Bella is looking for adventure and love in the wild west... she may have found them.
|“I want love, Mother.” Bella Randall told her mother with an urgency that forced her mother to stop her fussing with the silver wear on the table and really look at her.
“Love? Bella...It s such a silly emotion.” Her mother tsked. She went back to setting things in their proper places on the dining room table. “Marry Rutherford and set up your house. You would be living in grand style. He is old money. He is part of the establishment. You will never have to worry again.”
None of that interested her; Rutherford's condescending ways turned her blood cold. She shuddered to even think of being intimate with him and she suspected he would beat her if she dared argue with him. She didn’t care if it strengthened the bonds of business between her father and his partner. She didn’t care if it had been arranged. There was no way she was marrying Rutherford Harrison.
What she really longed for was adventure. She wanted to find real love: to be treasured and adored; to feel the heat of passionate love. Such thoughts made her blush and she turned her face away to keep from seeing her mother’s pinched gaze and busied herself with getting the different linens her mother had requested from the bureau.
“I don’t understand why Agatha cannot seem to do this right. I really should fire the woman.” Her mother continued to mutter about not having good help these days, but Bella tuned her out.
Her own thoughts told her to follow her heart. She would have to escape and leave the confines and oppression of her family’s home. The thought both thrilled and terrified her, but she longed to spread her wings. She longed to travel west. She could find work; she could teach. Even as the worry swirled, her mind grasped onto some bit of a plan. To find her adventure, to find the one true love her heart longed for, she would have to go west. Determination steeled through her and she stood up a little taller before her mother could nag her to do it.
Two nights later she was ready. She had managed to secure some funds and pack her things into two bags which, until she left, she hid at the far end of her closet away from her mother’s prying eyes.
When she left, it was without a word to anyone. In the early morning hours, before the sun was 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.
On the train, Bella befriended a young woman and her two small children. Anna told her they were to join her husband who was starting up of a sheep ranch near Flagstaff. She had sung its praises.
“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.” Anna had insisted taking Bella’s hands in friendship.
“Thanks Anna... but I...”
“It's not imposin’. We women have to stick together out here.” Bella looked at her, unsure and Anna smiled encouragingly as she added, “I would bet, you will find the teaching job you want.”
Bella smiled. Having a place to stay would be good. Having a friend would be 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 James 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 James to slow down and check out some new development just under the boardwalk.
Together they knelt 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 warm chocolate sending a shiver of awareness down her spine as she shifted to stand. She made to dust what she could of the dirt from her already dusty attire.
James glanced up and squealed as he launched himself at the man, "Uncle William.”
His squeal brought his mother rushing back out of the Mercantile. Her concern quickly replaced with a beaming smile.
“William.” Anna said warmly. She moved forward to envelop him into a hug when he brought the boy back to settle onto his hip. He hugged her back planting a kiss on her cheek and smiling down into wee Sarah Jane’s happy face.
“This is my friend, Bella Randall.” Anna began when she moved back out of his embrace. “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 shifted so she could better look at the man. 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 forced herself to look back up into his handsomely rugged face and 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 was 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, glad for the distraction, hushed her gently and she settled.
“She is so good with the kids.” Anna whispered to her brother-in-law. “A godsend, really.”
Bella gave Anna a thankful smile.
“You are in luck. Flagstaff’s in need of a new teacher. I can introduce you to Mrs. Foster. She just got married...”
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.
“William keeps it pretty quiet around here. Folks seem to like his approach.”
Bella watched as everyone William passed smiled and spoke to him. One pretty lady stopped and even pressed her hand into his arm sending odd bubblings up through her. 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 Turner. 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 James, who reached up to take her hand as he said, “Tell me more about the bugs, Miss Randall.”
“Bugs?” Riley asked with a laugh.
“Yes, Bella and James were studying the ants under the boardwalk when William found them.”
At the memory, Bella’s cheeks flamed anew and she was only too happy to focus on James. Bella went on to tell him about the bugs as Riley led them all to his wagon.
As they loaded up, it was only Riley who noticed his brother looking back to watch them. He smiled and gave a salute before climbing up beside his wife and young daughter.
William came out to the farm two days later for dinner. Anna had insisted, 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 and the board would like to meet you. Is tomorrow okay?”
“Oh...” Bella let out a breath, her mind thinking of all she would need.
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 William 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. She 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. There was a wildness about him Riley lacked as well; a kind of controlled wildness. 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. He had a certain grace on his horse. All raw and sinewy, both man and animal, they moved 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 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? Her fingers twitched to run through his dark hair, to brush the strand that had fallen down on his forehead.
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 tea and went to sit out on the lovely wrap-around porch.
“It is so wonderful out here. I am glad Riley convinced me 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 own adventures. Riley figured he was running, but I think he just needed something 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 gave at her. The dimples seemed to wink 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 the school board members as well as seeing William again, sent her into fits of joy she could barely contain. Her body seemed to buzz with anticipation.
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 bumped together. It was oddly exciting, something she had never experienced before.
At Mrs Foster’s house, he came around the wagon and reached up to help her down from the wagon, she felt a jolt sizzle up her arm at the contact. She averted her eyes, not wanting to meet his gaze as she moved to step down. He moved into her path and shifted so that he could grasp her waist and lower her. Her body flared at the contact. When he placed her on the ground she barely kept herself from swaying towards him. The heat rose off him in waves so potent she felt faint. Closing her eyes a moment she took a steadying breath.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice rough as he whispered close to her ear.
A tremble rolled through her as she gripped his muscular biceps to steady herself.
“I’m okay... just a little nervous, I suppose. Sorry,” she said as she released him and shifted to a safer distance.
She turned to take in the lovely little house. 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 Bella 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 was not careful. But something about her made him not want to be so careful.
It was not too long before the board members came to introduce themselves and he was taken by her confidence and ability to charm them. Some of the stodgier members even smiled at her. That was impressive, he thought letting a smile tug at his lips.
The men did not stay long and assured her they would let her know about the job as soon as they were able to check her references. William’s keen eye had him noticing her slight pale at that, but no one else seemed to notice. Seeing she seemed fine, he left the ladies to continue to talk and walked the men back into town, giving him a chance to clear his head and make his rounds.
When he returned, Evelyn waved him up onto the porch. “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 board members will accept you.”
During the rough drive back, the axel broke on the wagon sending them sliding into each other. William caught her and held her to him. He looked into her eyes sending her body into trembling.
“Are you okay, Miss Randall?” he asked, his voice a husky whisper. His eyes dipped to her lips, then back to her eyes.
Bella nodded unable to form words. Her heartbeat skipped, then thundered wildly in her ears. The trembling had William’s hands running up and down her arms thinking she was cold.
When she managed to get herself to still, William got them down off the wagon and disconnected the horses.
“We’ll have to ride,” he told her as he lifted her up onto one. “I’ll get you back to Anna, then come back to fix this and see to the horses.” He handed her the reins.
“I am not too sure...” She began, then froze when he swung up behind her on the horse. This was not appropriate, but part of her body sang with the contact. The musky, male scent of him made her weak 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 questioned as he coaxed the horse forward into a slow gait.
She could only shake her head. The rumble of his laugh settled around her and she relaxed a little, enjoying the closeness.
“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.”
* *. *.
Over the next month things seemed to fit into place. The school board agreed to take her on as teacher and Mrs. Foster was more than happy to pass the little school house over to her without waiting for the fall. She did ask if she could come and visit and occasionally lend a hand. Bella was more than happy to have the support and guidance.
Before she made the move into the school house, she continued to stay with Anna and Riley, helping Anna as much as she could. She also liked that William came around quite often. He came to help Riley with fixing some equipment, but he also came for dinner. The children adored him.
Bella enjoyed seeing him and each time her heart soared. He did not touch her, no matter how much she longed to be in his arms again. Memories of their ride were burned into her and she often found herself dreaming of him and his muscular body up tight against hers. Some nights she would wake up longing for more, but not knowing what precisely that would be.
During the day she would often find herself daydreaming about him. She wondered what he would feel like pressed up to the front of her and kissing her. The thoughts were disturbingly distracting.
William would linger into the evenings when he visited. He would sit close to her and engage her in conversation always wanting to know more, but she was quiet about her past... almost guarded about it and he found his protective instincts awakened. He had never experienced that before... even with his ex fiancée, Lily.
When the time came to move her into the school house, he was there. She did not have much, but the little room at the back of the school had been neglected since Mrs. Foster had moved in with her husband. He busied himself with a few repairs and made sure the wood box was filled for those mornings when there was a chill in the air. She would also need a fire to cook her meals and keep her comfortable.
He liked having her closer. In town, he was able to see her almost every day as the school was just at the edge of town. He noticed she often took walks into town in the evenings and he suspected she was not used to living alone. He found himself waiting for her to pass the Sherri's office and then he would catch up to her. Together they would make their way along the boardwalk. He enjoyed their conversations. She would tell him about the children's antics and they would laugh. Occasionally, their hands would brush and the jolt of contact would force them to remember to keep a socially acceptable distance.
"You're liking it, then?" he asked one evening.
"Oh, most definitely." She had never felt happier in all her life. “The only thing better would be...” she let that thought hide within her mind. Oh how she secretly wanted this man.
* * *
It was a few weeks into her teaching and Bella was getting used to living on her own. It still made her nervous, but knowing William was close eased some of her anxiety. She was almost sure he would time his rounds to walk with her. He never touched her, except for the accidental brushing, but his smiles and attention were garnering her some heated looks from Miss Elsie May Turner. The girl was not pleased with his latest distraction.
One evening after she had dismissed the children, she heard a bumping around coming from outside or from the coat room at the front of the school. She moved quickly to see if little Tommy Meyers needed any help as it was his turn to tidy up. She stopped short when the school's door flew open and in thundered, none other than Rutherford Harrison. His dark gaze and furious scowl had her retreating a few steps and pressing her hand to her throat. Her quick indrawn breath had him smirking dangerously.
"So this is where you ran off to." he boomed out darkly. His icy cold tone had her pulling her shawl a little tighter around her shoulders.
Her eyes widened in fear before she raised her chin in challenge. She would hide her fear. Seeing Tommy rush out through the open door had her feeling the full impact of being alone with this man. She had never had been before and her body could not hide the tremor that skittered across her skin. He strode toward her, his steps eating up the space and before she could move, he grasped her upper arms in a biting, brutal vice-like grip. He pulled her up off the floor so that her toes dangled over the floor boards.
His hands shook her as he spoke. "You are mine, Miss Randall. Your father and I arranged it and I will not be made a fool of by a mere woman. You will return with me - married, if need be." He growled the last bit as he shoved her backwards. She stumbled and almost fell, before he grabbed her again having noticed her little room at the back. He began to drag her in that direction.
"I will make you mine now..." he began in a tone so harsh it could cut glass.
His words were cut off by a swift jerking motion that had Bella thrown to the floor. Rutherford was jerked back off his feet. Bella gave a squeal as William drew back his fist and thrust it with brutal force towards Rutherford's aquiline nose. There was crushing blow, Rutherford reached to cover his nose, his curses cutting the air as William landed another punch to his bloated stomach, doubling him over.
Bella watched as Rutherford dropped like a stone groaning as blood spouted from his broken nose. In shock she stared dumbfounded as William gathered her up into his arms and moved with her outside to the front step. A few people had gathered and embarrassed, Bella buried her face in the front of William's shirt. The scent of sweat, leather and man filled her and she relaxed reaching her arms up to wrap around his neck.
"Are you okay?" He asked his voice tight with tension.
She nodded, but did not lift her head.
She felt his voice rumbled under her cheek as he told someone to see to Rutherford. Then he lowered them to the front steps. He kept her on his lap and shifted so he could look at her.
"Look at me, Bella." he said forcing his voice to be gentle, not bothering with the usual formality. She glanced up at him. The tears had begun and he shifted to wipe them with his thumb.
"Tell me he did not hurt you.". He moved his hand down her arm and she flinched when he passed over the spot Rutherford had gripped her. "Sorry." he murmured and gently kissed her forehead.
"You are safe now. He won't hurt you again." He whispered.
When she looked up at him, his gut twisted with raw emotion. He wanted this woman to be his and leaning forward he brushed his lips tentatively over hers. He did not care who saw. When he looked back into her eyes, she was smiling through her glistening tears.
"I was wondering what that would feel like."
He could not help the grin that pulled at him as he gazed into her eyes. Shaking his head, he leaned his forehead against hers and let the smile bloom. His heart opened as well.
"If we were not sitting in front of everyone... I would be inclined to do that again."
"Oh, please do," she whispered back to him.
That brought a chuckle out of him and despite the situation, he felt lighter than he ever had before.
Word Count = 4594.