Molly ran her hand along the rifle barrel as she walked home with her father. Success bubbled up within her as she thought about what her mother would say when she and her father got home.
“I’m proud of you, my girl,” her father said, patting her with a heavy hand. “You were the only lady competing, and you still came out on top.”
“Wearing a dress shouldn’t determine one’s shooting abilities,” Molly told her father. Even though her father agreed with her, and he was the reason she was such an accurate shot, she still didn’t like to be reminded of what some people thought of women carrying and using guns.
“It shouldn’t, but it often does.”
“You’ll accept the invitation, won’t you?” Molly asked, brushing her short, red hair behind her ear. She studied her father’s profile as they continued to walk. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, but she hadn’t seen age affect his steadiness yet. Molly hoped she never would see that day.
“Of course, I will. I would be a fool to turn it down. It’s not every day you get asked to perform as a sharpshooter, and at my age!”
“You’re not so old as all that,” Molly told him.
“Well, sooner or later, I won’t be able to perform as well anymore. That’s why now that we’re earning medals and cash prizes, we need to be smart about what we do with it.”
Molly thought about the money she had at home. She always gave half of her prize money to her parents. It only seemed right. They had suffered so much before, and they always provided enough food for her to eat, even through the worst times. The other half, she kept in a little chest. Her heart pounded as she thought of the chest and the adventures it represented.
With that money, she could go anywhere, do anything . . . if she weren’t a woman. The truth was that she was a woman, and many people wanted to put limitations on her because of it. Molly had contemplated how to spend her money for a long time, and an idea had started blooming in her head. No more buying sweets at the shop down the road. Now, she would actually do something.
“You’ve gone quiet,” her father said.
Molly touched her rifle’s barrel again, nodding at the older couple they passed. “I’m just thinking about what you said, using the money wisely.”
Molly wasn’t ready to tell her father her idea yet. She wanted to see what her mother thought first. Her mother was the more cautious individual, and she might have the most trouble letting her go. “I’ll tell you once I’ve figured out the details,” she finally answered her father, her mind busy doing just that.
She had won a whole $10 from the competition today, and her stash of money added up to nearly $150 now. That was enough to get on a train and go anywhere. Molly also had three different marksman medals. She was sure they would be worth money if she wanted to sell them but wasn’t sure how much. Besides, she was proud of them and didn’t want to part with them, not just yet. If the time came when her family was as desperate as before, she would consider the idea.
Her father called out a greeting to their neighbors, and they called back. Molly waved cheerfully. Her neighbors frowned at Molly, and she was sure they were gearing up for another lecture on the immorality of letting a woman shoot a gun. Molly couldn’t care less what a “woman’s” role might be. She was enjoying her life and earning money to support her family.
“Let’s see what your mother has been up to while we’ve been gone,” her father said, selecting the front door key and sliding it into the lock.
Molly followed her father inside, her eyes adjusting to the somewhat gloomy interior. While they had been successful in many a competition, they hadn’t earned enough to finance a new house. They still lived in the old one, its main faults being the lack of light and the broken floorboards.
Molly stepped around the weak boards and placed her gun in its usual place by the fireplace, which wasn’t ablaze at the moment. Then, she called softly for her mother. “Ma!” she said.
Her mother bustled in from the back door, which led to a small, enclosed garden they shared with several other houses. She was carrying a large bucket of water, and Molly rushed forward to help her.
“I thought I would start supper before you two returned, but I see I wasn’t quick enough.”
“That’s okay,” Molly responded, setting the bucket of water on the table. “I’m not hungry yet.” She didn’t tell her mother that she had already eaten a large bag of kettle corn. She smiled at the memory of the buttery, sweet taste. Even though she was full, she already wanted another taste.
“How did the competition go?” her mother asked as she greeted her father. Molly listened to her father recount the competition detail by detail, rolling her eyes as he exaggerated her performance.
“I did win first place,” she admitted. “But second place got one in the bullseye too. I’ll have to keep an eye on him for the next competition because it might not be as easy to beat him again.”
“I’m proud of you, sweetheart,” her mother said. She came over and kissed Molly’s forehead, which Molly knew was sweaty from her time out in the sun. As her mother moved away, Molly tugged her hair, trying to get it off her neck so a cool breeze could relieve the heat that had pressed in on her body for hours.
She closed her eyes and listened to the familiar sounds of her mother preparing a meal. A utensil clanked against the side of a pot. She heard a pop as her mother opened a can of preserved goods. A few bubbles snapped in the pot of water already beginning to boil. Now would be the best time to tell her mother. Really, she wouldn’t find a perfect time if that was what she was waiting for.
Molly mentally steeled herself for how her mother might react and opened her mouth to tell her what she had been thinking for the last few days. “Now that you and Father have enough money to last you awhile, and Father’s constantly receiving invitations for new competitions . . .”
Her mother must have sensed something in her voice because she turned to her right away. Molly’s father had stepped outside for a few minutes, and they had the kitchen to themselves, but her mother narrowed her eyes in concentration as she listened to Molly.
“I thought that I’d like to see a bit more of the world.” Molly watched her mother’s face carefully for any sign of her reaction. She rushed on to explain herself. “I know you would worry about me, and I wouldn’t want that. I thought if I were to . . . marry a man out West that I could live in a new place, see more of the world, and perhaps take the long way to wherever he lives.”
Her mother blinked for a moment, and Molly gave her a chance to digest the news. Laura O’Donoghue had never been the type of person to react to things quickly. Instead, she liked to think them over and consider every situation’s angles before saying anything.
Molly touched the pocket in her dress where she had placed her prize money. She had yet to hand over half to her parents but now didn’t seem like the best time to start counting out the dollar bills.
“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting you to say that this afternoon,” came the reply. “But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.” Laura’s lips pressed into a grim line, and Molly knew that her mother would prefer she stay there forever, completing their family.
She tried to explain herself further, to ease her mother’s worries. “I’m twenty-six years old now, and you know as well as I that I’m more than old enough to marry. I wouldn’t marry just anyone either. I would make sure he’s a kind man before saying my vows.”
The pot called Laura’s attention, and Molly stared at the older woman’s back as she addressed the food. Molly wanted her mother to be excited for her, perhaps help her pick out the material for a nice dress to wear when she got married, but then again, her mother was her mother. She wouldn’t change her for the world.
“Have you talked to your father about this?” Laura finally asked in a resigned voice.
“Not yet,” Molly replied. “I wanted to get your opinion first before going to him.”
“Will my opinion change your mind, or is your mind made up?”
Molly’s heart sank. Her mother was against it. She should have known as much, but she had allowed herself to hope. Of course, her mother being against it didn’t mean that Molly wouldn’t do it, but she had hoped to have her parents’ support.
“I should think over whatever you say,” she finally answered.
“I will,” Molly said, trying to disguise her disappointment.
“That’s as much as I can ask for,” her mother replied. She turned away from the food and took the seat across from Molly at the table, reaching across and grasping Molly’s hands tightly. “I love you so much, sweetheart, and I don’t want to see you hurt. I know that many women do it. People out west want refined women from the east, and women in the east want the chance for something new. But perhaps, you would be better off marrying someone here, someone we know. There’s that man three doors down. He has—”
Molly couldn’t listen to her mother talking about the man down the street whose wife had died the year before. Laura had been dropping hints since she saw the funeral procession out the front window, but Molly wasn’t interested. “Ma, thank you so much for your advice, and I’ve thought about it. But what I want most is to see more of the world. If I marry someone here, I’ll never have that chance.”
“Do you think you’ll be safe traveling all the way out to Texas or wherever you end up going?”
“It’s not as though I’ll mount a horse and start on the way by myself. I’ll be taking a train, with plenty of other people going to the same place. I’ll—”
“Where are you going?” her father asked, re-entering the house and hearing the tail end of Molly’s sentence.
Molly turned around, her heart beating fast. This was not how she had planned this conversation. “I’m going out west to marry someone.”
“I don’t know yet,” Molly said. “I’m not going tomorrow. I’ll go in a few months or so, once I’ve had the chance to get to know someone.”
“How well can you really get to know someone through writing letters?” her father asked.
“I guess I’ll wait and see,” Molly replied.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” her mother said, her voice soft but her words biting. “You shouldn’t just wait and see. Going all the way there for someone who might be nice but might not be isn’t a good idea.”
Molly’s father jumped in next. “Your mother has a good point. Why don’t you wait through the winter and continue exchanging letters, then see how you feel about him?”
Her anger rose as she realized that both her parents would try to prevent her from going. She wasn’t going to allow that to happen. So, she flounced out of the kitchen and into the back garden. At the moment, it was deserted, and she walked round and round the small patch of greenery as she stewed on what her parents had said.
It wasn’t that she wanted to do something dangerous. She would be as careful as she could. Besides, she wouldn’t go anywhere without her rifle, and no one would mess with her once they saw her expertise with the object. Her parents worried too much. Molly could take care of herself.
Michael leaned back in his chair as the sheriff continued rambling about the same thing.
“Tom, I’m not trying to disrespect you or the laws you’ve put into place,” Sheriff Joe said, “but I’m just trying to make you see the other side.”
Michael had listened to the discussion between his father, the mayor of Sheldon, Oklahoma, and the sheriff. No matter how they restated their points, he could see that they wouldn’t agree. Michael decided it was time to step in.
“If I may speak,” he said. Both of the older men looked at him with interest. Even though Michael was only twenty-eight, he had gained respect from everyone in town, partly due to his father’s status as mayor and partly due to his own work in politics. “I think you both have valid points. Sheriff, my father is worried because of the rising number of accidents. Just two weeks ago, that child was shot in the leg when he and his friends played with their father’s gun. It could have been a lot worse. Imagine if he had shot someone else or multiple people.”
Michael raised his hand as the sheriff opened his mouth to respond. “However, I also understand your side. You’re the one having to deal with the consequences of the new law. Perhaps a compromise would be if I helped you enforce the new law.” Michael sat back and waited for his father and the sheriff to consider his idea. He wasn’t sure he felt comfortable carrying a badge and disarming folks who didn’t want to be disarmed, but he thought it only fair.
“Now, Michael,” his father regained his voice first. “You can’t be serious. Our job is to make the laws. It’s the sheriff’s job to uphold them. If we start switching roles, you’ll have the sheriff writing new laws by next week!”
“And what’s so absurd about that?” the sheriff asked. “You act like I’m incapable of doing such a thing.”
“It’s not your job. You were elected sheriff, and you do that well enough. You don’t need to try to come over and do my job, and I promise I won’t come over and do yours.”
Michael could see his suggestion had not soothed them as quickly as he had hoped. He stepped in once again. “You’re right, Father. Joe isn’t supposed to be writing laws, and we’re not supposed to be enforcing them. However, aren’t we supposed to support each other? Isn’t that the point of working together? If one of us acts without the others backing him up, then the whole town will know we’re not united.”
Michael faced the sheriff specifically. “I hear your concerns, and I know you are in a difficult spot. When Big Tim gets angry, I wouldn’t want to be in his sight either. However, this is the job you were elected to do, no matter how hard it is. You do need some deputies, though. Sheldon has grown, and you have more work, not only with more people but also with enforcing the no-guns-in-town rule. I think we need to select some deputies. It doesn’t have to be me, though I’m happy to act in the role until proper deputies have been selected.”
“Is there going to be enough money to pay deputies properly?” Sheriff Joe asked, considering the idea.
Michael’s father slowly nodded. “I think we can make that work. I’ll find the money to get them paid if it will help back up this new rule.”
Michael watched as the sheriff and his father shook hands. Then, the sheriff turned to him and shook his hand. “Walk me to my horse, will you?” he asked, slapping Michael on the back.
Even though he knew the sheriff wanted to talk about something in private, Michael agreed. He followed Sheriff Joe out the front door. “I’m glad we could come to a satisfactory conclusion,” Michael told the sheriff.
“I know your father won’t be happy about it, but I really could use some help until he gets around to selecting deputies. You know how anything with finances goes. It always takes longer than it should.”
Michael understood exactly what the sheriff meant. “I’m willing to help you. You know where I am. You just come find me if you ever need a hand.”
“I have a feeling I will tomorrow.” The sheriff frowned. “I’ve heard rumors that Vernan took a horse that belonged to the Smiths. I have a feeling that the Smiths aren’t going to take that lying down. Would you meet me by Vernan’s place tomorrow morning? I want to take a look around for the horse, then have a talk with the Smiths about their guns.”
Michael took a deep breath, then agreed. What else could he do? He had already offered to help the sheriff. He couldn’t go back on his word now. Michael leaned against the fence as the sheriff climbed on his horse and took off toward town. The day was warm, which made him just want to sit in the shade with a cold glass of water. But there was work to be done.
More importantly, it was time he had a conversation with his parents. He had placed an ad in the paper a week ago, and even though he hadn’t received any response to it, he wanted his parents to know what he was doing before they found out from someone else.
Michael imagined the general store’s manager handing him a big pile of letters and his parents being both shocked and annoyed. It was better to tell them the truth up front. After rubbing his horse’s nose, Michael turned and re-entered his house for a different type of conversation now.
He hoped his father wasn’t in a sour mood from their interaction with the sheriff, or he surely wouldn’t take Michael’s announcement well.
Settling into his chair once again, Michael waited for his father’s attention. He was flipping through a ledger and staring at it intently, probably trying to figure out how much the town could spare to pay a deputy or two.
Finally, Michael’s father snapped the ledger closed and turned to Michael. “I appreciate your contribution to our discussion with the sheriff,” he said. “You seem to have a way with words.”
“And that is why we work so well together,” Michael said. “You’re good at pushing to get things done, while I’m good at keeping everyone happy.”
“Do you think having a deputy or two will help Joe really enforce this new law?” Without giving Michael a chance to answer, his father plunged forward, “It’s important to keep firearms out of the town. They’re dangerous. I admit they have their purpose when it comes to killing wild animals, but wild animals don’t wander into town. They’re a problem on the farms, which is why I haven’t outlawed the use of guns there.”
Michael had been through the reasoning behind the law with his father many, many times. He wasn’t in the mood to do it again now. However, he listened patiently because experience had taught him that waiting would produce better results than interrupting and changing the subject.
After ten minutes, his father had worked through every aspect of the law again, and he had fallen silent. Michael looked over his shoulder to where his mother had kept busy in the kitchen during their conversation with the sheriff. He called out to her, “Ma, why don’t you come and put your feet up for a minute?” he suggested, trying to sound casual.
“So that you two men can continue to discuss the nuances of the new law?” his mother asked, clearly not interested in being a part of the discussion.
“No, Ma, we won’t discuss it anymore.” Michael slid his eyes to his father, who was still muttering to himself about something. “At least not for now.”
His mother reluctantly left the biscuits she was making and stood behind Michael, a hand on his shoulder. “You two have been awfully busy working today. Are there any more tasks you must complete before you can relax?”
Michael was about to shake his head, but his father jumped into the conversation. “We should go over the ledger, the two of us. I’ve just given Michael a quick overview of it, but I want him to lay his eyes on it and see what funds we have available.”
“Father, we can do it tomorrow,” Michael assured his father. “Ma is right. It’s not good for us to work all the time.” He took a deep breath. There wouldn’t be a perfect time to introduce the subject, but now, felt less than perfect. Part of him wanted to wait another few weeks, but he knew that wouldn’t be a good idea.
“I’ve decided it’s time for me to get married,” Michael finally said, to bring the subject to light. He glanced at his father’s face and turned, trying to see his mother’s reaction. Her mouth dropped open just a little, and she also looked to Michael’s father to see how he would react.
“Well, that’s a good decision at your age, but who is the lucky lady?” his father finally asked once he got over his surprise. “I wasn’t aware you were courting anyone.”
“I haven’t been . . . yet,” Michael replied. It wasn’t that he thought he was too good for the ladies in town. None of that. He had met many of them, but most had already married before now. With so many farmers and field hands living in the area, there were more men than women. It wasn’t uncommon to find a wife through an ad in the paper. Still, his parents held him to uncommonly high standards.
“Well, do you have your eye on someone?” his mother asked. “Someone who goes to church and follows all the laws, someone who would be able to take care of you, cook and sew, and meet all your needs?”
Michael took a deep breath. “I’ve put an ad in the paper. It goes back East. I’m not sure what states, but I’m sure I’ll find a good woman for me, there.”
“You’ve already placed the ad? When?”
“It was about a week ago now. Surely, it’s reached the east coast, but I’ll have to wait a while for any sort of response, assuming I get one.”
“How will you know she’s a woman of quality?” his father asked.
Michael already knew what his father meant when he phrased his question like that. “I would get to know her first,” Michael assured them. “I wouldn’t just invite the first woman who responds to move out here.” He resented that his parents thought he wasn’t capable of taking care of himself. His father was practically ready to hand his job as mayor over to him, but he didn’t trust him to choose a proper wife.
“You need to make sure you ask all the right questions before you do anything as drastic as buying her a ticket. You need someone with a good education. Reading and writing are important,” his father told him.
Michael’s mother chimed in as well. “Make sure she’s from a well-off family. If she’s grown up in a poor family, she won’t have the manners you’d like. Besides, she won’t be likely to know how to conduct herself in a town like ours. You don’t want her to see you as a way to get money perhaps and send it back to her family.”
Even though their advice annoyed him, Michael continued to nod until both parents had given him all their best tips. Then, he stood and shook his father’s hand. Even though her biscuits made his mouth water, he wanted to eat at his own house that night and think over what sort of questions were important for him to ask any women with whom he might correspond. Not the questions his parents told him to ask, but the ones that truly mattered to him.
The paper crinkled under Molly’s fingertips. She looked at the page again as she read the words.
Single man available in Sheldon, Oklahoma. In search of a bride. Owner of large ranch, animals, and crops. Aspires to be mayor. Looking for a cultured woman from the East.
Oklahoma sounded like such an exciting place to live. Molly could already imagine the types of things she might see out there. This man owned a ranch with crops and animals. He sounded like a man who knew how to work hard. The bit about aspiring to be the mayor surprised her. Why had he put that in there? Was he trying to appeal to women who liked fame? She wondered how big the town was. It must be pretty big if it had its own mayor, not a tiny western town made up of two or three families.
Molly read the short piece again. There were other ads in the paper as well, but this one seemed different. He didn’t mention things he was looking for in her. Instead, he told her things about himself. She didn’t know his name, but underneath the ad was an address. She could write to the address and get more information from the man.
Nervously, Molly pulled out a piece of paper. It would be better to write to the man first, before telling her parents. They already knew what she was planning to do, and they weren’t too happy about it. She wasn’t sure how they would respond to her actually putting her plan in action.
Molly began in her best handwriting, pausing after each sentence to consider carefully what should come next. She decided to keep the letter rather brief since she had no idea how many letters this man might receive. Besides, she didn’t know so much about him.
Dear single man available in Sheldon, Oklahoma,
My name is Molly, and I live in North Carolina. I live with both my parents, and I don’t have any siblings. I’ve attended high school and graduated with a class of mostly men.
Molly hoped that the last line didn’t sound too prideful, but she thought talking about her education was important. She wouldn’t tell the mysterious man how she paid for the education, but her having it was part of why she so enjoyed reading, despite her love for the outdoors.
I am interested in learning more about you and life in Oklahoma. If you would like to correspond, my address is . . .
Molly carefully penned her address, then studied the letter critically. Perhaps she should have given more information, but she thought it was fine as it was. She selected an envelope from the writing desk drawer and began copying the address on its front. As she was writing the k in Oklahoma, her mother came into the room behind her, causing Molly to jump. Her pen skittered across the envelope, leaving an ugly, black streak.
“What are you doing?” her mother asked, disregarding Molly’s spoiled envelope.
“Writing a letter,” Molly answered. She didn’t want to waste the envelope by throwing it in the trash can. It was still legible. Maybe this man would think someone else had marked the envelope in transit.
“To whom?” her mother asked, coming over immediately. It wasn’t as though they had distant relatives. In fact, they had no family that Molly knew of outside the three of them. Molly grabbed the letter to hide its contents.
“I’m writing to a potential husband,” she finally answered, folding the letter carefully and sticking it into the marked envelope.
“What? Where does he live? Is he employed? What do you know about him?”
Her mother was worse than a child with her many questions, and Molly felt a little excitement bubbling up inside her. She wanted to tell her mother all she knew about the man, but it wasn’t much. Besides, she didn’t want to go blabbing about him until he had at least responded to her letter.
“I’ll tell you once I get a response, if I get a response.”
Her mother scooped up the paper and scanned the ads, probably guessing which one had appealed to Molly. “Don’t go to New Mexico,” she advised. “I’ve heard the heat there is terrible, worse than here.”
“I didn’t write to that man,” Molly responded reluctantly. There were only five options total, and it seemed as though her mother would eliminate them one by one. “I should go mail this letter right away,” Molly decided, hopping up from the chair. “I want to catch the train that leaves this afternoon.”
As Molly hurried to the door, her mother placed a hand on her shoulder. “I wish you the best of luck, Molly, and I hope the right man is the one who responds, not just the first one.”
Molly nodded, also hoping that the first one could be the right one. Then, she slipped out of the house and into the relentless afternoon heat. There was no escape from the sun as she strolled down the street. Even though she had been in a hurry to leave the house, she wasn’t in a hurry to get to the post office. She just wanted some time to think before she deposited her letter, a letter that could change the course of her life forever.
Not usually the sentimental type, this felt like a big step forward or at least a big step away from everything she had ever known. Hopefully, it was the right step.
“Disarmed by her Wild Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Molly O’Donoghue has consistently made her father proud, winning several sharpshooting contests and helping him with the family’s ranch, like the son he never had. As the yearning for adventure has always been harbored in her heart, it’s no surprise that she starts looking for love far away from her small town. When Michael, the chivalrous man she corresponds with, invites her out West to marry him, she can’t feel but excited about the great new opportunity.
But adventures always come with a risk, and hers is not what she expected…
Michael Sheldon comes from a very conservative family and his new bride must fit right in, at all costs. So when he meets Molly, although he is mesmerized by her bravery and sharp wits, he realizes that this fiercely independent woman will mean trouble for his old-fashioned community. However, slowly but steadily, he can see his own old ways turning to dust as he starts falling for her.
Will he lay aside his doubts for a chance at love?
While the path they decide to walk on is not paved with roses, they can’t ignore the spark between them. Can they eventually find a way to make their two worlds one? Will their flame be able to burn down the obstacles that come in their way?
“Disarmed by her Wild Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.