“Oh Lord, where is he?” Audrey whispered to her Mother. What has made him so late? Is he hurt or something?”
“Come through to the private room I have,” the minister offered, and the bride to be along with her mother took up the invitation. Caleb’s father came along as well and paced the floor.
“I had better go and see if he has had an accident,” the man said and strode away to try and find an explanation. Audrey sat on a chair and started to shiver. She twisted the engagement ring on her finger and bit her lip.
“Try to stop worrying,” her mom told her. “I’m sure there will be an explanation.” The minister also lent his voice and went to talk to the church congregation.
Caleb’s father came back with a troubled expression. He held out his hands to Audrey.
“My dear, I cannot find him.” He looked at her mother and the minister who had returned to the room. “His horse is gone, and his clothes.” He took out a handkerchief and mopped his brow. “I saw one of the neighbours, and she saw him ride away.”
“Was there not a note or something?” her mother asked, and the man shook his head.
“It looks very much like he has left town. I’m sorry, Audrey. I think we’ll have to try and find him and see why he has disappeared like this. There must be a reason.”
Audrey stood up, and her mom wrapped her arms around the girl. Audrey started to cry, and Peter, her fiancé’s father, went with the minister to ask the congregation to leave as the wedding was postponed.
“When the place was empty, Audrey and her mom took the carriage that had brought the girl to what should have been a wonderful day back to the house.
Audrey ran inside and stripped off the wedding dress that she had so lovingly made. She lay on the bed and sobbed until she was all cried out and then pulled on some regular clothes. In her heart, she knew that Caleb loved her and wanted him to return more than anything in the world. She twisted the engagement ring again and then found a chain. She put the ring on the chain around her neck and went to see what her mother thought about it.
“Come and try some hot soup,” Elspeth, her mother, offered, and Audrey sat at the kitchen table and tried to eat. Her mom sat opposite, and they discussed the possible things that could have made Caleb Wheaten ride away from his wedding day. Neither of them could think of a reason.
Three years later
“This will look wonderful on your slim figure,” Audrey told the customer she was making a dress and coat for. She and the lady had studied the fashions worn in the cities and seen drawings and pictures. Audrey was a skilled seamstress and made her own versions of the styles.
“I love the way the coat almost covers the dress but lets you see that it is all part of the outfit,” Mrs Jerome told her and caught a glimpse of herself in the long freestanding mirror.
“I’ve pinned the hem now,” Audrey said as she stood up. “Have a proper look and see what you think.” She found a second mirror so the woman could also see the back of the coat.
“Wonderful,” Mrs Jerome told her. “I will be well dressed for a trip with my husband.”
“I’ll hand finish the hem and bring it to the house for you,” Audrey said as her customer changed back into her everyday clothes and went away happy.
Elspeth brought her daughter and herself a cold drink when the new garments were hung out of the way.
“You have a lot of these letters now, Audrey. What do you think?” Elspeth knew that her daughter was writing to a man who would like a mail-order bride. She had advertised herself and was in correspondence with the man.
“Reese seems like a decent sort of man and has a mining business. He writes a good letter, and I’ve enjoyed writing back to him.”
“I know it is three years since that awful day but is this the right answer?”
“I kept hoping he would come back and have a reason to tell us why he left me like that.” Audrey blinked hard to stop herself from letting a tear squeeze out. The memory of the day would not go away. Then she took a deep breath. “I have to make a life of some sort and put it all behind me.”
She picked up the last letter from Reese Jennings.
“I told him I work as a seamstress and still want to do that. He says it sounds like a good idea. He says he has a spare room I can use as a sewing room and likes the idea of another business.”
“So, are you going to accept the offer?” her mother asked. “It’s a huge decision to make.”
Audrey thought hard as she sipped the lemonade and decided, “I cannot go on forever thinking about the past. I’ll accept his offer and go to be married. He says he will pay for the hotel until we are married. That seems to say he is a kind man.”
“Oh, Audrey. I will miss you so much,” her mother said with a sigh.
“Once the marriage has settled down, you will come and visit.” She stood up and kissed her mom on the cheek. “I’ll write and tell him we can go ahead and make the arrangements.”
She did that, and it was several weeks before her mother waved her off on the stagecoach that would take her to the railroad depot, and then Reese Jennings would meet her at the other end of the rail journey and take her to his home. The stagecoach was as bumpy as ever, and there was little conversation with other passengers. Audrey wondered what Reese was like in real life. She closed her eyes and put up with the bumpy ride until they reached the railroad depot.
The depot was busy with many well-dressed people mingling with men in boiler suits swarming over the engine. She could smell the cattle being loaded into stock wagons and moved away from that area to find someone to help her with the bags.
Audrey was excited, nervous, and looking forward to a change in her life. She watched the other passengers and had conversations with some of them as the train crossed wide open plains and skirted around some mountains that looked beautiful but wild and dangerous.
A new life. I have to make the step and start to build a future.
That thought was in her head as the train slowed and noisily stopped at the depot, where she dismounted. Another passenger handed down her three bags, and she stood beside them, looking for a man who was as he had described himself. A man matching his description was walking across the yard, and she saw he was wearing the long coat he had described. He had fair hair tied back with a leather thong and looked strong and sure of himself. He smiled at her, and she noticed the unusual dark eyes with such blond hair.
“Miss Rivers?” he asked and held out a hand.
“I am,” she answered and shook the hand. “You must be Mr Jennings.”
“I am indeed. Let me carry those bags to the carriage, and we can go to see my house and perhaps get to know each other a little.”
Audrey took one of the bags herself, and he took the other two. They were quite heavy, and she thought that he must be quite strong. The bags seemed to be no trouble to him at all. He put the bags into a waiting carriage and offered her a hand to step inside.
“May I sit up on the driving seat with you?” she asked. He smiled for the first time and helped her onto the seat before climbing himself and urging the horse into a gallop.
“Is your mine close to the town?” she asked as they drove down the main street.
“It’s about a mile out of town, and I have to ride out there from time to time to make sure they’re all working hard.”
“Have you owned the mine for very long?” she queried, and he started on a long tale of how the first miners were just men with a pick and shovel.
“They had no money to buy the equipment they needed to mine properly, and I bought out the claims of two of them. I believe in jumping in and taking risks with business. I always want to make a profit from what I do.” Audrey was about to ask another question, but Reese was started on his favorite subject and continued to talk about his businesses and his plans to make even more money. He looked across at her eventually.
“I talk a lot about the business and how other people should be working hard. Sorry. I’m glad you seem to feel the same about your dressmaking.”
“I made this outfit,” she told him, and I’ll have to send for a new sewing machine. The one at home was my mom’s.”
“Strangely enough, I have a sewing machine I took in place of money when someone couldn’t pay me. I can show it to you when we reach the house.”
Audrey wondered about his other business. She was quite an observant woman but decided that he was simply waiting until he knew her better.
They had left the main street that looked like many other growing towns with some stores, hotels, and saloons. It was typical of towns that grew up in the days of the mining goldrush and still needed to be tidied and made permanent. She could see a blacksmith further down the street, but he turned the carriage off the road and into a more residential part of the town. There was another store with bread and cakes in the window and a delicious smell of baking.
“That smells wonderful,” she said.
“My next-door neighbor is the baker, his name’s Charlie Morecambe. Mineacres is a growing town, and many businesses are starting.”
He turned into the gates of the next house, which was quite large and had what could be a pretty front garden but was left to its own devices. They drove behind the house and she saw two barns, a stable and a corral for the horses. Two were grazing and the third was the one they were using to pull the carriage.
“Welcome to my house,” he said and offered his hands to lift her down. She stood on the ground in front of him and noted that he was about four inches taller than herself.
Audrey Rivers was quite tall and slender, with dark hair and grey eyes.
“I do like your outfit,” he said. “I think you’ll find plenty of customers. A lot of the women who have come to this town are hardworking and would not have the time or skill to make such good garments.” He looked at the house. “We will take your bags to the hotel after we look around. Come and see what you think.”
Reese set off ahead of her and left her to follow. He opened the front door and ushered her inside. She stopped and looked at what would probably be her home. It was a strange feeling, and he seemed to realize that.
“We’re both going to have to get to know each other,” he said. “The house is looked after by my helper, Emma. She is a pleasant girl and works hard.”
Audrey smiled, and he raised an eyebrow.
“Is it your favorite thing about people – they work hard,” she queried. The man had the grace to laugh at himself.
“I’m driven to do well. Sorry if that puts you off.”
She shook her head and told him that it was his personality. They took a tour of the house, which had a very large living room with what, even to Audrey’s eyes, was expensive furniture. There was a large mahogany sideboard and a matching overmantel above the fire. The table was gleaming and also in mahogany, with six chairs to accompany the table. A most beautiful paraffin lamp was in the center of the table with an etched glass shade.
“I use the kitchen table for everyday purposes,” he said and led her into an equally large kitchen. “My mother always said that a big kitchen was essential.”
“It is a wonderful kitchen with the latest things to make life easier,” Audrey told him and was impressed with the working area, and there was a smaller scullery attached leading out to the corrals and barns. A man was carrying an armchair into the first barn.
“Thanks, Marty,” Reese shouted. and the man nodded as his hands were occupied. “I buy and sell things. Men bring in what I buy and take to the railroad what I sell.”
The rest of the house was equally impressive, with four big bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.
“I forgot to show you the sewing room,” he said and led the way back downstairs. A door from the living room looked like a cupboard but led to a basic room with a table, two chairs, and several boxes. “This is basic, but there is room for a sewing machine.” Then he remembered he had told her there was a sewing machine and led her outside to the barn.
The barn was another surprise as there was nothing barn-like about it. It was full of stacked boxes, pieces of furniture, and ornaments of various sorts.
“This is not a barn. It’s a store,” she said with a smile.
“Perhaps I should open a store properly. This is the machine.”
“Oh, that is one of the new ones with a foot treadle. My mother’s is one that you have to turn a handle.”
“I’ll get Marty to take it into the workroom.”
“I can pay you for it,” she offered. “How much would it cost?”
“Nothing. It was sitting there without a buyer. I do like your idea of making clothes.” Then he asked what she thought of the house, and she said it was lovely.
“Let us go and settle you into the hotel. Then we can have something to eat back here. Emma will be out at the stores buying supplies, and I think she has put something onto the stove to cook for us.
It was all very courteous and organized, and the man seemed to genuinely want them to get to know each other, but Audrey was not quite sure that she had heard everything about him yet. She told herself that it was normal upon meeting someone for the first time.
In the bakery next door, Charlie Morecombe reflected on what Emma had just told them. He could hear the two younger people chattering in the shop as he cleared away for the afternoon and put things out ready for the next morning. He went back into the shop where Max, his assistant, was washing the counter space and sweeping out crumbs. Emma was peeping out of the door.
“That was Mr Jennings and his new fiancée going off again. I’ll slip back inside and make the meal for them.”
Emma picked up the cake she had bought for the couple after the meal and went away.
Charlie thanked Max for the work and said he could get away early as they were finished and cleaned up. The lad was a cheerful man and asked if there was anything else to do. Then he paused.
“You look sad, Boss,” he said. “Do you feel well?”
Charlie gave a half-hearted smile.
“Just thinking about Reese having a fiancée. Makes me a bit sad really. I was engaged once.”
“Somebody will come along again,” Max told him. “Especially when you bake like you do.”
“Take that last loaf for your mom, Max. You see life through a rosy glow when you spend time with Emma.”
“Is it that obvious?” Max asked. “I don’t think Emma notices.”
“She will, in the end. Even I can see that you would make a good couple.” Max opened his mouth to ask what had happened when Charlie was engaged but thought better of it, took the loaf, and said he would be back bright and early the next day.
Charlie pulled down the blinds and locked the door. He checked that the place was all tidy and then went to the bakery and his living quarters. He poured a coffee on the way and sat in front of the fire.
“Pity the fiancée is called Audrey. It just brings back things I would rather forget,” he said out loud. “I wonder where she is now and if she would even speak to me.”
Charlie sat and stared into the fire and felt sad for times that would never come back.
At the same time, Audrey and Reese were at the hotel. The manager greeted them and had someone take the three bags up to a bedroom. It was a pleasant room with views of the main street and Audrey said she would be happy to stay there for the week until they made arrangements.
“You are happy to go ahead with this?” Reese asked, and she said that she would like to get to know him better, but everything seemed to be in place for them to go ahead.
“You can meet the people I work with and the neighbors. Emma will give you some female company. Charlie is a good neighbor and a baker.” He held out a hand, and it was the first contact she had with the man other than a handshake and help from the carriage. She took the hand.
“Emma will have a meal ready by now,” he said, and they went downstairs. They had brought the carriage because of the bags, and he drove them back to the house. All was quiet behind the house, and the barns were closed up.
Inside, Emma was ready to serve the meal, and she shook the hand that Audrey offered.
“I’ll take your coat,” she said, and Reese said that Audrey made her clothes and worked as a seamstress.
“We need someone who can do that here. I guess a mining town offers more for men than for women.”
Reese held a seat and then sat at the kitchen table himself. Emma served the dinner and went out of the kitchen as they ate. They talked about things mentioned in the letters, and the man started to relax in her company. He was guarded in what he told her, however, and she could tell he had not accepted her into his world until he knew her better. The man was courteous, explaining that he had to meet with some of his workers and excusing himself from the table.
“I don’t want to interfere with what you need to do,” Audrey said. “I’ll sit by the fire with a drink.” He nodded and went off out the back door. As soon as he was gone, Emma came in and asked if everything was fine.
“Have a drink and sit with me,” Audrey invited.
“Are you sure?” Emma asked.
“Of course, I am,” Audrey told her. “I would appreciate some feminine company. Tell me what your job is here.”
Emma brought herself some coffee and perched on the edge of the seat.
“If he comes back, I’ll go and start clearing the dishes.”
“Is he a hard boss?” Audrey asked as she was still trying to see what sort of a man he was.
“He likes everyone to work hard. I don’t mind hard work and am glad to have a job.”
“What about your family? I have left my mother behind, but I guess she can visit once I am settled here.”
Emma’s face fell, and Audrey saw the look there for a second before the girl covered it and smiled at her.
“Are your family far away as well?” she queried, and Emma shook her head. She kept her personal feelings under cover if she could, but Audrey was easy to talk to, and there were very few women in the town to have as friends.
“I was left as an orphan and grew up in an orphanage. I try not to think about it or who my family was.”
“Oh, no, that is an awful thing to happen. Did your family die?”
“I don’t know,” Emma answered. “Nobody ever told me, and I think the orphanage made up the name Emma Doors.”
Audrey was astonished at this information.
“They never told you anything at all?”
Emma stood up.
“I’ll clear away. I am lucky to have a job.” Audrey jumped to her feet and put her hand on Emma’s arm.
“I am sorry to be so nosey and upset you. Please forgive me. I desperately need a friend.”
The last sentence stopped Emma in her movement toward the kitchen.
“There is nothing to forgive. I’m here whenever you need me.” Audrey caught the tear that threatened to squeeze out of the younger woman’s eye and took the dishes from her hand. She put her arms around the girl and said they would work together.
“I don’t need a servant. I need a friend and someone to work with. Let us make a start.” She let go of Emma and picked up some of the dishes. “I can wash dishes as well as the next person.” She nudged Emma and grinned. She was rewarded with a sunny smile, and the pair carried the things to be washed and wiped down the table.
As Audrey opened the door to the outer scullery to put some things on the shelf, she caught sight of movement beside the barn. It was dark outside by then, and she could see some men carrying lamps as other men took things into the barn.
“Does it often happen that men carry things into the barn in the dark?” she asked her new friend.
“I prefer not to see anything at all,” Emma said. “His business is nothing to do with me.”
“Mmm,” Audrey replied. “Sensible attitude, I guess.” She took another quick look out the window before closing the scullery door, wondering if there was more to Reese Jennings than met the eye.
The man came back in and said that he had a late delivery of things to be put into the store.
“Is it alright if I go now, Mr Jennings?” Emma asked. “I think everything is tidy and put away.”
“Of course, it is,” Reese Jennings answered. “I will walk Audrey down to the hotel.”
Emma picked up her bag with some things she had bought at the bakery and went away.”
“Does she have far to go?” Audrey asked.
“She rents a room at the lodging house. It’s beside the blacksmith’s forge.” He paused and asked if she would like a drink at the hotel before going to her room there.
“That would be lovely,” she told him, and they went outside. Reese offered her an arm, and she took it. “The town is quiet,” she remarked. “I would have expected a mining town to be noisy.”
“There are not many miners here now. They have moved on looking for gold.” He gave her a glance. “Some are lucky, I suppose, but most of them are not, and quite often, they die.”
“That sounds horrible,” she said. “You always think that gold miners find the one big nugget that will make their fortune.”
Reese laughed and patted the hand she had linked in his arm. “It’s a nasty and dangerous way to make a living. The two I bought the claims from thought they had gold mines, but there is no gold there.”
Audrey stopped walking in astonishment. She looked at him as he stopped and faced her.
“Why did you buy them then?”
Reese Jennings laughed.
“There was no gold, but there was silver.”
“You clever man,” she said, and they resumed walking. “How did you know about mining silver?”
“I had a friend who did it, and he made quite a lot of money, but he died from the mercury they used to separate the silver from the rock.”
“Oh, no,” she gasped. “Is it dangerous for you?”
He shook his head and gave her hand a squeeze. “I learned from Barney that you stay outside to do anything like that, and I pay others to do it anyway.” She was silent for a few steps, and he asked if she was worried about it.
“I never heard about silver mining before.”
“You are a clever woman, Audrey. I like that, and you know how to run your own business successfully. I look forward to seeing what you make.” He paused. “I’ve always run more than one business, and then if one does not work, you have other things that can support you. I would be happy to have someone to be part of that with me.”
“That is the clever part,” she said and smiled at him. “All your eggs are not in one basket.”
He offered her a hand up the steps into the hotel and found them a table in the lounge.
“Her Heart’s Way To Forgiveness” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Three years after being left at the altar by the love of her life, Audrey decides to move on and become a mail-order bride. Upon learning her future husband’s dark secret, though, she fears her decision might have been a grave mistake. Yet, when fate brings her face-to-face with someone she once knew, her feelings come flooding back…
Is she headed for another heartbreak, or is it possible life had a beautiful plan in the works all along?
Despite never forgetting Audrey, his first love, Caleb had a good reason to escape and start a new life in the West. However, the moment he realizes Audrey is his new neighbor, the more he dreads her marriage to the man he already distrusts. Nevertheless, in order to help her, he must also prove he won’t abandon her again. If he can win her heart, perhaps he’ll find the home he’s always been looking for…
Can Caleb persuade Audrey to trust him again?
Fate meant for them to find each other again, but both Audrey and Caleb face great danger. The love they share is a strong reason to cling to each other and make up for three years of misery – but at what cost? Will true love hold out against evil or will the forces against them prevail?
“Her Heart’s Way To Forgiveness” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.