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Chasing his Unwanted Bride

An unexpected bet makes him a husband. A sudden heartbreak brings her to him. Will they manage to find love in this new Western lifestyle when they’re so opposite from each other?

Leonie never expected to find the man she was promised to woo her step-sister. Now, with no one to hold her and a broken heart, she travels West and gets married to an unknown rancher. Living by his side though and taking care of his siblings is the most challenging task she has ever taken on. How can she show this gruff man that love is meant to liberate and not to confine?

Jessie never wanted to settle down with a wife. However, with his brother now long gone, he cannot defy his manly honor. He will fulfill his promise to him so Leonie will be his bride. Little did he know though that running a ranch with a stranger as a wife and three unruly kids would be so demanding. How can he open his soul to Leonie’s tender calling when he’s so hurt?

Leonie and Jessie have miles to cross to find each other’s hearts. When push comes to shove though, it will be Jessie who will protect his newfound family. Will they belong to each other as Fate has planned at the end of the day though?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.4/5

4.4 / 5 (527 ratings)

Prologue

Dubuque, Iowa, 1866

This had been the worst week of her life.

Leonie Olmstead scanned her rapidly emptying living room in a panic as two burly men from the bank stripped it bare of all the possessions that once made it a home. Her heart plummeted as the true realization of what was occurring dawned on her.

Ten days ago, she waved goodbye to her beloved father as he set off on a business trip to Wyoming Territory. Leonie swallowed hard. That day seemed like moments ago, and the memory rose to the front of her mind, taunting her with the losses she could never regain.

Her father loaded his possessions onto the wagon, and Leonie smiled at him. Though he was an older man, her father had always remained in good shape. Sadly, his once full hair was receding, but to her, he was the best man in the world, no matter how he looked. His large brown eyes were vibrant, kind, and instilled her with warmth as he leveled them to meet hers.

“I’ll only be gone a few days,” he reassured her. Setting his final bag onto the wagon, he pinned her with a stare. “You’ll keep up with the chores?”

Rolling her eyes, she shrugged. “Maybe,” she joked playfully. “I wish you didn’t have to go, Papa. I always miss you when you’re away.”

“I just have some legal work to oversee in Green River, and then I’ll head right back here to you.” He ran a hand through his thinning gray hair and drew her close to him. “Trust me, Leonie. As soon I have the signatures on those documents, I promise I won’t linger a moment longer than necessary.”

Wrapping her arms around him, Leonie whispered her goodbyes. She couldn’t wait for his return. In fact, she would be counting down the time.

Now, clad in black mourning clothes that she’d sewed herself from a leftover bolt of cloth, she was in the process of losing everything. Leonie felt shattered into tiny fragments as she watched the men sweep her house while removing all her father’s things. She refused to let the prickling tears fall from her eyes. Grief coursed through her, straining her every nerve and sinew. Torn apart on the inside, she swallowed hard. Her slender face flushed crimson, but the men ignored her ire.

An hour had already passed. When they arrived, pounding on the door, Leonie sat alone and lost, mourning the loss of her father. She didn’t want to allow them into her home, but they’d left her no choice. She was just a mere girl with no tools to fight against their insistence. Leonie could tell they saw her as nothing but a dumb child, even though she was already fifteen.

She caught sight of herself in the mirror hanging in the far end of the living room. It was one of the few items that hadn’t been ripped away yet, owing to the hairline crack that ran lengthways, rendering it worthless. Leonie realized how small she looked compared to those men. Her thin face was flushed; her eyes were swollen and bloodshot due to the endless crying.

Normally, her green eyes were full of fire, but they were dull and hollow now. Even her black curls lost their luster as they hung limply around her head. Her skin was paler than usual, though her complexion was always fair.

Making her way into the hallway, she was confronted by the men from the bank, negotiating the removal of two large vases. Though she never met her mother—since she died when Leonie was only a few days old—she knew those precious items once belonged to the woman who birthed her. After Leonie’s birth, her mother fell sick. Her father mentioned how his first wife fought hard against the sickness, but death took her, nonetheless.

Your mama returned home to be with the other angels, he’d always say.

Her heart ached, and she thought it might shatter; it was so filled with loss. Traipsing back into the living room, she couldn’t tear her gaze away from the men’s actions.

As one of the men, a tall, bulky fellow with a frizzy beard and dead brown eyes, reached for her father’s bureau, she stepped in front of him. Fire flashed in her gaze as she stared up at the man who was almost twice her height. Though a tremble rocked through her, she still possessed the courage, even at her inexperienced age.

“You’re not taking that,” Leonie pleaded tearfully. “You can’t take it. Please!”

The man scoffed huskily as though unintimidated by the young woman in front of him. Visibly annoyed, he wordlessly pushed her aside. Leonie watched helplessly as he signaled his colleague to help him. This feeling of powerlessness was hellish, but what could she do?  Her melancholy deepened. How she wished her father was here. All her life, he’d protected her and kept her safe. The only time they were ever away from each other was when he was on business trips. Now, she was teetering on the precipice, vulnerable and lost as her protection was ripped away.

Despite the creeping tendrils of fear that wound around her ribs, she fought his intimidating manner and concealed the shreds of terror that tore through her. “Did you hear me?” she growled, her fingers clasping the edges of the desk, even as the two men hoisted it aloft. A devastating shudder rippled through her. “You’re not taking it.”

The smaller of the two men smirked. Clearly, he didn’t take her seriously. Neither of them did.

“Listen,” the smaller man chuckled sardonically. “I know it’s hard for you, but your papa had a whole bunch of debts. Unless you’re planning on working them off, we’re here to collect his stuff.”

Leonie reeled backward at his assertion and clenched her jaw. Feeling powerless was a sensation she despised as she knew just how little power women had in this world. As one of the men picked up a painting of her grandfather, she felt the pain wash over her. Though she barely remembered her grandfather, she realized that her entire heritage was being stolen away. The trauma that roiled in her gut intensified. Her heart thrummed relentlessly in her chest, beating a tattoo of fury and sadness against her ribs.

Helplessly, she watched as they carted out one item after another, leaving her with virtually no reminders of the home that she’d once shared with her father. The empty room made her feel even more lonely. She couldn’t forget how alive this house had once been, and now, it was almost vacant and dead. This wasn’t even a home except in name; it was simply a house full of faded memories and vivid pain.

This house was a lonely place now, and she was sure that the love and laughter that once filled it was silenced forever. Many days and nights were spent in this house, talking about her father’s love of horses and his childhood growing up here. He often regaled her with tales of his own youth, evoking laughter as he revealed his boyhood antics with his friends.

In some ways, Leonie wished that she could leave this place behind but there was nowhere else to go at her tender age. How could she ever move on from the hurt when it was enshrined in the empty home where she remained? She wrapped her arms around her slender body, feeling a tremble rip through her petite frame.

Swallowing the hot tears that gathered at the back of her throat, she trudged through the doorway and inhaled the fresh air outside deeply. Her pallid face turned skyward, wondering if her father was watching this from heaven. He’d have been mortified to see his daughter suffering so profoundly at the hands of these heartless beasts. She needed an escape as the men worked inside. If she watched them loading her belongings onto the open wooden wagon for another minute, it would crush her entirely.

The sun was beating down outside, brightening the landscape in front of her, and she squinted. The expansive ranch was so quiet and deserted with the cattle, chickens, and pigs already taken that morning; it was almost lifeless. The fields stretched out in front of her, devoid of their usual green hue.

They were all colored with shades of gray. Even the trees hung lifelessly, sharing her searing agony. Standing motionless on the front porch, Leonie leaned against the wall, shaking her head and trying to clear the haze in vain. Breathing heavily, she couldn’t gather herself. Everything ached too deeply.

Just when all hope was seeping from her, she noticed Sheriff Elliot at the end of the road. Remaining on the front porch step, Leonie stilled as he approached. However, as he drew closer, the somber expression etched onto his face didn’t inspire a great deal of hope in her soul.

“Good morning, Leonie,” he greeted as he removed his hat and placed it against his chest. He was a large, brawny man with salt and pepper hair and friendly blue eyes that shone with genuine empathy. “How are you doing now?”

In her heart, she wanted to break the dam, spilling the pain from where it festered inside of her. However, she feared that she might never stop crying if she allowed a single drop to set itself free.

“I’m bearing up as best I can,” Leonie replied weakly. “Do you have any news?”

Nodding, the sheriff handed her two small items, and she recognized them immediately. The throbbing intensified beneath her ribs as she gazed down at her father’s small pen and the pipe that he’d never allow to leave his sight. The silver pen felt cool. Its metal shaft glinted in the light. Turning her attention to the pipe, she stared at the intricate carving laced over its red clay body. Her fingertips brushed against the roughened surface as she smiled tenderly. An image flashed in her eyes of her father lifting the pipe to his lips as he bellowed with laughter.

Sadness clogged her throat. These were the only things left of her father. Although he had been suspected dead, this was the confirmation that tore her heart apart. Now, she knew once and for all that she had truly lost him, and this small pipe and pen were testimony to that fact. Clasping them against her chest, she shook with grief.

A lone tear trickled down, coursing over her cheeks that were still puffy from days of weeping. “Where did you find these?” she asked as her voice cracked, holding them reverently between her slender fingers.

The sheriff appeared uncomfortable as he shifted his weight from one foot to another, focusing on the wall behind her. “Some of the searchers found them on the banks of a river when they were looking for signs of your father. The engraving on the pen says R.O., so we assumed it belonged to Richard.”

“It does,” she confirmed. “I mean, it did.”

Sympathy glimmered in his kind eyes. As he wiped away some sweat from his brow, she was reminded how hot it was outside. The sun raged angrily in the sky, mirroring the fury in her soul. His compassionate gaze only made her feel worse as it consolidated her knowledge of how dire the situation really was.

“Have you got anyone with you?” he asked, clearly concerned. “You could use some support, Leonie. After all, you’re still just a child.”

She shook her head in dismay. “I don’t have anybody.”

Opening his mouth to respond, the sheriff’s words were halted as one of the bankers bustled out the front door with a small round side table tucked under his arm.

“Jeremiah,” the sheriff curiously greeted the man from the bank.

The younger banker bobbed his head in recognition. “Sheriff Elliot.”

Narrowing his eyes, the sheriff looked confused. “What are you doing here?”

“Just my job,” Jeremiah responded flatly. “You know what it’s like, sheriff. There are debts to be paid here. The deadline for repayment passed two days ago, and from what I hear, her father isn’t coming back.”

Disgust flickered over the sheriff’s face. “Couldn’t it wait? This little girl’s all alone here.”

Jeremiah shrugged disinterestedly. “Maybe you should find someone to take care of her, then.”

Leonie watched as he carelessly tossed the table onto the back of the wagon. She felt the sheriff’s annoyance, but ironically, he was as powerless as her. They weren’t breaking any laws, after all. Jeremiah headed back inside without another word.

“Leonie, you can’t handle this alone,” Sheriff Elliot insisted. “Now that we know your father isn’t coming back, you need someone to come stay with you. You’re only fourteen.”

“I’m fifteen,” she corrected him. “But there’s always a chance that he could still be alive,” she said, swallowing hard in a desperate state of denial. “I mean, did the searchers find his body?” she asked, her green eyes hopeful as she stared at the sheriff.

Remorse glinted in his eyes. Shaking his head, he placed a hand softly onto her arm. “I’m sorry, Leonie,” he replied honestly, toying with the brim of his hat. “It was nowhere to be found.”

“Then maybe he’s still out there somewhere.”

A sigh escaped his lips. “There’s no chance of that. The boys in Wyoming Territory scoured a twenty-mile radius, but they came up with nothing.”

Swallowing thickly, Leonie nodded. She would probably never see him again, not even his body. All she had left were memories that would grow dull and dusty over time. Now, she was truly an orphan, alone in this world with nobody.

***

After the sheriff departed, Leonie returned inside. Her head was reeling from the sheriff’s words, but she tried to push her thoughts aside for the moment. She clasped the pen and the pipe tightly, refusing to let them go.

Leonie’s will was chipping away, and moisture coated her cheeks as the vases were clumsily carried out the front doorway.

The living room was so bare now. Only one rickety chair, a single, chipped table, and the mirror remained in the space. A worthless threadbare rug covered the floor, but everything else was gone.

Taken.

As the two men passed her, she realized they’d want to take the items the sheriff returned to her. The handcrafted items were valuable, and she was sure they would want them if they saw them. Panic coursed through her, tearing her insides apart. She couldn’t let the men take away her father’s pen and pipe, the last of his possessions. Regardless of the consequence, she won’t allow them to violate her father’s memory.

Though he was gone, and she would never see him again, she needed to cling onto something tangible, even if it were only a couple of trinkets. Thinking quickly, Leonie concealed them in the pocket of her dress, knowing they wouldn’t search her. Or, at least, that was her hope and prayer.

For once, her prayers were answered as they wiped down their sweaty foreheads with handkerchiefs and loaded the final items onto the wagon. Amongst the mass of her father’s belongings were the ashes of her old life. Everything had changed, and there was no way to return to the past. It was painful, but she had to admit it to herself.

One of the men heaved himself onto the front of the wagon, but the smaller man lingered for a moment. She noticed a flash of sympathy in his eyes, and it stunned her. However, he didn’t apologize for what they’d done. Maybe he was used to tearing people’s lives away from them, leaving them empty and cold inside.

“Have a good day,” he stated with a wave before he joined his companion.

Then she was alone.

Truly alone.

***

The heat of the day melted into a humid evening. The morning was traumatic for Leonie. Only a few hours passed since the bankers ripped her life into shreds, leaving her alone with a bare house and an even more tormented soul. She struggled to recall her life before; when her father’s warmth was present in the house, they sat in front of the fire every night, chattering and laughing together.

Leonie sat in the lone rocking chair in her living room, surrounded by empty space. The acrid scent of the oil lamps pervaded the room, filling her nose with their pungent odor. She stared down at the pipe in her hands. With a sigh, she turned it over, brushing the rough wood with her fingers. It still smelled of tobacco. It still smelled like him. How many times had she watched him as he sat in this very room, enjoying the pipe and exhaling plumes of hazy smoke?

Never again would she witness that. Never again would she see the man who raised her.

Her gaze flickered across the desolate room, spiraling her further into melancholy. Those men stripped the room of everything but a few lone items. The room resembled her heart, empty and devoid of everything that once made it so vibrant. In the space of a few days, all she held dear was stolen, and she didn’t know what she was going to do.

The future was a cold and hostile place.

Her dark reverie was shattered by a knock at the door. Furrowing her brow, she glanced at the grandfather’s clock that stood proudly in the corner of the living room. It was another of the few items the men from the bank left alone, probably because it was older than dirt and barely ticking.

A frisson of fear coursed through her when she noticed that it was just after eight; nobody called at such a late hour. All alone for the first time, Leonie knew how vulnerable she was.

Carefully, she placed the pipe on the arm of her seat, ensuring that it wouldn’t fall from its perch. Rising, she coasted a hand over her dull black curls and padded over to the door. Cautiously, she pulled it open to reveal two women. Recognition flooded through her as she realized it was her stepmother and stepsister. She’d barely thought about them since her father’s death. They only lived a few towns over, but they seldom visited.

It was a long while since she last saw them, but they were unchanged. Leonie couldn’t help but notice how similar they looked. They were cut from the same cloth with light blonde hair pulled back from their faces and dull brown eyes. Even the sardonic frowns on their faces matched identically.

“Leonie,” her stepmother smirked coolly. Her eyes drifted scornfully up and down Leonie’s form. “I’ll bet this is a surprise.”

“Pauline,” she greeted the older woman politely before turning to her stepsister. “Verity.”

Bustling her way past Leonie, Verity frowned. “I forgot how small this house was,” she commented, pausing in front of the mirror to primp her blonde waves. “It looks very barren too.”

Her light blue dress was just a little too tight as she ambled over to the floral rocking chair and slumped down into it. Leonie couldn’t help but notice how disrespectful it was that her stepsister chose to wear that dress. She should’ve been dressed in black as a mark of mourning for her stepfather.

“I wish you’d sent word you were coming,” Leonie said, almost growling when Verity flicked the pipe aside to the floor.

Pauline waved away her concerns. “Then it wouldn’t have been a surprise.”

Surprises are not always good, Leonie thought bitterly. Sometimes, they can be the opposite, wreaking havoc and tearing apart innocent lives without warning.

“Your sheriff paid us a visit during lunchtime,” Pauline continued. “He was concerned that you were alone, and he knew that I’d be more than happy to lend a helping hand.”

Leonie shook her head imperceptibly. Her father was estranged from this woman for more than a year. Somehow, she doubted he would want Pauline in his house.

But then, her father was gone forever.

“So, how long are you planning on staying for?” Leonie inquired, pulling at a loose cotton thread on her dark gown.

“Staying?” Verity frowned. “We’ve come to live here.”

“Live?” Leonie asked, swallowing hard. “Oh, there is nowhere for you to stay. There’s no furniture in the bedrooms, and all the beds are gone.”

Pauline waved away her concerns. “Oh, we’ll send for our own things. I’m sure we can make do for tonight, and they’ll arrive by the morning.”

A wave of nausea washed over Leonie as she remembered how the older woman made her life miserable when she’d last lived here. Pauline treated her like a maid. Not in front of her father, of course, and Leonie never admitted the terrible truth to him due to her shame. When he was present, her stepmother was the very essence of sweetness and light.

But, when they were alone, Leonie felt like mud on the soles of Pauline’s shoes. Leonie vividly recalled the relief she’d felt when Pauline left and took her brat of a daughter with her. She didn’t know the details regarding the breakdown of her father’s marriage, but she hadn’t cared. Her world lightened when Pauline and Verity departed from it.

Now, they were back.

To live here.

“Live?” Leonie mumbled. “What do you mean?”

“Is there something wrong with you, girl?” Pauline hissed. “We’re the only family you have. Now that your father is gone, you need someone to look after you. You’re fifteen, the same age as my darling Verity, so I know how much a young girl needs her family around you.”

Leonie was speechless. These women were not her blood; they were nothing to her, really. Now, they were descending on her like vultures, ready to strip fresh carrion meat from a dead bird. Yet, she couldn’t force them to leave, especially knowing they were right in their assertions. Leonie was all alone in the world. She had nothing and nobody. The only person she’d loved was gone, and she didn’t even have his body to say her goodbyes.

“At least we can eat now. I feel like I haven’t had any food in a year,” Verity chimed in, playing with the charm that hung at her neck. “The journey was terrible. I thought the coach was going to overturn on the roads close to here. It was even worse than the train.”

Pauline nodded in agreement with her daughter, scanning the house in distaste. She brushed her fingers against the dusty mantel and frowned. “Fix us some food, Leonie,” suggested Pauline firmly. Although Leonie was sure it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a demand. “We’ve had such a long trip.”

A little perplexed by the request, Leonie shrugged. “I could make some chicken.”

Verity gagged. “I hate chicken,” she sneered. “Can’t you cook anything else?”

“I’m in the mood for pork,” Pauline informed her firmly. “Fix us some pork.”

Feeling her heart plummet into her belly, Leonie bit down on her lip firmly enough to draw a droplet of blood. Smoothing some wayward strands of hair on her forehead, she almost talked back to them but managed to stop herself before the words could spill from her tongue. This intrusion was a burden she didn’t need in her dire state of grief. She hadn’t even considered that Pauline would be the one to claim her guardianship. In fact, it hadn’t been a consideration at all. The future was a dark landscape she hadn’t even bothered to glance at.

With these two rude and arrogant women making unreasonable demands, she longed to rage and scream until her throat was hoarse and bloody. Words flooded her mouth, and she longed to let them spill from her lips in a deluge.

Just as she was about to unleash her fury, a memory flickered behind her eyes. Vividly, she recalled how her father always taught her to be strong and dignified. Even in the ugly face of adversity, it was essential to maintain her calm demeanor.

“You have so much strength in you, my girl,” her father always reassured her. “I know you can face up to anything, no matter how tough it seems. You’re special.”

She sighed. She couldn’t betray her father’s memories by going against all the things he’d instilled in her. Her soul was wounded, but she needed to be strong and face whatever was thrown into her path without shying away.

“Hello?” Pauline snapped, pulling her from her memories. “Are you making that pork, or do you plan on letting us starve?”

“I’ve changed my mind,” Verity piped up, tucking her feet beneath her. “I want chicken.”

“Fine,” Leonie replied, forcing a smile. “I’ll do what I can.”

As she made her way into the kitchen, the chatter and laughter of the other women echoed behind her. Gulping down the trepidation that permeated her chest, Leonie shook her head. She had a terrible feeling of foreboding. Nothing good could come from the presence of her stepmother and stepsister.

All she could do was bear it as best as she could.

What other choice did she have?

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  • First time I read from this author and I have to say it was a wonderful. This story was amazing.please continue to write and make us dream.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment Marie! 💗 I hope you will love all my other novels as much as you enjoyed this one! I do not plan to stop making you dream any time soon so, be prepared!!! 😉

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