Forced to endure a cruel life as an orphan, finding her home in his ranch is her only hope. The loss of his family has made him tough and unforgiving. Will they defy all odds and experience the love they so desire?
“Walter peered down at Julia, whose reddened cheeks reminded him of blooming red roses. He resisted the urge to reach his hand up and caress her face in his hands, to feel her blushing cheeks warming his fingers.”
After Julia gets thrown out of the orphanage she grew up in, she starts roaming the streets searching for shelter and a job. Responding to a mail-order-bride ad though, gives her the opportunity to travel West and build her life anew. And while her first meeting with her soon-to-be husband is explosive, Walter’s toughness is just a shield against his pain. How can she unveil his hidden layers and ease his suffering when he insists on keeping her at arm’s length?
The fire that killed Walter’s parents scarred him body and soul. And the guilt he feels for saving only his younger brother from the flames eats away at him every single day. Especially since his brother has abandoned both him and their ranch. Julia’s kindness and strength shake Walter to the core though giving him hope that he could rise from his ashes. How can he offer her the home she deserves when he feels broken inside?
Julia will fight tooth and nail to reunite Walter with his brother. But when he unwillingly places their family under threat, will Walter and Julia vow to protect each other’s hearts?
New York City, New York
“You can’t just throw me out into the street like this,” Julia murmured through clenched teeth as she tumbled out of the front door. Overwhelmed with disbelief, her heart sunk to the pit of her stomach. As rain pounded on the porch roof, frigid anger nestled in the center of her chest like a thick blanket of snow, chilling her to her very bones. Julia stared at the orphan keeper. “It’s my birthday, Betty. You’re going to do this on my birthday?” Her black shoes slapped against the wet pavement and she nearly slipped. Her legs unsteady, Julia struggled to regain her footing in the darkness that cloaked New York City behind her.
As she faced the open door, she glanced through the orphanage’s windows from the lonely porch. Her heart swelled when she saw the warm glow of dimly lit lanterns and the flicker of a fire roaring in the fireplace. She recalled the comforting warmth that the fireplace brought her on the coldest of nights; the children would huddle under blankets together as a real family would if each of them had one. Julia could still hear the girlish giggles and boyish chuckles reverberating throughout the orphanage even in the late hours of the night. Julia had never felt happier than in those moments in front of the fireplace with freezing fingers and frigid feet.
Eventually, the warmth of the fire spread to her heart and thawed it, cracking the layer of ice she used to guard her heart. It was in front of that fireplace that Julia once began to believe in happy endings, that she would find a family to sit in front of a fireplace.
Unfortunately, that never happened.
“You’re eighteen,” Betty replied, her stance rigid in front of the open door. With her arms folded against her chest and her shoulders squared, the glow from the lanterns seeped from behind her. She had pulled her graying black hair into a slick bun at the nape of her neck, making her features look sharp like broken glass. “You know the rules. You’re no exception to them. The day you turn eighteen is the day you leave this orphanage as an adult, Julia. As of today, where you go and what you do is no longer my concern as your orphan keeper.”
Julia sighed and contained a scream of frustration. Averting her gaze from Betty, Julia eyed the twisting vines that wrapped around the black iron porch railings and ran up the front of the brick building, spurting white perennials and delicate ivy leaves.
While the vines dripped rainwater into the patch of plush grass, Julia harshly bit her bottom lip when she felt the tears brewing. Hidden beneath her anger was a thread of fear. As Julia pulled on it, butterflies frantically flew about in her abdomen and anxious thoughts stormed her mind. Without any family, she wasn’t sure where she would go when Betty closed the door to the orphanage forever. When her mother left her on the orphanage’s doorstep as an infant, she had nothing other than the clothes on her back and an ivory comb resting on her chest. Her ivory comb was the only memento she had of her birth mother, a woman who didn’t want her.
“But it’s me, Betty. As the woman who raised me, I ask you this—are you casting me out?” Julia questioned Betty, desperation seeping into her voice.
The Betty that raised Julia always wore a battered brown apron; she loved to bake for the children. Betty even taught some of the children to bake on the weekends and always coated her finger with flour, tapping each of them on the nose. Real bakers always have flour on their faces, Julia recalled Betty saying to her as a young child. Julia’s heart squeezed with fondness as she absent-mindedly touched the tip of her nose, expecting to find a dusting of flour.
Fondness became sorrow as it pulsed through her while awaiting Betty’s reply. Julia wanted Betty to change her mind and remember that she was all Julia had.
Her stomach knotted when Betty reached beside her and grabbed Julia’s carpet bag. Betty informed her, “Everything is in there.”
Betty tossed the carpet bag at Julia’s feet. The rainwater splashed onto Julia’s black day dress and soaked into the ruffled material. It turned damp before her eyes.
For a moment, Julia silently stared at the bag and longed for a home to bring it to. Without anywhere or anyone to go to, Julia would have to lug the heavy bag all over the city in search of shelter and spend her eighteenth birthday wandering aimlessly. Tears gathered in her brown eyes but she forced them down and swallowed thickly. Strength, she reminded herself, in times of weakness.
Tucking a dark ringlet behind her ear, Julia bent down to observe the bag before she left. With trembling hands and a swollen throat from holding her tears, Julia unzipped it. Immediately, her eyes fell on the ivory comb resting on a bundle of folded day dresses and blouses, neatly tucked under a dress sleeve to keep it in place. If the comb hadn’t been in the bag, Julia wouldn’t have left this porch until she received it; Betty had known that when she packed her things. Somewhere beneath that now unyielding stare, Betty still cared. Julia nearly burst into tears.
As she knelt on the ground before Betty, Julia glanced at her with pleading and begged her, “Don’t do this, Betty. I don’t have anyone to go to. I’m all alone.”
Julia intently observed Betty’s face as the words left her mouth but were met with a sudden resoluteness that made her realize that Betty wasn’t changing her mind.
“I’m sorry, Julia,” Betty mumbled to her, her tone distant, as though she were speaking from behind a pane of glass. “It’s just part of my job.”
Julia didn’t know how long she’s been walking in the rain.
Her feet were sore and ached with exhaustion. Her arms were tired from carrying her heavy carpet bag. Her stomach grumbled in hunger and yearned for nourishment in steady pangs. Yet the physical pains were nothing compared to the wounds on her heart, the ones that Betty inflicted when she closed the door and cast her out in the darkness of night. Julia couldn’t shake the sadness that followed her like a dark cloud above her head, showering her with sorrowful thoughts.
Ollie would know what to do, she thought as rain cascaded down her cheeks and slipped between her lips. The memory of her late friend caused a twinge of grief in her heart, but she pushed her emotions aside as she shivered against the rain droplets. Julia knew that she needed to find shelter. But where, she wondered, shivering against the damp chill.
In her venture through the cobblestone streets, Julia stumbled upon a small strip of shops. On either side of the cobblestone road were beauty and clothing stores, little markets with fresh produce, and bustling post offices. Inhaling the fresh scent of bread, Julia spotted a bakery awning and meandered in that direction as her stomach grumbled.
As she stepped under the awning, she peered into the window. A small smile played on Julia’s lips as she saw who she assumed were the bakery’s owners and their children as they played cards at a table. Julia’s grin fell as she watched the woman affectionately brush the girl’s rosy cheek, suddenly longing for a mother to turn to in times of such agonizing uncertainty.
As she glanced into the life that Julia wanted to be hers, she knocked on the window. Given her wet, unkempt appearance in the dark of night, the loud noise startled the family and they exchanged worried looks before the man stood and came to the door. A bell rang as he pried it open slightly, enough for them to speak, but enough for him to slam it in her face. The scent of the freshly baked bread was stronger here, and her stomach whined in response.
“May I help you?” the man asked timidly with a hand on the knob and the other on the frame.
As she opened her mouth to reply, Julia inhaled a different, sugary aroma that flowed from the small bakery. She felt her gaze wander over the man’s shoulder to the frosted cupcakes, muffins, and loaves of bread behind the glass case on the counter. Julia began salivating as she looked at the icing on the cupcakes, imagining that they must be creamy and soft against the tongue. She let out a sigh as she observed the freshness of the fruit in the muffins, the baked berries varying hues of vibrant blues. She wondered if the bakery’s tables against the windows were usually full of hungry customers, loyal to the hand that feeds them fresh baked goods.
When the man cleared his throat, she snapped out of her starving stupor. Julia asked the man, “I have nowhere to go and I just need…”
“No,” the man interrupted, his gaze traveling up and down her thin, soaking wet frame. Julia was sure her curly hair was matted to her forehead in an entirely unflattering way, so she understood the looks of suspicion from the man.
Julia sighed and her shoulders sagged upon his reply. Underneath the hurt and sadness, Julia was beginning to feel completely defeated and hopeless in her search for shelter. “What about if I just sit under the awning?”
He shook his head and pointed to the sign in the window. “Read the sign. No loitering.”
Indeed, when Julia followed his gaze, the sign said ‘no loitering’ in bold red lettering. Julia nodded her head and turned on her heel.
After she departed from the bakery with a heavy heart, Julia continued to roam the city when she remembered the quaint, white church on the corner of a busy intersection in the city, the church she and Ollie would sneak off to when they were adolescents. They were youthful kids hungry for adventure, for something other than the yellowing walls and moldy ceiling tiles in the orphanage. The churchyard would have been the first place Ollie would have gone if he were still here, especially since they had so many beautiful memories there together.
When Julia thought of the church, she stopped in her tracks and her heart jolted in her chest. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t thought of it already, but she blamed the eventful birthday evening for her absent-mindedness. As she strolled to the church, her worries became less intense as if she had solved her most pressing dilemma. Julia just hoped that it would still be vacant at night as it usually was when she and Ollie were younger.
Julia arrived at the church and stood on the sidewalk before it. The usually boisterous intersection was silent behind her, the apartments across the street dark and quiet. The church matched the hushed atmosphere and beautiful images of Christ etched into stained-glass windows were barely visible in the darkness.
It was small, but its steeple towered over the town and the cross adorning its tip glimmered in the moonlight. Julia looked at the four slender white columns that stood proudly in front of the building and gave the church an open porch, ornately engraved with winding grape vines and flowing leaves. The one to the right, the pillar cast in almost complete darkness, was the one Julia became fixated on and walked toward. She felt the cold surface against her hands and remembered how many times she climbed just high enough to hop the fence with Ollie. She thought it may have been until the day he died.
Julia stopped herself. She didn’t want to think about Ollie dying of smallpox at sixteen. It pained her to think that he had so much life to live, on his own and with Julia. Her stomach twisted with nausea at the thought of his absence, but she forced herself to climb that right column.
As she climbed the pillar, she saw pink leaves sprouting from her favorite cherry blossom tree peeking at her from behind a tall wooden fence that wrapped around the church’s property. She grinned and thought of Ollie.
“It’s a cherry blossom tree,” Julia commented when they first saw the tree in the churchyard as they hopped the fence. At thirteen years old, she loved that color so much that her hair would have been dyed pink if that were possible. “I love the pink leaves.”
“We can get one,” Ollie declared with his arm swung around her shoulders. As his long blond hair fell into his blue eyes, his dimples appeared when he smiled brightly and squeezed her.
Julia laughed. “Yeah? With what money and with what yard?”
“Ours,” he confidently stated.
Julia’s heart seemed to stop beating in her chest. “Do you think so?”
“I know so,” he promised her.
But he hadn’t kept his promise…
Careful not to get her legs caught in her dress, she cautiously hopped the fence and landed on two feet. The wet, muddy earth squelched upon impact and she nearly slipped in the mud as she hobbled over to the tree. She collapsed underneath it, her knees hitting the ground hard.
Laying on her front side, exhaustion weighed heavily on Julia, and her legs throbbed with agony from walking so much tonight. Her thighs burned with fury and her calf muscles felt as though they were being shredded. Her breathing was labored and her head swam with lethargy and malnourishment.
Allowing her heavy eyelids to close, she snuggled wet blades of grass and pockets of sloppy mud until sleep finally claimed her.
“Who do we have here?” a man’s voice echoed softly. He sounded concerned as she touched her shoulder, gently shaking her. “An overnight guest in my courtyard.”
Julia pried open her eyes and winced when the beaming sunlight scorched them. She tried to move, but her body felt too weak to do anything, let alone reply to the man. With blurry vision, she glanced over to her right and saw a reverend in a black garment with neatly combed white hair. Water dripped down her forehead and into her lap as she lay in the grass under the tree, where she fell asleep last night.
Julia reached to wipe away the water but nearly toppled over as she lifted her arm to her forehead. The reverend caught her and Julia went limp in his arms, feeling as if her body was on fire from within. Sweat pooled at her lower back and dribbled down her lips as she lay motionless in the reverend’s arms.
“This girl has a fever,” the reverend said to someone. “Get me a cloth and some water. Quickly!”
Then everything went black.
New York City, New York
There was a hole in Julia’s shoe.
It was big and gaping, exposing her delicate skin to New York City’s filthy sidewalks. She felt the blazing pavement against the bottom of her foot, burning her skin as she peered into a motel window in search of a help-wanted sign. When she didn’t see the sign, she let out an exasperated sigh and turned away from the window with her arms crossed over her chest in a frustrated manner.
Will I ever find a job? Julia thought to herself as she continued walking down the busy street. As she made the decision to head back to the church for the afternoon, she felt the familiar rush of sadness thrum down her heartstrings. It’s been a month since I left the orphanage. How much longer can I live like this?
Julia was beginning to think there was no future for her at all. It’d been one month since Reverend Norman McIntosh found her unconscious and lying in the churchyard, running a high fever from walking in the rain and malnourishment. After he set up a cot for her and nursed her back to health, Julia confided in him about her situation and he offered to let her stay in the office until she could support herself. Ever since then, she had been beating the pavement trying to find a job to build herself a better future than the one she had now.
Each step she took made her skin scrape against the street and she bit back a cry of pain when she felt her skin tear. Blood trickled onto the sidewalk as she continued to walk, unable to stop due to the throng of people behind her. She earned looks from passersby as they eyed her bloodied footprint, but Julia paid them no attention as she continued to walk to the church.
As Julia neared the church, people spilled into the streets and darted out of the way as horse-drawn omnibus drivers yelled warnings at pedestrians as they hauled people to their destinations. As her foot scraped against the rough concrete with each step, she yearned to be one of the ladies she saw on the omnibuses, waving their floral hand fans to cool their faces and looking down at the crowd.
Rather, every day she walked in search for a job until she physically couldn’t anymore. Truer statements have never been uttered, Julia thought to herself as she approached a balding man wearing black trousers and a loose white shirt rolled at his elbows. He stood under a large awning, shielding himself from the sun as it flared its fiery heat. The name of a popular hotel was written on the awning, one that rich men and women stay at when they come to visit the city. As she watched the man, Julia thought his black mustache resembled a hairy caterpillar nestled on his upper lip as he hollered something indecipherable into the crowd, something Julia couldn’t understand until she had nearly passed him on the sidewalk.
“Washerwoman! Any woman willing to wash clothes? Hotel looking for a washerwoman!”
Julia’s heart skipped a beat at the man’s words and hope ignited her aching heart and she began elbowing people out of her way to get to him. Her bleeding foot seized in pain with every step she took, so she clenched her fists to still her shaking hands as she fought against the discomfort. Tucking a twisting curl behind her ear with a trembling digit, Julia tried to calm the bundle of nerves sitting in the pit of her stomach like a rock.
“I can work,” Julia announced to the bald man, sidestepping people as they walked past her to the nearest shops and stores. She sounded out of breath and her voice quivered under her stress. “I can be a washerwoman.”
The man put his hands on his hips and eyed her with a disapproving, bewildered stare. “You? A washerwoman?”
Julia glanced down at her shabby attire. Her pantaloons hadn’t been washed in weeks because she didn’t have soap, so there were random stains blotched onto the material. She was too embarrassed to ask Reverend McIntosh, especially since he’d done so much for her already. Loose white threads swung from her slender wrists as she moved her arms to hug her midsection, suddenly self-conscious under the man’s gaze. She knew that she looked worse for wear, but was it that bad?
“I can work, sir,” Julia repeated, asserting herself. Her heart began to race again, the same way it always did when owners of establishments took one look at her thin frame and turned her away.
He chuckled and shook his head, his eyes traversing down her frail body again. “You probably can’t even lift a pail of water over your head.”
Julia shut her eyes as the insult rolled over her. It wasn’t the first time she had heard something like that, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. Her eyes stung as hot tears pricked her closed eyelids, but she swallowed against her swollen throat and nodded her head.
“Move along, girl,” the man encouraged when she didn’t move, frozen to the spot on the sidewalk.
With yet another unsuccessful job inquiry under her belt, she begrudgingly walked away with sagging shoulders and a heavy heart.
You just read the first chapters of "An Orphan Bride for the Wounded Rancher"!
Are you ready, for an emotional roller-coaster, filled with drama and excitement?
If yes, just click this button to find how the story ends!
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.