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Whispers of the Unwanted Mountain Bride

Her unexpected arrival as a mail-order bride is an unwelcome surprise for him. But as danger looms their fates become intertwined in ways neither expected…

Clara is determined to lift her family out of poverty through a marriage of convenience. As a mail-order bride, she arrives at her new home hoping for a warm welcome. Instead, she finds an unprepared, handsome rancher who is far from pleased and not the one who placed the ad…

Howard, a rugged cowboy, vowed never to love again after his wife’s death. With his sister-in-law unable to help, his family places a mail-order bride ad for him. Initially irritated by Clara’s arrival, Howard’s guarded heart begins to soften under her warmth…

Clara and Howard face the challenges of forming new family bonds and battling the threats of a gang attack. United by love and determination, their story is one of healing, resilience, and new beginnings in the untamed West…

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author


Cricket Creek, Oklahoma – 1880


Clara Johnson raised her arm to her mouth, coughing into the bend of her elbow, hoping the noise of it would disguise the low grumbling of her hungry stomach. Lunch had been sparse, nothing more than cabbage stewed in water and a bit of stale bread, and not even enough of it to go around. She had deliberately put more into her younger siblings’ bowls, skimping on her own portion.

She had hoped that by doing so, some of the hollowness in their cheeks would have thinned out. That the hunger that so frequently lingered behind their eyes would have dulled a bit. But, alas, it had not worked. And so, Clara had resorted to card games, hoping that their competitive nature would drown out their growling bellies. This, thankfully, seemed to have done the trick.

Lawrence yelled excitedly, slapping the Queen of Spades down atop her Ten of Diamonds and Maybelle’s Joker of Hearts.

“I’ve got you!” he cried out, holding his too-thin arms above his head in victory as he grinned ferociously at his two sisters.

“You rascal,” Maybelle teased, looking affectionately at her youngest sibling.

Lawrence was the pride and joy of all of his sisters. Clara and her twin, Julia, who had celebrated their twenty first birthdays at the end of spring, and their baby sister, Maybelle, who would soon be ten, all adored their seven-year-old brother. Even when they were hungry, even when they were sad, Lawrence’s unfettered joy for life was infectious in the Johnson household. As the eldest, Julia and Clara loved both their younger siblings as if they were their own. They were already eleven years old when their mother and father, who had always wanted a bigger family, finally conceived Maybelle. Three years later their first, and only brother arrived. No siblings could be closer than the Johnson children.

“I am no rascal!” Lawrence protested, reaching forward to swipe the cards off of the floor in front of them and putting them in the small pile he had accumulated beside him. “Just because I keep beating you. You really should learn how to lose without calling names, Maybelle.”

Their sister rolled her eyes, her blonde hair shining in the weak winter sun streaming through the windows of the family room where they all sat. A comfortable silence passed over the siblings, one that was quickly filled by the sound of their parents talking in hushed tones in the kitchen.

“It isn’t enough.” Her mother’s voice was low and filled with pain. “No matter how much extra work Julia is able to bring in, they’re all still hungry.”

“I don’t know what to do, Jolene,” their father answered, his own tone filled with anguish. “You know since my injury, no one will hire me for labor. I keep trying, keep going down to the guild and asking around at the farms to see if they have something, anything, for me to do. But I can’t find nothin’.”

“I know, Sol, I know.”

Her mother’s voice was resigned, filled with a sadness that Clara knew all too well. It had been over a year since her father’s leg had been crushed under a mining cart. Before then, their funds had been thin, but they had never truly gone without. Over the last year, however, times had become more and more challenging. Clara hadn’t taken on work like her twin had; her mother needed help caring for the younger children and a disabled husband at home. But Clara could see that her sister wouldn’t be able to sustain the family finances on her own for much longer.

Not long after her father’s injury, the mine had officially closed And with it, went the miners that were still able-bodied enough to work. It was detrimental to the town’s shops, which were staffed by the families of the miners. As each family moved away, more shops were forced to close. Now, the once bustling place was little more than a ghost town and failing ranches. They had been lucky that Julia had been able to secure employment with the town’s seamstress. The woman was talented and had been adamant that Julia learned everything that she knew.

But while Julia made incredibly fair wages, especially for something deemed woman’s work, it wasn’t nearly enough to keep food on the table for a family of six. Clara’s eyes flicked back to her two younger siblings, noticing that they, too, had overheard the conversation between their parents.

She cleared her throat, tapping the deck of cards on her leg as she began to shuffle them.

“What do you say?” she asked, glad when her voice did not crack and betray the worry that was seeping into her bones. “Want to go another round?”

Maybelle and Lawrence both nodded, but the vigor that had been there moments before had left entirely. Clara shuffled the cards once more before beginning to hand them out, doing her very best to cheer up her siblings once more because she knew that, while times were tough, they were only going to get tougher as they began heading into the heart of winter. And one of the things that could beat them just as easily as hunger, was giving into the sadness and despair that so often accompanied it.


Clara hummed to herself, wrapping her threadbare coat a little more firmly around her. The fabric strained around her slim shoulders as she burrowed into it for warmth. It didn’t provide much, not after multiple years of wear and growth. But they did not have money for any more fabric, so it would have to do.

The ruddy ground beneath her feet was ice cold, the dirt of the road mixing with the sleet that had fallen overnight, freezing her toes within her boots as she made it into town. It was a daily ritual of hers, walking into town at the end of the day to meet Julia for a small, quick supper. It was the reason she was able to sacrifice her portions to Maybelle and Lawrence. The kind seamstress had seen their hollow cheeks and taken pity on them.

The sound of flapping paper caught her attention, and Clara cast a sidelong glance to her left, finding a newspaper laying atop a broken, discarded chair that had been set outside a vacated lean-to. It had been a while since her family had had an extra penny for a newspaper, and she found herself curious as she walked forward and grabbed it.

It was from four days prior, which was normal in Cricket Creek. Once the mine had left, it was like the rest of the world had entirely forgotten that they existed, and they no longer regularly received news from the other towns. The best they could hope for when it came to hearing word from other places was for the paperman to stop to water his horse in the dying little town. All around her, buildings were falling into disrepair from months of being uninhabited.

Iron hinges on shanty houses were rusted, creaking, and groaning as the wind blew against the walls. Windows had been broken when looters had come through, and with no one around to care to fix them, they remained, the broken edges of the glass jutting up from the frames, like teeth gnashing at the passersby.

A chill shook Clara at the thought, and she dipped her head against the wind, forging her way deeper into the heart of town. She and her family lived by the outermost line of houses to with the fields opening up behind them. It used to be one of her favorite things about their home, the views that she was able to enjoy.

But now, it only served as a reminder that they couldn’t afford to move further into Cricket Creek, and that they were so easily forgotten by the rest of the townsfolk.

She reached the seamstresses shop, climbing up the wooden stairs. They creaked and groaned under her weight, one of the slats even going so far as to shift as she took the final step onto the porch, but it did not give way. Before Clara even had the opportunity to knock, the front door of the house that doubled as Miss Lottie’s shop was pulled open.

Julia stood on the other side of it, grinning.

“It’s about time you got here,” Julia chastised, reaching forward and grabbing hold of Clara’s arm to yank her into the building. “Miss Lottie said we were gonna have to eat without you if you didn’t hurry up your behind!”

Clara laughed, allowing herself to be tugged further into the cozy rooms, toward the back of the house where she knew the woman in question was waiting.

Miss Lottie sat at the small, round, wooden table in the kitchen, a fire crackling merrily in the wood-burning stove in the far corner. It was warm, and immediately Clara’s cheeks began to burn with the relief of it, a stark contrast to the biting cold of the late November, Oklahoma air.

“We got a bit of a mash-up for you girls,” Miss Lottie said, pointing to the ham, mashed potatoes, and corn that was resting on the plates at the table. “Had a bit of stuff that I needed to use up.”

Miss Lottie always did that, especially on days when the meal was bigger than normal. It hadn’t skipped Clara’s attention that the days that their plates were a little fuller tended to coincide with when she and Julia had had to tie their belts around their dresses a little tighter. Her twin, however, always seemed oblivious to that fact, and Clara had never been able to bring it up to her, for fear that Julia would baulk at the sign of pity being displayed.

The three of them settled easily into their daily routine, with Miss Lottie pouring tea for the two girls, and Julia prattling on about her day and the things she had gotten to do. Today was a bit different, however; and Miss Lottie seemed a little despondent. Clara, who, as always, was sitting quietly and observing the two of them together, noticed that the woman only nodded and hummed her ascent, instead of engaging in the conversation.

Julia, with her easily excitable nature, was more than happy to fill in the silence, oblivious to the shift in the woman that had provided them their meal.

Unable to focus on the conversation, especially as Julia started to go into details about cross stitching and the like, Clara pulled out the newspaper that she had grabbed and laid it on the table.

The headlines were relatively uninteresting, things that she had already heard whispered about from the mouths of the few families that she had interacted with in the last few days. But, as she recalled the conversation she’d overheard her parents having, she flipped through the pages with a spark of hope bubbling in her chest, searching for the job listings.

When she got to the section where they were usually housed, she lifted a slightly shaking finger to the smooth paper, running it down the lines of the type. With each passing listing, Clara’s heart sank. They were all jobs for men, and all outside of Cricket Creek. That was, until a line of script close to the bottom of the page caught her attention.


Clara’s heart began to hammer excitedly as her attention grew, devouring the words within the job listing. But the more that she read, the more her hope sank all over again.

27-year-old widower seeking woman for a marriage of convenience in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Job includes room and board, as well as a generous salary for any additional needs. Your primary role, outside of wife and companion, would be to care for a five-year-old daughter.

The words were followed by an address and instructions on how to inquire about the job. Clara shook her head, folding the paper in defeat. She could never do a job like that. Marriage wasn’t supposed to be something you got paid to do; it was supposed to be about love, about the joining of two souls.

She thought of her mother and father, and of all the things that their love had gotten them through. Even through the tough times, their affection for one another had always remained palpable.

Also, the job would require her to move to Colorado and she couldn’t leave her family. She glanced up at Julia, watching as her twin, the other half of her soul, chatted excitedly to Miss Lottie, who was still nodding along at whatever it was Julia was saying. Clara’s heart squeezed at the thought of leaving her, of not seeing her face, so much like her own, every single day.

They had never been apart; never, not once. Not for more than a few hours. So, no, she would not be writing and inquiring about the job posting.

But, at least, Clara thought, folding the paper a little bit more so that she could tuck it into the large pocket of her coat, we can use the paper as lining for our boots. It’ll keep our toes warm, so that’s something.

Chapter One

Cricket Creek, Oklahoma – 1880


Clara bent over, the swaths of calico fabric of her winter dress swishing as she steadied herself to lace up her boots. The newspaper that she had brought home a few days ago sat, discarded, on the small, wooden chair beside the door. She’d been meaning to rip it up into strips to stuff into their boots, but she just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

When she was finished tying her laces, she stood, grabbing her coat off of one of the hooks by the door. She regarded it, noting just how shabby it looked in the quickly waning light. Her stomach gurgled hungrily, reminding her that it was time to get into town and to Miss Lottie’s.

Once again, lunch had been a scant affair, and she had completely forgone her portion to make sure that Maybelle and Lawrence were able to eat. She had felt guilty for even considering taking her own meager scraps, not when she knew there would be something for her at Miss Lottie’s later that evening.

“I’m heading to town to see Julia,” Clara called out, her voice ringing through the house loud and clear.

Her family, who were all sitting in the family room around the pitiful, sputtering fire, trying to keep warm with the little bit of firewood that they were able to scrounge together, called out their goodbyes. When Clara opened the door, she was immediately greeted with a large gust of wind, the smell of snow lingering on it making her shiver with worry. Snow would mean even less food to go around. Snow would mean even less opportunities for work. Snow, for everyone struggling in similar ways to the Johnson family, could potentially mean disaster.

Clara pulled her coat tightly around her, ducking her head and trudging down the decaying porch steps and onto the frozen mud that made up the street. She looked down as she walked, trying her best to keep the wind from biting at her face and nipping at her nose.

In previous years, Clara had donned a scarf during times like this. But, when Maybelle’s own scarf had gotten so torn and ratty that it had to be cut up for rags, she had given her younger sister her own as a replacement. And, since funds had been so scarce, she had not yet been able to replace it.

There had been hope, originally, that Julia would be able to secure a small swath of fabric from Miss Lottie’s, but in recent months, even the seamstress’s jobs had become less and less frequent. So, there hadn’t been any extras to spare. It was a miracle that Julia had managed to keep her employment because, with all the Cricket Creek families in financial binds, no one had money for a seamstress. The dwindling work that Julia took on was due to the other townsfolk’s inability to buy new clothes and needing their old ones mended on a regular basis.

Clara was so lost in her thoughts, so focused on putting one foot in front of the other and getting to Miss Lottie’s, and to the food that awaited her there, that she didn’t see the figure walking in her direction at full speed. Not until she nearly hit her.

“Clara!” a familiar voice yelled mere seconds before their bodies collided into one another, and Clara’s soft, brown eyes grew wide with surprise as her gaze snapped from her feet to the person standing directly in front of her.

It was Julia, her honey-wheat hair flying about, tendrils of it pulled from her braid with the force of the wind. Her eyes, brown like Clara’s but often filled with an unmistakable fire that was all her own, were wide and distraught. Tear tracks marked her pink, wind-burned cheeks.

“Julia?” Clara asked, her brain muddled with confusion as her brows knit themselves together. “What are you doing here? I was just coming to join you at Miss Lottie’s. Did I miss—”

“I got fired,” Julia interrupted, the words bubbling out of her quickly in her dismay. “Miss Lottie is closing the shop and moving. She says there isn’t enough work to keep her here.”

Clara’s heart started to pound as the implications of what her sister was saying hit her like a physical blow. As if on cue, her stomach growled loudly, a reminder of the lunch that she had skipped due to the promise of food to come.

“But, what… What are we …” Clara stammered, her worries falling over one another in rapid succession, making it impossible for her to form a single coherent sentence.

“She packed us a supper with what little she had left,” Julia said, holding aloft an old rucksack that she clenched in her fist. “She felt terrible about sending me home. There’s more in there than she’s ever given before. But it won’t last us long.”

Julia’s eyes were wild and scared, and Clara, knowing that her twin needed her in this moment, reached forward and grabbed Julia’s other hand. She gave it what she hoped was a reassuring squeeze and nodded.

“We will figure this out,” Clara promised, her words coming out much more confidently than she felt. “We always do.”

Julia nodded, a small fire in her eyes igniting itself once more as they stared at each other, united as they always had been and always would be.

Without saying another word, the two girls turned, locking their fingers together and making their way back home. Understandably, everyone was surprised when the front door opened and both of the twins walked through.

Julia explained everything to them that had happened, telling them the sum of her last wages and placing the rucksack of food on the table. Clara watched from the corner of the room, her mind whirling with thoughts of how to rectify the situation as her family seemed to deflate with disappointment.

Not knowing what else to do, she bent, undoing her shoelaces before kicking off her boots. For a split second, she lost her balance, reaching out on instinct to catch herself on the wooden chair by the door. Her hand landed on the newspaper, the one that had sat there for days, untouched.

She looked at it, her boots long forgotten as her mind latched onto the job posting that she had read while she’d sat in Miss Lottie’s kitchen. At the sound of her family talking, planning what they would do next, Clara reached forward. She rifled through the pages until she came to the one that had the job listing, taking it out of its confines and stuffing it into the pocket of her dress.

With that, she finally kicked off her boots and walked across the drab, creaky floor to join her family. Immediately, she noticed that her father had his head bowed low, the shame of not being able to provide for them weighing heavy on his shoulders.

Julia and their mother were busying themselves with dolling out rations of the food that they had left. They combined the meager things that they’d been able to purchase with the offerings that Miss Lottie had sent home with Julia. It still didn’t amount to a full meal, not as they attempted to save some for their breakfast in the morning.

Clara glanced up and locked eyes with her twin as their plates were being prepared. All she needed to do was nod once, Julia reading her intention in that way that they were always able to without using words. Immediately, her twin dished an extra helping of stewed carrots onto Maybelle’s and Lawrence’s plates, not placing any on either of theirs. They’d eat the little bit of meat and a little of the bread. Just enough to tide them over. Their siblings and their parents needed the rest.

Everyone ate in silence, no doubt plagued with thoughts of what was to come. Occasionally, Julia or their mother would pipe up with some idea for work and Clara and their father would entertain it with one word answers. But, all the while, the piece of paper containing the marriage offer was burning a hole in Clara’s already threadbare pocket.

By the time their meager supper was finished, and everything had been cleaned and the family members had retired to bed, Clara was bursting at the seams to talk to Julia about her thoughts. They shared a room, the smallest one, with a full-sized bed that they shared for warmth in the winter, but was miserably hot in the summer.

The moment the door to their room shut, Clara whirled around to her twin, removing the piece of paper from the confines of her dress excitedly.

“I have an idea,” she announced, Julia’s eyes lighting up brightly with intrigue at the uncharacteristic excitement emanating from her sister.

Julia was already untying the still-messy plaits from her hair, running her fingers through them as she watched her twin begin to pace.

“Go on with it, then,” Julia answered. “Tell me about this idea of yours.”

“I found this in the paper the other day.” Clara thrust out her hand, offering the page to her sister.

Julia eyed it for a moment. “Where did you find money for the paper?”

“That’s not the point.” Clara groaned, giving the page a shake until, finally, her twin took it from her grasp.

Clara watched as her sister’s eyes devoured the page. She knew the moment she landed on the job listing in question, knew the moment that it clicked for Julia what Clara was proposing because Julia’s brows knitted together, and she began shaking her head.

“No,” Julia said in a tone that told Clara her response was final. “Absolutely not. There’s no way I’m allowing you to get married to some man that you don’t even know just so that you can provide for our family. Let alone moving to Colorado, of all places. No, no, and no.”

Clara rolled her eyes, surprising even herself at the blatant gesture. It wasn’t often that she pushed back with her sister, but this was something that she wasn’t willing to budge on; not after she’d thought it all through during supper.

“I don’t know what you mean by allow,” Clara replied, her voice subtly shaking, but not allowing it to stop her from arguing her case. “You aren’t my keeper. And, besides, it is the perfect opportunity. With me there, it will be one less mouth to feed and I will be able to send home almost all of the money that I make. It might not be much, but it will be better than what we have now.”

Julia chewed the inside of her cheek before shaking her head once again.

“It should be me,” she insisted. “I should be the one to go or, at the very least, to apply.”

Now, it was Clara’s turn to shake her head in disagreement. She had anticipated this response and had prepared for it.

“You can’t. Not with Clarence in the picture.”

Immediately, Julia’s shoulders deflated, the truth of her twins’ words washing over her. Clarence Carpenter was Julia’s fiancé, a man that she had known since they were young. He had proposed to her a mere six weeks ago. They were to be married in the spring, and they loved each other fiercely. Clara would not allow her sister to sacrifice that love for the sake of their family. Clarence’s father had been the owner of the town bank. He had died the previous year, leaving Clarence fairly wealthy and, even though the bank was slowly dying with the rest of the town, Clara was sure that Clarence’s inheritance would carry him and Julia for several years, especially since he was taking odd jobs around town to preserve it.

“But what about you?” Julia asked, her voice uncharacteristically meek. “What about you marrying for love? Finding your Clarence?”

Clara gave her sister a small shrug, allowing the corners of her mouth to tug up into a smile that she knew didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Maybe this is my great love story,” she said simply. “It’s getting to help my family in their time of need. And, who knows, maybe I’ll come to love this man. There are stories like that, right?”

Clara studied her sister’s face carefully. The two weren’t quite identical. Clara’s hair was lighter and her lips fuller, whereas Julia was a little bit taller, and her cheeks rounder than her sister’s. But they looked similar enough that, frequently, people that did not know them well would get them confused, if only for a few moments.

It was a face that Clara knew so well, as well as she knew the depths of her own soul, of her own heart. And so, when she saw the softening of Julia’s eyes, the tension in her brow relaxing just a bit, she knew that she had won her over.

“All right,” Julia said, pushing herself up to standing and walking over to the small writing desk in the cramped corner of their room. “Then, let’s get your application in.”

Clara gave her sister another smile, this one more genuine than the one she had given her moments before.

“All right,” Clara said with a nod. “But let’s not tell Ma and Pa about this now; not until we know whether the gentleman accepts my offer. I wouldn’t want to get their hopes up just to be disappointed.”

Julia didn’t hesitate, nodding in agreement instantly.

“That’s a good idea,” she replied.

Together, Clara and Julia sat side-by-side at that small writing desk, the one that they had grown up with and they had sat together at all throughout their childhood, and they wrote a letter to convince a stranger that he should marry her.

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