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A Bride for the Broken Rancher and His Son

He is a single dad not in the mood for love. She needs a second chance in life. How can they create a new family when the past is haunting them?

Dora’s life is turned upside down in the wake of her husband’s tragic death. With her ranch in shambles and no means of supporting herself, she takes a leap of faith and answers a mail-order bride ad in the West. But nothing comes as expected. How can she open her heart to this grumpy rancher and his adorable son when he didn’t want her here in the first place?

After losing his wife, Michael struggles to care for his son and his ranch at the same time. He isn’t in the mood for a new love, so his ex-brother-in-law and best friends set him up with a mail-order bride. Michael is furious, but he can’t deny how loving Dora is with his son and how she brings peace to his home after a long time. How can he let himself fall in love when he is afraid he’ll lose her?

As Dora and Michael struggle to accept their pasts and forge a new life together, they find unexpected love in each other. But can they overcome the obstacles that stand in their way, leading to an uncertain future?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

Prologue

Shuttercreek, California, 1850

Dora Lucas watched three men move the last bit of furniture she owned out of her home and out of her life for good. Everything she had, from the brown sofa and matching recliners to the oak dressers and tables, had belonged to her grandparents when they first bought the ranch.

Dora’s parents raised her in the ranch house her whole life, and then she and her husband had lived there and loved the furniture throughout their three-year marriage, after her parents died, both from sudden illness. Now, she had nothing but a home that was empty, save for memories that now filled Dora with sadness and longing, a failed ranch, nothing but a handful of clothes she’d had since she got married, and no husband.

Jim Lucas had died in a mining collapse caused by an earthquake three months ago. He had been forced to take up work in the mines when they lost all their crops to plagues of locusts and the cattle started falling ill and dying. Dora worked tirelessly to try to fix the failings of the ranch while Jim worked away from home.

She had a great deal of experience from growing up on that farm her whole life, and from working in tandem with her father’s foreman after her parents died. And she could have likely made the garden viable again by the following spring, and had horses ready to sell, as well. But after Jim died, she saw no point. Nothing mattered to her after losing the love of her life.

She had to force herself to take a deep breath as she thought about Jim. In the three months since he passed away, it didn’t get easier to believe that he was gone. It got harder. In the beginning, at least she dreamed about him frequently. And in the dreams, he was telling her that he loved her, and that everything would be okay.

But when the dreams stopped, she started forgetting that he was gone. She started reaching to his side of the bed every morning when she first opened her eyes. And each time she found nothing but a cold, empty spot, her heart broke all over again. And more each day, she struggled to care about anything. Nothing mattered to her after losing the love of her life.

Nothing even felt real to her any longer, except the pain and emptiness she now felt.

Which was why she was now watching people move every last item from the only home she had ever known. She had no idea what she would do from there. It really didn’t matter to her. She knew she had to go on, even though everyone she loved most had been taken from her. But she didn’t think she would ever be able to let go. She had nothing. She was nothing without a husband to care for or a ranch to run. Had it not been for the farm’s foreman, she likely would have just sat on the sofa until the house fell down around her ears.

Alfie had been a godsend. He had taken care of the sale of the remaining animals after she got them ready, and he’d even managed to gather a few bushels of vegetables from the puny garden and taken them to town to sell. When Dora realized that there still wouldn’t be enough money to save the ranch from foreclosure, she had told Alfie to keep the money.

She had just enough to get by on her own for a couple months. And it was the only way she would be able to pay him his final salary. He had tried to buy back her favorite horse, Betsy, with the money she gave him. But the man who bought her had already sold her again for a profit. Alfie was a good man, and he’d always been good to her family. She was going to miss him, too.

When the people were finished taking the furniture, Dora wandered aimlessly around the living room. It was disorienting, yet familiar, seeing a space that was once more comfortable to her than her own thoughts look so foreign and strange. It was much like her heart, filled with nothing but a sad, painful emptiness. It was like the empty rooms of the house now reflected exactly how she felt.

It was oddly soothing, in its way, even if it only fed into the emptiness within her. And yet, she knew that the image of the empty house would haunt her for a long time to come. In fact, she wondered if she would ever be able to imagine her old home the way it was before. Before everything went all wrong. Before she lost Jim.

If only I could have made enough to save the ranch, she thought, staring at the spots on the faded blue walls where paintings and mirrors once hung. She had originally started selling the furniture and chairs that she would no longer need for Jim, thinking she could provide the supplies to Alfie, the foreman, and the other ranch hands, to finish the work on the farm that she had lost the heart to do herself.

She had planned to save the ranch, and then try to deal with her grief by tending the horses she loved so much. But no matter how much she sold, it still wasn’t enough to make the payments to the bank, with so much of the ranch still in trouble. She felt much like she had sold her grandparents’ and parents’ lives for nothing, and that broke what was left of her brittle heart.

Feeling more lost than she ever had, she went upstairs, going into the now-empty closet that had once belonged to Jim. It was nearly empty, save for his brown Stetson hat. It was the only thing, apart from a few of her own meager possessions, that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to sell. In truth, it wouldn’t have fetched her much in the way of money.

Certainly not enough to save the ranch, when selling every single piece of furniture and the house itself didn’t bring enough to do that. Truthfully, though, even if it had single-handedly saved everything, she didn’t think she could have sold it.

She was just turning the hat over in her hands when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She started, gasping softly and then laughing herself when she looked into a familiar, leathery face.

“Alfie, heavens,” she said, chuckling awkwardly. “You scared me to death.”

The former ranch foreman gave her a sad smile. “Sorry if you were expectin’ someone else.”

Dora shook her head, the unasked question as answered as she could make it. Yes, some part of her did believe, for just a second, that it might be Jim touching her when she turned around. But there was no way she could tell the kind man that. Not after everything he and his wife had been through, losing their income and having to rely on savings for the rest of their lives when Jim died.

“No,” she said softly. “I just thought you’d have gone home by now. There ain’t nothin’ left to do here.” Except to maybe put myself up in the inn after tonight, til I run outta money, she added silently. And that’ll probably only be about another week or two, if I do that.

Alfie nodded slowly and gestured toward the bedroom door. “That’s just what I came to say to you, Dora.”

Dora sighed.

“I don’t even know where I’m goin’ yet,” she confessed. “I thought I might spend another night here and figure it out. The bank won’t come to foreclose until tomorrow morning. I can be leavin’ as they’re comin in.”

Alfie shook his head, setting his expression to one of determination.

“You’ll do no such thing,” he said. “You can come stay with me and Winnie for as long as you like. We’ll figure everything out there. And Winnie told me that she ain’t takin’ no for an answer, so don’t even think it.”

Dora laughed despite herself. Alfie and Winifred had always been wonderful to her. She should have expected that they would continue to do so. She hated to impose on two of the kindest people she had ever known. But she was smart enough to realize that she didn’t have much of a choice.

The bank would have every right to arrest her if they found her there in the morning. Even though they weren’t coming until the next morning, the house and land officially belonged to them now. She would be a squatter, and the bank didn’t take too kindly to such offenses.

“Thank you, Alfie,” she said, blinking back tears that suddenly sprang to her eyes. She felt like she was on a hijacked train of emotions lately, and she felt very fragile. And the kind offer from her former ranch foreman made her very emotional. “I don’t know what I’d do without y’all.”

Alfie patted her once more and shook his head. “We love ya, Dora. We wouldn’t dream of lettin’ anythin’ happen to ya without us. Go on and take the time you need. I’ll be waitin’ outside when you’re ready to leave.”

Dora nodded, watching the kind man as he went. Then, she went to her closet, fetching her tote bag from the shelf up top and opening it on the floor at her feet. She didn’t have much clothing that she hadn’t already sold. She hadn’t kept anything but the barest of essentials when she sold the clothes: three plain dresses in gray, brown, and black; two pairs of shoes, one pair of cowboy boots for the ranch work and one pair of nicer boots for trips to town; her red hairbrush and her bobby pins; and a wide-brimmed straw hat to keep the sun off her while she worked outside. She also had a worn pair of work gloves, currently stuffed in the apron pocket of her gray dress.

It only took her a few minutes to pack all her belongings into the bag. She began to cry again as she saw what little was left of her life. She hadn’t even been able to keep her wedding band, or her mother’s wedding dress, which she had married Jim in. She had sold it because it fetched her a nice price, back when she still believed she could save the ranch. She knew that she would never remarry, so that wasn’t an issue. She just prayed that her mother could forgive her for the decision to sell something so important to her.

Lastly, she approached the bed she had once shared happily with Jim for the very last time. On her nightstand sat two portraits. One was of her and her parents, done on her eighteenth birthday. The other was of her and Jim on their wedding day. Looking into the black and white renditions of her loved ones’ faces weighed heavily on her, and once more she thought about how unfair life had been.

She couldn’t have asked for a better life, or a happier family. She would never understand why she didn’t get more time to enjoy it all. Her mother used to say that everything happened for a reason. But she would never understand what the reason for her suffering could possibly be.

She put the portraits in her bag, closing it up slowly to collect herself before she went out to meet Alfie. She didn’t want him to see her feeling so sorry for herself. She wasn’t the only one affecting by the deaths of her parents and then Jim. It was easy for her to feel like she was. But she knew that Alfie and Winifred cared about them almost as much as Dora did.

Besides, she was already enough of a pitiful case. She didn’t need to do anything to elicit any more sympathy from the only people she had left in the world. She had to hold her head up high, even when it felt like the whole world rested on it.

As she turned away from the bed, she looked out the window in the bedroom. It was already becoming coated in a find layer of dust, but she could still see clearly enough out of it. Even though she knew there was nothing left to see out there, it still took her mind a minute to process the empty, quiet farmland.

Much like the house, it now looked foreign to her, and she thought the image before her would eventually replace the memories she’d always had of the ranch.

She closed her eyes, trying to envision what the ranch looked like before it started failing. But the only image that came to mind was Jim’s face. Only, instead of smiling, as he always did at her, he looked sad, as he had when he told her he would have to take a job in the mines. She knew he would be really sad if he could see what had become of his beloved ranch. And that made her feel even worse about it all.

She glanced around the house one last time as she headed to the front door. It was easy to step outside, since the newly gutted house looked nothing like the home she had known. It was easy enough to shut the door behind her, sealing away all the ghosts that haunted her every day she drew breath.

But as she walked off the porch and headed to the wagon, she glanced back over her shoulder. From the outside, the house looked every bit the place she had always known and loved; the one place where she felt safe and happy, like nothing in the world could ever go wrong. She choked back tears as she stared woefully at the empty shell of her former home. Empty, that was, except for painful memories of a future forever lost to her.

Chapter One

Shuttercreek, California, 1850

The Briggs home was an old, but well-maintained, one-story ranch home. It didn’t look like much from the outside, with peeling green paint with blue trim and clear-varnished stairs and porch. But inside, it was clear that Winifred Briggs took great pride in her home.

She made all the yellow curtains and pale blue upholstery herself, as well as the doilies on which vases of fresh yellow wildflowers and white roses always sat. It was a linear house, with the dining room right inside the living room, and their bedroom at the very back of the house, following a straight hallway that went all the way through the house.

The only two rooms that weren’t in the linear layout were the kitchen, which was to the right in the middle of the hallway, and Winifred’s sewing room, which they converted into a bedroom for Dora.

Winifred had made her a bed mattress from cloth she sewed herself and stuffed with feathers, and Alfie had built her a bed frame. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but it was better than nothing, and Dora was grateful.

The first few weeks of Dora’s stay had gone well enough. She was helping out with Alfie’s cornfield, and she had enough money left from the items she had sold before the bank foreclosed to help with supplies and groceries. She helped Winifred with the garden since she was getting on in age and it was hard for her to be on the ground for long periods of time. She also did the mending that Winifred couldn’t see to do, and she even repaired parts of a broken fence for Alfie.

The trouble began when Alfie couldn’t find work on another nearby ranch. Dora had suspected it since moving in with the aging couple, but Alfie wasn’t the young buck he used to be. He had done well when he had plenty of young ranch hands to help him. But when he was only one of few, he struggled to carry his weight at work. Therefore, between his deteriorating body and his inability to get anyone to hire him, Alfie was facing retirement. And with three people, that was going to be more burdensome than restful.

Dora had been there for two months when she started noticing that Alfie and Winifred looked more tired and stressed more often. They were never anything but kind and loving to her, and they never said a single word that made her think they considered her a burden. But she happened to overhear them whispering, on more than one occasion, about how they were struggling to make ends meet. Moreover, she started noticing a drastic difference in the amount of supplies they were buying while they were in town. Namely, meat.

One day, about three months after Dora moved in with them, Winifred returned home from the store. Dora hurried out to help her bring everything inside, since Winifred had insisted that she was well enough to go into town alone. With a heavy heart, she noticed that there was once again almost no meat, and more cheap stables, like grain and corn. She couldn’t help feeling guilty all over again about the food rations.

She knew that, if it wasn’t for her, they wouldn’t be headed for such a financial bind. Even with the money she had been contributing, it was still only helping to sustain them. They were spending money they would need to live for the rest of their lives on all the extra supplies needed to accommodate her stay with them. It was a burden she could no longer bear. She just didn’t know how she could ever fix the situation.

But she buried her saddened heart and smiled sweetly at Winifred as she helped unpack the groceries. She said nothing about the lack of meat, even though it tore her heart to pieces. She wished she could have brought at least a couple of her own animals with her.

Then, they could use those animals for some kind of profit and stretch their combined resources that much further. But if she could have spared animals, Jim would have never had to work in the mines, and she would have never lost him. Why had such terrible luck stricken her?

“You all right, dear?” Winifred asked with a furrowed brow.

Dora realized she had been standing with a bag of rice in her hand, hovering over the shelf where it belonged. She smiled at the kindly woman again and nodded.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. “I was just thinkin’ about my old horses.” That was true enough. And it was the only thing she could say that was believable, and that wouldn’t make Winifred feel bad about the shortage of supplies.

Winifred gave her a sympathetic smile. “I know, honey. I wish things could’ve been different for ya. No woman deserves to have such a bad hand dealt to her. Least of all you. I just wish we could do more for ya.”

Dora’s guilt amplified, and she shook her head firmly.

“Nonsense, Winnie,” she said. “You and Alfie have been as good to me as my own parents ever were. You’ve done more for me than anyone ever should for someone who ain’t their own kin. I wouldn’t have made it through these past couple months without y’all.”

Winifred smiled and nodded, but Dora could see the lingering sadness. She didn’t need to ask to know that the elderly woman was thinking about the supply shortage. She knew that, even if she was becoming too much for them to handle, they would never say anything. Especially Winifred.

As she was cleaning up the shopping bags, Dora spotted a newspaper that had slipped out onto the faded red tablecloth on the small, square kitchen table. It was folded unceremoniously, but the part that was visible was the want adverts. Idly, Dora picked it up, opening the paper so she could see the entire page. She wasn’t even sure what she was looking for, until her eyes found the section seeking people for employment. And down at the very bottom was an ad requesting a mail-order bride.

She frowned, skimming the rest of the page, carefully avoiding the bride advert. She was sure she could never consider the idea of remarrying, certainly not a stranger. But the more she looked through the rest of the adverts, the more she realized she was terribly unqualified for the positions. Most of them were seeking farm hands or muscle to haul heavy loads of supplies to and from places. And the one exception was an ad that called for an experienced governess, no younger than thirty years of age.

She considered setting the paper aside and giving up on her idea, but her eyes landed on the mail-order bride advert despite herself. The words ranch life caught her attention, and she was reading it before she could help herself:

Wanted:

25-year-old widower seeking mail-order bride. Aged 18-29 preferred to handle the household duties, as well as childminding for a three-year-old boy. Must also be a woman who knows ranch life, as I own a large ranch.

Please apply in person. Taking applications immediately and looking to find a bride ASAP.

-Michael Day

Dora glanced at the address below the advert, but she wasn’t paying it much mind. She was focused on how the man was looking for a woman who knew about ranching. Even though she would be marrying someone else, the work was incredibly appealing. It was something she knew well, and that she loved dearly. She also loved the thought of living on a big ranch. No ranch would ever feel as much like home to her as her own did.

But she thought there would be plenty to keep her busy, and she knew she was good at the work. She set the paper aside at last, keeping an eye on it so she could get it when Alfie and Winifred were finished with it. She would need to give it more thought. And she took it upon herself to make dinner that evening so she could do just that.

The meal with Alfie and Winifred was as warm and lighthearted as it ever was. But Dora couldn’t help noticing the dark circles beneath their eyes, or the way they looked strained, even when they smiled. She couldn’t remember a time when they didn’t look worried about something. It pained her that all she could do was add to their stress, rather than take away from it. One thing she had decided was that she couldn’t do that any longer, no matter how she made it so that she didn’t.

When it came time to clean up after dinner, Dora kissed Winifred on the cheek.

“You had a long day,” she said sweetly. “Why don’t you go on up to bed? I’ll take care of this.”

Winifred glanced at Alfie, who was looking cautiously at Dora.

“You sure, honey?” she asked.

Dora nodded, glancing meaningfully at Alfie. “Yes, ma’am. It’s no trouble at all.”

Winifred sighed, sounding tired and relieved. She embraced Dora, then kissed her husband on the cheek.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll go wash up and then get myself in the bed, I believe. I’ll see y’all in the mornin’.”

Dora bade her good night, waiting patiently as Alfie kissed his wife, told her he loved her, and bade her pleasant dreams. She tried not to think of all the times she and Jim had the same exchange. The elderly couple who had taken her in deserved every one of those kinds of interactions they could get. But she couldn’t deny the sadness and pain she felt watching them be so loving and affectionate.

When Winifred was gone, Alfie moved closer to Dora.

“Everything all right?” he asked. “I can see you got somethin’ on your mind.”

Dora nodded and sighed. She hadn’t thought about how she would tell Alfie what she was thinking. She decided that the direct way was best. She retrieved the paper from where she had stashed it in the kitchen and held it out, advert facing up, for Alfie to see.

“I noticed this today,” she said. “And I’m thinkin’ about doin’ it.”

Alfie nodded, pulling out his spectacles from his shirt pocket and putting them over his nose.

“You lookin’ at job ads?” he asked with mild curiosity.

Dora shrugged.

“Somethin’ like that,” she said weakly.

She watched Alfie’s face change as he read the ad. It went from interested to surprised, to downright horrified. He quickly removed his spectacles and looked at Dora with wide eyes.

“You’re not really entertainin’ this idea, are ya, honey?” he asked. “You can’t never tell what you’re gettin’ yourself into with somethin’ like this. Men who resort to callin’ for women like this are either just unmarriable, or they’re outright evil, is my thinkin’.”

Dora couldn’t help smiling fondly at Alfie’s response. She had expected something to that effect. Which was why she had a speech prepared for when she had finally managed to broach the subject with her benefactors.

“Plenty of men put out those ads, Alfie,” she said. “And many of them are respectable. That one there is a widower with a young child, as you see. So, he can’t be too terrible.”

Alfie snorted, shaking his head as he handed her back the paper.

“’Less he’s the reason he’s a widower,” he said bitterly. “Dora, I really wish you’d reconsider. Why don’t ya look at the job ads instead? I’m sure you could find work there in no time.”

Dora shook her head. “I already looked, Alfie. Ain’t nothin’ in there for a woman like me. ‘Sides, I need a fresh start.”

Alfie narrowed his eyes at her, studying her with scrutiny.

“This ain’t got nothin’ to do with feelin’ like you’re burdenin’ us, does it?” he asked. “’Cause I promise that you ain’t puttin’ so much of a strain on us that we’d wanna see you puttin’ yourself in any kind of danger. Now, I told you that you could stay here as long as you needed, and I meant it. If it takes you a whole ‘nother year or more to find work ‘round here, we’ll make it work.”

Dora took a deep breath to fight back tears. She had expected Alfie to say that, and she had expected to want to stay where she felt comfortable. But she had also talked herself into trying to follow through with her plan. She just had to convince Alfie that she was surer than she felt.

“I know we would,” she said, knowing the exact opposite was true. “But I can’t handle walkin’ past my old ranch every time I go to town. And if I have to see that awful pity in the eyes of everyone in town one more time, I’m gonna crawl right outta my skin. I can’t stand it anymore, Alfie. It’s doin’ me more harm than good, stayin’ so close to the reminders of everything I’ve lost. I’ll never move forward, so long as all that’s holdin’ me back. I need to escape it all and start afresh.”

Alfie stared at her, and she could see his desire to keep arguing. She knew he worried about her like she was his daughter, and she knew her grief had done nothing to help his concern. But she hoped that he would see reason and understand that she was right.

With a long, heavy sigh, Alfie slumped his shoulders and looked away from Dora. “There ain’t no talkin’ you outta this, is there?”

Dora shook her head slowly. “No,” she said. “This is what I feel like I need to do.”

Alfie was quiet a moment longer before finally nodding as though it pained him to do so.

“All right,” he said with a soft chuckle. “I know better than to argue with a woman who’s got her mind made up. But will ya at least let me drive you there myself? It’s only about half a day’s ride. I’d feel a mite better knowin’ you at least got there safe.”

Dora smiled, putting her arm around the elderly man and hugging him to her. “I’d be honored if you’d drive me, Alfie.”

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  • FIVE STARS!!! This book is absolutely amazing so far!! I can’t wait to be able to read the rest!! You truly know how to captivate your readers!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! It means a lot!!! I can’t wait for you to read the rest of the story and see how it all unfolds. Your support and encouragement mean the world!❤️🥹

  • Can’t wait to see how Dora heals the broken rancher’s heart and becomes a stepmother to a small child. Sounds exciting and still near enough to Alfie and Winnie to leave if necessary.

    • I’m so glad you’re excited about the story, Patricia! Dora and the rancher’s journey is definitely a heartfelt one, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you for your support!🤠❤️

    • I’m glad to hear you’re excited about the story, Gaylene! As the writer, I’m working hard to make sure it’s a satisfying read from beginning to end. I can’t wait for you to experience the finished product! 📚👀

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