Marianne Nelson lifted a toddler-sized shirt in the air and shook it to get out as many wrinkles as she could before hanging it up on the line to dry.
“I just don’t know why they don’t want to go,” she said to her best friend Eliza, who was doing the same thing on a different line. The two girls volunteered for the Garden Grove orphanage run by Eliza’s father, Reverend Elder Stone. The Stones and the Nelsons were both respected families in the community of Garden Grove, Ks, and the reputation was well-deserved.
“I don’t know, either,” Eliza responded, bending over and lifting the basket to her waist so she could move down a row. “They always loved the festival before. And your pa is going to be there with all his new things, won’t he? They love that.”
Marianne shook her head, pulling another shirt from the basket at her feet. “He’ll be there. But the girls are insisting they don’t want to go.”
“Well, everyone in the orphanage is going to the festival. They will really miss out if they don’t.”
Marianne sighed as she clipped the little shirt to the line. “I think I’m just worried about what they will get into if we leave them here on their own. You never know what kind of mischief two twelve-year-old girls will get into when left to their own devices. In fact, twelve years old is probably one of the worst ages to leave two kids alone together with no supervision.”
She and Eliza laughed softly. Eliza nodded.
“I agree with you, Mari. We’ll talk to them. I’m sure we can convince them they will have fun at the festival.”
Her friend’s words got Marianne thinking about her father. Despite having lost his wife during childbirth, Doctor Elphias Nelson had developed a piece of medical equipment that would make the birthing of premature babies safer for the baby at risk. It was a product that was now being used all over the country, with thousands of premature babies living on, growing into healthy little children.
Dr. El, as he was fond of being called, had grown tremendously wealthy as a result of the patent. Unfortunately, in the twenty years since he invented the machine, his mind had taken a turn. He’d retired from medical practice working with actual patients five years after inventing the apparatus so that he could focus on his inventions. He no longer concentrated on medicine. He’d spent the last fifteen years of Marianne’s life creating odd gadgets and tools he used all around the house, claiming they were there to make life easier for them both.
“Why do something yourself when you can get a machine to do it for you?” he asked her excitedly one day as he demonstrated one of his latest inventions, a long arm with a handle on the end shaped like a human hand. The four fingers clamped down on the “thumb”. Dr. El said that it made reaching things at a distance easier.
The “reaching arm”, which is what he called it, was actually very useful in Marianne’s opinion. In fact, many of her father’s inventions were useful, handy, and every now and then, fun to use. That didn’t stop the men in town from talking behind his back, laughing at how his “mind was gone” and he would never be useful for anything again in his life.
Marianne hated that talk. Her father was just an eccentric millionaire who enjoyed spending the money he’d made on himself and his passion. One of Marianne’s favorite rooms in the house was his “laboratory”. There were so many interesting things to see in that room. Not many people were allowed inside, and certainly none of the children from the orphanage. Dr. El said children were “lovable little breakers of important things.” He never allowed children into his workshop.
He offered the opportunity for all to see his inventions at the various festivals and float parades the town had throughout the year. One of his floats, pulled by two mules instead of horses, featured a mechanical dog that lifted one leg and his head and had a mouth that opened and closed.
The crowds were often amazed at what Dr. El showed them. Why it didn’t stop the idle talk about him was a mystery to Marianne.
“I’m done with my basket,” Eliza said, peeking around the long sheet she had just put up on the line. “Do you want some tea or coffee? I think we deserve a break after how hard we’ve worked this morning.”
Marianne smiled at her friend. “I would love some tea, thank you, Eliza. That coffee gives me the jitters.”
Eliza nodded. “I shouldn’t have even asked. I know what you like.”
Marianne scrunched her nose up. “That’s right you do, don’t you?”
The two best friends giggled as Eliza turned and headed off to the front porch of the three-story orphanage.
Marianne lifted her eyes to see little Betsy, who was almost six years old, come out on one of the balconies. The railing around the balcony was taller than her, but she could grasp the bars and look between them at the world outside.
The child pushed her face in between the bars slightly, giving Marianne a little jolt of fear that her face might get stuck.
A big smile spread on Betsy’s lips, and she put one hand out between the bars to wave at Marianne when she saw her.
“Hello, Betsy!” Marianne called out. “You ready to come help me with the laundry?”
“I would help you, Miss!” Betsy called back, laughter in her voice, “but I’m not big enough yet. Remember?”
Marianne laughed. “I do remember, honey. I guess I’ll just have to do it myself!” Betsy very often came out to chat with her while she put up laundry. They had discussed the matter in the past and agreed that Betsy would help as soon as she was tall enough.
Marianne woke up abruptly and sat up in bed, completely awake. She felt a trace of fear in her mind and sat there for a moment, trying to get her bearings. She knew where she was. She was in bed at home. In her own bed. Safe and secure.
It had only been a dream. Or a nightmare. She didn’t know which. She couldn’t remember what it was about or what she’d been doing when she woke up. She didn’t know what woke her. All she could remember was the feeling. The feeling of utter terror.
She slid out of bed and got dressed quickly, wanting to be down in the dining room with her father. He hadn’t come back before she went to sleep last night. Whenever he did that, she became worried.
Dr. El didn’t lose any money gambling. Gambling wasn’t his thing. His vice was drinking. When he began to have what he termed “different thoughts about life and existence” and began to dream up the inventions, he swore the drink helped him. He said it made him more creative. Marianne was never able to convince him otherwise and was sure that on one of his late-night binges, he would surely come to his demise.
So she was constantly worried about him when he spent the night at the saloon. At least she had the comfort of knowing that all the girls working at the saloon and the accompanying brothel next door were his “daughters”. He treated them all in a similar fashion as he did Marianne – whom he’d given complete independence at a young age because he was barely able to take care of himself, let alone a child.
Marianne had been raised by a governess, Molly Crenshaw. Molly had left to pursue a life of her own when Marianne turned eighteen and no longer needed her assistance. She could have left sooner, but she was fond of both Dr. El and Marianne, so she stayed an extra few years.
Marianne raced down the stairs, putting clips up in her hair to keep it from falling loose all over her shoulders. She was just fitting the last one in when she entered the dining room. She was relieved to see her father in his chair, wolfing down scrambled eggs and toast.
She went straight to him, bent at the waist, and kissed him on the cheek.
“Papa, I was very worried about you last night. You should be ashamed, making me so concerned for you.”
“Can’t help it, my dear,” Dr. El replied, tapping the hand she left on his shoulder and smiling at her. “I’m a sucker for the saloon when my friends are there.”
Marianne didn’t consider any of the men that drank with her father his friends. They tolerated him, but the praise and encouragement Dr. El received came mostly from the women in the little city of 3600 people. The men just wanted to get him drunk so they could get him talking. Then they would change what he said, spread rumors around town, and laugh at him behind his back.
No amount of lectures from Marianne could convince her father what they were doing. He always blamed it on something nonsensical like politics or religion, two things that had absolutely nothing to do with the gossip of the men.
Marianne went to her seat and looked up gratefully when the cook brought over a plate and set it in front of her.
“Thank you,” she said, nodding at the woman, who returned to the kitchen. She turned her attention back to her father. “Papa, I really want you to start trying to come home more often. You spend all day in your workshop, and then you go to town, and I hardly ever see you! Someday I’ll be leaving to live with a husband and have a family of my own.”
“Pish tosh!” her father said abruptly, spitting a little as he spoke. Marianne frowned, recoiling from it even though he was nowhere near her and could not be struck by it. He jabbed his fork at her in the air. “You know you might leave for a time, but you will always come back here, my girl. You will never leave me for good.”
Marianne tilted her head to the side, giving him an affectionate look. “I love you, Papa, but I’m going to get married someday.”
Dr. El stopped eating and stared down at his plate for a moment. Marianne had picked up a biscuit and was nibbling on the end of it, her eyes on him.
“What are you thinking, Papa? What has you in this state?”
Out of the blue, her father began patting himself down. After a moment, he reached in his inner vest pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. “Ah-ha!” he said as if he’d found a treasure map. “I knew it was still in my pocket!” He beamed at her, reaching across the table at an angle, holding the folded paper out to her. “I believe this is for you, my dear.”
Marianne blinked rapidly at him. “Papa, are you still in the same clothes you had on yesterday? You need to go change and get cleaned up. You can’t spend a night in the saloon and then not get changed.”
“Don’t you worry about me,” he said cheerfully. “I have plans to take a bath as soon as I’m done eating. I woke up famished!” He patted himself on his large stomach. Everything about her father was large. He had a round face and a shock of salt and pepper hair springing up all around his head as if he never brushed it. Marianne suspected he probably didn’t.
She took the letter cautiously, giving him a narrow look. As she unfolded it, she felt her heartbeat begin to speed up. Her blood felt like ice as it raced through her veins. She recognized the handwriting. She’d seen several IOUs written with that handwriting to her father over the last five years.
It was the writing of the sheriff. Sheriff Shane Hatfield. Marianne knew him as an arrogant blowhard, a man who didn’t know the meaning of compassion or selflessness.
Her heart dropped into her stomach when she read what was written there.
She looked up at her father. “Papa, this is for you. It’s a reminder for you.” She flipped the paper around with her fingers so that it was facing him. “Read it,” she demanded. “Read this aloud, Papa.”
Dr. El lifted his eyebrows curiously and took the paper back, his eyes never leaving his daughter. Finally, he flipped his eyes to the paper. She could see him reading it in his mind first.
“Read it aloud, Papa, and tell me that isn’t true.”
Dr. El pressed his lips together and shifted in his seat. His ample body made the chair below him creak. Marianne’s breathing was becoming harsh as her anger at her father rose.
“It says … it says I shouldn’t forget about my agreement to let the sheriff marry you.”
He pulled in a breath and blinked, his eyes still on the letter. After a moment, he flipped it back toward her and shrugged. “The sheriff is a good man. He’ll make a fine husband to you.”
Marianne sat for a moment, stunned. “I beg your pardon?” she asked, her voice heated. Behind her father, the door to the kitchen opened, and the cook came through carrying a basket of biscuits. Marianne’s hand shot up in the air, and she shook her head emphatically, scowling. The cook turned around and went back out immediately.
She wasn’t about to let this go. She hadn’t agreed to anything. Her father had taught her to be an independent woman.
“The sheriff is seventeen years older than me, Papa,” she protested. “I am not in love with him. I don’t even know him but by his reputation, which, I must say, isn’t the best. He is a mean man and a bully. I don’t understand how you could possibly agree to let him marry me. You weren’t thinking. You were drunk.”
Her father sighed. “You may be right, dear,” he said, “I reckon you’ll have to talk to him about it.”
“I will? Papa, this is your responsibility to take care of. You must talk to him today and tell him to forget this foolish idea!”
For a moment, Dr. El looked contemplative. Marianne had a moment of hope before it was dashed to bits.
“I have a very busy schedule today. Yes, a very busy schedule. I’m sorry, dear.” He pushed his chair back and shot up from it, heading toward the door.
“Papa, you can’t leave! We have to talk about this!”
“And we will.” He didn’t turn around to speak. She barely heard his last words as he passed through the door. “I am just so busy right now. So busy.”
Marianne sat at the table, too shocked to move. She looked down at the plate with the food piled on it, barely eaten. She’d been so hungry when she woke up. Her relief at seeing her father alive and well in the dining room had brought it out in full force.
But now, the food looked completely unappetizing. Her feeling of dread was explained.
“No, no,” she murmured to herself, picturing the sheriff in her mind. He was coming up on forty this year, as far as she knew. That was eighteen years older than she was, as she wouldn’t turn 23 until three months later. He wasn’t a bad-looking man. On the outside, he was good-looking, muscular and strong, tall with dark hair and surprisingly light eyes.
He had a way about him that charmed women who were less intelligent than Marianne, women with insecurities the sheriff preyed on to get them to do as he wanted. Even if that was just cleaning the house, he charmed his way into everything, including the sheriff’s position. He was power-hungry and wielded his authority like a sword, bringing it down on anyone he didn’t like whether they’d committed a crime or not.
He was a corrupt, evil man, but not everyone saw him that way. Marianne did, though, and that was enough for her to desire marriage with him like she desired a hole in her head.
She got to her feet as the cook came back through the door, a cautious look on her face.
“I’m sorry,” Marianne said. “We won’t be eating your breakfast. My father is … he’s …” She couldn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t know what to say. What was he? Indisposed? Insane?
Her breath caught in her throat, and she turned swiftly on one heel and dashed out.
Marianne knew where her father had run off to. He always went to the same place when he felt like someone was about to confront him.
When Dr. El decided he would create new inventions regularly, and being the man he was, even failed experiments would be kept for another try later, he knew he was going to need plenty of space. In order to get the space he wanted, he’d topped the two-story house off with a third one, dedicating the entire floor to nothing but his inventions. He’d put many windows in place to get proper circulation and told Marianne on several occasions he was glad to be so close to the roof so he could try experiments outside without anyone seeing.
That had only left Marianne worried he would burn a hole in the roof, fall off somehow, break his neck, or burn the whole house down entirely.
She grabbed her skirt and held it up as she dashed up the stairs. Her fingers brushed against her cheeks angrily, wiping away the stray tears that had run down her cheeks. How could he do this? How could he offer her to a man – a virtual stranger to her – and then run away as if he had nothing to answer for?
Marianne would have to convince him to tell the sheriff the deal was off. She simply couldn’t go through with such an arrangement. No matter how much she loved and cared about her father. He was respected by the majority of people in town. In fact, he was beloved to many of them. But the sheriff was not among those truly supportive of her father in his fragile state.
She came to the second-floor landing and turned to the narrow stairway that would take her up to his workshop on the third floor. Her heart always raced when she knew she would be going into that room. It spanned the entirety of the house, with load-bearing columns placed strategically about to keep the roof from caving in. It was a room of controlled chaos. Scraps of brass and iron were strewn about, on tabletops and the floor, along with papers, pens, chalk, charcoal, tools, anything and everything Dr. El used in the creation of his inventions.
She didn’t knock on the door. He never locked it when he was inside. He was afraid he would lock himself in. He relied on her and the servants in the house to keep out strangers.
Marianne could hear the tink-tink-tink of her father’s small ball-peen hammer on a piece of metal.
“Papa!” she called out. “I’m coming to wherever you are. It’s just me, all right?”
The tink-tink-tink sound stopped briefly and then started up again. She maneuvered around the piles of junk – or what she considered to be junk – which consisted of spare parts for wagons and buggies, bolts, screws, nails until she saw her father leaning over in a chair. He was holding something steady on a plank of wood and slapping his hammer down on it.
“This just isn’t the right size. I know if I hit it enough times, it will be the right size.”
“Papa, I need you to talk to me,” Marianne said softly, moving closer to him and kneeling by the chair he was sitting in. She looked up at his haggard face, wondering when he had last shaved. “Please, will you just talk to me? You can’t make decisions like this for me, Papa. I have my own life and brain. I can’t marry this man.”
Her father stopped tapping on the piece of misshapen metal. He didn’t look at her, but she could tell he had heard what she said. His eyes moved back and forth, and his lips trembled before he spoke. “You … you would rather see me humiliated?” She heard nothing but pain in his voice and felt immediate regret.
“That’s not it, Papa. Not at all. I don’t want you humiliated.”
“You do. You do want me to be humiliated. Embarrassed! A wretched old fool! That’s what you think of me, isn’t it? I know. I know what they all say. I know they all think I’ve lost my mind. But I haven’t. I haven’t, mind you. I haven’t!”
“I know you haven’t, Papa. I know you haven’t.” Marianne lifted up on her knees and put her arms around him, pulling his head to her shoulder. “Don’t you get upset. Everything will be all right. I will sort this out.”
“You want to embarrass me,” her father whispered in a trembling, frightened way. “You want me humiliated in front of all my friends. Embarrassed. Embarrassed.”
She rocked backward and forward softly, humming a tune and stroking her father’s wild hair. “I’m sorry, Papa. I don’t want to upset or embarrass you. I’ll take care of this. Don’t you worry about it. Shhh. It’s going to be all right.”
He continued to repeat the word over and over until finally, he became quiet. Marianne sat back and looked at him. His eyes were so vacant. When he spotted the scrap of metal he’d been tapping on, his eyes lit up.
“Ah! I have to reshape this, my dear. You will be amazed at what I’m going to create next.” He gave her a small grin, a sly look in his eyes. “I dreamed it up. It’s going to amaze everyone. Everyone!” he said the last word delightfully. Clapping his fingers softly, he pulled away from her and began to tap on the metal again. “Just right,” he said. “It has to be just right, or it won’t fit.”
Marianne pushed herself to her feet, her eyes remaining on her father. She didn’t remember him being any other way than how he was right then. She loved him dearly and didn’t want him upset. This would have to be something she took care of herself. She would find a way out of it. She wasn’t sure how, but she would find a way.
Todd McDonough looked around the Golden Horseshoe saloon, watching as his sister took a tray of drinks to a table nearby. The men were respectful, more than some of the others Todd had seen. Anna gave the men a big smile as she put the beer down, one in front of each man.
Todd couldn’t hear what they said to her, but she didn’t look upset when she turned away, and if they had said something disrespectful, the chances of Anna not getting angry about it were slim to none. As her brother, Todd knew what she looked like when she was upset.
Todd had been in Garden Grove for a year now, but Anna had only arrived three months ago. She was on the outs with their parents, who weren’t really very controlling but tended to misunderstand their two willful children, cracking down instead of letting them live their own lives and make their own decisions.
Anna came over to his table, placing the tray on its end and holding it up with both hands. “You look deep in thought, brother dear,” she said. “Penny for your thoughts?”
“I was just thinking about going down to the blacksmiths,” he replied. “Seeing if they need any workers.”
“You are good at that,” Anna remarked with a nod. “You should try it. You need to get a job, after all. I can’t work here forever.”
“You’ll be getting married, won’t you?” Todd asked, irritation with his sister sliding into his chest and making him tense up. If anyone else heard their conversation, they would think Anna was teasing. But she wasn’t. Now that she’d left the safe and warm house of their parents, she expected him to take care of her the way they had.
Todd had quickly established that he was not her caretaker. That’s why she’d gotten the job at the saloon as a serving girl. It didn’t stop her from constantly berating him for not having a consistent job, though. Odd jobs weren’t good enough, she told him, not now that she was there, too. He would have to get something steadier if he expected to put her up right.
Todd was having a hard time not resenting his pushy, bossy little sister. He hadn’t invited her to come to Garden Grove and stay with him.
Regardless, he felt obligated to make sure she was safe and under a roof at night. The money she wanted would have to be made with her own two hands, though, or she could go out and find a man with a lot of money and marry him. He would do his brotherly duty and nothing more.
His sister turned swiftly when her name was called. The saloon owner and bartender, Bertie Lancaster, was waving frantically in the air.
She turned back to Todd, and he said, “Looks like he wants you to get back to work, sis. Better do what he says.”
She gave him a perturbed look before turning away and heading toward a table that was also trying to get her attention.
“She’s not gonna last long here,” Todd murmured under his breath. “Better find her a husband quick.”
Todd looked back at the bartender, who was approaching his table.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said before Bertie could say anything. “I don’t know why she comes over here and bothers me. I don’t want to have to stop coming here because she does that.”
Bertie shook his head, wiping his hands on a towel as he settled his large frame into a chair at Todd’s table. “She’s a precocious girl, I’ll give you that. She likes teasin’ ya, I think. She don’t act up too much. I like her. She does good work.”
“Well, that’s nice to hear, thanks.” Todd gave him a grin. The compliment for his sister was unexpected. “I’ll have to let her know.”
“Rather ya didn’t,” Bertie said with a laugh. “She might think a lot of ’erself then, and she won’t do good work anymore.”
Todd laughed. “All right. I won’t tell her. But I’m glad she’s doing a good job for you.”
“You’re still lookin’ for something, ain’t ya?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“What are ya lookin’ for?”
“I’m going to the blacksmith, the smithy that just opened up shop on the east side of the city. I think they’ll have work for me there. Smithing is what I’m good at.”
Bertie nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Them are good people there. You’ll fit in good with them.”
Todd raised his eyebrows. “You know them?”
“Yeah. And if they don’t hire, you just keep lookin’ in the paper. I know a job will come up for ya.”
Todd felt confident with Bertie giving him a positive review of the smithy. If he couldn’t do that, he was an excellent ranch hand and loved working with horses. He preferred animals to smithing; that was a fact. But his first job had been smithing, and he perfected his technique to the point that he could usually get the job easy.
“You ain’t talkin’ about Brewsters, are ya?”
Both men turned to see a man at a nearby table leaning back on the two hind legs of his chair so he could speak to them.
“That’s the one,” Todd replied.
“They already got filled,” the man said, shaking his head. “I went by there myself today. They took down their sign and told me to get lost.” He jerked one thumb over his shoulder to indicate how he felt about the way they’d treated him. “Right out the door like so much garbage.” He shook his head, moving his eyes to Bertie, who looked stunned. “Sorry if they’re your friends, Bertie. But they ain’t no friends of mine.”
Bertie turned back to Todd, a regretful look on his face. “Well, sometimes you hear people aren’t as friendly as ya thought. Sorry about that, Todd. I hope you find something else. Like I said, keep checkin’ that paper.”
Todd was still boiling from the announcement that the job was already filled. He hadn’t even had a chance to try out for it. He nodded at Bertie and then at the man who had given them the news.
“Yeah, I’ll do that, Bertie.” He knew he was grinding his teeth when he said it. He was fairly certain the two men could see how angry it had made him to hear that he was out of the job. It paid good, and it was just what he needed. He wanted to be in a job he would enjoy, especially if it weren’t around animals.
“I’m gonna get you another beer, son,” Bertie said, getting to his feet and rumbling over to the bar. Todd watched him, wrestling with the anger boiling over inside him.
How completely unfair could life be? Born and raised in Kansas City, he’d left home at sixteen to seek his fortune. At twenty-three, he was yet to see that fortune, but he knew he was still young.
He’d never stayed in one place long enough to develop any relationships or feelings for any woman. He didn’t want to be a bachelor all his life. He was sure the right woman would come along sooner or later. He certainly wasn’t as concerned about it as his sister was.
She had every right to be that way, though. He wanted her to marry for many reasons, not the least of which was that she would move out of the small cottage he was renting. He loved her, but he didn’t want to live with her anymore.
Bertie was back with the beer, sliding it across the table to him. “Here you go, son. Drink that and calm yourself down. You’ll get work. In the meantime, if you wanna help me unload the supplies when they get here tomorrow, I’ll be sure to throw some money your way.”
Todd gave him a grateful look, lifting the beer to his lips. “Thanks, Bertie. I do appreciate that.”
“Hey, you’ve been coming in here for a while now.” He hadn’t sat down but instead came around to clap a hand on Todd’s shoulder. “We’re like family. Always here to help.”
Todd thought about what a funny and inaccurate statement that was.
“Rescued by his Fateful Arrival” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Marianne Nelson has been lovingly protected her entire life by her father. Therefore, when he betroths her to Sheriff Shane Hatfield, her whole world crumbles beneath her. Forced into a marriage with a man she despises, she will feel more abandoned than ever… Will her unflinching devotion to her father be her undoing?
If only she could find a ray of hope in the unbearable darkness…
When Todd McDonough begins working at the Nelsons’ ranch, he is delighted to be able to support his younger sister. As soon as he meets Marianne, he is swept off his feet and very soon becomes hopelessly dedicated to her. When he has to help her find the key to her redemption though, he is bitterly tested. How far is he willing to go for the woman who shone such a bright light into his otherwise drab existence?
Will he manage to keep his promise of protecting her, while facing his greatest risk?
Marianne and Todd are caught in the heart of a storm. Desperately in love, they will do anything to save each other. Will true love prevail? Or will they lose their most cherished possession, their precious romance?
“Rescued by his Fateful Arrival” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.