Authors: Penny Richards
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #19th Century, #American West, #Western, #Christian, #Religious, #Faith, #Inspirational, #School Teacher, #Sheriff, #Lawman, #Widower, #Children, #Unruly, #Mother, #Wife, #Marriage, #Busy, #Frustration, #Family Life
At this point she batted her eyes, sending a few tears down her cheeks, and then dabbed at them with a handkerchief and gave Rand a look that pleaded for understanding.
“I’m sorry to hear about your dad and brother not getting along.” He shook his head and stared off with a thoughtful look. “Describe your brother to me.”
Marybeth started. Could it be this simple? Was it possible that Rand knew him? “His name is Jimmy O’Brien.” She couldn’t keep the eagerness from her voice. “I haven’t seen him since I was twelve years old. He was just a couple of inches taller than I was, so he may be about five feet, five inches now, if he takes after our father. He has red hair and hazel eyes.” She searched her memory for other details, but none came to mind. She certainly would not mention Mam’s silver locket, which she’d given him to keep Da from pawning it to buy liquor. Marybeth laughed softly. “And, as if you haven’t already figured out, he’s Irish.”
Rand’s frown of concentration intensified. “Does he speak with a brogue?”
“No.” She shook her head. “We both worked hard to get rid of it so we could get better jobs.” She had worked especially hard to speak without the brogue, hoping to find employment as a servant in an upper-class home, something a rich rancher couldn’t possibly understand. “He did pretty well, and the ladies at my church were so impressed by my efforts that they sent me to Fairfield Young Ladies’ Academy, where I met Rosamond.” She bit her lip, hoping she didn’t sound proud, wondering how much further to go. “I learned deportment, but I also learned typing and accounting skills.” In her letters she’d mentioned the academy but not the training in office work.
“Typing.” He scratched his head. “I’ve heard about those typewriting machines but haven’t ever seen one. I did receive a letter written on one. Makes a real nice page, just like printing in a book.”
She beamed a smile at him, encouraged that he didn’t seem the least bit angry. “Yes. I’m hoping to find work, perhaps in a bank or for a lawyer.”
“Work?” Now he frowned again, but still without anger. “But I’m responsible for your care. I’ve made arrangements with Mrs. Foster on the condition you would agree to live there until our wedding.” His eyes narrowed. “Marybeth, please assure me that you didn’t take advantage of my parents’ kindness just so they would pay your train fare so you could find your brother.”
“N-no, not at all.”
At least partly yes. “Please recall the part of our agreement stating that either of us has the right to cancel our wedding if we’re not compatible.”
“And in just forty-five minutes, you’ve decided we’re not compatible?” The edge in his voice sent a shiver through her middle. “Seems you’ve already made up your mind.” He raised his hand as if he wanted to hit something, and Marybeth prepared to duck. Instead he waved off the gesture and stared glumly out of the window.
To her surprise, instead of being angry he seemed wounded, even depressed, so much so that she felt sorry for him.
Could it be that he wasn’t like Da at all? Could she trust him to help her find Jimmy? Despite being a gambler and gunfighter, maybe he had a core of decency she could learn to trust. But how could she really know for certain?
* * *
Rand wished he hadn’t raised his hand that dismissive way, as he always did to show gunslingers that he wasn’t planning to fight them, for the gesture appeared to have scared Marybeth. He turned to stare out the window to watch the traffic in the street. She hadn’t even given him a chance. Maybe hadn’t even intended to try. So much for his parents’ and sister’s harebrained idea of finding him a proper Christian lady to marry. He should have just married one of those nice girls who lived down in Bowen. There sure were enough of them to choose from. But Dad had wanted to bring fresh blood into Esperanza; ladies with fine manners like Mother’s to help some of the wilder gals like Maisie improve their ways.
Thoughts of Mother always stopped him short. He raised a familiar silent prayer that the doctors at the Boston hospital would be able to find out what caused her breathing problems. Dad had been so anxious about her health that he’d left Esperanza, the community he’d spent the past thirteen years building, the town that looked to him for guidance for every important decision they made. Yet Dad had willingly made the trip back East for Mother’s sake. Rand longed for that same kind of marriage, where the most important thing was to take care of one another, no matter what the personal cost might be.
His folks had taken his sister, Rosamond, along to enroll her in the Boston finishing school Mother had attended as a young girl. There they’d met Marybeth, and Mother had decided she was the perfect young lady for Rand. Until today he hadn’t cared much about those fine manners Dad insisted the local girls needed to learn. But after meeting Marybeth, he couldn’t imagine marrying one of those cowgirls he’d grown up with. Still, he was beginning to wonder how his folks could have been so mistaken about Marybeth. Couldn’t they see she’d had another plan all along?
Rand had made a few plans of his own. He’d envisioned someone who could grow a kitchen garden
a family and give him a little intellectual companionship on cold Colorado evenings. If he’d just married one of the gals who always smiled so sweetly at him in church, he wouldn’t be sitting here feeling like a complete fool. But he also wouldn’t have a bride who could talk about something other than the price of cattle or how the weather affected the crops.
Probably intent on listening to their conversation, Lucy sidled up next to him and gave his shoulder a sisterly nudge with her elbow as she held out the coffeepot.
“You must be missing Seamus.” He held his cup while she poured.
Lucy shrugged. “If you see him, tell him I do miss him.” She sniffed. “Don’t know why he has to be the one up in the hills with all them cattle all summer long. I don’t have nothing to do on my days off.”
Rand gave her a sympathetic smile. “He’s the trail boss because he’s the best man for the job. You can be proud of him for that.”
“Humph. And what am I supposed to do while he’s out there?” Lucy poured coffee for Marybeth and then took Rand’s empty plate in her free hand. With a swish of her skirt that brushed fabric against his forearm, she headed back toward the kitchen.
Eyeing Lucy with a hint of disapproval, Marybeth put two lumps of sugar and a dash of cream in her cup, stirred and lifted the drink to her lips. Her graceful hands looked like white porcelain and her little fingers posed in refined arches as she held the cup. Beautiful, elegant hands, but not hands for a rancher’s wife. What had his folks been thinking? This young lady was entirely too genteel.
Or maybe as she’d traveled farther west, she’d realized what she’d gotten herself into. Too bad he couldn’t blame Maisie for this turn of events, but that wouldn’t be fair. Even if she spilled the whole story, with her upbringing as a rancher’s daughter, of course she’d be proud of his killing a horse thief.
Well, one thing was sure. With Marybeth making it clear they wouldn’t be getting married anytime soon, if at all, he could postpone telling her about the fatal gunfight. He had no doubt Maisie had blabbed the story, so when they did get around to talking about it, he would have to reassure Marybeth that he wasn’t proud of killing a man, no matter what other people thought. On the other hand, he was still responsible for her since she’d come all this way to meet him. Best get this all figured out.
“Now about that job you mentioned, how do you plan on getting it?” He couldn’t keep the rancor out of his voice.
She lifted her chin and gazed down her pretty little nose at him. “As I said, I plan to work for a lawyer or in the bank.” She blinked in a charming, innocent way. “You do have a bank, don’t you? I thought I saw one on our way here.”
“Yes, we have a bank. But everybody knows that’s a man’s job. Besides, what makes you think Mr. Means is going to hire you?” Rand felt justified being a little cross. Not only was Nolan Means young, wealthy and good-looking, he kept trying to finagle his way into community leadership, something the Northam family carefully controlled to keep out unsavory elements.
Marybeth’s hazel eyes flashed at his challenge. “I will have you know I am very good with accounts. Not only that, but with my typewriting ability, I will be a great asset. If Mr....Mr. Means, is it? If he doesn’t need an accountant or secretary, I am certain some businessman in this growing town will be happy to employ someone with my skills.”
Rand gazed at her, admiration mingled with annoyance. The girl had spirit, that was certain. But as he watched her, something else became evident in her bright hazel eyes—a look he’d seen in green gamblers who just realized they’d gotten themselves into a game with seasoned cardsharps. She had a secret, one that scared her. Why on earth did she think coming out West would solve her problems? But here she was, and despite her postponement—maybe even her cancellation—of the wedding, he had every intention of sticking to his plans to take care of her. A Christian man always kept his word, always saw to his responsibilities.
Bolstered with that thought, Rand scratched behind his ear and gave Marybeth one of his best “aw shucks” grins. “Well, Marybeth, I wish you all the best. And I will pray for your success.”
Her eyes widened and she seemed to struggle a moment before answering. “Why, thank you, Rand. How very kind.”
He shrugged. “I’ve been praying for you since last January when Mother first wrote to me about you.”
“Oh.” She looked down at her coffee cup. “Thank you.”
He frowned. She seemed confused by his mention of prayer. Yet Mother had assured him she was a Christian. A real one, not someone who just went through the motions in church. Maybe she’d fooled them all. That meant he had more than one responsibility for this little gal. He had to take care of her
get her saved. He would take her to church every Sunday and let her hear some of Reverend Thomas’s fine sermons. If he’d listened to those sermons when he should have, he’d never have killed a man, no matter how threatened he’d felt.
Another thing he could do for Marybeth was to write to the sheriff in Wagon Wheel Gap to see if he’d come across a man matching Jimmy O’Brien’s description. Maybe if Rand found her brother, she’d forget working and decide to settle down with him. On the other hand, he needed to find out what she was hiding before he could marry her. That was quite a quandary, one the Lord would have to sort out.
“If you’re done with your coffee, I’ll take you over to Mrs. Foster’s. She’ll put you up until—” He shook his head. No longer could he think
until the wedding.
“Until you get things worked out.”
He stood, pulled a half dollar out of his pocket and dropped it on the table to pay for their dinner, adding a nickel for Lucy’s tip. When Marybeth continued to stare at him with some sort of unreadable expression, he sighed as he snagged his hat off of the peg.
“I guess I should ask if that’s all right with you.”
She gave him a tentative smile and her eyes seemed to glisten. “Yes, it’s fine. Thank you. You’re very kind, considering...”
Rand ducked his head to put on his hat
to hide a grin. Her eyes held that secretive look again, but this time with even more uncertainty. Maybe he had a chance with this pretty little lady, after all. And maybe his older brother could offer some tips on how to win a gal determined not to like him.
Copyright © 2015 by Louise M. Gouge
Wolf Creek Father
Copyright © 2015 by Penny Richards
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