Authors: Maya Stirling
Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Christian Fiction, #Fiction, #Mail-Order Brides, #Religion & Spirituality, #Romance, #Cowboy, #Christian Romance
Hunter's Montana Bride
Montana Ranchers and Brides series
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Hunter Sinclair hammered the nail into the plank of wood with the same determination he'd applied to every task in his life. The sight of the long nail sinking into the soft wood gave him the same feeling of satisfaction that hard work always gave him. It felt good to be busy. It made the forgetting so much easier.
He glanced down from the top of the ladder which rested against the side of his ranch house. His friend, fellow ranch owner, Trent McIntyre, was making his way across the yard with another plank of wood hoisted upon his shoulder. As usual, there was a wide grin on his friend's face. It was the look of a man at home with hard work, especially if it involved helping out a friend in need.
And wasn't that what Hunter was? A friend in need? He frowned as that thought invaded his mind, just as it had done every day for the past ten months.
Hunter turned to the task in hand, fixed another nail in place and struck it with the hammer.
"Go easy on that, Hunter," Trent called up from below while resting the new piece of wood against the side of the ranch house. "Hit it any harder and you'll smash the wood," Trent teased with a smile.
Hunter nodded and dropped his arm down by his side, the hammer heavy in his grasp. He gazed along the side of the building. There wasn't much left to be done. The extra room would be complete soon. But, why was he doing this at all? What was the point of building an extension to the ranch house when she wasn't by his side.
Might never be by his side again, for all he knew.
Hunter sighed and started down the ladder. When he reached the base and stepped onto the dirt surface of the yard, Trent laid a reassuring hand on Hunter's shoulder. "You need to take a break, Hunter. You're sweating like a dog."
Hunter smiled at his friend. It was typical of Trent to keep a look out for him. Hunter wondered how he would have survived these last months without Trent's regular visits, helping Hunter out with the seemingly pointless task of making his home bigger. Adding space for someone who was no longer around.
Trent tipped his hat back and glanced up at the midday sun. "It sure is a hot day. Don't know that it's a good idea to be out in this." Trent ran his eyes along the side of the ranch house. "There's plenty of time for finishing this off."
Hunter shook his head. "I want it finished as soon as possible," he said abruptly.
Trent laid a hand on Hunter's shoulder. "You always were an impatient son of a gun," he said with a smile.
"Impatient? That's fine coming from someone like you," Hunter teased.
The corner of Trent's mouth quirked into a wry grin. "Look. We're both ranchers. We know that if a job needs doing, it'll get done soon enough."
Hunter threw his hammer down onto the dirt surface of the yard. "It's already taken too long. And I'm thinking it's still not big enough. I might add another room on the back."
Trent's eyes widened. "More rooms?" he exclaimed. Trent looked like he was about to give Hunter advice. Again.
Hunter could tell that Trent's next question was probably going to be the same one that Trent had stopped asking months before. What would Hunter need more rooms for? The only people who lived in the ranch house were Hunter and his housekeeper, Mrs. Roper. Two people in a house big enough for at least five or six. But wasn't that what Hunter really wanted? Wasn't that what he'd dreamed of since she had gone? A house filled with a family? A ranch house full of the noisy and joyful disorder that came with a wife and lots of children. Something he had held in his grasp such a short time ago, only to have it snatched from him in such an abrupt and inexplicable manner.
"Let's go get something to cool our heels," Trent suggested. "Maybe Mrs. Roper has got a cold drink she can offer us."
Hunter nodded and followed his friend around to the front of the ranch house. They made their way into the kitchen. Sure enough the portly, grey haired housekeeper had on her usual understanding and tolerant smile as she watched the pair of ranchers make their way into the kitchen.
"What a sight you two are," she stated. "You sure pick the day to be out fixing the house. It's too hot for that kind of work. I told you Hunter Sinclair. Didn't I tell you. But, you wouldn't listen. Not much new there," Mrs. Roper said with a shake of her head.
Hunter looked toward Trent and rolled his eyes. Trent smiled back at Hunter and nodded in silent agreement. Mrs. Roper liked to talk to the two grown men as if they were both slightly disobedient children who constantly needed to be kept under the strictest control.
"I suppose you boys are looking for something to drink."
Mrs. Roper drew a couple of glasses of water and gave one to each of the ranchers.
"We were hoping for something a bit stronger," Trent said taking one of the glasses from Hunter. "Weren't we, Hunter?"
Hunter flashed a worried look toward his housekeeper. Mrs. Roper waved Trent's comment away with a dismissive hand. "You know I don't hold with a working man drinking anything except plain, clean, healthy water during the time he should be devoting to hard labor," she explained.
Trent lowered his head, admitting defeat. "No harm in trying, Mrs. Roper," he said with a smile.
"And you are very trying indeed, Trent McIntyre," Mrs. Roper said. "Now, go on you two," she said waving them both away. "Get out of my kitchen. You're making my floor dirty just standing there in those filthy boots."
Hunter glanced down at his feet. "Sorry, Mrs. Roper. Didn't realize," he said lifting a foot and examining the base of his boot.
Mrs. Roper gave Hunter and Trent one final push and before he knew it Hunter was following Trent out onto the porch. Mrs. Roper slammed the door shut behind them.
"I guess we've been well and truly put in our places," Hunter said.
Trent took a seat on the wooden bench. Hunter sat down next to him.
"Her heart is in the right place," Trent said. "One day I'll get the better of her. Just you wait and see."
"I don't think you stand a chance," Hunter said. "She's one determined woman."
Trent gulped down some more water and then sighed. "I guess you're right. Still. She's good to have around. This place needs some womanly discipline."
Hunter glanced at Trent. "I suppose you know all about that. Looks like Chloe is the one who wears the pants in your home," he said, grinning when he saw Trent's brows rise in surprise.
"That's a bit harsh, Hunter," Trent said without any hint of annoyance.
"But true. Don't you agree?" Hunter queried.
Trent and Chloe had wed three years before in what could only be described as unique circumstances. Chloe had been married to one of Trent's best friends, Lucas Wilder. But Lucas had died in tragic circumstances, leaving Trent in a difficult position. Trent had made a promise to his friend that if anything were to happen to Lucas, then Trent would take care of Chloe. When it had come down to keeping his promise, Trent had behaved like the man of honor that Hunter knew him to be. Even if it had also meant taking on the role of becoming a husband to Chloe and father to Lucas's baby. The whole episode had turned out fine for everyone concerned, and now Trent's ranch house was a hive of happy family activity.
"I'd hardly be likely to disagree about anything when it comes to Chloe, would I?" Trent stated with an audible tone of deep satisfaction.
Trent was a lucky man. For a moment the familiar stab of regret cut into Hunter as he thought about his own brief experience of marriage. Brief was hardly the word to describe what had happened to Hunter. The image of her face floated into his mind and he drew in a deep slow breath.
As if sensing his friends unease Trent chimed in with a comment. "Sure is a fine day," he said. "Kind of day makes a man feel happy to be alive."
Hunter nodded slowly. "Sure does," he said gazing out across the gently rolling hillsides upon which his ranch was situated. He'd been working it since inheriting it from his deceased father seven years before. Long days of hard toil and hardly any sleep had turned the ranch into one of the finest spreads in this corner of Montana.
Trent's ranch was a short ride to the west, nearer to the town of Billings. His fellow rancher's spread was just as substantial as Hunter's. In fact there was a friendly rivalry between all the ranchers in these parts. None more so than between Trent and his friend Nathan Grantly and Devlin Cooper. Not only did those guys share a love of ranching, but they'd all had their fare share of struggles in finding women to marry. Each had had to overcome real barriers before finally ending up wed to beautiful women and with a ranch house full of children.
That familiar hard, sharp tinge of envy rose up inside Hunter as he thought about how things had turned out for those men. Surely he wasn't any worse or even better than those guys. He counted them all amongst his friends. And he knew that they'd all been shocked at what had happened to Hunter. But they'd all rallied round and tried as best they could to help him. A lump rose in his throat every time he thought of the countless visits, the help around the ranch, and the encouragement to carry on in spite of his loss.
For that was what it was.
She had gone away from him with hardly any real explanation. He'd been given no chance to explain, or to reason with her father. Even if he'd had a chance, he doubted whether Gideon would have paid Hunter any heed. That was the kind of man Gideon was.
It seemed like such a long time ago, but it had been only ten months. But every day of those ten months had been almost unbearable for Hunter. He'd heard of husbands abandoning wives immediately after weddings. Second thoughts could strike after a marriage as easily as before the ceremony. But he'd never heard of a wife abandoning a husband the day after their wedding.
How could she have done such a thing?
Why had Gretchen agreed to leave Hunter? His nerves vibrated and his gut churned every time he thought of the day she had gone.
Hunter was brought back to the present by the jab of Trent's elbow into his side. "So what's the plan for the rest of the day?"
Hunter smiled wanly. "There's plenty to do. You know that as well as I do."
Trent sighed. "Yeah. Ranching. What a life." Trent stretched his legs out and crossed his booted feet. "The best kind of life a man can have. Don't you think?" he asked turning to Hunter.
Hunter nodded. "Can't disagree with you there," he answered.
Hunter looked off into the distance. The mountains peaks were clear of snow now that the summer had arrived, the distant forests green with fresh foliage, the thin silver line of the river winding it's way idly through the deep valleys and gently rolling hillsides. It was a good land. The best a man could choose for a home.
There was nowhere else that Hunter could ever consider as home. This was the place where he had always wanted to live and to settle down. Town life wasn't for him. Never had been. Never would be.
He was a rancher through and through. And he was good at being a rancher. Hunter only had to look at the smiling faces of his ranch hands as they went about their daily work to know that he knew what he was doing when it came to running a successful ranch. He'd done everything he could to make it a fit place for a wife and children.
It still was.
The only problem was, his wife wasn't living with him, and there were no children running around the yard needing to be prevented from causing delightful mayhem.
A sad smile creased Hunter's mouth as he thought about how fine that would be.
Hunter and Trent sat in silence for a while, draining the glasses dry of the cool water. That was the sign of a good friend, Hunter thought. You could sit in silence for a good while without feeling the need to fill the air with idle chatter.
After a short while Trent stood up. "Well. I best be getting back. Chloe's going to give me a hard time if I'm late for lunch. And you know what Chloe can be like if she decides to give me a hard time," Trent concluded with a smile and shake of his head.
Hunter stood. "It sounds fine to me," he said.
Trent's eyes filled with genuine concern, as they had done on so many occasions before. Trent reached over and placed a hand on Hunter's shoulder. "You know what I've said before, Hunter. She'll be back. I can feel it in my bones."
Hunter nodded. "I know. You've told me that before. I just hope you're right," he said slowly.
Trent handed the empty glass to Hunter. "I'll let you give that back to Mrs. Roper," he said. "I don't want to rile her any more than usual."
Hunter held both glasses. "Thanks for coming over," he said.
Trent patted Hunter's shoulder. "No problem," Trent said. "You take care. And remember you're supposed to be coming over for dinner this week. If you're not too busy."
"I don't think I'll be too busy for that. Especially if it means I get a chance to enjoy Chloe's cooking," Hunter agreed.