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Julys bride, p.1

July's Bride, page 1

 

July's Bride
 


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July's Bride


  JULY’S BRIDE

  Gail L. Jenner

  JULY’S BRIDE by Gail L. Jenner

  Copyright© 2015 Gail L. Jenner

  Cover Design Livia Reasoner

  Prairie Rose Publications

  www.prairierosepublications.com

  All rights reserved.

  This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real.

  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  “You can’t be serious,” grumbled Abe. He pulled off the apron he always wore when cooking for the boys on the ranch and dropped to the chair next to the plank table that filled the narrow kitchen. The apron had been Emma’s, and it always gave him a sense of her whenever he wore it. He folded it and set it on his lap.

  “I am serious,” returned Gabriel, pulling up a chair on the other side of the table. “We need to find a bride for July. Someone who will make him happy again.”

  “Again?” Abe mumbled. “I don’t think his marriage was a happy affair. That two-timing female only made him miserable.”

  “Maybe, but she was beautiful—” Gabriel began.

  “Beauty as thin as the ribbons on Emma’s old apron.” Abe fingered the remnant of a faded red ribbon that hung from the corner of his late wife’s well-worn apron.

  Gabriel smiled. “Mrs. Harrison was a lovely woman. Not many men can be as blessed as you, Boss. But we can hope.”

  Abe nodded. “Hope is what we live for, isn’t it?”

  “Back to July,” said Gabriel. “He needs a bride. And Davie needs a mother.”

  “But you can’t just order one up like you would a new piece of furniture. Love takes time—and opportunity,” said Abe.

  Gabriel nodded. “Well, the opportunity has arrived. And the time is now. I ordered July a bride from Illinois. Pastor Edmonds has a list of eligible women needing husbands. She’s arriving in less than a week.”

  Abe pushed back from the table and stood up. The apron fell to the floor. “What?”

  “I know. I should have told you sooner—”

  “Told me sooner? You should have asked July. He’ll skin you alive!”

  “So, I won’t tell him.”

  Abe scratched his beard. “Don’t tell him? How’s that going to work?”

  Gabriel shrugged. “Had the thought that we might sort of introduce them. Let him think she’s moved here, maybe to be closer to family?”

  Abe grunted. “What family?”

  “I haven’t thought that through yet.”

  “Gabe, I don’t think you thought any of this through. You can’t just introduce this poor woman to July and think he’s going to—what? Fall in love?” He walked over to the door and opened it, letting the sunshine in. He turned. “He hasn’t had eyes for anybody, not even for Davie’s sake. Can’t blame him, either. The way Hannah carried on right under his nose.”

  “But little Davie needs a mama,” Gabriel said. He reached for the bottle of whiskey sitting on the table. Removing the cork, he took a long swig, then held the bottle out to Abe.

  Abe shook his head.

  “That child’s hurting. Yessirree, he’s hurting,” Gabriel murmured before taking another drink.

  “You’re right,” said Abe, “at least about the boy. But July is not about to butter up to a woman, at least not one that you pick out.”

  “Why not? I know what a good woman is like.”

  “Yeah?” Abe shook his head again. He knew Gabe had his heart in the right place. Davie did need a good mama, but to jump in and take hold of someone else’s life...it just wasn’t right.

  Of course, he reminded himself, July was a handsome man. And he had the best-looking string of horses within a hundred miles of Marian Creek. Most important, he was a good father to his eight-year old son.

  Gabriel cleared his throat. “So, Old Man,” he began, “you’re gonna have to help me with this arrangement. She comes on Thursday next week, only three weeks before the Fourth of July picnic. What a perfect day to celebrate—on the Fourth. July won’t miss the July picnic.” He chuckled. “For one thing, he’ll be riding in the race, and he’ll want to bring little Davie for the fireworks. And if’n he hasn’t proposed by then, why, we’ll hogtie him ’til he does!”

  “Right, and no doubt every unattached woman in the valley will be there ready to horsewhip the new gal for digging her hooks into the poor man.” Abe closed the door and returned to the table, stopping to pick up Emma’s apron.

  “Hadn’t thought of that,” mumbled Gabriel.

  “Like I said, you haven’t thought through any of this,” returned Abe. “So now we got this pickle to solve. Hells bells, you do like to stir up a mess now and again, don’t you?” He stomped over to the stove and opened the door. “Hell, we’ve been jawing for so long the fire’s gone.” He stood up.

  “But—”

  “Go on. And leave the rest of this to me. I’ll try to figure out what to do next.”

  Gabriel got to his feet. “Thanks, Boss.”

  “Yeah, all right. Now, go get the boys. Beef stew is ready and cornbread’s nearly dried up.”

  ▲♥▲

  July Chandler brought the saddled mare over to where Davie stood on top of a barrel. “Okay, you’re on your own today. I want you to take Sally Mae down to the creek and see if you can’t catch us a few fish. You be sure and tie her off right, you hear?”

  Davie smiled and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

  “Don’t run her. She likes to move out and could take off, but she should be a good little horse for you.”

  “Yes, sir,” repeated Davie.

  July smiled at his son who had been waiting for this opportunity to ride the sorrel ever since they’d bought her at the auction in May. The boy was an able rider and should be capable of riding her without issue; still, July had been hesitant to let him ride unattended. He’d been riding Old Ben since he could sit a horse, but Sally Mae carried a lot more muscle than the twenty-year old buckskin.

  Davie scrambled up onto the mare’s back, grinning as he took hold of the rope reins.

  “You think you can find a stump tall enough to get back up on her, son?”

  Davie stroked the mare’s neck. “Yes, sir.”

  “Then you find yourself a good one. She’ll stand still long enough for you to climb aboard. You treat her right and she won’t be too jumpy.”

  July inspected the horse once more, then nodded and gave Davie a wink. “You be back here in an hour, okay? But if the sun hits the edge of the trees, you’ve been gone too long. That’s when I’ll come looking for you.”

  Davie grinned as he tapped the horse’s flanks with his boots. “Yes, sir!”

  July watched his son trot off, his yellow curls shining in the bright sunlight of the early June sun. The boy was his greatest joy and, in spite of every kind of disappointment over the last few years, his upbringing had become the sole reason for staying on. Making this place work had been for his son, and in the process of building the ranch into a profitable business he knew he’d built something that should last.

  As the boy disappeared into the tree-lined bank of Marian Creek, he turned. He had fences to mend, which had been mauled in the May storms. The late spring rains and wind had also leveled a portion of his grain crop, so, like many others in the valley, he would suffer mightily over the loss.

  But that was the risk any farmer took. He couldn’t curse God for that bit of bad luck. Just like he couldn’t curse God for Hannah’s betrayals. No, she had managed to destroy their marriage all by herself; he’d have stayed in there, if only
for Davie’s sake. But she’d cut and run.

  Now there was nothing he wanted from a woman. Not even the fleeting pleasure of woman’s body. It only reminded him of what he thought he’d had with the beautiful Hannah. But beauty was the great deceiver.

  He gathered his tools and loaded the new spool of wire that cost him dearly onto his handcart. He pushed it down to the lower pasture where the fence had been twisted into a tangled mess. He stood for a moment and tried to decide how much wire he could salvage.

  “Not a damn thing,” he said to no one in particular.

  He started by cutting out a twelve-foot stretch of fence. The ends were sharp and cut him in several places, but as calloused as his hands were, he felt little.

  He was nearly done with the job when he realized Davie had not yet returned. He rubbed his forearm across his face and glanced up at the sun. It was just touching the tips of the tree-lined lane that wound its way across the field in front of the house.

  He frowned and set his tools inside the pine toolbox he’d set alongside the nearest post. He’d have to finish tomorrow.

  Back at the barn he saddled Old Ben and, slipping his rifle into the scabbard that hung from one side, he headed off after Davie. There wasn’t much the boy could get into, he thought, but at eight years old, no telling what he might have been distracted by.

  He began calling for Davie as he neared the stream, but there was no response and no sign of him or the sorrel. Dismounting, he dropped the reins. There was no need to worry about the buckskin; the horse had long since abandoned any inclination to run away.

  “Davie! Davie, where you off to?”

  ▲♥▲

  Amanda Hoffman stared out of the train’s grimy window at the rolling landscape. Thankfully, she had found an unoccupied seat near the rear of the last car, which had freed her from having to exchange meaningless conversation with people she didn’t know and didn’t care to know.

  It was bad enough that she’d agreed to this trip west. She should have refused. After all, she didn’t owe her aunt anything. In fact, her aunt had drained the last of Amanda’s accounts without so much as consulting her, leaving her penniless and almost homeless. If she hadn’t been apprenticed to Doctor Anderson, she would have had absolutely nothing to her name.

  “May I?”

  Amanda looked up. A man, dressed in a pinstripe suit, smiled down at her. His face was clean-shaven, but rather ordinary. “Uh, yes,” she said. How could she refuse? At least, he was not dirty and poorly dressed.

  “Thank you,” he said and sat down. “You seemed preoccupied so I hated to disturb you.” He folded his hands primly as he turned his pale hazel eyes on her.

  She shrugged. “No, just—just thinking.”

  “Ah,” he replied, “you have a lot on your mind, then.”

  Amanda moved uncomfortably. She wasn’t about to reveal what was on her mind to any stranger. Even a stranger with a kindly appearance.

  “I’m sorry,” he continued. “I do tend to make a nuisance of myself. My wife used to tell me to sit quietly and leave people alone. I do so much traveling, however, it’s hard to sit for hours in silence. Especially when there’s a pretty face sitting next to me.”

  Amanda blushed then forced herself to smile. Their acquaintance would end soon, she reminded herself.

  “You traveling far?” he asked.

  “Far enough,” she said. She sighed, even as she fiddled with the edges of her shawl.

  “Well, there are few places I’m not familiar with on this line. I’ve been up and down this track for over five years.”

  “I’m sure you haven’t heard of this town. It’s small—a place called Marian Creek.”

  “Ah,” returned the stranger, “you see, I do know it! Near the Colorado border. Not much to recommend it, of course, but a few interesting people, at least.”

  Amanda felt the rush of color flooding her cheeks. “You know people there?”

  “Oh, miss, I’m the kind of person who rarely forgets a face.” He smiled then and she relaxed.

  In his line of work, she thought, he probably knew many people, and he truly was being kind. She wondered if she dared ask....Finally, her curiosity got the better of her. “I’m—I’m supposed to meet a—a cousin, as it were, but I have not seen hi—him, in quite some time.”

  “Well, I do business with the storekeep there regularly, and he knows everyone for a hundred miles in any direction. He’s always anxious to share the local gossip—”

  “Oh? Perhaps he would know him. Uh—my cousin—July. July Chandler—lives there.” She sighed inwardly, for at last, she had said his name—out loud. Did that make it any less intimidating?

  “Hmmm, I do believe I have heard that name. It’s an unusual name, of course, but I believe this July is somewhat famous around Marian Creek.”

  “What?” Amanda’s hands began to tremble. What were the chances she’d have the chance to learn more of this man—her intended? Had God actually heard her prayers? She’d gone to the local pastor before embarking on this bizarre journey, but he’d given her little satisfaction, only indicating that a woman—a woman in her circumstances—would do well to be joined to a man in search of a wife. Providential had been his final word on the subject.

  The stranger seemed to be watching her intently. “Are you all right?”

  She nodded. “I’m sorry. This has been a difficult journey for me. I’ve not often traveled alone—”

  “Of course.”

  Amanda bit her lip. “Uh, but you said you might know something of my—my cousin?”

  “Ah, yes. July. I suppose I only recall the episode because of his unusual name. I believe, but, of course, I cannot presume to know all the facts, that this July was left high and dry by his unusually beautiful, but notorious, wife. She apparently ran off with a gambler. Quite a scandal. Left your cousin with a small boy after taking all of the money she could manage to get hold of, as well as a precious ring that had belonged to July’s grandmother. It was the talk of the town for months. But perhaps you already knew this?”

  Amanda tried to imagine the kind of shame a man in July’s position might feel. “Uh,” she mumbled, “no, no. You see, our—uh—our families have not been in touch for a long, long time.”

  The stranger nodded, then pulled out his pocket watch. “Well, miss. I do wish you the best of luck. I am off at the next stop.” He stood up and smiled. “Business. Always business. But mayhap I will see you again, in Marian Creek.”

  Amanda smiled. “Yes, yes, of course. Thank you.”

  “The name is Harold. Harold Fenn, at your service.”

  The man in the striped suit smiled as he turned and headed to the front of the coach. He didn’t look back but seemed intent on gathering up a large bag he’d obviously stored in one of the overhead compartments.

  What a bit of unexpected good fortune, she thought, gathering her thoughts. She listened as the train slowed, its brakes screeching, the steam whistle sounding its arrival. The conductor called out the stop: Freeman!

  She peered out at the narrow, nearly dilapidated station platform and the small group of people waiting there—one or two women, one with a child waving at the slowing train, and several men dressed in coveralls—perhaps farmers.

  She sighed, then lay back against the horsehair seat and closed her eyes.

  The train would resume its journey in short order and then—then—she’d resume her bizarre and terrifying journey into the unknown.

  Was Providence truly on her side?

  ▲♥▲

  July banged on the door of the sheriff’s house. It was eerily dark, with only a crescent moon providing any light. “Ferguson! Open up!”

  He pounded again on the door until finally, it opened and a candle cast a sliver of light across the craggy features of a sleepy Sheriff Simon Ferguson. “Who’s waking me at this time of night?” he growled, holding the candle up to inspect the man standing there.

  “It’s Davie,” roared J
uly. “He’s gone. No sign of him. He rode down to the stream, and when I went to find him an hour later, there was no sign of him. He was gone.”

  Ferguson, alert now, nodded. “Okay, okay. Get Tom Savage. He’s probably asleep in the barn. He’s half hound dog. I’ll get my gun. Meet me back here in five minutes.”

  July nodded, then set off. Yes, Tom Savage. Ferguson was right. If anyone could help track Davie, it would be the half-breed Ferguson employed as his deputy.

  Tom Savage was out the barn door before July could even call his name.

  The dark-haired, wide-eyed Indian carried the tools of his trade: a rifle over one shoulder, a rope over the other, and a thin, long blade at his waist. He carried a leather-fringed jacket over his left arm. “We need horses?” he asked July.

  “I got them,” July said. “Already saddled.”

  “Good.”

  Ferguson was already astride one of the three horses July had tied up in front of his house. “Good mounts,” he said approvingly.

  July nodded. “You help me find Davie, he’s yours,” he said, indicating the paint Ferguson had selected. July glanced at Tom. “You, too,” he said, nodding to the bay. “He’s yours.”

  “So what happened?” Ferguson asked as the three men headed out of town.

  “He didn’t come back. He knows better. Never would’ve taken off without saying something.”

  “You think he’s in trouble?”

  “Damn it, he’s eight. He was on the new sorrel, but there are no tracks. No sign. I’ve searched everywhere. No sign,” he repeated, his voice trailing off into the night.

  ▲♥▲

  “Next stop—Marian Creek!”

  Amanda stirred, then sat up.

  The conductor had already passed her by, but he repeated the call. “Marian Creek!”

  She gathered up her purse and shawl and rose to move to the exit. Peering out at the scattered buildings of the approaching town, she felt her face flush as she contemplated once again the bizarre step she was taking; she was clearly unprepared for what lay ahead.

  The train’s whistle blew and the brakes squealed. Grabbing the cold metal edge of the coach’s rear compartment, she braced herself for its final stop. The train rocked and steam swirled up and around the windows as she stepped out onto the back stoop.

 
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