His sister set him up with an unexpected bride. She didn’t expect to find a new family on an isolated ranch in Colorado. How can they explore love when both have been hurt by the people they loved most?
In the wake of her abusive husband’s tragic death, Grace is left with nothing but debt and a sense of hopelessness. When the bank threatens to take her home, she decides to take a chance on a mail-order bride ad. How can she trust a man again when her heart is afraid to love?
Henry, a grumpy and solitary rancher, has struggled to raise his daughter alone since his wife’s passing. After his sister places an ad for a mail-order bride without his knowledge, Henry finds himself with a new and unexpected partner in Grace. How can he stay true to this marriage of convenience when his heart beats faster every time he sees her?
As the two learn to explore an unexpected love, they must also confront a villainous businessman who will stop at nothing to acquire Henry’s property. How will they navigate their pasts to fight for their future together when everything is at stake?
Evergreen, Colorado, 1880
The water in the pot on the stove began to bubble furiously as steam rose into the air. On the ceiling above the stove, tiny droplets began to form and as they did, they reflected the light from the small candle burning quietly in the corner of the tiny, dark kitchen.
Grace Steele sighed softly to herself as she tipped the bowl of shredded cabbage into the boiling water. She knew that Alva would complain that they were having cabbage again; it was the fourth time that week and she was sick of it too but what was she to do? She could not tell Alva the truth—that the little tin she kept in the pantry cupboard was empty and they had no money for food. He would find a way to blame her, although it was not her fault; none of it was and yet she was always the one who paid the price—and with Alva, the price was always high.
Grace turned away from the stove for a moment, scanning the room for the small pot of salt sitting on the table near the window. She intended to try and make the cabbage taste like something other than cabbage, even if it was a near-impossible task. As Grace picked up the small pot of salt, she caught sight of her reflection in the window, her long, chestnut-colored hair in a loose plait down her back and dark rings under her brown, almond-shaped eyes. She was a young woman, only just twenty, and yet she looked older, her youthful glow gone.
Grace heard laughter from in the street below and saw a group of girls, probably about her age, strolling arm in arm. She could not remember ever feeling that carefree. Sometimes it felt to Grace as if she’d never been young or happy or anything more than what she was now, a bird trapped in a cage.
She sighed as she looked away from the window and carried the small pot over to the stove. She added the salt, which was also nearly finished with no means to buy more. As Grace returned the salt to its place on the highest shelf of the pantry cupboard, the sleeve of her blouse slid down her arm toward her elbow, revealing five oval-shaped bruises. Grace’s eyes settled on the grab mark for a moment, her mind flashing back to the night before. She could not remember what the fight had been about. Usually it was nothing, a look he didn’t like, or the tone of her voice. Grace was always careful to be as invisible as possible, but that didn’t matter when Alva was looking to pick a fight. While Grace could not remember how it had begun, it had ended the same way—with her hurt and Alva apologizing.
Grace pulled the sleeve of her blouse over her bruises. It did no good to think too long about Alva’s temper. She’d wasted hours and hours of her life on tears and regrets and it did not change a single thing.
She returned to the cabbage, which she removed from the heat and drained the milky water off, leaving nothing but the steaming cabbage. Grace then placed a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove and added the shredded cabbage with the diced potatoes that she had cooked earlier. She mixed the cabbage and potato together, wishing she had something to add to it, a few rinds of bacon or a nice piece of salted pork.
She peered out of the kitchen window looking out into the street but it was empty. Alva was usually home by now and Grace worried that the supper would not keep. Still, there wasn’t much to be done about it and so Grace stepped away from the stove and took a seat at the small kitchen table.
Suppertime had always been the highlight of Grace’s day when she was younger, before she met Alva and became his wife. Her mother had taught her to cook when she was just a girl and it had been something they’d done together. Her father was a doctor who owned a small but successful practice and they lived in the rooms above.
Grace did not see much of her father during the day, save for lunchtime when he would always come upstairs and join them. Afterward he would return to his patients and Grace would wait patiently for them all to be together again at suppertime. Grace’s father worked hard and would only come back upstairs long after the sun had gone. Grace would always wait at the door for him and as soon as he saw her, he would pull her into his arms, his long, dark whiskers tickling her chin.
They’d go into the kitchen where her mother would be waiting. Grace always loved seeing how her father looked at her mother, as if they had a special secret that no one else knew. Even as a little girl, Grace knew that she wanted someone to look at her like that.
A sudden knock at the door startled Grace from her thoughts and she did not move for a moment. Alva would not knock and she wasn’t expecting anyone else so late in the day. There was another sharp rap and Grace got up from her seat and hurried over to the door. She pulled it open to reveal a short woman with fair hair and rosy cheeks, breathing heavily.
“Jenny,” Grace said in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“You must come,” Jenny panted. “There’s been an accident at the mine.”
Grace frowned, not quite understanding for a moment, but then she glanced over Jenny’s shoulder to see people in the street, hurrying in the direction of the Evergreen mine.
“Come on,” Jenny insisted, grabbing Grace’s hand and dragging her out of the house.
Grace’s mind raced as she hurried down the street with Jenny at her side. Jenny Mills had moved in next door to Grace over two years ago and they’d become fast friends. Jenny was a few years older than Grace, but she had a youthful spirit and a sense of humor that kept Grace smiling on even the darkest days.
Her husband, Fergus, worked in the mines with Alva, although the two men were not friends; Grace suspected long ago that Jenny had told her husband about Alva’s nasty temper and Fergus did not wish to associate with a man who was cruel to his wife. Fergus was the opposite of Alva and Grace was often envious of Jenny for having a husband who loved, cared for, and protected her.
Soon the Evergreen mine came into view, looming in front of them. The mine, like many in Colorado, was owned by the Silver King, Horace Tabor. He’d started out in Leadville and now was one of the wealthiest men in the whole state.
Grace followed Jenny to where a crowd of people had gathered.
“What happened?” Grace asked.
“Part of the mine collapsed,” a short man replied.
Grace’s chest tightened as she imagined what it must feel like to be trapped beneath the ground with nothing to breathe but earth and dirt.
“How many men?” Jenny asked.
“Thirty or so, I reckon,” the man replied.
Grace turned to look at Jenny, whose pale face was now gray, but before Grace had time to say something comforting, someone cried out and she turned to see a group of miners coming toward them. At first none of them were recognizable; they were covered in sand and dirt, some of them bleeding, others limping. The group craned their heads as the men came nearer and a moment later, Jenny’s hands flew to her mouth and she whimpered—among the men was Fergus.
Without a word, Jenny rushed forward and threw herself into his arms. Fergus clutched her tightly as Jenny sobbed against his chest. A few more women broke away from the group as they recognized their husbands, sons, or brothers, but Grace did not move. Alva was not among those men.
She turned to find Jenny by her side again, her hand clutching Fergus’s hand tightly.
“Did you see Alva?”
Fergus said nothing for a moment and then he exhaled sharply. “Alva was deep in the mine with some of the other men. When the roof collapsed, we were near enough the front to dig ourselves out—”
Fergus stopped talking for a moment and looked at Jenny, who pursed her lips, and Grace knew they were speaking that same wordless language that her own parents used to speak and she knew what it meant.
“He’s not coming out, is he?” Grace asked, her voice trembling slightly.
“No,” Fergus said, shaking his head sadly. “I don’t think Alva or the other men could have survived.”
Grace nodded, just once, and she could feel Jenny and Fergus’s eyes on her, but she continued to stare into the distance, not meeting their gaze. Her thoughts were on all the men who now laid buried beneath the earth and her stomach felt hollow as she tried to comprehend what it meant for all their families and the people who loved and depended on them.
For Grace, the fact that Alva was never coming home meant that she would not have to hide anymore, or suffer the pain of his cruelty; that meant that she could breathe easier again and yet despite this sense of relief, Grace knew that would not have wished that fate on anyone, not even Alva.
Evergreen, Colorado, 1881
The Evergreen mining accident claimed the lives of twenty men, many of whose bodies were never recovered, remaining buried beneath the earth in unmarked graves. After the collapse, the mine was forced to pay compensation to the families of the deceased.
Those miners who survived the collapse claimed compensation for injuries and soon the mine found itself in trouble. No one knew, but the Evergreen mine had been in financial trouble for years and the collapse crippled it. Management decided it wasn’t worth the money it would take to get it up and running again and so the Evergreen mine was closed.
The loss of the mine was a huge blow for the town and with so many men without work, things took a turn for the worse. Some of them, like Fergus, were able to secure jobs on ranches, but Evergreen had been a mining town for so long that ranches were scarce and many men were left without work. As the saying went, idle hands were the devil’s workshop, and soon the town of Evergreen became a town of gamblers, drunkards, and bandits.
Grace hated seeing the town sink so low. This was her home, the place where she’d grown up, but it was slowly turning into a place she did not recognize. A few months earlier, Grace had returned home to find the kitchen door kicked in and when she went inside, the whole place had been ransacked.
There hadn’t been much to take, but what there was had gone—the few pieces of jewelry her mother had left her, as well as her father’s medical tools. Fergus came over that afternoon and fixed the back door, but Grace was unsettled by the event. It appeared that, while Alva might be gone, trouble was not finished with her yet.
The afternoon sun was streaming in through the grimy kitchen windows as Grace sighed softly and sat back in her chair. On the table in front of her sat a letter from the bank. A year had passed since Alva’s death and yet Grace had not been able to get on top of things. Before Alva had died, Grace knew things were tight, but she hadn’t known just how much debt they were in. She’d no idea that Alva had gambled away so much money and that he owed money to so many people.
After his death, she had learned that he had taken out a second mortgage on the house. She had spent the last year paying off the interest on the debts; that was where Alva’s compensation had gone, but it had lasted only a few months.
When that money was gone, Grace sold everything she could—Alva’s clothes, her clothes, some books that belonged to her mother, her wedding dress—but it all came to nothing but pocket change. With each passing day, Grace grew more and more desperate and yet she did not know what to do. The letter from the bank was a final request to make a payment.
“Hi,” Jenny said, suddenly peering around the back door. “Can I come in?”
Grace nodded as she quickly folded the letter and pushed it under her elbow just as her friend stepped into the kitchen and took the seat across from her. Grace was embarrassed at the state of the kitchen; the floor desperately needed to be swept and there were cobwebs in the corners, yet she had no energy to make things nice. She was too busy worrying about whether she would still have a roof over her head come this time next week.
“What’s in the basket?” Grace asked.
Jenny said nothing as she placed the basket on the table between them and then pushed it toward Grace, but she hesitated before opening it. Jenny and Fergus had been more than generous over the past months, giving her food and sometimes money, and while Grace was grateful, she eventually put a stop to it. They were not responsible for her debts and she would not take any more from them. She knew that they were trying to start a family and would need every penny when the time came.
“Just open it,” Jenny insisted.
Frowning, Grace took the basket in her lap and looked inside to find a collection of shirts with missing buttons, trousers with tears, and socks that needed to be darned.
“Are these Fergus’s?” she asked, frowning.
Jenny shrugged but Grace knew that they were Fergus’s.
“You could mend these yourself,” Grace insisted.
“I’m so clumsy,” Jenny argued. “I always stick myself with a needle and you are so much neater than I am.”
Over the past few months, Grace had been offering sewing services as a means to make money, but it had not turned out to be as lucrative as she had hoped. Grace was a good sewer, and fast, but most women in town would rather be shot dead than have other women do their husband’s mending. For them it was a matter of pride, something a wife was supposed to do, and so Grace had not secured much work. The wealthy women, those who might send their sewing and mending, had left Evergreen months ago, worried about the rise in theft and other crimes.
“I know that you don’t want charity,” Jenny said. “But this isn’t that, you’d be helping me out.”
Grace looked at her friend for a moment before she shook her head and sighed. “You and Fergus should be saving your money, for when you have a baby.”
Jenny pursed her lips and Grace’s heart sank. She knew how much Jenny wanted a baby but they had not had any luck for years. It seemed as if it would take nothing short of a miracle now.
“Listen to me,” Grace said, reaching across the table for Jenny’s hand. “Don’t lose hope, okay?”
Jenny nodded but Grace could see the hint of hopelessness in her blue eyes.
“What can I do to make you feel better?” Grace volunteered.
“Say you will do Fergus’s mending and allow us to pay you for it?”
Jenny smiled and Grace was relieved to see that cheeky twinkle she loved so much was back.
“Fine,” Grace agreed, somewhat begrudgingly.
Her friend grinned and Grace returned a smile. She was grateful to have Jenny and Fergus; they were the glue holding her together at this point and she needed them, more than she realized.
“What is that?” Jenny asked suddenly, eyeing the letter from the bank.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Grace insisted.
Jenny said nothing but Grace saw a wrinkle on her smooth brow and she knew that she was worried. Still, Grace wanted to try and fix things on her own.
“I am sorry, Mrs. Steele,” the bank manager said, removing his gold-rimmed glasses and polishing them with a starched white handkerchief. “But if you cannot begin paying off more than the interest on the mortgage, then we will have no choice but to foreclose.”
Grace’s heart sunk to the floor. She had been certain that this was what she would be told and yet a small part of her had still hoped that maybe, just maybe, the bank might make an exception.
“I know things are difficult,” the manager said, putting his glasses back on. “But the economic climate in Evergreen has changed and we can’t make any more exceptions.”
Grace nodded but said nothing as she got up from her chair. She left the bank without another word but as she stepped onto the street, her chest felt tight and she took deep breaths, trying to calm down. She could not make any more payments to the bank, so she would lose the house, and although it had never felt like home to her, she still felt the loss, and her stomach felt hollow.
A short while later, Grace pushed the back door open and stepped into the kitchen. There was a chill in the air and so she lit a fire. It was an extravagance because she barely had two handfuls of coal left, but at that moment she just needed to feel the warmth of a fire and to hear the cheerful crackle.
Grace pulled a chair out from under the table and placed it in front of the small coal fire. She then fetched the basket of sewing Jenny had given her and set to work. As she sewed a button onto one of Fergus’s shirts, Grace thought back to the days that she would sit in front of the fire with her mother, sewing or knitting. They were such simpler times when Grace had not a care in the world and she held on to these memories and pulled them around her shoulders like a blanket whenever the darkness threatened to take over.
She had just finished darning Fergus’s socks when Jenny arrived. She had come to find out what had happened with the bank, but Grace did not have to say anything. The look on her face was enough.
“You can move in with us,” Jenny suggested.
Grace smiled at her generous, warm-hearted friend. She knew that Jenny and Fergus would give her the shirts off their backs if she asked.
“That is kind, Jenny,” Grace said. “But there is barely room for you and Fergus.”
“We can make up a bed for you on the sofa,” Jenny said.
Grace smiled and shook her head. “You are trying to start a family. The last thing you need is me sleeping in your living room.”
Jenny said nothing for a long moment before she sighed. “I want to show you something. But you need to promise me that you won’t get mad.”
Grace frowned but said nothing as she waited for Jenny to continue.
“Here,” she said, reaching into her skirt pocket and removing a piece of newspaper folded in two.
Grace took the newspaper from her and unfolded it.
A gentleman of 25 years who is a widower and a successful ranch owner desires to correspond with a young lady between the ages of 18 and 25 with a view to matrimony. She must be a domesticated person, with a gentle nature, as well as someone fond of home and good with children. The gentleman in question is not looking for a love match but a partner to aid him in daily pursuits and with raising his young daughter. Address with the editor.
When she was finished reading, Grace looked up at Jenny, who was watching her tentatively.
“You don’t mean for me to apply?” she said in surprise, her brown eyes widening.
Jenny said nothing for a moment but Grace could say by the way that she was chewing the inside of her cheek that it was exactly what she had in mind.
“No, Jenny,” Grace said, folding up the advertisement and handing it back to her. “I won’t marry again, you know that.”
Jenny did not take the piece of paper from Grace; instead she kneeled so that she was at eye level with Grace. She took her two hands in hers.
“Just think about it,” Jenny said. “The man is not looking for a love match, he simply wants a housekeeper and someone to help care for his daughter—”
“I can’t,” Grace cried, her voice rising a few octaves.
Jenny continued to chew the inside of her cheek as Grace got up from her chair, the sock on her lap falling to the floor as she walked over to the small window. After Alva died, Grace vowed that she would never marry again. How could she after everything that had happened with Alva? He had broken her and she was only just holding all of the pieces together.
Grace turned to see Jenny watching her, her blue eyes wide with concern, and yet her jaw was set in determination.
“I can’t believe you are even suggesting this,” Grace exclaimed, shaking her head.
“Well, you won’t let us help you,” Jenny argued, the color now high in her cheeks as she frowned at Grace. “You refuse to accept any kind of charity and so what are we supposed to do? Sit here and watch you lose your home? Everything?”
Grace said nothing but she knew Jenny was right. She did not want anyone’s charity or their pity. She was tired of being weak, but she felt stuck.
“I know that Alva was cruel and he hurt you,” Jenny continued, her face softening. “But this life that you are living now? It’s no life. Alva may be dead but you are still paying the price for being married to him. You deserve more, Grace. You deserve to be happy.”
“And you think this will make me happy?” Grace asked.
“I think it’s a fresh start.”
Grace said nothing for a moment, but her mind was racing.
“This man could be exactly like Alva,” Grace insisted.
“Or he could be nothing like Alva,” Jenny countered.
All those years ago she had been fooled into thinking Alva was a good man and she’d married him only to realize too late that he was a monster. How could she be sure about any man again? Even now, a year after his death, Grace still heard Alva’s voice, whispering in her ear, telling her she was worthless, unlovable. She could not marry a man like that again; she knew that she would not survive it.
“I know this is a lot to consider,” Jenny said. “But you’ve lost so much of your life to Alva that it pains me to see him still controlling your life. You need to do something, Grace, you need to take control, because you are disappearing in front of our eyes. ”
Grace sighed as she looked at her friend, whose face was lined with concern. She knew Jenny was right. She’d lost so much of her life to Alva; even after his death, he was still controlling her life and most of the time she felt as if she were sleepwalking. None of her clothes fitted her properly anymore and she could barely remember the last time she’d eaten a decent meal. She’d lost herself and she knew this, but was walking into the home of a stranger really the only solution?
Jenny suddenly got up from the floor and walked over to her. She put her arms around Grace and held her tightly before letting go.
“Think about it, okay?”
Grace nodded and then Jenny was gone and she was left alone, the advertisement still crumpled in her hand.
Grace went to bed early that evening, having had nothing but two spoonfuls of beans for supper. She struggled to fall asleep that night, but when she finally did, she dreamed sweet dreams about a past life, one that had been lost a long time ago.
When Grace woke in the early hours, the cold dawn light trickled in through the hole in the curtains and she lay completely still for a long moment, thinking about the dream she had just woken from and how real it felt. It had been as if her father were sitting on the end of the bed; she could even smell that faint scent of pipe tobacco. In her dream he had leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead, just as he had done every night when she was a child.
“Sleep tight, Gracie,” he whispered. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Grace had looked up at him and smiled, but then suddenly, her smile faltered and her father frowned.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I’m scared,” Grace said.
“Of what?” he asked. “Of monsters under the bed?”
Grace shook her head. “Monsters don’t live under the bed. They walk around in broad daylight just like you and me.”
Grace’s father smiled as he placed his cool hand on the side of her face. “You don’t need to worry about monsters. I’ll keep you safe.”
“But what about after you are gone?”
Grace’s father did not stop smiling as he looked into her soft brown eyes. “Whenever you get scared, I want you to remember something for me, okay? I want you to remember that sometimes we need to stop running away from what we are afraid of and start chasing what we want.”
The young Grace had not understood exactly what her father meant as she fell asleep, but the adult Grace, the one who’d woken up from the dream, knew exactly what her father was trying to tell her.
It was time to stop running and to go after what she wanted. And what Grace truly wanted above all was to feel safe again, to find happiness and a refuge where she might begin to heal from her trauma and rediscover the person she once had been.
Grace swung her legs over the side of the bed and padded across the floor, barely noticing the cold as she searched for a pen and paper in the old writing desk beneath the window. When she found what she was looking for, she sat down and in the cool dawn light, she began to write a reply to the advertisement. As she did, she kept her dream at the forefront of her mind and it gave her the courage she needed to face her fears and to move toward an unknown future.
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Looks like a good story
Thank you so much, Gwen! Can’t wait to read your overall opinion, as always!😊🤠
Enjoyed the preview.
Thank you so much, Karen! I hope you’ll like the whole book. Can’t wait to read your overall opinion!🤠❤️
I’ll have a hard time waiting for the book to come. I just love these books about the mail order brides. Always high adventure.
Thanks Marge! I am thrilled to hear that you are eagerly anticipating its release. Knowing that readers are excited to delve into the world and characters that I have created is one of the most rewarding parts of being an author!🤩❤️
The prolog and 1st chapter sure start out with an Exciting story.
I’m so happy you like it, Elaine! Can’t wait to read your overall opinion! 🤠❤️
I love reading the first chapter of this book it was very enjoyable. Now the hard part is the waiting for the rest of the book.
I’m so happy you enjoyed it! It’s always great to receive positive feedback from readers. Thank you for your kind words and support!!!🤠❤️
Looking forward to reading this book. I loved the introduction chapter.
Thank you so much for your comment, Kathy! I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the introduction chapter, and I hope the rest of the book lives up to your expectations. Happy reading!🤠