To read the full book click here:

The Lonely Rancher's Unexpected Reunion

Two childhood friends bound by tragedy, united in marriage… Will they defy the enemies determined to bury history and silence their chance at justice and a shared future?

Della’s world, tainted by the unsolved murder of her parents, takes an unexpected turn when she returns to her roots as a mail-order bride. And her husband-to-be? Is someone she believes she has long forgotten.

Abe, a stoic rancher, is a fortress of sorrow, his soul scarred by the brutal loss of his parents. When fate, in the guise of a deputy’s meddling, reintroduces Della, a specter from his past, he is confronted by the resurgence of forgotten emotions.

Together, they confront their haunted pasts, unraveling a web of secrets spun by a corrupt sheriff and his band of outlaws. As they seek justice, their bond deepens, but their survival is uncertain…

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author


1st September 1888

Augustus McNeil’s Home, Arizona


The fabric of Della’s pillow was cool against her face, and she could feel her knotted hair pressing against her neck, sticking to the cold, damp skin. Her heart raced in her chest, and she slowly opened her eyes, afraid that what she’d seen would follow her into the waking world.

She tried to push the images of her mother and father’s bodies from her mind: the small, blackened holes in their foreheads where the bullets had torn through them. She remembered her mother’s eyebrows were raised when she’d found them, and her father’s face had been wet with tears.

Taking in a deep breath, she consciously attempted to replace the images of the dead bodies with memories of her parents when they were alive—thoughts of the two of them cuddling in the kitchen when they thought she wasn’t there, the way their faces had lit up when they told her stories about their times traveling.

She felt her cheeks tighten as a small smile grew on her face. Making an effort to recall the memories, Della lay on her makeshift hay bed and allowed her parents to fill her mind. Soon, it spread to her childhood as a whole. She was thinking about her best friend, Abe, and the times they’d spent together, pretending to be pirates.

She’d always go home at the end of the day and tell her parents all about their adventures. They’d share one of their adventures in return, and the night would be spent eating supper and sharing stories across the table.

I’d give anything to hear one of those stories again, she thought to herself.

Gradually, the thoughts that had made her feel better began to weigh her down. The more she remembered, the more painful reality became. The more she missed her parents, the more she was reminded that they were truly gone. That life, the life she had loved, was over.

What a cheerful way to start my birthday, she thought to herself as she sat up.

She stretched her arms in the air and threaded her fingers together, cracking the knuckles. Reaching across the tiny room for her hairbrush, she began to pull it through her ginger curls haphazardly. She was supposed to start her chores before her cousin woke, and she knew he’d be up soon.

Tugging at the knots that had formed at the nape of her neck, she winced.


She froze.

Augustus was awake.

She was going to be in trouble.

She gave up fighting the knots and grabbed a forest green ribbon, sweeping the curls from her neck into a small bun on the back of her head. She threw some clothes on, a light green dress she’d had for years and had been altering to ensure it fit, and some black shoes that desperately needed polishing.

“Della!” Augustus called again, his tone growing more and more frustrated.

“Coming!” she called back, racing toward her bedroom door, or rather, hatch.

Lifting the attic hatch, she delicately climbed down the ladder and then rushed down the stairs toward the hallway, where she could hear Augustus speaking to his wife, Penelope. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, the two of them snapped around to face her.

“You took your time,” Augustus said, folding his arms across his chest.

“I had to get dressed,” she replied quickly.

“You’re supposed to be awake at dawn,” Augustus hissed.

“It’s my bi—”

“I don’t care for your excuses,” Augustus said. “You’re wasting our time.”

“We have places to be,” Penelope whined. “Can you hurry this along, Gus?”

Augustus looked to his wife, and Della watched as his face softened.

“Of course, my love,” he said, his voice sickly sweet. Turning back to Della, he scowled. “Right. Enough of this.”

Della tightened her jaw and crossed her own arms over her chest.

She knew her cousin had always viewed her as an inconvenience, but it was moments like these that really made her miss her parents and the childhood they’d given her.

“You’re eighteen now,” Augustus declared. “An adult. I no longer have any responsibility to care for you.”

Not that you ever did anyway, Della thought to herself.

“As such,” Augustus cleared his throat, and Della watched a smile spread across Penelope’s smug face, “I want you gone.”

Della’s heart sank.

She knew the day had been coming, but she’d hoped she’d be a bit more prepared by the time it arrived. She had no money, very few possessions, and nowhere else to go. As much as Augustus hated her, and she despised him, she had nobody else. Without him giving her a roof over her head, she’d be destitute.

“You can’t do that,” she said, shaking her head.

“It’s my house; I can do what I want,” Augustus said with a small laugh.

“And you’re officially trespassing,” Penelope said, her voice sweet and venomous, a malicious smile on her otherwise pretty face. “So, I’d hurry up and get out.”

Della stood and stared at her cousin for a moment. Tears threatened to fill her eyes, and she took a sharp breath to fight them away. A part of her hoped that if she stood there and stared at him for long enough, he’d change his mind; he’d offer her some money, something to help. She had no reason to hope such things; he’d never been kind to her.

“Why now?”

Augustus shrugged. “You’re eighteen.”

“And we’ve got a baby on the way.” Penelope grinned, her hands moving to caress her stomach. “I’ll be needing the attic for storage…you know, like most people?”

“But you’re barely even showing…” Della said, her eyebrows tightening. “Surely I can stay a little longer?”

“You’re an adult now,” Augustus reiterated.

“An adult with no money, no anything…. Just let me stay until I can scrape together a few pennies, please? So that I’m not on the street?”

Augustus rolled his eyes, and Penelope’s once malicious smile had turned into a malicious glare.

“When I signed the forms to take you, it said my responsibilities stopped once you came of age. Today. I have no responsibility to feed you or hold a roof over your head. This is my house, and my family needs the space. So, like Penelope said, you’re trespassing.”

“But I am your family…” she said weakly.

She knew it wasn’t going to work; she didn’t see Augustus as family, and it was a feeling that had been mutual for as long as they’d lived together.

“You’re a mooch,” Penelope said.

“You’re nothing to me,” Augustus said. “Now, pack your things. You’ve got one hour.”


“Until I get my shotgun and treat you like a trespasser,” he replied, his face stoic.

Tightening her jaw, her hands forming fists by her side, she turned on her heel and sprinted up the stairs to the ladder to her room. She scrambled up it as fast as her trembling arms and legs could and flung herself onto the floor once she was through the hatch. Shoving the hatch closed, she sat cross-legged on top of it.

Her chest ached, her heart pounding faster than she thought possible, and her mind was racing.

She’d wanted to leave Augustus’ home eventually, but only when she had options. She had nothing—not a penny to her name. He’d taken everything she’d had that her father and mother had left her, and he’d sold their ranch and kept the money. She had a suitcase of clothes and one pair of shoes. She didn’t even have enough to sell for board.

What am I supposed to do?

The tears she’d fought away began to stream down her cheeks, and she covered her mouth as sobs took hold of her. She wasn’t going to give Augustus the satisfaction of hearing her cry.

After a few minutes, she cleared her throat and wiped her face.

Get a grip, she said to herself. Crying isn’t going to change anything.

With a shaky breath, she closed her eyes for a second, trying to clear her mind.

“I’ll figure it out,” she said out loud, trying to convince herself. “It’ll work out.”

Pushing herself up from the floor, she grabbed the suitcase that sat under her bed. Pulling it out and opening it on the bed, she began to place her clothes in it as quickly as possible, followed by the top blanket on her bed, a book of matches from her desk, and her notebook. She stared at the suitcase for a moment before folding it shut, and her chest ached.

If my parents were still alive, none of this would be happening, she thought to herself.

Della took another deep breath, forcing the thoughts of her parents from her mind. There were more relevant things to think about—like where she was going to sleep that night. She figured she’d head into town, but after that, her ideas reached their end. She thought about trying to find her way back to California, to her hometown. There was nothing for her in Arizona; she’d only ended up there because Augustus was her guardian.

Focus on finding somewhere to sleep and a way to earn money, she told herself. You’re getting ahead of yourself—how are you supposed to get across state lines without so much as a penny?

Picking the suitcase up, she placed it on the floor and sat on the edge of her makeshift hay bed. Looking across the tiny space that she’d grown to call home, the hair on her skin stood on end. The space had never been big enough for her. It had been tolerable when she was younger, but as she’d continued to age, she’d quickly outgrown it.

To sleep on the bed, she had to bend at the hip in an almost fetal position. She couldn’t stand up properly—the roof was at a slant, being the top room in the building—and there was no window, meaning that it was dark in there more often than it was light. It was unpleasant.

She’d dreamed about leaving.

Now that it came down to it, though, the thought of it made a lump rise in her throat and sweat bead on her forehead.

Grabbing the bag off the floor, she kicked the hatch open and dropped her suitcase through it. With one last glance around her room, she followed her case down the ladder and collected it at the bottom.

She considered seeking out her cousin to say goodbye, but after everything he’d done, she was glad never to have to see his face again.

Holding her head high, she strolled down the house’s stairs and through the winding corridors to the front door. Pushing it open, she stepped out into the early fall weather.

The sun beat down on her skin, filling her with a newfound sense of hope; she had no idea what was coming next, but she had a feeling that whatever it was, she’d be able to weather it.

Chapter One

3rd September 1888

Bullhead City, Arizona


Della listened to the water splashing behind her as she sat on the stone wall of the fountain in the middle of town. The water spray from the fountain kept her cool, and in the places it landed, it washed away the layers of dust and dirt that covered her skin, and she relished in it.

The September sun was relentlessly heating the town, so much so that she noticed many people remained in the shade where possible. It’d been warm for the last few days, which Della was grateful for. She’d been on the streets for three days now, and the warmth had been one small mercy.

Holding her small notebook on her lap, she began to write down how she felt.

I’ve never felt more alone, she wrote, and yet, I’m surrounded by people. It’s strange, a feeling I’ve not felt before. Feeling alone usually comes with solitude. Not being in the center of the town.

She paused and looked around. She watched families walk through the town, pushing baby carriages and holding hands. Her chest began to ache again. She missed the days when she’d had those comforts.

The longer she watched the people wander around, the more she realized that nobody was going anywhere near the fountain. People were taking a wide berth, avoiding the pathway on either side of the ornate stone fountain altogether.

Her eyebrows knitted together, and she took to her notebook again.

I believe people are…avoiding me, she wrote. It’s not something I’m familiar with, but people seem to be doing all that they can not to approach the fountain where I’m sitting. Perhaps it’s because of the grime that has built up on me over the past two days. I’m aware I no longer look clean or put together…. She frowned. They see me as destitute, she realized as she wrote. They think I’m going to beg them for money or try and steal from them.

She let out a deep sigh.

She knew what it looked like, and the more she thought about it, sitting on the fountain in the center of the path was probably not helping. It looked as if she’d positioned herself to be in as many people’s pathways as possible.

She thought about moving, slipping off to one side, but the warmth was nice on her back, and she was too exhausted to find somewhere else to sit. She’d been sleeping curled up in alleyways and doorways, and while she’d managed to get a few hours of shut-eye here and there, the temperatures had plummeted once the sun had dipped below the horizon, and when people spotted her anywhere near their property, she was instantly chased off.

Her bones ached from resting on the cold pavement; there was a crick in her neck, and she could feel her muscles throbbing, even as she sat there on the fountain.

She shifted, and her back creaked with the movement.

With a sigh, she slipped down from the wall and strolled forward, walking toward the small green at the end of Main Street.

As she walked, she felt herself moving slower than she usually did. Each of her limbs seemed to scream out for rest, but she pushed the thoughts from her head.

Before she reached the green, she spotted a couple of bronze coins on the floor. Her heart sped up, and with creaky knees, she bent down to collect them. Rolling them over in the palm of her hand, she blew the dust off of them.

It’s not much, she thought to herself, but it’s enough to get a drink.

Just the thought of something to drink made Della realize how dry her throat was. She’d not had anything since leaving Augustus’ house. She’d debated having some water from the fountain at the crack of dawn, but she hated to think what people might have done to it. The lack of food and drink was making the exhaustion significantly worse—so much so that she’d likely die of thirst soon—and now she could solve it!

With the last bit of energy in her body, she straightened and walked as fast as her achy legs would carry her to the nearest general store. Walking in, she instantly felt multiple pairs of eyes fall on her, and she tightened her jaw. Ignoring them, she strolled over to the counter and placed the pennies on the side.

“What can I get you?” a woman, no older than herself, standing on the other side of the counter, asked. She looked at Della with eyebrows pulled together in concern and a small smile.

“Just…” Della said. “Just a…” her eyes scanned the shelves behind the woman, “a ginger ale, please.”

The woman nodded and quickly turned to the shelves. Within a few seconds, she’d placed the bottle of ginger ale on the counter, removed the lid, and taken the coins from the countertop.

“Have a nice day, now,” she said courteously.

Della’s mouth began to water, and she nodded politely, taking the bottle and rushing toward the door. As she reached the door, she heard a crashing behind her and turned to look. Where she’d just been standing, a tall, broad man had approached the counter and had shoved a glass jar of beans off. He was towering over the young woman on the other side, who stared up at him with wide eyes.

“You undersold me, you lying filly!” the man hissed. “That much coffee usually lasts me two weeks—I got through yours in just one. You charged me double for half the amount!”

The woman started shaking her head, and Della felt her body tense.

“I d-didn’t, sir,” the girl said.

Della watched as the man’s clenched fist came out of his pocket.

Oh, no, you don’t, she thought to herself.

Rushing back to the counter, ginger ale in hand, she cleared her throat and took a quick swig.

“Think you might want to calm down there,” she said, straightening her back and talking directly to the man.

He snapped his attention to her and scowled. “What’s a destitute gyp like you got to do with any of this?”

Della’s eyes widened, and she blinked in disbelief.

“I just think it’s nice and proper to be polite to people who serve us,” she said with a shrug. “But then, I was raised right.”

She watched as the man processed what she was saying. The girl on the other side of the counter stifled a laugh as she stepped back.

“Oi!” he yelled. “You better keep your mouth shut.”

Della sighed and shook her head. “I’ve never been great at that,” she said mockingly. “Me and my brother used to get the belt because of it all the time…. I learned, eventually, though.” She locked eyes with the man and kept his gaze. “He, however…. Well, he ran away at sixteen. I don’t hear from him much, but the wanted signs around town tell me he’s not doing great. Poor Pete.”

Take the bait, she thought to herself.

Everything she was saying was completely fabricated—well, except the bit about keeping her mouth shut—but she knew a man like that was all bark and no bite; he just wanted to scare the woman and get some free goods. The second there was a threat of physical violence from another man…he’d be out. She’d seen men like him. She’d lived with men like him.

The man’s face lost all its color, and he stared at her, his jaw slightly slack. “P-Pete Worells? T-the slasher? Y-your brother?”

Della nodded. “He’s supposed to be visiting soon. You sound like a fan…. Should I send him your way?”

The man’s eyes widened.

“Or are we done here?” she asked, taking another sip of her drink.

Without so much as a word, the man ran out of the shop. Della watched as he stopped right outside, looked back at her, then quickly walked away. She smirked.

Turning her attention back to the shopkeeper, she softened her expression. “Are you all right?” she asked.

The woman nodded.

Her jaw was agape, and her eyes were frantic. “How did you…” she said.

“Men like him…they just like to scare girls. The second they think they might actually have to fight….” Della shook her head. “They run away like chickens.”

“Is your brother actually coming?”

“I don’t have a brother,” Della replied with a shrug. “I’ve just seen the posters.”

The girl behind the counter grinned and clapped her hands together.

“That was brilliant,” she said. “Thank you. Is there anything I can give you to show my gratitude? Pick anything from the store—it’s yours.”

Della’s stomach grumbled. She thought about asking for food, but then, she’d have nothing again straight afterward.

“Do you need another pair of hands?” she said, pulling her eyebrows together. “I could work…in exchange for board.”

The shop owner’s eyes widened. “I actually do,” she said. “And I have a spare room upstairs. You can stay there and work. It’d give me time to care for my father….” She smiled. “That’d be perfect!”

Della’s heart began to race. She hadn’t expected the girl to agree. The fact that she wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground for one more night made tears spring into her eyes, and she blinked them away desperately.

“You can still take a prize, though,” the shopkeeper said. “Anything you’d like.”

Della’s eyes widened, and she scanned the shelves of tins and packets that covered the wall behind the shopkeeper. She thought about what she wanted, and suddenly, her mind went blank. She couldn’t pick. She knew that if she picked a tin, there’d be the option of finishing it later. As her eyes went along each shelf, they eventually landed on a small wicker basket that was piled high with baked goods—she assumed from the bakery just across the road. Her mouth began to water at the sight of them, and she lifted a shaky hand to point.

“Can I get one of those?”

“Of course.” The shopkeeper smiled. “I said anything.”

Della watched with wide eyes as the woman reached and selected a pastry from the basket, placing it in a small paper bag and handing it over to Della. As she did, she smiled.

“I’m Hazel, by the way,” she said. “Feel free to head out the back to eat.”

Della returned the smile and took the bag. She looked over to the back of the store, where there was a large wooden door. With a small nod, she wandered over to it and pulled it open, revealing a small stock room and office. There was a stall in the corner that she propped herself up on. Beside it, on the desk, there was a newspaper.

She took a bite of her pastry, and the flavors seemed to explode in her mouth. With a contented sigh, she continued to eat and picked up the newspaper. Laying it across her lap, she flicked through the pages with disinterest. Nothing of great importance was going on in Arizona, and she’d always found the way that newspapers told their stories to be dissatisfying. She turned the last page and found the advertisements, including a column of mail-order bride ads. Just as she was about to take another bite of her pastry and return the newspaper to its spot on the desk, she spotted the name of her hometown.

Wife Needed: Barstow, California

Intelligent ranch owner looking for a wife to help make a happy home. A young man at only 20 years old and very intelligent. Would make a good husband to a good wife.

Della felt a smile stretch across her face.

Barstow, she thought. Maybe I could find my way home after all.

Next chapter ...

You just read the first chapters of "The Lonely Rancher's Unexpected Reunion"!

Are you ready, for an emotional roller-coaster, filled with drama and excitement?

If yes, just click this button to find how the story ends!

Share this book with those who'll enjoy it: