He needs a marriage of convenience to take on as the mayor of his town. But when he meets the beautiful Irene, he wants to make things work. Will they follow God’s plan and find the happiness they both seek?
Irene’s life takes an unexpected turn when she travels west to start a new job. However, bandits rob her on the way, and she arrives to find out the job has already been filled. Homeless and penniless, Irene turns to the church for help, and the pastor offers her a solution that could change her life forever. But is she ready to take the leap of faith?
Leo needs to succeed his father as the mayor of his hometown in Mississippi. But he must marry a respectable woman first. When the pastor suggests the idea of a marriage of convenience, Leo is skeptical but intrigued. However, when he meets Irene, something changes. Is this the sign from God that he has been praying for?
As Irene and Leo start their life together, Lottie, a woman obsessed with Leo, will stop at nothing to tear them apart. When she discovers Irene’s secrets, she sees the opportunity she needs. Will their faith be strong enough to withstand Lottie’s lies and schemes?
Rolling Fork, Mississippi 1870
Irene hurried into the post office, a modest wooden building with peeling paint and creaky hinges on the door. The musty smell of old paper and ink lingered in the air. She heard Mr. Digby shuffling papers mixed with the rustling of envelopes and packages being sorted.
Mr. Digby himself was a stout man in his fifties with a balding head and a thick mustache. He wore a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and suspenders holding up his trousers. Ink stained his fingers and paper cuts lined his fingertips.
“Good morning, Mr. Digby,” Irene greeted him politely.
“Well, good morning to you too, Miss Irene,” Mr. Digby replied, a small smile forming on his lips.
“I’m here to pick up my mail,” Irene said, reaching into her apron pocket to produce a slip of paper with her last name and slot number scrawled on it.
Mr. Digby took the slip from her and nodded. He shuffled through a stack of envelopes. “Ah, here we are,” he said and pulled out a letter and handed it to her.
Irene grasped the envelope and tucked it safely into her apron pocket. “Thank you, Mr. Digby,” she said with a smile. “Have a good day.”
“You too, Miss Irene,” he replied, his eyes following her as she hurried out of the post office.
As Irene left the post office, she took in the sights and sounds of her small town. She passed by wooden buildings, their paint peeling and chipped. Small shops and houses, all with wooden shutters and small gardens out front, lined the dirt roads. The hot Mississippi sun beat down on her, and she could feel the sweat already beading on her forehead.
As she walked, the sound of a horse-drawn carriage trotted by, the creaking of the wooden wheels and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves echoing down the street. The smell of fresh bread baking wafted out of a nearby bakery, and her stomach growled in response.
Irene was lost in her thoughts. Her mind raced with the possibilities that lay ahead. The letter in her pocket was the answer to everything—a chance to leave her small town and make something of herself. A flutter of excitement rippled through her chest, while her stomach twisted with nerves.
As Irene approached her family’s home, she called out for her siblings but received no response. She figured they were out in the fields working, as usual. The house itself was a ramshackle wooden structure with peeling paint and a sagging porch. Irene barely took notice of it as she hurried inside and up the narrow staircase to her shared bedroom.
The room was small and barren, with four narrow beds lining the walls and a single window that barely let in any light. The blankets on the beds were thin and patched, and there was little else in the room besides a small wooden dresser and a washbasin in the corner.
Irene’s heart thudded in her chest as she gingerly sat down on her bed and pulled out the letter. She carefully opened the envelope and read the contents, her lips moving silently as she took in the words.
Dear Miss Owens,
We are pleased to offer you the position of governess for our three children in our new home in Vicksburg. We have heard excellent recommendations regarding your teaching abilities from your schoolteacher, Mr. Hammond, and we believe you will be an excellent addition to our household.
As for the children, you will be responsible for the education of our two daughters, Emma and Grace, ages seven and nine, respectively, and our son, James, five years old. We trust you will provide them with the necessary education and guidance they need to flourish.
If you accept our offer, we kindly request that you arrive in Vicksburg by the end of the month. We plan to arrive in Vicksburg at that same time to move into our new home. We will stay at the hotel in town until our belongings arrive from Illinois.
Please let us know at your earliest convenience if you accept this position.
Mr. Edwin Long
When she finished, she let out a sigh of relief and closed her eyes, a small smile forming on her lips. For the first time in her life, she felt a glimmer of hope for the future.
But then the reality of the situation hit her. She would leave her family behind for the first time in eighteen years, and the thought of it made her feel sick to her stomach. She took a deep breath and whispered a prayer for strength and courage.
“Dear Lord, as I prepare to embark on this new journey to Vicksburg, I ask for Your strength and courage to face the challenges ahead. Please watch over my family, keep them safe and healthy, and grant them peace in my absence. I trust in Your plan for me, and I pray that You will guide my steps and fill my heart with hope for the future. In Your name, I pray. Amen.”
Irene didn’t have time to linger too long. It was time to prepare the midday meal. Downstairs, she stoked the fire and stirred the pot she had left bubbling over the embers in the cookstove.
As Irene stirred the pot of beans, the front door creaked open. Her siblings stumbled in, tired and dusty from a long day in the fields. She turned to greet them with a smile.
“How were the fields?” she asked, trying to hide her excitement about the letter in her pocket.
“It was hot and tiring, as usual,” her younger sister, Liza, replied with a sigh. Her feet were bare and covered with dirt. She needed new shoes, but they didn’t have the money, so Liza only wore them when it rained. Even then, they didn’t do much good, as they had been worn bare on the soles and Liza stuffed newspaper inside to keep her feet dry.
Irene nodded in understanding. She had worked in the fields before and knew how exhausting it could be. Her younger brothers, Tom and Will, headed to the washbasin to clean up, while the girls helped Irene set the table for dinner.
Her mother, Sarah, joined them, her long dark hair pulled back in a low bun. Her face was etched with lines from years spent working in the sun alongside her husband. Despite the toll it had taken on her, Sarah’s eyes shone with a fierce love for her family.
“Smells delicious,” she said, taking a deep breath in. “You always were the best cook, Irene.”
Irene beamed at the compliment. “Thank you, Ma. Mrs. Evans was pleased I could watch the children for her while she visited Doctor Upshaw.”
“I hope she recovers soon,” Ma said. “She looked pale as winter snow at church on Sunday.”
The children chattered amongst themselves as they set the table, joking and teasing one another. The oldest, William, ruffled his younger brother James’ hair. “Don’t mess up my hair!” James protested, swatting him away.
“I don’t see why you’re so worried about your hair,” Elizabeth, the sister closest in age to Irene, chimed in. “You’re just going to get all dusty again tomorrow in the fields.” She tugged at the sleeves of her dress. Her wrists showed since she had long outgrown the dress. Elizabeth was very self-conscious of her appearance and would spend evenings patching holes in the two gingham dresses she owned.
James pouted, but he couldn’t argue with that. The rest of the children giggled at his expense. Irene watched her seven siblings, grateful for their cheerful banter. A lump formed in her throat as she realized soon they would no longer all be together.
Irene cleared her throat, interrupting their chatter. “I received a letter today,” she announced, pulling the envelope from her apron pocket. “It’s from a family in Vicksburg. They’re looking for a governess for their children and I’ve been offered the position.” Her voice was low and tentative.
The chatter from the younger siblings continued for a moment until they realized everyone had grown quiet. Irene grasped her hands together, waiting for her father’s reaction.
Her father, John, sat at the head of the table. He was a big man, with broad shoulders and calloused hands from years of hard labor. But Irene could see the sadness in his eyes, and the withered arm that hung limply by his side, a reminder of the railroad accident that had taken away his livelihood.
“I wish I could still work like I used to,” he said, his voice heavy with emotion. “We’re forced to make a living from this rocky, red dirt that isn’t good for much.”
Irene felt a pang of guilt in her chest. She knew how much her family struggled, and how hard her father had worked to provide for them. But she also knew that this opportunity could change everything. She had to take it. “I’ll send money home every chance I can, Pa,” she said, trying to offer some comfort. “I’ll make sure you all have what you need.”
John looked at her with tearful eyes, and Irene could see a flicker of hope in them. It made her feel more determined that this was the right path for her. She had to take a chance, for herself and for her family.
“How will you get there?” her father asked, his brows furrowed with worry.
“I’m not sure,” Irene admitted.
“The railroad was damaged during the war. I don’t know if they’ve rebuilt all the tracks, but I heard the stagecoach runs to Vicksburg,” William chimed in.
Liza, the youngest of the siblings, wrinkled her nose. “That’ll take days,” she said.
“Well, I will need to leave earlier than expected then. I’ll go and speak to Mr. Butterfield tomorrow,” Irene said. “I’ve saved some pocket money, so I can pay my own way.”
John looked at Irene with a worried expression. “I don’t like the thought of you traveling alone, Irene. It’s not safe, especially for a young woman.”
“I’ll be fine, Pa,” Irene reassured him. “And I’ll send letters home whenever I can.”
Sarah put a hand on John’s arm. “She’s a strong and resourceful girl, John. She’ll be all right.”
Irene smiled gratefully at her mother. She was thankful for her family’s support, but she knew she had to take this opportunity. It was her chance to make a better life for herself and her family. “I’ll send money home every chance I can.”
“You’re a blessing, child,” her father said, “ever since the day you came into the world.”
Later, as Irene lay in the bed, with the covers off because of the humid air, she stared at the hole in the roof of their small room. The board Pa had hammered over it kept out the wind, but rain still came through and dripped onto the floor when the spring storms came. Irene could see the moonlight filtering through. She couldn’t sleep. Partly from excitement from the letter, and partly because sharing a narrow bed with her two sisters made it difficult to make herself comfortable. Elizabeth kicked in the night and Liza talked in her sleep.
Liza stirred next to her and rolled over. “Are you asleep, Irene?” she whispered.
“Are you scared to go to Vicksburg?”
Irene turned to face her sister in the dim light of the room. “A little,” she admitted. “But I know God will be with me.”
Liza nodded thoughtfully. “I’m going to miss you,” she whispered.
Irene experienced a sharp pain in her heart. She reached out and took Liza’s hand. “I’m going to miss you too,” she said softly. “But I promise to write to you every chance I get. And when I come back, I’ll bring you something special.”
Liza smiled at the thought, but Irene could see the sadness in her eyes. She knew it was going to be hard to leave her family behind, but she had to take this opportunity. She closed her eyes and prayed for strength and courage.
She knew that this was the right path for her, but the unknowns of the future were daunting. She asked God to watch over her family and guide her steps as she started this new chapter in her life.
As she finished her prayer, she heard Liza shift beside her once again. “Irene?” she whispered.
Irene opened her eyes and turned to face her sister once more. “Yes, Liza?” she asked softly.
“I don’t want you to go,” Liza said, her voice breaking. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she squeezed Irene’s hand tightly.
Irene’s own tears fell. “I know, Liza,” she said, her voice choked with emotion. “But I have to. I’ll come back to visit as soon as I can.”
Liza nodded, still holding onto Irene’s hand. “Okay,” she whispered. “Just promise me you’ll come back.”
“I promise,” Irene said, tears streaming down her face.
She held on to Liza’s hand tightly, not wanting to let go. At that moment, Irene knew that leaving her family behind was going to be the hardest thing she had ever done. But she also knew that this was her chance to make a better life for herself and her loved ones. She took a deep breath and said another prayer for strength and courage, knowing that God would be with her every step of the way.
Vicksburg, Mississippi – 1870
Two weeks later, Irene’s father, John, stood with her at the stagecoach stop, his worn money purse clutched tightly in his good hand. Irene looked at him with gratitude as he slowly counted out the money, struggling with the coins and bills as he tried to pull them out of the purse with his withered arm.
Mr. Butterfield, the stagecoach operator, stood nearby, a kind and weathered man with a gentle smile. “Don’t you worry, Mr. Owens,” he said. “I’ll make sure your daughter gets to Vicksburg safely.”
John nodded, his eyes full of worry. “I know you will,” he said, his voice heavy with emotion. “Take care of my girl.”
“I will,” Mr. Butterfield promised. “Now, let’s get you on your way, Miss Owens.”
As the stagecoach pulled up, Irene’s family gathered around her to say their goodbyes. Her mother handed her a small, well-worn Bible, tears streaming down her face. “Take this with you, Irene,” she said. “It’ll keep you safe and bring you comfort when you’re feeling lost.”
Irene hugged her mother tightly, the weight of the moment hitting her. She turned to her father, who held out his hand to her. In it was a small wooden cross attached to a thin braided leather necklace. “I carved this for you, Irene,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “It’s not much, but it’ll keep you close to God.”
Irene took the cross and clenched it in her hand, feeling the rough edges and the love that her father carved into it. Irene hugged each of her brothers and sisters tightly, tears streaming down her face. She knew this was the hardest goodbye she had ever had to say. “I’ll write to you all every chance I get,” she promised, her voice trembling with tears.
Her father hugged her fiercely, his one good arm wrapped tightly around her. “You take care of yourself, Irene,” he said. “And don’t you forget where you come from.”
“I won’t, Pa,” she whispered, her voice barely audible. With a final wave, Irene boarded the stagecoach, her heart heavy with sadness and excitement. As the coach pulled away from the stop, she turned to look back at her family, watching as they faded into the distance. She knew that this was the start of a new journey, one that would change her life forever.
The stagecoach was loaded with mail and supplies, making it crowded and cramped. Irene clutched her sack of mail and belongings tightly, trying to make herself as small as possible in the seat. Mr. Butterfield had charged her father less money for the ride, given that the stagecoach was already full and he had a large sack of mail to deliver to small towns across the state. Irene was grateful for the discount but also felt guilty for taking up space on the already overcrowded stagecoach.
As they bounced along the dirt road, Irene watched the landscape pass by. She saw fields of cotton and tobacco, and farmers tending to their crops in the sweltering heat. Her heart ached as she thought about her own family and the struggles they faced every day.
Despite the discomfort and the long road ahead, anticipation for the adventure that lay ahead of her in Vicksburg filled Irene. She would make the most of this opportunity and provide for her family as best as she could. As the stagecoach rumbled on, Irene clutched her sack of mail and belongings tightly and looked forward to what lay ahead.
Irene and Mrs. Mason were the only two passengers left on the stagecoach as it rattled along the dusty road. It had been a long and bumpy journey, and Irene’s body ached from the constant jostling. But as they pulled up to a nearby stream to stretch and water the horses, Irene couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement. Vicksburg was only a day away now.
Mrs. Mason, a sweet elderly woman with a kind smile, hobbled off the stagecoach with the help of her cane. “Are you excited, my dear?” she asked Irene as they walked to the edge of the stream. “You’ll be in Vicksburg tomorrow.”
Irene nodded, a mix of nerves and excitement bubbling inside her. “Yes, ma’am. I can hardly believe it’s almost here.”
Mrs. Mason chuckled. “Oh, I remember the feeling well. When my son and his wife asked me to come live with them in Vicksburg, I was so excited I could hardly sleep at night.”
Irene smiled, imagining what it would be like to live in such a bustling city. As she stood by the stream, she saw a water moccasin glide across the top of the water before disappearing. She shivered, grateful to be standing safely on the shore.
The sound of the horses snorting and splashing in the water filled the air, and the gentle rustle of the trees provided a soothing backdrop to their conversation. For a moment, Irene forgot about her worries and fears and allowed herself to bask in the world’s beauty around her.
As Irene stood next to the stream, she saw the water moccasin resurface to glide closer to shore. Its body was thick and muscular, and its skin was a mottled mix of brown and black. The triangular shape of its head and the slit-like eyes were unmistakable. Irene had seen one before when she was fishing with her father and brothers, and the memory made her shiver.
Mrs. Mason noticed her shiver. “Is something wrong, dear?”
Irene shook her head. “No, it’s just… I don’t particularly care for snakes.”
Mrs. Mason chuckled. “Oh, you’ll see plenty of them down here. Just be careful and give them a wide berth.”
Irene nodded, still feeling uneasy. She couldn’t wait to leave the stream and continue on their journey to Vicksburg.
As they climbed back into the stagecoach, Irene settled into her seat, her emotions a whirlwind of conflicting feelings. A bittersweet sadness tugged at her heart as she thought about her family, the familiarity of their faces and the warmth of their embraces now a distant memory.
At the same time, a thrill bubbled up inside her at the thought of the journey ahead. She was so close to her destination, to a new beginning and a future full of possibilities. Irene was excited about a new life in Vicksburg, and the challenges and opportunities it would bring. She looked out the window, watching as the countryside flew past them.
As the stagecoach continued down the bumpy dirt road, the sound of hooves echoed in the distance. Shouts filled the air outside of the coach and Mrs. Mason gave Irene a look of alarm. Suddenly, the coach came to an abrupt stop. Irene’s heart pounded in her chest as she heard the unmistakable sound of group of men approaching, their voices shouting over each other as they neared. When a gunshot echoed outside, Irene cried out in alarm.
She turned to look out the window and saw three men on horseback, their faces obscured by bandanas. They wore hats low over their eyes and had guns strapped to their sides. The sight of them made Irene’s blood run cold.
The men rode up to the stagecoach, and one of them yanked open the door. “Hand over your money and valuables, and nobody gets hurt,” he snarled.
One bandit approached Mrs. Mason, his face covered with a black bandana. He roughly grabbed her arm and demanded, “Hand over any jewelry you got, old lady.”
Mrs. Mason protested, “Now, you listen here, young man, this brooch belonged to my mother and—”
The bandit cut her off, “I don’t wanna hear your sob story. Just give me what I want.” He yanked the brooch off her dress and stuffed it in his pocket.
Meanwhile, another bandit rifled through Irene’s carpetbag. He sneered as he pulls out a few coins and a pair of worn shoes. “Is this all you got, girl? You ain’t worth robbin’.”
Irene held her breath, trying to remain calm. Violated, she watched them take away her small bit of money and her only good dress and shoes, leaving her feeling helpless and exposed.
The smell of sweat and gunpowder filled the air, and Irene could hear the bandits’ heavy breathing as they rummaged through the coach. The fear in her chest tightened as she watched them rifle through the rest of their belongings, unsure of what else they might take. She dared not move, afraid that any sudden movement would cause them to turn their guns on her.
After what felt like an eternity, the bandits rode off, leaving the stagecoach and its passengers behind. Irene let out a shaky breath as the sound of their horses’ hooves faded into the distance.
She looked down at herself, wearing her plainest dress and her old, worn shoes. She would meet her new employer looking like she had just stepped out of the fields. A sharp pain shot through her heart at the thought of the dress and shoes she had scrimped and saved for months to buy, now gone. But more than that, she was scared. The fear had settled deep in her bones and would not leave her. She closed her eyes and prayed for the strength to continue on her journey.
Mr. Wicker, the driver of the stagecoach, groaned as he sat up, his hand pressed against his bleeding scalp. “Are y’all all right?” he asked, looking at Irene and Mrs. Mason.
“We’re fine,” Irene said, her voice shaking slightly.
“They took everything,” Mrs. Mason said, her face pale and trembling. “My brooch, my money, even my wedding band.”
Irene could see the fear in Mrs. Mason’s eyes and knew that she needed to stay calm for both of them. She reached into her carpetbag and pulled out a cloth to tend to Mr. Wicker’s wound. He winced as she dabbed at the cut on his head, but he thanked her for her help.
Irene then turned her attention to Mrs. Mason, taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. “We’re lucky to be alive,” she said softly. “They didn’t hurt us.”
Mrs. Mason nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. “Thank you, dear,” she said. “You’re so brave.”
Irene didn’t feel brave. She felt terrified and vulnerable, but she knew she had to stay strong for Mrs. Mason’s sake. She offered the older woman a small smile, hoping to ease her fears.
Two hours later, Irene stepped out of the stagecoach and breathed a sigh of relief. The streets of Vicksburg were bustling with people, horses, and carriages. She saw Mrs. Mason being helped down by Mr. Wicker, the driver. The older woman’s hands still trembled from the ordeal they had just been through.
Irene hugged Mrs. Mason tightly, feeling the older woman’s shaking subside slightly. “Thank you for your kindness,” Mrs. Mason whispered.
“You take care of yourself,” Irene said, watching as the woman was escorted away by her son and daughter-in-law.
Irene looked down at her clothes, wishing she had her best dress and shoes. The bandits had taken them. She knew she needed to find a place to stay and clean up, but she did not know where to go. She was scheduled to meet Mr. Long at the hotel next to the stagecoach stop.
As she walked into the hotel, she saw a beautiful and glamorous woman in the foyer. “Excuse me,” Irene said, approaching her. “Do you know where I can find Mr. Long?”
The woman looked Irene up and down with a judgmental gaze, and pointed toward a man in the corner, before walking away without a word.
Irene’s face flushed with embarrassment and shame as she looked down at her dusty traveling clothes. She knew she looked plain compared to the gorgeous woman walking away from her. The woman’s hair was styled in an elaborate updo with curls framing her face. Her dress was made of the finest silk, with intricate lace and embroidery.
The hotel itself was a grand building, with high ceilings and ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The walls were painted in soft pastel colors and adorned with ornate moldings. Irene could smell the scent of fresh flowers and perfume wafting through the air. The sounds of laughter and lively conversation filled the room as guests chatted and mingled with one another.
But Irene felt out of place among the luxurious surroundings and glamorous guests. She felt like an outsider, an intruder in a world that did not belong to her. She longed to be back home with her family, in her simple farmhouse surrounded by fields of cotton and corn.
Just then, a tall, balding man with cold eyes approached her. “I’m Mr. Long.”
“I’m here for the position of governess,” Irene said, handing him the letter.
The man’s expression turned to a frown as he read the letter. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but the position has already been filled. I forgot to send you a letter to that effect.” His voice was dismissive and brooked no argument.
Irene’s heart sank. She had no money and no place to go. “But sir,” she protested. “You offered me the position. I left my home and traveled all this way.”
Mr. Long shrugged dismissively. “We found someone who is more suitable for our children,” he said, glancing over her worn clothing and simple hair styled in a bun.
A wave of anger and frustration rose within her. She had taken a chance on this opportunity, only to be rejected because of her appearance. “But I can learn,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. “I’m a hard worker, and I care deeply about children.”
Mr. Long raised an eyebrow. “I’m afraid I have already decided,” he said coldly.
Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She took a deep breath and thanked Mr. Long before turning to leave.
Her family was depending on her to send money home, but now she had no job and no place to stay. She didn’t know how she was going to make it in this strange city. A lump formed in her throat as she thought about the disappointment she would be to her family if she failed.
She stepped outside the hotel and spotted the church in the distance. She felt a sense of comfort knowing that she could always find solace there.
As she walked toward the church, she heard the sounds of the surrounding city. The clanging of horseshoes on cobblestones, the chatter of people on the streets, the distant whistle of a steamboat. But through it all, fear and uncertainty gnawed at her. She pushed the thoughts away and focused on the familiar surroundings of the church. Her hand went instinctively to the small wooden cross her father had carved for her.
The cool, dark interior of the church greeted her, and the soft murmur of voices came from the front. Irene made her way down the aisle, her steps echoing off the wooden pews. She kneeled down in a pew near the front and bowed her head, the weight of her worries pressing down on her.
“Dear God,” she began, her voice barely above a whisper. “I’m so lost and alone here. I don’t know what to do or where to go. My family is counting on me, and I’ve failed them. Please, help me provide for them and keep them safe. Give me the strength to face whatever challenges come my way.”
As she prayed, she waited for guidance from God. Whenever she was in trouble, she knew that God would send her a sign. Trying to quell the rising anxiety, she continued to pray.
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So looking forward to reading more of this story.
Thank you soo much, Nora! Can’t wait to read your overall opinion! God bless you!🙏