Two women run across the desert to escape their past. Two brothers find them and must decide if they are open to true love. Will they listen to this unexpected call of fate?
‘‘Do I stay in the hope he might one day develop the ability to love me? Or do I stay and give up the idea of love?’’
Dorothy must find a way to save her sister and herself from her uncle’s schemes. Together, they travel all the way West and meet two men that change their lives forever. Dorothy never expected she’ll find love in the arms of a strong and silent man like Nathan’s. How can they protect their new family when they’re just pawns on someone else’s game?
Nathan forbids the idea of romance in his mind after losing almost everyone that matters to him. But when a surprise mail-orders bride ad with her sister arrives at his door, he feels that someone is mocking him. When he learns it was his brother’s plan, he has no choice but to accept Dorothy and her unexpected sister in his home. But how can a heart once broken love again?
Dorothy and Nathan must take arms against their own insecurities and fears to let their hearts beat together. When dangerous times call for daring actions, it will only be their passionate love that drives them forward. Can they run against the clock and guard their newfound family?
Dorothy stood in front of her father’s tombstone and fought back the tears that welled in her eyes. Her twin sister, Leona, had long since given up the fight and sniffled quietly at her sister’s side. A louder sob broke the air, which caused Dorothy to turn and rub a hand gently across her sister’s back. She tucked Leona’s brown hair behind her ear, hair that was so similar to her own in texture—wild and unruly—but vastly different in color to her own fiery red. Other than their hair and eye color, the blue of Leona’s contrasting the brown of Dorothy’s, the twins were mirror images of each other with the same pointed nose and chin and the same short builds.
And while normally Dorothy loved to see herself reflected back at her through her sister’s face, today she was reminded of the sadness of their loss.
It had been a year since they lost their beloved father, Robert, to a mining accident. And without their mother, who had passed during childbirth of the girls, they found themselves alone with only their uncle to care for them. The two were inseparable, and even more so in the past year.
Their father had been their whole world. He had a way of making them feel as though they were the only two girls in the world, special in every way. Dorothy thought back to their trips to Lake Michigan where he would chase them into the water, splashing them with waves of the warm liquid before scooping each girl up into his arms and swinging them around so that just their toes skated across the water. Even now, Dorothy remembered his warm words to her, “Hold on tight Dotty, Papa’s got you!”
She didn’t say a word to her sister as she continued to wipe at the tears, knowing that no words could really justify what they were both going through. Dorothy looked off into the distance, a cluster of trees whose branches held no leaves invading her line of sight, reminding her of the cold reality of time and death. Eventually Leona’s tears ceased and her back straightened. “I’m okay, I really am,” she said, the mild quiver in her voice betraying the truth but Dorothy said nothing.
Dorothy smiled and chuckled lightly, the display of emotion having opened the door for one or two of her own tears to fall. “I know.”
Eventually, the two wandered away from their father’s grave, a site that was shared with many of the St. Just family that had passed before him. They stopped and Dorothy bent down to drop a single flower over her mother’s gravestone and wipe away at the dirt that had blown across the side of the stone. Continuing, they passed a few other St. Just stones marking their grandparents.
Dorothy frowned down at the worn stones that were breaking apart in places and the names of their family members covered by overgrown stretches of weeds. “I guess Uncle Jacob never comes here,” Dorothy stated, chewing on the corner of her lip as she wondered if he had visited at all in the last year.
“Why would he?” Leona asked. “Papa made it seem like the two of them hardly got along, and that was much better even than his bond with his parents.”
“True. I just thought maybe he’d visit his brother’s gravesite more often… this looks like almost a year’s worth of weeds.” Indeed, Dorothy and her sister had stayed away themselves out of heartbreak and the inability to talk about their father without crying. Dorothy began tugging on the longest strands of bright green growth and after less than a minute she stepped back to admire her work. She couldn’t do anything about the dilapidated headstones, but at least the worn names were legible.
“I’m sure he’s just busy with one of his business ventures,” Leona hinted, emphasizing the term with mocking eyebrows. Dorothy chuckled under her breath, considering that.
Indeed, Jacob St. Just was nothing like their father. The thirty-four-year-old man had a habit of participating in many schemes to try to turn a quick dollar, most of which never panned out. And while the twins didn’t mind living with him, Dorothy often wished they had a better alternative. Their family home hadn’t been far from his, so they had dined together before their father’s death, but he was never the doting uncle she had read about in stories.
Jacob could be cold at times, and had made it clear that a year of caring for them was not in his plans. And while Dorothy couldn’t blame him for that, his hints at marrying them off as soon as possible to utter strangers set her blood boiling. A breeze blew a wave of brown leaves in front of them and they paused on the dirt path to let them dance in the wind.
That was something her father had emphasized the importance of—how beautiful a marriage could be when the two people truly loved each other. It was something Dorothy had grown up wanting for herself and her sister. But Jacob had other plans. He’d mentioned the prospect of marriage to some of his colleagues casually enough that Dorothy knew he was considering it. She just hoped that she would stave it off long enough.
The two continued strolling around the cemetery, casually making their way toward the entrance but having no reason to rush. Two long, dirt paths curved through the center of the cemetery, the different shades of gray stone markings on either side as they walked. Leona let out a heavy sigh as Dorothy grabbed her hand and interlocked their fingers. “I just wish he was still here with us. He would know what to do, he always had the answers,” she said sadly.
“And he wouldn’t try to sell us off to one of his colleagues,” Dorothy stated dryly, emphasizing the word as her sister had done moments before.
“No, he definitely wouldn’t have done that. We shouldn’t have to do that, besides—we had enough money, before father died,” Leona said in exasperation.
“But we never saw a penny of it…” Dorothy recalled, practically cringing in response to what had happened in the weeks following her father’s death.
“I know, it’s not right. Papa was a wealthy man, he had plenty of money from all the mines he owned. And it never seemed like he was in debt to anyone, no gambling, none of that. But that lawyer said he did, said there was nothing left after the creditors were paid off,” Leona relayed. Dorothy bristled as she relived the confusion and rage from the first time she had heard it. It was a conversation they hadn’t had in a while but standing before their father’s grave reminded Dorothy of how it had ended.
“I still don’t believe it,” Dorothy said with a sass in her voice that left little room for argument. I still don’t believe it. Our father would not have risked our livelihood like that. She had hoped her uncle would listen to their arguments and try to help identify the truth to their missing fortune, but he had little interest in it, likely because he knew it would all go to them.
“Me neither. Papa never would have left us without anything, and he definitely wouldn’t have left it so that we needed to rely on Uncle Jacob to look after us.” Leona’s words wandered off as they both descended into their own thoughts.
As they walked out from under the gates of the cemetery and in the direction of Uncle Jacob’s townhome, Dorothy thought through her plan once again. She hadn’t told her sister yet; she had wanted to make sure everything was arranged so she didn’t get her sister’s hopes up prematurely. The idea that her sister might not agree or might feel abandoned set a nervous bubbling sensation in her stomach.
Eventually, Dorothy mustered up the courage, cleared her throat, and broke the silence. “Le, I have an idea…”
“What is it?” Leona responded casually, looping her arm through Dorothy’s so that they could walk closer together.
“Well. I’ve answered an ad for a mail-order bride in Missouri. It’s not for a few months, but I will marry a man there who owns a ranch. It would be a simple life, but better that I get to choose it myself and not that awful man Uncle Jacob has been bringing around more and more to meet with me.” Leona listened intently, her brow furrowing in interest but not saying a word in response. Dorothy was hesitant to continue, unsure of the entire plan, but the excitement in her sister’s eyes drove her to continue. “I already asked the man if I could bring you with me, and he agreed. He said I could send for you as soon as I’m settled, and you could work as a maid for the time being until you build your own life. I know it wouldn’t be glorious work and we know nothing about being housewives and maids, but I just—I don’t know, I thought at least it would be a life of our own choosing.”
Leona seemed to be considering her sister’s words until she stopped walking, pulling Dorothy to a halt. A slow smile pressed onto Leona’s face and continued to grow until she was brimming with excitement and jumping up and down on her toes. “Really? We’re getting out of here? Why didn’t you tell me?” Leona started spinning around and giggling as she tugged Dorothy down the sidewalk.
Dorothy couldn’t help but laugh in response. “Yes, we are. We’ll have to figure out what to do about Uncle Jacob but yes, we’re going to get out of Chicago. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you; I didn’t want to get your hopes up before I was sure about it.” Dorothy couldn’t help but feel lighter as relief washed over her at her sister’s excitement at the prospect of leaving the city and their uncle behind.
“Okay, I forgive you. But you must tell me everything. Who is he? What’s he like? Will there be animals? Oh, horses? I love horses!”
Dorothy let her sister ramble on with excited questions before she finally answered the most obvious one. “His name is Nathan Evelyn.” The name felt heavy on her tongue, and she hummed with nervous energy at the idea that in just a few months she could be married to a complete stranger. But at least, it would be a stranger of her choosing.
Three months later, Dorothy found herself pacing back and forth across the hardwood floor outside of her uncle’s office. The long hardwood floors creaked as if they had stories to tell as she paced, surrounded by yards of white walls and wooden doors that remained closed off to her. Today was the day she would break the news to him that she would be leaving to get married—and not to the man he wanted. He had grown more purposeful in bringing his friend and colleague, Mr. Niles McGrath, to meet with her and had even granted them a few brief moments of alone time. Dorothy knew she could wait no longer.
After their communications, Nathan had made it clear that she could come to Missouri at any time. And although she had planned to stay a bit longer, to save up enough money for the train ride, after hearing that Mr. McGrath would visit again the following day, Dorothy decided now was the time. She knew her uncle planned to use her marriage for his own benefit, to secure funds through the sale of her soul—and she couldn’t stomach it.
Her body buzzed with adrenaline, half tempting her to run up to her room and hide, but she knew hiding from her problems wouldn’t fix anything. She assumed that in some ways he would be pleased to be rid of them, but she was also well aware he had plans to benefit from their marriages.
Finally, she stopped pacing, standing up straight in front of the door and calming the raging inferno of panic that swelled inside her. She knocked firmly on the heavy wooden door and waited for his response.
“Come in!” he bellowed from inside. With one last sigh to cleanse her thoughts, she pushed open the door and stepped inside the room. Her uncle stood leaning over the desk, dressed in trousers, a white button-up shirt, and suspenders. He seemed to be rifling through a stack of papers, looking up only as she approached the desk. “What is it?” he asked in his signature bored tone, running a hand through his thick brown hair, which somehow further emphasized how truly disinterested he was in Dorothy’s presence. The one thing that had begun to distract her in the months since moving in with her uncle was the uncanny similarity between his and her father’s eyes—the same eyes she saw staring back at her in the reflective glass. And looking at them now, she saw their similarities, but one stark difference—a coldness that her father’s had never held.
“I need to speak with you,” she replied, trying to match his cool tone and not waver.
Looking around, she took in the large office space that she had only been granted an audience in a few times. Opulent, heavy mahogany bookshelves lined either side of the room, and her uncle sat at a matching desk. His chair was upholstered in green velvet that matched the one opposite his desk.
He tilted his head slightly, the action of her visiting his office being rare enough to spark his interest. He moved to settle into his chair and motioned for her to take a seat in the adjacent one. Training his dark brown eyes on her, he said, “Then speak.”
Dorothy didn’t waste time growing offended by his bluntness; it was who he was. “I have answered a mail-order bride ad in Missouri and will be leaving before the month’s end. Leona has also taken a position with the family, and I will be sending for her shortly after. I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but I know that you will be glad to see us off.” Dorothy’s pulse pounded in her ears as she spoke the words, trying to appear much calmer than she felt.
Jacob sucked his teeth and seemed to analyze her for a moment. His eyes flitted back and forth as if trying to recalculate a complex math problem. Eventually he slowly nodded. “You have already contacted the requesting husband? It has already been arranged?”
“Yes. It is a reputable family; they own a ranch and the man is in need of a wife as his fiancé passed away unexpectedly,” Dorothy informed him.
He nodded again. “Good. I wouldn’t want you to fall prey to a scam of some sort, but if you are sure, I will gladly see you off.” Dorothy froze at his words and had to force her eyes from narrowing out of suspicion. What’s the catch? “However, Leona will stay here. She doesn’t need to go with you; she will stay here and I will take care of her,” he said in a forceful tone that bore no room for argument.
Dorothy’s stomach dropped. As expected, he would not let her go without some sort of punishment under the guise of being the doting uncle.
“What do you mean, take care of her? She is my sister; we do everything together. There’s no reason she can’t come with me to start a new life.”
“It’s just that you are the one starting a new life. She doesn’t need to be in your shadow doing whatever work your new husband can find just because you two can’t be apart. That is no way to start a life, and Leona will come to resent you,” Jacob said. The words stated like facts gave Dorothy an uncomfortable sensation.
She wrinkled her nose in response. “That’s not true. She will have a find life. My new husband has already said that she can stay as long as she needs, until she finds the direction her life will take. She is no burden to me,” her words wavered at that, the truth ringing like a claxon in her head. “Especially when you won’t tell me what you have planned for her,” she let the slightest bit of challenge enter her voice to make up for the moments before.
Jacob cocked one eyebrow at her defiance, a motion that made her feel small and unimportant. “I have a lot going on in my business Dorothy, much of which you are not privy to. I need Leona here to accompany at functions and mingle with the other ruling class families. She must stay. There will be no further discussion on this, Dorothy. You’re excused.” He moved back to sort through the stack of papers on his desk, ignoring any further attempts from Dorothy to continue the conversation.
She let out a small sigh, disappointed in herself. She had thought that his punishments would be aimed at her, not her sister. But it felt like Leona was getting the brunt of the punishment and Dorothy couldn’t stomach it.
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