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A Merciful Bride for the Reclusive Rancher

She is a strong believer but was unwanted. He was a purposeless man but now he’s inspired by her faith. How can the two follow God’s will and stay together despite what others think or do?

Tabitha is a faithful young girl who has moved West with her family after her mother’s death. Building a church, though, in a city of nonbelievers is very challenging for the family. When Tabitha is saved by the stoic Caleb, a young rancher who is need of God, she starts seeing God’s plan. She tries to inspire his faith once again and she deeply falls in love with his kindness and his industriousness. How can she help him overcome his fear of not being a good enough man for her?

Caleb is a lonely rancher who wants nothing more than paving his own way without his father’s influence. When he meets the merciful Tabitha, he feels that God might just have a plan for him. He chooses to defy his father’s wishes and he helps Tabitha’s family to build their church. He’s fallen for her strong faith and persistence, two traits he never had in his life. How can he trust in God’s will though when he’s used to feeling so directionless?

From the beginning, it was God’s plan for the two to meet and fall in love. But when Tabitha’s family is in real danger, how can Tabitha and Caleb follow God’s righteous path and safeguard their inspiring love?

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author

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Prologue

Somewhere in the Midwest

November 1870

Tabitha lay in the back of the wagon, as it bumped and wobbled along the rutted road between the only home she knew in Pennsylvania and the one she hoped would bring her family back together.

It had been a hard year for the Eckharts, which now only consisted of Tabitha, her pa, and her older brother, Jude. With her ma gone, Tabitha hadn’t found much reason to participate in family matters. She’d carried on in near silence for the past several months, something it seemed suited her pa and brother just fine.

She didn’t feel much like one of them now and with Ma gone there seemed even less reason to be so than before. When she looked at Jude, tall with arms and legs like tree trunks and a shock of dark hair, he was a younger mirror of her pa. And Tabitha, the complete opposite in every way, was her ma, through and through.

Now, without Ma, Tabitha didn’t see herself reflected anywhere in the Eckhart home. Maybe that was why, when Pa received word his brother Elton had died and left them some land in Utah, Tabitha had been eager to go. A fresh start in a town far away from all the bad memories was just what she’d prayed to God to grant her.

She’d promised to use this new life as a way to honor her ma’s memory and bring her family back together. They’d all suffered enough without Ma to hold them to each other. Tabitha couldn’t wait to get started with making God’s plan come true and seeing the vision she’d always dreamed of. Just like the Bible said, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,” and it was for that renewal which Tabitha prayed so hard about.

***

“Well, here we are, the first sign for Rushmont, Utah,” Pa called out, as Jude brought the buckboard to a halt along the dusty road, which seemed to stretch endlessly out across the prairie in front of them.

They had been traveling for days, the journey hard and long, and Tabitha was growing weary. She’d tried her best to remain optimistic, excited for the chance of a new start and to leave memories of the past behind.

But memories had a nasty habit of following, and try as she might, Tabitha couldn’t help but wonder if coming to this lonely place was really God’s will for them. She’d prayed hard for acceptance, knowing that Pa felt called to this mission, but as she looked around her, she found little to inspire.

“It looks just like the last hundred miles,” Jude replied, and Pa shook his head.

“No, Jude, this is different. This is where it’s at, where God wants us to be,” and he jumped down from the buckboard and stood in front of the sign which marked the last ten miles before Rushmont.

Tabitha had always admired Pa. He had a faith to him so strong and resilient he was like a lion with a strong and brave soul. She knew how much he missed her ma too, how much they all missed her, and Tabitha wondered what she’d say if she could see them now.

“We should pray,” Jude said, and Pa nodded.

“Loving Lord, we ask you to bless our mission here in this place, to bless this town, and to bless those we find here. Help us to show your love to our neighbor and endure the hardships you send us with cheerful hearts and in thanksgiving for the gift of serving you,” Pa intoned.

“Amen,” Tabitha and Jude replied.

“We‘d best get going, we must just make it Rushmont by nightfall,” he said, climbing back onto the buckboard.

“And then what?” Tabitha asked.

“We start saving souls, one by one,” he replied, rubbing his hands together enthusiastically, as Jude geed the horse forward and they trundled on along the trail.

***

Rushmont was not as Tabitha had expected, though she had expected far less. She’d read about frontier towns before, desolate and barren, where a few homesteaders eked out a living amongst swirling tumbleweed and wide open prairie. But Rushmont seemed different, more alive somehow, though from the suspicious looks they received it appeared far from welcoming.

“No church, no mission, not even a cross set up somewhere on the trail,” Pa said, shaking his head sadly.

“You can’t expect it, Pa, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?” Jude replied.

They had come to the main street now, a row of wooden slat buildings lining one side and the other built with stone. There was a saloon named the Wooden Spoon, a bank, a boarding house, even a restaurant of sorts.

“There’s money here,” Tabitha whispered, half to herself and half to Pa and Jude.

“Gold, that’s why people come here. They discovered it up in the hills hereabouts and since then, this place has drawn attention from across four states,” Pa said.

People eyed them with interest as Jude drove the buckboard along the street, and they stopped at the mercantile to pick up fresh supplies.

***

“When was the last time this town saw a preacher?” Pa asked the mercantile owner, as Tabitha picked up fresh bread and tins of corn.

“A preacher? There’s been no preacher here in this town in twenty years, not since the gold discovery. Why, is it a preacher you’re looking for?” the mercantile owner asked, and Pa shook his head.

“I’m the preacher. Martin Eckhart’s the name, and I’ve had a vision about this town—a vision to bring the word of the Lord to its people,” he declared, and the mercantile owner laughed.

“Good luck with that. There’s only one god in this town and it’s bright and shiny. You’ll soon learn that. That’ll be two bits, miss,” he said, holding out his hand, as Tabitha handed over the money.

“What a godless place,” she commented, as she and Pa climbed back onto the buckboard a few moments later.

“But a vineyard ripe for the harvest. The harvest is rich, and may the Lord send out workers into his harvest,” Pa replied.

Tabitha was less than convinced, and she wondered again whether coming here and leaving behind all that was familiar had been a good idea. They passed by the saloon and she noticed several men watching them with interest, their expressions inscrutable. This would be a tough town, and Tabitha prayed that God would give them the strength to see this mission through.

***

“This is the site,” Pa said, as Jude pulled up the horse and Tabitha surveyed the scene before her.

Her Uncle Elton had promised much in his will, but it seemed that the ranch was far more dilapidated than they at first thought.

“What a dump,” Jude said, voicing Tabitha’s thoughts.

“A lick of paint here, a few slats there, mend a few fences, and it’ll soon be just right. Besides, we’re not here to farm, we’re here to preach,” Pa said.

“Even the first disciples had proper fishing nets, Pa. We can’t preach with nothing in our stomachs and no money in our pockets,” Jude replied.

“We haven’t traveled half away across the country to give up now,” Pa declared. “Come on, let’s look inside the house.”

He produced a key from his pocket, the key which had been left with Uncle Elton’s will, and crossed to the door of the ranch house, up a flight of steps beyond a veranda. It was clear that the house and farm had seen far better days, but Tabitha was trying her best to remain optimistic and she followed Pa inside, looking around the kitchen with a sigh.

It was dusty, a rusted metal water pump standing at one side and the sooty cookstove needed a good cleaning. A table stood in the center, one which hadn’t seen a good scrubbing for too long. A mouse ran out in front of them and Tabitha shrieked, clutching at Jude, who laughed.

“It’s just a field mouse,” he said.

“It’s perfect,” Pa said, and Tabitha raised her eyebrow to him.

“This is perfect?” she exclaimed, and Pa grinned at her.

“You’re just like your ma; you’ll soon have this place looking like a home and we’ll all pitch in to help. Now, gather round, let’s pray,” he said, and the three of them took hold of one another’s hands.

“I’m sure we can do something with it,” Tabitha said, and Pa smiled at her.

“That’s the spirit. Loving Lord, we thank you for this gift you’ve given us, for bringing us safely to this place. Send your Holy Spirit to bless us and fill us with strength for the challenges which lie ahead. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen,” he said. “Now, let’s look around this place, Jude, you come with me and we’ll look at the barns. Why don’t you fix us up something to eat, Tabitha?” he said, and the two of them clattered out into the ranch yard, leaving Tabitha alone, wondering what to do first.

She sighed and looked around the dusty kitchen, pondering what the future here held for them. It was a far cry from the comforts of home, and she found it hard to imagine ever calling this lonely part of Utah her own.

But it was here that God had led them, and Tabitha was determined to make a fresh start and do all she could to share her faith with the people of the town. She took a deep breath, looking around her for a broom and finding one covered in cobwebs in a corner.

“Well now,” she said out loud, “let’s get started.”

 

Chapter One

Rushmont, Utah

February 20, 1871

Tabitha carried another log to the fire and watched the flames roar up the side of the large cast iron pot hanging from a frame over the flames. She’d grown accustomed to cooking outdoors lately, the smell of the woodsmoke filling the air, while Pa and Jude worked on the church.

There was something about the smell of good food wafting on the breeze that made them work harder, the aroma of stew and baking bread enough to tempt any man from his work, the spices causing Tabitha’s nose to twitch in anticipation. They knew she was cooking them up a feast, just as she and Ma had done back in happier days.

She smiled to herself, wondering if Ma would have liked it as much here in Utah as back home in Pennsylvania. Though they resembled each other closely in looks and manners, Tabitha didn’t think she’d ever be as orderly as her ma. That woman can make a kitchen run with military precision. Could, she corrected, brushing back her long strawberry blonde hair, which fell down around her shoulders, a contrast to her simple white dress and apron.

Tabitha felt her heart break a tiny bit more. Ma had been gone a full year now and she still caught herself thinking of her in the present, though she made better care not to say such things out loud. As much as she missed her ma, which was something fierce that ached deep in her soul to this day, she could tell it pained her pa even worse.

He and Ma had been sweethearts all through their childhood. He’d often said he didn’t have one memory of his whole life without her, and now he had an entire year’s worth. Tabitha did her best not to grieve him further.

She tried to push the sad thoughts from her mind as she felt the familiar heaviness settling in her heart. She didn’t think a day would go by that would give her any peace now that Ma wasn’t here to share in future joys with them.

A lump rose in her throat as she watched Pa and Jude hammering one of the side boards in place on the far wall of the church. They’d already gotten so much accomplished in so little time. It was finally starting to look like itself, like the vision Pa had told them about just a month ago at the kitchen table.

“This town is wretched and in need of God’s love. The whole place has lost its way. I believe this is why God brought us here, to bring this flock back into the fold,” Pa had said.

When he started preaching the Word, when he spoke in such a way, it always gave Tabitha a sense of awe. It was like a light shone through him and spilled God’s wisdom into the world. If he had it in mind to build a church, to call the townsfolk of Rushmont back to God, then he would surely do it. She hadn’t, however, considered that the town might not want to come back to God quite so willingly.

Tabitha stirred the stew as she scanned the town’s main thoroughfare with its orderly collection of stores and businesses, the saloon and the town hall, Salter’s Bank and the mercantile run by Mr. Hicks. Even at this early hour, barely after sunrise, the streets had already begun to fill with people, a brisk business conducted thanks to the town’s newfound wealth of gold. Horses clomped past while small groups of people buzzed around the shops like bees, buying and selling and doing who knew what else.

There had been much talk of the discovery of gold, struck in the hills just south of town. The Eckharts had only been in Rushmont for two months, not nearly enough time to settle into their new routines with new neighbors, and already the population had seemed to double overnight. The whole place was in the grips of gold rush fever, and more miners were piling into town to seek their fortunes every day.

It suddenly dawned on Tabitha just how right her pa was when he’d told them of the burden God had laid at their feet. Truly, this was a town where the people had very little interest in God or their fellow man. Since they’d started working on their plot of land, many had come to ask what they were up to. When they caught wind of the word church in the answer, they’d all turned tail and tripped over themselves to get away. Soon after, Tabitha had moved the large wooden cross that was to sit atop the steeple and placed it in the back office for safekeeping.

She had felt bad for doing so and asked God to forgive her for hiding a symbol of his love. But she feared what could happen to it when they went home exhausted every night from their efforts to save the town. Sadly, for most of the people she’d met so far, money and earthly pleasures were all they cared about. She and her family would have their work cut out for them, for few were storing up riches for themselves in heaven.

***

Caleb Brady watched the lead horse carefully as he drove the herd into the corrals behind the train station. Though they’d made it all the way through town and were safely on the outskirts, he didn’t let down his guard for one second. Years of running cattle had taught him that the job wasn’t done until the gate was locked … and checked twice.

Besides, this was the first time he’d dealt with Old Man Marley on his own. The grizzled rancher had a mean streak as long as the state of Utah and the scars to prove it. Caleb’s father was usually the one to accompany the horses to Marley’s stables, but he was caught up on business today.

Before he’d sent Caleb off with the herd, he’d reminded him to keep an eye on the ornery son of a gun. He’d even tapped the side of his head, just under his left ear, where Marley’d gotten the best of him the last time they had a disagreement on pricing.

The buyer, a mutual contact of theirs and Marley’s from farther out west, climbed down off his own horse and took one last look at the team. Mr. Friedman had planned on buying at least four, but Caleb’s father had told him to bring a wide selection of studs along with him just in case. Now, the buyer inspected each of them more closely.

When he finished, he pushed each horse’s nose to the right for Marley to stable it or pulled to the left for his ranch hand to load into his makeshift pen off to the side.

“Fine specimens, son. I might take more than I came for, but I’m sure that was the plan all along, huh?” He said it without a trace of malice or dissatisfaction. Though Caleb was only twenty-six, he had been around the trade long enough to hold his own during these business deals. He could read a man better than any book he ever picked up.

“I brought you the ones that best suited for the long haul,” Caleb replied. Mr. Friedman was headed east and a few of the rejected horses wouldn’t have liked the trip. Caleb admired his ability to tell the difference.

When Mr. Friedman finished his choosing, Caleb looked over to the pen to see seven horses milling about, chewing on the tall grass. His father would have to be proud. “Fine selection,” he said, mirroring the buyer’s own words back to him. It was a trick his father had taught him early on, a way of making the target feel like they were in charge.

“Indeed.” Mr. Friedman reached into the large overcoat and pulled out a thick wad of bills. “You sure your pa’s good with you handling all this cash yourself, boy?”

Caleb stiffened. His wiry frame and close-trimmed brown hair gave him the unfortunate look of someone half his age, even if he towered over any man he came across. But despite this, he was handsome, with honey brown eyes and a clean-shaven face, his rounded shoulders and strong jaw giving him a strong and powerful look to use to his advantage.

He had the money in his sights. He wouldn’t lose the sale this close to closing, and he certainly wouldn’t let this man know that the money would be all his, this time. “Aw, Pa knows I don’t got nothin’ to spend it on anyways.” He gave his best “simple farm boy” spiel, though he and Mr. Friedman had spoken many times before, and half of that very morning.

It worked. Mr. Friedman counted out several of the bills and handed them, reluctantly, to Caleb.

Marley appeared out of nowhere with his hand out, and Caleb counted off his share. When a Brady came to town for a sale, Marley housed the rest of the horses for the next few days, showing them off and attracting new buyers. It had been a tradition since farther back than Caleb could remember, and one he was thankful for today. He tucked the rest of the money safely away in his duster jacket and raised his hat to the two men. He still had some business to tend to, but first, a drink.

Unfortunately, the saloon, nicknamed the Wooden Spoon was still closed, although it had to be noon already, or thereabouts. Caleb made a note to speak with his father about it, seeing as how the Brady family owned half of the establishment, and well over half of every other establishment in town.

The story was that Buster Thompson had come in search of gold like many before and since but met a string of bad luck on his way. He made it into town with nothing but the tattered clothes on his back and one wooden spoon. Caleb’s grandfather had taken a shine to him and helped him open the saloon … for a fair price, of course.

Still thirsty, Caleb headed down the side street toward the mercenary to get the list of supplies his father had given him. When he got close, though, his attention was drawn to the sounds of hammering coming from across the main road. Naturally, he went to check it out.

Not much went on in his town without him knowing about it, and he hadn’t known about this. As he rounded the corner the noise grew louder, and Caleb couldn’t believe his eyes.

Two men, one young and one very much not, were perched on the highest rungs of two ladders, side by side, hammering the last board onto a side wall. The frame of the building was already done, and it was clear that this building was clearly going to be a church.

Caleb stopped in his tracks and let out a bemused laugh. What would his father think when he saw a church going up in the middle of the town that he mostly owned? And how had they accomplished so much in no time at all with just the two of them?

Admittedly, it had been close to a month since he’d last come to town. And with the news of gold discovered and two rail lines being built on the edge of the city, it was no wonder there’d be need for more houses, but a church? He didn’t see much need for one of those ever—not with this crowd.

As he was turning to walk away, he caught sight of a young woman with hair the color of fire and wheat talking to the older man, neither of whom he recognized. Of course, with the same gold rush and railroads came a whole mess of people he wouldn’t recognize, but they were different. She was different. She had a pretty figure, hourglass shaped, with hair falling all the way to her waist.

Caleb swallowed hard when the woman looked over at him, and again he huffed in annoyance that the Wooden Spoon wasn’t open. She smiled and waved across the busy street and Caleb could have been knocked over with a feather. Whoever this woman was, and whatever trouble she brought with her, he didn’t care. She had to be the loveliest creature he’d ever laid eyes on.

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