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An Unforgettable Love by a Twist of Fate

An unexpected ad gets her married to a stranger. Will they finally fall in love with each other and stay safe against danger?

‘’Now she truly knew she’d carry this unrequited love with her for the rest of her days.’’

Amanda is a woman with an unfortunate past. With the help of her best friend, she decides to become a mail-order bride and take life into her own hands.  But things don’t always happen the way we planned. Amanda finds another man waiting for her. Will this wrong turn take Amanda to the right place and win the love she always wanted?

David suddenly loses his brothers and with that, his whole world. Getting married to his promised wife is the only way he can remember his brother’s memory. When he realizes that Amanda is more than meets the eye and she’s in great danger, how will he keep her safe?

Amanda and David must take arms against corruption and injustice. However, can they defend their fervent love when they’re surrounded by merciless foes?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.4/5

4.4 / 5 (212 ratings)

Prologue

May 3rd, 1867, Goldsprings, Nevada

In the predawn light, shadows stretched the length of the spacious kitchen as flames danced in the hearth. David, lost in thought over an incident with his brother, snatched his hand away from the scorching cast iron griddle sitting over the fire in the stone fireplace.

“My word,” he cried, shaking his hand.

He’d been making sourdough pancakes for himself and his brother, Gabe, and he’d been so preoccupied, he’d burned himself. His hand struck the metal coffee pot resting in the embers. It overturned, sending boiling water hissing all over the floor.

Unaccustomed to such clumsiness, a garbled exclamation left David’s mouth. Keep your mind on your task, David Brown. No sense stewing on the look of satisfaction on Gabe’s face when he wooed away Leslie.

David had been courting Leslie for only a short time. It wasn’t much of anything, but Gabe had swooped in like a vulture to steal her right out from under David’s nose. Even though it had happened a couple of months ago, it still left a long splinter of bitterness festering in David’s insides.

Gabe sauntered into the room, his hair still wet from his morning ablutions.

Dressed in woolen trousers and a long-sleeved cotton work shirt, his feet clad in leather boots, Gabe hustled toward the hearth, grabbing a sturdy cotton cloth from the wooden counter. As he dabbed at the water, he said, “There goes breakfast, I take it?”

David said nothing.

“You could have used the range,” Gabe pointed out, gesturing to the massive cast iron stove next to the hearth. “Mother bought the best range money could buy.”

“Since I can’t cook over the flames, what makes you think I can cook on that cockamamie thing?”

Gabe kept up with his teasing. “Trying to let Cousin Ada know she’s not needed?” A cheeky grin appeared on his face as he spoke.

Unlike David, Gabe could find humor in just about any incident.

“Oh, she’s needed, all right. But right now, her sister needs her more.” David’s cheeks flamed with heat. He had yet to master the art of breakfast since Mother died five years ago.

After that tragedy, he and Gabe had joined the fight for freedom in the Civil War, leaving thoughts of learning how to cook far behind. Left limping from a war incident, David had returned home with his uninjured brother to find their father—a wealthy man, thanks to the gold rush—had died of a heart attack.

So, he and Gabe were on their own at their farm outside of Goldsprings, Nevada, with plenty of money to their names.

But money did nothing to staunch the lonely hardship of daily life, living in the Nevada high desert and trying to turn the farm into a viable ranch. They had calves to brand, livestock to tend to, horses to train, buildings to build—they even thought to construct another house once they each had wives.

That’s if Gabe can let me build a relationship without snatching the girl I’m interested in out from under my nose.

“No, I’ll get it done,” David said with a determined grimace. “Fetch me some more water, will you?”

While Gabe hurried outside to fill the coffee pot with water, David pitched the burned flapjacks out the window for his dog, Blue. Then, he hooked the iron griddle above the flames once more and scooped more pancake batter onto it with an iron ladle. It sure would be good to have a woman besides Ada around… someone to keep me warm on a cold winter night.

He scoffed at the folly of his thoughts. Even if he found a woman, Gabe would unfailingly woo her away with his charm and good looks. Unless, of course, this tomfool mail-order bride business turns out in his favor.

A few minutes later, he heaped his and Gabe’s plates with the fragrant hotcakes, limped toward the heavy wooden table in the middle of the kitchen, and set the plates down with a clatter.

Once Gabe returned and the coffee pot sat nestled in the embers once again, the brothers settled down to eat their breakfast.

David said, “So how’s your correspondence going with… what’s her name again? Amanda?” His insides rankled as he spoke.

After Gabe had stolen Leslie, he’d promptly dropped her like a hot potato and started up a correspondence with Amanda Kennett, a young woman from way up yonder in Virginia City.

Gabe’s face brightened, just like the dawn sun peeking through the window. “It’s going well. It’s been weeks of writing—I’m sure looking forward to meeting her.”

David wanted to be excited about his brother’s upcoming nuptials to a relative stranger. But, as the oldest brother, he shouldered all responsibilities for Gabe and himself like a fortified mule. There was no cause to get excited about nonsense. Especially since Gabe went through potential brides like a dying man at a water hole.

There could never be enough women in the world to quench his brother’s thirst.

“She’ll arrive here in a few weeks,” Gabe said, forking a mouthful of pancake.

David shook his head as he chewed his food. “How can you settle for marriage without love? Unless you foolishly think that what you have with her is love.”

Gabe glanced at the water boiling in the pot. He rose, crossed to the hearth, and picked up the tin of coffee David had ground earlier, adding some “finings” or burnt sugar to the mixture to give the coffee a rich, brown color. “Oh, it’s not what I’d call love by a long shot. But she seems kind and nice, so why not? Someone’s got to cook us breakfast around here when Cousin Ada’s away.” He winked at David.

David rolled his eyes, and he shook his head. “You’re crazy, you know, for even going through with this whole plan. Mail-order brides,” he muttered, adding a grunt. “I wouldn’t be caught dead marrying someone I’ve never seen. What if she’s hideous? What if she looks like that crazy, old wolf who’s been skulking around the property? That thing’s a bag of bones that needs to be put down. In fact, I might do the honors next time I see it.” He lifted an imaginary rifle and pretended to shoot it. “Blam! We’ll have to put your fiancée down two seconds after you meet her.”

Gabe laughed. “She won’t look like an emaciated wolf; I can feel it in my bones. What if she’s the most beautiful girl you’ve ever met?” He tossed a scoop of ground coffee into the pot to let it boil. Every rancher knew that boiling the coffee killed any contaminants that might be lurking in the water.

David snorted. “Fat chance of that.” He rose from his seat and walked the now-empty plate over to the metal counter with the recessed basin filled with water. After resting the plate in the metal basin, he retrieved a couple of tin cups and a piece of burlap and crossed back to the hearth. Using the burlap to keep from burning his hands, he poured two cups of coffee for him and Gabe.

“Here you go,” he said, stepping closer to the table to put Gabe’s coffee in front of his plate. He parked his behind once more on his wooden chair to wait for the coffee to cool. “What are you up to today? I’ve got some errands to do. I’ll be heading into town to pick up a few supplies.”

Gabe’s sunny disposition clouded over like a sudden storm had appeared on the horizon. “Nothing much,” he said, glancing out the window. His fawn-brown eyes had taken on the look of a broody sky at midnight. He ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair, which was the same color as the coffee. “Except for the usual—taking care of chores around here.”

David’s eyes narrowed as he studied his brother. Something’s bugging him, I know it. “Come on, now. It looks like there’s more to the story.”

Gabe’s lips parted as if to speak as he met David’s eyes.

An indecipherable mystery lurked behind his brother’s gaze, but David couldn’t tell what it was—nervousness over his impending nuptials?

Gabe’s mouth snapped shut, and he pasted a sunny smile on his face—a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s nothing. I just got to write a letter.”

“To Amanda?” David said.

“Maybe…” Lines appeared around his brother’s eyes.

“Why are you being so secretive? Gabe… if you can’t talk to me, who can you talk to?” David picked up his cup and blew on the coffee, taking a tentative sip.

“I know. But it’s nothing, really. I’ve got everything handled, under my belt. Including your delicious pancakes.” Gabe patted his flat abdomen. Then, a frown flickered across his face. “If and when it comes to something, I’ll let you know.”

An unsettling sensation rocked David’s insides. What is he not telling me? What’s going on in that head of his? Figuring he’d learn about this mysterious “whatever it was” soon enough, David decided to let it go. Anyway, he didn’t care enough to pursue it. His brother was always going on about something. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly amiss—something that might change things between him and his brother forever.

Chapter One

May 21st, 1867, Virginia City, Nevada

An odd wind kicked up outside the home where Amanda resided, blowing dust devils down the road. Seeing them today sent a shiver up her spine, and she made the sign of the cross over her bosom. Her gaze followed the whirlwinds until she stared down the street at the low mountains in the distance, wondering what her life would become once she left this home.

In less than a week, she would be leaving Virginia City to meet her husband-to-be, a man named Gabe.

Gabe lived south, a five-day trip by horse-drawn wagon in Goldsprings, Nevada.

Julia’s dad, Mr. Williams, would be taking her, saying he needed to meet with a horse trader in Goldsprings and might bring home a horse or two. Apparently, Goldsprings was known for a particular breed of horse.

Nervously, she nibbled on her lower lip.

Getting married hadn’t been on her mind, but what else could she do? No prospect courted her, and she was nearly twenty-three—practically an old maid. So, when her closest friend, Julia Williams, had insisted she try offering herself as a mail-order bride, Amanda had reluctantly grasped the opportunity.

I wonder what this Gabe fellow will be like? Tall and handsome or short and stumpy? Will he be mean to me? Will he be kind?

The whole idea of marriage curdled the contents of her stomach. She’d been engaged once already—to John, Julia’s brother.

And look how that turned out? He died in a fire, along with Jacob. And there went all the joy in my life…

Before nervous jitters seized her stomach, she headed outside to retrieve the clothes that had been baking in the noon-day sun. She’d washed everything at dawn, wanting to start her new life with freshly cleaned laundry.

Standing in the yard, with the late-morning sun beating down on her back and the top of her head, she began unpinning the clothes from the line with trembling fingers. I don’t know the first thing about being a wife. What will he expect from me?

Her hands shook so hard one of her favorite pieces—a robin’s-egg blue and white pinstriped blouse, fell to the ground.

She tsked, picked it up, and dusted it off as best she could.

Once she’d removed every garment from the line, she clutched the crisp, warm clothes to her bosom and hustled inside the back of the house. Scooting through the kitchen, she nodded at Clara, the Williams’ housekeeper.

Clare stooped and removed a fresh apple pie from the cast-iron oven.

“Morning, Miss Clara,” Amanda said. She often marveled at the extravagance of having a housekeeper. Her parents could never have afforded such a luxury, especially after her brother Jacob crossed to the afterlife. After that tragedy, Ma gave up on life. And Pa spent his meager earnings from the silver mines at the saloon, where he drowned his sorrows.

“Morning, Miss Amanda. Looking forward to your journey, are you?” Her graying hair held high with a red-checked, flour-spattered scarf, Clara rested the pie on the windowsill. The cheerful apron tied around her waist did nothing to hide her generously sized belly.

“No,” Amanda said in a small, weak voice, pausing in the doorway.

“Now, child, getting married is a natural occurrence in a woman’s life. You should be excited. My husband was the rock in my world until he died, and the Williams family took me in.” Clara turned to stand at the massive oak table in the center of the white-washed room. She picked up a sharp knife and began whacking at a freshly killed chicken. Once the bird lay in pieces, Clara turned and fetched a ceramic bowl from a cupboard along the walls. “You’ll be fine,” she said.

“If you say so,” Amanda said, unconvinced, pushing away from the door frame to continue upstairs.

“You’ll see,” Clara said, placing chicken parts in the bowl.

A warm breeze blew through the window, playing with Amanda’s long hair and teasing her with the scent of cinnamon-infused apple pie.

The aroma made Amanda’s stomach growl. She’d been too nervous this morning to eat much.

Ignoring her hunger, she scrambled up the stairs to the second landing.

Amanda’s toe caught the doorjamb as she scurried into the bedroom she shared with Julia. “Ouch,” she cried, hopping about on her non-injured, black leather-booted foot. As she jumped, she dropped the slightly stiff clothes. “Oh, no!”

Hurrying to pick them up, she shook out each one, hoping they’d still be clean and not covered with dust bunnies. After inspecting them and finding them suitable, she continued into the bedchamber, where she dropped the clothing on the pink and white quilt-covered bed. Then, she lifted them one by one, trying to determine which would make it into the nut-brown leather suitcase resting on the ground by her feet.

As Amanda considered her options, Julia sashayed into the room.

Julia always appeared elegant and composed—a distinctive contrast to Amanda. Today she wore a blue and white-checked gingham day-dress, complete with blue-velvet trim on the collars and sleeves that set off her iridescent eyes.

The dress had been fashioned by Amanda’s own hand.

With her glossy, raven-colored hair held back in a stylish up-do, Julia strode in the room like a fine-show horse.

Amanda had always felt like a colt who never found her footing, all gangly legs and awkward movements. A tomboy at heart, she loved to climb trees and go fishing in the water hole at the edge of town, catching the fat catfish that patrolled the bottom of those waters. Or she loved to run through the desert, chasing the wild hares. When she was younger, she’d climb on top of old Red, their pony, and set off into the hills to explore with John and her brother Jacob.

But, as much as she loved to be outdoors, God hadn’t done her any favors in the grace department—she was as bumbling as a bow-legged toddler.

Dressed in an off-white work shirt and an mud-colored ankle-length walking skirt—the same outfit she’d wear for the journey ahead—she nibbled her lip as she studied Julia’s poise. I’ll never carry myself with that much grace. It’s a wonder I can even roll out of bed each day and not fall to the floor.

“What are you thinking about?” Julia asked, her sky-blue eyes twinkling. “The man you’ll soon be wedded to?”

“No,” Amanda said. “I’m considering sending you to meet him instead. He’ll never know the difference.”

Julia glided closer to Amanda and took her hands. “Oh, honey. Besides the fact that Marshall and I are courting, why would I do that? Do you think you’re not pretty enough?”

Amanda blushed, casting her gaze at the black wrought-iron bed frame. “Maybe…”

“You’re beautiful, Amanda. Don’t you see?” Julia seized Amanda’s shoulders and pivoted her to face the full-length mirror propped in the corner. “Look at this gorgeous young woman.”

Amanda shook her head, unable to look at her freckled cheeks or unruly hair.

Determinedly, Julia seized Amanda’s chin and forced her to face the looking glass. “Look. You’ve got a fetching figure, flaxen hair the color of winter wheat, eyes the color of a summer lake, and sweet, heart-shaped lips. When Gabe meets you for the first time, he’ll be tongue-tied.”

“More like worried he caught the wrong fish. He’ll toss me back into the stream for certain,” Amanda quipped.

“Silly girl.” Julia giggled, wrapping her arms around Amanda. “Oh, how I will miss you.”

“I know,” Amanda said, returning the heartfelt embrace. “I’ll miss you, too. Besides, I’m indebted to you. You and your family saved my life.” She sniffled, thinking again of the tragedies that had brought her to live with Julia five years ago.

It started when her fiancé and Julia’s brother, John Williams, and her brother Jacob died, completely derailing Amanda’s family and Julia’s, too.

John and Jacob had both been downtown at the general store, purchasing supplies for their respective families, when a fire had broken out in the store. They’d tried to save the owner, old man Bentley. But the ceiling had collapsed in a pile of burning lumber in front of the entrance, blocking egress.

According to Julia’s neighbor, Jim Taylor, the boys’ efforts had been heroic.

“They tried to save old man Bentley, they did. I spied them through the window as I was rushing to get help. They was helping him around the counter, what with his bum leg and all. No way they could have known the ceiling would have collapsed,” Mr. Taylor had said, tears moistening his red, rheumy eyes when he’d come to the house to bring the news of the tragedy. “Everyone inside the store was caught unawares. By the time people started trying to put the fire out, the flames had already consumed most of the building.” He’d bore down on the hat he held in his hands, crushing the worn gray felt.

And Amanda, standing behind her Pa, had burst into sobs, the same way she did right now.

“Oh, honey, what’s this?” Julia drew away from the embrace, shaking Amanda out of the past. Grabbing her shoulders, she said, “Why the sorrow? Shouldn’t you be happy?”

Amanda wiped at her eyes. “I am happy. I was just thinking about John and Jacob and how they died. Such a tragedy!”

Guilt stabbed at her insides as her next thought arose.

I would have had a loveless alliance with John, not true love. She shook her head, trying to rid herself of these gloomy thoughts, but they wouldn’t stop. It was as if she’d opened a dam inside her soul, and she was helpless to cease it.

Amanda gazed out the window, framed with lacy white curtains, at two cowboys who rode past on their Palomino steeds. For one brief second, she wanted to climb on the back of one of the horses and disappear into the high desert. She sniffled, returning her gaze to Julia’s.

Her friend retrieved a linen handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at Amanda’s eyes. “There, there…”

“Maybe I could stay here forever,” Amanda suggested, hope filling her heart. “I could set up a little seamstress shop in town and earn my keep.”

“You’re so good at it, Amanda. You made this dress, didn’t you?” Julia twirled in a circle, making her voluminous skirts soar like a hot air balloon, a wonder Amanda had only seen once at an exhibit in Virginia City.

The balloon had been shaped out of blue, green, gold, and red striped fabric, and, floating in the desert sky, it had looked magical—just like her life had once been.

“Thank you,” Amanda said through her sobs. “After Jacob died, I did manage to make enough money to put food on the table.”

“Yes, you did. You’re a strong and capable young woman.” Julia clutched Amanda’s hands again and looked at her earnestly, no doubt trying to lift her spirits.

Amanda gamely tried to put a smile back on her face, but the tragedies that brought her to live with Julia kept her caught in a whirlpool of sorrow. Starting with Jacob’s and John’s deaths, all the sunlight and soaring joy in her life had ceased. And then, a year later, both her parents died. With no more marriage prospects on the horizon, and no place to go, Amanda had been orphaned, swamped with grief, and unable to take proper care of herself.

Same as when Clara lost her husband, the Williamses had insisted on taking her in.

Julia trained a stern gaze on Amanda’s face. “Where are all these bad memories coming from? Are you certain you’re excited about the journey ahead to meet Gabe?”

Amanda gave a quick toss of her head. “I’m nervous. I’m certain something’s going to go wrong because that’s what happens to me. Luck is never on my side—luck left me in the general store when my brother died. He was only twenty-two! So much life left… I loved him so much.” Her weeping started once more.

Julia guided them both to the bed and sat, drawing Amanda to sit next to her. She wrapped her arms around Amanda and comforted her as she sobbed.

“You’re the best friend in the whole wide world,” Amanda finally said, as her crying began to cease.

“No, you’re the best friend in the whole wide world.” Julia pulled away and grinned, lifting her handkerchief to Amanda’s face once more. She wiped at Amanda’s tear-stained cheeks. “We both lost our brothers, and you lost your husband-to-be. But now you’re going to head south and get married. Isn’t that exciting?”

Amanda frowned, wondering what life with John would have been like. Since they’d known one another since birth, their families had arranged for their betrothal when they were young. But she didn’t love John any more than she loved the man she would soon marry—Gabe. To her, it felt like a transaction, like buying one of Mr. Taylor’s donkeys. “Maybe becoming a seamstress could be exciting.”

“This again? And just be a lonely spinster? Honestly…” Julia tsked. “I won’t be here forever. I’m to be married to Marshall in the spring, you know that.” She tweaked Amanda’s nose. “You’re acting like a silly, nervous girl when the truth is you’re going to go meet a handsome man who will cherish you and adore you forever. You’ll see. Trust me.”

Somehow, she doubted that very much. But since she had no other options, she figured she might as well go. Resignedly, Amanda picked at the quilt with her short fingernails.

“Think of this as an adventure,” Julia said with shining eyes. “Maybe it will even be fun!

“Will you come and visit me?” Amanda said, suddenly feeling like a child.

“Of course, I will!” Julia enthused. “As soon as Marshall and I are married and settled, I’ll ask him to take me to visit you. But you’ll be too busy to miss me, just you wait and see.”

“Okay,” Amanda said, with a wan smile. But as hard as she tried, she couldn’t catch onto Julia’s enthusiasm. Apprehension rooted itself in her heart, clinging to her like an invasive vine. Something was going to go wrong; she just knew it. With her life and her string of bad luck, it could be no other way.

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