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A Marriage Forged by Divine Deception

Agreeing to my father’s plea, I married a wealthy man to secure our future.

Only after the vows were exchanged did I uncover the deceit behind the arrangement.

By then, it was too late—He and I were bound together, for better or worse…

Abigail, burdened by her late husband’s debts, agrees to her father’s plea to marry a wealthy man to secure their future. However, she soon uncovers the deceit behind this arrangement, but it’s too late—she’s already married the man who will change her life forever…

Nathaniel, blackmailed into a marriage of convenience by Abigail’s father, initially resents the arrangement. Yet Abigail’s defiance and strength challenge his vow to never love again…

Their relationship deepens unexpectedly, but when Nathaniel reveals the deception behind their marriage, their world shatters. Together, they must find forgiveness and trust to build a future based on faith and love…

In faith’s embrace, their paths align,

Hearts mending in God’s design.

Through trials of deceit, they stand,

Bound by grace, in His loving hand.

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author


Leadville, Colorado



Despite the unforgiving Colorado heat, the Samaritan wore a cloak. It was long enough to brush the ground, completely covering everything except the very tops of his worn black boots. They seemed humble enough, unless one noticed the silver embroidery drizzled over the top and the tall sides.

His cloak was well-made, too. Thick cotton without too many stitches where holes had been. He was well-off, but he did not go out of his way to look the part. It was a particular bit of theatre, considering he had plenty of money. Heaven knew that David was borrowing quite a bit.

The terms of the contract were laid out plain and simple, at least in how the Samaritan explained them. It was only a single sheet of paper, front and back, that David had to sign. The tightly scrunched rows of black ink had the practical, boxy lettering of a for-hire clerk. There were plenty of them in town where the Samaritan held down his upstanding reputation.

Had he been a cheat, and a liar, then he would not have come so highly recommended. And even though David could not read all the words in front of him, he knew how to sign his name. He had been reassured many times that signing was the only thing he needed to do.

“Lord knows that these are difficult times,” the Samaritan said. David could not see much of his face, but he had a kind, smooth voice. The voice of a preacher giving a gentle outdoor sermon during a lazy Sunday picnic. “I am grateful that the Almighty has put me in a such a position that I can extend a hand to my fellow neighbors when they are in need.”

“And we are grateful for you,” David said. He meant that sincerely. Scratching his signature out on the line made his chest squeeze with anxiety and exhilaration at the same time. “I cannot tell you what this means to me, and the future of my family. To secure a ranch where I might earn a living and raise my future children has been an impossible dream. You truly are our saving grace.”

The Samaritan’s face moved in what might have been a smile, but David could not see well enough to tell. David licked his lips and slid his fingers down the edge of the contract before returning it to the cloaked man in front of him.

And I will pay you back tenfold, was David’s thought, but he could not bring himself to articulate it out loud.

From what the Samaritan had told him, the piece of paper contained fair, if strict, terms. After a year, the interest would begin to climb. After five years, if the ranch was not turning a decent profit, then his donkey would really be in a ditch.

He did not want to think about what the interest would look like, or what sort of payments he would have to start making, so he chose not to dwell on it. After all, he was used to living on modest means. He could maintain that for a few more years until they were free of debt, and then it would be barrels of salted pork for breakfast on more than just Christmas morning. It would be a nice silk dress for Abbie. It would be a brand-new family Bible to replace his old one with its pages falling out.

David swept his hand across his brow and flicked off a few beads of sweat. He extended that same hand to the Samaritan, who did not take it. Instead, the man picked up the contract that David had signed and folded it before vanishing it up his sleeve.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” the Samaritan said. His voice sounded a bit more strained, as if he was running out of pleasantries and was eager to attend to his next appointment. “I will call upon you soon. And best of luck to you, of course, on your new ranch.”

“Thank you, sir,” David said. He swept his tongue over the inside of his cheeks and swallowed hard. It was not until the man turned away from him and began to walk in the opposite direction that he finally felt like he could breathe.


Paints were David’s favorite horses, and Perry Sawyer owned more than a few. There was something wild about them and solidly American. They were the brilliant icons of Manifest Destiny. Nowhere else in the world could boast creatures of such stunning colors and patterns.

David pulled a coarse bristle-brush down the flank of his favorite gelding and patted the horse’s side at the same time. His legs already ached from the day’s work and the sun was still a long time from setting. He had gotten out of bed extra early to get a head start on his chores before meeting the Samaritan, and now that he was home, there was plenty more to do.

The work on a ranch was never done. But it was what he was used to, and he did not mind. He would rather earn it honestly, and he’d have to work even harder when he had acres and horses of his own.

Just the thought was enough to bring a swell of anxious anticipation up to his chest. David smiled and dragged his brush over the horse’s flank again. It nickered and swiveled its head to look at him. David laughed softly and patted its neck.

“You can feel it too, can’t you?” he asked the horse. “Between you and me, I think Abbie is going to be pleased pink. Maybe you can come with us, old boy.” Another stroke from the brush. “You can be my first purchase.”

“Are you talking to that horse again, David Sullivan?” Abigail’s voice came from the fence. David turned his head at the sound, unable to stop the smile that sprang to his face when he caught sight of his beautiful wife.

“Well, not anymore,” he laughed and grabbed the flat brim of his hat. “Now I am in much better company.”

Abigail was barely tall enough to put her elbows over the wooden sides of the fence where she was standing. Her long, silky brown hair was twisted up and pinned against her head in a practical style befitting a married woman, although a few rogue strands had escaped.

The wisps brushed across her cheeks, only serving to draw attention to her light brown eyes—the most beautiful shade he had ever seen. The sunlight turned them gold, as rich and deep as honey sliding off a waxy comb. They looked even lighter behind twin fans of thick black lashes, which curled ever-so-slightly at the tips and fluttered like butterflies when they flickered.

Her sun-kissed cheeks brought a charming flush to her warm, olive skin and when she smiled, her entire face lit up like a barn lantern. Just one glimpse was enough to take the pain out of his legs and make his heart feel that much lighter as it skipped a beat in his chest.

Everything was going to be worth it. Everything was already worth it. He would borrow against what he had already borrowed and then borrow some more, whatever it took to provide her with everything that she deserved.

“You look like you could use some help,” she said. Even as she spoke, she moved along the fence towards the gate. “If you’re going to be standing there, petting and cooing over each one, you’ll never finish up before supper.”

“It’s just with Trick,” he said, although his eyes would not leave her as she walked. “I’ve only got one or two left to do.”

“Have you touched the new stallion?” she asked. Her shoes sank into the mud as she walked across the corral. Spring rain. Southwestern heat. The air was thicker than soup, but for the moment the sky was free of clouds. A stretch of seamless blue like a hat ribbon that ran all the way to the Mojave Desert.

“Not yet,” David admitted. “He’s a bit wild-eyed still and unbroken. I need to work with him some more, I just haven’t had the time.”

Abigail finally reached him and set her hand on Trick’s side, brushing her fingers ever-so-gently against David’s own. His heart raced with the contact, and he rested his hand on top of hers. He wanted nothing more than to put his arms around her and pull her in for a kiss, but there would be time for that later.

“Later,” she agreed. Her voice took on a teasing note. “Did I tell you what I’m making for supper? Roasted potatoes. Corn muffins. Nice thick stew from the last of that steer we slaughtered. Peach pie for dessert.”

“Mercy!” David laughed and wiped the corners of his mouth. “You’re making my mouth water, Abbie.”

Her smile widened. “Serves you right,” she said. “Maybe it will light a fire under your feet to finish up out here.” She looked at Trick. “And you stop distracting him.”

From the corner of David’s eye, he caught sight of someone else walking up to the fence. It was easy to recognize Perry Sawyer just from his silhouette alone. A tall, proud man with a craggy face and eyes the same light brown shade as his daughter’s. His hair might have been the same brown too, once, but now it was mostly iron-gray.

Perry opened up the gate and walked right through, making long-legged strides towards the couple. Abigail glanced up when she noticed he was coming because Trick shifted and moved away. Apparently, there were too many people in the mix.

“Abbie,” Perry said. “Our supper is looking mighty fine. I nipped one of your corn muffins from the skillet.”

“Couldn’t help it, could you?” Abigail put her hands on her hips, pretending to admonish him. There was no heat behind it, though. “I’m glad I hid the pie, then.”

Perry laughed. He had a nice, easy way around his daughter and his laughter was sincere. Even so, his shoulders seemed tense, all the way down to the way he was holding his arms nearly straight by his sides with his hands in his pockets.

“I was wondering if I might borrow your husband for a minute,” he said. David searched his face for a hint of what he might want to discuss, but the older man was giving away nothing.

“I was just helping him finish up his chores,” Abigail said. “Now, if the two of you get gabbing, you will never show up for supper. And you will starve.”

“A pack of coyotes couldn’t keep me away from your vittles,” Perry reassured her while resting his hand against his stomach. “I’ll have him there in time. We’ll take care of these old horses and get them fed. You go back to the kitchen so that stew doesn’t burn, or poor David will have worked all day for nothing.”

His light-hearted words did not match his expression, and David knew that Abigail, astute as ever, could tell something was up. She glanced between the two of them, as if waiting for an explanation. When neither provided one, she relented with a nod and walked back towards the gate, only glancing over her shoulder once before making the trek back towards the house.


A Week Later


There was a storm brewing on the horizon, coming in fast like a herd of wild horses. The air crackled with electricity from heat lightning that tormented the heavy bellies of the dark clouds. Abigail and her mother-in-law were busy in the kitchen baking their bread for the week. A distraction that David was grateful for, because he was not keen on the idea of his conversation with Perry being overheard.

A conversation that ended with David banging his fist against the white door that separated the main living area from the kitchen. He did not even mean to hit it, his anger just shot down the length of his arm until he felt like his hand had a life of its own.

It was hard to see anything but red as he tore through the kitchen and headed for the back door. He did not look at either woman; he did not want to speak to them. His words were fiery-hot on his tongue and he had no idea what he might say. The last thing he wanted to do was lash out when neither of them deserved it.

He nearly made it, but then Abigail grabbed hold of his arm. David stopped in his tracks, even though his vision was still hazy, like sizzling heatwaves on desert sand.

“David.” Her voice sounded far away. He tried to bring himself back around, but his head was swimming. There was too much inside of it—too much anger, and confusion, and hurt. “David, where are you going?”

“Out.” He glanced towards the door. “Corral. That new stallion needs to be broken. I’m going to work with him some.”

“No, you’re not,” Abigail said. Her voice was gentle yet firm, very practical of her and placating. Yet stubborn. Always so stubborn. “There’s a storm brewing out there and you’re going to be caught right in it.”

“I won’t be,” David replied. “I’ll ride out in the direction opposite the storm.”

“You’ll catch your death of pneumonia, or worse.” She tightened her desperate grip on his arm. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I’ll be all right,” he continued to reassure her.

Perry walked into the room, clearly angry, with his hard mouth set in a thin line and his brown eyes flinty. He seemed like a stranger to David now, almost unrecognizable. So much had been exchanged between them in the past hour. So much had changed.

David wiped his face, trying to push down some of his rage so that he could speak to his wife properly. “I will be back soon,” he said. He wasn’t interested in arguing anymore. He had to get out of the house and do something before he started throwing his fists. “Keep something warm for me.”

He watched a series of emotions flash across Abbie’s face, but in the end, she just loosened her grip before finally pulling her hand away and nodding.

“Be careful,” she told him.

David nodded distractedly. He didn’t even say goodbye to his mother but peeled out of the house and made his way towards the corral even as raindrops splattered against the ground, making dark circles in the hard dirt.

The stallion had his own pen, away from the rest of the horses. David had worked with him enough that he didn’t resist being tacked but getting up on him was a whole different matter. Normally, David would have worked up to that, but his mind was so consumed by his conversation with Perry that all caution had been tossed to the wind. He grabbed the saddle horn and swung himself up, squeezing the stallion’s sides and gripping the reins to lessen his chances of getting thrown.

The rain came down more intensely. It was hard pellets now, fast and cold as it beat against the brim of his hat and drummed on his shoulders louder than hail. Each raindrop stung, which only fueled his fury. He secretly hoped for more, for a furious storm that fought against him, that tried to drive him into the ground with its hard, fast rain.

The stallion was having none of it, either. He was angry, as angry as David, but for different reasons. The horse felt betrayal in a far different way. He had been separated from his wild herd and placed behind the high rails of a pen that he couldn’t jump over. And now he was being forced into submission, broken, made to fall into line. His spirit was unwilling to bend without a fight.

David would fight, too. He would fight to give Abbie everything she had promised. He thought of her eyes. Those beautiful, honey-brown wells of warmth where all his love lived. Where he found his comfort. He thought of her worried, upturned face as she tried to stop him from tearing out the door. He wondered if he had frightened her when he banged on the door and came rushing out like a bull. He had not meant to frighten or worry her, there were simply things she did not know about—could not know about—things that burdened him deeply.

It would all be better. He promised himself that. He would do everything in his power to honor his wife’s name and her love.

The rain came down even harder. And David gripped the saddle horn until his leather gloves squealed. The horse reared, and the saddle slid. Lightning flashed again, making the entire sky was white.

Chapter One

Leadville, Colorado


4 Years Later


The would-be groom went stumbling down the front steps of the porch, half-bent over with his long legs bunching up underneath him like a grasshopper. Abigail Sullivan stomped towards the door and sent his hat flying after him, watching it sail just past his shoulder and land in the dirt a foot away.

“Thank you for coming to call, Mr. Browning,” she called after him. Her voice was more of a quiet, white-hot anger than her stomps, which were like thunder cracking over the peaks of a mountain. “I regret to inform you that we cannot accept your proposal.”

She said ‘we’ as if it had been a matter of business. And she supposed that it was, it had to be, in a sense. Randy Browning was a man of considerable means thanks to a few successful investments, but he spoke fast like a politician, and he had a hairline that was retreating faster than an ocean tide at dawn. There was no way on Heaven or Earth that she would consider marrying him, and she had told her father just as much. Unfortunately, Perry had invited him over for supper anyway, and so she had been forced to take matters into her own hands.

All things considered, Randy had accepted the turn of events with grace. He picked up his hat from the ground and dusted it off, turning to face the house once again and giving a little half-bow. Abigail slammed the door so hard that it rattled in its frame.

Her father stood behind her, his great arms crossed over his burly chest. He disapproved, of course. But had he stopped her? No, he had not. He knew better than to get in his daughter’s way when she was all worked up and spitting fire.

“Yes, Father?” Abigail smoothed out the front of her dress. The fabric was a lot thinner than it had been a few years ago, and one of her fingers found a hole. “Do you want your coffee, now?”

“Abbie,” he said. He used the affectionate diminutive even though he was angry. “Mr. Browning came here in good faith.”

“I believe that, Father, and I understand,” Abigail said.

“You should not have thrown him out,” he continued.

“He left me little choice.” Abigail pushed her finger into the hole, distracted by a thought of how she would have to patch it. “He would not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Perry pinched the bridge of his nose and pushed his fingers down into the wrinkled corners of his eyes. “He wants to marry you,” her father said. “Or should I say that he did. And it’s high time that you do marry again. It’s not right or proper for a woman to be alone after so much time. Once you have packed away your mourning blacks, you need to put your focus towards the future. Your future, and ours. Do you think that I want to see my daughter a sullen widow for the rest of her days?”

“Sullen widow?” Abigail echoed. She pulled her finger out of the hole in her skirt and headed towards the kitchen. “I have done my fair share. I have kept up with my work.”

Perry followed her. “When was the last time you went into town?”

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly.

“There was a barn dance, and you did not go.”

“I had nothing to wear,” she shot back. “There was too much to do here. Barn dances are for young girls. Not old widows.”

“When was the last time you went to church?” He changed tactics. “It’s not right, either, to stop attending church on Sundays. Reverend Ackles asked after you. I had to tell him you were sick. I had to lie because my daughter is too stubborn and self-pitying to honor God.”

“I do honor God!” Abigail stopped just short of her brewing kettle and turned to face him. “On my own, in front of the fireplace. I read the family Bible and I pray. Is that not good enough?”

Perry threw his hands in the air. “You need a husband, Abbie. A good, God-fearing man. Someone who will take care of you and dare I say, someone with a stomach of steel for your stubborn nature.”

“And someone with money to spend?” she asked dryly. “Someone who can clean up what is left of this ranch?”

Perry did not have a response for that. He went quiet, his narrow mouth nearly disappearing as he pulled his lips inward and folded his arms again. Abigail turned back to her kettle and wrapped a thick cloth around the handle to pull it away from the fire hook.

“Martha,” she said. “Would you like some coffee?”

Martha Sullivan looked up. She had been knitting, sitting quietly in a rocking chair by the kitchen fireplace and trying not to get caught up in another one of their arguments. The skin around her swollen knuckles was tight and red, and her hands trembled even as she tried to push her needles through the yarn.

“Thank you, Abigail,” she said, her voice quivering a bit. “I think that I…”

“There are only so many suitors,” Perry said, his voice holding a bit more brimstone than usual. “Only so many potential grooms. You will have lost every prospect by the end of the year.”

That is something to thank God for,” Abigail snipped. “Perhaps if I send enough of them away, they will give up. And then I will finally have some peace…!”

Her words were cut off when Martha cried out. The woman’s knitting needle had slipped and she could not get it back through the loop. Her bent fingers were trembling too much. The entire bundle dropped into Martha’s lap, and with another sob, she picked it up and threw it down onto the floor. She wrapped her hands around each other, rubbing at her knuckles and hanging her head. Tears raced down her cheeks and dripped off the end of her nose, while her thin chest rose and fell with the rapidity of her sobs.

Perry fell silent and Abigail rushed to her mother-in-law’s side. She knelt down beside the rocking chair and picked up the tangled yarn off the ground. She sorted out as much of it as she could and placed it back in Martha’s lap, but her mother-in-law just shook her head.

“It’s no use,” Martha sobbed. Her voice hitched on every word, and she could hardly speak around her own tears. “It is going to go on and on forever. The two of you will never stop fighting, and I will keep getting sick. It will never stop.”

Her tears came faster, and she leaned over in her seat, pushing her hands against her face and trying to smother her broken, pathetic sounds. But they tore at Abigail’s heart all the same.

She looked up at her father, who stood awkwardly at a distance. Abigail could tell by his face that he did not know what to do. He was still wound-up from their fight, and now Martha was crying and even Abigail’s soft reassurances were not helping.

“Everything is going to be all right,” Abigail tried to soothe Martha.

Perry shifted on his feet and rubbed his arm before finally turning away.

“I am going to go feed the horses,” he said. He did not wait for an answer, but just left. For Abigail, that was preferable. She was exhausted from the fight and had been trying not to let it show.

“Martha, let me get you something hot,” Abigail said after a moment. “Even if you don’t drink it, you can warm your hands.”

Martha didn’t say anything, just sniffed and nodded.

Abigail brought a handkerchief to her, and the woman blew her nose. She was younger than Abigail’s father by several years, and yet the pains in her hands and knees that crippled her more and more every day were not proportional to her age. She tried not to burden them with her suffering, but even keeping her agony to herself, she was doing less and less housework as time went on. Abigail was shouldering the lion’s share of the cooking and the cleaning, as well as whatever work her father needed help with when it came to tending to the ranch.

“You should not be so cruel to him, you know,” Martha said as she sniffed again. “He’s only doing what he believes is best.”

Abigail sighed and poured a handful of roasted coffee beans into her mortar to start grinding. “A lot of what has happened around here is the result of him just doing what he thinks is best,” she said.

“I know.” Martha looked up. “And believe me, just between us, I find it very hypocritical of him to be so high-and-mighty about church-going when he does what he does. It’s dishonest work. A sin, it is. But David is not with us anymore.” Her voice trembled a bit. “And we all have to do what we must.”

Abigail nodded and ground down on the coffee beans with her pestle. David was an unavoidable subject, but that did not mean she wanted to talk about him. His death weighed on her as much as anyone else, although not even so much that as the debt he left behind. The debt that was now her responsibility.

She felt like she was to blame for everything, these days. Her father wanted to fix all their problems like he quick-fixed his books by manipulating the numbers. If she just married well, he would have no more worries. And if she gave into his wishes, then they would not be fighting nearly as much, and poor Martha would not have to suffer through their spats. ‘Like barnyard cats,’ she liked to cry. ‘It was never like this before David left us.’

There was still a lot of anger and bitterness around David’s death fostered deep in Abigail’s heart. It was part of the reason she had such a difficult time in church. It felt so wrong to try and talk to God in His own house when so much of their lives was fed by an ugly vein of sin. Maybe her father could walk around with a clear conscience, but it was harder for her. Every month that went by, she felt more buried by her shame.

A year after David’s death she had locked away her mourning clothes and donned her soft blue tartans and yellow cotton again, but she didn’t recognize herself anymore. The clothes from her trunk felt like they belonged to someone else, someone who had walked away the night David perished.

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