She is a poor young woman with no one else in the world. He is an adopted son with no passion in his life. How can they finally become husband and wife when a man in the family wants to drive them apart?
After losing her parents to a disease, Marjorie’s life wasn’t a primrose path. Her bitter aunt makes everything to make her as difficult as possible. When she found out that she was planning to marry her for her profit, Marjorie takes the biggest decision of her life. Desperate to escape, Marjorie decides to run away and marry a stranger, but is this a wise move to make?
Christopher has grown up as the adopted child of a rich horse rancher. Meeting Marjorie sends thrills down his spine and makes his heartbeats in uncommon ways. When she always fails her chores and tasks, though, he thinks that she might not be appropriate for his rough lifestyle anymore. He doubts her feelings, too, even if he slowly falls in love with her. How can he realize that this is all part of the plan that wants them to be together?
Marjorie and Christopher could have lived the romance they deserve if it weren’t for Dax Jenson, Christopher’s foster father, who wants to destroy their happiness. However, when dangerous men threaten the ranch, will Marjorie and Christopher’s love be enough to show what forgiveness really means?
Virginia City, Nevada
Marjorie watched the peaks of the mountains off in the distance that were capped with thick blankets of snow. A gust of wind blew, licking the back of her neck and forcing her to turn up the collar on her wool jacket. She deduced that it must’ve been around forty to fifty degrees. She had spent enough winters in Virginia City to be able to judge what the temperature was without having to be told, and she had endured enough of the cold by now that she was able to withstand it and plow her way through to the next day.
Marjorie was at the tail end of churning the butter that her Aunt Fran would use for the upcoming week. The sun peeked through the mountains ahead, so she knew she had about twenty minutes left to finish up before Sunday mass would begin.
Dear Aunt Fran, she thought. You probably will find something wrong with the quality of the butter this morning … like you do every morning.
Marjorie sighed as she pressed the plunger into the bucket of cream. It was thickening, nearly finished with a flaxen hue. She had done this for years now, so she was well-versed in making sure the cows that produced the milk for the butter were happy, and the technique in which she churned and made the butter was perfected. But Aunt Fran, as she always had in the course of Marjorie’s eighteen years of life, found some quarrel with what Marjorie had done—no matter what it was.
Looking down at the butter, Marjorie nodded and figured a few more churns of the plunger would do the trick. A thought entered her mind as she did so, one of her late mother and father.
It was a vague and foggy memory, inasmuch as they died when she was a tender five years of age, but she remembered it nonetheless.
Marjorie remembered being in front of a window. Golden rays of sun filtered through the glass, Marjorie in her mother’s arms as her mother kissed her gently on the crown of her head. Marjorie could still remember how warm it felt, at how comforted she was—and then she heard Aunt Fran’s voice cutting through the memory. The feeling of being pulled out of the reflection was like she was being pulled straight from her mother’s arms.
“Marjorie,” Aunt Fran said, “hurry with that butter. You’re going to be late. Again.”
Marjorie turned around and forced herself to smile. There stood Aunt Fran, a woman with streaks of gray in her auburn hair pulled back in a tight bun. Fran looked older than the fifty-six years she was, tight lines in her face, remnants of the life she had with her abusive and deceased husband from the number of times she had furrowed her brow over the emotional pain she had endured.
“I’m almost finished, Auntie,” Marjorie said as she gestured to the butter. “I think it’s turning out alright.”
Aunt Fran approached the butter. She dipped her finger in, sniffed it, and tasted it. She winced, sighing as she did so.
“This will do fine,” she said. “But you’re still going to be late for church.”
“Will you be coming this morning?” Marjorie asked, though she already knew the answer.
Aunt Fran shook her head. “No.” She jutted her chin toward the plain, one-story house resting in the middle of the plains behind her. “I have too much to tend to.”
Marjorie nodded once. That was always Fran’s excuse, claiming that there was “much to be done” or that she was “too busy.” The woman simply didn’t leave her house. Aunt Fran insisted on staying inside, the world that she preferred to dwell in—her personal island far away from the real world or any human connection past that of her niece.
She’ll die in this house, Marjorie thought. Make no mistake about it.
“Take the butter inside,” Aunt Fran said. “And make sure that you separate it evenly—enough for us, and enough to sell in town.”
Marjorie nodded again. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Do it right, Marjorie,” Aunt Fran said as she crooked a finger at her niece. “Last time it wasn’t split up evenly. Do you hear me, girl?”
“Yes, Auntie,” Marjorie said as she collected the butter and moved into the house. She always split the butter up evenly, but Aunt Fran, as always, had to find conflict with everything.
Marjorie couldn’t blame her aunt. She had endured a tough life when she was still married to her husband, Curtis, some of which Marjorie had been present for in the early years of her life. He was a wretched man, always under the influence of alcohol, screaming and shouting about every aspect of his life. In a way, the day he passed had lifted a burden from Aunt Fran’s shoulders. Even Curtis’ funeral, though it was a bleak affair, felt like a reprieve from the oppressiveness Aunt Fran had endured. Aunt Fran didn’t shed a tear when Curtis was lowered into the ground. She simply returned home and began ordering Marjorie around with a cold, dismissive nature that never let up in the years that followed.
After separating the butter and storing what was to be sold in town the following morning, Marjorie grabbed her shawl and her Bible before she made her way toward the dirt road that led from the house and snaked its way three miles into town.
Marjorie waved goodbye as she left. Aunt Fran was reading a book in her rocking chair on the porch and didn’t bother to look up.
That was their routine: Aunt Fran would complain and order Marjorie around, Marjorie would comply, and occasionally she would find reprieve in her brief walks to town to sell butter or attend mass. It was a solemn life, one that could have been worse but also could have been much better. Marjorie was content to live in it, at least content enough that she never felt (completely) miserable.
But Marjorie was not a happy woman, and as she clutched her Bible close to her chest, she wondered when the day would arrive that a glimmer of hope would show itself. Little did she know today would be that day.
The wooden pew Marjorie chose in the chapel creaked under her weight as she slid onto the bench. Mrs. Kessler, the sweet old woman Marjorie always sat beside during Sunday mass greeted her, “Good morning,” as she always did, as the group of twenty churchgoers awaited Pastor Daniels to begin the Sunday service. Mrs. Kessler and her husband were, seemingly, the oldest people in the congregation, given that many of the attendants were, like Marjorie, young maidens who had yet to take a husband.
Marjorie breathed a sigh of relief. It was nice to be away from Aunt Fran and her incessant need to be sour, if even for just a short spurt of time. She always felt like the air in the chapel was slightly sweeter than the air outside. The sunlight always seemed to filter in a little warmer inside the church windows, heavenly glows that stretched along the floorboards and heated them to a pleasant temperature. The church itself was small, with only four rows of pews and a wooden pulpit at the head of the pews, with a wooden crucifix right behind it. The place was not much larger than the home Marjorie shared with her aunt, and though it was a simple establishment built entirely of wood with no flair to the architecture. For Marjorie, however, it felt like a home away from home.
Pastor Daniels, was a thin and wiry man whose earth-toned suits always seemed a little loose for his frame. He assumed his place at the pulpit smiling as always. His soft blue eyes were welcoming behind the horn-rimmed glasses that he pushed back on his nose every few seconds.
He outstretched his arms as he arrived at the pulpit. “Good morning, brothers and sisters of the Lord!”
“Good morning,” the collective of the church replied.
“Before we begin today,” Daniels said as he braced the sides of the pulpit, “I feel the need to announce to the—” he smiled and gestured to the women in attendance, Marjorie included, “younger members of our congregation that the pastor of our sister church over in Cody, Wyoming, has issued me a letter.” He reached into his pocket, produced a folded-up note, and held it aloft. “The pastor there,” he continued, “is a wonderful man. I have known him for several years, and during our recent correspondence, he told me something quite interesting.”
Marjorie perched forward in her seat. Two rows ahead, a young woman with red hair turned around. Her name was Abigail Brans, the pastor’s housekeeper and the closest person that Marjorie considered to be her friend. Abigail had a curious expression on her face and furrowed her brow at Marjorie as Marjorie did the same.
I wonder what this is all about? Marjorie silently bid her friend.
“Pastor Keller,” Daniels continued, “has informed me that his congregation, which possesses close to the same number of attendants as we do, has a unique problem not too dissimilar from that of our church.” He held up a finger to emphasize his point. “You see, many of the members of Pastor Keller’s congregation are of the male persuasion, some of them not much older than the lovely young women of this congregation.”
Marjorie felt her heart skip a beat. She glanced around and saw several of the other young women exchanging glances and whispering excitedly into each other’s ears.
“I’ve spoken at length,” Daniels said, “to Pastor Keller, and he has stated to me that many of the young men in his church are struggling to find their life partners, since a majority of the young men are recent transplants to Cody, and many of the residents of the town have been married for some time. That being said, I relayed to Pastor Keller that our church suffers from a similar predicament. After much discussion, Pastor Keller and I came up with an idea. We decided that it would be an excellent idea to begin a kind of pen pal initiative with the members of Pastor Keller’s church. This program will be available to all the young ladies of our church.”
The whispers of women in the church increased in volume and enthusiasm.
“I have a list of several men,” Daniels said, “that have agreed to participate. I have their names and brief descriptions of their physical appearance, along with their ages. Once we complete our service today, my wife has agreed to speak with any of the female members of the church who wish to participate in this. We feel, as does Pastor Keller, that this is a fortuitous situation set up by God himself, and the thought of those who are in this church finding potential suitors excites us all.” He stuffed the letter back in his pocket. “Now, before we begin with today’s scripture reading, I wanted to ask the members of my church what they did this week to better …”
Marjorie felt the rest of Daniels’ words were lost on her as she thought about the prospect of finding a male suitor. Heavens, she thought, I never thought I would find a man. I always figured I would be too preoccupied with Aunt Fran to ever have the time!
Marjorie tried her best to concentrate throughout the hour-long service. It was the first time in a while that she found herself waiting for it to end. She certainly wanted to correspond with a potential male suitor from Cody, and as soon as Pastor Daniels’ wife announced for “those interested in the pen pal situation” to meet her outside, Marjorie eagerly waited with a group of eight women, including Abigail, to see who they would draw from the list of names.
Marjorie ended up being fourth in line. She worried, as the other women went about picking their pen pals from the descriptions Pastor Daniels’ wife gave, if she would end up securing, essentially, the “runt of the litter.” As Marjorie walked up to Pastor Daniels’ wife, she smiled, shrugged, and said, “I’m not quite sure what I am looking for.”
Pastor Daniels’ wife, Annabelle, was a sweet-natured woman with flaxen hair who never seemed to be without a smile. “My dear,” she said, “I actually gave some thought to who might be a good suitor for you.”
“Really?” Marjorie said.
Annabelle nodded. “Oh, yes, most certainly. There is a young man who, I believe, is a wonderful prospect. His name is Christopher Bailey. He is a ranch hand who lives with his father.” She smiled somewhat mischievously. “Well, it’s actually his stepfather, but I guess the situation is a little complicated. Something told me when I saw his name that you two would be a perfect fit.”
According to the description that Marjorie was given, Christopher Bailey was tall. He had brown hair, broad shoulders, and, according to Pastor Keller, was muscular from all the horse wrangling he did. Annabelle also told Marjorie that Christopher Bailey had deep blue eyes and sported a mole on the right side of his neck.
Marjorie blushed and was speechless for a moment. “Um,” she finally said, “he sounds, well, quite handsome. I would very much like to write him. How does this work, exactly?”
“Well,” Annabelle said, “Pastor Keller has agreed to allow the women to choose whom they will write. You will write your first letter to Christopher Bailey, if you do choose him, of course, and then you will bring the letter back next Sunday with the others. We will then mail off the letters with a description of who you are, which will be given to the men at the church in Cody. If they agree to correspond with the women who chose them, then you will receive a letter in reply in a few weeks. So—is Christopher Bailey the man you wish to write?”
It took Marjorie a moment, but she nodded enthusiastically. After agreeing to write him, Marjorie joined Abigail on the outskirts of the church. Abigail asked Marjorie if she wanted to be escorted home, to which Marjorie agreed.
“This is so exciting!” Abigail said as they made their way down the dirt road leading back to Marjorie’s ranch. “I never thought I’d be able to write a potential suitor. I had all but written off all of the prospects here in town.”
Marjorie shrugged. “Same,” she said. “I feel like all of the men here are, well, less than lackluster.”
Abigail leaned in. “They’re all fools, Marjorie,” she said. “Have you ever crossed paths with the merchant’s son?”
Marjorie squinted. “No, I can’t say that I have.” She sighed. “I’m afraid I do not get out much, save for when I am taking butter into town to sell it.”
Abigail rolled her eyes. “I wish your aunt would let off a little,” she said. “She keeps you cooped up in that house.”
“She’s an older woman,” Marjorie said. “She isn’t capable of doing all the work that needs to be done to sustain our way of life. That butter we produce is the only thing keeping us afloat.”
“Still,” Abigail said, “the stress she adds to your life is measurable.”
“As bad as the merchant you speak of?”
Something akin to a huff came out of Abigail’s mouth. “He’s a wretched man, that merchant,” she said. “Such a disdainful individual, and his son is not that much different. Yes, I’ve been propositioned twice by the merchant. He attempted to persuade my father to wed me off to his son in exchange for a few trinkets. I’ve never felt more disgusted in my life.”
“Well,” Marjorie said, taking note of Abigail’s stunning good looks, “at least you’ve had potential suitors trying to wed you.”
“What do you mean?” Abigail asked.
“Oh, Abigail,” Marjorie said with a laugh, “look at you—you’re possibly the most beautiful woman in the entire town.”
Abigail blushed. “Oh, hush, now. You’re embarrassing me.”
“It’s true. I pale in comparison to how beautiful you are.”
Abigail grabbed Marjorie by the arm. “Now, you listen,” she insisted. “You are a stunning woman, Marjorie. Look at you!” Abigail gestured to Marjorie’s appearance.
Marjorie knew, though she wouldn’t admit it, that she was certainly an attractive woman. She possessed an attractive figure, and her long, dark blonde hair, pinned up in a braid like it always was, caught the light anytime the sun shone. She had, as one man once noted, expressive gray eyes with cupid’s bow lips, and her skin tanned a soft shade of copper from being out in the sun all day tending to the cows on her aunt’s property.
“Thank you, Abigail,” Marjorie said. “Now you’re making me blush.”
“Any man,” Abigail claimed, “who crosses paths with you is speechless for the first few moments of meeting you. You’re a catch, make no mistake about it.”
Marjorie confessed as she shrugged. “I just worry that I will be too old to find a suitor.”
Abigail scoffed, hooking her arm around Marjorie’s. “For goodness’ sake, you’re all of eighteen years old, Marjorie Hamilton!” she exclaimed. “There is a flock of men in Cody who might make all of our troubles go away! Tell me, how old is the man you are planning to write?”
“He’s twenty years old,” Marjorie said. “Only two years older than me.”
“Young men are so handsome, Abigail said. “Well, for the most part. I’m just glad that it’s not some old rich man trying to marry off some young woman so he can pretend he’s not old.”
The two women spoke about the potential of their situation, telling one another about the descriptions of the men they were given and hoping that they would live up to how they were described on paper. As soon as Marjorie was a half-mile from home, Abigail returned to town as Marjorie completed the last leg of her journey alone.
Marjorie repeated Christopher’s name several times over on her walk back home, her mood slightly more chipper, even though Aunt Fran did her best to try and disrupt it. That evening, Marjorie wrote a letter by candlelight in her room, imagining Christopher Bailey in her mind as she did so.
Is he truly good-looking?
Will he like me if we meet in person?
Will I like him if we meet in person?
Will I be happy?
Will this ever become a reality?
It did not matter to Marjorie how everything would pan out. This was the first time she found some form of escape from the monotony that was her day-to-day life. Even if things didn’t work out, she still had something to invest her energy into. It was only a shred of hope—but it was still hope, nonetheless.
She wasn’t sure if Christopher Bailey would be the man she married. She wasn’t even sure, as she folded up the brief letter that she wrote to him, if he would even write back.
But three weeks later, as Marjorie exited the church, she met Annabelle with the other women outside, and was handed a letter addressed to her with Christopher Bailey’s name written on the back.
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