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Finding Western Love in Someone Else's Shoes

She goes as a mail-order bride in her best friend’s shoes. He sees this marriage as another business deal. Will two find the truth through a life-changing lie?

“The anticipation may have lasted only a second, but it felt like years before his lips touched hers, and an explosion of fire rushed through every vein in her body.”

When she must leave the orphanage, Mia is left high and dry. With no family or a plan, she decides to make the decision that will change her life; to switch places with her best friend and become a mail-order bride to a stranger cowboy. How can a relationship based on the secret bloom into true love?

Samuel is the most powerful rancher in Texas, but nothing matters to him after losing his wife. The marriage with his partner’s niece it’s nothing more than another business deal to him. But when he leads his eyes to this beautiful woman, he knows something is off. How can he embrace the feelings he had so long to feel?

Mia and Samuel start their relationship based on a huge secret. So how can they build trust from the beginning and stay together to defeat a common enemy?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author


Victoria, Texas. 1864

“Be careful!” The sharp whisper was punctuated by a muffled giggle. Mia’s smudged fingers pulled a calico skirt out of danger. She gave her wild red curls a toss in a fruitless effort to keep them out of her face. “You’ll spill the ink.”

“Then don’t make me laugh,” Lana countered and rubbed the tip of her nose, leaving a tiny streak. The two had proven inseparable since Lana had come to live at The Brownson Home for Children in Need two years ago. They encouraged a mischievous streak in each other, and something about being around Lana helped Mia to speak her mind, which only made loud Lana that much louder.

Only nine years old but weather-beaten and wise each in their own way, anybody might have thought them sisters if their appearances weren’t so starkly different. Mia’s red hair sprawled over her shoulders in rough, wild ringlets, her green eyes bright against fair skin, while Lana had eyes of golden brown to match her warm coffee-colored hair and healthy glow from the sun.

They were full of mischief. Harmless mischief, fortunately, but no number of warnings nor punishments deterred their antics. This time, they were back to forging a love letter to Miss Rose from Mr. Jenkins, the custodian who came to clean the orphanage once a week. This wasn’t the first time Mr. Jenkins had declared his love for the headmistress, and until the girls were caught or the two adults gave in to their painfully obvious feelings for one another, the letters would continue.

It was a fine late summer night in Victoria. Mia and Lana had taken the paper, pen, and ink to their favorite spot on the orphanage’s roof after lights out to write their opus. They were supposed to be asleep, but instead, they had climbed up the old wisteria trellis on the side of the building to the rooftop like they had done a thousand times before. It was Mia’s turn to compose the letter while Lana wrote it out.

“Where were we?” Mia asked through the remnants of a laugh.

My darling, a week seems like a year for my longing to see you. That’s good.” Lana dipped the pen into the ink and then let it drip clean before moving it back to the paper.

This kind of thing kept Mia from giving in to melancholy about her lot as an orphan. The friend she had in Lana was so close that she felt like a sister. From the day Lana had arrived at Brownson, Mia had found a kindred spirit. Someone who made her heart warm whenever she was around. It made her feel like she mattered. Both were excitable, imaginative, and stubborn. Miss Rosa tried to train those qualities out of Mia, but it became a lost cause when Lana showed up.

Mia nodded as if she were taking this very seriously. “Write this: Would that I had a reason to visit you, but for propriety’s sake, I restrain myself. So, I must content myself to dream of your smiles, your… voice.

“We wrote about her voice last time,” Lana said. While she waited, she blew a strand of her brunette hair away from her eyes. “Remember? All we did was change up what we read in that dime book I bought for my birthday.” Lana’s uncle had sent her money instead of a gift, so, of course, she had spent it on something silly like a pulp fiction romance. Though Mia couldn’t deny she’d read the thing cover to cover. Twice.

Mia hummed. “What haven’t we used yet? Her hair. Her eyes. Oh! Write this: I am enchanted in my lonely evenings when I see the willow tree outside my door with its limbs as slender and supple as your waist.

“That is good!” Lana carefully wrote what Mia dictated. “If she isn’t half in love with him by now, then I will cut my hair.”

If there was one thing Lana was vain about, it was her hair. Mia envied how silky and full it was, not to mention straight. Lana went to great lengths to make it look nice by either braiding it or tying it back with a ribbon. She set aside at least a half-hour before bed to brush it out. Mia teased her about it, but truthfully, she’d trade anything to have hair like Lana’s instead of her own wild, untamable, unbrushable mane.

Mia had to put a hand over her lips to contain her amusement. The small candle they had brought with them to work near made her bright green eyes twinkle. “Please don’t. You just got that new ribbon, and it looks lovely.”

Lana scoffed. “I never would. That’s what I’m saying.”

The girls continued until the letter was completed and dry. Once they had climbed back down the trellis, they deposited the letter outside Miss Rose’s door as quietly as two young, giggling girls could. Then they took themselves to their beds before anyone caught them. Some of their fellow orphans might think to gain favor with the headmistress by telling on them.

Normally, they would have been able to slip into the bedroom they shared with four other girls through the window. It was their good fortune that their bed was right inside, and the trellis they used was beside that. Instead, they had to go through the inner courtyard of the Spanish Mission style building to the wing opposite theirs to deposit the love letter, then back. Luckily, they didn’t have to worry about creaky boards since the floor was tile and the stucco walls absorbed their muffled snickers. The last hurdle would be sneaking into their bed without waking the other girls.

Brownson was shaped like a U. The left wing was for the children. The right-wing held Miss Rose’s bedroom, which doubled as her office. The kitchen and dining room were there too. Between the wings was the courtyard with a small fountain, the willow tree, and a small herb garden. The quickest way from one wing to the other was to cut through the courtyard.

As with everything else, Mia and Lana shared a bed by a window in the children’s quarters. Lana had fallen asleep not long after they had crawled under the quilt, but Mia lay awake. Her attention was on the vast mass of sky beyond the window, where a single star seemed to stand out to her from the rest.

One night, Mia felt especially lonely after another family had adopted a little blond girl that had only been in the home for a month. Once again, she had been left behind. Miss Rose had comforted her then by pointing out the bright star. She said it was Mia’s special star. It was where her parents were watching over her, and that one day, they would send a family to her, and Mia would never be lonely again. It hurt to even think about her parents since she had never met them. Mia didn’t even know what they would look like if they were around. Nevertheless, she had believed in the star entirely at that age. Even now that she was older and knew better, she still clung to that tale.

She had lived at the orphanage for as long as she could remember. Miss Rose told her that her parents died in a fire when she was two years old. No other family could be located. She was alone.

Mia had once overheard Miss Rose saying to Mr. Jenkins that she felt the authorities hadn’t looked very hard. She had been brought to Brownson and had been there ever since, with Miss Rose and Mr. Jenkins as the only constants in her life. Even the authorities didn’t see a need to find her a family. Perhaps they didn’t feel like she deserved one.

Seven years came and went. Many families visited Brownson, and still, Mia never got adopted. Miss Rose said it was because everything Mia thought came right out of her mouth, which wasn’t very ladylike. Mia had never stopped being willful, but she had learned how not to regret it. But there were nights like tonight when she’d look up at her special star and wonder if she would ever have a family. She eventually drifted off to sleep with that wish occupying her mind.

Chapter One

Victoria, Texas. 1873

There it is. My special star. As constant as Lana. There was never a time that Mia would go to the roof, with or without her best friend, that she didn’t look for the star Miss Rose had pointed out to her all those years before. But she’d been done wishing for it to bless her with family a long time back. Now, as she sat on the roof of Brownson with Lana again and looked up at her star, Mia just wished for direction.

Next week she’d turn eighteen years old. It was near time for her to leave the orphanage. To start her life as an adult. Miss Rose had counseled her on what possibilities there were for a young woman like herself, which wasn’t much with no family to speak of. Although she had a decent enough education, thanks to the Brownson Home, the best she could hope for was working in someone’s shop or factory. Maybe as a teacher if she was lucky. But her prospects were few, especially when it came to marriage. No one with honor or of means would want an orphan wife with no money, no connections, and nothing to bring to the table.


Lana’s voice snapped Mia out of her thoughts. “Hmm?” she asked as she brought her attention to her best friend, who had joined her on the roof. It was later than she thought. The full moon had risen, putting Lana into silhouette. Mia didn’t need to see her friend’s features to know Lana was scowling at her. She could tell just by her tone of voice. Mia felt a twinge of guilt, sending her stomach into a ball of knots. It felt like yarn pulled from the wrong point, messy and tight. Anyone else and she would just shrug off their annoyance, but Lana held a special place in Mia’s life and heart.

“I’ve been calling your name three times now.” Lana looked at her as if she didn’t recognize Mia. “Are you sick? Ain’t like you to be so quiet.”

“Just thinkin’ is all.” Mia knew she wasn’t acting like herself, but she couldn’t help it. She smoothed non-existent dust off her gingham skirt just to have something to do. The Spanish tile of the roof still held heat from the sun even hours after it had set. Mia could feel it through the fabric.

Miss Rose didn’t get much by way of supplies for the children in the orphanage; folks donated food more than anything else. However, things like linens and bolts of fabric were few and far between. Mia, Lana, and their fellow orphans had to wear the same two sets of clothes until they grew out of them, and, more often than not, the sets were mismatched. For instance, she and Lana wore gingham skirts and raw linen blouses with light blue pinstripes that Miss Rose had made for their sixteenth birthdays. They were grateful, of course, but Mia had joked to Lana that they looked like a blind seamstress had dressed them.

“Must be some deep thoughts to weigh you down like this.” Lana wore a worried look.

“They aren’t, really,” she assured her friend. “Just wonderin’ what I’m gonna do after next week. I can’t stay here after I turn eighteen.” Mia could hear the petulance in her voice. She hated sounding like an ungrateful cur but knew she could trust her true feelings with Lana. It had been a long time since she’d consciously let her guard down. Now it was just habit.

“Yeah.” Lana sighed as she pulled her knees up, folded her arms, then rested her chin on them. The posture wasn’t what Miss Rose would consider ladylike, but neither Lana nor Mia cared about propriety when they were hidden away on the roof. “Wish I didn’t know what I was gonna do.”

Mia turned her green eyes on Lana. “What do you mean?”

“A letter from my uncle in Corpus Christi came yesterday to Miss Rose. He says he arranged for me to be a governess to some old rancher man’s son.” Lana wrinkled her nose as she stuck her tongue out. It managed to draw a smile from Mia.

“That doesn’t sound too bad. It’s sounds easy, at least. Nice, maybe.” Mia turned her eyes to her gloomy friend then looked down at her feet. She knew Lana wasn’t excited. Her relationship with her uncle had always been a distant one. After her parents died, the man hadn’t taken her in, shipping her off to Brownson to be raised instead. Lana had admitted to Mia once that she resented her uncle for that.

“Except it ain’t what I want.” Lana pulled a lock of her hair forward so she could play with the ends. “I want to go to Europe. I want to see the places Jane Austen writes about.” She grinned as she continued. “I want to find a Mr. Darcy.”

Mia giggled. Pride and Prejudice was Lana’s favorite book. It didn’t surprise her one bit that Lana wanted to have an adventure like what she’d read about. Ever since she’d discovered books that told grand stories, Lana had longed to wander. Mia would just be satisfied with somewhere to fit in. “There isn’t a man in existence who could be enough like Mr. Darcy for you.”

Lana laughed as she shoved at Mia’s shoulder in a mock effort to push her off the roof. “I bet there is! And I bet he’s in England.” She drifted off with another wistful sigh. “I wish I were you.”

“Me?!” Mia was stunned to her toes. “Why? I got nothing. Nobody wants to be me.’’ She shook her head. The motion made her red hair sway. Growing up had tamed her curls somewhat, but there was enough of them to make doing anything other than tying her hair back tricky. They just escaped from a braid a little bit at a time until she looked like a crazy girl that never took a brush to her hair. That same hair was one of the reasons she felt no fella would ever give her a second look. Lana’s sleek brown hair was just as perfect as ever.

“That’s just it,” Lana insisted. “You got nothing. No cold-hearted uncle sendin’ you to an orphanage then makin’ plans for you. Makin’ decisions for you about your life. I could go wherever I wanted if I were as lucky as you.”

“I could go wherever I wanted if I had money, or connections, or any living relations. I’d give anything for that.”

They both fell into a thoughtful silence; Mia scared of her future and Lana not wanting hers. Mia looked back up into the sky at her star as if that cold light held the answers to their problems. As always, it was silent. If her parents really were watching her, they never made themselves known.

They stayed like that for some time. Mia knew eventually they would have to climb down the trellis and then slip into their beds. She wasn’t in any rush. Going back would mean continuing toward an unknown life, another day closer to losing everything she had ever known. She felt like she was riding a runaway mustang into nowhere, not knowing where or why. Mia would have been content to stay there all night, despite the slight chill in the air.

Lana snatched Mia by the upper arm, startling her out of her silence. “Mia!”


“Mia. I have a splendid idea,” she said in an excited whisper. “It’s perfect.” Looking at Lana, Mia could see how her friend’s eyes lit up by the moonlight. Something had her fired up. It reminded her of when Lana had figured out a way for them to get some penny candy from the grocer without actually having any pennies.

Mia didn’t see any way to change either of their fortunes, but Lana could be clever. Not to mention, Mia had an irrepressible curiosity. “What? Tell me.”

“We switch places,” Lana answered with a grin.

Mia blinked. “What?”

Lana laughed a little. “You be me. You go be a governess on the ranch. I’ll be you, and I’ll go to England like I want.”

That was the most ludicrous suggestion she’d ever heard. It was a scheme right out of one of Lana’s books, so it wasn’t a surprise she’d devise such a thing, but, as clever as they both were, it was impractical.

Mia frowned. “But your uncle…”

“He isn’t ever going to see you.” Lana wiggled on the roof until she was facing Mia better. She hadn’t yet released Mia’s arm, and she Mia could feel Lana’s excitement about her idea. The cold blue light of the moon somehow seemed warmer on Lana’s features, simply because she was smiling in her enthusiasm. “He isn’t coming to get me. He sent train tickets. You would go right to the little town outside Corpus Christi, where the ranch is. He’d never know it wasn’t me. It’s perfect!”

The plan still sounded dicey to Mia, and she came up with another problem. “But how will you get to England? You don’t have any money.”

Lana’s grin grew broader. “Don’t worry about that. I got enough. Remember that money he’d send every month for food and clothing,” her voice changed to a tone of mockery, “to keep me plump and healthy so he could marry me off later. It got saved up for me. I got plenty to get me to England.”

Mia did remember. How could she forget a constant reminder that she was alone in the world? That nobody would even send money to help her along?

Nobody will be concerned about where I go after this, except Miss Rose and Lana.

Mia still hesitated, but she was growing to like this plan more and more. All she had to do was go by Lana’s name. She knew enough about Lana’s past and family from hearing the stories ever since they’d met. Mia didn’t have a family of her own to recall, so she’d lived vicariously through Lana’s memories. Because of how much she’d envied Lana’s past, this crazy idea became more and more enticing. Could she possibly have the chance to build something for her future that she’d never had in her past? What about Miss Rose?

“Please, Mia.” Lana took Mia’s hand into both of hers. The desperate expression on her face made Mia smirk in amusement. “Look, I swear. My uncle would never set foot on a ranch. Might get his shoes dirty. And you’re so much better with children than I am. This is what you want.”

Mia sighed as she gave Lana an exasperated look in return. “True. You barely had patience for children, even when we were their age.”

Mia looked at Lana in silence. It was true. Mia liked children. She got along better with them than she’d ever get along with adults. She liked the games and the wild ideas a youthful imagination could come up with. Encouraging such things in a child under her care would be something she’d enjoy. And it could almost be like having one of her own. Maybe it could be enough. Judging by the impatient look on Lana’s face, Mia could tell her friend knew all that and had thrown it out to persuade Mia to her side.

Her hesitation was diminishing. That left only one worry. “How are you gonna get to England alone? And what are you gonna do once you get there?” Women weren’t supposed to travel alone, even ones as far down in Society as they were. At least, that was how Mia understood it.

But Lana waved that point off as she made a rude noise. “There’s more and more women travelin’ on their own now than before. Especially here with so many men killed off in the War Between the States. It ain’t as strange anymore. I heard there’s women in England traveling to India on their own now. Besides, I’ll tell ‘em I’m a missionary if anyone asks. Lot’s of ladies travelin’ to Europe on mission these days.”

Now that Lana mentioned it, Mia remembered her friend telling her about an article she’d found in a newspaper someone had thrown away. Someone named Mary Carpenter wrote about women in India and them having it better than women in Europe. Of course, that had caught Lana’s attention since her friend idolized women of strong constitution.

Mia was out of arguments and sighed. “Okay. But are you sure your uncle…?” She never finished her question since Lana let out a triumphant squeak right before she hugged Mia tightly.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Lana rocked Mia in her arms, which made both young women laugh, and they almost lost their balance.

“Be careful!” The warning Mia gave was an exact echo from years ago when they had been trying to convince Miss Rose that Mr. Jenkins was entirely in love with her. s

“Alright, now tell me about this rancher and his son.” Mia laughed as Lana kissed her cheek. “And we better go over what I know about you and your history so I don’t get caught havin’ to make somethin’ up. If this rancher knows your uncle, he might catch me out in a lie.” She wasn’t sure what would become of her if that happened, but she knew it wouldn’t be good.

“You are my best friend in the whole wide world,” Lana declared as she released Mia. She did keep hold of Mia’s hand, however. “You know, I’m gonna miss you.”

“You better,” Mia answered. It struck her that she’d be separated from the only person she’d loved in her entire life in a couple of weeks. She felt the sudden sting of tears in her eyes at the thought. Who would she talk to about her day? Who would she share her hopes with? She was going to miss Lana something awful. “You better write me from England. Tell me how the hunt for your Mr. Darcy is going.”

“I will,” Lana said as her own eyes welled up.

“Every day.” Mia squeezed Lana’s hand in reassurance. “Where will go stay? What on earth on you going to do there?”

“I promise.” Lana gave an indelicate sniffle. “Starting with when I board a ship. I’ll send it to Corpus Christi, and the post will get it to the rancher. Never mind me, I’ve got that all figured out.” Lana laughed, kissed Mia’s hand, then cleared her throat. “Now. Let’s start with my father. It’s his brother that arranged all this.”

Mia listened closely as Lana gave her important details she would need to remember. Most of it she had heard before, but she figured it couldn’t hurt to have a refresher. Was she still nervous about pulling this off? Heavens, yes. But she just had to get used to being called by Lana’s name. That should help settle her into her part. Lana had thought of this, too, and suggested that in the time they had left, they call each other by their own names when no one was paying attention.

Before they climbed down from the roof and after they had grown tired of talking about Lana’s family, they whispered about their new futures. Lana said she planned to get a job once she got to where she wanted to be. Mia talked about everything she planned to teach and do with the boy she’d be taking care of. Lana teased Mia about the son’s father, the man who owned the ranch. Maybe they would fall madly in love. Mia had burst into laughter at that idea.

But it made her blush to think it could happen. Her heart yearned for someone to care about her. Maybe even love her. It was what she’d been lacking her whole life and what she secretly wished to find.

It was only a few hours before dawn when they climbed down the trellis and into bed. Neither could fall asleep right away, too happy about their new prospects. Eventually, Lana drifted off, leaving Mia pondering how quickly her uncertain future had changed. And it was far better than what she could have come up with for herself. Without a good society reference, she wouldn’t have been able to get a position such as this. She owed it all to Lana. And it didn’t matter to her how old the rancher was. She wasn’t going there for him. Lana had told her that the son was not much more than a toddler, so how old could this rancher really be?

Mia eventually fell asleep, pursued by thoughts of what life would be like as a governess to a rancher’s son. Rough and tumble as she tried to keep him out of trouble? Quiet as the prairie itself? It was a mystery that she wouldn’t solve until she got there. Mia was looking forward to tomorrow for the first time in her life. As frightening as it was, the unknown held the potential for almost anything. She allowed herself to have hope that something good was waiting for her. She was also terrified that it would lead to more heartache and rejection, as always.

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