Wyatt Marsh straightened up from the fence post that he was making secure. He used his bandana to mop his brow and leaned against the fence to catch his breath.
“Come on, Alden,” he said to his fourteen year old brother, “this will keep them in now. I think we need to eat.”
The two brothers collected the tools and slung the bags over the necks of the horses. They mounted up and rode back to the ranch.
Wyatt checked the cattle as he rode back home.
“Thanks for helping out,” he told his brother. “If you are going to keep on helping, I will find some money to pay you. It would not be much and if you can find a job somewhere else, I would understand.”
“Can I leave school for good?” his brother asked and grinned as he said it.
“I guess that we have to look at what I have to do around here. When Dad was alive there were two of us and now there is just me. It is hard work and I could do with your help.”
“I would rather work than go to school,” the lad replied.
“You would need to do as I tell you,” Wyatt told him. “You have been in trouble with the school for not doing as you were supposed to.” He thought for a moment. “Maybe working is what you need. The usual wage for a ranch hand is three dollars a week. I can find that.”
“That would be great,” Alden said and for once looked excited about something.
“You have grown up around the cattle and you can handle a horse around the stock.”
“Do I get to carry a gun?” Alden asked but he knew the answer before Wyatt told him that he was not old enough.
“One thing at a time, Alden. I need you to grow up and help me.”
“Okay,” his brother said. “You will have to see to Mom when we get back. I will make something to eat. I don’t mind cooking.”
“I will clean up afterwards then. We need to work as a team.”
They urged the horses a little faster but carrying the fencing tools stopped them going at full speed. Wyatt was twenty-two and could still appreciate a good gallop with his younger brother. They turned the horses into the corral, put saddles on pegs and sluiced their hands and faces at the water pump.
Wyatt went to see how his mother was feeling. Ellen Marsh was up and dressed but hanging over the back of the sofa and coughing with a violence that shook her whole frame. Wyatt took her arm and made her sit down.
“I will get you some cough medicine and tell you what Alden and I have decided.”
She took the medicine and held a handkerchief over her mouth. Her body stopped shaking and she managed a smile.
“You are a good boy, Wyatt. I am so proud of you carrying on where your dad left off.”
“Which is what Alden and I were talking about. He hates school and is old enough to work. I have said that I need the extra pair of hands around the place. He is good on a horse and knows what has to be done. If I see the school and tell them that he is staying at home to help on the ranch, do you agree with that?” His mother nodded.
“It might be better for him if he has a little money and feels like a grown up.”
“He can be a handful,” Wyatt observed. “I will have to make sure he pulls his weight.”
The lad in question put his head in the door and said the steak and eggs was ready. He came across to help his mother up from the sofa and she was able to walk to the kitchen.
“You are a good cook, Alden,” Ellen said as she tasted the plate of food. “Wyatt will go and tell the school you are working here but you have to do a proper week’s work and do as Wyatt tells you.”
“I will, Mom,” he answered. “I want to work and make some money.”
“I will go into school at the end of their day and bring your brother home. I can see the head teacher at the same time,” Wyatt told him. “We can fork out the stables this afternoon and you can find any eggs we missed this morning when I am away.”
“If you boys put some water on to boil, I will wash some clothes,” Ellen said.
“Will you be able to manage that?” Wyatt asked with concern. She nodded.
“If Alden is around to change the water and lift the heavy things to the wringer for me. The steam actually helps my breathing.” She managed a smile. “What I would really like is for you to find a nice girl to marry. Help in the house as well as Alden would be a great help.”
“You cannot just fall for someone to order, Mom,” Wyatt protested.
“Plenty of the girls fancy you,” Alden remarked with a grin.
“As soon as I went out with one of them, the gossips would go into full force and it spoils everything,” Wyatt said. He put a hand out to pat his mother’s hand. “We are making steps forward if Alden can suddenly be a working man and we need to get you well again. If the washing is too much, we will help you with it. We mended the fencing and checked the stock this morning.” He went to put the water on to boil and washed the dishes. “That steak was good. One thing we do have is food to eat and the ranch does make money. It is just a lot of work.”
Wyatt thought back to his encounter with girls and romance and still felt a twist in his chest that brought back the hurt that he had felt when the girl went off with his best friend. He did not want to put himself in that situation again. He pushed the thoughts to one side.
The two brothers checked on their mother who seemed to be much better and carried the wet clothes in a bucket to the wringer where they turned the handle for her to push the wet clothes through. They helped her put the clothes to dry on a line behind the house and Wyatt changed into more respectable clothes to go to the school. It was not a long way to the town and normally Louis, his youngest brother would walk home. Wyatt saddled a second horse and led it behind his own as he set off to see the head teacher.
It was pleasant countryside and he settled into the saddle to enjoy the peace of the open plains. The flat land stretched away into the distance before it rose up to the trees that were a profuse and green carpet over the far landscape until they reached the line on the mountains where they were unable to grow. The very tops of the mountains had snow on them and looked majestic.
Wyatt smiled and enjoyed them from a distance.
“Better down below than up where the snow is,” he told the horse he was riding.
The town came into view with its assortment of wooden buildings. It was growing at quite a pace as people arrived to try their luck at finding gold. It had happened all of Wyatt’s life and still they came but very few actually found anything valuable. The main street had the usual saloons, an hotel, a diner and stores that sold groceries and hardware as well as other necessities of life.
Wyatt tied the two horses to a railing and went into the office of his friend Leroy Benet. Leroy was finding that the money he made as a bounty hunter was ut to better use as a delivery service.
“That is a surprise,” Leroy said. “Coffee?”
“Never refuse a coffee,” Wyatt said and sat to talk to his friend. He told him about allowing Alden to leave school.
“Might be just what he needs,” Leroy observed. “I can give him a few odd jobs if he needs to make more money.”
“I will tell him that. He will like to feel really grown up. He is desperate to wear a gun but that is not allowed yet.” Leroy smiled.
“He always wants to hear about the bounty hunting but that work is not so important now. I do more work delivering packages that need to have a guard with them. I guess he will be fascinated by that as well. He can be a driver for me if I need to keep a look out and he will be a good assistant for loading and unloading.”
“I’ll tell him,” Wyatt said. “No doubt he will come in to talk to you.”
“Your mom still want you to find a wife?” Leroy asked with a grin.
“I don’t want anyone local. I would like to meet somebody who is interesting but you cannot make these things happen.”
“You can put an offer in the newspaper for a mail order bride,” Leroy said and slid a paper across his desk. “It seems to work for quite a lot of people. You can see what both the men and the women write. It means it is a business arrangement and you can wait to see if the partnership will work. Both sides know the situation from the start.” Leroy knew his friend and had watched him avoid a relationship.
“I guess that can be a good way to see if it would work,” Wyatt admitted. He grinned and took the newspaper. He resumed his ride to the school and told the head teacher about Alden.
Josh Howe smiled.
“I cannot lie. The place will be easier to manage without him. Hard work will do him good.”
“I know he is not easy. I wonder if I am giving myself a hard job.”
“Good luck,” the teacher said and Wyatt found his youngest brother already mounted and ready to go. Louis Marsh was a cheerful lad and when they left the buildings behind he looked at his brother.
“Race you home?” Wyatt laughed and said that he would give the lad a head start. Louis kicked his horse and set off. Wyatt watched him go and then asked the gelding he rode to give him some speed. He knew that he could easily catch his young brother but they arrived at the ranch together and enjoyed the ride.
Louis was hungry and his mother made him a snack to last him until the evening meal. Alden ate as well and told his younger brother that he had left school.
“I know that,” Louis said, “Wyatt told me.” He grinned. “Mr. Howe will be glad that you have left.”
“He will, indeed,” Wyatt added as he and his mother came into the room. “Leroy says that if you want to do a few odd jobs as well as the ranch work, he will pay you for the help.”
“That is just great,” Alden shouted out in surprise. “Can I go and see him?”
“Back for your dinner,” his mother said and the new working man ran off to saddle his horse. The three left behind all laughed.
“He is happy about that,” Wyatt observed.
“Thank goodness. Let us hope he works hard and earns his money,” Ellen added. “Louis, can you take the dry washing down for me please?” she asked. “Alden helped me with the water and the wet clothes. I will make something for the evening meal.”
“Can I have five minutes with the newspaper?” Wyatt asked.
“You deserve it, son,” his mother said and went to her kitchen.
Wyatt lay back and laid the newspaper on his chest. It was easy to close his eyes and have a short snooze. He sat up again so see his mom sitting with her patchwork on her knee.
“You feeling better, Mom?” he asked and sat up in the chair.
“I feel better later in the day. It seems to take me a long time to wake up properly in the mornings.”
“We can manage in the mornings if you need to take it easy. I can send Alden to milk the cow and collect the eggs as Louis sets off for school. I can make breakfast and then Alden and I can get on with the ranch work.”
“I will try my best. I am glad the washing was done today.”
“Losing Dad really was a terrible shock for you. I still think you are not over it yet.” She said nothing and he held up the paper. “Leroy suggests that I write for a mail order bride if I do not want to go out with anyone local. What do you think?” She put aside the patchwork and picked up the paper. There were several pieces asking for either wives or husbands.
“You could write it and see what response you get. There might not be any answers but it is worth a try.” His mother looked decidedly brighter when she started to think about that.
“You could write and see how any of them seem and even if someone came, we could give her time to see if she really does want to go ahead.”
“I will do it,” Wyatt said and stood up He kissed his mother on the top of her head and went to find writing paper, pen and ink.
In Chicago, Josie Parker looked in the mirror and was satisfied that she looked neat and tidy. She had no real desire to meet this man who wanted to walk out with her. She had met him once when he came to talk with her father and although he was quite good looking, she had not felt comfortable with him. Her dark auburn hair was long, straight and glossy because of the brushing that she did every day. Her waistline was slim and her slender figure looked good in almost anything and she would have been happy to go out with a man if she had made the choice herself.
“Cheer up,” her dad said as she went into the living room and found her purse to take with her. “He is a wealthy man and lots of women would like to walk out with him.”
“I know that but I do not really like him.”
“Just think that you are doing this as part of the family. You are making life better for all of us and making yourself secure at the same time.”
“It will be better as you get to know him,” her mother added. “You look really good in that dress. He will be impressed.”
“Will there be a lot to eat?” one of her young sisters asked.
“I think that will be the best part of the evening,” Josie replied. She smiled at the youngster and added that she would see if she could bring any of it back for her.
“Mmm,” her sister said and rubbed her tummy. Josie looked around at the cramped room that was filled with her parents and the five brothers and sisters that were all younger than herself. She had looked after them with her mother from when she was about thirteen years old. She was now nineteen and being pressured to do more than help out around the house.
“I suppose that lots of girls marry to help out the family,” she said.
“Enjoy the night out,” her mother told her and she turned as there was a knock at the front door. “That will be Harold now.”
Josie went to answer the door and the man there handed her a little parcel.
“Oh,” she said and said that she would open it later. She slipped it into her purse and stepped outside with Harold Fairway. He was tall with blond hair that flopped over his face and bright blue eyes. He was well dressed and often caught the eye of young women. It never seemed to work out for one reason or another.
“Let us go,” he said and offered her an arm. Josie tried to look excited and slipped her hand through his arm as they went and stepped into his small carriage that he had brought. He spoke to the driver who drove them to an hotel in the fanciest part of town. The streets were busy with lots of carriages and people on foot. The buildings were tall and very close together, It was busy and interesting but always seemed dark and needed more space to breathe to Josie. Harold told him when he would need the carriage brought back and ushered Josie into the hotel.
“Good evening, Mr. Fairway,” the man at the door said with great deference. “Good evening, Miss.” Josie smiled at the man and stepped into the entrance foyer. The place was large and quite resplendent with its velvet furnishings and huge banks of chandeliers that were powered by oil. There were so many that the place was as light as day. It was busy with men and women in expensive clothes. Some of them spoke to Harold and he answered them. He guided her into the dining room and a waiter found them a private table. Josie took the seat that was pulled out for her and the waiter went to bring them some menu cards.
“I like this place,” Harold remarked as he looked around the room.
“It is very grand,” Josie answered.
“My folks have enough money to stay at places like this. Would you like to travel around and stay in fancy hotels?”
“I am not sure,” Josie replied. “I like doing things and being useful rather than just wasting time.”
“I have to travel sometimes to meet people that my father does business with. It would be good to have some company with me.”
“What sort of people do you meet?” she asked in an effort to make conversation.
He leaned back in his chair and proceeded to drop into a long dialogue about the property company that his father had amassed.
“Dad has a huge number of properties and sometimes the rents are not paid or the people taking the rents do not seem to be making enough. He sends me to remind them that they need to pay what they owe.” He did not say what would happen to the people if they did not pay but Josie could imagine that it would not be anything pleasant. Harold had that edge to his voice that told her he must quite enjoy putting pressure on these folk who owed him money.
“What if the people have men around them. Does that not seem that you are in danger?”
He leaned across and patted her hand.
“How sweet of you to think about me. I always have guards with me. We all carry guns and when five armed men turn up at your door, mostly people do what they are supposed to do.”
“Oh,” Josie said. “It does seem quite dangerous. Maybe it is not a place for women to go along with you.” Harold smiled at her and something about his smile made her shiver and she felt a warning signal run up her spine. Joise had not been to many fancy hotels and she had left school at fourteen to help her mother but she was no fool and this man was not making her feel comfortable.
He seemed to sense that she was not impressed. They ordered food and the waitress went away.
“Open your little gift,” Harold told her.
“Oh, I had forgotten. Sorry about that.” She reached down and brought out the little package. When it was opened she found a gold bracelet inside with a charm in gold beside the catch. The chain itself was quite chunky and felt heavy.
“Oh this is lovely but you have spent far too much money” she exclaimed.
“Let me fasten it on for you,” he said and leaned across to fasten the gold chain around her wrist. The touch of his hands on her arm was not something that she enjoyed but she shook the bracelet and tried to smile at him.
“Money no problem,” he told her. “It is just a trinket but it suits you beautifully.”
“Thank you,” she answered. “You really did not need to spend all of that money.”
He waved that away and the waitress brought the food. Then he attacked the food in front of him with a sort of wild abandon. Josie tried to eat some of the food in front of her that was really appetising and delicious but the sight of this man shovelling food into his mouth so fast that it had pieces sticking out of his lips as he added more and more to his obviously very full mouth. It made her feel sick to watch him and he stopped, wiped his lips and told her to eat her own food before it went cold.
“Do you always attack food like that?” she could not help herself asking. Harold laughed.
“Yes. I guess I do. The women I take out when I am travelling never seem to notice and we have servants to cook at home.”
“Are the women at the places you visit for your father?” she asked in all innocence as she took some of the food from her own plate.
“Good Lord, no,” he answered. “There are women who make their living providing company for men on their own.”
“Oh, I see. I never thought of that,” Josie said and covered up the distaste that the man was admitting that he paid women of ill repute. It came to her in a flash that he would continue to do that when he was married. She concentrated on eating the meal and managed to slide some of the dessert into a napkin and into her purse for her young sister. She did not watch Harold eat the rest of his meal because it really was not a pleasant sight.
Harold was trying to make it a pleasant night out. He ordered drinks and they found soft seats in the lounge.
“You do know,” he started. She saw that he was going to say something that was embarrassing even for Harold Fairway. He cleared his throat. “I offered your father a good dowry payment and some land of his own if he would agree to you marrying me.” He hesitated when she said nothing. “Did he actually mention it?”
Josie tried hard to not let him see that she was shocked by this announcement. She gazed at him and he read the answer in her face.
“He did not tell you?” he asked. She shook her head.
“I wish that he had. We could have talked about it but,” she hesitated as well. “My father is very jealous of anyone with money and if you offered him a reasonable amount, he would take the offer without asking me about it.”
“I am sorry about that.” Harold did actually seem sincere for the first time in the evening. “I would like it if you did agree to being my wife.”
“Thank you but I need some time to think about it. Will you give me some time?”
“Yes, I will,” he agreed. “We can have some more meals out or maybe take a carriage drive out. We could go shopping.” He did smile as he added the last part and for a moment his face was transformed into something pleasant. “You did not say no.”
“I will tell you this because you are dealing with my father because he would not be interested in anything about me other than I am worth selling. I like to cook and sew and look after a house. I can ride a horse well and I tell folk the truth whenever possible. I will tell him exactly how I feel about him going behind my back.”
That made Harold Fairway laugh out loud and he took her hand.
“Let me take you home. I wish I could hear the truth that you tell him. Maybe you are the wife that I really do need.” He paused. “Shall I come take you out the day after tomorrow?”
“Can we go for a drive instead of a meal?” she asked.
“That would be a great change,” he said.
They went in the carriage to her door and Harold did the sensible thing and only kissed her on the cheek. They parted on good terms and she went inside the house.
Inside the house, there was a light burning in the hallway. She knew that her parents would not wait up. Her mother would feel bad about it but would follow her husband up to the bedroom and he would only be thinking about what Harold had offered him. She was saddened by that and lay for some time thinking about it.
“I know that I am probably just a romantic silly girl,” she whispered to herself,” “but I would like to actually want to marry the man that was asking me.”
She went to sleep eventually with no further ideas about what to do about it. She knew her family really needed money although she doubted if her mother and the children would see very much of it.
“I work in the bakery and give them half of my wages That does not seem to mean anything.” Her train of thought continued when morning came as if she had never been to sleep. “I will ask my dad about it but he will just say that it is a good offer. I will go out with Harold one more time and think about what to do. I do not have a lot of choice,” she told her reflection in the mirror. Then she went downstairs to start breakfast for the family.
The youngsters all wanted to know about the food at the hotel and she divided the cake that she had slipped into a napkin between them.
Her dad sat and accepted the plate of bacon and eggs that his wife put in front of him and he children ate their porridge oats as their father ignored their envious glances. None of them said anything. They had all learned a long time ago not to do that.
“I have to go to work,” Josie said. “When I come back, you can tell me why you did not say that Harold had offered you money and land. It would have been nice to know what I was being sold for.” Josie did not wait for a reply but took her cloak and purse and set off for the bakery.
When work finished for the day, the owner had let her take the cakes that were not sold and Josie gave them to the children in the kitchen. They gobbled them up before their dad came in and then ran outside to play.
“How was it last night?” her mom asked.
“He tried to be pleasant but I just do not like him. He wants to go out tomorrow night and I said yes.”
“That sounds promising,” her mother said as her husband came in to ask the same questions.
“What does?” he asked.
“I am going out for a drive with Harold tomorrow night. He asked me about marrying and I said could I have a little time. He agreed to that. He has, at least, the decency to tell me the truth.”
She went to walk out of the room and her dad caught her arm.
“You are still underage Josie and will do as I say.” She pulled away her arm.
“I could marry him and say that it is not necessary to pay you anything. He would like that.” Josie was defiant and her dad lifted his hand to hit her across the face. His wife caught his arm and pulled him to one side. The blow missed Josie but caught the edge of her mother’s jaw.
“Women,” he snarled and went away. Josie ran and looked at her mom’s face.
“I will get you a cold, wet cloth. It will take away the bruising.”
The women held the cold cloths to the bruise and talked about the situation.
“I will go out with him tomorrow and see how I feel,” Josie said.
“Your dad will make you marry him. He is right in that you are underage.”
“I know,” she answered. She took the newspaper that he had brought from the bakery and went to sit at the window where it was light enough to read. There was a nicely written piece by a man who said that he was a rancher, his mother was at the ranch and his two younger brothers. The advertisement mentioned that the ranch was in California the countryside was beautiful and he needed help in the house, around the ranch and with his mother.
On impulse, she found paper and pencil and wrote a long letter describing herself. She said that she was a hard worker and a good cook but was used to living in the city. She added that she was prepared to learn how to live on a ranch. She made no mention of being desperate to take herself away from a forced marriage. She sealed it and addressed it to the newspaper address that was given and then sat thinking how it sounded really good to live in the country out west and be away from the city and her father.
“Mending the Rancher’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Freed from the clutches of forced marriage in Chicago, Josie Parker finds herself amidst the untamed expanses of the Californian plains, her heart tethered to a promise in a newspaper ad. A leap of hope leads her into the world of a young rancher burdened by love lost and duty towards his ailing mother and younger siblings. But can the rugged hands of the West nurture the tender buds of newfound affection?
Yet, as doubts linger in the shadows of their hearts…
Scarred from past betrayal, Wyatt guards his heart, even as Josie’s gentle presence hints at hope. As his stoic facade crumbles under her gentle smiles and nurturing touch, the horizon seems to blush with hues of hope and warmth, something Wyatt had long deemed unattainable. Yet, can he allow love to seep through the barren soils of his heart, beckoning a shared tomorrow?
However, a sinister cloud casts its shadow…
Bound by shared fears, hopes, and the tender strings of blossoming love, Josie and Wyatt find themselves in the vortex of love and danger. Will love’s tender script find its way through the rugged pages of the Western saga, or will the shadows of past vendettas eclipse the dawn of love’s sweet promise?
“Mending the Rancher’s Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.