Authors: Leah Atwood
After The Rain
Brides of Weatherton Book One
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2014 by Leah Atwood
Cover Design © Covers by Ramona
Cover Image © Jax @ PeriodImages.com
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Pulling her cape tighter around her waist, Lettie Morgan huddled against a brick building in a futile attempt to ward off the bitter wind nipping at her worn-out body. The temperature was much more frigid than normal for this time of year. Feeling a lull in the wind’s sweeping gusts, she stepped back out to the street’s edge, looking both ways through wary eyes for any sign of a familiar face. To her great relief, she saw no one, not even a stranger. Anyone with a hint of common sense would not be out today.
Unless they were on a mission.
Weary, tired, and still grieving, she knew what she must do. She had no choice except to leave Baltimore and not for her sake alone. There was a small life growing within her, depending on her for survival. More than survival. This small baby would be her last connection with Daniel. How she missed her husband. Barely a month had passed since his death, but it seemed like just yesterday she was kissing him goodbye before he left for the fields to gather the harvest.
Sweet, loving, honorable Daniel. He’d died, never knowing he would be a father. Lettie hadn’t known at the time that she was carrying. A tear fell down her cheek before the wind could dry the moisture from her face. She’d given up everything to marry Daniel and be his wife. Three years. That is all the time they’d been given to share their lives.
Not for a minute did she regret her decision to marry him. She had loved, still did, Daniel with her entire heart, despite her parents’ disapproval. Her father, a prominent lawyer, and her socialite mother had been horrified when Daniel, a poor farmer, approached them for Lettie’s hand in marriage, refusing to consider such a match. When they’d tried to force her into a marriage with Maxwell Donahue, Lettie had eloped. Neither parent had ever forgiven her actions. When her father had passed last year, her mother had seen to it that she was not informed.
Two weeks ago was the first time she’d seen her mother in two years. Word of Daniel’s death had reached Evelyn Montrose, and she came to the farm to see her daughter. Lettie snorted as she walked along the sidewalk. Her mother’s visit had nothing to do with consoling her daughter and everything to do with manipulating her into a marriage with Maxwell.
Lettie’s answer remained a resounding
She knew, all too well, the type of man Maxwell Donahue was. Three years ago, she had refused to marry him, not only because she was in love with Daniel, but because Maxwell had shown her a violent and uncouth temperament he’d kept well-hidden from her family and the public. On the few occasions she’d broached the subject with her mother, she’d been accused of creating falsehoods and being dramatic. Yet her wrists still bore the marks Maxwell had left when he’d come to the farm last week on the heels of Evelyn’s visit, believing he could sway her decision to his favor by using physical force.
After that visit, she concluded she was no longer safe living out there by herself. The bank would soon be taking possession anyway; she simply vacated earlier than expected. She hated giving up the farm, but she wasn’t naïve enough to believe she could manage it on her own. Instead of using the precious little money she had on trying to save the farm, she’d decided that finding a small room to rent in the city until she could figure out what to do next would be a better use of her money.
At least in the city, she’d have a certain amount of anonymity, or protection, even if not complete. After all, her mother remained a highly esteemed member of Baltimore society, despite the scandal Lettie had caused by marrying Daniel. Evelyn Montrose had many people who would jump at her beck and call. However, it was a large city and Lettie knew which areas the most reputed citizens would avoid. She was counting on that knowledge to bide her some time.
Resting in bed before falling asleep last night, she’d thought of a solution to her dilemma. While not ideal, it was viable. Several of the maids in her parents’ home had left their employment to travel west, becoming what was known as a mail-order bride. She’d never heard of the outcomes, but she had to assume the ventures had been successful, for the most part. To her knowledge, none of the women who left Baltimore had since returned, at least not up to the time she’d left her parents’ estate.
The idea required an inordinate amount of faith, but what were the alternatives? Remaining in Baltimore was no longer an option, not after the last encounter with Maxwell. Evelyn and he would never drop the notion of a marital match. Why they were so insistent, was beyond Lettie’s understanding. She’d honored her mother and father as long as she could, never desiring to go against their wishes, but there came a time when she had to put her life first. That’s what she’d done when she met and befriended Daniel, and that’s what she was doing now, except she had added the new life to protect, even above her own.
A few flurries floated down from the sky, swirling in the air as the wind sent them dancing in all directions. Lettie had the most childlike urge to stick out her tongue and catch a white powdery flake. She looked around. Several people had appeared on the streets. Pushing aside the urge, she continued walking forward. She couldn’t afford to draw attention to herself. It was a foolish impulse anyway. The days of her childhood were long behind her.
At long last, she came to the building for which she’d been searching. A wood shingle advertising the business was hung near the door on an exterior wall.
The Mrs. Broadmoor Agency for Gentleman Seeking a Bride
. This was where several of the maids had come to be matched with their future husbands. Mrs. Broadmoor had a reputation for having a compassionate soul and empathy for the plight of those in unpleasant circumstances.
The situation in which she found herself definitely qualified as unpleasant.
Drawing in a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and marched inside. This would be the start of her new beginning.
Weatherton, Wyoming- 1892
Rand McCade held the correspondence in his hand, afraid to open the envelope. For months, he’d been waiting for a reply. The previous two correspondences he’d received had been gratuitous, to his way of thinking, notes from Mrs. Broadmoor informing him that she’d not forgotten about him but was still searching for his perfect match. After the second such note, he’d written a reply, penning his desire to not be contacted again until she’d found a potential match. Did this letter mean that she’d finally found someone for him?
Tucking the letter inside his coat’s pocket, he stepped off the boardwalk, crossed the street and entered Nell’s Restaurant. He still had some business to complete before leaving town, but he had to know what the letter said. Though extra money was sparse, as he’d been saving everything so he’d have money to pay his chosen bride’s way, he decided spending a few coins on dinner would be an acceptable splurge. A man did have to eat, and a cup of coffee would warm his body after a long, cold ride into town.
Today’s trip into Weatherton was to stock up on necessary supplies, so he’d brought the buckboard to town instead of riding in on Thyme, his prized mare. His spread wasn’t too far from the town of Weatherton, but bringing the wagon had extended the trip an extra half hour, which didn’t seem much during the other seasons, but this December was proving to be extra cold and blustery. This was his second winter in Wyoming, after moving from Kansas in the spring of ninety-one, one year to the day that his beloved Mellie had passed on to her eternal reward.
He should have made this trip for supplies several weeks ago, but he’d been busy getting all the repairs at the ranch completed before the first snow came. Taking an entire day to spend in town hadn’t been possible until today. Once he had a bride, he hoped to invest in some hired help, but as it stood, he couldn’t afford to pay anyone until the spring roundup. Most days he didn’t mind working before the sun rose until after it set, but that would have to change once he married. If he married. The letter was burning a hole in his pocket. He removed it and set it on the table in front of him.
“Coffee, Mr. McCade?” Bessie Fletcher, the restaurant owner’s daughter, carried a carafe of the hot liquid.
Pouring coffee into a ceramic cup, Bessie glanced at him with a bashful smile. Not wanting to encourage her affection, he kept his mouth straight and merely nodded an acknowledgement. She was fifteen, if a day, and much too young for any man, let alone a widower approaching thirty.
“Would you like our special today of roast chicken served with mashed sweet potatoes and cabbage?”
“That sounds fine. Thank you.”
She scurried away from the table, her cheeks bright red. Lucky for him, the girl was too bashful to engage in conversation beyond what was necessary. Picking up the envelope, he stared at it long and hard before opening it. He drew in a long breath, releasing it on a sigh. Sliding out the papers, his normally steady fingers shook. On second thought, a public place was not the place to read them. As much as he needed to read the slips of paper, he returned them to their holder.
Minutes later, Bessie arrived and placed his meal on the table. He ate quickly, paid for his food and left. Standing outside Nell’s Restaurant, he looked up and down the street for a private place. His eyes landed on a small white church which blocked off the far end of Main Street. With purposeful strides, he walked toward the house of worship, keeping his gaze straight ahead as to not make eye contact with anyone who would draw him into conversation.
As expected, the doors were unlocked, a place of welcome for those who sought solitude or respite. He walked down the center aisle, taking a seat in a pew. There was no one else present. Removing the papers for the second time he settled in to read the words.
Dear Mr. McCade,
I am pleased to inform you that I have found a lady to become your wife, should you approve. Mrs. Leticia “Lettie” Morgan is a young widow who is twenty and three years of age. She is a Godly, resilient woman with a warm heart. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with her, and I am of a strong conviction that she was led to my agency as a match for you. Enclosed, you will find a personal letter from her, which I have not read.
If you find Lettie to be an acceptable match, please respond promptly with train fare. Of course, you are welcome to extend correspondence, however, time is of the essence. I would urge you to make a decision with haste though not without prayer.
Mrs. Agnes Broadmoor
This was really happening. He sucked in another long breath. This is what Mellie had wanted. At her deathbed, he’d reluctantly agreed to one day remarry. His memory drifted back to several years ago, replaying their final time together.
Her hand reached weakly for his. “I want you to know happiness and love for all your life. You have so many years in front of you, and I’d hate to enter eternity thinking you’ll spend those years lonely,” she pleaded.
“I will know happiness and love for all my life, Mellie, because you’ve given them to me. Even without you here, I won’t stop loving you,” he responded passionately, needing her to know how very much he loved her.
A tear trickled down her cheek and wetted the pillow on which her head rested. “My dear Rand.” She paused to catch her breath. “You have showered me with more love and devotion than any man has ever given to a woman. Your heart is too large and generous to keep that hidden away. Though it pains me that I wasn’t meant to have more time with you, I will go more peacefully knowing that you will give love another chance.” The effort of speaking drained her already pallid face to near transparency. She would not be of this world much longer.
He gulped, trying to ease the lump of despair from his throat. “I’ll always love you,” he whispered, grasping her hand, wishing for everything that he could transfuse life into her.
“Then promise me you will marry again,” she croaked, her frail voice barely audible. “Share your heart.”
“I promise, Mellie.” Saying the words twisted the knife of pain stabbing his heart, but if they gave his precious wife peace in her final moments then he would promise her the moon.
“I love you, Rand. Thank you for loving me, cherishing me.” Her eyes closed and the last breath was pushed from her chest.
Overcome with grief, he collapsed on the bed beside her, wrapping his arms around her for the final time.
How could he have promised to marry again? To devote his life to anyone else but Mellie? After two and a half years, plus a move halfway across the country, he thought he could do it. He’d convinced himself he was ready. But now the time had come, and he wasn’t certain. Setting the letters to the side, Rand stood and eased himself out of the pew. Blinking back a tear, despite no one being present to see it, he trod down the aisle leading to the altar. Bending to his knees, he closed his eyes and clasped his hands.
“Give me strength to move on. Guide me, Lord.” He uttered the simple supplication in a long, drawn out breath. For several minutes, he remained kneeling with his head bowed.
Urge you to make a decision in haste…
Rand jerked his head upward, verifying he was still alone in the church. Why were those words being placed upon his conscience?
Time is of the essence.
Was God speaking to him? Guiding him as he’d asked? Returning to the pew he’d sat in when he first entered the church, he picked up the sheets of paper. In his remembered grief, he’d forgotten there was a second letter. Behind the paper from Mrs. Broadmoor was a second letter, one from Lettie, the potential bride. He pulled it to the front, sitting down to read.
Dear Mr. McCade,
As you’ve been made aware from Mrs. Broadmoor, I am seeking a husband out west, far away from Baltimore. This correspondence has taken me several days to prepare as I’ve struggled with how much of my past I should disclose. At last, my conscience has dictated that I should be honest, for any marriage, based on love or convenience, should not be entered into upon any guise of deception.
The truth is, Mr. McCade, I must leave Baltimore. I was born to wealthy parents who were at the highest echelons of society. For much of my life, my family attempted to demand certain actions and behaviors from me. While, most times, I was content to oblige as my Christian duty, I refused to marry a man, Mr. Maxwell Donahue, they had chosen for me. Not only did my heart belong to someone else, but the man they wished me to marry was a violent man.
To my parents’ vexation, I chose to marry for love. My husband, Daniel, was a good man. For three years, we lived on a small farm, struggling happily to make it a success. Please do not assume because I came from a privileged family that I would shun hard work. The years spent on a farm were the happiest of my life. I awoke each day with purpose and fell asleep, content, knowing I had earned my meals that day.
Perhaps you are now wondering why I am so candid and I shall tell you. My husband’s passing was a shock, but now that he is gone, I am left without protection. My father has now parted this life and my mother has resumed her mission to see me wedded to Maxwell. A difficult predicament under normal circumstances, it’s complicated by the fact that I am a poor woman now, and Mr. Donahue is a wealthy and influential man. I fear he will stop at no means to see that I become his wife, already paying one antagonistic trip to the farm before I moved back into the city. There is only a matter of time before my mother or Mr. Donahue track me down.
I am quite aware that I risk scaring you away with my frankness, but it’s a risk I must take for my child. Breaking convention is, apparently, something that is destined to follow me. Thus said, I will do anything within my means to protect the life I am expecting, even if that means baring my soul to a complete stranger.
As mentioned, I am not afraid of hard work and relish the satisfaction of a good day’s effort. I take pride in my ability to maintain a clean and tidy home, and my cooking abilities have often received compliments. Also, please know that I’ve not sought out this option of marrying a stranger lightly. I have given this much prayer and consideration and believe I am being led to you.
If you have read this far and haven’t run off yet, please contact me through Mrs. Broadmoor’s office at your earliest convenience.
Rand’s jaw gaped open. He scanned the letter again, confirming he’d read the words correctly. Uncertain what to think, he stood and paced the length of the carved benches. Mrs. Morgan’s letter had surprised him with its breath of honesty. He couldn’t help wondering if she were always that open or if the transparency was bred from desperation.
Anger took over, and he clenched a fist. If Mrs. Morgan’s story was true, and he had no reason to believe otherwise, then he’d like to get his hands on someone. Her fear of Donahue was real and reflected in her words. For the first time in years, he felt a small stirring in his heart. Even if it was only for the need to protect this woman, it was a beginning.
He knew what his decision would be with regards to Mrs. Morgan, Lettie.
The more he thought of it, the more peace settled over him. After months of waiting, he’d been matched with a widow who’d loved her first husband very much, enough to defy her parents in marrying him. That, in itself, must be a sign from above. Two people who had loved and lost. Perhaps their loss could lead to a friendship of understanding and empathy. He doubted he’d ever love again as he loved Mellie, but he could find a deep, mutual respect for his spouse. If Lettie had loved her husband the same way, he suspected she would have a similar approach to this marriage.
He reread the letter for the third time. There were subtle clues telling him who Lettie Morgan was. Independent, regardless of her need for a husband. Honest. Compassionate. Hardworking. She was a stranger, willing to join her life with him. In him, she was placing her trust. That was a heady notion that weighed heavily on his mind. What if he had died and Mellie had been the one left behind? Neither of them had parents still living; only he had a sibling, a sister living in Texas. Would she have resorted to marrying a stranger and moving west? She’d always been frail and delicate. A long trip would not have been good for her.
There wasn’t a doubt left in Rand’s mind. Lettie Morgan would be his bride. He couldn’t promise love, but he would give her a safe home, as he would hope for Mellie if roles had been reversed. A loud crack sounded from the rear of the church and a stream of sunshine filtered through an opened door.
“Good afternoon. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone in here today.” Pastor Lawrence Gibbons stepped inside the building, rubbing his hands for warmth.
“I was on my way out,” replied Rand, replacing his hat atop his head.
“The door is always open.” A gust of wind slammed the heavy door shut. “Figuratively, of course,” Pastor Gibbons added with a chuckle.
“That wind is something fierce. Do you think we’ll see some snow soon?”
“My guess is that everyone will be too snowed in by Sunday to have a service. As much as I look forward to gathering with my flock on Sundays, I’ve spent too many years here not to recognize the signs.”
Rand stepped forward. “In that case, I should take my leave. The last thing I want is to get stuck in a storm.”