Her only choice to escape was to become a mail-order bride. He was a man who was rejecting romance. How can they fight those who want them apart when loving someone is just so challenging?
Jane has always been a dutiful daughter living with her stepfamily. When her father decides to marry her off to an older man that she knows nothing about, Jane flees. Once more, she feels their neglect. Her only option is to be a mail-order bride in the West. But, she soon realizes that her husband carries demons of his own, and ranch life is demanding. Can she make him open up and show him that love is the only way to heal wounds?
Milton is a man that finds solace in his animals. When his mother abandoned him, and his father passed away, he realized that people always leave. Now, Milton needs a bride to expand his business plan and help him with his beloved ranch. A marriage of convenience is what he needs, and romance is not what he is looking for. Milton meets Jane and everything changes when she starts to bring down his walls. How can he trust again and fall in love?
Jane and Milton will have to confront and overcome their deep-rooted fears to be together. When Jane’s wealthy suitor comes to claim her, everything starts falling apart. Can they face their common enemy as one, or will they drift apart from each other?
Jane’s mama had told her that they were going on an adventure, which was alright by Jane because she loved adventure. She had brought her favorite book, which she’d clung to on the carriage ride from Texas to their new home in New Mexico. It was a book of fairytales that her mother read to her, and she held it tightly. It brought her comfort.
Her mama had promised Jane that she’d like it in New Mexico. Jane was sure she would. Not only would she be getting a new pa, and a sister, but she would no longer have to see her mama cry so much when she thought Jane wasn’t looking.
Jane’s pa had perished nearly two years ago, and Jane could barely remember what he looked like, as she was only three at the time. Sometimes she dreamed of him; he always smelled like pipe tobacco.
Her ma had wept every day since his passing. She tried to hide it from Jane, but she knew. She could always see the tear streaks and redness in her mama’s eyes after she’d been through a spell. She hadn’t been very good at hiding it.
“You remember to behave, Janie,” her mama reminded her. The carriage had finally come to a standstill. To Jane it felt like they had been traveling for an infinite number of days.
“I promise, Mama,” Jane said. She didn’t feel the need to remind her mother that she was always well-behaved. She knew that her ma was simply worried about how Jane and Mr. Parrish’s daughter, Kate, would get along.
But Jane liked Mr. Parrish. She was glad that he wanted to marry her mama and make her happy again. Her ma always smiled when Mr. Parrish came around, which made Jane happy.
Plus, Mr. Parrish had a daughter only a few years older than Jane, which was a boon for her, and Jane was sure they’d be fast friends. She’d already promised her ma to share her best toys and books with Kate. Jane had always wanted a sister, and she was glad to be getting one in Kate.
“Alright my darling,” Jane’s mother said. She placed her warm hand on either side of Jane’s face and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. “Everything is going to be perfect. I just know it.”
Jane smiled at her and nodded. She hoped that was the case, for her mother’s sake. She might be a little girl, but she knew that Mr. Parrish had brought joy and happiness back into her mother’s life. It was something that she had been missing for two years. That was why Jane was determined to be on her very best behavior. She did not want Mr. Parrish to send them away.
Stepping out of the carriage, Jane did her best to look like a girl older than five. She took her hand out of her mother’s and clutched the sack that held her toys. She was hoping that they might endear her to Kate.
The Parrish ranch was much larger than the one her ma and her had lived in. Theirs had been a small, one room cottage, but the Parrish house looked like it had two stories. Jane had never seen anything so large and grand before. She’d known that Mr. Parrish was well-to-do, but she didn’t know how much.
“Darling!” Mr. Parrish said, as he reached out toward her mother. Her mother’s smile was bright as she quickly embraced Mr. Parrish. “I hope the journey wasn’t too long.”
“It was fine,” Jane’s mother assured him.
Jane stood quietly at her mother’s side observing Mr. Parrish’s daughter. Kate was a few years older than she, and quite tall. Her jet-black hair was tied back from her face with a yellow ribbon, and her skin was the color of cream. Jane instantly felt intimidated by the other girl, especially as she looked at her with cool, blue eyes.
“And how are you, Janie?” Mr. Parrish asked. He leaned down in front of her causing Jane to stifle a giggle as she saw the curly, black hairs in his nose. Instead, she bit her lip remembering her mother telling her to be good.
“I’m well,” she said, her voice carrying its usual softness.
“Good, good,” Mr. Parrish said, standing back up and fixing his jacket.
For a moment, the four of them stood awkwardly staring at each other and waiting. Jane wasn’t sure what everyone was waiting for, so she thought it best to introduce herself to her new sister.
“I’m Jane,” she said, addressing Kate. “I brought some dolls to play with.”
Kate said nothing, and for a moment Jane wondered if she had said the wrong thing. I hope not, she thought. She wanted Kate to like her.
“Katherine?” Mr. Parrish’s voice was stern as he pushed Kate slightly forward.
Jane looked at her Ma, worried that she might have done something wrong. Her mama gave her a smile, but even Jane knew that it wasn’t a good one. Her Ma’s face was pinched together as if she had smelled something unpleasant. Her blue eyes, which were a great deal like Jane’s narrowed, but only slightly. Jane knew that her mother was worried, but she didn’t understand why.
“Katherine why don’t you and Jane play. You can show her around the ranch,” Mr. Parrish said. Kate said nothing, but she gave her father a terse nod.
“I guess you can show me your dolls,” she said.
Jane smiled. She could tell that Kate did not necessarily care for her, but Jane knew that she could change her mind. Jane had a great many friends back in Texas. She had a lot of toys.
“I’m sure that you girls will get along just fine,” her mother said. She seemed more relaxed, which made Jane happy. “I’ll be just inside.” Her mother pressed a small kiss against her forehead and smoothed her hair down. The act comforted Jane.
Kate and Jane stood in the warm New Mexico sunshine as they watched their parents go into their home. Neither girl said anything.
Finally, Jane turned around to face Kate whose face hadn’t changed in sternness. “Do you want to play?” she asked, she began pulling out her doll from her bag. The rest of her toys were in the trunks that Mr. Parrish’s workers and their carriage driver were in the process of unloading.
“I only have one doll in my bag, but we can take turns …”
Jane pulled out the doll of the rose-colored linen bag. Her mother had stitched it for her for the journey. It was small enough for her to carry, but big enough for Jane to stuff her favorite doll into.
She pulled it out, excited to show it to Kate. The doll was small and made of felt. The stitching from the face was worn. It was clear that the doll was well-loved. What made it Jane’s favorite was the red hair atop the doll’s head, and the silk rose gown that covered her body. She hoped to have such a dress when she was grown up.
Before Jane could say anything more or tell Kate about the doll, Kate reached out and plucked the doll from Jane’s hands. “This is my doll now,” she stated.
“Hey!” Jane tried to grab the doll back from Kate. It was her favorite doll. Her pa had given it to her before he passed, and it was the only thing that she had left that reminded her of him. “Give that back!” She reached for the doll. Kate kept it just out of reach, making Jane jump for it. When she did, Kate reached out and pushed her down to the ground.
“Ouch!” Jane cried out. She sat up. Her dress was covered in dust and dirt, and her lower lip trembled. Her mama was going to be angry with her for ruining one of her nicest dresses.
“Listen here,” Kate said. She leaned down so that she was standing over Jane. Her blue eyes were as cold as ice, and Jane tried not to shiver as they bore into her. She was starting to think that she and Kate weren’t going to be friends at all. “This is my house, and you aren’t going to come here and take my pa away. Do you understand?”
Jane said nothing. She’d never been treated in such a manner in her entire life, and she didn’t know what to do. She knew it was wrong to allow Kate to treat her this way, but she was too scared to do anything. After all, they were guests on the ranch, not family. Not yet.
As Jane watched Kate walk off, she couldn’t help but think of what she would do to Kate once she was a grown woman.
One day, I’ll stand against her, she thought, watching Kate. She hoped that day wouldn’t be long in coming.
Fourteen Years Later
Jane moved her potatoes around her plate with her fork as she looked out of the window. The sun was low in the sky, and as the last rays of it came into the dining room it made small rainbows through the crystal water glasses sitting on the mahogany table.
She wasn’t particularly hungry this evening. Her stomach felt like it was tangled in knots, and the thought of eating anything made her feel even more ill.
Jane pressed her boots against the red and green rug underfoot. It was so old that the colors were worn from their feet and chairs.
“Is something wrong with your food?” her stepfather asked.
Jane sighed slightly as she picked up a cold potato. Of course, he picks tonight to be observant, she thought. Normally, her stepfather wasn’t the most observant. It was why he never noticed that she and his daughter Kate hadn’t managed to get along in the fourteen years they had been a “family.”
Kate was the reason that Jane had no appetite.
“Yeah, Janie,” Kate spoke up, her voice sickly sweet. “What’s the matter with you tonight? Normally, you are eager to eat.”
Jane said nothing. That was the best way to handle Kate’s insults. Kate knew why Jane was upset, after all, she was the reason for it. Kate had always tormented Jane, but she had become even worse in the last few years after Jane’s mother passed away, likely because her death had caused Jane to cling heavily to her stepfather.
She always thought that he cared about her as any father cared about a daughter; after all, he practically raised her. What Kate told her today changed all of that.
“I was hoping that we might speak?” Jane asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Jane despised confrontation. If she had her way, she would never be in the midst of any sort of conflict, especially within her family, which is why she had never really put Kate in her place.
“About what?” her father asked.
Jane continued to play with her potatoes, pushing them around her plate. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She glanced over to see Kate with a self-satisfied grin on her face, and it made her angry. Kate knew exactly how to get inside of her mind and turn everything upside down. Don’t let her rattle you, she thought.
“I wanted to talk with you about your plans for my future,” Jane said. The words sounded hollow in her ears. Her father hadn’t told her anything about his plans for her. She knew that he wished for Kate to marry, but so far, no man had been braving enough to take on her prickly sister. Kate knew how to be charming, but she found few people who were worthy of her time.
“Plans?” her father asked. He leaned back slightly in his chair; his large belly pressed against the buttons of his waistcoat, causing them to pucker. Age had not been kind to her father. Years of eating and little exercise made him robust, and though he maintained a full head of hair, it had turned as gray as ash, losing its former dark luster.
Jane swallowed. She was hoping that he would bring it up for her. Jane shot a look over at Kate who still wore a smug smile on her face.
“May we talk alone?” she asked. She did not want to give Kate the satisfaction of seeing her so rattled. The conversation that they were going to have would be uncomfortable enough for her, and she did not want to feel Kate’s judgmental stare on her.
She also knew that her father would not appreciate having this conversation out in the open. He was a prideful man who expected total obedience from his daughter. Normally, Jane obeyed happily, but this time she just couldn’t.
She swallowed nervously. Her father was a jovial man, as long as things were going his way.
“We are in the middle of a meal,” he said, his voice stern. Jane squirmed in her seat. She wanted to just let this go. She was sure that Kate was just trying to stir the pot. It was what her sister did best.
“It will only take a moment,” she said.
“Whatever you have to say to me you can say at the table,” her father stated.
Kate snickered into her water glass, and Jane swallowed. She wished that she had some ale right now. She had heard from some of the young men in the markets that ale and fire water calmed a person’s nerves and lit a fire in their belly. She could use such a thing now.
“It has come to my attention that you mean to make a match between me and one of your colleagues,” Jane said the words so quickly that she wasn’t sure if her father even understood them. She knew that if she did not get them out then she wouldn’t be able to speak them. Then, you’ll end up some old man’s wife praying that he kicks the bucket before you are too old to be an unwanted widow. Jane felt terrible for even thinking such a thing.
Her father dropped his fork. It hit his plate with a loud clang, which echoed through the dining room and made Jane jump. The fact that he had stopped eating let her know that this was serious. If it hadn’t been, he would have brushed her worries aside and continued on with his meal.
“And who did you hear this from?” he asked, cutting a look toward Kate. It angered Jane to know that her sister knew more about her future than she did. It’s not fair, she thought with an internal huff. Her father had never been unkind to her. He’d raised her as if she were his own, and she idolized him as such. She’d always remember the way her mother smiled at him with such happiness, and the way that he had stayed at her bedside even as she grew sicker and sicker. But she despised how he treated Kate as an equal and her as a porcelain ornament. Too much knowledge would break her. At least that was what he thought.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jane said. She knew from the look on Kate’s face that she would pay for spilling the beans. Kate loved getting other people in her father’s crosshairs but loathed being here herself.
Jane shook her head and squared her shoulders. “I would like to know why you are negotiating matches on my behalf without my input.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Jane knew it the moment the words passed from her lips. Her father’s face became dark in anger, and she knew that he took umbrage at her telling him what to do. In many ways, her father was easygoing. He expected his daughters to be virtuous and help run his household, but he mostly allowed them to pursue their own interests. He’d never pushed the idea of marriage upon either one of them. Until now.
“I’m sorry, but I just …”
“You are questioning that I know what is best for you,” her father said bluntly.
Jane opened her mouth, but the look on her father’s face caused her to snap it shut. His look made it clear that he did not want to hear anything more that she had to say.
If you remain quiet, you’ll end up married, she reminded herself. It gave her the strength to continue approaching the subject. “I do question it,” she said.
Kate looked shocked, as did her father. Jane was a bit shocked herself. She rarely spoke out of turn, and she especially never challenged her father.
“Excuse me?” he asked, his voice dangerously low. He had stopped eating completely and dropped his fork. This time he dropped it on the table causing a ring of grease to seep into the white linen tablecloth. Jane cringed. It was going to be difficult to get that stain out.
“I don’t want to marry,” Jane said. That was the truth of it. She had always thought that she would stay on the ranch and take care of her family. Kate was adamant that she wanted a grand house of her own, and she wasn’t going to settle for anything less. Jane did not have such ambitions. She was content where she was.
“You don’t get a say in that,” her father snapped at her.
“It’s my life!” she exclaimed, completely flabbergasted over the fact that her father seemed to think that she should not have a say in whether or not she married, or even who she married.
“You’ll do as I say!” her father thundered. He stood up and banged his fists on the table which caused both Jane and Kate to jump in their chairs.
Jane felt her lips start to tremble and tears well up in her eyes. She wasn’t just hurt by her father yelling at her during dinner, but her feelings smarted over the fact that he did not trust her to make decisions for herself.
“I need to be excused,” Jane said, her voice breaking. She did not want to cry in front of her father, and she especially did not care to cry in front of her sister. Kate was loving this, of that Jane had no doubt. She was going to be thrown to whatever friend her father had decided on, while Kate, as per usual, would be free to do whatever she liked.
“You will sit here and finish your meal,” he said.
Jane wasn’t listening. She threw her napkin down and ran toward her bedroom. It wasn’t far from the dining room. The rancher was one floor and sometimes it felt like they were all squished together. Today, Jane was grateful for that. She passed the kitchen, nearly stumbling on the kitchen table as she rushed through the room. The table reminded her of her mother and tears sprang to her eyes. Her mother never would have allowed any of this to happen.
Storming into her room, she slammed the door as hard as she could, feeling satisfied hearing the bang echo through the entire house. She knew that they could hear the sound of it in the dining room. It was her own form of rebellion.
Sitting heavily on her bed, Jane felt her anger starting to seep out of her. It wasn’t completely gone, but she couldn’t stop part of it from being replaced with grief. Her father did not care a lick what she wanted. Kate had told her that her father was going to marry her off to one of his old business partners, Brandon. Jane had met that man once, and he was not anyone who she would ever consider as a marriage partner.
“I’m absolutely not marrying him,” she said to herself.
Jane moved toward the small desk she had in her room. She didn’t use it much now, but when she was a girl, she had sat at it for many hours reading. Now, she spent a great deal of time taking care of the home. She almost never had time for herself.
Jane sighed and picked up the paper that was on her desk. It was an ad for a mail-order bride. Kate had given it to her in jest when she told Jane about their father’s plans for her. Her sister had enjoyed rubbing in the fact that Jane would soon be forced to marry. The ad was meant to mock her.
At the time, Jane had crumbled up the ad and threw it on the table. She never thought she’d marry, but now, it seemed that marriage was the only thing that might save her.
I might have to marry, Jane thought defiantly as she read through the ad, but that doesn’t mean that I have to marry the man my father chose for me.
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