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Finding Family in the Rugged Mountain Man's Embrace

When a city schoolteacher and a rugged mountain man must set aside their differences to protect two children, what could possibly go wrong?

Emily, a devoted schoolteacher in New York, finds her quiet life disrupted by an unexpected tragedy. The sudden deaths of her sister and brother-in-law thrust her into the unfamiliar role of guardian to her niece and nephew.

Alec, the gruff mountain man and lifelong neighbor of the Smiths, takes on the duty of looking after their orphaned children. The arrival of Emily, a city girl in their small town, sets the stage for a clash of wills that will reshape the destiny of all involved.

Armed with determination, Emily faces Alec’s resistance as she arrives to claim her niece and nephew. Now they need to fight together against the hardships to save their newfound family.

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

Prologue

Brooklyn, New York, Spring 1898

 

Thirty-year-old Emily McCoy closed the door to her classroom before she turned and walked down the hallway toward the stairs. As she walked, Emily was aware of the clap of her boots against the wooden floors. She descended the narrow staircase and stepped onto the ground floor landing. Emily paused for a moment. The school was silent, save for the cooing of the pigeons who had taken up residence in the steeply pitched roof of Briarwood House.

“Miss McCoy?”

Emily turned to find Camilla Lockhart, the school’s headmistress, sitting at her desk. The door to her office was standing wide open.

“Have you got a minute?” she asked.

Emily nodded as she quickly reached up and smoothed her honey-blonde hair back. She walked across the entrance hall and into Headmistress Lockhart’s office.

Even sitting behind her desk, it was easy to tell that the headmistress Lockhart was a tall woman with a long neck and unfaultable posture. She had auburn-colored hair, which she wore in a tight bun. She had dark green eyes and always wore a stiff, high-collared white blouse and navy skirt. She was only five years Emily’s senior, but she seemed much older.

Emily stood before the headmistress’s desk, shifting nervously on the heels of her black leather boots. As she did, she looked down at her hands, which were clasped in front of her, noticing that they were stained with ink. She quickly put them behind her back.

“I’ve been meaning to find a moment to talk with you,” Headmistress Lockhart said. “To find out how you’ve settled in at Briarwood House.”

“Oh,” Emily said, her shoulders dropping. “Well…”

“You aren’t finding the workload too strenuous?”

“No,” Emily said without hesitation. “Not at all.”

Headmistress Lockhart nodded as she sat forward in her chair. “Good,” she said. “I know Briarwood is much bigger than your last school.”

Emily nodded. She’d been teaching at Briarwood for only a month. When the position opened up, Emily jumped at the chance. Briarwood was the most progressive girls’ school in Manhattan, open to young women from all walks of life, including girls of color. Since graduating from college, Emily had always hoped to work here, and recently, her dream had come true.

“The other teachers tell me you are an asset to this school,” Headmistress Lockhart said. “And that you have quickly become the girls’ favorite teacher.”

Emily’s face flushed, the color high in her cheeks. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said.

“They mentioned you were modest too,” Headmistress Lockhart added, a twinkle in her green eyes.

“I am just grateful for the opportunity to teach here,” Emily replied.

“Yes,” Headmistress Lockhart agreed. “Well, at Briarwood, we pride ourselves on finding teachers who not only teach our students well, but who inspire them, too. Our job is to ensure that when our girls walk out of that door for the last time, they know they can achieve anything, even the seemingly impossible. Do you believe you are up to the task?”

“I do,” Emily said. “I really do.”

Headmistress Lockhart leaned forward in her seat. “I believe that you are, too,” she said. “I see a lot of myself in you, Emily, and I hope you will continue to do well here at Briarwood.”

“Thank you, Headmistress,” Emily said.

Headmistress Lockhart nodded. “Good,” she said, sitting back again. “Well, I will see you tomorrow, then.”

Emily smiled as she turned and left the office. She walked back across the entrance hall and out the large double doors. As she descended the stone steps, she could not help but smile. She’d been so scared she’d do something to mess up her opportunity at Briarwood, so afraid that she wouldn’t fit in with the students and staff, yet she was doing well; Headmistress Lockwood was happy with her and with the job she was doing.

Emily stepped out of the black wrought iron gates and turned, glancing back at the three-story Victorian building. She’d made it her business to know everything she could about the school. Briarwood had been founded almost fifteen years ago when Headmistress Lockhart’s parents had passed away, leaving her the sole owner of the house.

At only twenty, she’d chosen to turn her home into a school for girls and had fought against the system to make it happen. Back then, girls had limited access to formal education and families would often prioritize the education of their sons over their daughters.

When girls were able to attend, the curriculums were geared towards their expected roles as homemakers, such as domestic science and needlework. This limited curriculum did not prepare them for any other roles than being wives and mothers. Headmistress Lockhart had overcome all of these barriers and in the years that followed, she’d worked tirelessly to cultivate a reputation as one of the finest schools in the whole of New York.

Emily could still remember how nervous she’d been on the day of her interview. Her stomach was tied in knots, and her throat was so dry she was certain she wouldn’t be able to speak. Yet, she’d managed in the end, and the headmistress had offered her the position that very same day. From the moment Emily met Lockhart her, she’d admired her and hoped very much to one day be like her.

Although Emily had never gotten to attend a prestigious school, she had dreamed of being a teacher her whole life. After Emily’s mother died, her father did everything he could to put food on the table. He worked from dawn to dusk and so Emily was responsible for caring for her younger sister. She was also the one who cooked the meals and did all the laundry.

There was never any time for schoolwork but Emily was born with an innate thirst for knowledge, and by ten, she’d taught herself to read fluently using discarded newspapers. In the years that followed, Emily read every resource she could get her hands on, borrowing books from neighbors and the local library. Then, when she was eighteen, the local church sponsored her application for a teacher’s college and she was accepted.

Emily had graduated at the top of her class and since then, she’d dedicated her life to teaching and growing the minds of young women, helping them see that they are capable of so much more than society dictates.

Emily paused a moment longer before turning away from the school. The street where the school was situated was one of the prettiest in Brooklyn. It was lined with hundred-year-old oak trees, their dark leaves only partially obscuring the large houses. Some boasted the ornate gables of Victorian architecture, while others had large bay windows in the style of Queen Anne.

As she walked, Emily passed by beautifully dressed women with lace-rimmed parasols. Some were on an afternoon stroll, others returning from the high streets followed by their maids, hardly able to see over the piles of hat and dress boxes.

Emily walked all the way to the end of the street and crossed it. As she did, the large, fancy houses wilted in the late afternoon light, becoming narrower, duller versions of themselves in front of houses devoid of round towers or painted iron railings. It was like stepping across some invisible barrier into another world.

As she continued down the uneven cobbled road, carriages passed by, and the sweet, sharp scent of horse manure that littered the streets stung her nostrils. In the distance, she heard the ringing of the church bells.

She took another turn down a narrow alley between two houses and emerged onto her street and the cacophony of sound and color that came with the row of vendors who set up their stalls there every morning.

As Emily walked past them, the stench of horse manure was replaced by the saltiness of fresh fish and pungent rounds of bright yellow cheese. In the months that Emily had been living in this neighborhood, she’d gotten to know everyone. There was the grumpy Polish man who sold cured meats and the rowdy Irish family with fresh fruits and vegetables.

There was also the friendly but quiet German widow who sold loaves of bread and cakes and the Russian couple who were always arguing and sold household goods like linens, pots, pans, soaps, and candles. There were people from all walks of life, a patchwork quilt of characters and cultures.

“Miss Emily!” a voice called out.

Emily turned to find a tall, young man with olive skin and coal-black hair pushing through the crowds towards her. His name was Matteo Greco, and he moved to New York a few years earlier. He was the oldest of twelve brothers and sisters and worked as a fisherman to help support his family.

“What are you doing here?” Emily asked. “Tuesdays are your days off.”

“Here,” he said, handing her a package wrapped in newspaper.

Emily took it from him, unfolding it to find her favorite; fresh oysters.

“I went down to the Hudson,” Matteo explained.

Emily folded the newspaper again, a small crease in her brow. This was not the first time Matteo had done something like this.

“Let me pay you for them at least,” Emily said, reaching into her coat pocket.

“I don’t want your money,” Matteo said. “But if you want to repay me, you can come to dinner at my house tonight? My mamma keeps asking when she is going to meet you.”

Emily sighed, shaking her head. While she was happy being friends, it had become abundantly clearer these past few weeks that Matteo wanted more. It wasn’t that he wasn’t handsome, thoughtful, and charming, but at twenty-three, he was much too young for her. Moreover, Emily didn’t want to be someone’s wife. She loved her independence and her job. She didn’t want anything to get in the way of her career.

“Maybe another time,” Emily said. “I have the girl’s essays on Wuthering Heights to grade.”

Matteo sighed, his bottom lip protruding slightly.

“Thank you for the oysters,” Emily said. “It’s very thoughtful.”

“You’re welcome,” Matteo replied.

Emily gave him a tight-lipped smile. “Well, I’d better get going,” she said. “You know what Mrs. Bird is like.”

Mrs. Bird was the owner of the boarding house where Emily rented a room. She was a stiff, stern woman who kept a close eye on those who lived under her roof.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Matteo said, his dark eyes fixed on hers.

Emily nodded as she turned. She walked past the rest of the vendors. Mrs. Bird’s house was on the corner of the street and looked just like the others ; a tall, narrow, brown building made from wood. It had three stories and a gray slate roof.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Bird,” Emily greeted.

The older woman stood up, wincing as she did. On the ground around her feet were piles of weeds, clumps of soil still clutching to their exposed roots. Mrs. Bird was a short woman with thinning gray hair, a broad face, and a flat nose.

“I am not so sure good has anything to do with it,” she grumbled.

“How’s the gardening going?” Emily asked.

Mrs. Bird muttered something unintelligible as she wiped the back of her hands across her sweaty brow.

‘A letter came for you,” she announced.

Emily frowned. “A letter? Are you sure it’s for me?”

“Apparently it was delivered to your old address,” Mrs. Bird explained. “But a young woman brought it by this afternoon. Said her name was Mary O’Connerly, said she used to teach with you.”

Emily had taught with Mary at her old school before coming to Briarwood. She had not seen Mary in ages but was grateful to her for bringing her the letter. She would have liked to have seen her old friend.

“Where is it?” Emily asked. “The letter.”

“Do I look as if I have it on me?” Mrs. Bird replied, bristling with impatience. “I put it in your room.”

“Thank you,” Emily said as she turned and headed to the porch.

As she walked up the stairs, Emily wondered who the letter might be from. The only family she had left was her younger sister Marie, but they’d fallen out of touch after she married and moved to Texas. Before she’d gone, they’d had a huge fight and Emily had said things she regretted. It had been almost eight years since Emily had heard from her.

Mrs. Bird turned away, crouching down and reaching for another weed, which she mercilessly tugged from the soil. Emily watched her for a moment and then headed inside and up to her room on the second floor. As she entered the brightly lit room, she spotted the envelope propped up against a pile of books on the desk.

Emily walked across the room. She hesitated a moment before she picked up the envelope. It had come from Texas, but Emily did not recognize the handwriting. It wasn’t her sister’s. Emily pulled open the top drawer of the desk and retrieved a silver letter opener.

She carefully inserted the tip of the blade between the fold of the envelope and glided it along the sealed edge. She put down the opener and removed the single sheet of paper from inside, unfolding it as she did. Emily started to read, her lips silently tracing the words.

 

Dear Miss McCoy

 

We have not been acquainted, and I wish very much that I was writing this letter under happier circumstances, but I feel it is my duty to write and tell you that your sister, Marie, and your brother-in-law, Bill, are deceased.

 

Emily paused, staring at that word, deceased. Her mouth was dry.

 

A few days ago, your sister and her husband were traveling back from town and were attacked by a group of highwaymen. Their bodies were discovered a few miles from their ranch.

 

Bodies. Her baby sister was dead. A tear rolled down her cheek and onto the letter, smudging the ink. Emily wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.

 

I know that you and Marie had not spoken for some time. Your sister confided in me that she regretted your estrangement and wished to reach out. I hope she would approve of me doing so now, for we are all concerned about the children. The death of their parents has left them orphaned.

 

“Children?” Emily breathed. “Marie had children?”

Emily’s hands were trembling as she stared down at the words. She never knew. She assumed as much, but part of her always believed that when they did, Marie would write to tell her the news.

 

As far as anyone knows, Bill had no other family save for Marie, their son and daughter. Your sister never mentioned any family other than you. We have made temporary arrangements for the children, but I am reaching out to you as their only living relative. I hope you will consider coming to Texas and taking charge of your nephew and niece.

 

I have enclosed a photograph of the children.

 

Yours faithfully.

Reverend Theodore Middleton

 

Emily blinked back tears, her throat raw with emotion. She’d always wanted to make things right with Marie. To tell her she was sorry for reacting to her departure the way that she had, for telling her that she was a bad sister, an ungrateful sister. She always thought there would be more time, but now she was gone and left behind her children.

Emily reached into the envelope and removed a black and white photograph of them. The girl was seated on a wooden stool; her brother standing on her right, his hand on her narrow shoulder. They looked so much like Marie at that age with their fair hair and heart-shaped faces. Emily turned over the photograph, and her breath caught in her chest as she recognized Marie’s handwriting.

Seven-year-old Thomas and his three-year-old sister, Lily. Forest Hill, 1897

Emily put the photograph down on the desk and sat, exhaling shakily. The flood of tears that Emily had managed to hold back until that moment suddenly broke through, and a sob escaped her throat. She put her head down on her hands and cried, the tears wetting the sleeves of her blouse.

She wasn’t sure how long she stayed like that; perhaps she’d fallen asleep. But when Emily eventually sat up, her neck and shoulders were stiff. Her eyes felt scratchy and swollen. She got up from the desk and walked over to the window. It was dark out now; the street outside her window was empty. Emily sighed softly to herself. She’d always loved the city, the smells, and the sounds, unlike Marie, who had longed for a quiet, simple life in the country.

While Emily had never wanted to get married, or have children, Marie dreamed of being a wife and mother and having a big family. Emily had been devastated when her sister left. It had broken her heart. She’d convinced herself she wasn’t enough for Marie and resented her sister for abandoning her.

All these years, she’d been so stubborn, and now it was too late for her to make things right with her, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t make things right with her children.

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  • I enjoyed the first chapter and it has left me intrigued and eager to see what happens next. So far good character development of Emily. There was enough detail to understand who she is, where she came from, her motivations, and her idea of what her future should look like. Obviously the future will be different now that there are children involved. It will be interesting to see how she changes once she meets the children.

    • I’m delighted to hear that you enjoyed it so far! Happy reading, and I hope the upcoming chapters continue to captivate you! 📖😊

    • I’m thrilled to hear that you’re enjoying the story so far! 🌟 Happy reading, and I hope the rest captivates you just as much. If you have any thoughts or reactions along the way, feel free to share! 📖😊

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