Adelaine Campbell’s future appeared cloudy, but she would make the best of it. She had to since there was no place else to go.
As she stood at Missoula, Montana’s depot, Adelaine searched the platform, looking for the people who had promised to pick her up. She was a stranger to Montana, being born and raised in Wyoming, but already she loved the green, lush hillsides, and for being in a historic town, the buildings were well-kept in their original condition.
Missoula was where she’d make her new home, even if it was under dire circumstances.
Nervously, she shifted from one foot to the other as she moved her gaze to everyone in the crowd, wondering if they would be the person to pick her up and take her to Blue Creek Ranch. They all passed her by, not even giving her a second glance.
Impatiently, she sighed. The correspondence she’d had with Mrs. Turner instructed Adelaine to meet her at the train depot at precisely one o’clock. As if on cue, the courthouse’s clock tower from across the street struck one, announcing the hour. Still, Mrs. Turner hadn’t arrived.
Adelaine’s gut twisted. Had she made a mistake in coming here?
There were many things in her life that she regretted or wished she’d done better, but she couldn’t focus on them. Instead, she must look at what she’d accomplished. She’d taken care of her mother and younger sister for the last eighteen months, being their sole supporter, but working at the Walton’s Mercantile didn’t give her much of a social life. However, it taught her how to help people, and most importantly… to have patience. Even though she still struggled with that trait from time to time.
She would always cherish the moments she spent taking care of her mother as she lay in bed, dying of Tuberculosis. Her mother had always been a cheerful, positive, and uplifting woman, even during her last moments on earth. Adelaine had an excellent example to live her own life after.
Where is Mrs. Turner? Adelaine grumbled impatiently. What was taking the woman so long? Or… had Dallas Remington found another mail-order bride that he wanted instead?
Frowning, Adelaine sighed. What probably happened was that Mrs. Turner noticed Adelaine and her two-year-old sister, Charity, and decided that Adelaine wasn’t the right woman to wed the rancher. After all, the newspaper article for a mail-order bride that Adelaine had first responded to had mentioned no children.
Adelaine cursed her wayward father for the millionth time. This was all his fault! When Ma realized she was dying, she’d written to Mavin Campbell and asked him to come and collect Charity, his illegitimate daughter, that he’d left on Ma’s front porch right after the girl was born. Ma, being the kind and loving woman she was, couldn’t turn the girl away. Although Adelaine loved her sister, she couldn’t raise her. Especially, not when her soon-to-be husband wouldn’t allow her to have children of her own.
What else was Adelaine to do when her father never came for Charity? Adelaine glanced at Charity, sitting on the wooden bench, holding her rag doll, swinging her legs back and forth. The poor girl had nowhere to go since both her biological parents didn’t want her.
Releasing a gush of air between her teeth, Adelaine squared her shoulders. From her correspondence with Dallas Remington, she knew that he was dedicated to his cattle ranch and his children. That was enough for Adelaine to know he would be a good husband. She also prayed that he would understand why she had to bring her younger sister along.
“Pardon me, Miss?”
Adelaine swung toward the voice of the woman. Not far from her, a middle-aged woman with blonde hair stuffed under her bonnet and a thin face, peered questionably at Adelaine.
“Yes?” She took a step closer to the woman.
“I’m looking for Miss Adelaine Campbell. Is that you?”
“I’m Adelaine Campbell,” she answered with almost too much enthusiasm. “Are you Mrs. Turner?”
“Indeed, I am.” She shook Adelaine’s hand. “I’m Blue Creek Ranch’s foreman’s wife.’
“It’s nice to meet you face-to-face, finally.” Adelaine smiled.
“I agree.” The woman’s gaze skimmed over Adelaine briefly before hopping to Charity. “Are you, um…” She looked back at Adelaine. “Ready to go?”
“Yes.” Her heartbeat whacked crazily against her ribs. It was now confession time. “However, there is a slight change of plans that I didn’t foresee.”
Mrs. Turner arched a thin eyebrow. “There is?”
Adelaine swallowed hard, hoping her voice wouldn’t squeak while trying to explain. “I had to bring my sister along.”
“Your sister?” The woman gasped, looking back at Charity. “But… she is so young.”
“Yes, well… Charity and I have different mothers.” Adelaine didn’t want to go into details. “But after my mother died, Charity’s mother wouldn’t take and raise her.” She shrugged. “The poor girl has nowhere else to go.”
Mrs. Turner’s expression grew dim, and she wrung her hands against her middle. The woman’s thinning lips told Adelaine that there might not be a wedding after all. Her mind spun with ideas of how to convince the other woman that Charity needed her big sister.
“Mrs. Turner,” Adelaine said in a rush. “Do you have children? If so, you must understand how difficult it is to have a family ripped apart. I’m all the girl has left since her parents don’t want her.”
The woman’s sigh and sag of her shoulders gave Adelaine hope that the woman might change her mind.
“Mr. Remington won’t be pleased about this.”
“Why?” Adelaine hated to be nosy, but she just had to know. “After all, doesn’t he have two children of his own? The newspaper ad mentioned he had a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old.”
“Yes, Tobias and Susan.”
Adelaine took a hesitant step toward the other woman. “Then why can’t I bring Charity along? If Mr. Remington is worried about feeding her, she doesn’t eat much, and I can share my plate with her.” Gingerly she touched Mrs. Turner’s forearm. “Please. My mother would be turning over in her grave if she knew I couldn’t care for my sister.”
Mrs. Turner studied Adelaine carefully before moving her gaze to Charity and looking at her for the next uncomfortable moments. Adelaine silently prayed that the woman’s heart would be touched.
“Well…” Mrs. Turner licked her lips. “I suppose it isn’t right to separate you two since you are her only family.” She grew quiet as she stared at Adelaine. “However, to convince Mr. Remington that the girl needs to stay, we cannot let him know she’s your sister.”
“Why not?” Adelaine blinked rapidly as her mind tried to find a reason for what the other woman was saying.
“We must let Mr. Remington think that Charity is your child.”
Adelaine sucked in a quick breath. “My child? Oh, no. That will not do. I’ve never been married, and Mr. Remington… well, he’d figure that out, wouldn’t he?”
Mrs. Turner flipped her hand. “He is only marrying you to gain a mother for his children. That’s all. He’ll never know unless you tell him, and this secret will be ours. I won’t even tell my husband.” She stepped closer to Charity and smiled. “Hello. Would you like to come with me to a big ranch with horses?”
“Wasee?” Charity’s eyes widened.
Mrs. Turner glanced up at Adelaine, confused.
“Wasee is her name for horsey.” Adelaine chuckled softly.
Nodding, the older woman returned her gaze to Charity and put forth her hand. “Come on. Let’s go see the wasees.”
Charity jumped off the bench and grasped the woman’s hand. The cute little blonde girl looked up at Adelaine with big, blue eyes.
“You comin’?” Charity said.
“Of course, sweetie.” Adelaine reached down and picked up the trunk that held all of hers and Charity’s belongings.
They walked toward a wagon. A man with shaggy red hair sat in the driver’s seat, whistling. When he saw Mrs. Turner, he jumped down and hurried toward them, but as his gaze moved to Charity, his footsteps faltered.
“Who is this?” He motioned toward the little girl.
“Her name is Charity. And this,” the woman nodded to Adelaine, “is her mother, Adelaine Campbell.”
Mother… Adelaine groaned. Could she really pull off this deception? Then again, did she have a choice?
The man doffed his hat and nodded. “Nice to meet you, Miss Campbell.”
“Adelaine? This is my husband, Clark Turner.”
She smiled politely. “It’s a pleasure, sir.”
“Here, let me take that from you, Miss Campbell.” He hauled her trunk to the back of the wagon before assisting both her and Charity up onto the buckboard.
Adelaine pulled her sister closer to her as the wagon began to move. With her heart in her throat, Adelaine worried over the outcome of her soon-to-be marriage. Starting it off with a lie wasn’t a good thing at all. Yet, Mrs. Turner mentioned the marriage would be in name only, so would it even matter?
Her heart clenched in sadness. Why had she expected something more? She’d been a fool to think she would marry a man who would love her and be with her forever. It had hurt to watch her mom raise Adelaine without a father around, and she hadn’t wanted that type of marriage. However, Dallas Remington had two children of his own, so at least he was a better father than Adelaine’s.
“Charity?” Adelaine said in a soft voice, looking down at her sister.
Smiling, she laughed softly. “You mustn’t call me that any longer. You must call me Mommy.”
The girl shrugged and rested her head on Adelaine’s lap. She stroked Charity’s hair as they made their way toward the ranch, hoping that Mr. Remington would have a kind heart and not turn them away. After Ma’s death, a few people in town gave them some money that would help them get by until the wedding, but if Mr. Remington was going to turn them away… How would she and Charity live?
She wasn’t certain how much time slipped by, but soon, they were entering a ranch. Several heads of cattle were grazing in the fields. She shook Charity awake and pointed to the animals. The girl gasped and sat up, rubbing her eyes and taking in the sights. Adelaine watched with interest as she noticed two stables, and at least ten small cabins lined nearby. Several men, who were in the yard or walked out of the cabins, stopped and looked at her with wide, curious eyes. She nodded politely.
Once the wagon continued up a knoll, away from these buildings, she was able to get her first glimpse of the house. Her jaw dropped in awe. Dallas Remington must be very wealthy to have such a grand home – or should she label it an estate? Never in her life had she seen a house with so many windows. The three-story manse also had a wooden wrap-around porch that was painted white. The yard was well taken care of, as was the simple flower garden off to the side.
Adelaine’s heart calmed. Not even in her dreams had she imagined such a cheerful place, and she prayed the occupants inside were just as pleasant.
The wagon came to a stop out in front of the porch, and Mr. Turner hopped down before helping his wife off. He then turned and reached a hand to assist Adelaine and Charity. The little girl blinked with excitement as she gazed at the looming house in front of them.
“Home?” she asked, turning her focus to Adelaine.
Although her smile was shaky, she didn’t know how to answer her sister’s question. Home? She could only pray that Mr. Remington would let them stay.
Suddenly, the front door opened, and a man limped out slowly, leaning heavily on a cane. His narrowed gaze moved over her, from the top of her un-bonneted head, over her beige blouse and calico skirt, all the way down to her dusty booted heels. He looked to be in his early thirties, not older than thirty-five, she surmised. His full head of hair was black with a few streaks of lighter hair. He sported a beard, but it was much shorter than some of the men she’d seen already on the ranch. The man’s broad shoulders and slim waist made him look superior, but when he used his cane to limp forward on the porch and looked at Charity, his expression turned harsh.
He raised a steady finger, pointing at the little girl. “Who is she and what is she doing here?”
His booming voice made Adelaine’s insides shake. Charity gasped and pressed her face against Adelaine’s side. They were doomed!