All Callie Cartwright knows is that she's got to get out of town fast. Her husband is dead and she's pregnant. If the truth comes out to how her husband died, she won't live to see the day her baby is born.
Thankfully, she went through an agency to find a man in search of a mail-order-bride. Callie is a city girl, but perhaps living out in the country on a horse ranch is what she needs right now. One week later, she travels to meet the man she has arranged to wed but is sidetracked when the train she is riding breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Time is running out and she's desperate, but can she rely on the handsome stranger with the dreamy eyes to help her?
It had been three days. Three very long and tiring days of running.
Callie Cartwright clutched her satchel with one hand and secured the edges of her cloak at her neck with the other hand. Peeking around the wall of the train station office, she watched for anyone who resembled a lawman. Men with silver stars on their coats frightened her.
The train heading to Colorado would be leaving in ten minutes. She would wait until the last minute before boarding. She couldn’t take any chances of getting caught, not only for her wellbeing, but for her unborn child’s.
Callie pressed a hand to her belly. She had realized her delicate condition two weeks ago, so she hadn’t started showing yet. She prayed her slender figure would keep the pregnancy from showing for at least another four or five months. Her soon-to-be husband couldn’t know, yet.
She glanced at her left hand. The ring Bill Donovan had given her on their wedding still circled her finger. Scowling, she tugged it off. The dirty rat hadn’t deserved the quick death he’d received. If it had been up to her, she would have put him through something more difficult and torturing.
Unwanted memories flashed through her mind of him lifting his heavy hand in an attempt to make her bend to his will while she cowered in front of him. Closing her eyes, she prayed those terrible memories would disappear. She was starting a new life and finding a new husband… one that would care for her and her unborn child… the child she’d convince her new husband was his.
The loud whistle of the train brought her out of her thoughts. Once more, she peeked around the corner of the station office and scanned the platform. Several people hugged their loved ones and said goodbye before they boarded the train and prepared to make the next few days journey as comfortable as they could be. Not Callie. She would only relax once she was out of Texas.
Shifting from one foot to the other, she waited for the conductor to give the last boarding call. A woman with two children holding onto her hands hurried to the train and up the stairs. A man rushed from the other end of the station and climbed onboard. Not far from where Callie hid, a man walked out of the station office. His steps were slow as he headed for the train, and he held a newspaper in his hand. He stopped before lifting his foot to the small landing on the train, and looked down the wooden platform as if waiting for someone. He was dressed nicely in a gray suit jacket and matching trousers with a dark blue vest and white shirt. His brown hair was slicked back off his forehead, and from what she could see of his face, he was remarkably handsome. He appeared to be several years older than her husband, but she was certain the stranger wasn’t much older than thirty-five.
Her first impression of him was that he wasn’t the type of man who would angrily strike a woman. But then, Bill hadn’t appeared to be that kind of man when she first met him, either. Alcohol had poisoned his mind and his heart.
The stranger’s gaze did another sweep of the platform before he released a noticeable sigh and his shoulders sank. He proceeded up the landing and into the passenger car.
The whistle blew again, and the conductor made the final call. Callie glanced around the nearly empty platform once more before hurrying toward the train. The conductor saw her and reached out a hand to help her on board.
Callie’s heartbeat hadn’t calmed yet, but it probably wouldn’t. Not until she was out of danger and far away from Texas.
As she wandered through the railcar, she searched for an empty seat. A few faces glanced up at her, but then the people returned to what they’d been doing. Callie searched for a seat near an older woman or even a woman with children. She didn’t want to stand out, just in case someone was looking for her.
Callie clutched her satchel so tightly to her chest that her fingers turned white, but since this was the only thing she had left in this world, she didn’t want to lose anything. She only had a little money to live on until she reached Fort Collins, Colorado.
When she saw an empty spot on the bench across from a woman with two children, Callie breathed a sigh of relief. She reached the bench and smiled at the slightly older woman looking up at her.
“Is this place taken?”
“No.” The woman motioned toward the empty space. “Please sit.”
Callie smiled the best she could under her duress and sat. “My name is Mrs. Cartwright.” She decided not to give the woman her married name, only because until death do you part. “I’m widowed.” She didn’t want to lie about everything. Besides, an unwed woman traveling by herself was unheard of.
The other woman nodded, wearing a pleasant expression. “I’m Mrs. Linda Butters. I’m also widowed.” She motioned to her two children who looked very much alike and the same age. “This is Matthew and Margaret.”
“Twins?” Callie asked.
The two children nodded.
“Yes. They are eight-years-old,” Linda said.
“Nice to meet you all.” Callie relaxed slightly. “Where are you traveling?”
Linda adjusted the bonnet on her head, pushing back some locks that had fallen across her forehead. “Denver, Colorado. I have family there. And you?”
“I’m heading to Fort Collins.”
“That is a nice place. Have you been there before?”
Callie shook her head. “My first trip. I’m also meeting up with family.” Of course, her family consisted of her soon-to-be-husband and his daughter.
“I wish you a pleasant journey.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Butters. And I wish you and your children a happy journey, as well.”
“Please, call me Linda.”
Callie’s smile didn’t seem as forced this time. “And you must call me Callie.”
From up the aisle, the conductor made his way toward them, collecting the tickets. She dug through the homemade pocket she’d added to her cloak before she left home, looking for her ticket, but when the ticket wasn’t there, her heart dropped. Had she put it somewhere else? She quickly opened her satchel to see if it was on top, but it wasn’t.
Her heartbeat quickened as panic filled her. They would kick her off the train without a ticket, and yet, she had purchased one, so where was it?
She set the satchel down and stood, removing her cloak and shaking it. She then shook out her skirt, but still, the ticket didn’t magically appear.
“Tickets, please.” The older man wearing the conductor’s uniform held out his hand.
Linda handed over hers and the children’s tickets. The conductor ripped off the bottoms and gave the tickets back. When he turned to Callie, she looked at him as her eyes filled with tears. She couldn’t have come this far only to be stopped. Why couldn’t her life go smoothly for once? When would it finally be her turn for happiness? But apparently, that was asking the impossible.
“Your ticket?” the conductor asked.
“I…” Her voice shook. “I had it before I got on the train, but now…” She shook out her cloak, hoping the ticket would appear quickly. Yet, she was prone to receiving bad luck. Why should today be any different?
“Excuse me.” A man’s voice came from across the aisle. “I believe this is yours.”
Callie snapped her gaze to the handsome man with the deep voice. He was the one she’d seen climb on the train a few minutes before she had. He stood behind the conductor, holding a ticket.
“I saw this on the floor.” He motioned toward his feet. “I’m suspecting it’s yours.”
Relief flooded her and she nearly sagged to the ground. With a shaky hand, she took the ticket from him, looking into his kind eyes. “Thank you, sir.”
He nodded. “Glad to help a lady in distress.”
She tried to regulate her breathing as she handed the ticket to the conductor. “I’m sorry about that.”
He took her ticket and ripped off the bottom before handing it back. “I’m glad it was found, ma’am.”
The conductor walked away, and she looked at the man who saved her… Inwardly, she cringed. No, she couldn’t think of him as doing that. He saved the moment. That’s all.
“Thank you again, sir. I thought for sure the conductor would kick me off the train.”
His bright smile only enhanced his handsome looks and made his blue eyes sparkle, his thick, dark brown hair appeared soft. He was a tall man, and had very broad shoulders, but was slender enough to fill out his clothes quite well.
“I’m just glad I noticed it on the floor. I would have hated to start a fight with the older man. After all, throwing a woman off a train is very disrespectful, if you ask me.”
She hitched a breath. Could this man be real? Or maybe he was a figment of her imagination. She hadn’t been sleeping well at all since her husband’s death, and especially since she’d been running. “How kind you are. I’m relieved to know there is a real gentleman on the train.”
“I’m here to assist you in any way, ma’am.”
Her heartbeat stalled, if only for a moment. What made him think she needed his assistance? She had once relied on Bill and look how that turned out. No, she wouldn’t fall so easily for a man again – even if he had a sweet smile as this stranger had.
She muttered another thank you and stepped back to her seat. Once she was comfortable, she turned her head away from him to look out the window. For a moment, she’d forgotten how it had been when Bill had hurt her. He had smiled so sweetly at one time, too. She couldn’t trust smiles. They were fake, just as hers was.
When she and Bill were first married, she was so in love, and had been optimistic about their future. Bill had worked in his father’s bank, and he’d been determined to make a life on his own for him and his bride. Not more than six months later, she realized he wasn’t the man she thought he was while courting her. He didn’t love her as much as he loved his whiskey. At that point, she wasn’t a wife to him, but instead, she felt more like his slave.
The train’s rhythm seemed to slow slightly before the steam engine gained speed again. She tore her gaze away from the moving scenery and picked up her satchel. Just inside was the newspaper article she’d found not more than a week ago, advertising for a mail-order-bride.
Westward Home and Hearts Matrimonial Agency looking for unmarried women who would like to become mail-order-brides. Contact Milly Crenshaw.
Five telegrams later, Callie was getting ready for her trip to Fort Collins, Colorado, to meet a rancher and his five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Callie was confident that she and her unborn baby would find a new life with Everett Lindon in Colorado. Now with her husband dead and a baby growing inside her, and with no money to help them, she didn’t care how she found a husband, as long as she found one who could support them. Love didn’t have to enter the marriage at all. Of course, she had lost hope in love, anyway. That emotion was only for dreamers.
Tears stung her eyes, so she quickly turned her gaze back to the window. The rhythm of the train felt different than before, which was odd. She’d never been on a train before, and yet she could tell something wasn’t right.
She shook her head and adjusted in her seat. Perhaps she was worried over nothing. If something was wrong with the steam engine, she’d let the engineer fret about it. She had other things to concentrate on.
“Mrs. Cartwright…eh, I mean, Callie?”
The woman she’d just met tapped Callie’s arm. She swung her gaze to her. “Yes?”
Linda chuckled. “Forgive me for pulling you out of your thoughts.”
Callie blinked quickly, trying to focus. “Please, don’t fret. I’ve just been overly tired lately.” She sat up straighter. “What do you need?”
“I’m wondering if it’s all right with you if my brother-in-law joins us. He’s by himself and it’s a long ride. I figured he would like the company.”
“Of course, I don’t mind at all.” Callie glanced at the empty seat by Linda. At least the seat wasn’t by Callie since one of the children occupied it.
“Splendid.” Linda turned toward the man who had found Callie’s ticket, motioning her hand toward him. “Wayne? Please, come and sit with us.”
The handsome man looked up from the newspaper he was reading, and his gaze met Linda’s before switching to Callie’s. Inwardly, she seethed. It would be very difficult sitting so close to a man whose dreamy eyes held her attention. But she must resist. She needed to prove to herself that she wasn’t the type of woman who swooned over a man with eyes that made butterflies dance in her stomach.
PURCHASE - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085DCSCTC