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A Surprise Bride for the Grumpy Cowboy

They both know how it feels to lose someone you love. Will the grumpy mountain man give a chance to his feisty mail-order bride to steal his heart?

Stella’s world crumbles after her husband’s tragic death leaves her drowning in debt. Desperate for change, she stumbles upon a mail-order bride ad. She isn’t looking for love, but this new path leads her to the ranch of the most captivating rancher she has ever met. How can she keep her heart sealed when it beats faster every time she sees him?

Raymond’s grief consumes him after losing the love of his life. He became isolated and grumpy and doesn’t know how to care for his little daughter properly. His sister, determined to help him heal, secretly arranges for a mail-order bride. When the feisty Stella arrives, tensions flare, but can her presence mend Raymond’s shattered heart and fractured family?

Stella and Raymond know how it feels to lose the person you love the most. When a shadow from Raymond’s past emerges, threatening their newfound happiness, will their love be enough to keep them together?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.4/5

4.4/5 (182 ratings)

Prologue

Magnolia Springs, West Virginia

1870

Stella Cooper danced across the kitchen as she sang the words to Ben’s favorite song. She hadn’t felt this happy in a while and couldn’t wait to see her husband. She hated being apart from him, but his job as a cattle driver necessitated it. It had only been two weeks, but to her it felt like an eternity.

She quickly filled their copper kettle with water and placed it on the coal stove to boil. As she did this, a lock of her long auburn hair escaped from the braided bun at the nape of her neck, and she swiftly twisted it back into place.

To celebrate her husband’s return, Stella had decided to make him a wholesome supper. She had already soaked the salt pork, so she quickly cubed the meat and placed it in her Dutch oven to brown while she chopped the vegetables.

The carrots crunched under Stella’s knife, reminding her of the first time she prepared this recipe for Ben. She had wanted to impress him and show off her cooking skills, but she had been so distracted that she forgot to soak the meat. When she took a bite and tasted the excessive saltiness of the food, she burst into tears, unable to control her raw emotions.

Stella felt embarrassed, not only for crying but also for making such a horrible meal. It was the first time that she had cooked for him, and she messed it up completely. She thought Ben would think less of her, but instead, he reassured her.

“It’s not that bad,” he said with a smile, “the carrots are really good.” Ben took another bite, swallowing hard.

“Oh no! Please don’t eat it,” Stella begged as she jumped out of her seat to gather his plate, but Ben stopped her by gently placing his hand on hers. No man had ever touched her before, and although it was completely innocent, a thrill of electricity ran down her spine.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Ben suggested, and just like that she felt better. Ben had always had an easy-going charm about him. It’s what drew people to him, and she was no different.

Stella continued to daydream about Ben as she chopped the rest of the vegetables. She had grown them in their small backyard garden and picked them that morning to ensure their freshness. She wanted to spoil her husband and couldn’t think of a better way than a romantic dinner.

The large dial wall clock that hung above the kitchen door read twenty-past twelve in the afternoon. Knowing that Ben would be back any minute, Stella lifted the lid of the pot, and a delicious aroma filled the kitchen. “Almost done,” she whispered to herself just as the kettle started to whistle. The piercing sound broke through her thoughts, and she smiled at the idea of all the memories she and Ben were still to make.

As she removed the kettle from the heat the whistling faded but was quickly replaced by another unsuspecting sound. Somebody was knocking at her front door.

Ben wouldn’t knock, he would simply walk in and surprise her by wrapping his arms around her in a loving embrace. No, this had to be somebody else, but Stella wasn’t expecting any visitors.

Wondering who it could be, she quickly made her way through the kitchen, the low heels of her white boots clicking on the wooden floor as she rushed to the door.

Her mouth felt strangely dry as she reached for the doorknob and pulled it open. On the other side stood Ben’s boss, his usually friendly and welcoming smile nowhere to be found. He cleared his throat, gulped, and then focused his eyes on her. Stella could tell that something was wrong from the way he was looking at her and felt her heart speed up.

“Hello, Walter.” She tried to stay composed as she greeted him. Ben’s boss had never shown up alone at her house before. “Where is Ben?”

“Stella, there was an accident,” the short, stout man said quickly, his voice catching in his throat. “Ben didn’t make it.”

At first, she just stood there frozen as his words sank in, the future she and Ben dreamed of creating together crumbling around her to nothing but darkness.

“Stella…” the man on the other side of the door whispered, but she couldn’t focus on him or anything else. An eruption of memories filled her mind. Ben helping her to overcome the loss of her parents. Ben laughing heartily as she told him about her day. Ben crouched on one knee in front of her, a lopsided grin on his handsome face. Ben excited about the idea of starting a family with her.

Ben was her world, a promise of a bright and happy future, and just like that it was ripped away from her.

“How?” she managed to ask, her chin quivering as tears filled her big brown eyes.

“There was a stampede,” Walter answered, looking downward. “He was trampled.” The images his words conjured up in her head were too much to take and Stella collapsed to the ground, feeling nauseous and numb as her world fell apart around her.

Chapter One

Magnolia Springs, West Virginia

1870

Stella made her way to the dressmaker in town, her stomach rumbling as she tried to avoid the wet patches of ground. There had been a heavy storm the night before, and although the sun was out, the ground was still wet. If she stepped in a puddle, the water would flood through the holes at the bottom of her boots and cause her feet to stay clammy and cold for hours. It had happened before and soon after she caught a cold.

As she walked, a few small, loose stones entered her weathered boots through the holes in the bottom and scraped against her bare feet within. The dressmaker wasn’t too far from her house, but she had to make the journey by foot each day to get to work and her feet were constantly in pain.

Stella heard the sound of a carriage approaching from behind, and moved to the side. Seconds later a landau carriage, carrying a young man and woman passed her. The woman’s long blond hair cascaded down her back in an array of intricate twists and braids and her crimson red dress sported extravagant designs.

Stella used to always do her hair like that, following the latest fashion trends, but now, she simply tied it into simple buns that didn’t require a lot of time. Since Ben passed away and she had to start working, she had been more focused on balancing work with all her chores than looking pretty.

The horses pulling the carriage kicked up some dust as they trotted past, and Stella coughed as she looked down at her own faded dress. She sewed it herself when Ben was away on a cattle drive. The vibrant purple material cost more than what she usually would have spent but they were going to a wedding and Ben wanted her to spoil herself.

Stella loved the dress, but now it was just a reminder of everything she had lost. It’d been a year since her husband passed away and Stella had to find a way to pay the rent and buy food, so she’d been working as a seamstress. The job didn’t pay much but it was enough to get by and she had always loved sewing. Being a twenty-one-year-old widow wasn’t easy, and sometimes Stella found herself feeling hopeless.

Walking through town, she passed the grocery store and the owner’s wife waved at her. Stella returned the gesture with a smile but not much enthusiasm. She’d been trying hard to move on, but since Ben’s death, there hadn’t been much to be enthusiastic about. She missed him tremendously and it’d been tough financially, too.

“Morning Dorothy,” Stella called out in greeting, as she stepped through the door, making sure to lift her discolored prairie dress so that it didn’t catch on the step.

“Stella…” Dorothy replied in a hoarse voice, looking up from the cloth she was busy measuring. The chubby woman, usually confident and composed, looked somewhat out of sorts. “Are you alright?” Stella asked, worried that her boss might be coming down with something.

“Yes, I’m fine. Thank you for asking dear,” Dorothy replied, focusing her bespectacled eyes back on the material in front of her. Stella didn’t quite believe her, but the woman had no reason to lie to her, so she pushed her worries aside.

“What can I help you with today?” Stella asked as she made her way over to the old wooden table. She had finished the dress she was working on yesterday and was looking forward to starting a new project.

“There isn’t really much to do,” Dorothy said as she picked up a pair of scissors. “It’s been quiet, and I only have a few new orders. I won’t be needing your help this month.”

Stella felt her heart speed up in her chest as she looked at the woman in front of her in disbelief. What was she supposed to do now?

“I just… I thought,” she stuttered, unable to form a proper sentence.

“I know you need the money, and you’re a brilliant seamstress, but I just don’t have enough work to keep you on,” Dorothy explained, her voice catching in her throat.

“It’s fine,” Stella lied, wrapping her arms around her waist, almost as if she was hugging herself. “I’m sure I can find another job.” She wasn’t sure about it at all though. She had no experience doing anything but sewing, and she knew Dorothy only hired her because she felt sorry for her. Stella had however proved herself to Dorothy over the months and Dorothy had entrusted her with more tasks and responsibilities.

“I’m sorry Stella,” Dorothy whispered as she finally put down the scissors and looked at the tall woman standing in front of her. “I really am.”

Dorothy had always been good to Stella and although she felt confused and scared, she knew the woman was telling the truth. “I understand, I was just taken by surprise.”

For a moment, they just stood there in uncomfortable silence. Stella could feel her heart racing in her chest as she contemplated her next move. This is the only job she had ever had and knew most people preferred workers with experience.

Dorothy cleared her throat and tugged on her dress. “If I ever need somebody again, I’ll let you know immediately.”

“Thank you,” Stella replied, trying to hide just how disappointed she was. “I’ll just be on my way then.”

Feeling defeated, Stella stepped out of the shop and started making her way back home. Jobs were hard to come by and she had no experience doing anything but sewing. She only had enough money to pay rent and buy food for the current month, after that she would be homeless if she couldn’t secure a new job.

She passed the grocery store again, but instead of stopping to buy some flour as she had planned, she walked right by. Some more stones had entered her boots as she approached the post office. She was almost home, but her feet were aching something awful, so she sat down on a bench and quickly shook out her boots. On the ground, underneath the bench, lay an abandoned newspaper and when she got up, she took it with her.

She needed to fix the holes in her boots and although lining them with newspaper wasn’t a permanent solution, it would keep the rocks and dirt out for a couple of days.

By the time she got home, there were more stones in her boots, so she took them off and slumped down into a chair. Her head had started to thud, and she felt slightly nauseous as she looked around the kitchen. She had so many memories of her and Ben in this house, the mere thought of having to move brought tears to her eyes.

She loved that they had turned the house into a home together. Ben had lived there before they got married, but he never bothered with decorating the place until she moved in. He was a great cowboy and an even better husband, but he had no idea how to match colors.

They had switched his weathered circular table, which was barely big enough for two people, for a four-seater pine table and chair set and she had sewn the curtains herself. Ben thought that yellow would be nice but let her decide. She eventually settled on a light cream material with little yellow flowers.

Shaking the memories from her head, she picked up the newspaper and focused on the task at hand. She had to find a job, but first, she needed to fix her boots. She didn’t have money for a new pair, and if she wanted to find a job, she was going to have to be able to walk all the way through town.

Tearing off pieces of newspaper, Stella lined the inside of her boots as best she could. She was almost done when an advertisement on the top of the page caught her attention.

 

Marriage of Convenience

A 25-year-old widowed rancher in Auburn, West Virginia is looking for a caring and compassionate woman to help raise his daughter.

 

Stella had never before looked at such advertisements; she met Ben when she was seventeen and fell in love with him almost instantly. After Ben’s death, she never even considered getting married again, but now, for some reason, she felt drawn to the advertisement.

Being careful not to damage it, she tore the clipping from the newspaper and set it aside.

For the rest of the morning, Stella busied herself with cleaning the house and tending to her garden. She tried to distract herself from her circumstances as much as possible but failed to get the advertisement out of her head. It wasn’t exactly a job, but it would provide some security. She’d been struggling financially and the little savings that she and Ben had saved were gone within months of his death.

She couldn’t go on like that, and without a job, things were just going to get worse. She was already eating supper at her friend and neighbor Louise’s house three times a week. She couldn’t even afford new boots and most of her dresses had holes in them.

The advertisement did say he was looking for a marriage of convenience, but even so, the thought of ever being married to anybody but Ben brought tears to her eyes.

Needing to talk to somebody, she made her way over to her neighbor’s house. Louise had lived next door to Stella and Ben since they wed three years ago and had become one of Stella’s most trusted advisers over the years. When she saw how distraught her friend was, she immediately invited her in.

“Come in,” Louise said, gently taking a hold of Stella’s arm. “I’ll make us some coffee and then you tell me what’s going on.” Louise and her husband weren’t rich but lived a comfortable life. She tended to the house and kids while he worked as a carpenter.

Their house was pretty, and although not much bigger than Stella’s house, they had a lot more furniture. Louise’s husband had a talent for creating one-of-a-kind items out of wood.

In the living room stood a huge showcase made from thick mahogany wood. Inside were lots of miniature sculptures that he created especially for Louise. He would give her one on every special occasion. Stella was always fascinated by the little sculptures and would spend hours looking at them.

There must have been at least four side tables as well as a coffee table in the living room and the kitchen was no different. They had taken out the old cabinets and replaced them with new ones that he had built himself and, in the center, stood an eight-seater table, decorated with a bright red tablecloth.

“What has you so rattled?” Louise asked as she sat down at the table with her friend, “and why are you at home this time of the day?”

“I lost my job,” Stella replied, her mouth feeling surprisingly dry despite the coffee.

“I don’t understand,” Louise frowned as she sat back in her chair, causing it to creak under her weigh. Louise was short and plump but had the most beautiful green eyes and chestnut brown hair.

“Dorothy doesn’t need my help any longer,” Stella clarified, taking another sip of her scalding coffee. “There isn’t enough work.”

“I’m so sorry Stella, is there anything I can do to help?” Louise asked, her eyebrows lowering as she rubbed the back of her neck with one hand and reached for Stella’s with the other.

Stella knew there wasn’t anything her friend could do; she was a housewife, just like Stella used to be before Ben’s death. “I don’t think so.”

“I could help you look for a job,” Louise suggested. “Maybe give you money. We have some savings.”

“No… I can’t take your money.” Stella replied, feeling grateful to have such a good friend, “but there is something I wanted to show you.” Stella handed the newspaper clipping to her. Louise took it from her and read the words, her eyes widening as they sank in.

“What do you think?” Stella asked nervously, hoping her friend would tell her that she is crazy for even considering the idea. “I couldn’t possibly, could I?”

“Honestly, I think you should do it.”

“But what about Ben?” Stella asked, swallowing hard. Even the thought of marrying another man caused her stomach to contract and bile to rise in her throat. She promised to love Ben forever, so wouldn’t marrying a stranger be disloyal?

“You shouldn’t think of it as a marriage,” Louise advised as she got up from where she was sitting. “Do you want some more coffee?”

“Yes, please,” Stella replied, resting her head in her hands while Louise filled her kettle with water. “You should see it as a job, as a way to secure your future,” her friend suggested. “Take care of his house and his daughter, and in return he will supply you with a place to stay and food to eat.”

“Isn’t it unethical though?” Stella asked. “How can I marry somebody I’ve never even met?” A wave of guilt for even considering the idea washed over her and the hole that Ben left in her heart ached violently.

“Unethical, no… strange, maybe.” Louise laughed. “You’re overthinking it. Many women meet their husbands through advertisements like that.”

“But they want to get married,” Stella pointed out. The only thing she wanted was to have Ben back, but since that was impossible, she just needed a job to pay the bills.

“I’m sure some of them are looking for a husband, but I’m positive that many of them are simply looking for a way to take care of themselves, just like you.”

“I don’t know Louise.” Stella sighed. “I don’t know if I can do it.”

Louise smiled at her friend and removed the kettle from the stove as it started to whistle. “Of course, you can. The advertisement specifically states that he is a widower and looking for a marriage of convenience. You both need something that the other can offer. I can guarantee you he’s not looking for somebody to take his late wife’s place, he just needs somebody to help around the house and take care of his daughter. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”

The two women drank another cup of coffee and ate some biscuits that Louise had bought from the bakery in town. All the while they continued to discuss the advertisement. Louise seemed so certain that it was a good idea, but Stella wasn’t as sure. What Stella was sure about however, was that she didn’t want to be homeless or starve.

“I’m going to do it,” Stella told her friend as she got up from where she was sitting and patted her dress down. The decision didn’t come easy, but after talking to her friend, she realized that Ben would understand. It is only going to be a marriage of convenience after all.

It was almost time for Louise’s husband to return home from work and she had taken up enough of her time.

“Good. I’ll miss you when you leave, but maybe starting over somewhere new is exactly what you need.” Louise smiled at her, encouragingly. “And we can write each other all time. I know how much you love writing letters.”

“You know me so well and you’re right. I’ll just think of it as a job.” Stella replied, “and I love children so taking care of his daughter will be nice.”

“See, you’re already starting to see the positive side of it. Now go write a reply and let me know what comes of it.”

Stella returned home feeling slightly more hopeful. She wasn’t sure if she could go through with marrying a stranger, but she had to try.

She hadn’t written a letter in a while; she didn’t have any family and the only person she enjoyed writing to was gone. When Ben was still alive, she would write letters to him when he went on particularly long cattle drives. It helped her to cope on the days she missed him most, and he loved reading them when he returned home.

Stella silently made her way through the small house. It was where she envisioned her future with Ben. The door to the guest bedroom creaked on its hinges as she pushed it open and stepped inside. Her decision to answer the advertisement was leaning heavily on her heart, but it didn’t feel like she had any other choice.

A single bed with a decorative quilt was pushed up against the one wall. A dark mahogany cupboard stood across from it, and to the right, was her oak writing desk. She had used the guest bedroom to do her sewing and to write love letters to Ben. One day they were hoping to change it into a nursery.

Stella wanted a big family and dreamed about having two boys and two girls. Ben on the other hand, always used to say that they should try for at least three of each. Stella loved that he wanted to create a family with her and happily agreed to have as many kids as he wanted.

Stella pushed the memory from her mind and focused on the task at hand. Sitting down at her desk, she retrieved her steel point pen, inkwell, and paper from one of the drawers. She had no idea what to write. She wasn’t exactly looking for a husband; she just needed this stranger to accept her application.

After writing a short reply, Stella sealed the letter in an envelope and placed it on the kitchen table, all the while, thinking about Ben. She would go to the post office the next day and send her reply to the widowed rancher in Auburn.

Marrying this man would secure her future, she wouldn’t have to worry about a place to stay or food to eat. There would be no need for her to find a job or to be anxious about where she would find the money for a new pair of boots. Thinking about it like that made her feel a little more confident in her decision, but it didn’t take away the feelings of guilt gnawing in the pit of her stomach.

Stella would trade all the security and money in the world to have Ben back, but she knew that wasn’t a possibility. She also knew that he wouldn’t want her to suffer because of it.

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