t made up her mind about the ad. It wasn’t easy to just pick up and make a move like that. But she could do it if she set her mind to it.

Even though she had built up enough of a business to sustain herself, she wanted to escape the city. She was tired of being afraid. It wasn’t the life she wanted to keep living. A maddening desire to flee somewhere safe, with fresh air to breathe and something besides tenement buildings for scenery, had taken hold in her, and it wouldn’t let go. She wanted away from the drinking and gambling and the awful people her brother called friends.

With the lengthening shadows, she became aware that she wasn’t alone when the clicking of boots on cobblestones broke the barrier of her thoughts.

The fine hairs on her arms and the back of her neck lifted. Now, she strained to determine how many men were approaching behind her. She didn’t want to turn her head and give away that she was now paying attention to what was happening around her.

She wasn’t positive, but she thought there were two of them. Maybe she was just scaring herself, and they weren’t even following her.

She listened harder.

Were they gaining on her? She couldn’t tell. Maybe she should walk a little faster and see if they picked up speed. Then, she would know for sure if they were up to something bad.

She sped up a bit.

The men matched her pace.

Oh, no.

She was right.

They were following her.

Cold fear gripped her in an iron fist, locking around her in an unrelenting hold. Her insides quivered and knotted, and sweat beaded on her forehead.

Just ahead was a tight alley she had cut through once or twice. They weren’t expecting her to dodge and run. If anything, they would probably expect her to run straight forward.

She lurched to the left and sprinted between the close-set buildings as fast as she could. Behind her, she heard a chorus of drunken-sounding laughter instead of the curses she’d expected. Then, they gave chase, their boots pounding on the cobblestones.

As she ran with everything she had, they steadily gained on her. A hand closed on her dress, yanking her up short, and a moment later, she was spun around. She stared into the face of a man who reeked of whiskey. His little brown eyes gave her the impression of a predatory bird. His nose was large and pocked, with a peculiar bend to the side, as if someone had broken it. A few days’ worth of scraggly beard covered a good portion of his face.

He grinned, blowing his foul breath into her face.

His companion was almost as bad looking, except for a thatch of red hair that hung lank and dirty in his eyes. “Lookie there! Sam was right. She’s a hot little trick. Lookie at that purdy blonde hair and them blue eyes. Even a little beauty mark on that haughty, high cheekbone.”

Sam? Her brother? What?

“What do you want?” she said in as commanding a voice as she could muster.

Her entire body tensed, coiling tightly as if waiting for release.

“We want a lil’ fun. Sam said you wouldn’t care, and it’ll pay off somma his debts ta us.”

Sam said what? How dare he?

Cold skittered over her skin like spiders with scribbling little feet, and a rush of burning heat gave her the energy she needed.

“Get off me, you swine!” She jerked back against his hold as anger and panic warred inside her.

The man brayed laughter. “You hear that? She called me a swine. Well, might as well act like one.”

“Let me go!” she said through clenched teeth.

“Naw, how ‘bout a lil’ kiss instead?” the second man said and reached as if to grope her breast.

She wrenched hard and pulled loose, springing away from them.

The men took off behind her again.

She ran with all she had, sprinting full out.

She had to get away from them.

Once again, he grabbed the back of her dress, and this time, he slammed her to the cobblestones. Pain shot through her back, but she rolled over, pulled back her leg, and kicked as hard as she could.

She connected low, and he let out a howl. He fell back away from her. She rolled over, sprang to her feet, and ran. Her knees stung, and it felt like blood was running from them.

They were right behind her again, and this time, one grabbed her hair, yanking her to a stop. But she was ready. She took her purse and used it as a weapon, slamming him in the face with it. He let go, and she ran.

“Help me, God,” she prayed as she ran. “Please, help me.” She repeated it over and over.

“God’s not gonna help ya, girlie,” one yelled.

Then, she heard cursing behind her, but they didn’t come after her. She didn’t stop running until she reached her apartment and locked herself inside.

Samuel was passed out cold on his narrow bed, snoring like a locomotive. He would stay like that until sometime in the morning.

This was his fault; she wasn’t letting him endanger her again.

From now on, he was on his own.

She marched to the small desk and pulled out the paper with the ad she’d circled.

This was the last straw.

She retrieved a sheet of paper, ink, and a pen.

Before she could change her mind, she answered the ad for a mail-order bride in Durango, Colorado, her entire body still simmering with barely restrained rage. She sealed it in an envelope and quickly packed her things.

It would take two weeks or so to travel that far from Boston. But it was her only option. She wasn’t going to stay and risk being attacked again.

She didn’t even write a note for her brother. Instead, she left the paper with the circled ad on the table for him to find, which was likely more than he deserved.

If he wanted, he could find her and apologize, though that may never happen. He didn’t seem to be in any rush to grow up or change his behavior.

The only thing that bothered her about leaving on the spur of the moment was that she wouldn’t have time to visit her mother’s grave one last time before she left for the stage company.

But it was time to go. And nothing was going to stop her.

No way was she going to stay there, not after what had just happened. She still couldn’t believe Sam had done such a thing as apparently offering her up to pay off some of his debts. But now, she couldn’t trust that he wouldn’t do something like that again. And maybe she wouldn’t be as lucky a second time.

If he found her, he would have to put some money and effort into it. Maybe she would forgive him if he went to that much trouble, but she didn’t expect that she would ever see Sam again—or that he would learn from his mistakes.

She’d have to hope things could work out in Colorado with the rancher. If it didn’t, she’d have to land a job until she could find a way to use her sewing skills again.

One thing was sure: She wasn’t staying in Boston another night. She was starting a new life in a new state, and hopefully, she was doing the right thing.

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  • Great start for Faith and Love in Durango. I can hardly wait to see how our heroine makes it with the man that isn’t even expecting her.

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