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Bound by Her Rancher's Promise

She’s sworn to never love again. But when his eyes find hers, why do the walls crumble, and sparks of forgotten emotions reignite against her will…

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Rose grapples with rebuilding her shattered life, tending to her siblings, and settling her father’s debts. Grieving her lost love, she believes her heart can never beat for another man.

Andrew is now a successful rancher, still haunted by memories of war. He shields his affection for Rose behind a stoic façade of indifference. But when financial ruin threatens her family, he offers a pragmatic solution: marriage.

As they navigate this inconvenient alliance, a shadow from the past reemerges. With their family’s lives at risk, can they defy these schemes and grasp at happiness before it slips away forever?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.5/5

4.5/5 (63 ratings)

Prologue

“Promise Me”

April 3, 1866

Harrisburg, Mississippi

 

No,” Andrew mumbled as he sprinted toward the medical tent. “No, no, no….”

His feet fought for traction against the muddy earth, his tall figure bent as he ran. His red hair hung in his face, but he barely noticed. Even the cries and moans of the injured soldiers as he neared the medical tent couldn’t be heard above his racing heart. He had to get there in time.

Pete! I have to reach him.

Pete had been on the front lines when the cannons fired. Andrew had no idea where he was, but he knew that if he hadn’t found him yet, he was certainly injured. He could be dying.

Andrew’s heart almost stopped at the thought.

When he finally tore through the entrance of the tent, his eyes darted across the faces of the soldiers who lay in hammocks or on the ground, skimming over the nurses tending them. He found Pete’s gaze immediately.

No!

Andrew could tell, without knowing how, that his friend was dying.

Pete saw him and grinned, or he tried to. His face was a mask of pain, brows pinched and lips curled.

He tried to sit, but Andrew held up a hand. “No, Pete. Don’t move. Let me come over.”

He marched over to Pete, doing his best to muster up his usual confidence.

“Hey,” he greeted his friend, keeping his voice soft.

“Hey,” Pete answered.

He tried to smile again but gritted his teeth, a huff of pain escaping his lips as he shifted on the pallet where he lay. Andrew tried to avoid looking down at Pete’s body, terrified of what he might see. He could smell the stench of blood like iron in the air, and Pete’s face was clammy and pale, streaked with tears that left tracks in the mud and blood staining his skin.

“Hey, Andrew,” Pete tried again, attempting a cheery greeting, but his voice was breathy, and Andrew could see the pain that every word caused.

“What happened, Grimaldi?” Andrew asked gently.

“Does it really matter now?”

Pete’s voice was hoarse and filled with pain, though he tried to mask it. Even the color of his wild brown hair seemed dulled, and his green eyes were missing their usual glint of mischief.

“I suppose not.”

He swallowed hard, his throat aching with too many unsaid words. He wanted his friend to feel at ease, so he said nothing of his worries—the wound, Pete’s condition, his fears for him. Pete grinned up at him and winced.

“How…was the battle?” Pete whispered.

“Good. We won. Obviously.”

Andrew pushed aside the sickness in his stomach and forced a grin.

Pete smiled.

“Good.”

The word was a soft outbreath, and Andrew’s heart twisted at the sound. His friend seemed peaceful now. Perhaps he’d worried about the battle’s outcome.

Andrew felt like crying, tears already stinging his eyes.

No battle was worth his friend’s life.

“Rose is going to kill you for getting so hurt, ya know,” Andrew teased.

He tried not to show his fear, hiding it behind a joke. He had to be brave for his friend. He hoped mentioning his fiancée, Rose, would comfort him.

“Ha!” Pete gave half a laugh before grimacing. “She might, at that.”

They were silent for a moment, and then Pete chuckled.

“Can’t be as bad as what Mr. Johnson did when he caught us stealin’ that horse,” he recalled.

The pair chuckled at the memory. That had been almost a decade ago when they were still just teenagers.

“That lickin’ he gave us was nothing—he just wanted to scare us straight,” Andrew reminded his friend. “That’s when I decided to turn straight.”

Pete nodded thoughtfully. “True. Without that old grump, you might’ve never gotten the ranch.”

“Without you, though, I woulda starved to death before any o’ that,” Andrew said softly. His heart ached; he owed Pete so much. “You took me in and taught me everything you knew. I….”

Andrew trailed off. He could barely find the words to tell Pete how grateful he was for their friendship. If Pete had never found him, Andrew might not even be alive. Life was tough as an orphan, especially alone. Pete had entered Andrew’s life as a gleaming ray of hope, and he’d taught Andrew how to steal to stay alive. It had been a hard life, but they had fought their way through it side by side.

“Well, without you, I woulda never met Rose, so I think we’re even.” Pete winked and then fell into a fit of coughing.

Andrew grimaced.

“Save your strength, Pete,” he told him gently. “Don’t try to talk.”

His friend lay back, breathing deeply. Andrew stood where he was, lost in thought as he studied his friend’s familiar face. Memories flooded through his mind—painful and beautiful. When Andrew climbed out of the outlaw life, he’d brought Pete with him. Andrew had got the ranch, and he’d invited Pete to work there. That was where Pete had met Rose.

How do I face his fiancée after this?

Andrew felt his hands shaking. He looked down and then back at his friend. His eyes wandered over him for a moment, then stopped. He had only just noticed the wound in Pete’s abdomen.

The bandages wrapped around it were steeped in a dark crimson, the blood at the edges blackening as it dried. There was a lot of blood. Pete’s left arm lay useless at his side, broken and bloodied. Andrew glanced down again at the wound and felt a hideous certainty. Pete was dying.

Silence filled the space between them for a bit when, finally, Pete took a deep breath. “You’ve got to take care of her for m—”

“Stop that,” Andrew cut Pete off. “Don’t say things like that. You’re gonna go home.”

Pete smiled weakly. “We both know that’s not true.” He reached down and pulled out an envelope, Andrew’s name written untidily across it in Pete’s handwriting. “Take this; it’s for you.” Pete paused, coughing. “Read it once I’m…you know.”

“No…. Pete, no. Don’t say it.”

“Shh.”

Pete’s words were gentle.

He was always gentle, a caring, funny boyish spirit who Andrew counted as a brother, though they weren’t relatives at all.

“No, Andrew. I’m not going to argue. Take it. I’m not long for this world.”

“No….”

“Stop it now,” Pete said softly. “Please.”

“All right.”

Andrew took the letter, holding it uncertainly. He looked down at his hands, fighting tears.

I’ve only lived this long because of Pete. How am I supposed to live without him?

Pete was the older brother Andrew never had, and he wasn’t ready to let go of him. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

His sorrow was too great to hold back, and he had no more strength to force a jolliness he didn’t feel. Pete was dying, and he couldn’t face it.

“Pete, don’t do this to me,” Andrew said, choking up.

When no reply came, he looked up to find his friend’s eyes closed for the last time. He opened his mouth as if to scream or cry out, but no sound passed his lips.

I’m all alone again.

The thought scared Andrew more than anything.

He sat silently, feeling like a whirlwind of emotions had swept through him. Around him, the nurses and army doctors went about their business. Men whimpered in pain, and the nurses tried to comfort them. The sun glinted on the field beyond the tent. The air was cool as the evening approached. Andrew barely felt it. He was numb with grief, as though a glass wall blocked out the entire world.

Rose loves Pete, Andrew thought. How do I tell her I let him die?

Andrew had vowed to keep his friend alive, to stay by Pete’s side until they could return home. Pete had laughed at him, but Andrew meant what he said.

All Andrew could think about as he looked at his friend’s body was that he’d failed to protect his closest friend. They’d been separated on the field, and by the time Andrew had found Pete, it was too late.

Despite his despair, the thought of Rose still brought him some comfort. At least she was still there—a connection he and Pete shared.

The letter. I need to give it to her.

Pete had written Rose a letter before going off to battle. It shared the whole truth about Pete and Andrew’s past. Pete had never told her they were petty thieves as adolescents; they’d done it to stay alive, but Pete was still scared of how it might change the way Rose saw him. Pete had lost his nerve to give it to her before he left and decided to do it when he returned.

That means it’s up to me now.

Andrew sat silently beside his friend’s body. He glanced over at him, then looked away. His friend was lifeless, and he didn’t want to remember him like that. His eyes had always been so full of life.

He stood up, turning away from the body. He drew a deep breath, flooding his mind with memories of Pete. The sparkle in his eyes when he told a silly joke. The tilt of his smile. His humor. His gentleness.

I need to do what I can.

Pete’s words echoed in his head.

Take care of her.

“I will,” Andrew promised.

He turned around and slowly made his way out of the medical tent. He crossed the field, barely noticing the soldiers who sat there, huddled around their fires or the wagons where the blacksmith repaired the guns. His promise to Pete echoed in his ears, and he held onto it, the one thing that gave his world meaning as he walked through the blank emptiness around him, blinded by his grief and sorrow.

I will.

Chapter One

“Miss Rose”

May 5, 1866

Brickhouse, Texas

 

“What do I do, Pete?” Rose asked aloud where she sat on the edge of the bed, old letters from her fiancé, Pete, clenched tightly in her right hand.

In her left hand, she scrunched up the thin, yellow wool blanket underneath her. The smell of dust was heavy in the air, and the wind blew wildly around the house. The only furniture in the room was a small oak nightstand her father had made and a dresser where the family stored most of their clothes.

“I miss you terribly,” Rose whispered to the letters, letting her arm fall to her side. “Why haven’t you written to me for so long?”

It had been over a month since Pete’s last letter, and she was starting to believe the worst.

Before falling too deeply into despair, she cut off her thought: No, Pete will come home. He said so.

She just needed the comfort of his words, at least, if he still couldn’t come home. He’d promised to write, and Pete wasn’t one to break promises.

Rose’s mother had passed not even two weeks ago, her father following shortly after. Grief was still numbing her, and the weight of the entire world was already on her shoulders. She was the eldest in the household now; Jacob and Charlie, her little brothers, needed her to be strong.

Her mother had passed from pneumonia, her already fragile frame unable to chase the illness away. They weren’t sure what their father died of, the only known cause being the absence of their mother.

Rose needed her fiancé to come home to save her.

She clutched Pete’s letters to her chest, refusing to cry again. She didn’t want Jacob or Charlie to see her as anything but a steady pillar of comfort. She wished she could have time to mourn her parents, but there was so much to do. The weight of running the household lay on her shoulders now, but there was more than that—news she hadn’t told the boys yet, which the lawyer had told her just a few days ago when the will was read. Her father had left behind crippling debt when he’d died that Rose must deal with.

Fear crept in slowly, and soon, it had Rose in its grip.

How? She could feel her fingers tightening, gripping the blanket underneath her. How do I get rid of our debt and care for the boys?

While a talented seamstress, Rose wasn’t sure if she could make ends meet, let alone pay off the debts the family owed. Rose loved her late father and was loved by him while he was alive, but she struggled not to be angry with him and his inability to handle money well.

A traveling horse trader and a kind husband and father, Edward Patterson’s one fault was his gambling.

At least he taught Charlie his trade without passing on his gambling habit.

Because of their father, the remaining Pattersons loathed gambling and knew to stay far away from it.

A timid voice came from the doorway, pulling Rose out of her thoughts. “What’s wrong, Rose?”

She looked over, startled at the voice of her eleven-year-old brother, Jacob. His blond hair shone palely in the half-light of the room. It set him apart from the siblings; both Charlie and Rose had thin, light brown hair. He held a book to his chest, though Rose couldn’t discern the title.

He must’ve seen me upset, Rose realized.

“Nothing, Jacob,” she reassured him with a smile, masking her inner turmoil. His blue eyes looked her up and down thoughtfully, making them seem like they belonged to someone older. “I’m all right.”

He tilted his head to the side, studying her skeptically. “No, you’re not,” he said decidedly.

Rose hesitated. He was only eleven, but that gaze made him seem much wiser than she felt. She was half-tempted to tell him but then stopped.

Jacob’s too young to need to worry about money.

“I’m well,” she said instead. “I just miss Mom; that’s all.”

The reason wasn’t a lie—except it was too small a statement. Somewhere inside her, a screaming, gaping hole had opened when their mother had died, and her soul was weeping within its depths, but her mind hadn’t caught up yet. It was frozen in its grief, unable to hear her soul screaming.

Jacob nodded and glanced around as if debating whether to say something.

“What is it?” Rose asked softly.

“N…nothing,” Jacob stammered.

He looked about the room awkwardly and then, when she said nothing, turned to the door. He ran off, and Rose thought of following him to see where he went but decided against it. Instead, she decided to ask him later.

The wind outside settled, and for a while, Rose was able to sit in silence. For those precious minutes, she imagined Pete was with her and that they were smiling and laughing on a ranch of their own. They would do silly things like dance in the rain and fight over children’s names. Pete would insist on some animal sound as a name, and she’d tell him to be serious.

If he were here, he’d know exactly what to do, Rose lamented.

Pete always knew what to do; he had a true talent for making the most of a bad situation. He would, at the very least, know how to best comfort her.

Everything will be okay, he would tell her. Has there ever been a time I let you down, Miss Rose?

She shook her head as if to respond to him.

“No, you haven’t,” she said softly, looking down at the letters again.

I’m sure there’s a reason he hasn’t written. I need to be patient.

The thought of him and his voice brought a small smile to Rose’s face. How long had it been since they’d seen each other now? It had been two years just last month, though time had started to blur for Rose. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and months became years without Pete by her side. It all passed unbearably slowly, yet the thought of his return kept her going.

She often reminisced over their first meeting two and a half years ago now. Andrew had just hired Pete to work on his ranch, so Pete had come into town to get essentials.

Rose’s eyes scanned the small grocery store’s fruit shelves, trying to find the perfect apples. The store wasn’t the biggest, but all the shelves were bursting with goods. Mr. Greer had built this place with Rose’s father’s help, and Rose could see the craftsmanship in every inch of it.

Rose grinned to herself. It was rare, but today, she’d planned to bake a pie because it was Jacob’s birthday. She’d saved up quietly and put away just enough money to do something special. She couldn’t believe Jacob was already five.

When she’d asked Jacob earlier that day what he wanted for his birthday, if he could have anything, she thought he’d ask for a book. Instead, he’d begged for an apple pie. She’d asked why, and he told her he’d wished for one since his last birthday but knew it was too expensive. Rose couldn’t tell him no, so there she was, trying to pick the absolute best apples.

“Well, howdy, Miss Rose. We haven’t seen you here in a while!” Mr. Greer greeted her cheerily. “The missus would come greet you, but she’s upstairs hanging the laundry.”

He took her basket and added up the cost of the goods.

Mr. Greer was an older man with a head full of thick white hair and warm brown eyes; he’d always been very kind to the Patterson family.

“That’s quite alright; just send her my regards,” Rose responded softly.

“I will!” He glanced again at her basket. “Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were gonna make an apple pie!”

Rose laughed and nodded.

“That’ll be ninety-four cents, dear.”

“I am making an apple pie; it’s Jacob’s fifth birthday.”

Rose handed over the money, only a cent left to spare. Rose was a little sad there wouldn’t be any left to surprise Jacob with a book but was happy she was able to make his one wish come true.

“Oh, my!” exclaimed Mr. Greer. “Well, then, that changes things.” He handed her back a quarter with a wink. “That boy likes to read, right? Go get him a nice book and tell him Mr. Greer says happy birthday…alright?”

Rose gaped. “Mr. Greer, that’s too kind. I cannot—”

Mr. Greer flapped his hands, grinning. “None of that now. Just let an old man do something nice.” She stared at him, unsure. “Go along now,” he told her, waving goodbye.

Roses paused, hesitant but not in a place to refute him. She decided simply to be grateful instead. That wasn’t the first time Mr. Greer had helped them out like this—he’d always said he was grateful for their father’s help in building his store if she thought to question his kindness, but she wondered if it wasn’t because he understood how they struggled, as well.

“Thank you so much, Mr. Greer. I’ll make sure to do that,” she promised, unable to hide the huge, delighted grin that spread across her face.

She hurried out of the shop and then came to an abrupt halt as her body connected with the hard chest of a man coming in through the doorway.

“Oomph!” Rose let out a cry.

She could feel herself falling when an arm reached out and steadied her.

“Whoa there, Miss!” a deep, husky voice called.

Rose looked up to see the stranger who had caught her and felt her face flush red. She couldn’t help but notice how handsome he was as her gaze took in his square face and the unruly brown hair that framed it. His deep green eyes looked down at her with clear concern, his brows knitted.

“Are you alright?” the man asked, steadying her.

“Yes,” she whispered. She took the chance to look him over and realized he’d managed to catch her basket with one hand and her with the other. “Well, thanks to you,” she added shyly.

She looked to the ground, suddenly self-conscious. He really was very handsome, with a tall, muscled frame and that boyish smile.

“It’s my delight to be able to help you, miss,” he said, grinning.

Rose, who had let her eyes wander up to his face, peered down again. He coughed and, as she let her gaze wander upward again, removed his hat.

“You don’t see many beautiful women out in the West,” the man said, holding the wide-brimmed hat to his chest. “I’d be amiss if I didn’t ask your name.”

Without his hat, she could see the tips of his ears turning red, and she felt butterflies take flight in her stomach.

“Rose,” she told him, finally building up the courage to look back into his stunning green eyes. “Rose Patterson.”

She felt herself blush, but she tried to remain composed and ladylike. Despite her attempts, she wanted to giggle like a girl. She felt as though a ray of sunshine warmed her heart.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Miss Rose.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “I’m Pete. Pete Grimaldi.”

He introduced himself with a little bow, and Rose couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her.

“It’s nice to meet you as well, Mister.”

“Oh, none of that, Miss Rose. Just call me Pete.”

“Alright, Pete.”

 

At the sound of racing footsteps, Rose snapped back to reality.

Is someone coming?

She realized it was one of her brothers running this way. She could hear another sound, too, a familiar one that came from outside.

Is that a horse?

She looked out the window and spotted a figure approaching their ranch from a distance, the horse’s hoofbeats heavy against the dry earth.

“Pete?”

His name escaped her, her voice desperate like a little child. She could just make out the military uniform on the man riding toward her home, and hope filled her heart.

“Rose! Rose!” Charlie, Rose’s sixteen-year-old brother, came through the small house to Rose’s room, breathless and excited. “Someone’s coming, Rose!”

Rose shot to her feet, running out the doorway past Charlie before the siblings could even greet each other. Charlie was hot on her heels, following her outside.

This is the liveliest I’ve seen him since we lost Mama, Rose realized dimly as they cut through the kitchen and out the door.

The house was a simple one, just one floor, with just enough rooms for the three of them. Rose flinched as they passed their parent’s old room, the door sealed tightly; none of the siblings were ready to disturb their parents’ things. It would make it all seem too real. If they left it as it was, then they could pretend, if only for an instant, that their parents had just gone on a trip somewhere and would return. They could shut out the horror of their loss, just for a moment more.

Their mother’s death had hit Charlie hardest, and the teenager had done nothing but work solemnly on things around the ranch since her passing. Rose had just gotten him to start eating properly again. The ranch was too much work for one boy, and even though their parents had only passed two weeks ago, Rose could see things on the ranch that needed doing, little things their parents wouldn’t have let slide.

The door to the stables was broken, the hinges needing replacement. The vegetable patch was overrun with weeds. The roof leaked.

She didn’t blame Charlie; he was only sixteen. Instead, she buried the helpless feeling that there was nothing she could do. She would tackle each issue steadily, taking them one at a time.

But right now, she needed to know who was coming to see them.

When they hit the front porch, both siblings paused. They could hear the horse’s hoofbeats against the dry, packed ground clearly now, and as the figure moved closer, one thing became more and more clear: Whoever it was, it was not Pete Grimaldi.

The rider’s hair glinted red in the afternoon sunlight, and the man stood too tall to be her beloved. Rose’s heart sank, but she pushed that to the side as she tried to discern the figure.

“Is that Andrew?” Charlie asked, his youthful confidence faded.

Rose took a deep, shaky breath. He was right. It was Andrew, Pete’s best friend.

She swallowed hard, moving forward to meet Andrew. She didn’t want to show her rising fear in front of Charlie. Jumping to conclusions would help no one.

Perhaps Pete is following behind him.

Rose decided that must be it: Andrew was here to tell them Pete would come home soon.

Thinking of Andrew usually put Rose in a sour mood. He’d always been cold and distant when it came to Rose. He seemed friendly enough with everyone else, and Pete counted him as a great friend, so he must’ve had a warm nature. It evidenced itself with everyone else—his friendly, jovial nature; the only person to receive this strange coldness was herself. She had no idea why, but Andrew didn’t like her. His gruff, rude attitude bothered her, especially since he’d never given her a reason for disliking her so much. Not only that, but he was always cordial in front of Pete, and since Rose didn’t want to get in between their friendship, she’d never told Pete about Andrew’s cold behavior. She could bear anything for Pete.

Despite her misgivings, Rose found herself running out to greet Andrew, though she was forced to slow to a walk after a few moments and stopped, gasping. The fear and anguish of the past weeks had taken her strength from her. She looked over her shoulder and spotted Charlie running toward her. She signaled for him to stay where he was.

If it’s bad news, it’s better he hears it from me.

Charlie had struggled the most with the loss of their parents, and Rose didn’t want him to get any worse.

Charlie shot her a glower but stayed put.

Rose waited patiently, despite every part of her body pleading with her to rush forward and demand to know where her fiancé was.

As Andrew came closer, Rose could better make out his features. He seemed taller than when he’d left, shoulders broad and muscled underneath his uniform. He had a new air of determination about him, and it made Rose uneasy. She knew immediately that something was wrong when their eyes met; his brown eyes brimmed with emotions she couldn’t read. Only one was evident: regret.

The realization gave her pause.

He seemed to be aware of her gaze on him, steeling his features so she couldn’t read him any further. His red hair fell over his brow and into his eyes, though he made no move to brush it away.

“Where…?” Rose did her best to speak calmly and evenly. She fidgeted with her black dress but looked Andrew directly in the eyes as she spoke. “Where is Pete, Andrew?”

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