The train rolled into the station with a loud rumble of thunder.
Alyssa Scott stood up hurriedly, patting her younger brother’s shoulder frantically as she eyed the large machine with wonder. She had never been on a train before. She had never even traveled before. And today would change everything.
She could hardly believe it.
“It’s here, it’s here,” Alyssa muttered.
Beside her, Morton chuckled and picked up her bags. “I noticed.” He gave her a nod and nudged her with his elbow. “Now, inhale that sweet smoke, why don’t you? It’ll make you look a little less crazy.”
Only then did she take her eyes off the train to frown at him. “I don’t look crazy.”
He stuck out his tongue at her, so she did the same back at him before they grinned at one another and turned back to the train. It pulled to a loud, screeching stop. Alyssa’s heart stopped as she watched the doors start to open and people started to climb off.
Though she had watched trains come and go quite often in their little Arizona town, she had never been so close. Her parents had kept her off the train platform. After all, there had been no reason for her to stand so near to the travelers and packages going back and forth across the West.
But today was different.
Today, everything changed. Today, she was one of them. She was leaving Arizona to make way for her own adventure to Chicago. A thrill of excitement ran down her spine.
Arizona had been good to her. She and Morton had been raised well in their small town. They had friends and their parents and a good little home with a plot of land that their family farmed. It was a hard life, but a good one.
Except she wanted more.
There had to be something more out in the world for her. At night, Alyssa could feel it buzzing around in her heart, just waiting for her to go out and find it. Her parents had come from Chicago a long time ago, before she was born. So perhaps by going back there, she would find whatever it was she was looking for.
Bright lights, dancing, and educated men with proper manners. She was twenty-two years old and her parents had been nudging and pressing and urging her to get married for the last four years. The idea of marriage sounded quaint, but surely there was someone out there better suited for her. Someone who cared about how he dressed on Sundays and how he talked, how he presented himself.
“How did it go with Rob last night?”
She sniffled and shook her head at her little brother. Just when she was hoping she could be strong enough to part without any tears, of course he would get tender and ask about the man she had just turned down.
“Why would you bring him up now?” she scolded. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about sad things when you asked to see me onto the train.”
With a sheepish smile, Morton ran a hand through his floppy hair. “I’m sorry, Alyssa. I couldn’t hear you two out on the porch. And you came in so late that I couldn’t ask you about what happened. You know Mama’s going to ask me all about it later, don’t you?”
Rolling her eyes, she sniffled again. Her eyes started to itch like they might water any second now. “Fine. I told you we would part ways, didn’t I? I can’t be courted by a man who isn’t in town with me. Rob didn’t want to leave town, so I told him we aren’t together anymore. This is my fresh start. I can’t be taking anything or anyone with me on my fresh start, can I?”
She was hoping he hadn’t heard the crack in her voice.
But he must have, because he wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. The bags went back on the ground. They would get dusty, but Alyssa decided not to care. She could use one more hug from her little brother.
She burrowed her face into his shoulder and breathed in his familiar scent. Closing her eyes, she begged the tears to go away. She was too old to be crying. Besides, she didn’t want to climb onto the train all puffy-eyed.
No matter how lonely and scary this trip might be, it was still supposed to be exciting and good for her. This is what she told herself over and over again.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured softly. “That can’t have been easy to do. I know how close the two of you were.”
Indeed. She and Rob Peterson had been close since they were children. He had brought up the idea of marriage a few times, but she had always brushed him off, saying they were too young to worry about that just yet. She did this whenever anyone else brought it up before him, as well. It had worked until recently, with her parents.
Though she loved her mama and papa, they insisted she didn’t need to worry about her education or quality of clothing or manners.
“Women just need to worry about finding a fine man,” her father had told her multiple times. “You’re in your child-bearing years, and you should settle down.”
Her mother had nodded along. “You don’t have forever.”
These were all the same ideas they had been telling her all of her life. Alyssa supposed that at one point, she had believed them. But she couldn’t remember when or why she might have.
She cared too much about improving her life and helping others do the same. Arizona was too small for her, she had decided.
That had been years ago. And upon making that decision, she had begun to save. Every penny and nickel and dime, she’d stowed away for safekeeping. She had taken on extra work to support her family and to save what she could for herself. Though she knew it would take a long time, she also knew the wait would be worth it.
And now, it was over. Now, she had the savings to buy her train ticket and start a new life in Chicago. She had planned it all out very carefully to find a place to stay, find a job, and build up the life she had always wanted.
Her heart soared at the thought of making her dreams come true.
There had been sacrifices along the way. She had known that would happen, though she hadn’t realized how hard it would be to turn away from everyone.
Giving up Rob had been hard. He was such a sweet dear to her. Though he had similar beliefs to her parents, he was kind and patient. He was always bringing her flowers that would match her dresses because he knew how much she liked that. Turning him down for the last time had not been easy. He hadn’t understood what she was saying at first, even though she had discussed leaving for Chicago many times in the past.
“It’s all right,” she choked out to Morton. “I just wish Mama and Papa were here.”
“Me too,” he confessed. “Maybe they’ll still come.”
That made her smile. He had more hope in their parents than she did when it came to matters of the heart. She was learning to be a little more frank. Though she had hope for her future, she had learned that her parents wouldn’t listen any longer to what she really wanted.
Still, she’d thought her parents would see her off at the train station. But they had hardly even said farewell on her way out the door that morning.
It made her heart ache as she thought back to their last discussion. Though her parents disagreed with her choices, she’d thought she would have had some more support than what they had offered thus far.
A few more tears escaped down her cheek before she could help it. Though she wanted Chicago, she wasn’t ready to be alone there. Her parents wouldn’t be there to help her, even if they didn’t listen to her. And her little brother wouldn’t be there to comfort her when she felt so alone.
Leaning back, her brother frowned at her. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
She nodded quickly as she scrubbed her cheeks dry. “Of course. I’m strong. I’ll be fine. I’m just nervous, that’s all. But they are tears of excitement, I’m sure. I get to follow my dreams, remember? I’m finally going to Chicago,” she stammered.
Morton nodded and gave her another quick, tight hug. “It’s true. I’ll miss you. And you are strong. You’ll be in Chicago before you know it and you’ll forget all about us.”
“What? That’s not true,” she giggled. “I could never forget my baby brother.”
He snorted. “Baby? I’m not a baby. I’m a head taller than you, and don’t you forget it. But even with your short size, you can do anything you set your mind to. I know it.” Then he chuckled, reaching over to ruffle her hair playfully. “Remember when you were thirteen and just learning about Chicago? I thought you would leave for the big city the next day.”
“I couldn’t have left at thirteen.” She shook her head at him. “We were children.”
“Well, you could have fooled me.” He shrugged at her.
She gave him a look, then leaned forward and fixed his crooked collar. He could never seem to keep them straight. She hoped there would be someone nearby to fix it for him next time. Perhaps Mama would notice it more often.
She took a step back to admire how well her brother had grown up. “I would never have left you at thirteen, you know. I had to wait until you knew how to tie your shoes,” she added playfully.
“Haha.” He rolled his eyes. “My point is that I knew then that you could make it happen. It would have been hard to keep you home for much longer, anyway. And you are making it happen. You’re going to Chicago and I know you are bound to go where you’re meant to on that train. The Lord will be with you; I know it.”
Her heart felt so full in that moment that she was afraid she might burst. Alyssa reached over and wrapped her arms around her brother for one more hug. “Oh, you always know just what to say. I really will miss you, Morty.”
He chuckled over her head. “I’ll miss you, too.”
They heard a whistle. “All aboard!”
Alyssa jerked back to take a look. Beside her, Morton leaned down to pick up her two bags. He nudged her with his elbow and nodded toward one of the nearest doors on the train that didn’t look too busy.
It was time for her to be climbing up.
She swallowed hard, nodding to show that she understood. Wiping away the last of her tears, Alyssa followed her brother to the door. He was allowed onto the train to help her with her bags so she could get situated. They hugged one last time and then Morton climbed off the train to return to the platform.
Taking her seat, she looked for him down below. There was still smoke billowing all around, and it took her a minute to find her brother. He was tall and thin, with floppy light blond hair. They had the same bold blue eyes, however, and he was gazing right back at her when she finally spotted him. Her heart pounded in her chest.
He grinned and gave her a nod.
The small knot that had started to form in the pit of her stomach immediately began to loosen. Sitting next to the window, Alyssa put a hand on the glass and watched him as the train started up. She was really doing this. She was really leaving. It hardly seemed possible.
They watched one another until, finally, the train started to move. The loud sounds all around her grew deafening, but she didn’t look around. Passengers scooted about and cheered, but she stayed put. Then, the train moved, and Morton was gone.
She exhaled slowly with the breath she hadn’t realized she was even holding.
“Goodbye,” she murmured to herself, not certain who she was talking to—her brother, home, or her parents.
Alyssa tried to relax into her seat as she found herself alone. Looking around, she saw the train cart filled with strangers—men, women, and children, all ready for the journey. They all had their own stories and their own reasons to travel. She wondered if they were all bound for Chicago to start a new life, as well.
It was her first time on a train, let alone outside of her town in Arizona. Alyssa found herself fidgeting as she tried to adjust to the new experience.
She thought she would enjoy it, but found it hard to concentrate. Even sitting next to the window didn’t seem to help her. Everything was a blur out there beyond the glass. It started to give her a headache and she ended up trading her seat with a curious child, instead. Alyssa sat by the aisle and wondered what to do until the obvious answer came to mind.
Pulling out her small bag from overhead, she brought out her Bible along with paper and a charcoal pencil.
A letter would help set her at ease. Writing had always helped her sort out her emotions, after all. Alyssa used to write in journals as a child and then had progressed to writing notes when she had things to say to the people she cared about.
It was one of the most relaxing things to do, putting words on paper. Alyssa could always relax after doing this. She didn’t know why she hadn’t thought of it immediately. She set the book on her lap and arranged the paper on top. It took her a moment to get comfortable, and began composing a letter to her brother.
There were many things she could write to him about, she supposed. She could write him a story or tell him about their memories.
But, thinking about their time at the train station, Alyssa decided to thank him for his support. She wrote how much she loved his hugs and how she would always find a way to be there for him, even while she was living far away. It didn’t matter where she was, because they were family and they loved one another.
Her journey continued. There were stops along the way as people climbed on and off. She had paid for the cheaper train, so it sometimes stopped once or twice a day.
Alyssa didn’t leave the train.
There was no need to. Small western towns held no interest to her, for she had been raised in one and was trying to leave them behind. Chicago was the dream and all that she cared for.
She kept her head burrowed in her paper and waited for the big city. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Sometimes he wondered if the world went on forever.
Maybe there was no end to the sky or the land, that people could travel onward and keep going. Travelers talked of great oceans where they couldn’t see beyond the horizon. It might lead into another land like this one, he supposed.
Bryce Richardson didn’t know.
He supposed that was possible, since he hadn’t been much of anywhere besides Kansas. There was the family ranch and not much else beyond that for him.
People who passed through town came and went, talking of treasure and oceans and lands with gold or a lot of snow. He never knew whether to take them seriously. After all, it didn’t really matter. Anyone could say whatever they wanted.
At the end of the day, he still came back to his ranch and had to make sure the work was done.
Bryce checked the sturdiness of the post one more time before he decided that he was satisfied with it. One of the bulls had been rubbing against it lately, nearly knocking it down. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he took a step back and admired his work. It stood up straight. The wiring was wrapped firmly around it, and now the fence looked as if nothing had ever happened.
It was hard work, but it was satisfying.
“All right,” he murmured to himself. He pulled off his gloves as he turned back to his horse. “Hungry yet?”
The horse seemed to understand him and nodded his head. His ears flicked in mild irritation from getting up to work so early. Usually, Bryce stayed closer to the house to handle the other animals, but he had looked out the kitchen window and noticed this post had still not been fixed.
He had asked his ranch hands to take care of it at least three times in the past week. But no one had and Bryce was tired of asking.
So, he had decided to take care of it himself. After milking the cows, he had gathered his supplies and brought his horse out. Now, they could return to the house and eat a real breakfast. Which his animal really wanted to do.
It made him grin for a second. “Don’t worry. I’ll bring you an extra apple for your hard work, pal.”
The gloves and his tools were safely stowed into his saddle bags. Bryce climbed into the saddle and directed his horse toward home. There was still work to be done, and there was no need for him to waste any more time.
With a nudge of his heels, the horse started back toward the barn.
Five years ago, Bryce’s father had passed away. He could still feel the hole in his heart. His father had run the ranch well and had been training him to take charge and run it himself. Now, at twenty-eight, Bryce thought he should feel prepared enough to be ready to tackle any issue head on. And yet, he didn’t. Every day, there was a new problem for him to face. But he didn’t have the support of his father to rely on.
He took a deep breath and focused on the path ahead of him.
There was no time for fun or games. Now, he left that to his sisters. The three of them could play dress up and work in town. He was building them a home closer to where they worked and where there were more people.
It was something they had always wanted as a family, instead of having their main house on the edge of their property, farther away from town. This was used mostly for himself now as he managed the ranch.
Beside the main house, there was the barn with the animals and another structure for his ranch hands to reside in.
He headed toward those now. Realizing that he was headed toward his stall, his horse sped up eagerly. The animal understood the concept of an apple and was most likely eager for his breakfast, as well.
It wasn’t as if the horse had the responsibility of a family ranch weighing on his shoulders.
Bryce sighed as they arrived at the barn. He slid down onto the ground. Pulling out his tools, he was just about to put them away when he noticed something out of the ordinary. Rather, it wasn’t out of the ordinary—it was just out of place.
He furrowed his brow at the horse and mule. His mother’s horse and the pack mule should have been over at the other house. They didn’t usually stay at the barn. Unless someone had brought them over.
Biting his tongue to hold back a curse, Bryce started toward the house. He pulled back his hat and squinted at the windows. They had since been opened. That wasn’t something he usually remembered to do. Curtains were fluttering in the morning breeze.
As he looked, a familiar hand came out and waved at him. It made his heart sink and he dropped his tools beside his feet.
“Good morning, dear!” his mother sang to him.
He couldn’t say anything, since he was still biting his tongue. But he managed a half-hearted wave before she disappeared. Heat crept up his neck. She wasn’t supposed to be there. He had asked her to stop coming.
Especially as the mornings grew warm. It was clear she had come on her own, and it wasn’t safe for her. And it was embarrassing having her around the ranch when he was trying to lead the men.
She disappeared back into the kitchen, leaving him alone.
Bryce kicked his tools in frustration before stumbling over to pick them up. He hastened then to put everything back in its place, including his horse. Finding his mother had hardly bothered to pen up her horse and mule, he fixed that for her.
Once he was certain everything was in its place, he ran up the porch to get to his mother. It seemed they would need to have another talk.
The door led straight into the kitchen, where he could talk to her before talking to his men who would be gathered in the dining room waiting for their food to start the day. Bryce swung the door open and opened his mouth.
“Did you wash your hands, dear?” she asked as she peeked around the table.
He stopped short. He hadn’t washed his hands before coming inside. But that was beside the point. Sure, he should wash his hands, but he didn’t want his mother there reminding him about this every morning.
His hands balled into fists. This was driving him crazy. He adored her for all she did and had done for him. But she couldn’t keep mothering him when he was trying to run the ranch. And he usually remembered to wash his hands.
“I’ll do it in a moment,” Bryce started.
She shook her head as she ducked down by the stove and then stood up with a fresh loaf of bread on a pan. “Dear, you should never enter the house unless you’ve washed your hands. I raised you better than…”
His body stiffened as his mother trailed off.
The older woman blinked as her gaze grew vacant. His heart sunk, realizing what was happening. She wobbled on unsteady legs as if she were about to tip over.
Unclean hands didn’t matter anymore. He lunged forward, taking the bread from her grip and putting it on the nearby table. Then Bryce grabbed his mother by the shoulders to keep her steady. Either she would fall over next, or she would manage to stay upright. Swallowing hard, he looked around for a chair to guide her over to.
“Mother?” he asked her, trying to break through.
“Oh, bother,” she mumbled. “I’m fine. Oh, dear. What did I just do?”
Bryce held back a groan as he half-carried his mother over to the rocking chair in the corner of the kitchen. “You had another dizzy episode, Mother. Here is your chair.”
“Chair?” She put a hand on his chest before she sat down. “No, I’m fine. Don’t be silly. The boys are waiting on their breakfast. There’s work to do.” Shaking her head, she tried to tug free of his grip.
She always did this. It worried him. And it was worrying him more than usual, too. Lately, she was having more dizzy spells. “Do you have a headache?” he asked her. “Did you sleep last night? Mother, please.”
His mother just gave him a sheepish smile as she blew her hair from her face. “What are you talking about? I’m fine.”
It irritated him. He couldn’t stop worrying about his mother. They had lost his father so quickly, and now part of him grew concerned that they were slowly losing her, too.
He wanted her to take better care of herself. By staying with his sisters, she could sleep more and work less. That had been the point. And yet she continued to show up and cook for his men and take care of the house, even though he could manage everything there on his own. It was frustrating how stubborn she could be.
“Please,” Bryce practically begged her, “sit down. I’ll do it, all right? I’ll take the bread out to them. I don’t want you falling and hurting yourself. Just for a few minutes.”
“But I feel fine,” she insisted.
He shook his head and nudged her toward the chair one more time. “I mean it. Please, Mother. Don’t make me tie you to the chair. Just for a few minutes. Then, you can join the rest of us and eat with us. You don’t want to drop any food you just made, do you?” he added, hoping that would do the trick.
It did. His mother was stubborn, but not impossible.
She sighed and slowly nodded. “I suppose I could sit for a moment. But first, wash your hands, won’t you? Then you can take the bread and the porridge out to them.”
Bryce grudgingly agreed, stepping outside to wash his hands as quickly as possible. He shook his head as he thought about what happened. His mother was the hardest working woman he had ever met. Though she just wanted to be of some help and was still dedicated to the ranch, he worried how far she might go to do just that.
After his ranch hands had the food delivered in the dining room, Bryce sat in the back of the room with his mother. He started a quiet conversation to tell her that she couldn’t keep coming over every morning to do this. He didn’t want her to risk her health.
“Nonsense.” She shook her head at him. “What else are you going to do? Cook yourself? Hire a cook?”
With his spoon halfway to his mouth, he paused and turned to her. “Maybe I will.” That had never occurred to Bryce.
His mother looked back at him in surprise. “Really?”
He studied his mother, with her brown hair that had begun to turn gray around her temples. She had sharp brown eyes that still knew whenever he was trying to trick or lie to her. Though the woman was small and slight, she was strong and determined and brave. But she was getting up there in years and deserved a chance to relax.
So, Bryce nodded. “We’re doing well enough financially. I can have someone stay here. After all, I built you and my sisters a house near town to enjoy, remember? So you wouldn’t have to be here all the time.”
That quieted her for a moment.
It had been hard when his father passed away. His mother had hardly talked for the first year after his death. None of them had known what to do. Bryce had struggled to keep the ranch moving along, and his sisters had done all they could to take care of their mother.
The grieving period had since ended. All of them were beginning to move on and rediscover how to live.
Now, they were learning to thrive again. That had to be a good thing, Bryce thought. That was what the new house was supposed to be about. He had moved them out of the old family house so the women could be happier near town in a new home.
“But I like to help,” his mother mumbled after a moment. She looked up at the ranch hands, who were eating and talking cheerfully. A few had since risen and started off for the fields, with others coming in off their late-night shifts. “Don’t they like my cooking?”
Bryce bit his tongue while he searched for the right answer.
Of course, they liked her cooking. It was better than his own, which included tough jerky and stale biscuits most of the time. She took her time and made delicious meals. Everyone loved his mother’s cooking.
But having her here defeated the purpose of him running the ranch.
He tried to consider his options. Though he respected his mother dearly, for she had been there as his father built the ranch, he wanted to be taken seriously. There was no way for him to manage his independence if his mother was hovering over his shoulder. Especially if he had to keep an eye on her with her dizzy spells.
“They do,” Bryce admitted as he turned away from her, “but it might not be what they need.” He bit his tongue and tried to think of what his options might be. He didn’t know of any available cooks in town, and he doubted anyone would want to come on the ranch if his mother kept intruding there.
Slumping in his seat, he wondered what on earth he was supposed to do next.
“Her Heaven Sent Soulmate” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Alyssa Scott was tired of her small town in Arizona where there was no room for her to thrive or experience life in the big city. After spending years of saving up, she finally had enough money to make her big move East to Chicago. She just wanted to be around high society and enjoy the crowded markets. Everything changes when she’s halfway there and she loses everything by way of terrible train robbers. Left with nothing else and little hope, Alyssa steps off the train where they stopped in the middle of another small town. Except this town is different. Here, she’s invited to become the cook on Bryce Richardson’s large ranch. The stressed out rancher needs a helping hand, and she finds herself able to look past his rough exterior. But is a small town enough for her?
Bryce is having a hard time learning how to fill his father’s shoes since his untimely passing. He hadn’t wanted to go into ranching, yet took over the family ranch and is trying to do the right thing. Taking care of his three sisters and his mother, he just wants to be able to not worry so much. Looking for a cook was not on his list of priorities, but there’s a new girl in town and there’s something about her that catches his attention. He hires Alyssa and finds himself remembering how to smile again. Their simple bond strengthens over the summer, but he faces a new fear: Alyssa doesn’t mean to stay in town. Will he be able to find the words to tell her how he feels?
Both Alyssa and Bryce are struggling to find their place in the world to find where they belong. Though they feel connected, it’s up to them to face their emotions and the end of summer. Will they both be brave enough to be vulnerable? Or will they go their separate ways and wonder about what could have been?
“Her Heaven Sent Soulmate” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.