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A Devoted Bride for the Distrustful Cowboy

She follows the Pastor’s last wish and becomes a mail-order bride. He only seeks a marriage of convenience. Will two tortured souls find the rays of God’s light in their hearts?

“She, who had never fallen in love, found herself drawn to this lean, spiked Idaho man.”

Years after her parents’ death, Audrey is once more homeless. Her pastor protector arranges a marriage of convenience to secure her life before he finds his place beside God. Desperate and uncertain about the future, Audrey trusts God’s plan and finds love in the West. Will she be able to trust her heart to a complete stranger and build the family she always wanted?

Timmy returns from War only to find his wife running away with his best friend and stealing from him. Determined not to open his heart again, he only seeks a marriage of convenience and someone to help around the ranch. But God works in mysterious ways, and Timmy is stunned when he feels his heart beating fast again. How can he open up to love and faith when everyone he ever trusts betrayed him?

Audrey and Timmy found love in the most unexpected circumstances. But do they have the strength and faith to face their problems together when Timmy’s past is lurking behind his back again?

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author

Prologue

Silverton, Oregon

1865

Audrey gripped the bucket in her hand as she watched the sweeping pillars of flame rise from the wooden roof of the ranch. The sturdy cabin where she had grown up was now succumbing before her very eyes to the more powerful fire enveloping it. Outside the walls, there was only fire. Inside, the people she loved most in the world, her mother, father, and young sister were trapped. As she screamed their names and cried out to God for divine help, her words tumbled over themselves until she was no longer coherent.

All the while, the flames climbed into the sky which seemed to have forgotten that its destined color was blue. All across the heavens, as far as she could see, the gray, spreading smoke gave testimony that the earth below was a conflagration. She felt as if she were the only person in the world who was not facing death in an inferno. Never had she felt so alone and abandoned. The fire had been on the move for several days now, but at one point in its fiery caravan, it had shifted direction, spurring hope that it would not strike. But the fickle wind shifted again, this time imprisoning her family inside their home.

Audrey ran as close to the house as she could, but each time that she tried to pass through the fiery wall, the heat drove her back.

“Hope!” she screamed when she saw the roof collapse in the corner of the ranch house that was her young sister’s bedroom.

“No!”

How could the great, strong, unyielding oaken planks that had stood stalwart and impregnable through every storm that came through the forests give way like they were made of paper? She ran to the back of the house, holding up her skirts with her free hand so that she could move faster. Perhaps here, she prayed, there would be a way for her to get past the blazing barrier and rescue her family.

But the fire here was as relentless as it was on the roof, a rampaging sea of orange-red waves that seemed to mount ever higher, like a burning Tower of Babel, striving to reach God in his faraway kingdom.

Like a madwoman, Audrey raced around the house, her lungs protesting at the exertion as she tried to breathe amid the billowing gray clouds of smoke. She stopped at every door and window, as close as she could get, to find some way to enter, circling again and then again in a desperate and doomed effort to find an opening in the fortress of flames. Never before in all her eighteen years had she been assailed by such a feeling of helplessness. But the structure was disappearing before her eyes as walls, beams, and ceilings surrendered to the unstoppable force of the fire.

The hideous crackle of the flames seemed to mock the terrified voices inside the house. Audrey felt desperation engulf her, her helplessness driving her to desperation. She heard the screams from inside the wavering walls and her screams answered those of her family, trapped inside. The smoke rising out of the flames like a sated monster forced her backward so that she could draw breath. What was it like inside the house as the fire claimed its latest victims?

For the Silverton fire had not just started here. Knowing that it was coming, the townspeople had tried to prepare by filling buckets and barrels with water. But the nomadic flames devoured acres in their path, bringing more devastation than buckets could hope to rescue. The fire that would take its name from the town had traveled like a malevolent invader, overwhelming the wooden houses, feeding on the trees, glutting itself by devouring everything in its path.

 

“Mother!” Audrey called out, picturing her mother’s face as if it were a portrait framed by fire. “Somebody, help them!” Audrey screamed for help knowing that no one would come.

How could they?

The people of Silverton were either engaged in trying to fight the blaze or they were its victims. There were too few of them to save the town and its inhabitants, and they were all spread too far from one another to organize any kind of effective means of battling the blaze. She was alone, a solitary girl of eighteen years, surrounded by an endless expanse of acres giving way to the flames as they crossed it.

“God!” she cried out, barely able to hear her voice from the crackling, licking, fiery fingers that, not satisfied with their grotesque devouring of her family inside, were reaching out for her, closer, ever closer. God was her only hope. Only a miracle could save them now.

“God!” she cried again, her voice choking. A spark came close to the hem of her bright yellow dress. She screamed and stamped it out with her boot, and then ran back from it in fear. What was it like inside the home, where her family faced more than a simple spark? The merging of her emotions and those images filled her mind with horror, and she cried out again. “Mother! Hope! Father!”

Then the wind came through like a general and ordered its troops to move in the other direction, away from her. But safety came at too high a price. It left her alive to watch as the rest of the house, unable to withstand the burning attack, collapsed to the ground in a slow dance.

Audrey’s lungs were filled with smoke. She coughed and tried to draw her breath, the physical instinct for life stronger than the emotional longing for death. On the ground now, overcome by the smoke and despair, Audrey watched mutely as the fire left. She could hear the ragged, clutching sound of her lungs as she struggled for breath. Above her, the silent gray sky watched and did nothing. Before her, the cackling, noisy riot of flames advanced on its hungry quest to burn.

“Where are you? Why did you let this happen?” Audrey screamed at the veiled gray sky behind which God hid. Her heartbeat against her chest as if it were held captive. She screamed again, more sounds than words, an anguished howl of grief that could not be expressed.

God didn’t answer. She could still hear the peculiar conversation of the flames as they spoke to one another in that barbarous crisp tongue. Their elongated forms crossed the pasture in a macabre waltz as they singed the grass beneath them. They found the barns and the stables and the terrified animals inside were the next to nourish the fire’s rapacious gluttony.

God did nothing. The sky remained sullen and silent overhead, the sun blocked from view by the clogging smoke.

Audrey’s tears fell down her soot-stained cheeks. Her eyes stung from the strangling air surrounding her. Her arms and legs ached from the manic twisting and turning of her body as she had rounded the circumference of the house, trying to enter. She had never been so starkly alone. Even though the ranches and farms of the town were spread wide apart, and days could pass without sight of a neighbor, this desolate solitude was a very different matter.

How long had it been since she was on her way back from the well and she spotted the creeping fingers of flame climbing up the walls of her home, with her family inside? She had lost track of the time, and whether it was hours or minutes was beyond calculation. The evidence indicated that it had been longer than she realized. When she looked down, she saw that the yellow fabric of her dress was hidden by the gray pall of the smoke. Her long, dark hair that she wore in a single plait down her back was coming loose from its ribbon; she could feel tendrils on her neck and around her face. Her hair smelled like smoke instead of the lavender water that she used when she washed it.

Mother had taught her that beauty secret. Audrey burst into a renewed explosion of tears. Mother was gone and with her, the treasured wealth of wisdom that had taught Audrey so much. The housewifely arts, of course, and the skills that a woman needed to raise a family and survive in Oregon, which had only become a state in 1859.

Oregon was still wild in many ways. Mother had taught her that God was her refuge and strength. Mother had taught her the hymns that flavored her faith. Mother had taught her everything, but Audrey had assumed there would be time to learn the rest. She could not have predicted that, two weeks after her eighteenth birthday, Audrey would be robbed of all that she had yet to learn from Mother’s wisdom.

And Father, strong and merry, always a winner when the people of Silverton gathered for the logging sports that added zest to their gatherings. Father regarded the trees as a challenge to be mastered but he was humble before his God.

Then there is Little Hope, mischievous and playful, following her big sister like an adoring puppy, peppering her with questions that had taken a flight out of Hope’s great imagination. Why were the stars so bright? How did the grass know when it was time to grow? Who wrote the alphabet? Questions that Audrey couldn’t possibly answer, but which entertained her nonetheless because Hope was so genuinely inquisitive.

The fire had gained in energy, forcing Audrey to back away, separating her further from her doomed family. Audrey staggered as she tried to get nearer, but even as she ran, she knew there was no hope. She fell to the ground, a solitary mourner shrieking her grief out as her home became a grave.

How could they be gone forever, part of the carnage of the Silverton fire that was sweeping across this part of Oregon? The town was too far from the raging battles of the war that had split the North and South asunder to be at risk from the fighting, but Nature had decided that no one would escape from its wrath.

 

Soldiers thought they had faced the worst. Audrey had heard some of the veterans tell their stories of the horrors of war. But they had fought humans like themselves. They had a chance to defend themselves. They were armed. No one could survive a fire like this.

***

“Audrey. Wake up, child.”

Audrey stirred. Something had happened, something terrible. Something not so long ago. Only the day before. But what was it?

She opened her eyes slowly; they stung when they came into contact with the air.

“Come with me, Audrey.” The voice was authoritative but gentle.

Squinting into the daylight, her hand shielding her gaze from the light, Audrey saw Pastor Noah Tucker bending down over her. His eyes were red-rimmed, and she wondered if he’d been crying. Why would the pastor be crying? He wasn’t wearing a hat and his fluffy white air was windswept. His clothes were disheveled, but the minister lived alone, and the ladies of the church had often said that he needed a housekeeper to look after him. But he had never looked quite this slovenly.

The breeze that tousled the Reverend Tucker’s hair blew against her cheek. What was she doing outside? Abruptly, she sat up. Why wasn’t she sleeping in her bed? Mother would—then she saw the heap of charred wood where once the Carpenter Ranch, built by her father out of Oregon lumber, had stood, a monument to the majesty of God’s creation and a tribute to the strong arms that had carved a home in the wild timber country. Except that now, the timber that surrounded the family’s homestead was gone. An open vista, revealed by the absence of the trees felled by the fire, stretched ahead, barren. Yesterday she had been part of a loving family. Today, she was an orphan.

Her young face crumpled, and she began to cry, moaning because there were no words in her lexicon that could describe this nightmare.

Pastor Tucker bent down, took her by the arms, and helped her to her feet. “Their souls are with the Lord now,” he reminded her.

He helped her to her feet, his arms around her so that she could remain standing, his legs slowing their pace so that she could manage the burden of being upright.

“Where can I go?” Audrey cried out, the enormity of her fate suddenly apparent. She had no home, no parents, no family. She was entirely alone. Her hands went to her throat. It was still there. The locket on the silver chain that her parents had gifted her just two weeks ago, in honor of her eighteenth birthday. It was all she had left of them.

“You’ll come with me to the parsonage,” Pastor Tucker said calmly. He gave her a quizzical smile that seemed something reassuring, even though it was misplaced in the desolation that surrounded them. His blue eyes, rimmed by the dark smudges of the fire, were tired but had lost none of their customary tranquility. “You need someone to look after you and I’m always being told that I need someone to look after me.”

She had nowhere else to go. Numbly she nodded and, with Pastor Tucker’s arm supporting her, moved forward, her feet heavy and unwieldy as if she’d forgotten how to walk.

She turned her eyes away from the hideous tableau of broken, blackened wood.

“Who—who will bury them?” she asked, her voice a piteous blend of a wail and a query.

“Some of the menfolk in town are taking care of them,” the pastor said. “They will all be buried.”

“Fortunately, we have so many trees here,” Audrey said. Her voice sounded strange in her own ears as if it belonged to someone else.” There will be so many coffins to build. Is that God’s Providence, Pastor?”

The clergyman helped her over the places in the grass where pieces of wood had been propelled to the ground by the force of the fire. “Do you remember my sermon last Sunday?” he asked. His short frame lost inches as he bent over her, querying her in a gentle catechism.

She shook her head. Why was he asking such a question? Last Sunday was another world. All that she could see around her was the savage desolation of charred trees stripped of limbs and bark, the remnants of the house fallen and flat, and the hideous scorched grass where the fire had trod. Even the sky was still gray from the smoke that had not abated as the fire continued on its way.

“Remember the words of James,” he instructed her. “The Book of James, first chapter, third verse: ‘Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.’”

“James didn’t lose his family in a fire, Reverend,” she answered.

“He lost his life for his Lord and his faith,” the minister said, his voice still serene, his eyes a soft, gentle blue. “Affliction is our lot, Audrey and until we join with our Lord in paradise, we are beset by trials and tribulations. But we are never alone in our trials for our Blessed Savior is always with us.”

Audrey didn’t want to argue with the pastor who had baptized her eighteen years ago and who would soon bury her parents and her sister. But she was alone. She had been alone while the fire robbed her of the ones she loved, and she was alone now. The minister was kindly, and he meant well, but all he could give her was a building. Not a home and not a family.

Chapter One

Gunford Creek, Idaho

December 1866

The hinges creaked when Timmy opened the door, emitting a shrill protest.

“Yeah, I feel the same way,” Timmy muttered.

He went to the porch and leaned against the railing, propping the booted foot of his bad leg up between the spindles. When the toe of his boot pressed against the spindle, the wood gave way and fell to the ground.

The cold wind was picking up. His blond-brown hair, never tamed even when he took the time to comb it, moved against his neck where the wind moved it. But he ignored the cold. He’d learned that from the war.

He raised the coffee cup in his hand to his lips. It was too cold to be standing outside without his coat, but he didn’t feel like going back inside. The dark house with its slovenly rooms only lowered his spirits even more.

The coffee had gone cold. Disgusted, Timmy tossed the remaining liquid over the banister.

“Fixin’ to grow coffee?” His cousin, Will Yates, carrying an armful of wood to bring inside, paused on the steps. Bits of wood clung to his sandy blond hair and the fabric of his blue cotton shirt.

“Might have more luck,” Timmy said, glowering.

Will noticed the broken porch spindle on the ground. He stood still for a moment as if he were going to say something, then thought better of it.

 

“I’ll make fresh,” he decided, ascending the stairs.

“Better not,” Timmy advised. “We’re nigh out of coffee beans.”

Will paused, then opened the door and went inside. Once again, the door protested noisily.

Timmy knew that he ought to go and fetch oil for the hinges. They’d only gotten tighter as the wet winter months commenced. He could mend the spindle, too, and fix the porch. He could chop enough firewood to get them through the month, anyway, and start building up the supply so they’d have fuel as winter got colder. He could get up on the barn roof and make sure the boards were tight so the snow wouldn’t leak through. He could do a lot of things.

The door opened again, once more shrieking as it did so. Will, wearing his army coat now, gave the door a quizzical glance, his tanned, good-humored features philosophical.

“I’m starting to think that door doesn’t like me,” he said.

Timmy looked out over the landscape. Off in the distance, but not far, were the mountains that he’d looked at all his life growing up. Jagged peaks that made Idaho look, his father used to say, like it was all backbone. Peaks and potatoes, his mother used to say.

Now, as the dusk deepened almost to a shade of purple, Timmy watched and waited for the darkness. He didn’t need daylight to know what was all around him. Even in his mind’s eye, he could see the tall stretches of mountain that had, for all his youth, formed the framework of the landscape. Trees that had once been felled, in his grandfather’s time, to build the ranch house and barn, were now growing back. Not as towering as when his grandfather first set eyes on them, but majestic, nonetheless.

“Sure, looks different from what we saw out East,” Will stated. He inhaled as if he could breathe in the scent of the mountains. The cold air moved through his hair, and he pulled his hat down on his head to ward off the chill.

 

“Beats looking at chopped-off arms and legs.”

“Sure ‘nough does,” Will agreed. He sat down on the front step. “You gettin’ hungry?”

Timmy shrugged. “Who’s cooking?”

“Freddie. No, wait, Eddie. Does it make a difference?”

“No. Neither one can cook anything but beans.”

“That works, seeing as how that’s about all we’ve got,” Will replied.

“When we were bivouacked in Tennessee,” Timmy said, “All I could think of was wanting to get back here, sit on the porch, and look out at those mountains. Finally, we mustered out. Won the war. Then spent months in the hospital so they could save my leg without cutting it off.” His beard and the oncoming dusk hid his bitter expression. “Then we got back here.”

He wasn’t referring to the deteriorating porch spindles or the creaking door. Or even to the sagging roof. Even though “here” was a rundown house and a ranch that was barely operating, it wasn’t just the building that had let him down.

He didn’t need to fill in the missing pieces of the homecoming puzzle. Will knew. Funny, how that was. He’d gone all the way East to be a soldier and he’d met a second cousin, Will Yates, whom he’d never known. They were in the same division and by the end of the war, they were like brothers. War did that. War did a lot of things.

Like, make a man’s wife run off with his best friend because while her husband was away, she must have decided she was lonely without a man to love. Wife, best friend, and even the dog. All gone.

What a homecoming. Returning to a rundown ranch that was once the pride of the Yates family. Headstones in the family plot mark the graves of Hadley and Eunice Yates. It was like they, too, were casualties of the war.

“Well,” Will said, “I don’t mean to be climbing on board your train of thought, but we’d best be deciding what we’re going to do. Unless you’ve figured out where your great-great-great grandpa hid that gold you told me about.”

Nights in front of a campfire had been good for sharing stories about family members, once they discovered, through the exchange of names and reminiscences, that they weren’t just brothers-in-arms. They were second cousins, linked by the same surname and an intertwined family tree with a passel of kin who’d left the crowded cities for the frontier.

“Too many greats. It was my grandpa,” Timmy said, amused despite Timmy’s dour mood. Will had a gift for leavening things. “No one ever found the money. I expect it’s just a legend.”

“Too bad,” Will said, yawning. “Something besides beans would go downright nice for supper tomorrow. Assuming, of course, that someone has the time to wash the dishes.”

“If by someone you mean Eddie and Freddie, I don’t think they’re much good at cleaning. They were here after everyone else left and I suppose they managed to keep things together as best they could, but I wouldn’t lay odds either one of them has put his hand to a scrub brush since the Rebs fired on Fort Sumter.”

“They’re good lads,” Will said. “I reckon it wasn’t easy to go from hired hands with a boss, to being the only ones around, with no one left to tell them what to do.”

“No, I reckon not,” Timmy said. After the death of his father, their boss would have been Jack Pearson, and Jack sure hadn’t wasted time worrying about how to keep the ranch running like it had when Hadley Yates was running it. He was too busy wooing his best friend’s wife.

“They did a good job today with the fence posts,” Will said. “Got ‘em planted right firmly in the ground. Might not hurt if you take a look and let ‘em know you think well of their work.”

“I’m working on the stable tomorrow,” Timmy said. “If it takes me all day—and likely it will—I’m going to clean every blessed stall out until it looks like new.”

“Dolly does give me a right baleful stare when I bring her in at night,” Will agreed. “Mind you, her stall is clean but she’s particular about the company she keeps.”

At least they all had horses, Timmy thought. Absently, he rubbed his lower leg where the aching had begun to throb again. It hurt so often that he tried not to think about it. Thinking about things just made them worse.

But a ranch needed more than horses. It needed full herds, plenty of hay, good pastureland, and a barn that could handle wind and snow and rain. With Will, Eddie, and Freddie, he had willing workers who weren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty. Eddie and Freddie might not be Idaho’s answer to Harvard College, but they were, as Will noted, good lads, agreeable to doing what they were told as long as someone was there to tell them what to do.

The cold air blew. Timmy shifted inside his shirt, raising his shoulders to shield himself from the wind’s raw edges. The memory of that homecoming stirred within him. He crossed his arms across his chest to retain warmth.

It was better to be angry, it kept him warm.

The twins might not be much more than teens and not the brightest stars in the sky. But at least they’d stayed, Timmy thought angrily. They hadn’t run off while he was away fighting for the Union.

“Where are they now?” he asked Will.

 

“In the bunkhouse, the place is full of fleas,” Timmy said. He wondered how his mother and his wife would have handled fleas in the bunkhouse, because, like anything else to do with cleaning, it would have fallen to them to amend. That was what wives did.

“Yeah, I reckon they figured that’s why they’re itching up a storm,” Will said laconically.

“They need to wash the bedding, for one thing,” Timmy said.

“I reckon they were waiting for the cold to kill the fleas so they wouldn’t have to do any cleaning.”

“They need to do it anyway!”

“They can’t put in fence posts and clean the bunkhouse,” Will said. “Well, they could, but I don’t think they know how. You know how they say twins are.”

“Dirty? I’d never heard that of twins.”

Will ignored the acerbic response. “It’s like they share a brain. They think the same thoughts.”

“If you’re saying that Eddie and Freddie between them only have a single brain, I’ll give credence to that.”

“I’m saying that if we tell Eddie and Freddie to clean the bunkhouse, they’ll do it. If we tell them the floors need mopping, the windows need washing, the linens need scrubbing, they’ll do it. But someone has to tell them.”

“And because they’re twins with one brain,” Timmy said, “they have to work together.”

“Something like that.”

 

“So at the end of the day, we have two willing workers with one brain, we’ve got me with a bad leg, and we’ve got you.”

“Your leg has gotten better,” Will said easily. “At least we’re not marching anymore.”

As much as he had hated the carnage of the War Between the States, being a soldier relieved a man of having to figure out what to do with his life. He followed orders, he drilled, he marched, he fought when there was an enemy to fight, he kept himself as clean as he could, and he marched some more. Sometimes there were berries to pick along the road and sometimes there were corpses to bury. It was something he’d never want to have to go through again. But thinking was not required.

 

Now they were back in Gunford Creek, and he had to figure out what to do. How to expand the herd. How to repair the outbuildings. How to afford coffee beans, oats, and seeds for planting the fields now that spring was here. And how to clean the place so that it was the way it had been when Eunice Yates was alive. He’d never realized what a difference a strong-willed woman with a broom and a Dutch oven made in the life of a family.

“I need a wife,” he thought.

“Sure ‘nough,” Will agreed.

Timmy didn’t realize that he’d spoken out loud.

“So,” Will went on, “what are you going to do about it?”

“Well, I reckon I could advertise for one of those mail-order brides,” Timmy said, putting his thoughts into words as the notions came to him because, truth be told, he didn’t exactly know what he was going to do about it. If he had the money, he’d just hire a woman to do the cleaning and cooking, but a man who’d just sold his army revolver to buy hay for the horses wasn’t likely to be hiring workers any time soon.

Wives didn’t get paid. Somehow, as far as Timmy could tell, women seemed to be content with the exchange of getting a husband and tending a house. It worked for other folks. His mother and father had seemed content with the arrangement. Until Timmy enlisted, and Eunice Yates took sick and died, his mother and father were still in love with each other.

Timmy felt some of the tension leaving his body as he recalled the love story of his parents’ lives. He’d never given it much thought before, back when he thought he and Addie would have the same fortune. Timmy’s shoulders slumped, acknowledging defeat. That wasn’t going to happen.

Hadn’t worked for him, though, had it? He’d married sweet, smiling Addie Campbell, the girl he’d loved all through their days in the one-room schoolhouse. Right up to the square dance when sixteen years old and nervous as a foal standing on its legs for the first time, he’d asked her to dance with him. She’d said yes and from that day on, they were a courting couple, even though his parents said he’d no business getting married before he was eighteen. So, he’d waited, and they’d wed, and then war broke out.

“A mail-order bride would be different from a real wife,” Will said as if he’d read Timmy’s mind.

Yes. A mail-order bride. He wouldn’t have to be in love with her.

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  • This was a great start to the chapter and I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. I love that your books are Christian oriented. I have read so many historical novels and was so happy to read one of yours without cursing and actually reading a book with prayers in it. Keep up the good work. Keep weiting!!!!!

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