Annie Denmark walked downstairs to the ground floor kitchen of the small house on Chestnut Street. The hired girl was up to her elbows in the wash sink’s soapy water.
All manner of small plates and cutlery were soaking in a tub on the big table in the middle of the room.
The girl glanced up with raised eyebrows as Annie entered.
“Shall I bring another plate of cakes up, Miss Denmark?”
“No, thank you, the guests are leaving. I just needed to get away for a minute.” She smiled wanly at the girl.
The young lady took her hands from the dishwater and dried her hands.
“Here, Miss Denmark. Let me get you a cup of tea. It’s been a busy two days. You’re still emotional from all of it, miss.”
Annie gratefully watched as her temporary employee put the kettle on and took a clean cup and saucer from the cupboard. She set them on the table near Annie.
It had, indeed, been a long and busy few days. Prior to that, it had been a long and busy few months. When Aunt Bonnie had gotten sick, Annie and her sister Daisy had taken over the older woman’s business. They took care of all of her back orders and their own as well. Annie had been keeping the books for her aunt for about three years too.
The sisters had been apprenticing with their father’s sister since they’d come to live with her ten years earlier. It had been after Annie and Daisy’s parents were killed in a boating accident on the Hudson River in New York. Bonnie was the only living relative the girls had. The woman had come to New York City, sold everything that was in the tiny flat on Fourth Street, and taken her nieces back to Philadelphia.
There they’d remained, learning the trade of fine dressmaking. It was true that most of the clothing business had been taken over by factories almost twenty years earlier, but Aunt Bonnie stressed the point over and over again, that the rich ladies of Philadelphia still preferred custom-made garments.
It was all about fine handiwork if you wanted to make money. Buttonholes had to be just right, seams needed to be hidden, ruched details had to be even, and embroidery should be fine. The girls had been taught every aspect of their trade. There were long days and long nights in the little shop. Sometimes they would work through the night to get a dress to a particularly impatient client. The sisters would complain, but Aunt Bonnie would smile and tell them that they should wish to work at night all the time. The fee was double for such items. Aunt Bonnie would smile and get to work, sometimes not stopping until seven or eight in the morning. Then she would take a little sleep and food and be back in the shop at noon when they opened.
Being the elder daughter, Annie had also taken it upon herself to learn the bookkeeping for the dress shop, as well as all of her aunt’s skills. The three women lived and worked side by side enjoying a happy and secure life. But then Aunt Bonnie had come down with a mysterious malady that had caused her to feel poorly for a week or so. Then she’d seemed fine for a few days. She’d spent the last day in the shop, overseeing fittings, only to faint away come evening.
The doctor was as perplexed as anyone and told the sisters to keep Bonnie as comfortable as possible. The illness would pass, he’d told them, or it wouldn’t. As it turned out, it didn’t. On the last night of her life, Bonnie Denmark tearfully called her elder niece, Annie, to her bedside to share a story with her. It was the story of the love of Bonnie Denmark’s life. It was the story of Mr. James Balladeer.
They’d met in Gold Springs, she’d told Annie. Colorado Territory. It was in 1859, and Bonnie’s father had moved his wife and daughter from northern Maryland to the territory in search of his fortune. His son, Annie and Daisy’s father had stayed in Maryland, on the farm. Bonnie had been too young to stay behind. She was sixteen at the time, and after living in Gold Springs a few months, she’d fallen in love with the handsome young man who owned the mining supply company in town.
But young James Balladeer had been solicited a year earlier to marry a young lady who was the daughter of his benefactor. The man had funded Balladeer’s business and therefore his very life. Balladeer owed the man many hundreds of dollars, and he was told that if he married the young lady, his debts would disappear. If he didn’t marry her, the man would run James out of business and out of town. It wasn’t a matter of money. Nobody was going to leave the man’s daughter at the altar.
It had been an impossible situation. James and Bonnie never had a chance. The relationship had been cut short before it had a chance to begin. The benefactor’s plans were already laid out and ready to be followed to the letter.
Then, Bonnie’s father had gotten killed in a mining accident. Her mother forced the girl to go back to Maryland and their prior life. Mrs. Denmark had no intention of leaving her seventeen-year-old daughter alone in a wild mining town. Colorado wasn’t even a state the lady had told her daughter by way of explanation.
Annie shook the past from her thoughts and sipped her tea. She knew she had to go back upstairs to say goodnight to the funeral guests. Daisy was up there all alone in the parlor. Alone with their dead aunt and those who’d come to pay their last respects to the lady.
The house had been full of condolence-givers for two days. In the morning, the undertaker would come to the house. After the service, the sisters and guests would meet in the cemetery for the interment. The undertaker would transport Aunt Bonnie’s coffin. After the graveside service it would all be done. Annie was exhausted, but she couldn’t keep her thoughts from the last conversation she’d had with her aunt.
Before she went to sleep, on her last earthly night, Aunt Bonnie had given Annie a letter. Right now it rested in the top drawer of the secretary in the small office between the shop and the kitchen. It was a letter Bonnie had written to the man she had loved for her whole life. The man who was the reason Bonnie had never married.
Aunt Bonnie asked Annie and Daisy to go to Colorado. Find James Balladeer, she’d said. He was in a place called Golden Creek last she’d heard. Gold was discovered there just a few years ago. It was about forty miles from where Bonnie had lived when she was a girl. Give James the letter she’d said through tears.
Of course, Annie and Daisy said they would, most definitely, find Mr. Balladeer and deliver the letter. Now, sitting at the kitchen table, Annie wondered how they could do it. She was game to try. She’d never shied from a new experience, and the thought of going west exhilarated her. Annie loved adding to her sense of wonderment about the world and everything that went on in it. But Daisy was shy and timid. It was difficult for the girl to extend herself to others unless they were in the dress shop.
Annie sighed. It was time to go back upstairs to say good night to the guests. She could figure everything out in the morning.
*** ** ***
She walked up the backstairs and found Daisy sitting on one of the sofas in the front parlor with two other ladies. They were friends of Aunt Bonnie’s, and Aunt Bonnie didn’t have many close people. Most of those here to pay their respects were in attendance to find out what was going to happen to one of the finest dressmaking shops in Philadelphia. Every lady present, as well a good number of the men, were clients of Bonnie and the girls.
Annie had added tailoring men’s clothes to the roster of services offered at the Denmark Dress Shop when Aunt Bonnie was sick. She’d come to realize that the tailors in town charged more for altering pants, jackets, and vests than her aunt did for dresses. In the three months of Bonnie’s illness, Annie had picked up six male clients who were regulars. And the list promised to grow each day. The work offered at the shop was unparalleled. The sisters had also been charging slightly less for their work on men’s clothing than the male tailors. As a result, business was booming.
The whispers and murmurings swirled around her as Annie made her way through the double parlor and to the sofa near the front windows. She eyed her sister. Daisy stood to join her and they stepped into the hall by the front door and waited for the guests to say their goodbyes. They would all see each other again the next morning at the funeral.
Finally, the house was empty. Annie paid the hired helper girl with the agreement that the girl would also come to the house the next morning. The sisters were alone. They sat at the kitchen table, too tired to go up to bed. Annie went into the shop and retrieved Aunt Bonnie’s letter to James Balladeer. She took it back to the kitchen and laid it on the table.
“You want to go, don’t you, Annie?”
“We have to, Daisy. We’re the reason Aunt Bonnie never went back to find him. Who knows? He might have been able to marry her later. Aunt Bonnie knew nothing of his life except that he was to be married after she went back to Maryland. You know, if something happened to his wife … but then if something had, wouldn’t Mr. Balladeer have looked for Aunt Bonnie? Wouldn’t he?”
“Don’t you think it’s inappropriate to go there? It’s been years. Decades. Do you really think it’s fitting?”
“You mean to find Mr. Balladeer?”
“Yes. He has a life. If Aunt Bonnie wouldn’t disturb him before now, why bother at all?”
“She was dying, Daisy. She, most likely, wanted to set something straight with the man. It’s been such a long time, as you pointed out. How much could Aunt Bonnie have affected in his life? We don’t even know if he’s still married.”
“But what if Mr. Balladeer’s wife is alive and well? We would be barging into a situation that has nothing to do with us. Nothing at all. And why did Auntie ask that her letter be hand delivered? It can’t go through the post? If that’s the case, then why not hire somebody to deliver it?”
“Aunt Bonnie was a friend of Mr. Balladeer’s thirty-five years ago, Daisy. She, clearly, had things she wanted to share with him before she died. It’s not for us to judge. I urge you to remember, also, that Aunt Bonnie gave up everything to raise us after Mama and Papa died.”
Daisy chewed her lip. “Hmm. I suppose you’re right. Aunt Bonnie did sacrifice a lot for us. But if we were to leave Philadelphia, what about the house? Are we going to sell it? That will take time, you know. I don’t know why you want to leave so quickly. It hasn’t even sunk in yet that Auntie is dead. I keep waiting to hear her voice call out when I’m on the stairs. She would always know it when I was on my way to her room with tea or a meal.”
“I miss her too, Daisy. Even though it hasn’t even been a week since she left us. As for the house, I think that we can board it up for the time being when we go. I believe we can be on our way to Colorado in little more than a week’s time.
“You know, you should read the letters Mr. Balladeer wrote to Aunt Bonnie until his marriage in 1861. I think then you’d have a better understanding why we have to go to Colorado. Mr. Balladeer and Aunt Bonnie were very much in love, but Mr. Balladeer’s entire livelihood was at stake. He couldn’t leave Gold Springs and start over. He was nine years older than Aunt Bonnie, and he was already engaged when the two of them met. It’s very sad. Aunt Bonnie cried so when she told me the story, Daisy. I haven’t seen her cry as much since our parents’ funeral. She said she always thought she might see Mr. Balladeer again. But it never happened.”
“It is very sad, Annie. But we have no male escort to see us to the west. Surely you’re not suggesting that we travel, and such a long distance, alone? It’s not fitting. Aunt Bonnie would never allow it.”
“Times are changing, Daisy. I’ve heard it’s different in the territories and the western states. It seems people are less concerned with the petty etiquettes so prevalent in the eastern cities. And, whether Auntie would approve or not hardly matters at this time. ”
“We are unmarried women, Annie. Traveling without an escort is simply not done. Not by women like us. Raised as we were. How can you even suggest we travel alone? We might be working class, but we still follow the proper etiquette, whether they do in the Colorado Territory or not.”
Annie’s mouth opened, and then closed again. She could see that Daisy was going to be stubborn about leaving Philadelphia. It would take careful persuasion to get her sibling to agree with her. She wracked her brain for a quick idea that would convince Daisy they didn’t need a traveling companion. Finally, a solution to the dilemma presented itself.
“Hmm. Well, how about this? I have Mama’s wedding ring. I’ll wear it. We’ll concoct a story. We’ll say to anyone who asks that I’m a widow. We are heading west to meet with a dear friend.”
Daisy’s eyes widened. “You want to lie? Annie, what has happened to you? Everything here, in Philadelphia, is set for us. If any changes are to take place, we should think about expanding the shop. We could add on to the back of the house. Or we could sell this one and buy one with a storefront. Something larger. It’s been getting cramped in the shop. Especially now that we do men’s clothing too.”
Annie sighed. “Daisy. Other than staying here, what do you suggest? Do you have any other ideas? The only lie I’ll be telling is that I was married and now I’m a widow. That will protect us. No one will question a matron traveling alone these days with her own dear niece. You will act as the daughter of my late husband’s brother. Remember that. We must keep the story straight.”
“Do you really think it’s the better option for us to leave Philadelphia, Annie? If you really do, then I suppose we should. But what are we to do with all our backorders?”
“There aren’t any backorders. I worked double when Auntie was sick, and I took no new appointments. That’s why all the ladies were here tonight. Paying their respects? Bah! They wanted to make sure you and I will continue to pander to them.”
“So what about this week? What will you do when they arrive with ideas for their ball gowns and wedding dresses? I mean, the Easter holiday is only two months away, but we’ll still be inundated with visitors asking for appointments.”
“Well, I’ve closed the shop for the week.”
“You’ve closed? But …”
“It’s an understandable thing to do under the circumstances. Our clients know that we must go through Aunt Bonnie’s things. The will must be read, although she told me this business and the house now belong to you and me, fifty-fifty.”
“OK. So, we’ll close. I’ll do whatever you need, dear Annie. I’m sorry I tend toward society and what it expects. You’ve kept us afloat while Auntie was sick. I promise I’ll help you, more. I’ll do much better.”
Annie smiled at her younger sister. There were only four years between them, but there might as well have been twenty. Daisy was innocent and trusting and kind. She was as well-versed a seamstress as Annie, and even better than her sister at making buttonholes and doing fancy work. Daisy could make a repair to a dress that was unnoticeable. Their clients often requested her to sew the tiny seed pearls and covered buttons onto their special dresses or to invisibly repair small tears or wear at the hem or elbows.
But Daisy always took people at face value. It was a lovely trait that often backfired on her. It was a foreign concept to her that people were not always who they seemed to be. She took after their mother in that respect. Annie had always been the more practical, adventurous, yet reserved, one of the sisters, seeming to take after her father. She had a tendency to study people to decipher their real motives. As a result, most women found Daisy to be the sister they preferred dealing with.
“You’ve been an amazing help, Daisy. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I’m leaving it to you to deliver the orders this week. Remind the ladies we’re taking no orders at this time and avoid any other questions. Do you understand? That way, when we leave here, we’ll be making a clean break.” She reached over and patted Daisy’s arm. “Don’t worry, we’re going to be fine, Daisy.” She didn’t want the girl to worry. It was bad enough that she, herself, was concerned.
“Do you honestly think we can go without offending anyone, Annie? I can’t help being worried about the future. Once we leave, if we decide to come back, we’ll find that we’ve lost many of our clients for good.”
I suppose you can worry about it or imagine it will be a wonderful change to what we have now. If you can turn your perception around, then you can look forward to all the good that’s waiting for you.”
“Annie, you always see the best in situations. Isn’t that what Mama used to say? I see the best in people, and you see the best in the future.”
“Well, we make a good pair, then. We shouldn’t have any trouble relocating our business.”
“You want to open a new dress shop? In one of the territories? Do you actually think there’s a market, out there, for what we do?”
“Of course, I do! With all the people heading out to Colorado? This third gold rush is opening the west even more to those of us who are ready for it. And while I don’t think we’ll get a great many orders for ball gowns and such, we’ll still do very well. All the newly wealthy and rich wives will be looking to get fancy dresses. They’ll come to us with orders; I just know it. Besides, what’s to keep us here?”
*** ** ***
Daisy didn’t have the energy to try and talk her sister into staying in Philadelphia. She could think of a million reasons not to venture to the west. Only one of them was the fact that they already owned a successful business. They could keep the shop for the rest of their lives. They, even if neither one of them ever married, would always have security of the financial variety from the shop. Daisy thought it somewhat foolish to throw away, essentially, a booming business. She couldn’t figure out why Annie was so adamant to go. But she’d said she would go with her. She knew she couldn’t stay in Philadelphia alone. While her sewing techniques and prowess were better than Annie’s, her sister was the bookkeeper, and every other part of the business besides meeting, greeting, and fitting.
In the morning, the sisters would say their final goodbyes to Aunt Bonnie at the cemetery. Then there would be a luncheon with Aunt Bonnie’s two lady friends and their husbands. Daisy knew that Annie would, most likely, want to nap later in the afternoon. It would be dinnertime, tomorrow, before Daisy could talk to her sister again about their plan to go to Colorado Territory.
Obviously Annie had been planning the move from the moment Aunt Bonnie had given her the special delivery letter for James Balladeer. Daisy didn’t want to disappoint Annie, but she didn’t understand why they couldn’t stay put and find someone to take the letter to Colorado for them.
Or they could put it in the Post. Why did Annie think they had to deliver the thing in person? She could only ascertain that Annie was restless. With the death of Aunt Bonnie and her suggestion to go west, a whole new idea for the future had opened for her sister, Daisy thought. She could understand it. Annie had always been impulsive to the point of brashness at times. But Philadelphia was the only town that Daisy knew. She considered it her hometown in spite of the fact that she and Annie had lived in New York City with their parents for the first parts of their lives. There were many reasons why Daisy wanted to stay in Philadelphia.
The main reason Daisy wanted to stay put, though, was the young man she’d recently met. He was Irish and worked in a pub on Drury Street. Daisy fancied herself in love with the man. She’d met him at the outdoor market when she was buying some fruit one day. He was charming and handsome with a shy smile and bright blue eyes. He was also almost five years her senior and didn’t have the best reputation. He was known to be something of a ladies’ man, but Daisy convinced herself that once he met her, he’d stopped his philandering. She trusted him and felt sure that everything he said to her was the truth. She knew he would marry her once she turned eighteen, just as he said he would.
Daisy wished that she was older and could make her own decisions. But because she was just sixteen, Annie was responsible for her. Now that Aunt Bonnie was gone, Annie was, according to the woman’s wishes, Daisy’s legal guardian. Daisy knew that’s what was in the will because Aunt Bonnie had discussed it with her and Annie a month before she died. The older woman had had enough time, before her demise, to get the areas of her affairs that needed it, in order.
Annie touched Daisy’s shoulder and interrupted her thoughts.
“I know you must have a beau of sorts here, Daisy. How serious is it? Why haven’t you brought him around? I don’t even know his name. But please don’t think I don’t know you’ve been sneaking out in the evenings.”
Daisy said nothing, but she changed the subject rather abruptly. If Annie noticed, she didn’t let on, and the girls entered into a discussion about the funeral luncheon.
It was to be in a private room at The Flower House restaurant. Under normal circumstances, both girls would have enjoyed such an outing. Eating in a restaurant was entirely fun and out of the ordinary. But, because Aunt Bonnie’s presence would be sorely missed, the sisters agreed that the would-be adventure had turned into a tedious duty. The luncheon was going to leave them feeling flat inside.
Daisy was worried about how they were going to survive without the patronage of Aunt Bonnie.
She’d been worried about it since the older woman took sick. Daisy loved her aunt. The idea of life without her was dismaying, to say the least. But, she and Annie now owned the house and the business. And business was flourishing. If Daisy weren’t captivated the way she was with Paul McGowan, she’d still want to stay in Philadelphia. The idea of starting over from scratch in a strange place unnerved her. There was no reason to do so. But she couldn’t convince Annie of the fact.
In Philadelphia, they were safe, for one thing. And secure. The sisters could go on living the way they had except Aunt Bonnie wouldn’t be there. The lady had trained Daisy and Annie well in all aspects of her dressmaking business. As an unmarried woman, Bonnie Denmark had amassed a solid bank balance and an eight-room townhouse that was paid off. She’d left no debt for her nieces to contend with.
Daisy knew she’d have a difficult time trying to sway Annie from her determination to deliver Aunt Bonnie’s love letter to James Balladeer. The fact that Annie also saw financial opportunity in the west meant little to Daisy. Once again, she didn’t understand why they couldn’t just leave things as they were.
After about sixty minutes, the sisters were tired enough to leave the sitting room and venture upstairs to sleep. Daisy said goodnight to Annie and hurried to her room. How was she going to tell Annie about Paul?
*** ** ***
In the morning, Annie was awake before Daisy and went downstairs to make coffee. She wrapped a sacque around her and took the back stairs down the three flights to the ground floor kitchen.
The house was cold, and she closed the door to the room, then stoked the embers in the cook stove and added more coal. By the time Daisy came down the room would be cheery and warm.
Annie went out into the shop. The sign in the window was turned to the side that said closed. She wondered if she should put the lights on. The front half of the ground floor had been converted into the dress shop. Bonnie had installed gaslight there. The rest of the house used kerosene lamps, but the shop needed the luminous gas flame. It allowed the three of them to work deep into the night if need be. It gave the female clientele a better idea of how their gowns would glow as they were waltzed around various dance floors.
She would miss it. Annie liked Philadelphia and her life there. And that life promised to grow easier and more secure in the coming weeks, months, and years. However, everything seemed to have grown stagnant. There was little to no excitement in her life. There was little to no social aspect to her life. While Daisy was the shy sister, she was the one who went to dances and dinner parties; Annie, as the practical sister, preferred to work on the books or take care of extra sewing in her evenings.
The sisters and their aunt had lived quiet, frugal, yet comfortable lives in the brick townhouse. There was no reason that couldn’t go on. Annie thought about it and thought about it. She was caught between the desire for freedom and adventure and the lure of the burning home fires.
Before she died, Bonnie had told Annie that she’d always wanted to go back to Colorado. It had been a wild and unruly place, but it had piqued Bonnie’s enterprising nature. She’d been seriously considering relocating when Annie and Daisy had come into her life as wards.
Bonnie had loved the girls as she would have loved her own children. She’d seen to it that Annie and Daisy were accepted by her clients as accomplished businesswomen in their own rights.
In a town where wealthy women generally had a hairdresser they worked with, the hairdresser was often the lady’s personal maid. But if a lady was going to a party, she would have a professional hairdresser come to the house.
Wealthy women also had their dressmakers. None of those ladies wanted factory-made wares. They wanted hand-sewn garments. Finely hand-sewn garments. The women would have Bonnie or Annie come to their homes to drape them and talk with them about what they wanted.
The women who frequented the shop were attached to Bonnie and had been relying more and more on the sisters. Annie knew this was an invaluable asset. It assured her that she and her sister would always have work. On one hand, she firmly believed that if she and Daisy could keep the business of Philadelphia’s wealthy ladies, they would never want for anything. On the other hand, if it could be done in Philadelphia, it could be done anywhere.
Aunt Bonnie opened the dress shop twenty-five years earlier. Just around the time that many of the small shops were being put out of business by the factories. Bonnie persevered and privately offered her card when she went calling, or when she was out. The strategy had worked in her favor. The first order she’d had at the new shop had been for a wedding gown.
The daughter of a judge was getting married in one month’s time. The dressmaker the woman usually visited had become pregnant and was not taking new orders. Not even from her elite clientele. Annie chuckled to herself with the knowledge that after the first wedding gown, Bonnie Denmark’s reputation as the finest dressmaker in Philadelphia was born. The original bride told all of her friends and the guests at her wedding where she’d had her dress made. After that, business had gotten busier and busier to the point that Bonnie had begun to take on apprentices.
But after Annie and Daisy arrived on her doorstep, Aunt Bonnie never took on another apprentice. She’d devoted herself to bettering her nieces’ lives. As a result, now that Bonnie was gone, Annie and Daisy were in a position to work as much, or as little as they pleased. Their clients, they knew, would be loyal.
The female customers were loyal, in part, because the Denmark ladies really had been three of the best seamstresses in the whole city. Now they were two. But it had been Bonnie who’d come up with the brilliant idea of always doing a little something extra and not charging for it.
Meaning, she would give out little pincushions with the name of the shop embroidered on. She would give out packets of needles, embroidery thread, bits of lace, and scraps of velvet for use in crazy quilts. Bonnie called it lagniappe. It was a little something extra, and she’d learned about it from a woman she’d once known who had hailed from New Orleans. It had the desired effect.
The Philadelphia ladies had found the habit to be charming and, of course, told their friends about it. Slowly but surely, Aunt Bonnie’s shop had become known to all the society maids and matrons. The business took off, averaging two new clients each week.
Annie felt sure that she and Daisy could recreate Aunt Bonnie’s success in Colorado. There was nothing to stop them but fear of the unknown. Annie couldn’t live that way. She couldn’t deny a new experience to just stay put because of an uncertainty of the future. Yes, the security she and her sister enjoyed was priceless. But they could have the same somewhere, anywhere else.
The more she thought about it, the more determined Annie became to find a way to get Daisy to agree with her. She knew her sister would accompany her to the west no matter what. She wanted Daisy to agree with it, though. She wanted Daisy to want to go to Colorado.
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Annie’s head will almost blow up when her late aunt confesses a huge secret she has buried for years, and just like that, her life is about to change forever. Annie gets ready for a fresh start in the west, although she can’t even fathom what challenges are lying ahead. When her path crosses Jon Balladeer’s, she finds herself in a maelstrom of emotions that she’s never experienced before; yet she keeps wondering if her arrival in Golden Creek has been a terrible mistake. Is meeting him a fateful event or is she going to be sorely regretful? Will she survive in this wild world or will her heart be broken while trying to accomplish her aunt’s death wish?
When Jon Balladeer’s father died, the family business fell on his shoulders, and he has been struggling to protect it no matter the risks coming up. Meeting Annie and having to deal with her intense personality will be a pleasant time-out, but before he knows it, he will start growing feelings for her, even if he is too headstrong to admit it. Will he manage to keep her safe from all the dangers that loom large? Will he put his ego aside and try his best to win her heart?
The spark between them is too hard to ignore but their rebellious behaviors will make their romance almost impossible to bloom. Will they take an honest step towards each other giving a chance to their feelings? When a terrible incident will devastate Annie, will Jon stand by her side?
“The Cure for His Stubborn Soul” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.