Joshua's Montana Bride (Sweet, Clean Western Historical Romance)(Montana Ranchers and Brides Series)

BOOK: Joshua's Montana Bride (Sweet, Clean Western Historical Romance)(Montana Ranchers and Brides Series)
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Joshua's Montana Bride

Montana Ranchers and Brides series

By

Maya Stirling

CHAPTER ONE

Helena, Montana

October 1887

Laura Thorne sat alone in the crowded restaurant in the town of Helena and asked herself, one more time, where her soon-to-be husband was.

She shifted a loose blonde hair from her cheek and pulled her shoulders back, forcing herself to maintain a dignified posture. Her mother had always told her to behave like a lady, no matter what the circumstances. Lifting the cup of tea from the table, she took a tentative sip, extending a small finger. Anything to maintain an appearance of calm and composure.

Where was Mr. Nathaniel Bewly? She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was already two o'clock. He should have been here an hour ago.

Laura sighed and looked around the room. Some of the other diners had been glancing at her with obvious disapproval the entire time she'd been sitting on her own in the corner of the restaurant. She didn't care. Let them judge her. She knew that a solitary woman often provoked suspicion. Let them have their opinions. She knew she was doing the right thing.

A middle aged male diner, dressed in an elegant dark suit, squeezed past her table and tripped on the small red bag she had placed next to her chair. The man staggered, but righted himself before he fell over her table.

"Sorry ma'am," he said raising his hat. His eyes met Laura's for longer than seemed appropriate. There was a glint of a question in the man's gaze, and an almost imperceptible raising of an eyebrow. Laura felt unease tighten in her stomach, and she quickly averted her eyes from the man's enquiring look.

Laura knew that her features were pleasing. Her blue eyes and thick chestnut brown hair never failed to capture the attention of gentlemen. Even the coarse sort. She also knew her fine figure was obvious to any passing gentleman who chose to take notice.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she realized the man had admitted defeat and moved away. The incident hadn't gone unnoticed amongst the other diners. Some of the elderly ladies, in particular, eyed Laura with vaguely disguised censure.

What was she going to do? The letter from Mr. Nathaniel Bewly had been clear. She was to meet him at one o'clock, at the restaurant where their proposed marriage could be agreed upon.

Their marriage!

The very thought of that made the butterflies flutter in her middle. The idea that she would be married by the end of the afternoon filled her with a confusing mixture of emotions.

All the way to Helena on the train from Great Falls she had asked herself if she could go through with what she and Mr. Bewly had agreed.

It was too late to turn back now. She knew that. The bridges had been burned behind her. She had left her life on the ranch behind for good, and there was no going back.

The door opened, letting in the sounds of the busy main street of Helena. Laura eyes widened as she examined the figure of the man who had entered. The tall, thin, rather shabbily dressed man who walked into the restaurant and scanned the room.

It was him! Nathaniel Bewly. She recognized him from the likeness he had sent her a few weeks earlier. In the flesh he looked older than he had in the photograph. Laura had told herself that the difference in their ages didn't matter. He was in his late thirties, a fact he had merely alluded to in their correspondence. His being almost eighteen years older than her twenty-one years had been something she had worked hard to put out of her mind.

Bewly continued to search every occupied table. and eventually fixed his eyes on Laura. A flash of recognition lit up his face. Bewly moved across the room, weaving in and out of the tables, until he at last reached Laura. His eyes narrowed and they fixed intently on Laura. Bewly's lips stretched into a hesitant smile. He held his hat by his side with a tight fist.

"Do I have the pleasure of addressing Ms. Laura Thorne?" he asked. His voice was quieter than Laura expected from such a tall man.

Laura stood and tried to compose herself. "I am indeed," she said and paused. She looked at Bewly's face and saw that there was a sheen of sweat on his skin. He looked like he had been running, or hurrying. Laura wondered why.

"And you must be Mr. Nathaniel Bewly," she added quietly, trying to maintain her poise.

Bewly smiled, his lips thin and dry. "I am. Pleased to meet you ma'am." He glanced at the other diners, and seemed to notice their increased interest. Heads were craning around. Some conversations had suddenly come to a temporary halt. At other tables voices had dropped to a whisper. "May I join you?" he asked gesturing to the empty chair.

Laura sat down. "Of course. Would you like some tea?" she asked.

Bewly placed his hat on the table and looked at Laura's teacup. His eyes narrowed. "No, thank you," he said hesitating for a moment. "I had some coffee earlier."

Bewly looked at Laura and smiled. His teeth were even, but slightly tobacco stained. Laura guessed that was common for men these days. Her time growing up on the ranch with her mother and brother, had taught her that the realities of people hardly ever matched what she'd found in the novels she'd read.

There was a long, awkward pause. Nathaniel Bewly looked at Laura for a very long time. So much so, that Laura couldn't control the feeling of unease which prompted her to interrupt the silence. "I presume you were delayed by work?" she asked.

Bewly's brows furrowed. "A lawyer's work is never done. I have been particularly busy of late. But you know that already. I mentioned it in my letters to you," he said. His eyes glanced down her figure in a way that Laura suddenly found quite unseemly. His eyes seemed to widen and pause when they reached the expanse of her firm bosom. Her green floral dress felt tight and Laura's breathing became short.

She cleared her throat and straightened in her chair. The gesture seemed to bring Bewly's attention back to the moment.

"And you Ms. Thorne. Was your trip a comfortable one? I know it wasn't a long train ride from Great Falls."

"The trip was fine Mr. Bewly." Laura sighed softly. When was he going to tell her she could call him Nathaniel? This wasn't how she'd anticipated their first meeting at all. She'd known there might be a certain awkwardness. After all, they were total strangers to one another. But she still intended to marry this man. She had made her mind up. She was intent on becoming a mail order bride. It had been a secret she had hidden from her family. And now the moment of truth was here. It was all suddenly very real.

Laura glanced over at Bewly. He had seemed so different in his letters. Now that he was close to her she realized his likeness had been more than flattering. He looked like he was a man used to hard work. His skin was pale, his expression ever so slightly drawn, as if he worried a lot. She could see he'd made an effort to look pleasing to her. His shirt was well pressed and the waistcoat was buttoned tight around a bulky middle. But the confusing feelings that were tumbling around inside her indicated that he hadn't entirely succeeded in dressing to please her. Her first impressions were decidedly disappointing.

They continued to exchange pleasantries, but Laura had the distinct impression that all was not well with her prospective husband.

Laura shifted uneasily in her seat. What was wrong with the man? He looked so ill at ease. Was he feeling unwell? Maybe he was simply nervous at meeting his bride for the first time.

"I find myself in something of an awkward situation Ms. Thorne," he said after a long pause.

Laura frowned. "In what way Mr. Bewly?"

"Did you receive my last letter? The one I sent after we arranged this meeting."

Laura eyes narrowed. She shook her head. "The last correspondence I received was the one concerning this arrangement. I was to come to this restaurant where you would meet with me, and we could finalize our plans for matrimony," she said.

Bewly's brows furrowed at the mention of matrimony. Laura had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Bewly sighed and his gaze went down to the table. Laura saw that his eyes were shifting quickly from side to side. His face had become visibly paler since she'd uttered the fateful word.

Laura's throat tightened. Eventually she managed to force out the words that had crowded in upon her mind.

"Is there a problem that I should know of Mr. Bewly?" she demanded.

Bewly's head started to shake imperceptibly. He said nothing in response. After a long pause he finally raised his head. His gaze fixed intently on Laura. "I'm afraid to tell you that there is, Ms. Thorne."

Laura's breath stopped in her throat. She peered at Bewly, waiting for him to continue.

He coughed quietly. "The plain fact is that I am unable to fulfil our agreement to marry."

Laura stiffened. She suddenly became acutely aware of the sounds of the room, the presence of the diners, the clinking of cutlery and plates. She felt the color drain from her face. "What did you say?" she managed to utter in a harsh whisper.

Mr. Bewly's eyes rolled and he exhaled noisily. He leaned forward and spoke in a voice that was almost inaudible. "I'm afraid I cannot keep my original promise to you."

Laura's eyes widened. He couldn't be saying this. Not after all she had done; all she had left behind.

Bewly gazed into Laura's eyes and uttered the words that sent a sharp chill down her spine. "I am unable to become your husband."

CHAPTER TWO

Laura felt the room spin momentarily. She gripped the table and held it tight.

Mr. Bewly's eyes narrowed, observing Laura's reaction with a nervous scrutiny. "Are you feeling unwell, Ms. Thorne?"

What a stupid question. Of course she wasn't feeling well. He'd opened his mouth and her world had fallen out from under her. How on earth could she feel well after hearing those words?

But, she wasn't going to let him see how he'd affected her.

Laura shook her head, clearing her thoughts. "I'm fine Mr. Bewly."

"I couldn't think of any other way to tell you. I got the message you were here a short while ago from someone who'd already seen your likeness. They saw you waiting here in the restaurant. I knew then you hadn't received my last correspondence, and had come all the way here. I felt I owed it to you to come here in person and break the news. It seemed the least I could do."

Laura fixed Mr. Bewly with a withering gaze. When she spoke her voice was thick with scorn. "How very noble of you Mr. Bewly. I suppose I should be grateful you dragged yourself away from your papers to come and see me, and give me your decision in person."

Bewly's head whirled around. It was plain that the diners close by had an inkling of what was happening. Bewly's eyes widened when he saw that he and Laura were the focus of so much attention.

"I'd appreciate it if you would keep your voice down," he said firmly.

Laura frowned. "Why would I do that, Mr. Bewly?" she demanded. "This is hardly what I imagined when I agreed to become your bride. Your correspondence bride to be exact."

Bewly's hand went to his jaw. He started rubbing it with thick agitated fingers. Laura noticed the growth of stubble and felt her lips tighten with revulsion.

"Circumstances have changed for me," he said slowly. He paused and frowned, as if struggling to find the right words. "I no longer require a wife," he said eventually.

Laura stiffened and raised a defiant chin. "I am no longer... required?" she said, her voice rising in irritation.

Bewly hesitated. "I know this isn't what you expected when you came here today..."

"That is an understatement sir," Laura interrupted.

Bewly flinched on hearing her tone of voice. "All I can say is that I am sorry I led you to believe we could be man and wife."

Laura shot a look at two women at the next table. Their jaws had dropped when they'd heard Bewly's apology. Laura raised a disapproving brow at the two diners, who quickly lowered their heads and went back to drinking their tea.

For a moment Laura felt numb. The sensation in her hands seemed to vanish for a few moments. She reached out and took the handle of the teacup in her shaking fingers. Suddenly, she felt the overwhelming urge to give Mr. Bewly the opportunity to try some of her lukewarm tea!

"It is just that, on closer reflection, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that a correspondence bride was not something I needed, after all."

He seemed so sure of himself; the words came far too easily, as if they'd been rehearsed; his smug expression triggered a surge of emotion.

Laura took the cup of tea and, with a flick if her wrist, threw the cool, milky contents straight into Bewly's face. There was harsh splashing sound followed by a soft dripping that Laura found curiously satisfying.

Then Laura and Bewly were suddenly enveloped in a cocoon of silence. Startled faces all around the restaurant gazed in horror at the sight of tea running down Bewly's features. Bewly's face was a mask of incredulity.

Bewly proceeded to lift a napkin from the table and gingerly wipe his face clean.

Laura wondered what he was going to do. However, as she saw Bewly glance quickly around the room, it seemed he was more concerned about how this all appeared to the onlooking guests.

BOOK: Joshua's Montana Bride (Sweet, Clean Western Historical Romance)(Montana Ranchers and Brides Series)
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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