She is a mail-order bride. He is a rancher meeting her halfway. How will they choose to protect their love, when staying together means accepting danger?
Sarah Harris is a tender young woman who has recently lost her father. Having no other choice, she decided to reply to a mail-order bride and to move West. On the train, she meets a stoic rancher who shares the same destination with her. A sudden train attack leaves them alone with only a horse and no money to travel. Sarah struggles with the challenges of the wilderness. However, David’s strong presence is enough to make her fall in love with him. How can she dedicate her life to the man she has come to love when she has promised to marry someone else?
David Bryant is a determined young rancher who travels West to inherit his uncle’s ranch. While traveling, he’s taken aback by Sarah’s fierce yet sad eyes. She’s so different from him but she feels so close. When they’re called to stick together so as to survive in the wilderness, David will help her overcome her fears and he will teach her survival skills. Her strong will and stubbornness are enough to make him fall madly in love with her. But her husband-to-be is a danger to both of them. How will he protect the woman that has shown him what it means to be loved and give love in return?
Sarah and David should realize that only by staying together can they really overcome all difficulties. But when they learn that Sarah’s husband-to-be is not who he said he was, how will they trust each other with their hearts again?
Beaufort, North Carolina
August 4th, 1879
Sarah Harris could not help but swell with pride as her student, Jacob, successfully completed the arithmetic problem she had written on the chalkboard. “Well done, Jacob,” she said as she beamed with delight and clasped her hands together. “Well done.”
Jacob, all of ten years old, returned the smile as he placed his pencil down as his cheeks flushed a rosy red. “Thank you, Miss Harris,” he said. “I’m just glad I finally figured it out.”
Sarah smoothed the wrinkles in her flaxen-colored daywear dress with a high-collar made of cotton fabric and gestured to the door. It was on the more expensive side, thanks largely in part to her father’s money that was never in short supply. “You are a hard worker, Jacob,” she said. “I’m certainly happy that you stayed behind the past two days to figure this all out. Knowing mathematics will help you in your life’s journey, though I understand how frustrating it has been for you to learn it.”
Gathering his books, Jacob headed for the door, padding his way along the wooden floorboards of the classroom that was no bigger than a barn meant to house only a handful of horses or cattle. It may have been a quaint space with only a small chalkboard and six desks—but it was Sarah Harris’ home away from home, an environment she was well-accustomed to, having grown up with her professor father who taught her all that she knew, including tutoring students that were a little behind the others, like young Jacob, so that they could grow up with all the advantages available to them.
“Thank you, Miss Harris!” Jacob bid her as he waved to her and clutched his belongings close to his chest. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Sarah waved goodbye as she tucked a loose strand of her brunette hair behind her ear. She was a petite young woman, demure, her curly hair tied back and showing off her pale complexion. The light peppering of freckles on the bridge of her nose looked like a milky spreading of stars in the night sky, which made her look several years younger than the eighteen years she had been alive.
Sarah smiled and began to relax after having taught most of the day. The golden rays of the sun were beginning to descend in the distance, winking at her across the emerald green hills that were just fifty short yards away from the schoolhouse.
Father will want supper soon, she thought. I’ve already made him wait an hour over what I promised.
Sarah felt the urge to close up the classroom and return home hastily—but there was something about the gray pregnant clouds off in the distance that compelled her to take just a few more minutes to herself. She walked out of the classroom, breathing in the ocean air and filling her lungs as she looked to the sky and felt a gust of wind breeze through her hair. She looked at her surroundings, the school behind her, nestled in a valley that looked down at the entirety of Beaufort. She smiled at the only place she ever called home, a place that held many memories that she would have never traded for anything else. Yet, she felt as though something was missing—a partner perhaps—and wondered how much more time would pass before she would be able to share little moments of victory like the one she just had with Jacob with someone other than her father, though living with him and sharing the unbreakable bond they had was something she relished every minute of every day. Regardless, Sarah was a happy woman, content, surrounded by the love of her father and the joys that came with imparting knowledge to the next generation of youth.
Closing her eyes, she felt the winds increase as the clouds overhead expanded and a low rumble began to gather in the distance. In all of an instant, the setting sun was concealed by the clouds, and Sarah was forced to open her eyes as a droplet of rain splashed against her forehead and the low rumbling turned into an ominous groan.
Looking up, Sarah saw that the clouds were turning from a shade of gray to black. No, she thought, it’s not going to rain again, is it?
It seemed as though all of North Carolina had been plagued by storms in the past couple of years, more than it ever had before, with several homes in the area having been destroyed from the onslaught of nature’s fury and in turn, destroying the families that lived in those homes. The last rains that came through were rumored to be the last in the season, though the second droplet of water that struck her shoulder made her feel as if those rumors were now far from true.
“Do not worry,” Sarah’s father told her on more than one occasion when she voiced her concerns about living near the shoreline. “Our house is strong and sturdy. It has survived countless rains before. No, my sweet daughter, believe me when I tell you that we are going to be just fine.”
There was no reason for Sarah not to trust her father. She had confided and trusted him her entire life, with him being the sole parent who raised an only child after the untimely passing of her mother at her birth. He was not only an educated man but a strong man, tall and sinewy though thinner in bulk due to the fact that he ate only two meals a day. He was the model for which Sarah knew she would measure all possible suitors who would come into her life—as soon as she started finding them, naturally.
Sarah crossed her arms to stave off the chill as the intensity of the thunder started to increase, which made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. It was impossible for her to deny that a storm was now brewing, and as a light rain started to shower over her, she retreated back to the school and gathered her belongings before a loud and spine-chilling crack of thunder clapped through the sky just a mile off in the distance.
Sarah was just a hundred paces from the house she shared with her father, situated on an L-shaped patch of land with water on either side, when a torrential downpour began to soak her dress and turn the roads around her into muddy slop. Squinting through the rain, the skies above black as the night, Sarah saw that waves just eighty feet from their seaside dwelling were creeping closer to the shore like some sort of mythic beast from Greek lore.
“Father!” Sarah shouted out, thunder once again cracking through the skies overhead, each of the seven of the nearby houses creaking and straining from the fury that nature was wreaking on them. Sarah’s cry could not cut through the noise of the storm or the roaring of the waves out in the sea, which were now a cacophonous roar akin to that of a primal animal.
Sarah wasted no time, running as fast as she could and struggling to keep her footing as she felt a sickly feeling settle into her stomach. Something dire is about to happen. I must warn Father quickly!
The white, two-story colonial close to the shore was shrouded by mist, the trees flanking the property swaying in the wind as limbs started to crack and leaves were strewn through the air and across the ground. Sarah, her feet sinking into the mud, stumbled as a bolt of lightning struck the road just two hundred feet ahead of her and a blinding flash of white light temporarily engulfed the surrounding area.
Sarah gasped, a hand to her mouth as she fell to her knees, becoming drenched with rain and mud. Get up, Sarah! Go!
She knew that lightning never struck twice in the same location, so if there was any comfort in her current predicament, it was the possession of that knowledge.
“Father!” Sarah cried out again, now only a dozen paces from the front door that slammed against the house after being dislodged by the ferocious winds. She stood, then stumbled again, every step forcing her to muster every shred of energy she had in order to make it into the house.
“Miss Harris!” a faint voice called out from the right, and Sarah blinked repeatedly as she wiped wet hair from her face and stared hard to make out the source of the noise. Finally, she made out the faint outline of a man she knew to be Mr. Kelly standing on the porch of his house, two doors down on the right.
“Miss Harris!” Mr. Kelly called out again. “You must fetch your father!” he pointed to the shoreline, the waves now just feet away from consuming her home. “Quickly! I’ll assist you!”
Sarah struggled to stand while Mr. Kelly pushed himself through the rain, approaching in a slow, sluggish manner from the struggle against the winds and the rain. Moving slowly, though she was pushing with all her might, Sarah approached the house and reached out toward the door handle that was now just inches away from her fingertips. As soon as her fingers grazed the handle another crack of lightning flashed through the sky and struck the roof.
She cried out as she fell onto her back, the roof of the home caving in as the ungodly sounds of wood breaking as the structure began to collapse filled the surrounding air.
“Father!” she screamed, her hand extended outward as her fingers curved into a claw-like state. “Father call out to me! Please!”
One second passed.
“Sarah!” the weakened voice of her father called back. “Help me! I’m hurt!”
Sarah, now on her hands and knees, pushed into the mud and tried to stand just as Mr. Kelly fell at her side.
“Miss Harris!” he said. “Hurry! I’ll help you!”
Mr. Kelly’s muddy hands gripped Sarah’s right arm. Both of them struggled to gain their footing as the howling winds began to drown out the cries of Sarah’s father, and visibility blurred to the point that Sarah could only see a few feet in front of her.
“Hurry, Mr. Kelly!” Sarah pleaded. “My father is hurt, and the house is going to collapse at any moment.”
“Jonathan!” Mr. Kelly called out to Sarah’s father. “Hold on!”
“Please, Mr. Kelly!”
“I’m trying, Miss Harris!” Mr. Kelly slipped in the mud and onto his side. “I’m trying!”
It felt as though the house were now a mile away as the pressure from the rains overhead soaked the house, causing it to sink slower, and slower, and slower.
“Sarah, please hurry,” her father groaned. “I’m stuck!”
“I’m coming, Father,” she called back as loudly as she could. “I’m coming!”
With Mr. Kelly’s assistance, the two of them inched their way to the porch, and just as Sarah secured a firm grip on the doorhandle, Kelly pulled her back with brute force and began dragging her away.
“No, no, no!” Sarah pleaded. “What are you doing?”
Mr. Kelly pointed to the top of the house. “Look, Miss Harris,” he said. “Look! It is going to collapse!”
“No, Mr. Kelly! Please, we need to—”
Sarah said nothing more as the entirety of the house collapsed in on itself, a gut-wrenching blend of wood and glass, and every other noise imaginable gathering into a hellish roar as Sarah’s father cried out into the void, “Help me!”
The tears began streaming down Sarah’s face as the house she was born and grew up in turned into a pile of rubble in all of an instant, as Mr. Kelly pulled her away to safety as she kicked and screamed, and the incoming tides lapped at the house and began pulling the refuse out into the shore.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Sarah watched as the remnants of her life were washed clean away. She stared at the wreckage, not fully comprehending what she had just witnessed, as Mr. Kelly began pulling her away to safety.
Six months later…
It had been six months since Sarah smiled, six months since she had heard the voice of her father, and six months since she had felt any shred of happiness. All of her emotions were seemingly replaced with untenable feelings of remorse, regret, and grief. She had lost her father. She lost the entire world as she knew it, and though six months had passed, it only felt like six minutes as she attempted to repair the damage done to her soul in just a shocking few minutes.
Sarah had ceased her teaching position after her father’s passing, not only because of the grief she experienced, but because of the damage the school also sustained during the storm. It was hard for Sarah not to think of the children, of how they were going to further their education. She said an occasional prayer, hoping that their parents were seeing fit to do that. But that wasn’t the foremost thought in Sarah’s mind—her grief was, her longing to see her father and any sort of comfort that would assist in getting through her pain. The money her father willed to her left her in decent financial standing—but it didn’t ease her emotional pain in the slightest.
Sitting in the kitchen of Mr. and Mrs. Blythe’s home, up before dawn as she usually was, she awaited Mrs. Blythe’s usual morning cup of tea. The home was just several miles away from where she had lived with her father. Mr. Kelly had survived the ordeal, though he had left the area with his wife after the destruction their home had sustained. So much of the town had been destroyed by the storm, with several people—including her father—having perished along with dozens of properties. Irreparable damage had been done, and the mayor himself had said that the entirety of Beaufort was so compromised by the storm that there was a strong chance the whole town would go under before the end of the year.
Sarah blew softly over the cup of steaming tea that had been laid out for her just moments before as Mrs. Blythe, a gray-haired woman who always seemed cheerful, rested her palm between Sarah’s shoulder blades.
“Good morning, my dear,” Mrs. Blythe bid her. “How did you sleep?”
Sarah forced a thin smile. She looked a little more pale since the whole ordeal, having lost weight from not eating well. “Well enough, Mrs. Blythe,” she said, though her words were not entirely true, because she suffered from nightmares almost nightly since her father’s demise. “Well enough. Where is Mr. Blythe?”
“Oh, he’ll be out fetching supplies for a good part of the day. I love the dear man, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate a break from those jokes he repeatedly tells,” she laughed, and it was hard for Sarah not to smile at the clear love the two shared for one another, even after thirty-two years of marriage.
Mrs. Blythe moved to the tea kettle on on the stove inside the kitchen of the quaint home that sat far away from the shoreline in the heart of Beaufort. Sarah said nothing as she sipped at her tea, trying her best, as she did every day, to not dwell on the sound of her father’s shouts as their house began to collapse.
Be it desperation to fill the void she had felt after his passing, or simply wishing to have someone—anyone—by her side, she was toying with the idea of responding to the mail order bride inquiry that had been placed by a deputy all the way in Clarendon, Texas, an idea that Mrs. Blythe herself had come up with just a month prior.
“So,” Mrs. Blythe said, “you received another letter from that fine young man yesterday, yes?”
Sarah squinted in the light and looked up. “Were you looking at my mail again, Mrs. Blythe?” she said playfully.
“Oh, no! Of course not, my dear. I simply saw his name on the envelope when the mail was delivered yesterday evening.” She smiled. “Michael Crane,” she said, as if speaking the name elicited a sweet taste on her tongue. “That is quite a strong name, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would, Mrs. Blythe. He seems like a smart man, strong, gainfully employed.”
“My dear,” the older woman said, walking over to Sarah and resting a hand on her shoulder, “you have stayed with us for quite some time now, and of course, you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like—but wouldn’t it be prudent to try to find a suitor, a man who can offer you all of the things that my husband and I cannot?”
Sarah said nothing. It’s true, she thought. It would be nice to have a companion, someone with whom I can share love and affection.
“Tell me,” Mrs. Blythe said, “how many letters have the two of you exchanged by now?”
“Four,” Sarah replied.
“And you seem to have enjoyed the correspondence, have you not?”
“I have, very much, Mrs. Blythe. I just … need some time to think over his proposition. I am still uncertain about the entire mail order process.”
“So many men and women have been happily married because of it! I know it’s an intimidating notion to marry someone you never met, but I have a feeling it will benefit you greatly.” Mrs. Blythe placed her finger under Sarah’s chin and gently tilted her head up so Sarah’s eyes would meet her own. “Just think it over, my sweet dear. There is plenty of time.”
Sarah felt herself forcing a smile, though she was grateful to have been in Mrs. Blythe’s company for the past several months. After her father had passed, after their house had been obliterated along with her life, the Blythes were there to answer the call without a second’s hesitation. She cared for the couple immensely—but she still felt a longing that she was having a terrible time remedying.
“I think I’ll go for a walk, Mrs. Blythe,” Sarah said.
“That sounds lovely. Where do you think you will go?”
Sarah knew where she was going to walk—but she just couldn’t bring herself to say it to Mrs. Blythe.
“Just for a brief stroll,” Sarah said. “I won’t be long.”
“Okay. Be safe, Sarah dear,” Mrs. Blythe bid her. “I’ll see you later on.”
Sarah moved to her room in the back of the home, fetching a small cloth bag she kept in her nightstand along with the four letters she had received from Michael Crane. She clutched them tightly as she left the home, walking toward the heart of town with no particular destination in mind.
She walked for an hour before she came to a fork in the road, breathing rapidly with a nervous tremble in her hands, knowing the road that jinked to the left led to the remains of the home she once shared with her father.
Don’t do it, Sarah thought. It will only bring you more pain.
But even though she protested, even though Sarah knew that laying her eyes on what was left of the home she shared with her father would bring her pain—she began to walk the path anyway.
The entire trek through Beaufort was a solemn one. Sarah saw the remains of several homes, and even though it had been some time since the storm had blown through, much, if not all of the town, was still tattered and scarred by the storm.
So many were affected. So many families, including my own. Why did God do this to us?
Sarah arrived on the road leading toward the remnants of her old home, her heart racing and her breath coming faster as she stood there and scanned the area. Tears welled up in her eyes as she approached the pile of remains that was her childhood home, and by the time she saw the front door, the same one she had tried so desperately to reach as her father lay trapped inside, she started to weep and brought a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle the tears.
Looking at the wreckage made Sarah feel a litany of emotions: grief, anger, despair, uncertainty. She had, in many ways, felt like that in the past few months, but she realized as she looked at the pile of wood and debris that she had been feeling this the entire time, and had merely dismissed it, trying her best not to dwell on it.
She reached into her pocket, producing the letters from the deputy she was corresponding with, along with the necklace that once belonged to her mother—a silver locket with a picture of her father on one side and one of herself as an infant on the other. Sarah draped the locket around her neck, pressing two fingers against it delicately and breathing slowly as she used her free hand to dab the tears from her eyes.
“I can’t stay here anymore,” she murmured as she closed her eyes and shook her head. “I cannot stay in this town…”
But the options felt so limited. Yes, she appreciated corresponding with the deputy. He was a fine-looking man. He seemed kind. He appeared happy, and intelligent, and a good suitor to marry—but Sarah just wasn’t convinced. It would be a simple choice, agreeing to marry him. All she had to do was make the trek to Arkansas, according to the plan the deputy outlined, take the train to Clarendon, Texas, and her life would be squared away for good. She would want for nothing; she would never have to return to Beaufort or the pain, tragedy, and the sorrowful memories that had plagued her for so long. She could start over, begin a new life, and never look back again.
Just go, Sarah thought. You may not have feelings for this man—but maybe you will someday. You’ve never been in love before, so why should you deny yourself the chance at possibly having it with this man?
Still, she wasn’t certain. Something about the whole situation just didn’t feel right. But looking at the destruction all around her, taking in all the damage, chaos, turmoil, and gut-wrenching feelings it caused her to experience, in all of an instant Sarah clutched the letter tightly in her hand, held her head high, and decided that she would leave Beaufort for good and never, ever look back.
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