Release date October 1, 2013
Granite, Texas
Spring 1886
"What are you doing here?" Daniel Westland scowled at his younger brother, Levi. He'd been running late, and seeing his brother standing there, looking freshly cleaned and pressed, was not what he'd expected. The wildflowers in Levi's hands spun daintily in the breeze that swished about them as the stagecoach pulled to a stop.

Dust filled the air, and both men shaded their eyes against the grit. As soon as the horses came to a complete halt and the dust settled, Levi answered, "I imagine I'm here for the same reason you are, big brother."

Levi grinned. His green eyes sparkled with mischief. Daniel's scowl deepened. Surely Levi hadn't sent off for a mail-order bride, also? But then again, maybe he had. Daniel pulled his hat farther down on his forehead to shade his eyes from both his brother and the sun.

While they waited for the driver to leap down and open the carriage door, Daniel thought of the woman within the stagecoach. She was a schoolteacher and had written that she felt it was time to have children of her own. The letter promised she had all her teeth, that she was twenty-eight years old and believed in God.

Daniel's jaw tightened. Once more he wanted to scream that he didn't have time for this, he had a ranch to run! Why his mother, Bonnie Westland, felt the need for grandchildren now was beyond his comprehension.

Truth be told, he wasn't ready for a wife or children, but his mother was feeling the pinch of old age. At Christmas she'd decided that her sons needed wives and she needed grandchildren. She'd proclaimed over dinner that the first son to marry and produce a grandchild would inherit the ranch.

Daniel swept his hat off and ran a weary hand through his hair. His mood darkened as he again noticed the fresh bouquet of wildflowers in Levi's tan hand. Why hadn't he thought to pick Miss Hannah Young flowers?

The two men's gazes met and clashed. Levi winked at him and then continued to watch the door expectantly. Why did Daniel let his younger brother get under his skin so? He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

Unlike Levi, he didn't have time to stop and smell the flowers, or in this case pick them for a stranger. He slapped at the dirt on his pant legs. He'd been more concerned about fixing the west fence on the ranch before he had to meet the stagecoach and his mailorder bride than he had sprucing up for her.

The driver set a wooden box in front of the coach door and then reached for the handle.

Daniel quickly did a self-inventory. His tan shirt hid most of the day's sweat and grime. Thankfully, he was wearing dark brown pants or he'd really look shabby to his new bride. His work boots were covered in a fine layer of dirt and mire. He knocked a chunk of dried mud off the hem of his trouser leg.

The sound of Levi's low, appreciative whistle brought Daniel's head up.

A vision of loveliness stood in the doorway of the coach. As she stepped down onto the wooden box, her blue travel dress floated about her, much how he would imagine ocean waves would look. Silky black ringlets framed her heart-shaped face. Stormy blue eyes scanned the small town and then alighted on him.

She held his gaze for several long minutes, and during that time Daniel felt as if his heart were being squeezed and his lungs had lost all means of holding air. He hadn't expected Hannah Young to be so beautiful.

Levi stepped forward and clasped her hand in his. "I'm Levi Westland." He helped her step down from the box until her feet touched the ground. "Are you Mil-licent Summer?"

Her voice sounded soft and almost musical. "I'm sorry, Mr. Westland. I'm Hannah Young." Confusion laced her pretty blue eyes. "I am here to meet Daniel Westland. Did he send you to pick me up?"

"No, ma'am. I'm his brother, Levi."

Daniel stepped forward. "I'm Daniel Westland." His words squeaked out, making him sound much like an adolescent instead of the thirty-three-year-old man he was. He cleared his throat and stepped forward, extending his hand.

She smiled and placed her small gloved fingers in his. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Westland."

The coach driver set two large bags down beside her. "Here is your luggage, ma'am." He picked up the wooden box and replaced it inside the carriage.

Hannah released Daniel's hand and thanked the driver.

Levi looked inside the vehicle. Disappointment laced his voice. "Weren't there other passengers?"

The driver grunted as he climbed back aboard the stage. "Not this trip." He slapped the reins over the horses' backs, heading to the livery at a fast pace.

Levi stood watching them go. The dejected look on his face said it all: he had hoped to have a bride today, as well. Was Levi disappointed because he was behind in the game? Or had he somehow learned to care about Millicent Summers through her letters?

The look on his younger brother's face bothered Daniel. He squashed the feelings. He couldn't let them affect him now. Thanks to his mother's challenge, the ownership of the family ranch was at stake.

He returned his attention to Hannah Young and offered what he hoped was his best smile. "It's nice to meet you, too. Are you ready?" At her slight nod, he pressed on. "I thought we'd head on over to the preacher's house, and then enjoy an early supper before going out to the ranch." Now that the time to actually get married was here, Daniel felt as if someone had tied a big stone around his neck and was about to toss him into the river.

Would he ever feel right about marrying a woman who he wasn't sure he'd be able to protect and love? After the death of his sister and his inability to protect her on the ranch, what made him think he could take care of a complete stranger? If only his mother hadn't interfered in his life, he'd never have to find out.

He picked up her bags and looked again in Levi's direction. His brother stood off to the side with the flowers still clutched in his hand. Confusion furrowed his brow.

A featherlight hand landed on Daniel's forearm. "I'm sorry, Mr. Westland, but am I correct in my assumption that you are planning on our wedding being today?"

"Of course." He turned toward the buckboard, which waited in front of the general store. The sooner they got this over with, the better.

Her hand slipped from his arm. He'd taken several steps before he realized Hannah was no longer by his side. Daniel looked over his shoulder and saw that she stood where he'd left her, her arms crossed and a stern look upon her face.

He walked back to her. "Is something amiss, Miss Young?"

A new sharpness filled her voice as she informed him, "Mr. Westland, I don't believe that is what we agreed upon. Per my letter, we will not be married until I am properly courted, and only if we find there is love in our hearts for one another."

Daniel dropped the bags. He didn't like the firmness in her voice when she spoke to him. He wasn't one of her students, and they had to get married today.

Anger caused his next words to come out swift and full of emotion. "Madam, getting married today isn't something I relish, either. But it is what happens when a man places a mailorder bride ad and a lady accepts the offer. I did not agree to any other terms. I have a ranch to run, and the sooner we get this…" for a moment he faltered for words "…this marriage thing over with, the better. Now come along." He reached for her arm, figuring the tone he'd just used with her had scared more than one cowpoke into doing what he ordered.

She stepped back out of his reach. Determination laced her blue eyes and she responded in a stern manner of her own. "I don't think so, Mr. Westland. I sent a letter and told you my stipulations. By sending me tickets to come here, you agreed to those terms."

Daniel spread his legs and planted his fists on his waist. He ignored the grinning Levi, who'd taken a sudden interest in them. His sibling no longer resembled a dejected hound dog.

He turned his gaze from his little brother and focused on her. "Miss Young, I did not receive your letter and would never have agreed to your demands. Did you or did you not answer my mailorder bride ad?"

She offered him a sweet smile. Her blue eyes sparkled in the morning sunlight, much like a woman's jewels. Daniel felt sure she was about to say that it was all right and she'd be happy to marry him on the spot.

Instead, Hannah said, "Yes, I did. And I only did so because I thought you agreed to my terms. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get my letter, but the terms still stand. I am not trying to be a demanding woman, Mr. Westland. But I will not be forced into a quick marriage."

Sweetness dripped from her lips, but determination filled her eyes. He could tell this woman was giving no quarter in their disagreement. He also realized they were gathering more attention than a bucking bull on Main Street.

He ground his teeth and scowled at his brother, who grinned back at him. This was not working out as Daniel had planned. "Come along. We'll discuss this over lunch." He walked back to her luggage and jerked it up.

Leave it to him to pick a bride who wanted to marry, but only for love. Why hadn't he gotten the missing letter? In the last one he'd received she'd said yes, that she'd like to come to Granite and meet him. Had she mentioned a long engagement? No, he felt sure he'd have remembered it if she had.

Upon reflection, he realized she'd said "meet" him, not marry him.


Barb said...

Great first chapter! Looking forward to reading the book!

Karen said...

Love it!! Can't wait to read it!!

Browningblog said...

Me too! Looking forward to it!

Rhonda Gibson said...

Thanks everyone!!