A historical romance - following a young woman off to the Wild West to find her adventure
|There was no way she was marrying Rutherford Harrison. She didn’t care if it strengthened the bonds of business between her father and his partner. She wasn’t going to do it.
No amount of pleading or begging had worked.
“I want love, Mother.”
“Love? Bella...It s such a silly emotion.” Her mother tsked. “Marry Rutherford and set up your house. You would be living in grand style. He is older money and has ties to England.”
None of that interested her; Rutherford's condescending ways turned her blood cold. She longed for adventure. She longed to spread her wings and possibly teach out west. That was where the adventure was.
Leaving a letter to her parents, she slipped away. Making a secretive get away did not allow one to take many possessions, but being free of a marriage to a boring, dominating man would be freedom enough.
She managed two bags and a purse; slipping out of the house in the early morning hours, the sun barely making an appearance on the horizon. She boarded a train heading west; knowing she would go as far as she needed to go to be away from all of this.
A lovely place. She hoped they could use another teacher.
On the train, Bella befriended a woman and her two children. They were to join her husband who was starting up of a sheep ranch.
“Stay with us.... I am not sure what to expect. My husband hasn’t told me much and I'm a little frightened of being out alone with two young ’uns.”
“Thanks Anna... but I...”
“It's not imposin’. We women have to stick together out here.”
Bella smiled. Having a place to stay would be good. Having a friend was even better.
“I’m to meet Riley at the Sherriff’s office... his brother is the Sherriff.” Anna told her as they exited the train.
Little Arthur ran ahead happy to stretch his five year old legs. The ladies, with all their bags, were still able to keep up with him. Anna held the baby. She let Bella entice Arthur to slow down and check out some new development just under the boardwalk.
Together they were down on the ground when a shadow passed over them and stopped. Bella was the first to look back and up, way up. Tall was an understatement, and she could not make out his face. The sun was directly behind him, shading his features. She cupped her hand up around her eyes to help, but to no avail. His stance quickened her heart – tall and broad with his hands fisted on his hips just above his gun belt.
“Do you always get down on the ground like that?” His voice flowed like chocolate sending a shiver of awareness down her spine as she shifted to stand.
Arthur glanced up and squealed as he launched himself at the man, "Uncle Will.”
His squeal brought his mother back out of the Mercantile.
“William.” Anna said warmly, smiling at the man who lifted her son high into the air. She moved forward to envelop him into a hug. He hugged her back planting a kiss on her cheek.
“This is my friend, Bella.” Anna began. “She helped me with the children on the train. She’s hoping to find some adventure in the Wild West.”
“Adventure?” He repeated, settling his eyes on her.
Bella looked the man over. Not only was he tall and broad, but he had the bluest eyes that seemed to reach into her soul. She took in a quick breath before managing to say “Hello”. She dipped her head and fought the urge to follow old rules and routines and curtsy. Instead she smiled.
“She's going to stay with us. Keep me company.” Anna said pulling Bella into her side.
“I take it Riley doesn’t know this yet?” His voice touched with amusement. He smiled gracing her with dimples that almost stopped her heart.
“Riley'll be fine. She'll need a job.”
He raised one brow as he looked at her.
“I was hoping to teach.” Bella blurted feeling her heart race as he continued to gaze at her.
Sarah Jane began to fuss and Anna handed her off to Bella. Bella hushed her gently and she settled.
“She is so good with the kids.” Anna whispered to her brother-in-law.
Bella gave Anna a thankful smile.
“You are in luck. Flagstaff is in need of a new teacher. I can introduce you to Mrs. Foster. She just got married... she’ll be leaving the school come summer.”
Bella beamed at him, feeling lighter already.
Riley, like his wife, was only too happy to have her stay with them. Unlike his brother, Riley was a jovial talkative sort.
He’d picked up his family not long after they had met the sheriff, who after a nod of greeting had tipped his hat and passed on down the street.
“It’s pretty quiet around here, but William makes sure he does the rounds just to check. Folks seem to like his approach.”
Bella watched as everyone William passed smiled or spoke to him. One pretty lady stopped and even pressed her hand into his arm sending odd bubblings up through Bella.. She glanced away, not wanting to see him with some girl.
Having seen Bella’s glance, Riley let out a chuckle. “That’s Elsie May. She’s sweet on our William, but he don’t pay her much attention beyond his usual friendliness.”
Feeling caught, Bella felt her checks flame and looked back down at Arthur who reached up to take her hand. “Tell me more about the bugs, Miss Randall.”
“Bugs?” Riley asked with a laugh.
“Yes, Bella and Arthur were studying the ants under the boardwalk when William found them.”
William came out to the farm two days later for dinner. Anna had insisted he come, as she was ahead of setting up her house with all the help Bella had been giving her. He came with news.
“I was speaking with the teacher, Mrs. Foster. She would like to meet you. What about tomorrow?”
“Oh...” Bella let out a breath, her mind thinking of all she would need to get there.
As if reading her mind, William added, “I could come out to get you if you would like? Mrs. Foster’s husband has a wagon he said I could borrow.”
“Oh, that would be lovely. Thank you.”
“I expect when you get the job you can move into the room at the back of the school house. It is a little cramped, but it comes with the job.” William told her.
Riley watched the exchange and let a smile play at his lips. He could tell his brother was sweet on Miss Bella Randall. He had never seen his brother be quite so attentive to any of the young ladies in town. And to come get her himself; now that was just fine.
When William had noticed his brother’s smile, he had given Riley one of his dark, ‘don’t mess with me’ stares that had Riley all but laughing.
Bella had noticed the exchange between the brothers, in fact she, herself had been slipping glances at the broad, muscular man across from her quite often. He seemed to tower over everyone at the table, including his brother who was almost as tall, but not as broad or as dark. He had a wildness about him his brother lacked as well, a kind of controlled wildness, if that were possible. It seemed to draw her to him and quicken her heartbeat each time she saw him.
When he rode in just before dinner, she had been out at the well drawing water. She paused to watch him and noted the grace he seemed to have on his horse. All raw and sinewy, both man and animal, as one; like they were born to it. She wished she could be as fine, but her horse skills were lacking and what she did have was the more refined English style. This western style intrigued her and she longed to try it.
He swung down from his horse and led him in to the stable to settle him in. Bella had gone back to her work, but it was not long before she felt his presence around her and looked up into smiling eyes.
“Need a hand with those.” He asked as he moved closer to take the buckets from her, not waiting for her to acquiesce.
She smiled her thanks and took her place beside him as he strode to the house. At first she had to scurry to keep up, but then he slowed and tipped her a grin complete with the dimples she was already dreaming of at night. How could a man be so beautiful?
At the house he had set the buckets down and opened the door for her before gathering them up again and following her into the house. He had been greeted with squeals of delight from his nephew who was eager to show him his new skills and proudly announcing that Miss Randall had taught him.
Shyly, Bella moved over to the kitchen to join Anna at the counter. She busied herself as Anna rushed to give William a kiss on the cheek. Even Sarah Jane smiled up at him from her spot on the floor.
When dinner was over and the children tucked in their beds, the ladies took their coffees and went to sit out on the lovely wrap-around porch Riley had built for his wife.
“It is so wonderful out here. I am glad we decided to come. At first I was nervous and with Riley coming ahead to set things up.... but William insisted there is a good life to be had and I believe him.”
“How long has William been here?”
“A good while. He came to find his adventure. Spent some time in the more dangerous towns, then settled here when they needed a new sheriff. It did not take him long to convince Riley to come. They both love adventure.” Anna fell silent for a bit and the two listened to the buzz and hum of the evening. “I know it won’t be easy, but I think we will be happy here.” She reached across and took Bella’s hand. “It is good to have a friend as well. Life is hard without them...” After a moment she said quietly, “I just wish William could find someone to share his heart with.”
Bella was glad of the night’s darkness, as it covered the flare of blush that crept up unbidden at William’s name. She was eager to know more, but stayed silent willing Anna to go on. She was not disappointed.
“He had his heart broken back in Philadelphia... back before he struck out on his adventure. Riley figured he was running, in a way, but I think he just needed more.” She raised her hands opening them to the vastness, “This is most definitely more.”
They sat in silence for a while before the men joined them. William sat down on the step below her and occasionally she would feel him brush along the edge of her dress. She felt the thrill of that and was grateful again for the cover of darkness.
It was not long before William left. He said he wanted to get back and make one more round before turning in.
“I will be back around 10 o’clock to get you, if that is alright?” He asked just as he went to leave.
Bella smiled giving him a confident “yes” and shivering at the smile he tossed at her.
They all watched him go. The place seemed smaller with him gone.
The next morning Bella was up and ready long before she needed to be, but her excitement at meeting Mrs. Foster and seeing William again sent her into fits of joy she could barely contain.
She managed to pull herself back into her well schooled self by the time he got there, but sitting beside him in the wagon where the bumps and rivets in the road sent them bumping into one another made it hard to maintain. She nearly burned with intensity each time they made contact. It was oddly exciting, something she had never experienced before.
When he handed her down from the wagon she felt a jolt run up her arm at the contact, but kept her gaze off his as she stepped down.
They were at a lovely house in town. William had explained that now that Mrs. Foster was married she had moved out of the schoolhouse and in with her husband.
“Most married women don’t continue to teach once they are married, but Mrs. Foster has been a rebel. Teaching a little longer than most, but she is expecting in the fall so they decided she would give up her post.”
Mrs. Foster greeted them kindly and insisted they call her Evelyn.
“I am so glad you are here. Like a godsend, really.”
William had let the two ladies have their conversation and went to see to the horses. He watched the ladies out of the corner of his eye and was drawn to this petite little woman with hair of golden silk and silver blue eyes. He could get lost in eyes like that if he wasn’t careful. But something about her made him not want to be so careful.
When the ladies finished the important aspects of their conversation, Evelyn waved him back over. “You must stay for lunch, can you?”
“Oh, that is so kind... Evelyn, but I really should get back to help Anna. I told her I would be back to help at lunch and there are hungry men to be fed.”
Evelyn laughed and nodded knowingly. “Well then some other time, maybe when you are settled at the school. I am sure the superintendent will accept you with my recommendation.”
On the way back, the axel broke on the wagon. William disconnected the horses and lifted her up onto one.
“I will get you back to Anna, then come back to fix this.” He told her as he handed her the reins.
“I am not too sure...” She began, then froze when he settled himself up behind her on the same horse. This was not appropriate, but part of her body sang with the contact. The musky, male scent of him made her weak in the knees and she was glad he had his arms around her to secure the reins or she would undoubtedly have fallen off.
“Not too sure...” He repeated as he coaxed the horse forward.
She could only shake her head. The rumble of his laugh settled around her and she relaxed a little.
“You, Miss Randall, are priceless.” He murmured against her ear and she trembled. “I'm glad you decided to pick our little town for your adventure.”
She’d have to agree. Something told her things were looking up, not just for her, but for William as well.
Word Count = 2491