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The Mountain Man's Unexpected Baby

She flees west to become a mail-order bride. He needs to take care of an unexpected baby he found abandoned. How can two different people create a loving family and fight the past?

“You’ve brought the light back to my life, and I don’t think I’ll ever love anyone as much as I love you.”

Cora’s future is decided for her when her parents arrange a marriage to a wealthy older man. Refusing to be trapped in an unhappy life, she flees into the unknown West as a mail-order bride, with her faithful dog by her side, only to find herself in the oddest situation. How can she adapt to her new reality when nothing is as expected?

Richard is a mountain man of few words who prefers his isolation. He only agreed to a mail-order bride at his cousin’s urging, hoping to focus on his work without distraction. But finding a baby on his doorstep throws his plans into disarray. How will they adjust to their new circumstances and become a family when their marriage was only supposed to be a business deal?

Cora and Richard need to fight for themselves and another human being. Cora knows what it is like to be a doorstep baby and will do anything for this innocent soul. How can they keep this promise when the birth parents knock on their door, bringing danger?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author


4.4/5 (846 ratings)


New Orleans, Louisiana, 1881

“I’ll only take what I need,” Cora Watson said under her breath.

She wasn’t a thief. She was a good, honest girl, despite what her adoptive mother always said. As she felt under the Watsons’ mattress for the money she knew was hidden there, Cora tried to remind herself of that fact. When her fingers finally brushed against the worn leather purse with the Watsons’ paltry savings, she bit her lip hesitantly. It was wrong to steal; she had been taught as much.

But after years of unpaid labor in her foster family’s home and the constant criticism she had had to endure, Cora was having a hard time equating morality with staying in the Watson household. If she didn’t take the money, she was doomed. A shiver ran down her spine as she imagined walking down the aisle toward the man they had chosen to be her husband.

The Watsons were out that morning, but they would be back soon. There was no time for second-guessing.

“There’s more to life than this,” she reminded herself.

Everything had changed so quickly. Cora’s mind drifted back to the events that had led to her hasty escape. Earlier that day, she had been hiding in the cellar with a few books she had managed to smuggle into the house. It was the only chance she got to practice her reading and writing. As her Ma always reminded her, she was the product of evil, lazy parents who directly disobeyed the commandment of God by leaving their baby on the doorstep of a good Christian household.

By giving into their immoral lifestyles, Cora’s parents had plunged the good, hard-working Watson family into further poverty by forcing them to take in yet another mouth to feed. Even worse, they had left them a girl. Ma liked to emphasize that last part, as if forgetting that she had once been a girl too. Since Cora’s parents had been lazy, good-for-nothing heathens, it only stood to reason that Cora would turn out bad as well.

“You know what the Bible says about the sins of the father, don’t you, Cora?” Ma used to say often as she sat on the settee while Cora cooked and cleaned.

“Yes, Ma,” Cora would say meekly, bowing her head and looking appropriately shamed.

Earlier that day, Cora had sat and pulled her knees closer to her chest as she huddled behind a shelf full of foods that she had pickled in preparation for the winter. The cellar was her favorite hiding place and was only a few feet away from her tiny bedroom.

When she was little, she had been ashamed of her no-good parents and worked hard to please her adoptive family, the Watsons. She believed what Ma said about everything and accepted that she had been born bad. That was back when she was little, and Ma could easily grab her arm and throw her about.

But a strange thing had happened over the years. Cora got older and bigger. Now, all she felt for the Watsons was a seething resentment that grew each day.

She tried to remind herself about all the good they had done for her over the years, including providing her with food and board. Ma kept count of everything that Cora had used over the years and planned on making Cora work for her long after Cora got married. But Cora planned to be long gone by then.

When the floorboards above her head began creaking, she knew that the Watsons were up for the day. Cora glowered at the ceiling of the cellar and tried to make herself smaller. She quickly gathered her books and her pencil and shoved them into their hiding place beneath the shelf. No one besides her came into the cellar anyway, so it was unlikely that anyone would find them.

Ma thought that too much education was bad for girls as it allowed the devil to fill their heads with improper ideas. Cora had been taught to read, but only so that she could recognize which items to buy at the general store. Ma had shown her the basics, but Cora had secretly continued studying on her own.

At first, she used the Bible – the only book that was readily available in the house. Over the years, she had made friends with their neighbor, Mr. Hatton, a former teacher. Thankfully, he didn’t think that too much education was a bad thing.

Cora scrambled to her feet and quickly tied her apron behind her back before hurrying into the kitchen. She made it there a few seconds before Ma and began stoking the fire as if she had been there all along. Cora yawned for good measure, and Ma shot her a dirty look.

Cora didn’t look like anyone in the family. The Watsons were short, pale, fair-headed folks with watery blue eyes. Cora was at least a foot taller than Ma and had a strong build. She had dark, thick curly hair that tumbled down her back when she released it from the braid Ma insisted that she wear all the time. Her eyes were a deep emerald green and were so large that people couldn’t help but make eye contact when they looked at her. Unlike her adoptive family, her skin was a honeyed brown that only got darker in the sun when her family’s skin became pinker.

“There’s Indian blood somewhere in the mix,” Ma always commented with a sniff when referring to her adopted daughter.

Cora forced a smile at Ma out of habit as she rushed to get breakfast ready. At three and twenty, Cora knew that her days were numbered in the Watson household. From the time Cora could first understand words, Ma had told her in no uncertain terms that the moment Cora was of age, she would be married off to a respectable Christian man in the church lest she brings further reproach on the Watson family name.

“Busy day today?” Ma asked her husband, Mr. Watson.

“Same as usual,” he grunted.

Of course, all girls were flighty and needed to be married off as soon as possible otherwise they would get themselves into some sort of trouble. Cora wasn’t certain what sort of trouble she was supposed to get into, but Ma made it sound like the most shameful thing in the world.

She had nearly been married off when she was eighteen to a local tanner who had skin like leather and always smelled like sweat and coal. Thankfully, Ma had fallen ill that year and needed Cora’s help around the house. Tired of waiting, the tanner had married the baker’s daughter instead, a stout young woman who brought with her access to enough bread for a lifetime.

The Watsons were mere cobblers, which meant that they often missed out on opportunities like that since richer folk got in the way. Ma still cursed the baker in her nightly prayers, but Cora had been beyond relieved when she heard about the tanner’s marriage. In the years since she first began understanding words, she had come up with a different plan for herself.

“Will we have to wait long for breakfast this morning?” Mr. Watson said with a pointed look at Cora.

She got the point and hastened her movements, keeping her head down while she reflected on her plan.


In their bustling town nestled in the southern state of Louisiana, they often heard stories about the wild, wild west. It was a lawless place where men outnumbered women a hundred to one. Women there acted shamelessly. They were ungoverned, allowed to own businesses, work alongside men, and get divorced. All the activities on that list made Ma scowl, but the last one was enough to cause her to faint. Ma fainted often.

That wild place where the improper women lived and thrived was the center of Cora’s plan.

“You’re dragging your feet today, Cora,” Ma commented as she sat down in her seat next to the head of the table, “I’m sure I taught you to work quicker than that.”

Cora didn’t say anything. She had learned long ago that most of Ma’s commentary was best left unanswered. But there was a place where women would not be silenced. When Ma’s comments threatened to overwhelm Cora, she would retreat into a daydream world where she imagined her future in the West and worked on a plan to get there. She knew where she would go and mapped out the train journey, all that was left was the train fare. The only problem was that the Watsons never paid her and making money wasn’t an easy thing for a young woman to do. Cora bit her tongue to keep herself from saying anything snide. If she gave Ma any cheek, there was a chance that she would be stuck in the house all morning.

Cora kept an eye on the rising sun outside the wide kitchen windows, feeling a rising urgency within her. As she worked on preparing the Watsons’ usual breakfast of bread, butter, jam, and fresh coffee, she tried to ignore the way the family waited impatiently for her to be done.

Mr. Watson, known as Father to the boys, was a few inches taller than his wife and suffered from a perpetual squint. He was a man of few words who had only ever been Mr. Watson to Cora. He always gave her the distinct impression that she was a nuisance who was only barely tolerated. The boys, Jonah and Ezekiel, were both younger than Cora.

Jonah, in particular, was a menace who had mastered the art of making Cora’s life miserable. As she walked to the table to put their breakfast down, Jonah stuck his foot out in her path. She saw it too late and tripped over his foot. The food went flying and Cora stuck out her arms to keep herself from falling but scraped her hands on the rough wooden floor. The bread followed next to her, and the jam landed next to it with a sickening plop.

“Oh! You wretch!” Ma cried, jumping to her feet as some of the jam spattered on her dull grey skirt. “Look what you’ve done!”

Jonah snickered to himself and pulled a face at Cora when his mother’s back was turned. Even if Ma had seen it, she probably wouldn’t have said a thing. Ezekiel, the kinder brother, simply looked away. He was her favorite brother because he never did anything to hurt or humiliate her. She had looked after him when he was a little boy. Perhaps he still remembered how she used to feed, bathe, and care for him.

“I’m sorry, Ma,” Cora said, looking determinedly at the floor as she gathered the food. She was afraid that if she looked up then Ma would see exactly how unapologetic Cora was.

“There’s no correcting bad blood,” Ma spat to Mr. Watson in a furious tone. “Haven’t we done our best with this girl? No matter what I teach her, she never seems to get things right! Why were we afflicted with such a burden?”

Cora put the food down on the table a little harder than she meant to. Ma didn’t stop her tirade, and Ezekiel had the grace to look uncomfortable.

“I’ve had enough of this,” Ma seethed, glaring at Cora, “go get the milk, girl. I can’t stand the sight of you at this moment. Get out!”

Cora ran out the door before Ma could repeat her order. Thankfully, amidst the chaos, she had managed to sneak some bread into the pocket of her apron. As she hurried away from the small wooden house at the end of the street – the poorest street in town – she felt a spring in her step. She was free.

No one else was on the street that early in the morning, except for a few milk- and postmen, and she wasn’t worried that one of the nosy neighbors would see her. She made her way to the closest storm drain and bent down. After Cora whistled, a small fluffy form hurriedly made her way to her.

“Juno!” She cried when her small black dog jumped on his back paws and began licking her face profusely. “How I missed you!”

Juno was the brightest part of her life. She had found her a few years ago. The poor thing had been in a bad fight and had been full of wounds. Cora knew that the Watsons would never allow her to keep the dog, so she had found a way to keep Juno by moving her to various hiding spots around the neighborhood.

“Here, girly,” she whispered, taking the piece of bread out of her pocket.

Juno sat down and eyed the bread hungrily, but she held herself back and gave Cora a searching look. She nodded encouragingly and held it out to Juno.

“I already ate,” she lied, “this is yours.”

Juno didn’t need to be told twice and gingerly took the bread from her hand. Cora watched her eat with satisfaction. As long as Juno was taken care of, she could ignore the slight cramping in her stomach. She was used to it by now.

“One of these days, you and I are going to get out of here,” she promised Juno as she finished up her bread, “I’m going to find us a better place. You see, I’ve got a plan. I found this newspaper article. It’s about a school in Colorado Springs… They say women are welcome as long as their husbands allow it.”

Juno snuffled as she cuddled closer to Cora’s side. She had the softest black fur Cora had ever felt, despite her years on the street.

“All I need is an understanding husband,” Cora told Juno with a sigh. “Thing is, there’s not many of those around here. But I have a plan for that too! They say there are not enough women out west. There are plenty of men, just not enough wives. I was thinking… I could probably answer one of those mail-order ads and find myself a man who won’t mind a wife who reads. Maybe I could even find a man in Colorado Springs! Folks are more open-minded out there.”

Cora spoke quickly, trying to convince herself that her words were true. She had planned everything out in great detail, but she was well aware of the risks that her plan carried. While she had enjoyed the stories about independent women in the west, she had heard some gruesome stories too. If she wasn’t careful, she could end up as a beggar or worse.

Cora got the feeling that Juno sensed her uncertainty as she put her paw on Cora’s knee. The dog was her only friend and the best listener Cora had ever met. Cora wished she could spend all her time out on the street with Juno, but she knew that if she didn’t get back home to get her chores done, she would be in a world of trouble. Well, more trouble than she was already in.

Cora hurried back to the house and carefully made her way to the kitchen door after she made sure Juno was well hidden again. Thankfully, she met the milkman at the top of the road and was back home within minutes. As she was about to open the back door, she heard the Watsons speak.

Ma usually spoke in an obnoxious, loud voice as she didn’t care who heard her and felt that all her opinions were worth announcing. However, when Cora walked up to the door, she heard Ma talking in a low, but urgent, tone. That was enough to make her stop and put her ear to the door.

“Are you sure it’s final?” Ma asked, her voice dripping with eagerness.

“Yes,” Mr. Watson said, “Mr. Davis agreed to take her on with no dowry or trousseau. He said that he understood the situation. He’s just grateful to have a young wife. Cora’s young at least.”

Cora’s knees threatened to give out as dizziness gripped her. Davis was their lecherous neighbor who always stood beneath staircases as young ladies ascended. She had seen Mr. Davis that Sunday at church and had grimaced in disgust. He was in his late thirties and walked with a pronounced limp. Mr. Davis had caught her eye and smiled at her with an almost conspiratorial expression. Cora had shuddered at the sight of his near-toothless gums.

“Good,” Ma said in a satisfied voice. “He’s a good Christian man. It’s a respectable match. When can he take her?”

Cora clenched her eyes shut as her heart began beating painfully fast.

“By this weekend,” Mr. Watson said, “I’ll head down to the church and arrange everything with the pastor. He won’t mind it.”

Cora pushed herself away from the door and hurried down the street. Suddenly, her situation was extremely precarious. Cora had dealt with the Watsons her whole life and she had hesitated about enacting her plan to head West as her fear of the unknown was greater than her fear of the Watsons.

Now, her fear of a life chained to Mr. Davis made all her fears and doubts about the west seem trivial. She would be married by the weekend, which only gave her two days to put her plan in motion. That wasn’t enough time, but Cora knew she would have to get out sooner.

There was no way she would be able to look any of the Watsons in the eye without screaming. She felt a wild urgency spring up in her chest. Cora was a trapped animal and she could barely think past her panic.

She waited until Mr. Watson and the boys left for work. Thankfully, Ma was supposed to visit one of the old women in the congregation that day, so she left soon after the boys. Once the house was empty, Cora snuck up into Ma and Mr. Watson’s room. She didn’t know how much she would need for the train tickets, but after building up her courage, she stuck her hand in between the mattress and felt around for the bills.

“I’ll only take what I need,” she promised herself.

Cora shoved her conscience into a tiny box in the back of her mind and counted out a few bills that seemed enough to sustain a woman on the road. Then, she packed a small bag with her meager belongings and rushed out the door. Juno was waiting for her outside the house, and together they set off toward the train station. Cora never looked back.

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