Authors: Hildie McQueen
Tags: #Historical Western Romance, #Western Historical, #cowboy romance, #Historical American Romance, #Historical romance
The Widow's Choice
Brides of Colter Valley
Pink Door Publishing
Cover Artist: Robin Ludwig Design Inc.
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
(In reading order)
Brides of Colter Valley
The Widow's Choice
Christmas in Colter Valley*
Sunrise in Colter Valley*
Sunset in Colter Valley*
Twilight in Colter Valley*
Nightfall in Colter Valley*
Heading West Series, Western Historical
Where the Four Winds Collide
Where the River Flows*
Historical Western, Shades of Blue Series
Big Sky Blue
A Different Shade of Blue
The Darkest Blue
Every Blue Moon
The McDougalls, Highland Historical Novellas
Seducing Her Laird
Enticing Her Highlander
Ravished by the Laird
In the Warrior's Arms
Moriag Series, Highland Historical Novellas
Beauty and the Highlander
The Lass and the Laird
Lady and the Scot
The Laird's Daughter
Not published as if the publication
The Young Widow
Each day a step forward
Every night a tear on my pillow
Loneliness cannot be contained
In the darkness of my dreams
The morning brings new calm
My heart rejoices in the day
New life will bring forward
From the depths of my heart
Come to me again life
Bring with you eternity
For in the promise of love
Do I find happiness again
ot exactly how he planned to die. Rafe Preston pulled his gaze from the barrel of the man's gun to meet the hard stare. "If you wanted me dead, you would've shot me by now."
He should have known better than to sit down to the card game, when he'd had one too many whiskeys and now he paid for it.
The gunman spit on the floor, his aim not wavering. "There's nothing I'd like more than to kill you right now. I'll just take the money instead. All of it."
"It's my money. You well know I won it fair and square," Rafe said in spite of the warning look he got from his friend Jerrick who sat across the table. Jerrick rolled his eyes and shook his head knowing Rafe would not give the man what he asked.
When the gunman gave him a pointed look, Rafe pushed the man's gun aside. "If you don't like it, that's your issue."
The man was short and from the red veins on his bulbous nose, spent a great deal of time in the saloon. "The both of ya think you can just come into this town and do as you please. You're nothing but a couple of..."
"Watch what you say about me, old man," Jerrick brought his gun to the man's temple. There was an icy tone under the calmly spoken words. "’Cause if you shoot off at the mouth once more or shoot that gun, you're gonna die whether you get lucky enough to kill my friend or not."
There was dead silence in the room as everyone waited to see what the man would do. Rafe let out a breath not happy that Jerrick was coming to his rescue. He had things in hand...Mostly. He lifted a brow at Jerrick in silent question.
The man lowered his gun and got to his feet, all the while Jerrick kept the gun at his head. Yellowed eyes met Rafe's then flickered to the stack of money in front of him. "This ain't the last of it." He shuffled to the bar and ordered a drink.
Jerrick leaned back in the chair keeping his gaze on the man at the bar. "Damn sore losers. Can't stand them. If you can't afford to play, then don't."
"Thanks for the help. Not sure if you meant for the man to shoot me or not." Rafe began dealing another hand to the other men at the table. "You in?"
Jerrick chuckled. "I'd done something if he'd cocked the gun."
"Hope so." Rafe played on, not wanting to give thought to the man's unfinished sentence. Bent Branch was not the town for him. It was time to move on, find a place to settle down and begin a cattle ranch. Move forward with his plans, not get held up in a backward town like Bent Branch.
A huge cattle ranch was what he'd build. With a handsome house and plenty of land for the cows to graze.
His mind was made up. No matter what the obstacles, he would accomplish it. Make his father proud, if he were alive.
"No use in losing my life over something as useless as a card game," Rafe told Jerrick as they looked at the cards.
Jerrick nodded. "Men die over stupid things everyday."
Another man at the table cleared his throat. "You boys got that right."
Rafe considered his father who'd run their ranch into the ground, lost everything he'd worked so hard for his entire life in the last few years after going deeply in debt in an attempt to save his wife's life. She'd died anyway, despite all the money his father spent on medical treatments. Just a year later, his father followed. A broken man, unable to face life without his beloved wife.
Rafe understood the love and dedication, he loved his mother after all. But she suffered too long, hanging on through all kinds of painful treatments, which only served to make her linger in horrible pain. In the end, he'd almost been relieved at her finally finding liberation in death.
With distaste, he scanned the dim interior of the saloon in the small Wyoming town of Bent Branch. A restlessness had bothered him for days. Rafe put a card down and looked at Jerrick. "You know when we arrived a few months ago, I considered that perhaps this was a good place to settle. But I've got an inkling it's not."
"I'm thinking Montana," Jerrick, two years younger than Rafe's twenty-eight, said while looking at his cards. "It's time to go. Lots of land there, plenty of lush land where we can let cattle roam. We can build big houses with stables and barns." It was uncanny how well his childhood friend seemed to read his mind.
He agreed with Jerrick. "I think you're right. This town has nothing for us."
Two days later, they packed up and left Bent Branch without a backward glance. The promise of a new start making it easy to leave the dreadful town. Rafe wasn't sure exactly where he'd finally decide to settle, but he heard of a blossoming town in a Montana valley where people were prospering at ranching and farming thanks to the rich soil and pleasant weather. He wasn't interested in farming, but cattle needed to graze on good grass and if it was plentiful there, then it would ensure an abundant healthy stock.
The first night on the trail, they settled into bedrolls next to a campfire. Rafe looked up at the star filled sky and mused at the beauty. Perhaps tonight somewhere in the world, his future wife did the same. Not prone to fanciful daydreaming, he scowled at the direction of his thoughts.
It would be a long time before he married, if ever. The farther west one went, the more scarce women of a marriageable age were. "You reckon we'll settle in that valley in Montana?" he asked Jerrick while knowing the cowboy had no more idea than he did.
"Yeah. I've got a good feeling about it. Don't know about you, but I am ready to find a small parcel and get to working it." Jerrick pulled out his harmonica and began to play, the melody wafting into the air joined by the sound of the wind's soft whisper as it blew through the trees.
Jerrick never aspired to more than a simple life. In a way Rafe envied his friend's modest dreams. Not that Jerrick lacked ambition; he'd been raised in an affluent family and knew the life money could bring. Unfortunately what his family had in wealth, his parents lacked when it came to love, caring, or support for each other. Rarely did they spare a kind word or any demonstration of love.
When Jerrick was eighteen, his ruthless father banished him from the family fold over the simple transgression of falling in love with a business rival's daughter. The sad thing was after he'd been ostracized from the family, the young girl cut ties with him. She'd only been interested in him when he had money and social stature.
Rafe felt his eyes get heavy. "I have a good feeling about the valley, too. Both of us will find what we're looking for and twenty years from now we'll remember this day. Out here without a care in the world except our horses and our bellies."
The following days were a repeat of the one before. Upon waking, they gathered up their bedrolls after washing up in a nearby creek and continued on. The days were warm, but the mornings still had a cold chill to them, which made them move at a hurried pace.
"Sure would like a hearty cup of coffee," Jerrick muttered as he mounted one morning. "Hope there's a town near by."
Rafe looked up at the sky and nodded. "I agree with you. I can hardly call what we drank this morning more than muddy water." He shuddered at the thought. "We need more provisions."
The sun was high when they finally spotted a small smattering of buildings. Looked to be a prospecting town by the lack of care in which the buildings were erected and small tents scattered along a shallow creek.
Rafe maneuvered his horse around deep muddy ruts. No one greeted them when both walked into what looked to be a makeshift eatery. The woman beside the stove shuffled over. "If you got money, set on down. I'll get ya some coffee. Got eggs and bread comin'."
Jerrick answered for them both. "Thank you, ma'am. Can you tell us what the name of this town is?"
The woman wiped her hands on her apron. It was hard to tell her age, as she seemed to have lived a hard life. Her thin dreary brown hair was pulled back from her round face as she made her way back to them with two mugs and a kettle of coffee. "Gunner's Creek," she replied dryly. "Not much to it. My husband and I are leaving as soon as he finds gold."
Rafe and Jerrick exchanged looks, not sure how to respond.
In spite of the lack of character to the place, the food was flavorful, the coffee strong.
"How far from the Montana border are we?" Rafe asked when the woman began to clear their plates. "We're headed to Colter Valley."
She got a wistful look and lowered her head as if fatigued by life. "You're in Montana, just crossed over when you got to Gunner's. A family passed through not but a day ago headed there to Colter Valley. Sure wish it was me. I'd like to leave this decrepit place."
Lightness entered his chest at the woman's wistful statement. They were on the right track and soon would arrive at their final destination. His anyway. Although he assumed Jerrick was more than ready to settle down after all these weeks on horseback.
"Is there a place to purchase some supplies here?" Rafe asked.
"Just down a couple buildings on the right. The mercantile is small but well stocked." The woman watched them stand and gather their hats with a longing expression. "Have a safe trip, gentlemen."
A couple miners lingered in front of the mercantile, both looked to them with suspicion, no doubt seeing them as competition for prospecting.
"Gentlemen," Jerrick tipped his hat and granted them a wide smile. "Passin' through, just looking to get some supplies for the road."
The men relaxed and nodded in return. One of them pointed into the store. "Henry's got what ya need in thar."