Excerpt for Mail Order Brides: Met Under Moonlight by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Mail Order Brides: Met Under Moonlight


Vanessa Carvo

Copyright 2017 Susan Hart

Partial cover photo copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_arcticphotoworks'>arcticphotoworks / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Native Fear

Regina Tries To Convert the Shakespeare Loving Outlaw

The Wealthy & Overweight Woman From England & The Man With A Secret In California

Native Fear

Synopsis: Native Fear - A woman decides to go out west after becoming widowed, but when she arrives her fiancé is nothing at all like she imagined he would be. His appearance brings back horrid memories of a family tragedy, and she doubts that she can even speak to him, let alone get married.

Texas 1870

There was no going back. Eliza Davis had known that the moment she slid onto her seat in the dust covered wagon, the six Quarter horses straining at their bits to be off, but even still she questioned her decision. Had she made the right choice?

Even as the question lingered in her mind she knew there hadn’t been another option. Joshua had made any other choice impossible.

The coach jostled her sideways and she used every muscle to keep from toppling into the older gentleman next to her. His head was tilted back in sleep, though Eliza had no idea how he could possibly relax in the midst of the bumps and jolts.

She loosened her white knuckled grip on the edge of the seat and readjusted herself, peering out the small window covered in grime from the journey. There was nothing to see for miles except for the few trees that rose up from the endless plains. Miles and miles of plains. Just like back home.

Eliza bit her lip, forcing the memories to stop, but they were soon replaced by anger that flushed her cheeks. Her Irish temper was never far, always at a slow boil beneath the surface. Joshua had said it would be her downfall, but in the end he’d taken care of that himself by dying and leavening nothing for her behind.

Nothing except for the burse that had finally faded from her cheek, and the hurt that still lingered in her heart.

Hot, angry tears flooded her eyes but she willed them away. She would not cry for him again, though guilt washed over her. God has seen fit to deliver her from his cruel hands; though this journey felt like anything but deliverance. Was it her fault he had died? Had God forgotten her?

No. Her mother’s words dropped into her mind like drops of fresh water on a hot day. God never forgets, He only delays to make the deliverance that much greater.

Eliza closed her eyes, clinging to that promise.

“North Bank, Texas. One more hour.”

The muffled voice from outside the coach caught Eliza by surprise and her heart hammered in response. They were close.

She clutched her gloved hands to her middle, breathing in slowly to calm her nerves. She didn’t know what to expect and didn’t even know whom to look for when she arrived. She could only hope that Mr. Henry Boyd would recognize her from her picture. It had been taken many years ago, just before she’d married Joshua, but it was the only image she had of herself.

The wagon jostled her again, this time throwing her against the wall of the coach. She groaned and rubbed her arm. No matter what awaited her at the stagecoach station, she would be happy to no longer feel every bone in her body being jarred and tossed about.

Before long, the coach slowed to a stop, dust swirling through the air. When the door opened, she was the first to exit, her delicate lace gloves lightly touching the rough hands of the stagecoach driver. Eliza tested her cramped legs and took a few steps forward, squinting against the brightness of the midday sun.

“Are you Miss Eliza Davis come from Straw Valley?”

“Yes,” Eliza shielded her eyes, observing the older man before her. He had weathered features and skin so dark it looked like tanned leather. The white tuffs of hair left on his head stuck out in a haphazard, comical way. “Are you Mr. Boyd?”

“No ma’am.” The gravely laugh caused Eliza to smile. “Name’s Gurnis, Miss. I’m here to take you back to the ranch.”

Her heart skipped a beat. “I—I was under the impression Mr. Boyd would be meeting me…”

“He would have liked that Miss, but he’s real busy. Got a hundred head comin’ in real soon and there’s lots to be done.”

Eliza faltered, heat fanning out over her cheeks. Did Mr. Boyd expect her to come to his ranch as an unmarried woman?

“I’m not sure of the propriety of this situation.”

Gurnis squinted, head tilting to the side, “Pro-property of what exactly?”

“Aren’t we to be married?” She was positive her face was now as red as her hair.

“Golly, Miss. I’m sorry. I didn’t quite understand you. He’s got a guest portion of the ranch. You’ll be staying with his sister, Miss Rebecca Boyd. He thought you might like to take a few days rest before a ceremony.”

She blinked, surprised at Henry Boyd’s thoughtfulness. Joshua wouldn’t have given her a second thought had she crossed the entirety of the state of Texas or just come from church; he would have demanded something of her immediately.

“Will that be all right, Miss?” Gurnis peered up at her, his grin revealing several missing teeth.

“Yes. Yes, of course. Thank you, um-Gurnis.”

“S’right. Or you can call me Gurney. Everyone else seems to. Right this way.”

Eliza watched as her trunk slammed onto the worn boards of the wagon hitched to two horses and a groan escaped her lips. Another wagon ride.

The only thought that would quell her rebellion against sitting through another jostling ride was the fact that Mr. Boyd, her future husband, seemed to have thought of everything.

God never forgets.

Henry pulled on the reigns of his Palomino, turning back toward home.

Home. That word had meant many things to him before coming to live on the ranch with his father Thomas and sister Rebecca. His mother had long since pasted away, but the memory of her still lingered.

The sun sent long rays in front of Henry, guiding the way to the barn, though his horse was more than ready to be bedded for the night. He had pushed him hard and he deserved the extra measure of hay he’d get that evening.

Leaving him in the care of one of the ranch hands, Henry strode across the yard toward the house, halting at the sound of laughter coming from an open window. He could hear the animation in his sister’s voice, but the response was quieter, though decidedly feminine.


Henry sucked in a breath. He’d completely forgotten she was coming in today. Gurney’s earlier comment about an exciting day now fit like the last piece of a puzzle. How could Henry be so daft? His bride had arrived and here he was, riding in after a long, hot day in the sun smelling worse than his horse.

Correcting his destination, he slipped into the kitchen, careful not to close the door to loudly.

“Cook.” The elderly, widowed woman stood with her back to Henry, pulling a large cast iron pot from over the stove. He tried again, “Cook!”

“Who--?” She whirled around, a large wooden spoon held out like a weapon.

Henry grinned, arms held up. “It’s just me.”

She sunk against the table in the middle of the room, one hand clutching at her chest. “Mr. Henry, you about gave me a conniption fit!”

He apologized and looked to the hallway leading to the rest of the house. “I need you to stall supper by fifteen minutes. Can you do that?”

Regaining her composer, she stood up straight eyeing him. “I’d say you’ll need more than that to clean up for that lovely lady you’ve got sitting in there.” Her grin broke through at the end of her reprimand.

Henry felt his stomach twist in on itself, though he was sure it was due to the hunger pangs he felt from a hard days work.

“I’ll do the best I can.”

“I’ll keep them waiting for you, Mr. Henry. Now go get yourself cleaned up.”

He grinned and backed outside, making his way to the pool they’d created by damming up part of the creek that flowed not far from the house. After a through scrubbing and quick shave, he felt ready to meet his…wife.

Future wife, at least.

The concept was strange to him, but he had soon come to realize that a mail order bride would be his best hope for a match. He’d taken out advertisements in several papers, but the only woman who had caught his eye was Eliza Davis.

She was recently widowed, but there was tenderness in her letters that drew him. She spoke of the prairie where she lived as if the fields were spun from golden sunlight, not dried up stalks of weeds. Despite her dire circumstances, much of which he could only infer, her words spoke of hope and gentleness, excitement and courage. Her picture had been a pleasant surprise, her beauty more than he could have hoped for, but he had fallen in love with her words long before that had arrived.

His sister’s laugh echoed through the open windows, the late spring air sparkling with it as he approached the house once more. This time, he entered through the front door.

“And that’s when I told him that, if he were going to climb trees, he should at least make sure their branches were sturdy.”

A light, delicate laugh joined Rebecca’s and Henry smiled.

“Telling stories about me, are you Rebecca?” Henry walked through the entry way into the formal sitting room and his heart threatened to stop beating.

Sitting on the settee with Rebecca sat the most beautiful woman Henry had ever seen. Her fiery red hair was piled on top of her head, gentle ringlets trickling down past the neck of her deep green gown. Her eyes, a vibrant green color, met his and widened in surprise.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’m sure you both must be starving.” Henry gave a little bow.

“Henry! You’re finally here. I’m delight to have met Eliza. Isn’t she more lovely than her picture?”

Heat filled Henry’s cheeks but he couldn’t deny the truth of his sister’s statement. “Very.”

It was Eliza’s turn to blush, and he couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the hue looked on her, complimenting her light-toned skin.

When she looked up, he noticed her eyes dance from him to his sister, her brow creasing. “I—I’m afraid I’m confused.”

Henry felt the air leave his lungs. She didn't know.

“You didn’t receive my photograph?”

Biting her lip, she shook her head, the little ringlets bouncing back and forth. “I’m—I’m sorry but I must—I need to rest. Please, enjoy dinner without me.”

Shocked, Henry and Rebecca watched as Eliza rushed from the room, her face now the color of her hair.

“Henry?” Rebecca’s voice was tentative, questioning. “Didn’t she know?”

Anger flared in his veins. “Apparently not.” His letter must have been delayed or lost.

“It shouldn’t matter.” Rebecca’s voice was gentle.

“But obviously it does.” Henry gave a self-deprecating laugh. “No woman wants to marry someone who is part Native American.”

“Stop it! Don’t say that.”

“It’s the truth, Rebecca. My mother was Comanche and I’m not ashamed of that. I just thought…” He paused, rubbing a hand over his cleanly shaven jaw. “I just thought that Eliza would understand.”

Rebecca met his gaze. “You don’t know what she won’t. Just give her time.”

Time. That and cattle ranching was all he had. That’s the reason he had finally decided to settle down. He wanted his father’s house filled with the laughter of children; wanted to come home to see his wife working on patchwork quilts in the sitting room. Wanted to love and be loved.

He had been sure Eliza, with her sweet and hopeful words, was the woman who would provide that for him. But clearly he’d been wrong.

The tears wouldn’t stop. As fast as Eliza could brush them away, more filled the empty spaces. Henry was Native American and he hadn’t told her.

Pressing her eyes closed against the flood, vivid images from her childhood painted dramatic and violent scenes before her. She had been twelve when they had attacked. The whooping and hollering still haunted her nightmares along with her mother crying out for them to leave; to go away and never come back.

Her father and mother had died that day and ever since, Eliza had lived in fear.

She curled into a ball on the bed, clenching her hands together.

Henry is different.

She wanted to argue with herself, but she knew it was true. He hadn’t mentioned his background, but he had responded to her letters in well-written script. He had taken the time to read her concerns and answer them. He had thought of everything for her.

A part of her heart shifted, melting at the realization that she couldn’t judge him based on the naturally tan color of his skin or his thick, black hair. She had gotten to know his heart through his words.

His strong jaw and confident stance conjured in her memory. He’d entered the room and her breath had caught, not because of his ethnicity, but because of his gentle eyes and handsome features. He stood taller than Joshua had, and his grin had been easy, showing off white teeth and a dimple on one side.

But he hadn’t told her. He’d purposely deceived her, waiting until she had traveled all this way and was now trapped at the ranch. She felt sick. How could she trust him?

A soft knock on the door startled her. “Who is it?”

“Rebecca. May I come in?”

Eliza sat up, wiping her cheeks again and straightening her dress. “Yes.”

Rebecca’s kind, gentle eyes found hers as she made her way across the room to sit down next to Eliza. Slowly, she clasped Eliza’s hands in hers.

“Eliza, what’s wrong?”

Eliza froze. She couldn’t tell Rebecca—Henry’s sister—her thoughts and fears. She’d only just met the young woman and she didn’t want to insult her.

“I—I,” Eliza froze.

“You didn’t know that Henry is half Native American, did you?”

“No.” Ashamed, Eliza dipped her head.

“I understand your surprise.” Rebecca let out a long sigh. “Henry’s mother, Quanah, was married to my father, Thomas, before I was born. They fell in love when my father was a young boy. Their marriage had been secret, but when her father discovered it, because she was pregnant with Henry, her father fought Thomas. To save her husband, Quanah left him and went back to live with her tribe. Henry was born in a village and lived there until his mother died of smallpox when he was fifteen.”

Eliza sat, wide eyed at the incredible story.

“Quanah told Henry about his father when he was very little and, when she died, Henry came back to live with Thomas. After hearing of Quanah’s death, my father married my mother and had me. That was over fifteen years ago. My mother died giving birth to me and my father died a little over a year ago.”

“I’m so sorry.” Eliza didn’t know what to say.

“It is a tragic story filled with loss, but I tell you so that you understand who Henry is. He is a good man, an honorable man. He wanted to learn when he came to live with Thomas and when I was born he helped raise me. It is hard for him, coming from two worlds, but he is honest and genuine. You could not find a better man to marry. Don’t turn him down just because he is half Comanche.”

At Rebecca’s words, Eliza felt the room spinning and she leaned to the side. Comanche?

“What is it Eliza?”

Eliza tried to speak but couldn’t. Her mouth was dry as she gasped for breath, fear welling up inside of her.

“How can I marry a man whose tribe was responsible for killing my parents?”

Henry paced back and forth on the creaking boards of the house his father had built long ago. Thomas Boyd had always been a determined man and this house and the land on which he’d built a successful cattle ranch was proof of that. When he’d set his mind to something, he’d gotten it.

Henry wasn’t driven like his father. He wanted success and to be able to take care of his sister and the workers he employed, but he wouldn’t do it at the sacrifice of everything. He wanted a family. Children. A wife to love.

The bitter taste of the word love soured in his mouth. Eliza would never—could never—love him. She obviously couldn’t accept the fact that he was part Native American.

He roughed a hand through his hair. What had happened to his last letter? He’d hired a photographer to take his picture, wanting her to know all about him before she came, but obviously the photo and corresponding letter detailing his past, had never arrived.

Light footsteps in the hall produced his sister seconds later. Her gaze wouldn’t meet his and he knew there was no hope.

“What is it, Rebecca. What did she say?”

She moved toward a chair flanking the fireplace and sat, hands folded in her lap. The silence lengthened and Henry’s impatience got the best of him.

“Well?” The word came out as a demand and he shook his head saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I want to know what she said.”

Rebecca raised her eyes to his, “She says the Comanche were responsible for killing her parents.”

Henry felt the words slam into him like a punch to the stomach. The Comanche.

His people.

“What did you tell her?”

“I shared the story of Papa and your mother. She was confused as to how we were related.” Rebecca’s gaze dropped.

Henry paced back and forth again, clasping his hands behind him. He was at a loss. He had brought this woman out to his home because he had fallen in love with her through her letters. She had agreed to marry him. What was his recourse now though? He would not force someone to marry him…and yet, she had agreed.

Startled at where his own thoughts had gone, he shook his head. No, he would not force the beautiful woman with fiery red hair to become his wife.

“What will you do?” Rebecca’s voice was gentle.

“I don’t know.” Henry paused at the window, looking out across the endless grass fields dotted with his cattle. “I thought she would understand.”

“How could I? You lied to me?”

Whirling around, Henry’s gaze slammed into Eliza’s. She stood at the other end of the room, clutching the doorframe for support. Even from his distance across the room he could tell her eyes were red from crying and little pieces of her hair flew out in every direction.

“I’ll let you two talk.” Rebecca kept her head down and left the room.

The silence was heavy; containing all of the things they wanted to say but didn’t know how too. He took one step toward her and stopped.

“I sent you a letter.”

“You sent me many letters.” She sniffed, smoothing a hand over the front of her dress.

“This one was different. I explained…my story. I sent a photograph. I wanted you to—” he almost said understand again, but knew that was useless.

“You lied to me.” She stepped forward, eyes blazing. “Brought me here under false pretense.”

“I did no such thing.” He took another step forward, feeling his anger rise.

“You wrote such beautiful things. Told me about your father, but it wasn't the truth. How could I ever believe you again?”

“I wanted to tell you. So many times I almost did but…” But he had been afraid.

“But you didn’t.” Her words were a challenge.

They were now only a few feet apart and he saw the gentle red flush that spread out across her cheeks in anger. With the flying red hair and sparkling eyes, Henry was momentarily distracted. She was so beautiful.

“You didn’t.” She said the words again, letting out a shaky breath. Her eyes sparkled with angry and unshed tears. Her temper was a remarkable sight and showed a drastically different picture than what her sweet letters had painted.

“I’m sorry.” He raised his hands in frustration. The moment he did, Eliza flinched. It wasn’t that she was momentarily startled, it was an action driven by fear. One drilled in, like a horse that spooked from being whipped as a colt.

Henry stopped moving, slowly lowing his hands. Realization dawned. She had been hit before.

Dear Lord, no!

The blood in his veins ran hot thinking that a man had dared to hurt this delicate, beautiful woman. He calmed his breathing, relaxing his hands, which wanted to curl into fists. She needed gentleness. Kindness.

“Eliza,” Not daring to move, he met her gaze, softening his own. “I will never hurt you.”

She went still as a statue, eyes still on his. Her mouth opened slightly, as if she was planning to reply, but nothing came out.

Slowly, Henry stepped back, eyes still on hers. He willed her to see that he was telling the truth. That he wasn’t who she thought he was. Then he turned and left for his room.

He almost felt like a coward retreating in defeat, but there were some battles that were best won with gentleness, like breaking a wild horse. Fear and terror were not the way’s to deal with someone who had been so broken before.

Eliza had a fitful night. Her dreams held sleep at bay while Henry’s kind words tempted her to believe him. He had said he’d never hurt her—but how did he know? How could he possibly know that Joshua had made hitting her a regular occasion?

Now, the grey light of morning flitted through the delicate lace curtains of her room. She heard roosters crowing and the sounds of the ranch hands readying for work.

Slipping from the bed, she peeked out the window. Henry, clad in dark trousers and a thick muslin shirt, strode toward the barn. His gate was confident, but she saw him stop to talk to many of the workers, slapping them kindly on the back. The respect the men had for him was immediately apparently.

Lord, what would you have me do?

Eliza turned her gaze toward the open grassland just visible past the trees. It stretched out for miles to see and held the expanse of promise. A verse from the sixty-fourth chapter of Isaiah came to mind, one her mother had often quoted to her, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him.”

The last words rang out in her heart and mind. For him that waiteth for Him. Was she willing to wait on the Lord? He had brought her this far, from a broken marriage ending in death, across the plains of Texas, and now into the home of a man who was well respected but who represented everything she had come to fear. Was God really asking her to wait? To stay?

A light knock on the door drew her attention, “Yes? Who is it?”

“Rebecca. Would you like to accompany me to town today? I am in need of some fabric for a new dress.”

Eliza didn’t hesitate to answer, “Yes. That would be lovely.”

“I’ll see you at breakfast soon and we’ll leave after that.”

“See you then.”

The woman’s footsteps echoed down the hallway and Eliza slumped back onto the bed. She didn’t know the overall answer to her problems, but for now, she would take things one step at a time.

“Morning, Miss Eliza.” The elderly cook smiled a holey grin at her, several teeth missing, as Eliza slid into a seat in the informal kitchen area.

“Did you sleep well?” Rebecca took a bite of a steaming biscuit slathered in honey and butter.

“It was…all right.”

Rebecca met her gaze, understanding showing in her eyes, “It always takes me a few days to become accustomed to sleeping in a new room.”

They ate in companionable silence until a knock at the back door drew their attention.

“Ma’am, we’re all ready to go out here when you are.”

“Thank you, Gurney, we’ll be there soon.” Rebecca turned to Eliza, “Ready?”

She nodded, a small fist of worry clenching in her stomach. Was Henry coming with them?

Her fears were soon alleviated when she saw the lone wagon, two bench seats in the front, and no sign of Henry. He likely had business to attend to on the ranch, which was fine with Eliza.

Climbing into the second row seat, she let her thoughts wander. She needed time away from Henry to think. To decide what to do. Last night her temper had gotten the better of her, it was the one thing Joshua had always faulted her for—speaking her mind. She should have known better, and yet she was angry with Henry for his deception.

He tried to tell you. And yet he didn’t.

She argued with herself, trying to reason out the logic of the situation. What would she have done if she’d received the letter he had sent?

Eliza bit her lip, staring off across the plains. Would she have chosen not to come?

There was no way she could have had that luxury. With her parents dead and her husband leaving her a widower with no income or money to live off, she’d been desperate. Henry’s kind letters had wooed her. He had described in detail the workings of his ranch, the pride in his men, and the responsibility he felt to sustain his father’s legacy.

She had fallen in love with his words.

A pang of guilt beat raw in her chest. And how had she reacted? Like a petulant child, angry she hadn’t gotten her way. Lashing out at him with fierce words and a stubborn attitude. He cheeks heated in humiliation at the memory.

But still, he hadn’t been honest with her from the start.

She held on to that thought, using it to comfort herself, though it only partially worked.

Soon, the wagon approached the edge of town and Gurney pulled over under a large tree for shade. After helping the ladies out, he nodded toward the blacksmith shop saying, “Be back in a little bit. Need some extra horse shoes.”

Rebecca nodded, and took Eliza’s arm. “Let’s go look at beautiful fabrics!”

Eliza pushed her thoughts of Henry aside and focused on getting to know his sister. Rebecca was slightly younger than she was and full of life and happiness. She greeted everyone personally and had a kind word no matter whom she spoke with.

They looked through yards and yards of fabric and had finally settled on a few when Eliza stepped back, backing into someone right behind her. At the soft grunt of surprise, she turned around, finding herself face to face with the man who had occupied her thoughts through most of the day.


“Miss Davis.” Henry found himself captivated by the sparkling green eyes of the beautiful woman in front of him. Standing this close to her, he was again surprised at her short stature and delicate nature. Her skin was light and creamy, accented by faint freckles all across her cheeks.

He resisted the urge to brush away a stray curl of her red hair and instead took a step back.

“What are you doing here?” She slammed her mouth shut, obviously regretting her outburst.

Henry tried and failed to keep his smile at bay. This woman said what she thought, no matter the consequence. “I had to run a few errands in town and meet Gurney who said you ladies had come in to buy fabric. I thought I’d stop by and say hello.”

In reality, he’d been plagued by their conversation last night. Her passion, even about a subject he didn’t agree with, had been mesmerizing. He did have errands to run, but they could have waited.

“I see.” She looked down, a bolt of light green gingham clutched in her hands.

“I like that very much.”

Her cheeks colored. “I fancy it as well.”

“Then you shall have it.”

Her eyes met his. “Oh, no. I—I couldn’t…”

“I insist.” He searched her eyes again, looking for any yielding. He had been certain last night that she would never want to see him again, and yet she hadn’t come to him demanding to be sent home. Even now she engaged in conversation with him. He dared to hope, even if the hope was merely a flicker.

“Thank you.” Her words were soft, but genuine.

“Henry, look at this lovely blue color!” Rebecca practically bounded up to him, adoration in her eyes. His heart swelled with love for his sweet sister.

“Let me see, here.” He took the bolt and held it up to her face, admiring the dark hue of her hair and how the blue fabric brought out the color of her eyes. “It’s beautiful, just like you my sister.”

She grinned. “Then I can have it?”

“You may have anything you want.”

“I’m spoiled.” Rebecca turned to Eliza. “Really, he spoils me so.”

Just then the shop door opened and Gurney came in, his scruffy beard and bedraggled appearance a stark contrast to the tidy shop.

“Mr. Henry,” he shot a grin to the ladies then continued, “Smithy says it’ll take him longer than he thought to finish the shoes.”

Henry looked toward the ladies, both holding their new fabric in hand. “I can take them back.”

He kept his gaze on Eliza, seeking her reaction. Aside from a slight widening of her eyes, she didn’t object. It was a sprig of hope, like the first signs of new plants spouting in the kitchen garden behind the house.

“Our hero.” Rebecca grinned, then turned toward Eliza, “Let’s get the rest of what we’ll need for these dresses.”

Henry let the women finish their shopping and stood out by the wagon, covered in the shade of a large oak tree. He ran a hand through his hair as his thoughts strayed to the beautiful woman pouring over soft fabrics next to his sister. Was there hope there? Had he been wrong in what he’d seen?

He’d spent a greater portion of his evening praying, asking the Lord what he should do. Eliza was different than he’d expected. Stronger. More willful. But those were the things that made her who she was. He admired her for standing up to him, though he didn’t like the argument they’d had.

When she had flinched at his quick movement, it had nearly broken him. How could he show her he was different? Different than her husband. Different than the Comanche tribe who had killed her parents. More than that, he recognized in himself that he wanted her to know he was different.

How, Lord? How do I do that?

“Henry, how are you?”

Henry looked up to see Pastor John striding up to him. “I’m well, Pastor. How are you?”

“Good, good. We’ve just found out that Sarah is expecting again.”

“That’s wonderful news, congratulations.” Henry’s heart constricted. He was happy for his friend and pastor, but a pang of jealousy was still here. He longed for the day when he could have a family of his own.

“Did I hear correctly that you’ve found yourself a bride?”

Henry paused, uncertain how to proceed. He hadn’t shared much with anyone aside from Rebecca about his advertisement for a mail order bride, uncertain that he would find success. Now though, it would be impossible to keep Eliza’s presence a secret. Not that he wanted to, but out of respect for her, he didn’t want the attention to complicate matters.

“It’s a complicated situation, John,” Henry said.

“How so?” The pastor leaned against the wagon, focusing all of his attention on Henry.

Henry shared the story, ending with the fact that Eliza hadn’t known of his heritage and how that complicated matters.

For a few moments Pastor John stared out into the distance, weighing his words before he said, “Show her love, Henry.”

The advice was simple, but possibly easier said than done. He appreciate that she was willing to say what she thought, but it also tested his resolve.

“I’ll try.”

“Don’t try. Do.” John slapped him on the shoulder. “She will see your care for her and that all-suffering love will make the difference. Take my word for it.”

Henry felt there was more the pastor wanted to say, but his sister’s distinctive laughter caught his attention, drawing his eyes toward the two women making their way across the dusty street to the wagon.

He would care for her, even if he wasn’t sure that it would make a difference.

Eliza dusted off the dirt from her hands, smoothing her wrist across her brow. The sun’s warmth had dissipated in the late afternoon, but working in the garden still took its toll. Surveying her hard work, Eliza smiled to herself.

In the few weeks she had been at the ranch, the garden had flourished under her attention. Henry had made it clear he didn’t expect her to work or do anything in order to stay, but she’d insisted. She enjoyed digging her hands into the soft, fertile soil and creating life out of seemingly nothing but dirt and water. It gave her a sense of accomplishment.

She rested back on her heels and let out a contented sigh. She hadn’t talked directly with Henry about their situation, but Rebecca had acted as a go-between over the last few weeks. She’d convinced Eliza to stay without the pressure of anything other than seeking the Lord’s direction. How could Eliza argue with that? Especially when she had nowhere else to go.

The sound of horses’ hooves drew her attention across the large space between the house and the barn. Henry pulled his horse to a stop at the barn and hopped off. She could tell he’d spent his entire life riding. She watched as he pulled the horses head close, gently rubbing along the bright white blaze between the stallion’s eyes. His actions were gentle and created trust in the animal.

He was a gentle man. He’d been nothing but courteous since she had exploded in anger at him. They hadn’t talked seriously since, but she could tell he was giving her the space she needed to adjust. To think through this change in her expectations.

Eliza turned her attention back to the tomato plant in front of her, shoring up the small well around the base of the plant to hold the water close to the roots. The sound of footsteps drew her attention away from her work.

“Good evening, Miss Davis.”

His formal tone pricked her conscience. He hadn’t talked to her alone since that first night, only engaging her when Rebecca was around, but she couldn’t help but feel guilt at forcing him into the realm of host.

“Please, you can call me Eliza.” She shocked herself with the words.

“Eliza,” he smiled. “The garden looks amazing.”

“I enjoy it.”

“Good.” He stepped back half a foot when she stood, respecting her space. “I wouldn’t want you to feel as if you needed to tend to it.”

“I don’t.” She bit her tongue, chiding herself for the harsh tone and tried again, “That is, I do enjoy spending time out here. Thank you for the supplies you had delivered.”

The new gardening supplies had arrived early in the week and Gurney had said they were from Henry.

“You’re welcome. I wanted to make sure you had what you needed.”

His kindness overwhelmed her. He’d been nothing but gentle and caring toward her and every day she continued to feel convicted about her initial assessment of him. She had to apologize.

“Henry,” her voice caught and she took a step forward, forcing herself to meet his gaze. “I’m sorry.”

His head tilted to the side. “About what?”

“My unkind words and attitude when I arrived.” She looked down at her hands covered in soil.

“There’s no need to apologize.”

But there was. And she knew it. “No. There is. I let my temper get the best of me.”

At his lack of reply, she looked up into his dark brown eyes that were the same color as the rich dark soil beneath their feet. They took in every detail of her face as he took a step closer.

Her heart hammered in her chest, but she didn’t back away.

“Eliza,” his voice was barely a whisper, lighter than the wind that tossed a lock of hair in front of her face. Slowly, his eyes never leaving her face, he reached up and pushed the strand of hair behind her ear. His movements so gentle she barely felt his touch.

He leaned in and her stomach clenched. Was he going to kiss her?

In that moment she wanted him to, but he stepped back, eyes still on her. “Would you do me the honor of accompanying me on a picnic tomorrow?”

His request surprised her, but a smile found its way onto her lips. “Yes.”

She didn’t allow herself time to think through the repercussions of her decision, she’d answered honestly. She did want to spend more time with him. To hear his thoughts on things. To ask him questions about his past.

A stab of fear struck her. Was she betraying her parents? Would he somehow prove to be the same as his Comanche brothers?

The thought seemed ridiculous, but it was there. He appeared trustworthy and genuine, but was that the truth of who Henry was?

Turning back to the garden, she dug her hands into the soil again. She had waited, and she trusted the Lord. He would show her the truth about Henry.

Henry felt as if he were walking on a cloud. At the sound of the single word, yes, his heart had soared. Eliza had agreed to go on a picnic with him. It was a huge success because they had barely talked in the last few weeks.

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