Violet's Mail Order Husband (Montana Brides #1)

       Kate Whitsby / History & Fiction / Romance & Love / Western
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Violet hesitated at the swinging doors. “What do you want to do?”
“We’ll just have to go in and find him,” Rose declared.
“Go in….in there?” Violet shuddered. “I don’t think I want to do that.”
“How else are we going to find him?” Rose asked.
“I’ll go in with you,” Iris told Rose.
“You’re not going in there, are you?” Violet gasped.
“Why not?” Iris looked into the saloon over the tops of the doors. “What’s wrong?”
“The place is full of men,” Violet explained. “There could be trouble.”
“What’s wrong?” Iris asked again. “They’re only cowboys. They won’t hurt us. Come on, Rose.” The two younger sisters pushed the doors aside and strode inside.
Violet hesitated just a moment longer, and then she hurried after her sisters.
Rose and Iris walked up to the bar. Several of the men eyed them as they passed, and when they arrived at the front of the room, the bartender laughed out loud. “What can I do for you ladies?”
“We’re looking for a man who just got off the train from Salt Lake City,” Rose told him. “We were told he was here. His name is Jacob Hamilton.”
“Don’t know him,” the bartender shot back. “Can’t help ya.”
“I’m Jacob Hamilton.” The voice came from behind them, but it sounded soft and timid.
The sisters turned around, and only a mighty effort prevented Violet from gasping in surprise at what she saw.
The man facing them was small and slight, almost as small as Rose herself. Far from the hard-wearing work clothes the cowboys wore, Jacob Hamilton wore a tailored black suit, snakeskin boots, and a dark red velvet waistcoat under his jacket. His brand-new black velvet hat covered dark hair combed back over his ears and curling up at the back of his neck. His black mustache swept away from his lips and pointed out toward the side of his face.
His black eyes twinkled across the faces of the sisters until they finally rested on Rose. He smiled at her. “You can call me Jake. Everyone does.”
Rose blinked her wide eyes and smiled back. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope the journey wasn’t too trying.”
“Not at all,” Jake replied. “I enjoy travel. It’s good to see other parts of the country.”
He and Rose kept smiling at each other as Violet struggled to hide her distress. This wasn’t the cowboy they hoped for. Jake Hamilton looked more like a professional gambler or bank employee. He didn’t even look old enough to be in this saloon. He looked all of fifteen at the most. Why, he didn’t even wear a gun belt! What good would this tiny, innocent dandy be to them on the ranch?
Violet exchanged looks with Iris but from the very first moment, Rose and Jake only had eyes for each other. They took no notice at all when Violet said, “Shall we get back to the buggy and head home? Jake, I hope you don’t mind riding a horse with the others. There’s only room for four in the buggy.”
Jake didn’t take his eyes off Rose’s face. “In that case, I’ll ride next to Rose.”
Violet spun into a flurry of confusion. She couldn’t stop her mouth from working of its own accord. “Oh, that’s just fine! I didn’t think of that, but it makes so much sense. I’m sure the others won’t mind.”
“I’m sure they won’t,” Jake replied.
Jake waved his hand toward the door to usher the sisters out of the saloon, but a gnarled, callused hand clapped him on the back and a harsh male voice bellowed from behind him, “Hey, Mister Fancy Pants, I’m talkin’ to you!”
Jake turned around and faced an enormous man nearly twice his size. Jake's head barely reached as high as the big man’s chest. The two looked comical standing next to each other. Jake’s crisp clean suit made a striking contrast with the other man’s dusty worn work clothes. Even standing at a distance from him, Violet noticed the bulging knuckles on the big man’s hands and the polished leather of his gun belt. His hair stuck out in tufts under his hat, and black dirt encrusted his fingernails.
He had to stoop to get into Jake’s face. “I was talkin’ to you, Mister. Don’t you turn your back on me!”
“I’m engaged with these ladies here, if you don’t mind,” Jake returned. “We’re just about to leave, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ll bid you good day.” He touched the brim of his hat and moved to turn away again.
“I don’t think so,” the big man thundered. “I was in the middle of telling you I could lick you any day of the week for insulting my brother over there.”
Jake’s eyes flashed and he shifted his shoulders inside his jacket. “You were in the middle of telling me that, but you can’t lick me and I have more important business to attend to. So unless you have some idea of stopping me, I’ll go now.” He nodded once and looked away toward the door.
The big man jabbed Jake in the chest with his thick sausage of a finger. “You’re not goin’ anywhere until I’ve had my say, Mister. If you don’t apologize to my brother over there, you’ll answer to me and suffer the consequences.”
Jake narrowed his eyes. “I won’t apologize to him or to you or to anyone, other than these ladies here for your wretched manners. What do you propose to do to me? You think you can lick a man half your weight? You’re a bully and a coward, but I invite you to try. You think you can beat me in a gun fight? As you can see, I’m unarmed. But if you wait until I get my guns strapped on, they’ll be hauling your rotten carcass to the graveyard in a quarter of an hour. Now which would you prefer?”
The giant stooped even lower, and the puffs of breath from his ragged mouth ruffled the hair on the side of Jake’s face. “You’ll be sorry for this, you fancy-pants….”
He didn’t finish his sentence. With one swift movement, Jake brought his fist up hard under the large man’s chin. His teeth clacked together and his head whipped back on his neck. His eyes fluttered in his skull, and he crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust.
The other patrons of the saloon turned around to see the commotion, but it ended as soon as it started. Jake studied the remains of his opponent at his feet, dusted off his hands, and turned back to the Kilburn sisters. “Ladies?” He waved toward the door again.
Violet whirled away to hide her embarrassment. So Jake Hamilton wasn’t innocent after all. He was as much of a brute as Mick McAllister. Was her own mail-order husband the only one of the three worth taking home?
What if Cornell was right? What if this whole enterprise exploded in their faces and they lived to regret getting these men to come live on the ranch? After Friday, they’d be married to these men, two of whom appeared to be violent scoundrels. In addition to being violent, Jake could be anything from a drunken dissipate or a dangerous villain. Chuck Ahern was the only one of the three Violet wanted around the ranch.
Iris fell in at her side on the way back to the train station, and Rose and Jake walked after them, side by side. Violet kept her ear tuned to hear their conversation but to her amazement, they didn’t speak to each other at all. Once they reached the street outside, she stole a glance over her shoulder and found them still gazing into one another’s eyes, but without speaking. The same shy smile played across both their faces.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Violet recognized even then a fundamental similarity between Rose and Jake. Violet never met anyone quite like Rose before she met Jake Hamilton. When they gazed into each other’s faces, they seemed to Violet almost as though they were looking at mirror images of themselves. Yet they didn’t fall into effortless and intimate conversation with each other. Violet couldn’t understand them at all.
When they returned to the buggy, they found Chuck and Mick already mounted on two of the horses the sisters brought and three trunks stacked on the rack in back of the buggy. Jake and Rose settled into the back seat, and Violet and Iris got into their places in front.

Chapter 9

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