Mail Order Bride: Journey of The Bride Complete Volumes 1 and 2: A Mail Order Bride Historical Western Romance, page 1
Copyright 2015 by Mary Fox - All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without permission from the author/publisher.
Journey of the Bride: A Mail Order Bride Historical Western Romance
Complete Series: Volumes 1 and 2
Wave upon wave of heat drifted up from the sand and washed over his face. Dust clouded the air from under the hooves of dozens of cattle, braying into the air as they trod along the edge of the fence line.
Atop his bay gelding, Brandon slapped his lasso against his thigh and let out a loud, shrill whistle. “Get’up!” he yelled at the cattle, as if trying to urge them faster. They were moving at a good pace though, all things considered. Everything was going well—for now.
The sudden drum of a horse’s hooves turned his attention back behind him, and he spun the gelding around to look at the oncoming rider.
It was a man on a dazzling gray gelding. The horse looked too clean for the dusty lands it had just ridden across. The pasture was sparse in the way of grass now that the cattle had eaten most of it down to spare shoots. The rider too looked out of place in a smart black suit rather than jeans and plaid shirt. A large top hat completed the look of the man. Brandon knew the rider though.
“Paul,” he said, a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye. It had been months since he’d seen his brother. “You’re looking good.”
“And you look like shit,” Paul replied, the grin on his clean-shaven face revealing the good nature of his words. He gave Brandon a glance-over, taking in the dusty clothes and the dirty beard on his face. “When was the last time you bathed?”
Brandon shrugged, turning his attention back to the cattle he was trying to move to a new pasture. Usually, he had the help of five other men. This was the first season he’d attempted such a feat alone. He had been so busy lately. He hadn’t even had a chance to go to town and post wanted ads for ranch hands for the summer. Winter had been easy. Now, he would have to figure out a time to go to town and find help because there was no way he could move the herd out to the sales in time on his own. That was suicide.
His stomach growled, reminding him that it had been hours since he’d eaten, and even then it hadn’t been more than a few strips of dried meat left over from the winter.
“When was the last time you ate?” Paul asked. There was a knowing tone in his voice.
Damn. He knew Brandon way too well. Was it that obvious how much work Brandon was trying to do on his own?
“This morning,” he answered. It was the truth. Paul had asked when he last ate, not what he ate.
“Who cooked breakfast with Ma now gone?” Paul asked.
Damn. Damn him. “No one,” Brandon replied. He tipped his hat down so he wouldn’t have to see the pity on his brother’s face.
Paul had been gone for years. He’d disappeared from the ranch as soon as he turned eighteen so he could attend college. Brandon couldn’t blame him. Paul hated the ranch. He’d escaped it to get his license in law. Last time Brandon had heard of his brother, he’d opened his own law firm in the city.
Before, it hadn’t been an issue. Pa had been able to handle the ranch on his own with the help of Brandon and the other ranch hands. However, with both Ma and Pa gone from the world—God rest their souls—the ranch had become more than Brandon could handle on his own, and most of the hands had been loyal to Pa, not Brandon. With Pa gone, they’d taken off to find work elsewhere.
Brandon had let them. What else could he do? He couldn’t force them to work for him. He wasn’t even certain he could pay them. He knew Pa had money and that they weren’t hurting, but the will had specified that Paul had first rights to that money, not Brandon, which made sense with Paul being older by five years.
If Brandon was honest, it didn’t bother him. He never cared for the family money, and Paul would be better at handling it. He was better at handling the ranch. He knew more about birthing calves than he’d ever know about finances.
He spat at the ground and frowned at Paul, daring him to say something about the lack of a cook. It was another thing he’d been meaning to get around to, but couldn’t really afford. Either way Brandon looked at it, things were getting bad at the ranch.
He hadn’t the money to hire hands to help with the cattle herds, and without the herds, there was no money coming into the ranch.
“Shit.” Brandon looked up at Paul, surprised to hear the curse word slip from between his teeth. Paul had always been a purer one. At least better than Brandon in the sense. “How long are you going to wait before you get married, Brandon?”
“I don’t need a wife,” Brandon grumbled. He crushed down the feelings that threatened to bubble up with the admission. He’d heard this argument many times in the past, and he really wasn’t interested in hearing them again.
Paul had been married two years now, and his pretty little wife, Samantha, was a dear. She was good to Paul and helped him meet new clients in the city through all her connections. Paul was becoming a socialite among men thanks to her help. Brandon would have envied his brother that, but that was before—
“You need someone in your life, Brandon. You can’t do everything yourself. Look at yourself. You can barely feed yourself.”
As if to add more fuel to Paul’s argument, Brandon’s stomach betrayed him and growled loudly. The gelding he rode snorted and shook his head.
“I don’t need a woman, Paul,” Brandon said. There was a hard glint to his eyes as he looked up at his older brother again. “I’m doing fine on my own.” A cocky grin crossed his face. “Besides, what kind of woman would want a grizzled ol’ man like myself? Look at me. It’s as you said, I can barely feed myself.”
Paul frowned, but his glance did dart over Brandon once more. It was as he said. He looked like a rancher who worked too much, ate too little, and slept only enough to say he’d gotten sleep. It was frightening in a way.
“Have you been sleeping outside?” he asked.
“Someone’s gotta watch the cattle. Coyotes are getting brave.” Brandon shrugged again, a gesture that was starting to infuriate Paul. That was his brother though. He’d shrug off the bad business and ignore it as if it didn’t exist. He only handled what was a problem right then and there, letting the worst of the problems wait until they grew too large for him to handle on his own.
Paul growled under his breath, raising his hand to wipe his face as if that would wipe away all his worries with it. He worried for his brother. That was why he was there after all, to check on him. He hadn’t had a chance to come since Ma and Pa’s death except to attend their funeral, and even then he hadn’t really had a chance to speak with Brandon. Samantha had scheduled a meeting with the mayor, one he hadn’t been able to get out of.
“How have you been doing lately?” he asked, softening his tone.
Brandon glanced up at him, his eyes full of suspicion. That wasn’t a surprise. It was hard for Brandon to trust anyway. Everyone around him seemed to be up to something.
“Ride with me,” he said, his words gruff. He spun his bay around the slapped his lasso against his thigh again, yelling at the cattle to get on up. Ahead of them, the gate to the pasture he was herding them to was wide open. Already some of the cattle had made it inside and were milling toward the pond inside where they could drink or branching out to graze on the fresh grass before them.
Brandon corralled them inside and dismounted, dropping one of the bay’s reins to t
“Just finished fixing this fence yesterday. Course I’ll need to ride the lines every day to make sure the cattle don’t break through and to make sure coyotes don’t sneak in, but it’s fixed for now. There’s plenty of grass to last them a couple of months and water to last longer than that.”
Paul nodded to show he understood. Even if he didn’t like the ranch and didn’t really care what happened to it, he did care about his brother, and he wanted him to be happy. The ranch made him happy for some reason Paul would never understand.
“You need a wife, Brandon,” he said after his brother mounted again.
Brandon narrowed his eyes. “No.” His words were flat, making it known it was the end of the discussion.
“Yes, you do.”
“No I don’t.” Brandon glowered at Paul. “You can’t make me change my mind.”
The two men rode back the direction they’d come from, back towards the ranch. “You need someone in your life, Brandon. You can’t keep running this place on your own. Why don’t you hire some hands to help you out?”
“Don’t have the money,” Brandon replied, spitting again.
“I’ll get you enough. Let me know what you need. You know the men you need. Let me know figures and I’ll make sure you have it. Ma and Pa were not broke, and I’m well-off in the city. I’ll make an account and add enough to it that you can take care of ranch hands.”
“Thanks.” Although the reply was gruff, Paul could hear the gratitude in it. He watched Brandon pull a bandana from his pocket and wipe sweat off his forehead. “Can you hire me a cook? I don’t know anything about that business.”
An idea entered Paul’s mind. He glanced at Brandon, wondering if he’d notice if Paul pulled something sneaky. Not right away, he thought. He trusts me. He won’t notice until it’s too late to change anything.
“You want me to hire you a cook?”
Brandon shrugged, his eyes turned ahead instead of looking at his brother. “Someone who can help around the house: cook, clean, mend clothing, the works.”
Paul grinned at his brother, realizing the opportunity when he saw it. This was a chance to do exactly what Brandon needed, even if he didn’t realize he did. He needed a wife. As soon as Paul got back into town, he’d post an ad for a wife for his brother.
A wave of stench hit his nose and he pinched his nostrils closed even as he gagged. “If I find you a woman, will you at least take a bath?”
Brandon turned his attention to his brother, a wide grin on his face. “Maybe. You’ll do it then?”
“I already have a woman in mind,” Paul lied easily.
He wasn’t a lawyer for nothing. Brandon accepted his words with a single nod of his head. “Let me know when you find someone and I’ll take a bath. Hell,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe I’ll even shave.” His hand reached up to his beard, scratching his chin through the hair.
A wave of disgust washed through Paul and he touched his clean chin, trying to figure out how Brandon could stand the mess of hair, but he said nothing. In his mind, he was already wording his ad for the wife he planned on finding Brandon. After all, how hard could it be to find a woman who wouldn’t mind being marrying to the gruff man riding beside him?
“Do you require anything else, ma’am?”
Courtney smiled sweetly to the man before her. “No, thank you, Gerald,” she said. She kept her voice low, as a lady should, but there was an air of authority to it all the same. It was a balance she’d learned over the years, something her mother had taught her before the cholera had claimed her life.
“As you wish, ma’am.” The butler bowed low at the waist and turned away, leaving her alone in the room. That was fine with her. Courtney le Brush was used to being alone. Her father, a doctor for the town, was always gone at odd hours, and she was often left to her own devices.
Despite being alone, she never felt lonely. She had plenty to entertain herself with. Her father’s library was full of books. Her favorites were the works of Shakespeare, which she’d read over and over again countless times. She often recited the words of Hamlet or Macbeth to strangers she met, wondering if they would know the lines she referred to. More times than not, they didn’t. She had come to understand that she was one of the few in town that read Shakespeare.
All anyone cares about in this town is the mining prospects, she thought. It was true too. Even her father had only moved them to the Utah Territory in hopes of finding his profit in gold. And he had as far as Courtney knew. He certainly had made money along the way, and they were one of the wealthiest families in town.
That knowledge did little to cheer Courtney up. She wanted to find someone to talk to about books and letters and silks and clothes. She was tired of talking about dirt and stone and gold and mining and tools. Those things bored her to tears.
When her father held dinners and invited the Mayor and other important guests, she had to fight not to fall asleep. These nincompoops wouldn’t know the back of their hand if it didn’t glitter like a diamond, she thought with an angry snort.
Her nose wrinkled at the thought. At least it was only gold they mined for. She’d heard of talk from some of the slaves about their lands being rich with diamonds, something more precious than gold. She was glad that her father found such talk poppycock. The last thing she wanted to do was sail across the ocean—what a horrible way to discover whether or not you had seasickness—to the likes of Africa.
No, rather stay here among the dust and dirt and pray the world would weary of gold at some point. Better to stay and hope the veins dried up and the miners sought their fortunes in other ways.
“Courtney, my dear, are you in?” Her head snapped up at the sound of her name upon her father’s lips. Something was wrong.
“Yes, Father. I’m in the library.” She closed the book she’d come in planning to read. It was too late now. All her thoughts of mining and gold and diamonds and prayers that her father would never send them overseas had ruined any attitude toward reading she had at the moment.
Her father entered, looking harried and frazzled. His wide eyes were like that of a startled horse and he shied away from her for a moment, as if he was a snake and had bitten her. All she had done was look at him upon his entrance. Strange. Strange indeed.
“What is it, Father?” she asked.
He came closer, his eyes shifting from left to right, scanning the room for any signs of life. “Is there anyone in here?” he asked her. He knew as well as she that servants had a habit of hiding in small nooks and crannies for the chance to hear the juiciest tidbits of gossip.
She shook her head. She wouldn’t tell him, but she hated having servants near her and sent them away whenever she knew he wouldn’t be around for a while. If she had known he would be back from the bank so soon, she would have asked Gerald to keep them around for appearances.
Gerald knew her secret, how slaves made her uncomfortable—not because she found them disgusting in any way, but because she didn’t feel forcing someone to work for her was anything but inhumane. He had often told her, when her father wasn’t around of course, that she was a woman out of her own generation, that someday, he hoped his people were no longer slaves, but that the day was far away still.
He often told her stories of the lands where his people lived, and talked about his culture and his tribe before he’d been shipped across the sea to live here. “Your father is a good man,” he told her one day. “I’ve seen many others who have died under the care of their masters—whether due to the rape and torture their minds and bodies go through or because of the lack of nourishment their bodies get when in their care.” He smiled at her then. “I do not mind working for your family, Miss le Brush.”
“You’ve sent away your servants?” her father as
Despite her fear that he’d punish her for sending away her servants, she nodded. His urgency convinced her that this one time it would be overlooked, and she was right. He nodded with enthusiasm. “Good, good.” He sat down in the other chair the library proffered, pulling it close to face her.
“My dearest daughter,” he began, his eyes mournful as he gazed at her. He still held her hand in his, but now he stroked the back of it with his free one, as if petting a dog and soothing it from the pain he knew was coming to it. “There is something I need to tell you.”
“What is it, Father?” she asked. Fear filled her, but she held it at bay. Bad enough that the man looked ready to bolt and dive out into the world with a blind eye to the dangers that existed. “What’s wrong?”