Hesitantly, Savannah Whitney read over the advertisement one more time.
It seemed too good to be true. Her heart pattered anxiously as she wondered if she was just dreaming. Perhaps this was a silly ploy. Even though the day had come, she could hardly believe it was really happening. After all this time, it didn’t really feel like all those months of writing had led her anywhere.
Especially not to this moment.
Licking her lips, she read the old mail-order bride advertisement once again.
‘Honest rancher, age 40, over six feet tall in excellent health. Seeking a helpmeet of great beauty and youth who is shrewd and of bodily health. Needs to aid in cooking, cleaning, buying, selling, besides anything else required of a daily business. Lady’s daily expenses are of no object. Address of Q.G. of Cheyenne City.’
Savannah read through it over and over again before carefully smoothing out the pages. She had read the ad so many times that she had it memorized. But she still craved the opportunity to read those letters.
Her heart hammered fretfully as she tried to imagine what he really looked like. Did he have a straight nose, a big nose, or a crooked nose? Was he exactly six feet tall, or maybe a few inches taller? She wondered what his hair was like, since he hadn’t mentioned it.
A rancher, though—she was marrying a rancher. That sounded nice.
Savannah’s father was a rancher. Their little Idaho ranch was just about ten acres wide. It was a hard living, but it made for a decent home. Timothy and Neil Woodstock were the farmhands who worked on it with her parents.
Her parents, Lars and Edna Whitney, were good people. They had crossed the plains as young English immigrants to find a home of their own. Though they said little, they had taught her well and had raised her to be a hard worker and a devout Christian.
Clutching her cross necklace, Savannah glanced out the train window beside her.
“Lord, be with me,” she murmured softly. “And be with my parents.”
She had never left Silver City, Idaho before. It had taken her a week traveling into town to find Cheyenne, Wyoming on a map. But even now, as she looked around the nearby landscape of vast mountains and blue skies and buffalo in the distance, she didn’t know where she was.
It was beautiful. Idaho was much flatter than all of this sloping land ahead of her. Pressing her hands and nose to the window, Savannah breathlessly pondered what Wyoming might be like. As she watched the world pass her by, she remembered her response to the mail-order bride advertisement.
It had read: ‘ To Q.G. of Cheyenne City: I am no great beauty, but I am not difficult to look at. I am under thirty years of age with auburn hair. I have a soft and hearty disposition. I possess a multitude of homekeeping skills, including cleaning, cooking, washing, and mending. I am of ranching stock, skilled in buying and selling cattle, birthing calves, and riding. I may be an upright wife to be a right hand for a good Christian man.’
There wasn’t much she brought to the table. Savannah didn’t like to think she was a fool. Her father was a practical man and her mother had raised her to read the scriptures and listen to the preacher.
Her hair was thick and lovely, and she had a thin waist. Her arms were strong, but her nose had a funny slope to it. And her skin often turned red after time in the sun, which was because there was always work to do and she knew how to work hard.
But she liked to think that she managed well for living in the west. All she needed was three dresses, one of which she saved for Sundays to attend church.
If another rancher like her father needed a ranching wife, then certainly she thought she would make a fine match. This made her wonder, then, if her husband-to-be employed any cowhands. Her father could only afford two, though sometimes even that was difficult. In Idaho, a man was lucky if he could manage five.
“Either way,” Savannah assured herself quietly as she rubbed her hands together, “I’ll learn.” She gave herself a nod and straightened up in her seat.
Glancing around at the other ladies on the train, she tried to copy them by straightening up her back and looked ahead. She didn’t know what they were looking at, but it seemed the polite thing to do.
As her journey progressed, the more nervous Savannah grew. She kept going farther away from home. She had never been married to a man before, and she worried that there was more she wouldn’t understand about caring for him and caring for a home. She wondered if his ranch would be too small or too big.
Except now, she couldn’t turn around. She didn’t have the money to go on back home. Savannah started to bite her lip. It was a bad habit and her mother used to give her a hard look to try and make her stop. But it had never really worked. Once, she’d bitten her lip so hard that it had bled.
There was no choice now. She was going to have to learn how to take care of her husband and his ranch one way or another, since she was going to marry him.
Now, as they journeyed along toward Wyoming, Savannah ransacked her mind for everything that her parents had reminded her about when she had told them the news.
She’d started her correspondence with her rancher in secret. At first, she’d just wanted to see what would happen. There wasn’t a lot of potential for her in Idaho, and she knew that her parents couldn’t do a lot for her there. The three of them knew it, although they never said it.
So, Savannah had decided to bring it up. Once the proposal arrived, she had waited until supper. Their meals were usually quiet. Her father, with his salt-and-peppered hair and beard, would eat quiet and carefully while her mother would occasionally speak up referencing a scripture verse.
But it was Savannah who had spoken up first.
“Mother, Father?” They had both glanced up in surprise. Neither of them was sentimental folk, so they said nothing and expected nothing.
But Savannah offered them a hopeful smile. “As you know, I’m nearly thirty years old now, and I’ve never had a serious suitor. I’ve always loved our home and this ranch. But to find a suitor, well, we live outside a mining town and there are very few options.”
Her parents had exchanged a curious glance before her father had slowly nodded for her to continue.
Savannah had taken a deep breath as she let the words pour right out of her all at once. “I found an advertisement in the newspaper for a mail-order bride. I’ve been writing to a rancher for the last couple of months and he’s asked for my hand in marriage. Because I worried you wouldn’t approve, I never told you. But, now, I’m leaving tomorrow and I already packed, and I don’t want you to tell me I can’t go. So that’s why I’m just now telling you what’s been happening and why I’m leaving.”
Her eyes had studied each of her parents anxiously, waiting and wondering. It was her mother who reacted first. She leaned forward with her eyes closed and sighed, saying nothing.
Then, her father had offered a short nod. “We’ll talk more after dinner,” he said eventually. He returned to eating his carrots.
She could still remember feeling her heart hammering in her chest. Savannah had stared at both of them for what felt like forever, expecting much more to happen. But nothing ever did. Her mother was done eating for the evening, but her father finished his meal.
Edna Whitney was a fiery woman, but she respected her husband and accepted his word in the home. So, she said nothing, but cleaned up and went with him into their bedroom for several minutes after supper.
That short time had felt like an eternity to Savannah. She hadn’t known what to do and had paced back and forth in the kitchen. Though she was supposed to scrub the pots and sweep the floor, she couldn’t bring herself to do anything.
Her bags were packed. She had her ticket ready to go. Everything was set, and yet she found herself preparing an argument against her parents in case they told her to stay.
She was twenty-nine years old, after all. That meant she was an old maid. No one wanted her by that point. Though she had looked for a handsome young man—or even a decent eligible man—to whisk her away into marriage, there had never been one for her. Finding that advertisement had been just what she needed.
Though she loved her parents dearly, they were never good about sharing their emotions. Savannah just hoped they would understand that she couldn’t stay there forever. She needed a life of her own.
Flattening her hair, she had hurried down the hall into her parents’ room. They were both seated on the end of their bed, side by side, but not touching. Her mother’s head hung low, but her father looked up at her and studied her face carefully.
“Yes?” Savannah had swallowed hard.
“I’d like to see that advertisement.”
She’d nodded and had hurriedly returned to bring it to him, along with all of the letters she had. This included every letter that her future husband had written to her and a couple drafts of her own. Carefully, Savannah explained the dates on each one and pointed out their order to him.
Her mother didn’t bother to review them, instead just staring at the ground the entire time. She looked utterly miserable. But her father said nothing as he carefully read through each and every letter.
None of them were intimate; they weren’t love letters. But they were friendly and polite. Only four letters from each of them, inviting enough dialogue to introduce themselves, suggest some further information, and then decide that it was enough to build a relationship for their futures together.
The very idea had made Savannah anxious. But now, seeking her father’s approval, it was nauseating. She had to remind herself that she would still leave, no matter what. But part of her really wanted him to approve.
“I see.” He set the letters down with a sigh before reaching out to her. Savannah inhaled as he gave her his hands. Her father stood up and kissed her on her forehead. He hadn’t done that in years, not since she was a little girl. Her heart softened. “I always knew you would leave one day,” he murmured softly. “Don’t forget, you always have a home here if you ever care to return.”
Tears sprung to her eyes before she could help herself. Though she knew her father cared for her, he had never made such a tender move toward her before. As he released her hands and handed over the letters, she blinked away the tears and offered him a watery smile.
“Of course,” she managed thickly. “Thank you.”
When her mother said nothing, Savannah scurried out of the room. She needed to put the papers down and had to find a handkerchief to blow her nose. Savannah glanced over her packed bag once more before settling down to bed.
It was hard to sleep, however, as she worried about her mother. She had expected her mother to be more accepting than her father.
That changed the next morning. Before Savannah left, her mother snuck in just as the first streaks of sunlight had crept through. Savannah was lying on her bed, wide awake, trying to rest up before the journey. She’d wanted to get a little more sleep in but simply couldn’t.
She had jerked up in surprise to find her mother at the door. Then, her eyes had widened to see that her mother’s eyes looked rather red, as though she had been crying. Edna was a no-nonsense type of woman who didn’t believe in wallowing in emotions.
“Mother? Is something wrong?” Savannah had asked as she sat up in a hurry.
Before speaking, her mother had rushed over to her side and wrapped her arms around Savannah in a tight hug. Savannah froze in surprise, breathless. Her mother smelled like flour and brown sugar. She closed her eyes as she tried to remember the last time she had been hugged like this.
“Lars approved of you leaving,” her mother murmured softly as she squeezed her tightly. “I can’t say I would, but I always did want you to get married and… and I suppose it’s time you did.” Neither of them mentioned her voice breaking.
“I know.” Savannah swallowed hard.
Her mother pulled back just enough to look Savannah in the face. “What is your husband like, do you know him? Will he be a good man?”
Savannah had smiled at that question, knowing what her mother was looking to learn. “He’s a Christian, Mother. A good man. He said he has a sturdy roof and will provide for me.”
That had brought a relieved smile to her mother’s face. “Good. That’s good, dear.” Then, she had frowned in concern. “But be careful. Do you hear me? I need you to be careful. Wyoming is a risky place. A wicked place. They have saloons, and more guns than in all of Idaho. Dangerous men and women all over the place. I’ve heard horrible things. But, since Lars approved, I won’t challenge his wishes.”
Smiling hopefully, Savannah had squeezed her mother’s hands. “Don’t worry. I talked to my future husband about that. I told him I am a devout Christian and that I am looking for a good Christian man. I mean it.”
Taking a deep breath, her mother had only looked a little comforted by that. “I hope so. Come, kneel with me. Let’s say one last prayer together, shall we?”
One last prayer together as mother and daughter. Savannah hadn’t wanted to say no. They’d held hands together and prayed that the Lord would watch over Savannah on her journey.
Afterward, her mother had given her a final hug and helped her prepare for her journey. Soon, Savannah was on her way to the stagecoach, and then she was on her train headed to Wyoming.
It was strange how quickly time could change everything.
Looking out the window again, Savannah felt her heart beat anxiously as she found herself saying another prayer. She wondered what might come next for her. The train ride had only just begun, but she was already further from home than she had ever been before.
“Lord, be with me,” she prayed softly as she closed her eyes. “Lead me where you need.”
Quincy Gunn rubbed his hands together at his desk.
There was nothing he liked more than piles of money sitting right in front of him. His coins were so shiny and sparkling. He’d already dropped most of them in alcohol and water to rub them clean.
No one else could take care of that job, he had learned the hard way, or they had a tendency to drink up his cleaning solution. And if they did, they’d get sick.
Not that it was his fault. They were the ones drinking metal and dirt that could kill them.
But no matter. The sheriffs never suspected him of anything. And if they did, all he had to do was slip them an extra gold piece.
But the rest of them were his. He chuckled as he looked over his desk with pride. He had quite a collection standing there before him. It made him proud. Fiddling with his thick beard, Quincy studied it hard. He worked hard for his living, and he had come a long way to become the man that he was.
Many folks in society looked down on him. Owning a saloon wasn’t exactly something to be proud of, after all; it was frowned upon in society. But they didn’t understand the labor, the sweat, the time that it took to build something from the ground up and to keep it growing. They didn’t know what it took to keep the people coming in, night after night, to keep the right patrons and kick the wrong types out.
It was all about balance. Control.
A lot of men didn’t understand that.
He started to count the gold again. Out in the west, folks paid in any way they could. Gold, silver, dollars, quarters, and dimes. Sometimes, it was even a piece of property, an acre or two. It could be right down the street or halfway to California.
Quincy didn’t care. Wealth was wealth in his eyes, and he would take it.
Grinning, he started through the first stack of money and carefully began to note down every bit of it, to track the income in his records.
Just as he started on the third pile, there was a knock at his door.
He sighed in irritation. “What is it?” His shoulders slouched as he found Carlotta Skinner there, peeking her head inside. Her long blonde hair hung down as she offered him a sheepish smile, a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her lips.
“Howdy, sir,” she offered in her husky tone. “I just wanted to let you know I’m here to start my shift at the bar. Are you going to come out and join us? Or, you know, I could come out and join you in here, if you like.”
There were some people he just couldn’t get used to.
Quincy Gunn stared at her for a minute, wondering if she was serious. The woman was nearly his age, in her mid-to-late thirties, and he thought she was smarter than that, playing around as if he was going to work the front of the bar when he could pay other folks to take care of that for him.
“No, Carlotta,” he told her with a groan when she said nothing else. “I have David for that, remember? I have you and David and the others to tend to my saloon for me. I’m the owner here, and you have a job to do. Now, get to work. Don’t make me come out there, will you?”
She laughed and shut the door behind her.
Shaking his head, Quincy returned to counting his money. Except she had made him lose his place and he needed to start all over again. The woman was distracting, and in ways that he didn’t need her to be. He muttered under his breath and returned to his work. There was money to be counted and numbers to be tracked. It was important to stay on top of business and make sure he was doing his best.
After all, he was bringing a wife there.
Quincy had been thinking about it for some time. He was forty years old, after all, and only getting older. He’d found a white hair in his beard the other morning. While that was a fine age for a man to be, the older a man got, the less a woman would want him. And being a saloon owner didn’t exactly attract the kind of wife he was looking for.
It made him chuckle and grin just thinking about the type of girl he usually spent his time around. They were pretty, all right—pretty and not at all innocent. He liked them just fine. They were fun and friendly in all the right ways.
But they didn’t do much to make for a home. None of those girls were homemakers or interested in babies, like he was beginning to think about. So, he had to find a balance, somehow. While Cheyenne had a few opportunities, no one was taking much interest in him.
When he figured that out, being a fairly smart man, he began to look for someone else.
He knew what he needed—a gullible young lady, a country girl, someone who didn’t know who he was or what he did. Upon learning about a mail-order bride, Quincy Gunn knew exactly what to do. He put out his ads and found someone to write to.
It hadn’t taken long.
He was close enough to be a rancher, after all, to count as one. He knew what it meant to live as one. He owned a saloon that took care of rowdy people, and that was enough. When the pretty young lady arrived, she wouldn’t mind.
Quincy chuckled as he leaned back in his chair. He had it all planned out perfectly. Things were working out for him and his future. Everything was going his way. His business was a success, he had more money than ever, and soon he’d have a pretty little wife to come home to.
Things could hardly get better for him.
Humming, Quincy put everything away into his safe. He locked it up nice and tight before tucking the key safely into his vest pocket. Smirking to himself, he patted it there, then climbing up from his chair and stepping out of his office. He had just a little bit of time before the train made its way through town, so he might as well make sure that the saloon was cleaning up and ready to go for the day.
His place of business was the only one in town that opened up at noon. Drinks were cheaper then, and folks could start playing cards, as well. It made for a lucrative spot and nobody seemed to mind much. Sure, it got noisy, but the mayor didn’t usually say anything about the racket. Then again, he usually stopped complaining when a gold note or two slipped into his pocket.
Any man could be bribed for silence. The trick was knowing the number.
“I was wondering when you might come out of your office.” Carlotta hurried over to him as she waved her short skirts and bushy hair around. Her lips were painted bright red. Though she was an older woman than he usually preferred working in his saloon, she had a way with his regulars that charmed the money right out of their pockets. She had a fine smile, too.
Her hand slipped over his shoulder. “What do you think? Are the doors ready to be opened?”
“Don’t mind me.” Quincy shook his head as he brushed a hand through his beard thoughtfully. “I’m just taking a look through. Make sure the tables are wiped clean.”
She nodded. “I just did. They should be spotless, Mr. Gunn.”
He glanced around the saloon and frowned. He doubted they were all clean. Nothing in this saloon was ever spotless. “Well, clean them again, won’t you?”
Then, with a shake of his head, he grabbed his hat and headed out the door. Outside, the sun was shining bright as ever. Wyoming was filled with bright blue skies, valleys around every corner, and tall mountains in the distance.
Having settled here nearly ten years ago, Quincy had quickly gotten used to the view. It was the same blue sky as one would find anywhere else. The green grass was the same, too, though taller and pricklier. The mountains were always covered in snow, and the weather in those parts were more unpredictable than anything he had ever known. It could be warm one day only to turn into a blizzard the very next day.
He didn’t like it, but he didn’t know where else to go. It didn’t seem like a very smart move to pick up and try to settle down somewhere new at this age. Especially since his saloon was thriving more than any other shop in town. He couldn’t just let it fall apart. No, he had decided, this was home whether he liked it or not. He would stay there with his saloon and his job and his business and his wife.
A wife. Mrs. Quincy Gunn.
Just the thought of it made him want to laugh. He scratched his balding head and then fixed the hat on his head as he walked. She had better be a good cook, Quincy thought to himself. A good cook and a pretty woman.
And hopefully she wouldn’t complain about the lies he’d told her.
Not that she could, he reasoned as he looked up at the bright sky with a squint. She couldn’t. She was getting a home away from wherever she was coming from. What woman didn’t want to get away and have her own home? She was fortunate, lucky she had been chosen. She would be begging to have whatever life he could give her.
The saloon was left behind as he walked down the dusty trail. Above him, the sun was rising high. Morning warmth spread across the town to help everyone start their busy days. Those who knew him either nodded in his direction or crossed the street to avoid him. He didn’t mind either way.
Putting his hands in his pockets, Quincy made his way toward the train station and tried to remember how his future wife looked. Brown hair, he thought. Tall, perhaps.
Quincy sighed at that thought. He should have kept those letters that she had written. Or had he kept them? He couldn’t remember. There were too many papers in his office, and he didn’t like to clutter his home.
His home. He wondered if he had tidied up or made space for the wife that was supposed to be in his life soon—in just about an hour. Quincy sighed. Perhaps he shouldn’t have recounted his money like that.
Or, better yet, he decided, it would give her something to do. Wives were meant for making a house feel like a home. Once she arrived, the better his life would be handled.
There was a loud whistle in the distance. Slowing down, Quincy looked toward the mountains where the tracks showed the train was on its way into town. Smoke billowed over the cars, showing that they were doing all they could to get there quickly.
So close. He took a deep breath and watched them approach. Fiddling with his beard, he wondered what it would be like to be married. He wouldn’t have to worry about his food or his laundry anymore. There would be someone tending to his house. No more candles or chores. Finally, he could go home and no longer worry about anything. Already, he could imagine the relief, and he grinned at the thought.
All he had to do was convince her that there had been one small mistake.
The train came closer and he shrugged his shoulders as he prepared his excuse.
Savannah wondered what would happen when she climbed off the train.
She would find her husband and discover what he was like. He could be a quiet man who rarely spoke, or someone who was always talking or spoke loudly to everyone all the time. Perhaps he was always in a good mood, a jolly mood, who was friendly and had something nice to say to everyone. Or he might be a hard worker like her father, strong and larger who was roughened up by his labors and didn’t like to say much. Her thoughts turned to her father and how he rarely shared his emotions. Thinking of the letters, she remembered they had been polite but never more than courteous.
As they neared the depot, Savannah prayed to the Lord.
“No matter what he is like,” she whispered under her breath with her eyes closed, “all I want in my husband is a good Christian man. You know the type of man I speak of, I know you do. Someone who cares for you.”
Savannah prayed that upon her descent off the steps of the train, he would notice her and come to greet her. She was worried that he would not be able to find her or recognize her or even be ready to find her. Or what if he changed his mind?
But she shook her head. That was nonsense.
No, he’d said he wanted a wife and his last letter had said that he was looking forward to her arrival. Savannah forced the doubts from her mind. She shouldn’t have been listening to those thoughts in the first place. Pushing them away, she took a deep breath and reminded herself to look forward to the future.
The train finally came to a screeching stop.
Squinting in the sunlight, Savannah felt her heart skip a beat in disbelief.
This was it. Cheyenne. She could hardly believe it. Looking around, she shook her head. There were people everywhere, talking and walking around.
It would be a tall man, she reminded herself. She needed to find herself a tall man. Taking a deep breath, she clutched her bag close and prayed that he would find her as quickly as she found him, if not sooner. She swallowed the nerves back as her anticipation grew.
Her hometown was much smaller than Cheyenne. Never before had she seen so many people gathered together in one place. Managing to squeeze her way through the crowd, she politely maneuvered around elbows and strangers’ hugs as she looked for a man on his own dressed something like her father, in overalls and a large hat.
Hope soared through her heart like a newborn bird who’d just learned it had wings. She whirled around with wide eyes, ready to find the man who would be her husband. Already, she was certain she had imagined every possible combination of who he might be.
And yet, she had not imagined him .
The man before her was hardly six feet and twice as heavy as she had expected. His eyes were small and rather greedy-looking. There was a large bushy beard on his face with thin spots right beneath his thin lips that had never quite filled in, but he didn’t seem to mind. His suit looked a little worn and unmatched. Though they were nicer than overalls, she supposed, they didn’t look quite like something a rancher might wear.
If this was her husband-to-be, he was nothing like she had imagined, and nothing like he had said he looked like.
But this was what she had agreed upon, and she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Savannah gulped down her disappointment and forced a smile back on her face. Trying not to show her true feelings, she offered a polite smile.
“Good evening, sir. Yes, I’m Miss Whitney. And you are?”
The man took her hand in his and brushed his dry lips against her knuckles before giving her a sly smile. “Quincy Gunn, at your service. It’s a delight to finally meet my stunning fiancée in person. Your face looks a little round from the journey, but I’m sure we can fix that right up back at my place. Let me take your bag and your arm, and we’ll say hello to a few familiar faces before we head down the lane.”
He spoke confidently and smoothly, like the type of well-oiled machine her father would use on the farm. Like a sharpened knife cutting through butter.
She watched his eyes as he talked and found nothing through inside them. No warmth, no cheerfulness even as he smiled, nothing. Savannah didn’t understand it.
Glancing at the ground where she had left her bag, she found that he had already picked it up and put it under one arm. The other hand was outstretched to her, waiting for her to take it. He seemed impatient and eager to be on his way with her on his arm.
“Oh,” Savannah managed before grudgingly putting her arm out over his. “Well. I see, then, I suppose.” She hesitated before glancing around the street. Part of her wanted to wait a little longer. Surely, she was missing something else. Something better.
But perhaps this was all there was.
Trying not to be dismayed, Savannah slowly allowed Quincy to guide her out of the train station. Though he was obviously ready to move quickly, with his eyes darting about and his arm tugging at her impatiently, Savannah couldn’t help but dawdle.
A few folks paid him no mind. A few wrinkled their noses and hurriedly made way for him, as if they didn’t want to touch him. That made her curious. As Savannah watched her future husband interact with people as they stepped off the train station and into the street, she realized something. She might have never met him before, but there was something about him that felt all too familiar.
He didn’t have the air or the walk of a rancher.
Rather, it was of something else. Her father used to speak of the kind of men who liked to walk around town as though they owned the streets. It wasn’t that they owned the sidewalk, but that they owned the people. Gamblers, womanizers, and drunks.
“It’s a nice town.” She hurried forward, trying to find something to say. She didn’t like the silence and knew she wouldn’t learn anything that way. Looking around, Savannah swallowed hard. Perhaps she didn’t understand him, or perhaps he wasn’t telling her. There was only one way to find out. “I’ve never been to any place like it before. Have you always lived here?”
Savannah tried again, keeping her voice calm and friendly. “Where are we going now? I can’t wait to see the ranch. How far is it?”
He had ignored her questions thus far, but he turned to her now. She offered a hopeful smile as she wondered if he would speak. Surely, he had something to say to her. He could do the polite and respectful service of answering one of her questions.
Then, the man gave her a nervous smile. His small, crooked teeth were bared, making her wonder what she had done wrong. Savannah’s stomach churned uneasily. “Actually, about that. I have a surprise for you, my dear.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “A surprise?” She glanced up and down the street but didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t sure what to even think. First, he wouldn’t answer her questions, and now he claimed to have a surprise for her? It didn’t make much sense. But she didn’t have a lot of options of what to do or where to go, so she simply smiled. “How lovely.”
Sighing in relief, he nodded before gesturing to the nearby bench. “Here, take a seat. I’m sure you should rest up after that long ride.”
The train station was several buildings down, so they were far away from the crowd and the noise. Though she was grateful for the quiet, she wasn’t certain she was glad to find they were still in the dusty streets in a dirty part of town and not around a home. She noticed they were also next to a saloon. It was a tall building with two floors and short doors with bright windows.
And her future husband had sat down so near to it.
She forced herself to take a deep breath, and then she obeyed. Reluctantly, she managed to convince herself to sit beside him on the boardwalk.
“You mentioned a surprise?” Savannah forced a smile on her face as she turned back to her husband, wondering what he could mean by that. She kept the smile on her lips as she sat on the bench, but she was aware of her surroundings and tried to inch to the edge of her seat without touching him. “What is it?”
In her heart, she prayed. She prayed hard that it meant nothing. Perhaps she was just tired from her long journey. After all, it had been a couple of days. She was exhausted and worn out, and perhaps he was going to say something sweet or playful.
“It’s the postmaster,” Mr. Gunn started out. Savannah frowned. “The postmaster would read over my letters to help me out. I’m not a very good writer. I’m a smart man, excellent at numbers and at many things. But words are more complicated, so I worked with the postmaster to read and write my letters. I expected him to be able to help me out in our letters. But, unfortunately, he misunderstood me. By then, well, it was too late. He wrote that I was a rancher.”
Savannah blinked as she stared at the man beside her. “If you’re not a rancher,” she asked slowly, trying not to let her voice shake, “then what are you?”
He chuckled and then stood up with a proud flourish to the saloon beside them. She stared in horror as he beamed with pride before asking, “Mrs. Gunn, my dear, would you like a tour of my fine establishment? The Gold Elephant Saloon! It’s the finest one in town!”
A saloon was nothing like a ranch. There was not a chance in heaven or in hell that the two of them could be confused. Decent cowboys would never be caught in one. Savannah slowly stood up in shock as the blood drained from her face.
“Unbelievable,” she stuttered, so furious that she could hardly manage to make a sentence at first. Savannah picked up her bag before Mr. Gunn could stop her. “How could you?”
His mouth dropped in dismay as he put his arms down by his side in surprise. “But I—it’s only a business, lady. Come on, Miss Whitney. Let me explain.”
“It’s different, and you know it,” she snapped at him. “You would have been honest in the first place if you cared. I won’t listen to another word you say.”
Then Mr. Quincy stepped into her path, waving his arms at her to block her from moving into the street. “Now, see here!”
She stepped to the left, faked right, and skipped away from him when he budged. The man nearly tripped. Savannah picked up her skirts. “Don’t you bother me! You can’t entrap me like that, sir. I am a decent woman and I will not be treated thus.”
“But, but,” he stammered as he followed after her. “Miss!” His voice grew louder as he scowled. “I will sue you! You owe me. You owe me! I brought you out here. I bought you those tickets. You owe me money. You owe me!”
The confusion turned to fury as she stormed down the street, clutching her bag in both hands. Glancing over her shoulder, Savannah glared at him.
After all she had been through, after all she had sacrificed, this is what she had come for?
“Just you try!” she snapped back at him. “I would like to see you do that after you have misrepresented yourself!”
He left her. Otherwise, he couldn’t keep up with her stomping off down the lane. Quincy Gunn was a portly fellow with a red face who only followed her past three shops, panting and heaving before he was left in the dust.
Savannah kept moving, though she didn’t know where she was going because she had never been in Cheyenne before. But she didn’t care. She couldn’t think straight. Clutching her bag, she started walking and didn’t want to stop. Once that man was gone, she didn’t know where to go.
The train station disappeared from view and after several minutes of walking, Savannah realized she had to do something and stop somewhere. She noticed a sign for a restaurant and decided to step inside. It offered seating, and that was what she needed: a spot to sit and to think.
She glanced around before hurriedly finding the first spot available at a round table with two seats. No one sat there, so she took one chair and left her bag in her lap. Looking around, she sniffed the air and hoped there would be something good to eat. Her stomach grumbled as a reminder that it had been hours since she had eaten.
“Me?” She glanced up.
The waiter eyed her with a wrinkled nose. “Yeah, the one trailing in dust. What’ll you have today?”
Savannah swallowed as she looked down at her dusty shoes. “Oh, I’m sorry. Just a coffee, if that’s all right?”
The waiter threw her another look before wandering off without another word.
Once again, she was left alone with her thoughts. Savannah dropped her head in her hands, trying to understand what had just happened. She could hardly believe it. Everything had happened so quickly. One minute, she had been talking to the man she was supposed to marry. And the next, she was leaving him in the dust. Her hands were still shaking.
“Hi, sweetheart,” came a sweet syrupy voice. “You look like you’re having a hard day.” Savannah jerked her head up to find a slightly older woman with bushy blonde hair, red lips, and friendly eyes. She wore a heavy cloak and beamed down at Savannah. “Hi, I’m Carlotta. New in town?”
Savannah flushed before glancing around. “Is it obvious?”
With a shrug, Carlotta slipped into the seat. “Oh, I’m just good at reading people. You seem to be having a hard day of it, kid. I thought I would offer my services. You wouldn’t be looking for work, would you? Maybe some lodging? I could certainly use another fun girl like yourself. It’s nothing much, of course, just waiting tables and the like.”
That sounded like a dream come true. It would fix all of Savannah’s problems. Leaning forward, she nodded eagerly. “That would be wonderful! I’m a hard worker. Is the boss a good man? I can work as long as necessary and even work in the kitchens. What is the restaurant like? Is there a name for the place?”
Carlotta leaned forward with a giggle. “Of course, sweetheart. It’s the Golden Elephant Saloon.”
It had all been a trick. Savannah realized her mistake as she stumbled back in her chair, ashamed for being so naive. The woman had come straight to her and had almost tricked her into going right back into Mr. Gunn’s arms. Immediately, she pushed the chair back and she stared Carlotta down angrily. “How dare you! Did Quincy send you?”
At her raised voice, Carlotta glanced around the room, patting her hair and blushing bright red. “Why, I never, of course he—dear, there’s no need to be upset now.”
“Can I be of service?”
Savannah’s chest heaved with emotion as she looked upward to find a slightly older gentleman looking down at her. He was eyeing them carefully, a slight frown on his lips. One hand strayed on the table, just a few fingertips lingering there.
Carlotta blushed even deeper as she stumbled up out of her seat and ducked her head from the man, stammering under her breath. Her excuses made no sense. Then, before anyone could stop her, she backed up all the way out of the restaurant.
Savannah watched her go through wide eyes, wondering what on Earth she could be saying.
Then, she turned to the gentleman, who was frowning. Once Carlotta was gone, he turned to her.
“Are you all right, miss?” he asked her politely.
Savannah glanced around the room, wondering where he had even come from. She didn’t remember seeing him step in the door or come from another table or behind the counter. It was like he had appeared out of nowhere. While she was grateful he had managed to pull Carlotta away, she couldn’t help but wonder why a saloon girl had run from him.
“I’m fine,” she managed shortly before dropping her gaze.
He was a fine-looking gentleman, she decided, in a blue shirt that matched his eyes and sturdy boots, but any man could wear those. Savannah clutched her bag close and turned away as her heart pounded. Everyone in Cheyenne had yet to be trustworthy, after all, so she had no reason to trust him.
“I don’t want to butt in,” he started cautiously.
“Then please don’t,” Savannah offered. “I think… I think I’d like to be alone. It might be safer that way. But thank you. Thank you for your services, sir.”
And she stared down at the ground even as she could feel people looking down at her.
“Trusting Her Righteous Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Determined to follow her courageous heart and start a life on her own, she answers a mail-order bride ad coming from the West. However, her plans go askew when she finds out that her husband-to-be lied about who he really is. Determined to leave him and in a moment of desperation, she meets Julian, a wealthy man who promises to help her escape her misery, and offers her a job as a chef on his father’s ranch. Even though Savannah is suspicious at first, she trusts her instinct and quickly finds a place to call home and someone to count on. Will she finally take the leap to real love or will the social differences be too much to handle?
Julian is a successful rancher who grew up in high society but truly believes in social equality of all classes. When he meets Savannah, he feels an inevitable need to protect her. Hiring her at his ranch seems like the perfect way to keep her safe. Unavoidable feelings will grow as they get to know each other, and Julian will quickly find himself surprisingly stricken with her wit and unique beauty. If their incompatible worlds unite, a chance at love may be finally within reach…Will obstacles such as status clash, spiteful schemes, and past trauma keep him from following his heart?
Julian and Savannah are about to find themselves in a whirlwind of powerful emotions. She has to accept his aristocratic upbringing and he has to be willing to see her for who she really is. Serious decisions must be made if they want to find a way to make their two worlds one…With such a difficult beginning, can they ever hope to understand one another, let alone find love?
“Trusting Her Righteous Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.