Isabel closed her book and looked up at her mother, who was lying in her bed, looking very peaceful. It wouldn’t be long before the Lord took her. Isabel had known that for some time and had been making plans.
She gently set the rocking chair where she was sitting into motion, pushing off with one of her small slippered feet. Her heart was heavy for her mother, who was being ravaged by a disease that had weakened her to the point of not being able to get out of bed, move or do anything for herself. Isabel had been taking care of her mother, June, for nearly five years. At twenty-three, she had no friends and no social life.
Isabel’s favorite pastime was sketching. Her bedroom was filled with drawings in stacks all around the room. Some were posted to her walls. Those were her favorites.
Before her mother became ill, she’d had Isabel draw many things for her, especially portraits of Isabel’s father, who had fought and died in the war. She lifted her eyes and scanned the walls. Her mother had framed some of Isabel’s sketches. If there was one thing she knew, it was that her mother loved her and was proud of her.
Because of their loving mother and daughter relationship, Isabel was more than willing to take care of June when she got sick. Before it happened, she had been a lively, fun-loving teenager who played just as much with the boys as she did with the girls. She got along with everyone and had many friends.
She clearly remembered the day that all changed. She’d come in from a lively game of kickball with her friends and found her mother lying on the kitchen floor. The rush of adrenaline her concern for her mother caused allowed her to lift the unconscious woman off the floor and carry her out to the buggy. This was quite a feat, as her mother weighed at least fifty pounds more than her and was four inches taller.
But Isabel was determined to get her mother to the doctor as quickly as possible. There was no time to waste. She’d attached the horses and climbed into the driver’s seat within five minutes—another major accomplishment for the young woman.
When she reached the doctor’s office in the small town of Morningside, Virginia, she’d recruited two men that were standing outside to help her take June in the building. It had only taken one to carry her but the other showed Isabel the support she needed, telling her to stay calm and that the doctor would take care of her mother.
The two men had been there waiting on another who was inside. All three were from the coal mine just outside Morningside. The third man had been mildly injured when he fell into one of the mine shafts.
Isabel remembered the man who had comforted her, whose name was Ethan Cranwell, sitting with her outside the clinic while the doctor checked June over. He’d distracted her completely with his lavish tale of heroism in the mine shaft, how he had single-handedly made sure everyone was safe when the shaft walls and floor gave in, causing a bit of an avalanche deep within the mine.
Isabel hadn’t then and still didn’t know what it looked like inside a mine. But the way Ethan described it to her made it so vivid and real, she had felt like she was there. He described the darkness, the dampness, the blackness that sometimes caused fear in some very tough men.
Her mother moaned, bringing Isabel out of her memory. June had been sleeping soundly for nearly four days, only waking to eat soup twice a day. And even while she was eating, she was half-asleep. That was one of the reasons Isabel thought she was on her way to the Lord. She set the book on the side table and shot to her feet, closing the few feet between them and bending over her mother.
“Momma?” she said, denying the tears she could already feel welling up in her eyes. Her chest felt heavy with apprehension. “Momma, can you hear me?”
For the first time in those four days, June opened her eyes. Only slightly but Isabel could see she was conscious. She turned her head to look at Isabel slowly. Her skin was so pale, hanging down from the weight of gravity that had been pulling on her since she’d taken to the bed. She was only forty-five years old. Her hair was still a majestic, flaming red, though some had fallen out in the last year or two. Her green eyes, when they were open, were still sharp as a tack. It was her body that had given up. Not her mind.
And that was one of the things that hurt Isabel the most.
But when June smiled, the radiance of her former beauty could be seen by her daughter. Isabel knew she wasn’t going to keep the tears in but if she could just hold out until her mother was gone, she would feel so much better.
“Momma,” she whispered, taking one of her mother’s hands and lifting it to her lips. She kissed the soft skin. “I love you, Momma. I love you.” Isabel blinked rapidly to keep the tears from falling. She looked up and whispered, “God, take her in Your arms and hold her. She’s in pain. She needs You.”
“Isabel,” her mother murmured.
Isabel looked down at her, drawing closer. “Yes, Momma?”
“I love you, Izzy. You have been the best daughter a momma could ever ask for. You’re wonderful and talented and beautiful. I’m proud of you. I will be watching over you.”
Isabel couldn’t hold it back. She broke down sobbing, kissing her mother’s cheek through her tears. “Say hello to Papa for me.” She put her lips against her mother’s ear to whisper the words. She felt her mother nod.
She heard her mother’s last breath.
Solomon Bedford was known in his hometown of Steven’s Gulch, Texas (pop seven hundred and eight), as a gentle giant. One look at the large man and anyone would think he was an unpleasant ogre. But anyone who spent more than five minutes talking to him knew Solomon was far from unpleasant or an ogre. He was a kind man with a gentle voice and demeanor.
Solomon’s father had been a staple in the community until his death five years ago. He’d been out hunting and was killed by a bear while scouting for trees to take down for the lumber mill. There was great mourning in the community and the respect his father had earned spilled over onto him. Not that he didn’t deserve it.
Solomon also owned the lumber mill and the three hundred acres of woods behind it. His father had worked primarily at the lumber mill and spent his formative years as a lumberjack. But Solomon, despite his size and strength, did not want to do that kind of laborious work. He preferred the calm of the general store.
He brought in a box of supplies from the shipment he’d just received and was putting it out on the shelves when the bell above the door tinkled. He looked over his shoulder and smiled at Sheriff Jack Kramer, who removed his hat upon entering.
“How’s the big man doing today?” the sheriff asked, crossing over to the counter and leaning on it backwards so he could watch Solomon work.
“Doin’ all right myself,” Solomon answered, setting the last candle up on the shelf. “How about you?”
“Nothin’ goin’ on, as usual,” Jack replied. “I have a pretty easy job here. Not a whole lot of trouble here in Steven’s Gulch.”
“And that’s a good thing.”
“I hear you’ve been thinking of taking a bride.”
Solomon raised one eyebrow. “Oh? And where’d you hear that from?”
“A pretty reliable source, I’d say,” the sheriff replied, tossing his hat in the air a few inches, catching it, and tossing it back up again.
Solomon chuckled. “You mean Freddie.”
The sheriff laughed. “You know it’s Freddie. He doesn’t keep your business well to himself.”
“Apparently not.” Solomon sighed, folding the box down and carrying it behind the counter. “Well, it’s not really a secret anyway. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.”
“Interested in any of the ladies here? I know there aren’t many but…”
Solomon shook his head. “No, there aren’t any ladies here that are interested in me or the other way around. They all knew Betty. I’m pretty sure they’d feel violated if I tried to court any of them.”
“What’s your plan then?” The sheriff sounded genuinely curious.
“I’m gonna order one from the East. You know from the newspaper.” Solomon went around the counter to the other side of the sheriff and Jack turned around to face him. “I know that sounds strange and awkward but…I really can’t think of any other way to find a woman to spend my life with. I want to have fun with someone. Adventures, you know spend time outdoors, picnics, things like that. Someone I can read poetry to.”
Jack shook his head, letting out a light laugh. “Read poetry. Lookin’ at you, no one would expect that.”
“No, I suppose not,” Solomon said, leaning on the counter. “I love it, though. And the only thing I can think of that. I’ve already written an ad. I’ll be sending it to the newspaper over there this afternoon.”
“You think you’ll find a decent woman that way?” the sheriff asked. “I don’t know how any of that works. I got Annie the regular way.”
Solomon laughed. “And you were blessed. But after Betty, I don’t know what to expect. I’m afraid I’ll be comparing the new woman to Betty. I hope not, though. I don’t want her feeling intimidated.”
“Just don’t mention Betty and all will be fine. You, uh…heard anything from her lately?”
Solomon shook his head. “I see her parents around town but I don’t talk to them much. They’re not unkind to me. They smile and all that. I don’t talk to them, though, and they don’t give me updates on her. She chose to leave. I couldn’t stop her. That part of my life is over.”
“She went to school, didn’t she? Some fancy college somewhere?”
Solomon nodded. “Yep.”
“Where’d she go?”
“I wasn’t told.”
The sheriff turned to the side and looked at the floor. “So you’ve gotten no letters or anything in the last four years?”
Solomon wanted to stop talking about his former sweetheart. She’d been his life for years, from school age to twenty-two. A full year after he lost his father, she decided she wanted to go to college. She’d told Solomon that being away wasn’t compatible with their relationship and she broke things off between them. He’d been on the verge of asking her to marry him. It was expected by everyone.
But it didn’t happen and it was Betty who chose that. He’d healed and was no longer pining for the woman he’d thought would be his wife. For several years, he’d grown content with his bachelor life. But at twenty-six, he was craving enjoyment, love, affection, and fun. His best friend, Freddie Hightower, kept him busy and distracted when he wasn’t working.
Freddie was a bright spirit, energetic, and always up for something new. Solomon felt blessed to have him in his life.
“I gotta say, though, it’s about time you went ahead and got yourself a new lady. Everyone in town has been wondering if you would spend the rest of your life alone. That’s not right for someone like you.”
Solomon gave him a curious look. “Someone like me?”
Jack pushed himself away from the counter, giving Solomon a friendly look. “Yeah, someone like you.” He lifted his hand and swept it up and down in front of Solomon. “You’re a good lookin’ man. Smart, got money, sure you’d be a great beau. Betty sure did seem taken with you for the longest time. Most of us were wondering how she could give up someone like you.”
Solomon dropped his eyes to the counter. “I guess she thought she could get better.”
“I don’t want to hear you talkin’ like that now. If she thought she could get better, she musta been dreaming.”
Solomon grinned. “You’re a real nice fella for sayin’ that, sheriff.”
“Freddie was real excited when he told me you were gonna get yourself a bride. I gotta say I was surprised to hear it at first.”
“I bet he told you and you headed right over here, didn’t you?”
The sheriff laughed. “I sure did. How’d you guess?”
Solomon shrugged. “You’re the sheriff. I’d think it would be something you’d do. You investigate things and don’t like having questions hanging over your head. Even the smallest things. Like my love life. Soon as Eric comes in, I’ll be leaving for the day.”
Solomon paused, pondering whether he wanted to show the sheriff the ad he’d written.
“I haven’t told Freddie I’m sending the ad off today, though,” he said. “I guess that’s why he didn’t tell you that part of it.”
“No, I reckon he couldn’t have told me something he didn’t know,” Jack responded, nodding. “You gonna tell him before you go to the post office?”
“I might go get him.” He almost mentioned showing the ad to Freddie but if he did that, he was sure the sheriff would ask to see it. He decided not to show it to the sheriff or Freddie or anyone. He would take his chances that he’d written a good ad. As the sheriff said, he wasn’t a stupid man by any means. He could do more than write his signature and read a few lines.
He prided himself on his poetic prowess, at least he had while he was growing up. He hadn’t found much to write poetry about in the last four years. It just seemed like all he’d done was work and pal around with Freddie and the rest of their friends. Nothing gave him the inspiration he’d had when Betty was with him.
He pushed his old flame out of his mind.
“You’ll have to let me know how all that goes,” Jack said, tapping his hat on the counter. “You hear?”
Solomon smiled at him. “Yeah, I’ll let you know. I mean, if I find a lady, everyone is going to know, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they will.”
“You think they’ll be real surprised by it?”
Jack chuckled. “I think some will be very surprised, yes. And I’m sorry to say that even if you do get a new woman, those ladies you mentioned before are still gonna be upset.”
Solomon’s grin turned to a frown and he pulled his eyebrows together. “They better not be. It was Betty that cut short our relationship, not me. And I deserve to be with someone, don’t I? Should I be sitting around waiting for Betty?”
“Absolutely not. But a woman’s mind can be fickle and these women might not react the way you want them to.”
Solomon shook his head. “I don’t care what they feel. It’s my life and I deserve to be happy. Not that I’m not usually happy anyway.”
Jack nodded. “Yep. You do. I’m gonna pray for the best for you, Sol.” He plopped his hat back on his head and gave the big man another nod. “And if you or your new sweetheart have any trouble from those women, you just let me know.”
Solomon’s grin was back. “You gonna lock them up for me?”
“Don’t put it past me,” the sheriff replied with a solemn look.
Solomon knew he was joking but he always enjoyed good sarcasm.
“Talk to you later!” the man said as he headed back to the front door.
“Yep. And tell Freddie to stop spreading my business.”
The sheriff laughed, turning his head to look at Solomon before he went outside. “I think I’m gonna leave that up to you, if you don’t mind.”
Solomon let out a laugh as the sheriff left.
Isabel sat on the porch, reading a newspaper, late in the afternoon a week after her mother’s passing. She had been feeling particularly numb since then, her thoughts jumbled, almost as if a fog had come over her mind. She was lonelier than she’d ever been in her entire life.
The friends she’d had through school had flocked around her, giving her comfort, bringing her food so she wouldn’t have to cook, some of them staying to talk. She didn’t feel the same bond with them now that she’d felt with them in the past but appreciated their efforts.
She flapped the newspaper open in front of her and scanned through the articles and ads.
For the last two years of her mother’s illness, when they both realized June was not going to recover and would only get worse, the two women had discussed Isabel’s options. They had both decided that the best thing for her to do was to get away from Virginia. Morningside was a lovely little town but it was small and there were no men there that interested Isabel in that way. She’d had friends and there was one boy from school who’d had feelings for her. But he hadn’t waited five years for her and she hadn’t expected him to. He was already married to another girl she’d gone to school with and Isabel was very happy for the both of them. They’d been among her old friends that came to visit.
She’d even had the privilege of meeting a few babies she hadn’t been able to see before.
When Isabel held her friends’ babies, she knew she wanted her own family. She wanted a husband and children like almost every other woman she knew. She knew of one of her mother’s friends who was a spinster at sixty, had never married, and had no children. She was one of the crankiest women Isabel knew. Isabel had always been under the assumption that it was children that made people cranky.
Isabel dropped down the page till she found the matrimonial ads, the ones men in the West put in the paper to find a bride. She’d also picked up a copy of Matrimonial Times from the newsstand. She’d been scanning them for several months in preparation for her mother’s passing. Just in case.
There was a new one in the paper, one she hadn’t seen before. The man was asking for a woman who was willing to have fun times, adventures, lots of happiness. It sounded appealing to Isabel, who wanted desperately to have fun in her life after the five years of pain and sorrow.
He was wealthy, too, which wasn’t a necessity for Isabel but it certainly made things easier. She wasn’t destitute herself. Far from wealthy but the sale of her mother’s house and any valuable possessions inside would give her a healthy nest egg to sit on in case she ever needed it. She also planned to donate anything that wasn’t very valuable to the church or any of the less fortunate in Morningside.
Isabel looked to the table next to her and saw that she’d neglected to bring out a pen. She pushed herself from the white wicker chair and went into the house.
Stepping over the threshold, Isabel stopped and looked around. She contemplated for a moment how she had made a decision, she had found someone she wanted to write to and she was about to embark on a brand new journey in life. Things had been so quiet for the last five years. Just the sound of the house, her mother’s breathing, the sound of her pencils brushing over the paper as she sketched.
She was going, perhaps, to Texas. To a brand new home and environment and people. Even the weather would be different.
Isabel felt something in her chest that she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
She felt the beginnings of excitement.
She bit her bottom lip as she crossed the small living room to the hallway that led to the bedrooms in the back. She had to pass the kitchen and glanced inside to look at the clock hanging on the wall. It told her it was two o’clock. She had plenty of time to get to the post office before it closed at five.
Isabel was barely able to contain herself. She couldn’t believe after all the talking and planning with her mother, she was actually going to go through with it.
She giggled as she passed the first two doors, her mother’s bedroom to her right and hers to the left. She’d cleaned her mother’s bedroom out the first day after June was gone, sending her belongings and furniture to a nearby family in need. She kept only the mirror in the fancy frame that her mother loved so much and the jewelry box with the ballerina inside that she had given June for her fortieth birthday.
The last two rooms were a study and a storage room, respectively. She opened the door to the study and went straight to the rolltop writing desk on one side of the window.
“All right, calm down, Izzy,” she said. She bit her bottom lip and giggled again.
Pulling a piece of paper from the slot where it was kept and taking up a fountain pen, she pondered what she was going to write. She wasn’t as exciting as she used to be. Should she be who she was before she was a caretaker for her mother?
Isabel nodded to her own question. There was no reason she couldn’t go back to being her old self. She’d merely put her life on hold for her mother and there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, Isabel felt like June would probably be angry, if such an emotion was possible in Heaven, if she thought her daughter was wasting her life in mourning. That was not at all what June would want and Isabel knew it.
She looked up and smiled, picturing her mother smiling back down at her.
“I’m gonna make you proud, Momma,” she whispered. “Wait till you see all the babies I’m gonna have and the lovely home I will make with a good man. The beautiful paintings and sketches I will create just for you. And don’t even try to talk me out of naming my first girl after you. You know that’s not going to happen.”
She chuckled and dropped her eyes back down to the paper.
Dear Mr. Bedford,
I was very interested to read your ad. I have been caring for my sick mother for the last five years and have not had very much fun. So to read your ad seeking a woman who is ready for adventure and fun, this is what I desire.
I am twenty-three years old. I have auburn hair and green eyes. I am of Irish and American descent. My father was American and he died in the war. My mother was Irish and as I said, I’ve been caring for her for five years, and she has now passed away.
I would very much like to come to Texas and have adventures. As a young girl, I was always doing something and I liked to play with all of my friends, boys and girls, doing rough and tumble things with the boys, and jumping rope and playing chase with the girls. Now I have left the childish ways behind and am ready for fun and excitement with a husband and, in the future, children. I would very much like to have a big family. I hope that this is also your desire.
I am willing to come to Texas at any point in time. I feel it is easier to get to know someone face to face rather than through correspondence. I am not in need of money, as I have the house and valuables to sell. I am planning to leave Virginia in short time regardless, and would very much like to take this opportunity to have a destination.
Thank you for your consideration.
Isabel Ann Crane
She gazed down at the words she’d just written. She hadn’t mentioned that she was a sketcher and wondered if that might give him more incentive to bring her to Texas. She could think of many brand-new landscapes she could draw. The thought made chills spread over her arms and a smile come to her face.
Isabel was ready for this change. She’d been thinking about it so long, it was almost a given that it was going to happen. So things were going as planned. And quite smoothly, as she hadn’t seen even one ad that caught her eye until that afternoon, one week after her mother’s passing. She’d been looking in the paper for months.
It felt like God had a hand in it. She wouldn’t be surprised. She glanced up again, saying a quiet “Thank You” in her mind.
She picked up the paper and waved it in the air, blowing on it for the ink to dry quicker. She stood up and went to the window, laying the paper on the sill so the sun would shine on it and dry it out.
Isabel returned to the desk and pulled a drawer open to retrieve an envelope. She turned it over so the flap was down and wrote her return address in the upper left-hand corner. In the middle of the envelope, she wrote his name and then referred back to the newspaper for the address.
A few minutes later, she was folding the letter and pushing it into the envelope. She used a stamp and a bit of wax to close it. It was tradition for her family and she thought it best to continue the tradition. The stamp had their family emblem from her mother’s native Ireland and the first initial of their last name – C – surrounding it.
She hurried out the door, anxious to get the letter sent out. The sooner it left, the sooner he would get it. Isabel would have been perfectly happy to get a train ticket and her clothes and leave that night.
But she would be patient. Much as she disliked waiting, she would be patient.
Solomon stepped into the restaurant where there was a birthday party in full swing. People were milling all about, talking, drinking, laughing. He spotted Freddie, the man of the hour, in the back corner with two of their friends. He was talking frantically, his eyes flashing with excitement. He held the two young ladies’ attention completely.
Freddie must have said the punchline because he threw both hands up in the air and a huge smile spread over his face. The two young ladies roared with laughter, both of them holding their stomachs.
“You are so silly, Freddie! I just love you!” one of them said, leaning to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday, you old coot.”
“I’ll never be old, my dear,” Freddie responded, smiling wide. “It will never happen, you wait and see.”
Freddie looked up directly at Solomon. His reaction to seeing him made Solomon feel a comfortable happiness that he’d grown fond of since befriending Freddie.
“Solomon!” Freddie cried out, once again throwing both hands up in the air. Everyone turned and watched as Solomon walked through the restaurant. He felt like he’d been thrown into the spotlight and smiled as he passed by. He was grateful to see they all smiled back.
“Solomon, I have been waiting forever for you to get here, buddy,” Freddie said, slapping Solomon on the arm in a friendly way. “What fun is to be had without the big man in the room? None, says I. And I won’t argue about it. Get you a drink! We’ve got beer, tequila, rum, whiskey, and some bottles of that fancy bubbly drink the rich people are getting their hands on. What’s that called, Coca-Cola? Here they have that in all the big cities now.”
Solomon shook his head. He hadn’t heard of it. He thought maybe he should look into it and see what it was all about. “How’d you manage to get your hands on that?” he asked. If it tasted good, he would definitely invest in it for his general store. If he could figure out where to get it.
“When I went out to Austin last spring, there was an article in the newspaper about it. Apparently, the people who’ve been able to try it are stinkin’ thrilled with it. I had to give it a try! Of course, it does help to be the mayor’s son.”
Solomon nodded. “Ah. Political connections. I get it.”
Freddie laughed, shrugging at the same time. “It has its perks, I reckon. So you want to try one?”
Solomon couldn’t think of anything he’d rather do at that moment. “You bet I do,” he said, slapping his hands together and rubbing them. “I’m always up for trying new things.”
“I know,” Freddie said over his shoulder as he went up to the counter and went to one of the two iceboxes standing against the wall. He pulled out two bottles and brought them back to Solomon, handing one to him and keeping the other.
Solomon popped the top from the bottle, examining the contents. It was a dark liquid. He put the bottle to his mouth and turned it up. He was amazed by the sensation and raised his eyebrows, smacking his lips. “That is tasty!” he said. “And you got this where?”
“I don’t know exactly where it came from,” Freddie admitted. “My pa got wind of some that was being bottled and shipped by train and bought a case. I doubt I’ll ever have another in my lifetime. Tastes strange.”
Solomon nodded. “It sure does. But I like it. You think your pa would help me buy some for the store?”
Freddie shrugged. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t. If you think it will sell.”
Solomon nodded. “I bet it will. I like it.”
“I’m glad you do,” Freddie said, grinning. “Now tell me about this letter you got. It’s the only one in answer to your ad?”
“Yeah, I reckon there aren’t a lot of girls in the East who are wantin’ to have fun and adventure. I thought the ad was written pretty well.”
“I wasn’t lyin’ when you showed it to me and I said it was good,” Freddie said, tilting his bottle in Solomon’s direction.
“Yeah, but you’re a man, and I’m not lookin’ for a man.”
They both laughed.
“Tell me about the letter,” Freddie said anxiously. He was stopped briefly by one of their friends who wished him a happy birthday. He held up one hand and said thank you before looking back at Solomon.
“I wasn’t disappointed that I only got one,” Solomon replied. He took another drink from the bottle before continuing, “I liked the one I got a lot. It was enough for me.”
“Did you bring it?” Freddie asked, scanning Solomon’s waist as if he could see through the fabric to a piece of paper. “Can I read it?”
Solomon nodded. “You can read it, but I didn’t bring it with me. You can read it when you come over to my place tonight after your ma makes your birthday dinner. Make sure you save me a plate and bring it with you.”
Freddie grinned. “You know I will. I always do. But you still gotta tell me what you can about it. Right now. I want to hear about it.”
Solomon looked behind him when he was bumped into. It was Suzie Burkins. She had grabbed his arm to balance herself after bumping into him.
“Oh, my!” she exclaimed, looking frantically up and him and then at Freddie. “I am terribly sorry! My…my heel has broken.”
“Good Lord,” Solomon said. “Do we need to get you to the doctor?”
He turned to her and looked down at her foot.
“Sol.” He glanced at Freddie. “The heel of her shoe, Sol, not her actual heel.”
Solomon didn’t mind the light laughter at his expense. He rolled his eyes and gave them a sheepish look. He was just glad it was only those closest to them that had seen his blunder.
“I didn’t mean to bump into you, Sol,” Suzie said, sweetly, “but I’m glad it was you instead of some of these blighters around here.” She waved her hand at the rest of the crowd. She shook her head. “Some of them are just beastly if you ask me. I knew bumping into you would be a much more rewarding experience.”
Solomon stared down at her, blinking. Most of what she’d said meant little to him. He wasn’t sure what a “blighter” was and couldn’t help wondering why she would think bumping into him, in particular, could be rewarding.
Instead of making an utter fool of himself, he decided that she’d complimented him and he would react accordingly.
“Thank you, Bella. What a kind thing to say.”
“Oh, you are very welcome!” Suzie gushed, batting her eyelashes and grinning. She blew him a kiss and then one to Freddie. “Happy birthday, sweetiekins.”
“Thanks, Bella. Enjoy the party.”
She laughed. “Oh, I am. You’re a wonderful host.”
Freddie nodded, his face a near blank. “Thanks again.”
Suzie sashayed away and the two men watched.
“She’s got a nice form,” Freddie said. “But I’m afraid there’s not much under that blond mop of hers.”
Solomon was completely confused by the woman. She seemed so appealing but yet, there was a fakeness about that appeal that was a turn-off. He’d let her hang on him a few times in the past but never pursued anything more than friendship. He wasn’t sure she was capable of being in a committed relationship. Some women just weren’t. Same for some men.
Solomon returned to the letter. “I’m going to write to her,” he said bluntly.
Freddie looked at him. “You’re gonna write to Bella?”
For a moment, Solomon was confused and then he realized what he’d done. “Oh, no. I was talking about Isabel. I’m going to write back to her. I want her to come here to Texas.”
Freddie stared at Solomon for a moment, a surprised look on his oval face. “What? Already? From one letter?”
“She said she doesn’t want to wait. She prefers getting to know someone face to face instead of through letters. I think that’s a great idea. I’m anxious to have a companion anyway.”
Freddie drew his eyebrows together and narrowed his brown eyes. “Doesn’t it seem a little odd that she’d want to get out of Virginia fast? Perhaps she’s a wanted woman. A fugitive from the law.”
It took a moment before Solomon realized Freddie was teasing him. He decided to play along just for fun. “I reckon she could be,” he said, solemnly. “But I think it’s more likely that she’s spent the last five years taking care of a sickly mother who has now passed on and she’s ready to get away from all of that.”
A look of discovery came to Freddie’s face. “Ah! Yes! That could be it.”
They both laughed.
“Whatever you decide to do, just know I’m here for you,” Freddie said, lifting the Coca-Cola bottle in a salute. “And if you bring her here, I’ll be here for her, too.”
“Thanks, Freddie,” Solomon said genuinely. “I appreciate that.”
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Still mourning for her mother’s death, Isabel realizes that it’s time she stood on her own feet and started a new life, away from the pain. Having never been out of her hometown, the idea of becoming a mail-order bride is both scary and exciting at the same time. However, when she reads Solomon’s ad, a good feeling overflows her, and before she even knows it, she arrives in Steven’s Gulch, where an unpleasant surprise awaits her. Witnessing her husband having a tender moment with another woman upsets her and makes her wonder about her decision and future. Could this all be a misunderstanding, or will Isabel be deprived of the happiness she seeks?
Solomon Bedford has to deal with two heartbreaking events simultaneously; his father’s death and the separation from his sweetheart. Having inherited the supply store and the lumber mill in Steven’s Gulch, and determined to leave the grief behind, he craves a wife to begin a new adventure with, so he posts a mail-order-bride ad. Driven by his heart’s voice, he chooses Isabelle, who intrigues him with her letter. The happy life he desires seems to be finally within reach the moment Isabelle gets off the train. However, his past is not done with him, threatening his fragile bliss. Will Solomon take control of this dangerous situation, before it is too late? Will he be able to give Isabel the life he originally offered?
All Isabel and Solomon ever wanted was an exciting life full of love and happiness, but jealousy creates only disappointment and insecurity instead. Will the couple manage to protect their relationship when someone from the past tries to sabotage it? Could a unique and meaningful connection be built on these doubtful foundations?
“A Tender Moment Under the Stars” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.