Fern paused outside the small townhouse where she had lived all of her seventeen years of life. It was a tiny house, squished between a row of others just like it.
That’s what it was like when you were from a poor family. You were lucky to have a house to live in, and extra space was a luxury that many couldn’t afford.
The day was a dark one. It looked like it wanted to rain, even though it was barely dusk. She glanced back down the street where she had come from to see someone else disappear into their home.
The town was small, and it seemed that most everyone had the same habit of turning in quite early.
She adjusted the basket of clothes under her arm and squared her shoulders before opening the door. The house was quiet and had a homey smell that always made her feel more relaxed. Fern closed the door gently behind her. Chances were, her father was still awake, but she could certainly hope he was already sleeping.
“Fern, is that you?” his voice slurred, causing her to jump and gasp. Her father appeared at the doorway, a bottle of whiskey in his hand.
“Yes, I’m sorry I’m late. The Withers had a guest and needed me to stay a couple of hours longer than I anticipated.” Fern set the basket she was carrying down on the table and held back a sigh.
“So, you figured you would just stay and not even call me?” Her father’s voice slurred in an unnatural way, and Fern tensed. Tonight was going to be a difficult one.
“It’s my job,” she said.
Her father ran a shaky hand over his chin which was covered with stubble from the last few days of no shaving. His eyes looked bloodshot and angry. She looked away.
“Your job? I provide for this family!” Her father’s whiskey bottle slammed down on the wooden table.
Fern jumped a little but tried not to show her discomfort. Inside she felt like a tight spring, ready to explode. She tried to stay calm.
“Answer me!” her father’s voice was loud now, and Fern was sure their neighbors could hear his outburst.
“I know, Father.” She paused, not sure what else to say. When her father was in these moods, there wasn’t much one could say to change it. It was better to remain neutral.
“Let me get some dinner and then I’m sure you’ll feel better,” she said quietly. Fern pushed the basket of clothes she was folding to one side and moved to the stove.
Her father slumped into one of the rickety chairs by the table. “That sounds good,” he said in a quieter voice.
Fern’s feet ached and her back complained the entire time as she moved around the kitchen preparing dinner. Cooking wasn’t something she particularly looked forward to, but it was part of her life. The idea of her life made her give a little smile and shake her head.
If you could call it that, she thought ruefully.
Her life was something that she didn’t like to think about often. She felt as if it wasn’t going anywhere, and it felt as if every day that went by, she was more suffocated by it.
She moved across the modest kitchen and set a steaming plate of potatoes and beef in front of her father.
“This again?” He let the fork clank back onto the glass plate.
The noise it made grated on her nerves, but she maintained her neutrality and sat down across from him and picked up her fork.
“It’s what we have,” she mumbled, trying to enjoy her food.
People said that her father hadn’t always been this way. There were days when Fern wished she had met him before he had changed and other days, she wished that he had never been a part of her life.
Her father raised an eyebrow as he took a bite.
“We’ll have to get something different for tomorrow, I can’t take this much longer,” he growled.
Fern nodded in agreement.
“I heard in town that Darren was asking about you. Is something going on with that boy?” Her father’s steely gaze held hers until Fern forced herself to look away.
“No, there’s nothing going on. I told him that I wasn’t interested, but he doesn’t give up. Won’t let me have a moment’s peace,” Fern said through a bite of potato.
“You don’t fool me, girl. I’ve seen the way you look at the boys. Encouragement is what I call it. You keep it up and you will have an unwanted little brat on your hands.”
Fern’s heart beat faster, and she forced herself to breathe calmly.
“I have no interest in marriage.” Her eyes narrowed, and she gripped her fork a little tighter.
She had never imagined herself being a wife and that hadn’t changed. Even if she could bring herself to want a romantic relationship, it certainly wouldn’t be with a man like Darren.
“You just wait little missus, I’ll bet you’ll be runnin’ off with some boy in no time, but when you do, it had better be proper. I won’t have no daughter of mine being a little tramp.” Her father shook his head, and something that resembled disgust clouded his eyes.
Fern clenched her jaw and took another bite of food. It took everything in her not to respond.
Finally, her father rose from the table and pushed back his empty plate.
“Don’t leave a mess,” he mumbled as he walked out of their tiny kitchen, leaving Fern with her thoughts.
She hurried to pick up the dishes, washed them, and put away the food from dinner. Then she turned back to folding the laundry in the basket.
She took in the wash for two families and babysat the Withers family’s two children four days of the week. She tried to keep as busy as possible so she wouldn’t have time to think or lament on her home life.
She looked out the window to see a young woman hurrying down the street heading toward the general store, her two young children clutching her hands.
They were laughing at something the woman had said, and they looked as if there was nowhere else they would rather be.
Fern’s hands became still as she watched the happy scene. It was nights like tonight she wished that she had a mother. She knew that she’d had one; everyone had one at some point. But her mother had died giving birth to her. There were no pictures of her, so she had to imagine what she must have looked like.
Fern’s stomach tightened a little as she thought of it.
If it weren’t for you, your mother would be alive right now. If I’d had to choose someone, I would have chosen her, but did someone give me a choice? No!
Her father’s words stung in her mind, and she closed her eyes to see his angry red face as he had shouted them at her from across the room.
Some people had told her that it wasn’t her fault, but she’d heard the whispers, seen how some people from town looked at her.
There were days that Fern wished that she’d had a choice too. She certainly wouldn’t have chosen to grow up with a father who hated her and a town who looked down on her.
Her gray cat rubbed up against her ankles, startling her. She liked to think it was hers anyway. She had found it skinny and alone behind the house one day and had adopted it. The cat seemed to show up and disappear as she pleased. That was okay, though, Fern understood that she couldn’t be around all the time.
“What are you doing in here?” she whispered.
Fern laid down the piece of clothing she was folding and carried the animal outside. Her father hated the cat, and he had kicked it on multiple occasions when she had managed to slip by Fern.
“You stay out here, where it’s safe, okay?” she said softly, enjoying the grateful purr that came from the cat. She glanced up at the sky. It was nearly dark now, and she knew that she needed to be inside.
It was at this time that the men were often out and about at the saloons or causing trouble, and respectable young women knew to stay off the streets.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She gave the cat a final pat before retreating into the safety of her home.
She placed the last piece of clothing onto the neatly folded pile before setting the basket down on the hardwood floor by the door.
Laundry was one of her least favorite tasks, but it was just another thing she had learned to accept. She needed the extra money that doing the wash for others brought in.
There were days when she thought about what it might be like to have the means to pay someone to take care of her wash. The thought made her almost laugh out loud.
Everything was ready for the next day.
She let herself stand still in the empty kitchen for a moment, listening to the soft whooshing of the wind outside the glass pane windows and the sound of faint music from the saloon down the street.
Things were as they should be. They weren’t pretty, or right, or the way she wanted them, but they were as they always were; they were normal.
Fern smiled, normal was good and predictable. She liked predictable. It was those days that were different which were dangerous. She shivered a little as the memory of some of those unpredictable days from her past popped into her mind.
She walked quickly down the dark little hall into her room, the pitter- patter of her feet sounding a little too loud in the otherwise quite house.
It had gotten later than she expected.
She lit a candle on her bedside table, and after a few moments of preparing for bed, pulled out the book she was reading. Reading was her one escape, the one way that she could go to another world, another town or another city and be someone else, anyone else, for a little while.
She wasn’t sure what time it was when she set the book down, her eyes too tired to stay open any longer.
She blew out the candle stub and then dipped her fingers in water before pinching it. A soft fizzy noise greeted her ears, telling her that the flame had been put out all the way. She then stumbled to her bed in the pitch-black darkness that surrounded her.
Yet another day had passed, and she was okay. She was alive and well and would face another day tomorrow, and she was grateful for that.
Charley leaned against his shovel, staring at the sky. It was nearly dusk, and that meant it was time for his trip into town.
He had been low on supplies for a while now, and the prospect of getting some much-needed items, such as coffee and sugar, made him almost eager.
“Come on boy; let’s get going,” he called to the dog at his side.
Jug was his faithful companion and the one living thing that Charley felt he could really trust.
He’d found the bloodhound abandoned in the woods with his eyes pasted shut from lack of care. He couldn’t have been more than a couple of months old.
Charley had nursed him back to health, and they had been inseparable ever since. The dog went with him everywhere, even to the general store. No one had ever told him that Jug couldn’t go into the store with him.
Charley wasn’t sure if it was because no one cared or because no one wanted to talk to him about it. Either way, he enjoyed the animal’s companionship.
As they walked down the sloping hill into the town below, Charley noticed that the birds were extra active this evening. They were singing various songs, like a chorus together, and hopping about from tree to tree along the path.
Charley had a large burlap sack to carry his supplies in tucked under his arm. At one point, he had always ridden into town on his horse, but he enjoyed the walk. He felt it was good exercise, and it gave him time to think. The dog’s paws made little puffs of dust as he trotted ahead of him.
The sound of wagon tires crunching on the dirt rode made Charley move off to the side a little. It was strange for anyone to be out this late. Most families liked to be at home, preparing for their evening meal at this time of day.
The figure in the wagon turned to look at Charley, and Charley’s heart stopped momentarily as their eyes met.
He knew the man, and he wasn’t anyone he had any intentions of talking to or even saying hello to. He pulled his hat a little lower over his brow and picked up his pace. Town wasn’t far away now; he’d be there in a matter of minutes.
Just as he had planned, the streets were empty. There was an occasional man heading back to his home or hurrying towards the saloon, but they paid little mind to Charley.
Charley wasn’t sure if it was because they were in a hurry or if they couldn’t really make him out on the darkening street, but it didn’t matter either way.
He briefly thought of the few times he’d come into town during the day.
The times were few. He had learned his lesson quickly. The children’s incessant questions about what was wrong with him; the parents always looked at him as if he would reach out and grab them and somehow transfer his misfortune to them by just being near.
The truth was it had all been a big adjustment for Charley. He had gone from being a normal person who interacted with the town when he felt like it or when he needed it, to being an outcast, someone that people kept their distance from and didn’t expect to see walking the streets of their town.
“Hey Charley, I was wondering which of these days you’d be showing up,” Tom greeted him as he entered the general store.
“Hey Tom.” Charley leaned his elbows onto the counter at the back of the store.
His conversations with Tom when he came into town for supplies were the one thing that had most likely kept him sane during the last five years of solitude he had endured.
Tom was a good man, and he treated Charley the same as any other man. He said the Good Lord didn’t judge men by what was on the outside, and so neither did he. Charley found that when he was with Tom, he forgot about his face for a while, and that was really refreshing.
“How you been?” Tom picked up some bottles from the counter and ran a cloth underneath them.
“Good. It’s quiet up on the ranch, you know; just me and Jug.” Charley lifted his arms so that Tom could clean underneath them.
“I’d imagine so. How long you been holed up out there?” Tom began rearranging a shelf of produce that to Charley looked as if it was organized just fine, the same as everything else in Tom’s store.
“Five years now, and it’s not that I’m holed up there. I come down to town every once in a while.” Charley pulled his shoulders together a little further.
He didn’t like the criticizing look that Tom was giving him.
“Coming down every few weeks to talk to me and buy necessities isn’t what I would call coming to town, but if you say so.” Tom shook his head, a small smile on his lips. “You know what? You should get a wife. I hear they fix things right up. You could definitely do with some fixing up.” Tom threw his head back and chuckled at his own joke.
Charley glared. It was just like Tom to make light of his situation. He always had. He didn’t understand what it was like for Charley, and Charley couldn’t exactly say that he expected him to.
“There’s not a girl in town that would give me a second look. Since… well you know. My chances of getting married are about as good as Jug’s here,” Charley reached down and gave the hound an affectionate pat on the head. Jug’s tail thumped the wood floor in reply, and he yawned and slid down into a heap at Charley’s feet.
“There are a lot more women out there besides the closed-minded ones in this town.” Tom raised his eyebrows and looked pointedly at the newspaper sitting on the counter.
“A mail-order bride?” This time it was Charley who laughed.
“If a girl here wouldn’t marry me, what makes you think that one would travel weeks to marry a man with my… shortcomings.” Charley pulled the newspaper over to him and flipped to the part that showed the mail order bride requests.
There weren’t that many of them, but there were a few from ranchers, gold miners, and there was even one from a banker looking for a wife.
“You know, a lot of times mail order brides have shortcomings of their own. Maybe you wouldn’t need to be exactly upfront about yours,” Tom suggested. “Maybe after she gets to know you yours won’t be so important.” Tom shrugged his shoulders and paused his constant movement for a moment. “I think you should give it a try. After all, what do you have to lose?” Tom said, pushing a pencil across the counter.
Charley picked up the pencil and tapped it against his chin for a moment.
“You really think so?” he asked, his mind turning the possibility over a few times. He did hate the loneliness, and an extra pair of hands might be nice out on the ranch. Of course, he didn’t expect a woman to love him. All he expected was to provide something for whoever she was and in return, maybe she could learn to tolerate him and keep him company.
“Tell me otherwise all you want, Charley, but no one can take being alone forever,” Tom said.
Charley’s heart tightened a little. Tom’s words hit a little too close to home.
He hadn’t always been alone, but he avoided those memories like the plague. He didn’t need ghosts from the past intruding into his present and messing things up.
A young girl’s face flashed into his mind, golden wisps of hair curled around her smiling face.
“Maybe you’re right.” Charley placed the pencil to the paper that Tom had provided.
“I know I’m right!” Tom slapped his shoulder in a friendly way and then went back to organizing another shelf.
Charley wrote a few words, then erased them and started over. After a few tries he finally had something that he was pleased with.
He pushed it across the counter for Tom to read.
Tom’s eyes skimmed the little scrap of paper, took the pencil from Charley, corrected a word, and then he nodded with a big smile on his face.
“This will do fine! Pretty soon you’ll have a whole row of pretty gals lining up to make you dinner and start a brood of children with you.” Tom placed the little bit of paper on top of the newspaper. “I’ll take that to the print tomorrow morning, first thing.” His eyes sparkled proudly as if Charley had done something monumental that everyone in town should know about.
As Charley picked out his supplies, his eyes kept wandering back to the scrap of paper. He still wasn’t sure that it was a good idea. What if a woman just came to turn around and go back once she met him?
Could he take that type of humiliation? He had experienced everything under the sun already, and honestly, he liked the routine and normalcy of his life alone. He liked knowing what was going to happen and when, and it was a disturbing thought to think of someone coming in and changing his way of life. But then again it might be a nice change. He could only hope that somewhere out there a young woman would want to give it a try.
After all, what Tom said was true. He might live a different life now than he had five years ago, but he wasn’t made of stone. He missed having a conversation with someone who talked back. Jug did his best, but his conversations were rather one-sided. He missed having someone to share his day with, to share his dreams with.
Charley shook his head. That wasn’t going to happen. The best that he could hope for was a woman who would tolerate him, and that would be a miracle in itself.
Once Charley was on his way back to the ranch, he kept having thoughts of going back and retrieving his ad, but knowing that Tom would never allow it forced him to continue his journey home. His ad was out there now, and whatever came of it was going to happen, whether Charley was ready for it or not.
“Everyone’s going. What’s the harm?” Darren’s voice was becoming more and more annoying to Fern rather than threatening.
She pushed through the crowd a little faster, trying to lose Darren behind her, but her efforts were in vain.
“I’m not going, Darren. Don’t ask me again.” Several people around them turned to stare, and some young women covered their mouths to whisper to each other.
Fern heaved a sigh.
“Would you stop following me?” She turned to face Darren, knowing that if she didn’t stop him, he would follow her all day long.
“I would stop following if you would say that you’d go with me,” Darren said, leaning in towards her.
Fern took a step back and protectively placed one of her arms around herself.
“First of all, you’d never catch me in a saloon. I don’t care how many people are going. Second of all, I have no interest in going anywhere with you.”
Darren’s eyebrows shot up, and he opened his mouth to speak.
“It doesn’t matter how many flowers you give me or nice things you say. I know who you are, Darren. I don’t care for you in that way or any way really. Just stay away from me.” Fern pronounced each of her last words with care, spacing them out so he’d know exactly how much she meant them.
“How – I have been nothing but a gentleman with you, Fern. I am asking you nicely to reconsider.” Darren’s voice had gone gravelly, and a shiver ran down Fern’s spine.
“I won’t reconsider, Darren. It doesn’t matter how many times you ask nicely. I am NOT interested.”
Darren reached out and grabbed her arm, squeezing it painfully.
“Well then, let me ask not so nicely. Come with me Fern, or you’ll regret it.” Darren’s voice had a cold tone to it that made Fern’s heart falter, but she stood her ground.
“No. Now take your hands off me before I scream.” She kept her voice even, but she was shaking inside.
If she hadn’t been interested in Darren before, she definitely wasn’t now. He disgusted her, and she wanted to be as far away from him as possible.
Darren let go of her arm reluctantly and stepped back.
“You’ll see. You will wish you had come to the dance with me,” he said menacingly before disappearing into the crowd.
Fern watched him go until she couldn’t see him anymore.
She didn’t know if she should be worried about his threat or not, but something told her he was serious.
She knew that Darren didn’t really care about her. He was the type of man that wanted the thing he couldn’t have, and once he had that, he would leave it tossed on the side of the road, used and forgotten.
She adjusted her skirt and moved on to the next stand.
“The usual?” the vendor woman asked, already starting to put apples, potatoes, and carrots into a heap for her.
Fern nodded and gave a quick glance over her shoulder.
It’s nothing she told herself. But a nagging voice at the back of her mind wouldn’t let Darren’s voice fade.
She kept glancing over her shoulder for the rest of the afternoon, and when she finally made it into the house with a basketful of purchases, she made sure that the door was bolted behind her.
Everyone knew that Darren liked to talk and was full of himself, but she had also heard rumors about him, dangerous rumors that she had no interest in being involved in. He had pursued her relentlessly in the last several months and had said he would marry her before it was over. Never – she would never marry a man like him.
That night she could hear the music from the saloon, and it was extra loud. She wondered if Darren had found someone else to go to the dance with him.
Fern had determined that she would never go anywhere near alcohol or a saloon in her life. She had seen how it had destroyed her father, keeping him constantly under its influence, and she wanted to stay as far away from it as possible.
Eventually, her eyes became so heavy with sleep that even the obnoxious sound of the piano, accordion, and drunken singing couldn’t keep her awake, and she slipped into darkness.
Fern knocked on the hard, wooden door again. It was odd that the Withers had left it bolted when they knew she was coming. Usually one of the children would be waiting to open it for her, but today, she’d been standing outside for nearly fifteen minutes.
Finally, the door opened a crack, and Mrs. Withers looked out at her with a guarded expression.
Fern stood confused as to why she hadn’t been ushered in. Usually, Mrs. Withers was always in a hurry to have her take over as soon as she appeared.
“Is everything all right?” Fern already knew the answer to the question. What she didn’t know, was what was wrong.
“Actually, Fern, I’m sorry. You have been wonderful, you really have, but we’re going to have to let you go.” Mrs. Withers avoided Fern’s gaze and fidgeted with the door.
“I don’t understand. You don’t need the help anymore? If it’s the pay maybe I can…”
“No, no, no,” Mrs. Withers interrupted, “it’s not that. I just don’t think that you’re the right fit for our family anymore.” Mrs. Withers voice sounded strange.
Fern shifted the large basket of the Withers laundry she was carrying to her other arm.
“Okay. Well, here’s your wash.” She tried to keep her voice calm. She could find another job. She would have to. She needed the money for food every week, and she was trying her best to save a bit for her future. She set the basket on the porch and stood uncertainly looking at Mrs. Withers for a moment more.
“I’m sorry, Fern. I really am.” Mrs. Withers voice wavered a bit.
Fern nodded and started down the steps.
“Fern?” Mrs. Withers caused Fern to pause and look over her shoulder.
“Yes?” She hoped that Mrs. Withers couldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
“You should watch the company you keep.” The warning was soft but cold at the same time, and after it, the door closed with a finality that made Fern start a little.
What does she mean? Fern thought, rummaging through her brain for any possible acquaintance she had kept that was inappropriate. But none came to mind.
Two young women were walking down the street nearby, and when they saw Fern, they turned to each other and giggled. They whispered something and laughed again before continuing on their way. They avoided eye contact when she looked at them and stopped in the path.
Suddenly, it seemed as if Fern noticed every detail around her. A horse passed by, and she listened to the uneven sound of its hooves pounding the dusty ground. Maybe one of its shoes needed fixing.
She wasn’t sure what was wrong, but she felt as if eyes from everywhere around her were staring into her, looking at something that she hadn’t become aware of yet.
Another group of women were coming from the opposite direction, and when they saw Fern, they moved themselves to the other side of the street.
“Can you believe it?” one said in a hushed voice.
“Well it must be true. Why would he lie?” another woman added.
Despite their poor attempts to cover their mouths and speak quietly, Fern heard them as clear as day. What she couldn’t figure out was what they could possibly be talking about.
With every passing encounter, Fern ducked her head a little lower and made her feet move a little faster. She couldn’t wait to get off the street and into the quiet sanctuary of the parlor of her house.
Footsteps approached from behind. “Fern, I heard about your little adventure. Ain’t it spectacular how the most uptight girls always fall in the end?”
Fern’s head whipped around to face her accuser.
He was a tall young man, two heads taller than her with broad shoulders and a cocky grin that stretched across his pale face. He loomed over her, a mocking smirk in place.
Fern took a step back and tried to keep her breathing even. You can figure this out. It’s just a misunderstanding she tried to reassure herself.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Fern crossed her arms over her waist, trying to put more distance between her and the boy.
She knew him. He had tried to convince her to court him a few months before. She had turned him down due not only to his reputation, but due to the fact that she just had absolutely no desire to get to know him better.
“Oh, come on Fern. You may be playing innocent, but Darren has told most everyone in town about it by now. He’s quite proud of being the one to finally get you to give in.” Cain pulled his shoulders back a little and gave a harsh laugh.
Fern backed up a little and stared at him. He was a madman.
He continued to taunt her without a pause. “What did he do to lure you?” He got even closer, and Fern could smell the whiskey on his breath. “I heard that you are quite creative too,” he crooned. “Maybe I would like a turn too,” he added suggestively as he tried to touch her face.
“I should go.” Not waiting for a response, Fern pulled away from Cain and ran the rest of the way home. As she shakily fled into the empty parlor, she realized that she had tears running down her face and she was shaking.
Darren had carried through with his threat. She didn’t know how or what he had done, but whatever it was, she knew that it was just the beginning.
The sound of the front door being opened made Fern wake up with a start. She didn’t know how, but she had dozed off while sitting against her bedroom wall. For a moment, everything seemed normal, and then the events of the day came rushing back.
“Fern, where are you?” Her father’s voice shook through the house, and she heard his fist thud on the table so hard the glassware rattled.
Fern fumbled to stand up and brush back her hair. She rushed to the mirror and looked in it to see how bad her face was. One could definitely tell that she had been crying. Her heart pounded in fear, but there was nowhere to go but downstairs to face her father.
“I’m here,” she answered in a tremulous voice. She stepped from her room, smoothing down her skirt.
Her heart sank as she caught sight of her father’s face. It was nearly purple in anger, and his eyes looked as if they couldn’t get any bigger.
“You’ve gone and done it this time, haven’t you?” he yelled. I warned you against this very thing, and you just went out there and jumped into bed with the first boy you could find!”
“What are you talking about?” Fern walked past him into the kitchen feigning confidence.
“Don’t you walk away from me young lady, and don’t act as if I’m a fool. I heard about your little escapade. It seems everyone has. It’s all over town!” Her father slammed a clenched fist down onto the table.
Fern jumped in surprise. It was one of the rare times that her father’s anger was genuine and couldn’t be blamed on a bottle of whiskey.
“What escapade? What is everyone talking about? All day everyone’s been looking at me and treating me like I’m a … a …”
“Tramp; that’s what they’ve been looking at you like, and they’re right. You know, you did enough damage being born, but this? Ruining the last little bit of a reputation I might have had in this town? I won’t have it!”
Ferns mouth opened and closed at the terrible word her father had used to describe her. “I have done nothing wrong.” Fern whipped around to face her father. She was so tired of the accusations; the demeaning way people were talking to her and the way they were looking at her.
“You saying Darren is a liar? And even if he was, all of his friends are too? Because his friends all say they saw you with him going into a hotel after the party last night at the saloon.”
Fern tried to catch her breath and stop her hands from shaking. So, he had indeed followed through with his threat, and it was worse than she imagined.
“I swear I didn’t do anything with Darren. I refused to go, and he said I would be sorry. I came home, and I was here in the house the entire time,” Fern said throwing up her hands in frustration.
“Well, I’ve fixed your mess, like I always do,” her father lowered his tone a little and heaved out a sigh.
“What do you mean?” Fern’s question was soft, barely there. How could he have possibly fixed the mess?
“I’ve talked with Darren, and he’s willing to marry you,” her father said sitting down on one of the chairs by the table.
“What?” Fern gasped.
“He’s willing to marry you. You’ll be eighteen in two months. You will marry him then, but as far as you’re concerned, you’re engaged now so act like it. You couldn’t wait until you were married, but now that it is done, you are his,” her father growled impatiently, shooting her a menacing glare that dared her to question his words.
“No.” The word came from her mouth so quickly she didn’t have time to think about it. Fern’s eyes widened as she realized what she had just said.
“You dare say no to me? You think you can do what you please and there won’t be consequences?” Her father’s shoulders were now shaking in fury. “You listen to me; you will marry Darren and put the town’s rumors to rest, and I will not be seen as the man with a good for nothing daughter pleasuring the men of the town.”
Her father stood from his chair and jabbed his finger at her with every few words. As he stepped closer, she cowered in fear, and her eyes bored a hole in the wood floor memorizing the pattern of the wood there.
“You don’t have to want to marry him; you don’t have to love him. You already made your choice when you walked into the hotel with him. You will marry him. In that, you have no choice.” He spun on his heels and left the room.
Fern’s vision blurred, and she fought to gain control of her emotions. She gasped for air like a fish out of water. She couldn’t marry Darren. She didn’t want to marry anyone, but Darren? Her hands trembled as she tried to tidy the kitchen, needing something to do.
One of her hands knocked her father’s newspaper to the floor, and she bent to pick it up. As she did so, an ad stared up at her.
Wanted: Mail Order Bride – I need a young woman to come west be my bride. As my bride you will live on a small ranch with me and care for my home and be my companion. I promise to care and provide for you, and even if you never love me, I will always treat you with kindness and fairness. Please write to Charley at the address below if you are interested…
Fern’s eyes skimmed over the ad, her heart beating hard in her chest.
Could this be the answer?
Would it do her any good to leave one unwanted marriage for another? She didn’t know, but maybe it would. There was no one in this town for her now; nowhere to go, no escape from this disaster.
She knew who Darren was, what kind of a man he was. After what had happened between them, she knew he wouldn’t be a gentle loving husband. Maybe the man out west would be. Charley, hmmm, maybe he would be her benefactor. He did say he would be kind and fair.
She would be at least three weeks’ journey away from her town. No one would even know where she had gone if she slipped away. Her father certainly wouldn’t come looking for her, and she doubted anyone else would. She would have to be careful so that Darren never found out.
She carefully ripped the small piece of newspaper from its place and tucked it into her apron pocket. Wiping her eyes, she headed towards her room. She needed to think about this with a level head. She needed to come up with a plan to get herself out of this mess.
If the only way to escape her fate with Darren was to become a mail order bride, that was what she would do. There was no way she could just sit back and accept her father’s solution. That would be the end of her for sure.
“A Bride to Soothe the Wounded Rancher” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Fern has always minded her own business and just wanted to start a new life on her own. But when the false accusations of a man in town make her drunk father demand that she gets married, she will have to find an immediate solution. With nowhere to turn, she flees to the West as a mail-order bride for a mysterious stranger. And as more pieces from her husband’s past and present turmoil come to light, Fern is not sure if what she feels deep inside is fear or love. Will she eventually be brave enough to see the man who is hidden behind the deformed face?
Charley’s life during the last years has been quite solitary. His scars have disfigured not only his face but his soul too and the ghosts from his past don’t let him move on. Only until a beautiful woman appears in his life aiming to become his mail-order bride, there forms a ray of hope in his darkness. But will he let her touch his heart and heal his wounds? Or will he repel her too, afraid that there is no one in this world who could have true feelings for him?
Just when Fern and Charley succeed in putting together pieces that were broken for years, will their past leave them alone for long enough to enjoy it? Or is the situation about to get unstable once again, bringing about consequences they couldn’t even imagine?
“A Bride to Soothe the Wounded Rancher” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.