An Unexpected Widow (The Colorado Brides Series)/ Romance & Love / Western
The Colorado Brides
An Unexpected Widow
Copyright © 2013 Carré White
All Rights Reserved
Carré White’s Mail List
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
Kansas Territory, 1859
“Those darn pigs!”
My husband, Pastor Frank Clark, was in the yard, corralling the pigs that had escaped—again, while his angry shouts echoed far and wide. I sat at the kitchen table, eyeing a shirt I had just ruined with an iron, and staring at nothing in particular. I shouldn’t give into melancholy like this. I had work to do, and time was wasting.
We were going into town soon, which usually lifted my spirits greatly. After all the necessary purchases were made, I’d be able to search for ribbons, buttons, and material at the mercantile. I was especially looking forward to picking up the mail. I had several letters addressed and ready to be sent. I wrote daily, my sisters did the same, and we kept a steady stream of correspondence, which was a lifeline to the outside world.
Since arriving in the Kansas Territory, we had settled near Denver City, securing a tract of land through settler possession and building a lovely house, which still smelled of freshly cut wood and paint. I had every reason to be happy, my life was better than most, and I had always been blessed, if not a little spoiled. I shouldn’t let the arrival of my monthly flow upset me to such a degree. Maybe it had been unlucky allocating one of the bedrooms for a nursery already. My sister, Louisa, thought we ought to have waited…but I struggled with patience. It wasn’t one of my virtues.
The kitchen door flew open, startling me. “Oh, my!”
“Sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” My husband strode into the room, checking the kettle on the cook stove. “Is the water ready?”
“It should be.”
He stared at me. “What’s wrong, Hannah? I can tell something’s bothering you.”
I shrugged. “No baby again.”
“Don't make yourself uneasy, my love. It’ll happen in good time. We’ve only just gotten settled.” He reached for a ceramic mug on a shelf. “I hope you’re ready to go soon. Looks like a storm might be brewing. There are grey clouds coming in, and the wind’s picking up.”
We had finished the exterior of the house in October, the first snowstorm of the season having arrived three weeks later. The interior had taken longer, but at least there was protection from cold and wet, as the roof was sturdy. The winter hadn’t been as unpleasant as I thought it would be; the air was dry, rather than bone-chillingly damp like back east. Sometimes, after a snow, it was surprisingly warm, the sun making all the difference.
I stood, smoothing my apron. “Let me help you with that. You go sit.” I worried about Frank at times; he was a gifted pastor, but his tea-making skills left a little to be desired. I poured water into the teapot.
“I’m going to have to hire workers for the fields. I want to plant corn for starters.”
“Put a notice in the mercantile and at the post office. That’ll get plenty of attention.”
“There might not be any men left. Nobody around here seems to be interested in farming. They all want to get rich quick by finding free gold.”
“Here’s your tea. Can I get you sugar?”
He grinned, flashing slightly crooked teeth. His arm went around my waist, pulling me near. “I have plenty of sugar.”
“Oh, stop that now.” I pushed against him, gaining my freedom.
“I wouldn’t worry about the baby, my dear. We’ll make one soon enough.”
A blush crept up my neck. “Behave yourself, Frank Clark,” I giggled, remembering all too well what we had done in bed last night. “Can I get you something to eat?” I had already made breakfast, which had been devoured shortly after dawn. “There’s some bread with strawberry jam, if you want.”
“No, I’m fine. I’ll finish this, so we can skedaddle.”
“You’re starting to talk like a miner.”
“They do have a way of saying things.”
I untied the apron. “I’ll fetch my things and the list. It would be a shame to go all that way and forget something, but we always do, don’t we?”
“Yes, my dear.”
We left the house a short while later, my husband helping me onto the wagon. There was a chill in the air, as spring struggled to make an appearance. I wore a dark blue riding habit with a straw bonnet and a matching blue ribbon. Being east coast born and bred and from a fairly well-to-do family, I was accustomed to wearing higher quality fabrics, although, now that I was a homesteader’s wife, the practicality of such garments were reserved only for church and trips to town.
Frank picked up the reins, prompting the horse into a trot. The wheels jerked, then began to turn, the rattling of the conveyance a familiar sound, as this was what had brought us here from St. Joseph last summer.
Our nearest neighbors were the Hunt’s, who had five children, four of them boys. They had gone with their father to prospect for gold in the mountains. Margaret Hunt occasionally stopped by for a spell, relaying news and gossip from town. I hadn’t seen her in more than three weeks now.
The prairie stretched out on either side of the rutted road, with mountains spanning the length of the horizon, snowcapped and majestic looking. It was nearly an hour’s ride to Denver City, and the last neighbor we passed was ornery, his dogs having come out to bark at us from behind the fence. His name was Jason Franklin, and he liked to stand on the front porch holding a Colt Navy revolver, the weapon resting against his thigh. He’d barely survived an Indian attack a few years back, and he looked upon anyone traveling down the road as a possible enemy.
“Oh, that horrible man,” I muttered. “We’ve given him no reason to get his back up like that.”
“I know. He’s an old croaker.” Frank removed his hat, waving it. “Hello, Mr. Franklin!” He nodded, not saying anything. “Looks like weather’s coming in.” Again, the man failed to respond, staring at us, while his dogs barked incessantly.
“I don’t know how his wife puts up with it?”
“When was the last time you’ve seen her?”
“She was in church last week.”
Frank nodded. “Of course. How could I have forgotten already.”
“We’ve been busy, darling.”
“I might have to help the William’s with the roof on their barn soon. He was asking for assistance.”
“In a few days.”
I sighed. “Oh, very well.” They had helped us when we were building our house.
“You look wonderful today, Hannah.” He patted my shoulder. “I love taking you to town. You’re dreadfully pretty, my dear. I adore showing you off.”
“Stop that.” I fought a smile, but the edges of my mouth wouldn’t cooperate.
“You love flattery. Don't pretend you don’t.”
“Only if it’s from you.”
He feigned indignation. “Who else has been whispering sweet nothings in your ear?”
“I need to keep a better eye on you. You’re liable to run off with a granger.”
An elbow went into my side. “Some of them gold miners might take a fancy to you.”
I loved traveling, as it allowed us to be silly. “I’ve no interest in any of those filthy men, Frank Clark. If you ever leave me, God forbid, I’ll be hard-pressed to find someone else. Just thinking about it makes me ill.”
“Of course, I’d never leave you.”
“Just don’t get run over by a horse.”
“You’d say train, but we don’t have one yet.”
The conversation typically swung wildly. “Oh, I’d be so happy for a train. Can you imagine?” I sighed wistfully. “My parents could come to visit. My sisters could come.” Just the thought of seeing my family again had tears pricking the back of my eyes. “I’d ask them to bring fabrics and linens and all the crockery you wouldn’t let me take.” I gave him a look. “I had to leave my fine china behind.”
“No!” he hollered. “Don't you start talking about dishes, woman. I won’t have it.”
“All my pretty things are in crates in my parent’s basement,” I lamented.
“They would’ve broken to pieces in the wagon.” He pointed to his mouth. “That ride shook loose four of my teeth. See.”
I succumbed to laughter. My charming husband always affected me this way. “I don’t know what to say about that. We’ll buy some glue at the mercantile. That’ll fix it.”
He held up a finger. “That brings me to mind. We need glue.”
“We need everything.” It was shocking how much money we had spent on the house. The lumber had been a wedding gift from my parents, but all the other incidentals had come from what little inheritance Frank had received from a recently departed uncle. “I see the town.”
Denver City had sprung up after gold had been found, the minors building log cabins and erecting tents for lodging. There hadn’t been time to form a local government or law enforcement, so there were mining districts instead, with their own laws and courts. It was truly the Wild West in these parts, as crime was disturbingly high. The saloon had been one of the first buildings erected, followed by blacksmiths, carpenters, and shops. Frank had built the church while I lived with a family in town, waiting for him to begin on the house. All of the structures were made of wood, which was a slight concern. In the event of a fire, the damage would be extensive, but no one wanted to go through the trouble of bringing in bricks.
“Where are we going first?” I sat straighter, excitement racing through me. “The shops?”
He gave me a look. “I need to stop by the church.”
“You’ll be able to shop to your heart’s content, my dear. Don’t worry.”
Having spent months in Denver City, I was acquainted with Sally Higgins, whose husband had opened a mercantile, and Adaline Ross, who was the wife of the town’s only banker. Both women were of my social set, from solid east coast families. I’d lived with Sally, staying in a bedroom in their house over the store, while Frank worked on our property. It was wonderful finally having my own home, but I missed socializing and being in the middle of all the excitement.
The city bustled with activity, as prospectors came to buy supplies. Very few would stay to farm or ranch, but that was liable to change with time, as more people arrived. Frank and I had set down roots in this untamed wilderness, hopeful that once the gold had been exhausted, people would settle down and build homes, raise children, and attend church.
Small tent cities dotted the landscape, while men sat on crates, tending fires and cooking the midday meal. Horses, wagons, and people on foot went by, staring at us; some tipped their hats, recognizing the town pastor. I hadn’t seen most of these men in church, and I suspected I wouldn’t. Someone played the piano in the saloon, which was catty-corner to the brothel. Every well-bred woman in Denver City lamented over this fact, finding it abhorrent. I wasn’t aware of the specifics, but, from what I had heard, many a miner had lost his last dollar to drink and women.
Our horse trotted towards the church; the building had been painted white with a pretty white steeple. “Here we are, my dear.” He helped me down.
“Thank you. Can I walk to the mercantile, while you finish your business inside?”
He tied the horse to the hitching post. “No,” he responded firmly. “Not alone.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes. It’s just across the street.”
“And past the saloon. No. I’ll escort you as soon as I check on the books.”
I sighed, staring at the store longingly. There was a sign out front that read: Higgins Merchandise. I followed Frank into the church. He hurried to the pulpit, wandering around towards the back, where a small office was located. I waited; staring at the pews, the aroma of freshly cut wood lingering. As with our house, it smelled brand new; the windows were shiny, and a large quilt hung behind the pulpit, with the image of a cross patched together with yellow fabric. We were waiting on a shipment to arrive with a beautifully carved cross, adorned with the form of Jesus, but it hadn’t made it yet.
“Well, I’m plain stumped. Those books should’ve shown up.”
“Maybe they’re at the post office.”
“Josh was supposed to bring them here.” He glanced around the room, his expression darkening. “I need those Bibles.”
“There’s never a shortage of spirits in this town! Do you think the saloon would ever run out of whiskey?”
He was quite passionate about this particular subject. He looked adorable angry. Was I supposed to answer that question?
“No, of course not,” he said bitterly. “The alcohol would never run out.”
“Don’t get all riled up. I’m sure there’s a box of Bibles waiting at the post office.”
“Fine then. We have to come back, if they’re there.”
“I know. I’ll help carry everything. Will that make you happy?”
He took my hand, bringing it to his lips, while smiling affectionately. “Come, my dear. Let’s go to the post office.”
We crossed the street, whilst a strong wind blew, bringing up loose dirt from the road. I grasped my bonnet and kept my face down, trying to prevent the dust from flying into my eyes. Frank guided me past several carts and a fast-moving carriage. The music from the saloon played a lively tune, as men laughed and talked. Incidences of drunkenness were extreme, especially after the miners returned from the mountains, or Cherry Creek, where they panned gold from the sand in the river. That source seemed to be running out, though.
Unfortunately, it was necessary to pass the saloon on the way to the post office; the building in question was one shop away. There were men loitering outside, rough-looking men, who hid their unshaven faces beneath wide-brimmed hats. I avoided gazing at them directly, having learned this the hard way from when I had lived in town.
A commotion within the establishment occurred then, the doors of the saloon bursting open. A man in a suit coat and chaps came flying out, tumbling across the wooden walkway, landing at our feet. His hat had fallen off, revealing a clean-shaven face and startling blue eyes.
“Don't come back, Nathan, until you’re sober!” called the bartender.
I glanced at Frank, who gazed upon the man with an unaffected expression, although I sensed he was amused. “Let me lend you a hand,” he said, reaching out.
It was then that the stranger glanced at me, his gaze drifting from the bottom of my booted toes, to the wide skirt, and higher, resting on my face. “Fine as cream gravy,” he murmured.
Far from offended, my husband helped him to his feet. “There you are, good fellow. Once you’ve spent all your money drinking, you’re more than welcome to stop by the church.”
“A preacher,” he snorted. “I guess that makes you the preacher’s wife?” His interest in me was unseemly. “Yeah, I suppose I should pray…I should ask God for a pretty little lady like you.”