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A Love Letter for Two Wounded Souls

She promises to never give her heart to another man. He falls in love with the woman behind the love letters that aren’t meant for him. Is love all it takes to heal two wounded souls?

“He read those letters that weren’t meant for him and fell in love with the woman behind them.”

After losing her fiancé on the battlefield, Delia promises never to fall in love again. With a gang terrorizing the area and her unpaid loan, she has no other choice but to agree to a marriage of convenience. How can she suppress her guilt when she can’t help herself from falling for the soldier that comes unexpectedly and steals her heart?

Joe falls in love with Delia after reading the love letters meant for another man. When her fiancé loses his life in war, he intends to return those letters to her and get to know the person behind these heartfelt words. He doesn’t express his true feelings for her, but the need to protect her leads him to suggest a marriage of convenience. How can he fool himself when he wants nothing more than to make this marriage work?

Joe and Delia realize that maybe love can heal the deepest wounds. But, when earth-shattering secrets are revealed, will they manage to keep their newfound family intact?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.3/5

4.3 / 5 (52 ratings)

Prologue

Littleroost, North Carolina

1865

 

Delia shifted uncomfortably in the saddle of her mare as she stared out over the Cooper family land. She didn’t try to fight back the tears that welled in her eyes at the sight. Brown patches of what remained of the grass. Wilted crops that had gone seasons without growing. Her modest home and the neighboring barn sat on the other side of the baron fields, they too showing signs of wear.

She remembered running through the rows of corn and healthy crops that grew in tidy rows in the fields when she was younger. A time when there had been pens full of livestock and the sound of pigs oinking and goats chatting with each other would greet her ears.

She wiped at a tear with the back of her hand. Tears and the emotions that accompanied them had become her most consistent companions in the years since her family had gone to war.

After losing her mother in childbirth, Delia was raised by her father alongside three rambunctious older brothers. They had been her best friends and despite the loss of their mother, their home was full of love and laughter. Four years ago, they had all been called to fight in the war. They had gone together and fought alongside each other in the same regiment.

But one battle, two years after the war had started, had changed her life forever. The Battle of Tranter’s Creek, they were calling it. At first, she had only received word of her father’s passing. Next it was her oldest brother. She had had to wait eight excruciating days to learn that her remaining two brothers had lost their fight with life following the battle.

The horse under her shifted uncomfortably and Delia petted her long mane. Easy Gretel… She let her mind wander to a pleasant memory, back to a time when she didn’t know her brothers’ existences were something to be thankful for. She had been no older than nine, sitting on the edge of the short stall wall, braiding long brown plaits into Gretel’s mane while her brothers toiled around the barn mucking stalls and shoveling hay. Her brothers had teased her that her own dark brown hair had looked so much like Gretel’s that they must have been related.

Delia remembered knowing that she should be angry with them, but instead she smiled and let out a humph before starting to braid her own hair to match her favorite horse. And though she had long since stopped braiding Gretel’s hair, she kept her own in a long plait down her back that only proved to emphasize her tanned skin and dark eyes—another trait she shared with the horse.

Gretel had a way of sensing Delia’s anxiety, and maybe more so—she could recognize the death that lingered around the ranch.

And now, much like the land in front of her with little left to give, Delia found herself with only a single hope. That her fiancé, Harry, would write to her… or better yet, step onto the Cooper Ranch.

“Come on Gretel, let’s get back,” she said to the horse, wiping away the last of the tears. That was always what did it, the possibility that Harry would return home and she wouldn’t be there to greet him, that kept her close to the ranch whenever possible. She had been writing him since he left Littleroost years ago, but he had never written back. She hadn’t received any word of his death but had no way of knowing that the letters had reached him.

There was an emptiness in her while she waited, a void that couldn’t be filled by anything other than him. Even after years of not hearing from him, she never once stopped hoping that her postbox would hold a letter from him.

Still, she persisted, sending him a letter every couple of months to make sure that if he did receive them, he knew she was waiting for him and cared for him deeply.

Gretel started moving, cresting over the ridge and trotting between two strips of dead crop lines. Over a year ago she had all but given up on reviving the crops. When the war started, all the young men that had been working the ranch for the Cooper family had left for war alongside her father and brothers, so there was no one left to work the fields. No one except Delia and Oscar.

Oscar Frye was a longtime ranch hand and friend of the Coopers. He had lost his arm in an accident on the ranch over thirty years ago, and had continued to serve the Coopers in whatever way he could. His loyalty was unwavering, and Delia knew that he was another reason why she continued to fight for the ranch and not sell what remained of it.

Eventually, Gretel padded her way toward the back of the house. The quaint ranch home was situated so that the back door opened into a small grass patch, and the barn sat on the other side next to the outhouse and wash space. Gretel didn’t need guiding for her to pause outside the barn and wait long enough for Delia to hop down and open the barn door.

She spent a few minutes securing Gretel in her stall and supplying her with fresh feed and water. “I’ll come back in half an hour and give you a good brushin’, girl,” she said sweetly, patting the horse’s flank before turning away.

She shut the barn door behind her and walked across the grass to the house. The wind blew gently across the yard, and the now-familiar smell of dead plants greeted her. When she stepped in the house, she kicked her boots off by the back door and walked through the hall that led through to the main sitting area.

The hall was lined with mahogany frames of her family portraits: one of her parents only years before her mother passed, one of all three brothers side by side, a happier version of herself standing small in front of them, and individual ones of each of the men that Delia had put up herself in remembrance of them. This hallway was the only part of the ranch and her home that she ensured was kept tidy and dusted—because her family still deserved the best despite where they had ended up.

It was bittersweet to see them every day and have them watching over her. Most of the time she avoided making eye contact with the sets of matching dark eyes in each portrait, as if meeting their gaze would alert them to her failures on the ranch. Sometimes her heart ached at the idea of what her father and brothers would think if they saw her now. Undoubtedly, they would be sad to see the ranch fall to such a state of disarray. But would they also be angry—or slightly disappointed in how things had become? They had no choice but to join the war, but in doing so they had entrusted her with keeping up the ranch and she had let them down.

She shook the depressing thoughts away, something she often did a few times a day. The hallway emptied out into an open space, the small kitchen on the left with a tidy wooden table and a seating area with a stone fireplace and two fluffy chairs on the right. She turned toward the kitchen and set to making herself a lunch of dried jerky and hard bread.

As she often did, she opted to eat standing up against the kitchen basin. She had too many memories of the five of them sitting around that kitchen table and it was often too painful to sit there. Periodically, for a birthday or a holiday, she would invite Oscar to have dinner with her and she would force herself to sit at the table.

She washed her lunch down with a ladle of water from the drinking basin and tugged her shoes on at the back door. There was no reason to stay in the house during the day, as it always caused her more pain and sorrow she didn’t need. She welcomed the fresh breeze that washed over her as she stepped out of the house and closed the door behind her.

As she made her way back across the grass stretch toward the barn, she saw Oscar approaching her from the side of the house. He didn’t work every day as Delia could only afford to pay him for a few days a week, but he often checked in on her.

Looking toward him, her warm greeting froze on her lips at the sight of his facial expression. His body was hunched as it always had been for as long as she’d remembered, the shuffle of his old legs kicking up dust behind him as he followed the path around the house toward her. But the face that was normally so warm, practically igniting when he laid eyes on her, was now downcast—his brow furrowed in deep lines.

Her heart sank immediately. And though she knew it was a figment of her imagination, she could almost feel how low her heart sat in her chest. Like every loss she had experienced weighed it down further—but this one would prove the final straw.

There was only one person left for the war to take from her. And only one thing she had been holding out hope for in the weeks since the war had come to a close. Harry.

She had been waiting patiently. As the men slowly started returning home to Littleroost—far fewer than had left years ago—she had strategically gone into town the first mornings following the news to wait for the train to see if Harry would come.

She walked on unsteady legs toward Oscar as his hunched form shuffled onto the grass in her direction. A tightness in her chest led her to realize she had been holding her breath, likely since the moment she saw him.

“What is it?” she asked urgently before they had even reached each other. His ocean-blue eyes flicked to the ground and his teeth showed where they chewed on the side of his lip. “Oscar, please.” Her voice shook but she needed to know despite the fact that she wasn’t prepared for the truth.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news, Delia. I was visitin’ with the Deers this morning when young Gunner Deer returned home from the war. He brought news of Harry…” Oscar’s words tapered off at the end, as if he didn’t want to say them—further confirming what she already thought.

“Just tell me, please,” Delia begged, coming to a stop in front of him.

He shook his head, but out of respect she knew he held for her, he raised his eyes and spoke. “Harry died March 16th, they’re calling it the Battle of Averasborough. Apparently, each side lost hundreds of soldiers, and much of Harry’s regiment was killed. I’m—I’m sorry Delia, I really am. I know you were…” His words were kind, but forceful as he delivered the news—as if knowing this kind of news was best delivered directly. She had, after all, become familiar with receiving such information.

No! No, no, no. Not Harry. Not him.

She was sure he was still talking but her ears filled with a loud whirring sensation. Her knees buckled and she collapsed on the ground.

Harry was all I had left, the only hope my life could turn around and grow from this. What will I do? How can I go on with no future?

Heavy, racking sobs emanated from her chest, such that she gasped for breath and began choking up bile, spitting it into the grass under her. Her lungs burned as she tried to take full breaths but was unable. The pain overloaded her—physical and emotional.

Her mind whirled with the news of Harry’s passing. She had promised herself she wouldn’t hold out too much hope after the news of her father and brothers—but she had. She had tried to bargain with the Lord, promising Him any and everything if He would just bring her fiancé home safe. But none of it had worked.

Feelings of desperation and panic drowned out a loud screeching sound she couldn’t pinpoint. Heat flushed through her body, a feverish feeling that only served to make her more nauseous.

It wasn’t until a calloused hand placed gentle pressure on her shoulder that she realized the screeching sound had been her own cries. Everything slowed as she found herself grounded in the firm touch.

Each panicked thought drew back, receding from her mind as she focused on Oscar. Realization hit.

He was all she had left, and other than him, she was alone.

She looked up into kind eyes hidden under a head of shaggy gray hair as his hand slid out into the air in front of her. It took her a second to reach out and grab his hand, letting him pull her up onto her feet. She took another minute to wipe her eyes and nose with the rag she had tucked in her pocket and gather herself fully.

She looked past Oscar as her thoughts began to form fully again. And she couldn’t help but think of how much work the ranch needed, and how she had planned to fix it up with Harry alongside her.

For the first time in her life, she looked at the land as if it belonged to someone else. Because if she couldn’t pull herself together—it would.

Chapter One

Littleroost, North Carolina

1865

 

Delia stared out of the kitchen window that looked out toward the barn. Oscar was out in one of the side stalls that led into a small pen. The space was used for separating the animals for all sorts of reasons, but this time Oscar was using it to attach fresh horseshoes to Gretel and her barn mates’ hooves. And although Delia often offered to do it because it was much easier with two hands, Oscar never let her. In the years since his accident, he had figured out how to be an effective worker even with a single hand.

She watched as he hoisted one hoof up onto his knee and set to unclipping the old horseshoe with his hand. He’d toss it away effortlessly before clipping the hoof growth and setting to nailing the new shoe into place. She was constantly amazed by him.

In fact, most of the time—especially in the month since she had learned the news about Harry—he was what motivated her to keep going. He was all she had left, and though he had friends in town, she knew that he thought of her as his own kin. In fact, he had taken to coming by every day even though she could only pay him for three days a week of work. Today he had chosen to come in to do the hooves before retiring back to his cabin and she had agreed.

As she stood there, scrubbing a particularly stubborn stain on one of her tin plates, her eyes wandered over the barn and the rest of the ranch within eyesight. Her heart twinged at the sight of overall dilapidation—the rightmost barn door hung off the top set of hinges and pieces of broken equipment were scattered across the yard. A chicken coop that used to hold over forty chickens was now almost empty, a select few hens remaining that made enough eggs to feed Delia breakfast a few days a week.

A sharp pain in her lip alerted her that she had begun to chew on it in worry, a habit she had always had but had only become worse in the weeks since news that her future with Harry had been ripped from her grasp. Now her lip was a chronic wound, and her doubt about the future was its greatest companion.

She dried the last of the dishes and wiped her hands on the cloth then walked through the kitchen and into the sitting room. The two chairs were in the same position her father and mother had had them in for years since her mother’s death. Her father’s chair was the larger one with the firm back, and her mother’s was soft and stuffed with padding. Next to the chair was a small bookshelf with very old books tucked in nice, neat rows. Delia had taken to dusting them periodically when she thought about it, alongside the portraits of her family in the hall.

The books were her mother’s most prized possessions—or so her father had explained to her once when he found her digging through them. At one time, they made her feel close to the woman who had birthed her but had never gotten the chance to meet. But now when she looked at them, she saw a lifeline.

They were valuable, especially in the perfect condition they were kept in, and every time Delia looked at them, all she could see was an opportunity to buy herself and the ranch a few more weeks or days.

Nausea settled in her gut as it always did when she thought about the ranch’s finances. At twenty years old, she knew more than most women about running a household and a business—and way more than she had ever cared to know.

She knew how much it cost to buy food for the cattle, how much she could get for one horse or a dozen eggs—she knew what a fair price was and what was the new normal price during the war. And most importantly of all, she knew how much it cost to keep the ranch running. And it was more than she had.

If I sold this house, the land, all of this pressure would be gone.

But she knew it wasn’t as simple as that. And when she was truthful with herself, she knew that the land was the only home she and Oscar had—and she owed it to her family and herself to do everything to keep it afloat.

Even if that meant selling her mother’s prized books. I can’t do it—it’s all I have left of Mother.

She looked away from the thick volumes, shaking her head. Today wouldn’t be the day—but it might be sooner than she hoped, and that day would surely break her heart.

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