Dallas, Texas – Spring 1880
Caitlin laughed as she lost her bonnet, the wind tugging at her hair, her heart pounding with the thrill as the powerful muscles of her mare pounded into the hard-packed soil of the valley floor as she headed for the white picket fence that separated the yard of their sprawling ranch and the wild landscape beyond. In the distance, she spied her little brother, nine-year-old Alex, waving his arms over his head, most likely urging her not to do it again. She couldn’t hear him shouting at her over the hammering of the horse’s hooves, but she wouldn’t have pulled up on the reins even if she had.
She rode toward the yard, bending low over her mare’s neck, her black mane flicking gently against her cheeks. Her knees pressed tighter against the mare’s barrel and she clutched the reins. She felt the pommel of her saddle digging into her stomach as the mare leapt. They were airborne, sailing over the top of the fence and landing with a jolt. Her mare barely breaking her stride until Caitlin tugged on her reins and brought her to a prancing halt near the back side of the stables.
She spied her tow-headed brother racing toward her, eyes wide as he swept his long bangs from his forehead, glancing warily between Caitlin, her blowing horse, and the house.
“Caitlin, you know you’re going to be in a passel of trouble if Pa saw you—”
Alex glanced over his shoulder again, and then turned back to her, shaking his head. “He’s in town, but Ma might’ve seen.”
Caitlin slid easily from the saddle and paused long enough to scratch Jezebel’s neck and kiss her soft, warm muzzle as she looked into the mare’s huge brown eyes. “You had fun too, didn’t you, Jezebel?”
The mare flicked her ears and stomped a hoof as if she had understood. Maybe she did. She turned to her brother and tousled his hair. “You’re not going to tell on me, are you?”
Alex grinned up at her. His slightly upturned nose, his freckled cheeks, and his slender build were a miniature copy of her own, or at least so she thought. They had the same hair color, but she had long bemoaned the smattering of freckles over her own nose and cheeks. The same sky-blue eyes as hers stared back at her in a mirror. There was nothing she could do about the freckles, but there was certainly something she could do about her hair. Her long, blonde locks reaching just past her shoulders were wildly tousled now.
She grinned down at her brother. “I fear I’ve lost another bonnet.”
He laughed. “I’m sure I’ll find it, just like I found all the others.”
She leaned down and wrapped her brother in her arms to give him a quick hug. “You’re so good to me, Alex, you know that?”
With that, he held out his hand. She shook her head and grinned. “I don’t have a penny in my pocket to bribe your silence right now, Alex, but I’ll give it to you before dinner. Promise.”
Alex stared up at her for a moment and shrugged. “You can give it to me before Saturday when I have to go with mother to the mercantile, all right?”
“Deal.” She watched as Alex ran off, disappearing around the corner of the barn, where startled squawking chickens prompted her to smile. The chickens were usually out of the coop during the day, and chances were Alex had flown into their midst, startling them. Her heart blossomed with love for her brother, her companion in crime, the one who never tattled on her no matter how many times she broke the rules.
Last year, her father told her she was too old to be so wild and reckless, that she needed to comport herself as a young woman of marriageable age in order to catch a husband. She had pooh-poohed the idea then, and still did. She didn’t want to get married, not if it meant having to be ‘oh-so-serious’ all the time. She loved her parents dearly, she really did, but at the same time, she felt it was unfair they seemed urgent to marry her off. Of course, she knew several women her own age already married and even had a child or two, but that was not for her. At least not yet, anyway.
Her parents were among the wealthiest in Dallas, and they had substantial influence over many prominent people in town. One being Jacob Anderson, the old, crotchety mayor, and another the handsome, distinguished Judge Barnabas Williams. Her parents were friends with other influential families in the county, but none of that mattered much to Caitlin. She saw how some of these people acted toward those that had less than they did, and she didn’t much care for it. Her parents behaved the same way. While they treated their employees well, they never thought of them as equals.
She supposed her parents didn’t much care for her “cavorting around” the ranch in such an undignified manner, but what was she supposed to do? She had no patience for embroidery, even less for learning how to play the piano, and heaven forbid, practicing the violin her father had brought down from the attic, one that had once belonged to her aunt, his older sister. While she loved to read, she couldn’t stand to sit around all day reading about the adventures or discoveries of others. She wanted to experience them for herself. Escaping once in a while on Jezebel didn’t hurt anyone, did it?
Reaching for Jezebel’s reins, she turned away from the barn and headed down a slight slope toward the stables. In a pasture beyond grazed two dozen horses, some of them used by the ranch hands, others relegated to pulling her parents’ buggy between the ranch and Dallas.
As she led Jezebel to the stable, she glanced down and saw that the cuff of her left sleeve had ridden up slightly on her wrist. When she tugged it down, her mind immediately went back to that horrible memory, bringing sadness. She could only remember bits and pieces, flashes that burst out of nowhere, but she remembered the horses running full out. Daisy, her eyes wide and frightened, trying to pull back on the reins, shouting at the horses to stop. The curve up ahead. The buggy tilting. The sensation of flying through the air, seeing the sky and trees, then dirt just before she landed, hard. Pain thrumming through her body right before everything went black.
With the memory, her joy and exuberance of her recent ride on Jezebel were dashed. Four years ago, when she was fifteen, she had been in a buggy accident with her older sister, Daisy. It had been no one’s fault, not really. A wild boar, one of many that roamed throughout this part of Texas, had emerged from a grove of trees they were on one Sunday afternoon. The horses had been frightened and bolted. Despite Daisy’s efforts to get the horses under control, the buggy overturned, sending Caitlin flying. By the time she woke up in her bed, her left arm swathed in bandages; she learned her sister had died in the accident.
It was then that her parents seemed to change. They smiled less often and bickered more. Although they kept most of their disagreements behind closed doors, she knew they blamed the other for what happened, even though it was really no one’s fault. If they wanted someone to blame, they should blame her and Daisy, because it was their idea. Together, they decided to sneak out of the house and go for a buggy ride. Their parents hadn’t even been home at the time.
For the first year, she understood their overprotectiveness of her, the shortened tempers, and wavering moods caused by their grief. She grieved as well and missed her sister terribly. Yet her parents never seemed to recover from the loss and had grown reserved and distant. It was then that Caitlin had lavished attention on her little brother, who, unfortunately, suffered the most. Since the accident, they had withheld their hugs, indulgences, and gestures of affection in order to protect their own hearts. They did not realize what it might be doing to their two remaining children. Even so—
Just before she reached the stable, she turned back to look at the house. A curtain moved in the corner room upstairs, as if someone had been watching her. It drifted slowly shut, and she sighed. That would be Aunt Anise, her father’s older sister, who had recently arrived from Philadelphia. After being recently widowed, and as her mother told it with a frown of consternation, Aunt Anise had found herself without the means to live comfortably after learning that her husband had secretly gambled away most of their money, which he had inherited when his own father had passed away twenty years prior. Aunt Anise had written to Caitlin’s father that the bank was taking over her home, and she had nowhere to go. Her father had insisted that she come to live with them.
Caitlin could tell that her mother wasn’t too pleased by the decision, but of course, could do nothing but agree. Though her aunt had been in residence for weeks, Caitlin rarely laid eyes on her. She stayed in her suite of rooms upstairs, had her meals upstairs, and eschewed company. Her father told the family to leave her alone.
Her horse nickered and Caitlin sighed as she continued toward the stable, her thoughts returning to her conundrum. Yes, her parents expected her to act more like a young lady, to not go out riding by herself, as was her usual habit. But why not? After all, she was an excellent horsewoman and had been riding since she was five years old, taught by old Pete McGruder who had grown up raising and training thoroughbreds in Tennessee before he came to work for her parents. He was long gone now, but he had taught her well, and she thought of him every time she climbed onto Jezebel’s back. After all, the filly had been his last gift to her, purchased from an old friend of his on the horse farm where he had practically grown up. He had passed away two years ago from consumption. She missed old Pete terribly. He’d always understood her, her zest for adventure, sometimes for her daring—
“One of these days, Miss Caitlin, your father’s going to see you doing that.”
Caitlin came to an abrupt halt and glanced up to find fifty-year-old Amos Franklin leaning casually against the fence, arms crossed over his chest, slowly shaking his head. Amos was in charge of the stables and the care of the horses now. He had been employed by her parents ever since Pete had passed.
She shrugged, glad to be distracted from her more depressing thoughts. “You’re not going to tell on me, are you, Amos?”
“Heaven forbid,” he grunted. He extended a hand. “Here, give me Jezebel. I’ll unsaddle her and give her a good rubdown. Then I’ll brush her until her coat glistens.” He gestured with his chin. “I think your mother’s been looking for you.”
Caitlin sighed with disappointment. She would much rather have spent another hour in the pasture brushing the horses. Besides Jezebel, she had several favorites, like Thunder, their black quarter horse, and Boone, a beautiful bay. Of course, there was the Palomino mare, Windy, who often shared a stall with Jezebel. Since she was a child, Caitlin had taken it upon herself to name all the working horses, leaving more than one ranch hand cringing. Most of them obliged her, often giving her a wink and a grin as they saddled up.
Caitlin grimaced and reluctantly handed Jezebel’s reins to the stable master. “Thanks, Amos. You wouldn’t mind giving her an extra handful of oats for that beautiful jump, would you?”
He didn’t reply, but chuckled softly as he took the reins and disappeared inside the stable, Jezebel following obediently behind him. Caitlin strode across a small swale between the stables and the barn, where she walked in its shadows until she emerged at the edge of the yard. She didn’t see Alex and figured he was either playing with the kittens in the barn or sitting in the chicken house, two of his favorite places.
She smiled. She used to fit into the chicken house as well, but that was a long time ago. She stood in front of the barn, gazing at the house, a twinge of sadness striking her. It was a beautiful home, one of the nicest in the county, a two-story constructed of stone and timber with large river stone chimneys on either end. A covered porch spanned the length of the front, large hand-hewn wooden support beams now crawling with vines of honeysuckle. The front door stood smack dead center, a large, sixteen-pane window of the main room on the right side of the doorway and a smaller, nine-pane to the left, in the dining room. A window of six-pane glass on the far side of the house displayed a flash of red from the pot of geraniums she had put on her bedroom windowsill earlier this morning.
It was a beautiful home, but it wasn’t as warm and loving inside as it looked. As she grew older, she believed that her parents had not made a love match. Oh, they got along all right and rarely argued, but she saw no secret smiles or loving glances between them that she saw with her best friend’s parents. While she believed that her father and mother did love each other, it was a love of companionship, not passion. Then again, what did she know of love?
Her father spent more and more of his time in the growing city of Dallas serving on different committees, discussing investment opportunities with his banker, or simply overseeing ranch business. Her mother was also gone frequently, heavily involved in the women’s church league. She also served on the board of the school and orphanage for the deaf and blind on the outskirts of town.
Even when they were both home, the house remained relatively quiet, her father often shutting himself up in his study while her mother spent hours in the parlor or up in her room, reading her books or mending, sometimes working on a piece of embroidery as a gift to a friend.
Caitlin started when she felt a hand grasp hers. She glanced down to find Alex looking up at her, a grin on his lips, bits and pieces of straw stuck in his hair and clinging to his clothes. She smiled. “How are the kittens doing?” He lifted a hand and proudly displayed three small scratch marks.
“Humphrey is obviously feeling better,” he said.
Caitlin smiled, hoping that Alex wouldn’t have to deal with the grief of losing any from the litter of kittens that had recently been delivered by their barn cat, which he had named Calico. She was a nearly feral, mean-tempered cat, but she was a good mouser. About two weeks ago, Alex had discovered the litter and had quickly fetched Caitlin to come see. There were five of them in the corner of the loft up in the barn, laying in a squirming bundle of fur in a pile of old hay. Their eyes were open and though adorable, Caitlin had warned Alex not to get too attached or to handle them overmuch because mama cat wouldn’t like that.
Soon, the kittens would leave their makeshift nest. Some would surely survive but some wouldn’t, making easy prey for hawks, snakes, or coyotes. Of course, Caitlin didn’t have to tell Alex any of this. He knew, just as she did, that he lived in a rough, hard country and that Mother Nature was an often cruel and capricious caretaker.
She absently brushed the straw from his hair and combed her fingers through it. “I guess we better be getting in. Supper will be ready soon.”
Alex made a face. “I think Mary’s making quail again.”
Mary was their cook, a quiet yet capable cook who had worked on the ranch for the past three years. Her parents provided small cottages for several of their year-round employees, including Amos, the foreman of the ranch and Travis Matthews, who was out on the range more often than not, even in winter.
“We should always be grateful for food on the table, Alex,” she murmured. “Some people aren’t so fortunate.”
With that, she strode toward the house, hoping they would all have a peaceful evening. As she entered the house, Caitlin felt almost homesick for something she yearned for, something that she couldn’t quite identify. Maybe it was a sense of love, but more than that, a sense of camaraderie with someone with whom she could confide her deepest secrets. Maybe someday she would find someone she could truly believe in, someone who would accept her faults and dreams without judgment.
She knew her parents were growing impatient to see her married. In fact, just the other day, they reminded her it was her duty to marry, hopefully someone with money and influence, one who would provide Caitlin with security and comfort that only someone who came from money could provide, just as Caitlin’s father had done for her mother.
She shook her head. Her parents had not made a love match. It had been arranged by two other financially successful families that had originally come from Ohio. As her mother so often reminded her, love didn’t necessarily have to come before marriage, but as far as Caitlin was concerned, that seemed rather backwards. She didn’t want to marry a man for money or for power or influence. The thought of marrying a man she didn’t love sent a shiver of dread down her spine and yet she knew that with every day that passed, the pressure on her to “help the family” by marrying well was only going to increase.
New York City–Spring 1880
Nathaniel Hanson sank into the padded leather chair behind his desk with a sigh, the evening street traffic on Delancey sending up its usual harsh sounds through his open fourth-floor window. He glanced at the Dasson mantle clock on the shelf over the small fireplace across the room. He grinned, rose from his chair and moved to the window, leaning forward to brace his forearms on the windowsill. He stuck his head and shoulders out just as a dray wagon carting large metal milk jugs passed below on the street; the driver ringing a brass handbell. Nathaniel laughed and waved. Even so, high above the ground and despite the noise from the street below, he heard the answering bellow.
“A good evening to you, Mister Hanson!”
Nathaniel cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted down. “Same to you, Mister McKinley!”
He chuckled, shaking his head at his tomfoolery. He was on the cusp of his twenty-third birthday and here he was acting like a youngster. Still, ever since he’d occupied this office as assistant to the bank manager, he had performed the ritual, which pleased and amused both the milkman and himself.
Even after he returned to his desk, he listened to the noise of the busy street below, long after having gotten used to the activity. Wagons carried loads of lumber or barrels of alcohol through the slowly darkening streets of lower Manhattan as dusk fell, massive hooves striking against the asphalt, the cries of vendors urging their dray wagons through the streets, while occasional shouts and curses added to the cacophony. He heard the sharp rapping of a bell from one of the horse-drawn street trolleys carrying passengers toward midtown.
A plethora of paperwork lay on his desk blotter, but feeling an odd twinge of rare homesickness, he gazed out his fourth-floor window overlooking the East River and the Williamsburg Bridge. By leaning slightly more to his left, he could glimpse the very edges of the Manhattan Bridge to the south. If he hadn’t worked so late, he wouldn’t have minded a stroll down to Battery Park, but as it was, he was due at his uncle’s house in a little over an hour.
He shook his head, marveling at the difference between where he lived and worked now, thousands of miles away from his native Texas. He’d worked on a ranch there until he was fifteen, his father, Boyd, a foreman until he had been charged by a longhorn steer and badly broken the bone in his right thigh. While the injury had healed, his father had been bedridden for months and, as a result, lost his position, though the Holden family kept him on the payroll for a while to see how he would mend. Just as his father was getting back up on his feet, Nathaniel’s mother, who worked as the Holden family’s cook, came down with an illness and within two weeks had passed away.
Nathaniel had been in New York City so long now that he had almost forgotten the sound of the sandy soil crunching under his boots, the snorts of the steers or the feel of a horse running beneath him over the flatlands. Inevitably, his thoughts returned to Caitlin Holden, their daughter. Despite their four-year age difference, Caitlin and Nathaniel had become best friends during their childhood years. When not in school or when Nathaniel had a free moment from cleaning the bunkhouse or helping to wrangle or brand cattle, he often met Caitlin at the old oak tree beside the pond a short distance from their home.
After his mother’s death, the blow hitting him hard, Nathaniel had retreated into himself, spending much of his spare time alone, riding the range or off fishing the stream that ran through the northwest portion of the property. Caitlin had tried to comfort him in his grief and attempted more than once to try and distract him with invitations of horseback rides or explorations and adventures, but his heart wasn’t in it anymore. Even at twelve years of age, Caitlin Holden was a force to be reckoned with, a whirlwind of activity, a girl who more often than not had a smile on her lips or a twinkle in her eye as she took advantage of the wealth of adventures a child could experience on the open ranch land, her parents often never the wiser.
Just after his fifteenth birthday, his father’s brother, Uncle Blaine, had written, suggesting that Nathaniel come to New York and live with him for a while, urging him away from Texas and his grief. Nathaniel’s uncle was a banker, and he thought it might be a good idea to teach Nathaniel about banking, giving him other options for a future besides that of a ranch hand. His father, though loath to see him go, encouraged the move and Nathaniel, at a point in his life when he really didn’t care much about anything, had reluctantly agreed.
New York City had overwhelmed Nathaniel when he first arrived, but now the crowds, the people, the buildings rising ever higher into the sky, the constant sound of construction, was all too familiar to him. Not long ago, they constructed elevated railroad tracks around the city, and Nathaniel still couldn’t get over the sight of raised platforms and train cars passing by at the level of the window of the floor below. The spire of the Third District Courthouse on Sixth Avenue rose high into the sky and the palatial City Hall stood regally amidst a park in downtown Manhattan. Such a far cry from his native Texas—
A knock on the open door to his office interrupted his musings and a moment later, his uncle stepped through. Over the past six years, Nathaniel’s affection for his uncle had grown. In the past six years, his uncle’s hair had grown grayer, his narrow shoulders stooped after sitting for so many years at a desk, his face showing ever more wrinkles, but one thing had never changed. The fond smile his uncle gave him prompted him to smile and return. He returned to his desk.
Blaine Hanson sat in the padded wooden chair in front of the desk with the sigh. Nathaniel felt a niggling of worry. His uncle worked as a manager in a bank in Brooklyn, not Manhattan. He lived with his uncle in his home in Brooklyn. This bank in Manhattan belonged to one of Uncle Blaine’s good friends, Samuel Crawford, a man who had never been married and who also owned several large businesses, including this bank. It was Samuel to whom Uncle Blaine had turned after Nathaniel’s mother’s death, seeking an opportunity for his nephew.
Nathaniel had worked for Samuel Crawford’s bank for the past five years. The man had served as his mentor, taken him under his wing and teaching him everything he knew about the banking world. As a result, Nathaniel had risen from his first position as a bank collector’s helper, a thoroughly unpleasant and despicable job as far as Nathaniel was concerned. Still, he had learned a lot about resolving problems and negotiating with bank clients. Then he advanced to a bank teller, and then into a managerial position. He learned about investment banking, how to audit financial records, how loans were negotiated and credit offered for real estate or business.
“Uncle Blaine, what brings you to lower Manhattan?”
He recognized the look on his uncle’s face and shook his head. “Please don’t bring it up again, Uncle.”
“Look, son, I think it would be a good idea if you got away from the city for a while.”
“Why in the world—”
His uncle waved a hand in the air. “I know this business between you and Melanie Williams has given you quite a jolt, and you put on a brave face, no doubt about, but it’s been a couple of months and I can tell that you’re still very troubled.”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” Nathaniel said quietly.
His uncle meant well, but he certainly didn’t want to discuss Melanie Williams, the young lady he had courted and fallen in love with, the one who, when he proposed, told him she just wasn’t ready, at least not for a few more years. It was then that Nathaniel had discovered that Melanie was seeing another man, stringing them both along to determine which might give her a better life. Financially, that is. While Nathaniel made a fairly decent wage as the bank manager’s assistant, he still lived with his uncle. He’d been saving his money since he earned his first paycheck, offering numerous times to contribute to his room and board, always answered with growled refusals.
He was fine. In fact, he had felt a bit relieved, way deep down. Melanie was from a very wealthy family, and she lived with her family in a fine mansion on Fifth Avenue. She had expectations of maintaining her current lifestyle. Yet the experience had severely destroyed Nathaniel’s trust in the concept of true love. He also firmly believed, as he had seen over the years, that wealth spoiled many people. He’d seen many of the rich and pampered clients of the bank look down their noses at those who were less fortunate than they, and who actually had to work for a living.
“I think a little vacation would do you some good.”
Nathaniel frowned. “What do you mean?” He shook his head. “I’m fine. I don’t need a trip to the Poconos to brighten my spirits.”
His uncle offered him a knowing smile. “I know that, son.” He sighed. “And in another week, you’re going to be twenty-three years old. I know it’s been a long time since you went home and visited your father.”
Nathaniel stilled at the thought of his father. He hadn’t been back in Texas in years. Though he and his father exchanged letters often, Nathaniel was so busy at the bank that time just flew by. Yet though he often missed the quieter life he remembered in Texas, he was making a life for himself in New York City. Then again, he knew it was time for him to strike out on his own. He couldn’t live with his uncle forever, though his uncle would be more than happy to have him in the house.
“I have missed Father,” he admitted.
“Which brings me to the reason for my visit,” Blaine said. “Our good friend, Samuel Crawford, mentioned a friend of his passed away last week.”
Nathaniel heard the sadness in his uncle’s voice. “I’m sorry to hear that. Who was it?”
“Bartholomew Billings,” he replied. “He, Samuel, and I went to school together. At any rate, he bequeathed a very successful bank in Dallas to Samuel, and after some consideration, Samuel decided to transfer ownership of that bank to you.”
Nathaniel stared at his uncle, not understanding. “What?”
“Samuel has more than enough business to keep him busy in New York and Massachusetts. He decided it would be a good opportunity for you, Nathaniel, and he asked for my advice. I agreed.” He cleared his throat. “Though I am loath to see you go, I think it’s a fine proposal. Not to mention that it will enable you to be closer to your father, who’s not getting any younger, you know.”
“Samuel and I have taught you everything we know, and we both believe that you will do well with your own bank and the opportunities it can provide. After all, Dallas is growing nearly as fast as New York City.” He shook his head, almost sadly. “There’s a future for you in Dallas, Nathaniel, if you’ll just reach out and take it.”
Stunned, Nathaniel’s thoughts whirled. A bank owner? Could he do it? Even with all his education in banking and his confidence as the assistant to the bank manager here, he wondered if he had what it took to be a successful bank owner himself. The thought staggered him. Not to mention the potential wealth that came with it. Yet as soon as he realized he was going to accept, he also knew that he would never allow himself to be corrupted by wealth, that he wouldn’t lord his wealth over others, nor would he look down on those who had less than he did. He knew he had been very fortunate, and he determined that no matter how successful he became, he would never forget his own roots, nor the fact that it was people like his parents who were truly the salt of the earth.
“What do you say, Nathaniel?”
Nathaniel stood, his voice grave as he replied. “I’m honored, Uncle Blaine. I must pay a visit to Samuel Crawford as well, with my heartfelt gratitude and with assurances that I will do my best to ensure that he never regrets his decision.”
Later that evening, in his suite of rooms in his uncle’s home, Nathaniel asked one of the servants to bring down his two trunks from the attic, the same two trunks that he had brought to New York City all those years ago. They had been new then and were still in excellent condition, though likely covered with years of dust from storage. While he waited, he sat on the settee in front of the small fireplace, listening to the clock on its mantel tick loudly in the stillness.
The idea of returning to Texas filled him with a sense of excitement and opportunity, though he also knew that he would miss New York City. There was nothing like it – the crowds and the mansions, the tenements, the construction and the ships entering and leaving the harbor every day. A far cry from Dallas, still considered a rather crude yet steadily growing cattle town.
The last time Nathaniel had been there, the business district had been confined to Maine and Elm Street in the nearby Union Depot. The streets there were still dirt, which Nathaniel knew from experience would turn into nearly impassable mud in rainy weather. According to his father, gas lamps were installed in the business district. Several street railway lines traversed the growing city.
Yet, like other towns throughout the country, Dallas was growing, thanks to Jay Gould’s Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad. The little town that had been settled on the banks of the Trinity River in 1841 had long served as a trading post. By the end of the 1850s, a carriage and wagon factory had been established, and a flour mill, a steam sawmill, and a three-story hotel had been constructed. Dallas was now home to numerous European immigrants and craftsmen. Since its earlier days, Dallas had grown into a hub of transport for cotton and buffalo hides, of land and sea trade, banking industries and merchant exchanges.
Still, his thoughts wandered away from business opportunities and returned once more to the carefree years of his youth before his father had been injured and his mother had passed away. He remembered the freedom he had experienced there, the wide-open spaces, the vastness of the blue sky above and the prairie grasses that seemed to go on forever, much like the Atlantic seaside. But most of all, he remembered a little girl named Caitlin, wondered if she still lived there or had already married, moved away, and had children of her own. He remembered her long blonde hair and vibrant blue eyes; the freckles spattered across her nose and cheekbones, the sound of her laugh…
He had written to Marcus Lethem, his childhood friend from Dallas, who now worked at the local post office, with whom he had stayed in contact all these years. He had informed Marcus that he was coming home, that he would be working at the Dallas bank, but to not tell anyone of his impending arrival just yet. Nathaniel wasn’t sure why he hesitated in telling his old friend or his father the truth that he would not just be working as a manager of the bank, but that he now owned it.
He knew his father, Boyd, still lived in a small cottage built on the Holden property, a mile or so away from the main ranch house. His father still did odd jobs for the Holden family, like mending barbed wire fences, fixing broken corral railings and keeping the stables, the barn, and the fencing in good working shape. He had been paid a monthly stipend to do so, but not long ago, his father had written that more often than not lately, he remained idle. He was getting old, he wrote, hampering his abilities. Nathaniel knew that his father’s pride always smarted that he could no longer serve as the ranch foreman due to his injuries. He still walked with a limp, and could no longer ride a horse. The old injury had grown worse with age and arthritis hobbled his joints, but he never complained.
Maybe now that he was wealthy in his own right, Nathaniel could provide a good home for both of them in Dallas, one in which his father didn’t have to labor anymore. His father had worked hard all his life and deserved a few years of ease, didn’t he?
A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts and Nathaniel entered, then stood to help his uncle’s butler and his nephew into his parlor with the two trunks. When he laid his eyes on the trunks for the first time since he arrived, it all became suddenly real. It was happening. Once more, his life was changing. He looked forward to it and dreaded it at the same time.
Caitlin stared at her parents in disbelief and then at her nine-year-old brother sitting across from her at the breakfast table, stuffing a rasher of bacon into his mouth, eyes wide as he glanced between his father, his mother, and then Caitlin. She stiffened.
“This is not a discussion I want to have, especially at the breakfast table.”
Her mother smiled and reached forward to place a hand on Caitlin’s. She carefully placed her fork on her porcelain plate, the scrambled eggs, bacon, and lightly buttered toast suddenly unappealing. She turned to her mother as she gently slid her hand out from under her mother’s touch with a frown.
Her father spoke, and she turned toward him, a chill filling her stomach at his expression.
“Don’t be stubborn, Caitlin.” He huffed a sigh. “And let me be blunt. Your reputation as… ah… as a strong-willed woman has more than made the rounds on this ranch and I daresay the community at large. You know as well as I do that you could have married well two or three years ago if not for your… ah… stubborn attitude toward the institution—”
“Institution!” Caitlin gasped. “Marriage is not a business negotiation, Father, even if—”
“That’s where you’re wrong, young lady,” Spencer Holden replied. “For hundreds of years, marriage matches have been just that. Your mother and I truly see no other recourse for you. Why, even your friend Zoe has been married for a year! Unless you want to be known as a spinster or an old maid or—”
A gentle voice interrupted him. “Spencer.”
Caitlin turned to her mother, hoping for her support in this discussion, one of many that she had endured over the past six months as her parents had tried to encourage some young bachelors in the area to take an interest in her. How humiliating! More than once she’d found such a man on her doorstep, hat in hand or sitting across from her at their supper table, her parents watching them with hopeful expressions.
She frowned in consternation. “What’s the rush? Why are you suddenly pushing me to get married? I’m barely twenty years old!” She glanced at her father, who glowered at her for a moment before he heaved a deep sigh and shook his head. She didn’t want to see the gray hairs at his temples, the slight bags under his eyes, nor the deepening of wrinkles on his face. Why did everybody have to get old? She didn’t want to distress him, truly she didn’t, but this constant talk of marriage was irritating her nerves.
“Caitlin, be reasonable.”
“Father, that’s exactly what I’m trying to be.” She sighed. “How can you not understand my feelings? I want to marry a man I love, not one I was matched with based on his status in the community or his wealth or his business reputation. I want—”
With a grunt of frustration, her father’s hand banged down on the table. Silverware shifted. Her heart leapt into her throat, and she gasped in surprise at his anger. Alex stopped chewing his bacon, staring wide-eyed at his father. Beside her, Caitlin heard her mother’s sigh.
“Spencer, hold your temper. You’re not helping.”
Once more, Caitlin turned to her mother, wordlessly imploring. Surely she would understand, wouldn’t she? Amelia Hanson, despite being nearly forty-three years old, was still a beautiful woman with nary a wrinkle on her face. Her dark blue eyes and gentle smile had a way of soothing low spirits. Yet when pressed, those eyes could harden with impatience while her brow furrowed with disappointment. It was such a look that Caitlin saw now.
“You forget, daughter, that I too was a recipient of matchmaking efforts by my own parents.” She glanced at her husband across the table. “At the time, I too resented the idea of marrying for financial reasons, but as time passed, I have grown to love your father and vice versa.” She shook her head, relaxing back in her chair and offering an encouraging smile. “It’s not the end of the world, Caitlin.”
“You were forced to marry when you were sixteen years old, Mother,” Caitlin reminded her. “And Father was barely eighteen. But you as well as I know that arranged marriages are not nearly as prevalent today as they were in your time. It’s 1880! In twenty years we’ll see a new century, a century of changes, of—”
“In twenty years, you’ll nearly be your mother’s age, Caitlin,” Spencer interrupted. “It is your duty to obey your parents. It is your duty to help solidify the financial foundations and opportunities of two families, that of your future husband and ours. You’ve always known that. Your mother knows that. Your grandmother knew that. Now be reasonable and just listen.”
Caitlin sighed and leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. She glanced at her little brother sitting across the table from her, his food forgotten, his own hands in his lap. He looked at her in sympathy. Though he probably didn’t quite understand what all the hubbub was about, she knew she had his support, which was all fine and good, but there was nothing he could do about it.
His tone was gentler than before, and her father continued. “There will be no marriage proposals accepted from ranch hands or craftsmen, Caitlin, even if there were any such proposals coming our way. You have never been properly courted, and I daresay it’s because you’re… ah… a bit too rambunctious for any of the younger, more marriageable men in the area.”
Caitlin didn’t say anything but saw the glance he gave her mother before turning back to her. “I daresay, Caitlin, that there have been very few indications of interest even among the more mature and wealthy prospects in Dallas, or even as far south as Houston.”
She stared at her father in dismay. “Houston? Why would anybody know about me in Houston?”
“Dear,” her mother said softly. “You have no idea how fast or far gossip can fly.”
She stared at her mother and then at her father, eyebrows raised. “Who in heaven’s name would even have an interest in gossiping about me? I’m nobody special. I—”
“You are the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Dallas. Your mother and I, without boasting, happen to be very influential people in this town and are friends with those of our kind throughout the state—”
“Stop interrupting me, Caitlin.” He inhaled deeply, nostrils flaring, before he let out his breath in a disgruntled sigh. “The fact is, you need to get married before you become completely unmarriageable.”
“I’m twenty years old, father,” she reminded him. “I’m not a wizened old woman with a hump on my back holding an ear trumpet in my ear with one hand and a cane in the other!”
He snorted. “No, you’re not.”
She saw a hint of an affectionate smile before it disappeared, and the frown returned.
“But you have generated a reputation of being willful and stubborn. You do what you want, when you want. I’ve asked you not to go racing about the ranch on Jezebel like you do, jumping fences or trying to interfere with the ranch hands as they gather cattle or while they’re branding—”
“I wasn’t interfering, Father. I just happened to ride up when one of the calves escaped, and all I did was go after it.”
Her father raised an eyebrow. “And roping it?”
Caitlin felt her face flame with heat. “Well, Travis showed me how it was done. I wanted to see if I could do it too.”
“And you did,” he agreed. “But in the meantime, all the ranch hands could talk about after the incident was the sight of your… ah… lower limbs displayed in your stockings, your hair flying wildly behind you as you went after it.”
“Well, if you’d let me wear trousers as I’ve requested on multiple occasions, that wouldn’t have happened.” Again, her father sighed and turned her mother.
Her mother nodded. “That’s exactly the point, Caitlin. A well-bred young lady does not go cavorting about with the ranch hands in the middle of branding and… and castrating duties.”
Caitlin saw her mother’s cheeks redden and barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes as her mother continued, her voice gentle and reasoning.
“A young lady does not display her ankles…” She cast a quick glance toward Alex, listening to the conversation with interest. She cleared her throat. “A young lady is expected to act with a certain amount of dignity. Unfortunately, Caitlin, you have secured the reputation as being a wild child.”
Amelia lifted her hand. “Let me finish. How many decent men do you think want to marry such a strong-headed woman when all they want is someone to raise their children, take care of their home, or provide succor at the end of the long day’s work?”
Caitlin stared at her mother, momentarily at a loss for words. “And that’s my only duty in life? To bear a man’s children, wait on him, ensure that he has supper on the table, to make him feel better at the end of the day?” She turned to her father, eyebrows raised. “And what about me, Father? Does it matter what I want? What I would like?”
Her father grumbled for several moments and then heaved another sigh. He glanced to Caitlin and then at his wife as he rose, folding his linen napkin and placing it on the table beside his plate. “I need to go to work.” He turned to Caitlin. “We’ll finish this discussion later.”
He left the dining room. Moments later, she heard the front door open and close, and soon after that, the sound of his horse and buggy leaving the yard. Her mother sighed, slowly shook her head, and left the dining room. Caitlin was left to stare at her little brother, who looked up at her with an encouraging smile.
“You’re brave, Caitlin,” he said simply. “I hope I grow up to be half as brave as you.”
Despite her annoyance, Caitlin smiled. “You don’t have to worry about that, Alex. You’re going to grow up to be a fine young man, a man who has the freedom to do whatever he wants, to make any choices he wants.” She leaned forward over her plate, trying to ignore the aroma of cold scrambled eggs. “Just remember, though, when it’s time that you find yourself interested in a young lady, that you give her the same respect that you expect for yourself.”
Alex nodded somberly and reached for another rasher of bacon from the platter in the middle of the table. Caitlin also rose.
“Where you going?” Alex asked around the bacon he had stuffed in his mouth.
“I’m going to change into my riding habit and then ride into town and visit with Zoe.”
She left the dining room and crossed the hall to the stairs, their wooden risers covered by a narrow, long rug that had been tacked down to the steps. When she reached the landing, she paused. There, at the end of the hallway, stood her mysterious Aunt Anise. The older woman silently beckoned.
Curving her lips into an embarrassing semblance of a smile, knowing that her aunt must have heard the discussion below, Caitlin approached the woman, a veritable stranger to her, one that she had only met once in her life long ago. As she approached, her aunt turned and stepped back into her suite of rooms at the end of the hallway. Caitlin entered the small sitting room. Her parents had gone to lengths to ensure that Aunt Anise would be comfortable in her new home.
The walls were papered in a light gold silk brocade with a fireplace surrounded by wide dark walnut. A brand new walnut-framed sofa with a heart-shaped backrest sat between two lace-curtained windows, its dark blue velvet covering setting off the gold walls to perfection. Her mother certainly had an eye for interior décor.
A matching chair sat at an angle beside the sofa, on one side of a porcelain-topped and exquisitely carved walnut table, another armchair in a padded floral pattern at its opposite end. She glanced at the tabletop and spied a newspaper and two soft-covered books, a tall porcelain lamp in the middle, its vase-like base decorated with two cherubs. A glistening silver tea service on a platter completed the ensemble.
She slowly entered the room, her footsteps muffled on an elegant rug that her aunt had brought with her from Philadelphia. She glanced at the half-open doorway to her left that led to the sleeping quarters and then turned once more to her aunt, who sat on the settee. She gestured for Caitlin to seat herself in the matching padded chair beside it. She did so, curious. Since she’d arrived over a week ago, she’d barely seen more than a glimpse of her aunt. Was the woman a recluse, as her mother claimed, or was she still in mourning? It had been over a year, the requisite period of time a woman wore black clothing. Her aunt now wore a dark indigo dress. She would likely wear other dark, plain colored gowns for the half-mourning period for another year.
Caitlin glanced at her aunt and she shook her head. She felt awkward and didn’t know what to say.
“Your father means well, Caitlin.”
So. She had heard the argument.
“But I want you to know, dear, that I understand your feelings about the entire situation.” She set about fixing herself a cup of tea, adding a tiny spoonful of sugar and stirring gently, the spoon not even touching the sides of the fine China cup.
“You do?” Caitlin lifted a curious eyebrow. The woman took a cautious sip, nodded, and then placed the cup down on the saucer. Her back ramrod straight, her hands folded primly in her lap, she gave Caitlin her complete and full attention.
“I, like your mother… was pressured into marrying someone… a man not of my own choosing, and of a wealthy background, to better family assets on both sides.” She paused. “It was the way things were done.”
“But… but it’s 1880, Aunt Anise. Times have changed!”
Her aunt offered a soft laugh, which startled Caitlin.
“Don’t mistake my words, Caitlin. I just wish to ensure you that you are not the only one who’s ever found herself in this position. My brother made a good match with Amelia, I must admit, and they grew to love one another, but neither one of them had much of a choice in the matter.”
“Hear me out, young lady.” She took another sip of tea and then resumed her position. “I too married the man I was supposed to, though it wasn’t the man I would’ve chosen for myself. Of course, like your own parents, I came to appreciate my husband, but I must admit that I never loved him like I should have.”
Caitlin frowned. Why was the woman telling her this?
“I’m not going to get between you and your parents in this matter, as I am only a guest in this house—”
“You’re more than a guest, Aunt Anise,” Caitlin interrupted. “You’re part of the family now.”
The woman smiled gently. “You’re sweet to say so.”
The small smile that appeared on her aunt’s face created a miraculous change. Gone was the stoic, almost displeased expression of the woman’s features, and the hard edges of her cheeks disappearing and even bringing a softening of the eyes. It captivated Caitlin. She was still pretty and must have been quite beautiful in her youth.
Anise spoke again. “And forgive my saying so, as the last thing I would attempt to do is instigate discord in your home, but I urge you to try and… well, hold out for marrying for love, Caitlin, and not convenience.”
Caitlin suddenly realized that she had an ally in her aunt, which was a pleasant surprise but also a curious one. “I’m not exactly sure I know what you’re implying, Aunt Anise—”
Once more, the older woman reached for her cup of tea. “I won’t say more at the moment, Caitlin. I just wanted to know if you ever want someone to talk to, you can talk to me. I will understand.”
With that, Caitlin got the feeling that the conversation was over. Her aunt now gazed into the cold fireplace, forgetting that she was even there. Caitlin rose, bid her a soft goodbye, and left the room, closing the door softly behind her.
A short while later, Caitlin left the house wearing the riding habit she designed. A long skirt with a hidden slit up the sides allowed her to ride astride, much to her mother’s chagrin, but Caitlin had bowed to convention by also wearing a pair of ‘equestrian trousers’ beneath the skirt. The shirt had a high waist, constructed of a lightweight and buttery soft leather with a wide leather belt with two belt buckles in the front. Into the skirt she had tucked an ivory blouse, over which she wore a tight-fitting and short-waisted dark brown heavy cotton jacket.
Normally, if simply riding around their own property, she would not have bothered, but she was riding into town and her mother would have scolded her endlessly if she didn’t at least try to behave like a proper young lady when in Dallas. Dallas was a growing town, now home to nearly ten thousand residents and businesses, or so her father said. Her best friend worked in their family’s bakery on the western edge of town, so she didn’t have to ride down Main Street. Instead, she rode south of Main on Commerce and then turned left on Lamar, the bakery about halfway down the street near a grove of trees. She hadn’t seen Zoe since church the previous Sunday and looked forward to spending some time with her. She would likely be at work in the kitchen, baking breads, pies, and tarts, but Caitlin enjoyed watching her work. She enjoyed being surrounded by the mouth-watering aromas of yeast, fresh dough, cooked berries, and cinnamon apples as Zoe made her creations.
She and Zoe had been friends for years. Zoe had curly black hair and brown eyes, along with a sweet, demure personality. In many ways, not just physically but emotionally, Caitlin was quite the opposite. But the two had long been best friends, confiding in one another and offering one another support. Zoe had always been supportive of Caitlin, and even sympathetic. She had once said that she was glad she didn’t have to worry about the responsibilities and obligations that came along with being rich. Zoe’s older brother, Marcus, also with curly black hair and brown eyes, worked at the post office. Because her parents were getting on in years, Zoe had felt compelled to accept the marriage offer from a young man named Barty Willoughby, who owned a blacksmith business in the same neighborhood.
Just last year, Caitlin had wrapped her arms around her dear friend as she had cried, not really wanting to get married but realizing that doing so would ease her parent’s financial burden at least a little. Her brother Marcus had moved out a couple of years ago and now lived at Miss Millicent’s Boarding House. He donated what money he could every month after his own financial responsibilities were taken care of to help support his parents, but it wasn’t much. Zoe didn’t get paid for working in her parent’s bakery. Last year, after her mother had suffered a stroke that affected her right arm and could no longer work in the bakery, Zoe realized it was up to her to support her elderly parents.
The problem was that the money the bakery brought in was barely enough to pay the mortgage on the building and property. The family lived upstairs. If the bakery failed, the family would be out of a home. To make matters worse, the property taxes were six months past due, with another year’s debt fast approaching. The local bank loan officer, Harold Sweevly, had already threatened foreclosure. So, albeit reluctantly, Zoe had accepted the blacksmith’s proposal. She now lived in a small, rather rudimentary cabin behind the blacksmith shop, with Bart. It helped ease her parent’s burden of a mouth to feed while Zoe continued to work at the bakery without an income.
Upon learning of the dire straits of her friend’s family, Caitlin had tentatively brought up the possibility of her own parents providing Zoe’s family a loan with a long-term repayment plan, but of course, Zoe had refused, as Caitlin knew she would, but had brought up the suggestion, anyway. Caitlin had lived an easy life, but that didn’t make her spoiled. She didn’t take anything for granted. She liked to think that she saw the world with clarity.
Caitlin rode Jezebel into the outskirts of west Dallas and pulled her horse up to the front of the bakery, nestled between Horace Pettigrew’s shoemaker and boot cobbler shop on one side and Fiona McKellar’s millinery and seamstress shop on the other side. She crossed the boardwalk and entered the bakery, the bell over the door tinkling softly as she entered. Immediately assailed with the scent of yeast, dough, and freshly baked bread, she smiled. She could identify most of the breads now. There was buckwheat and wheat bread, some loaves made out of cornmeal and other varieties. On the counter stood baskets filled with rolls and biscuits, and under a glass dome on the counter stood a plate of apple tarts. The sound of humming through the open door that separated the front part of the bakery from the cooking area stopped and moments later Zoe stepped into the doorway, wiping her flour-dusted hands on a black-and-white checkered towel.
“Morning, Zoe.” Caitlin stepped around the counter without invitation, always welcome here. She eyed her friend’s apron, splotched with a remnant of melted butter here, bits of dough there, and then at her friend’s face, where a smear of flour brushed her left cheekbone. “Need help with anything?”
Zoe laughed softly. “No, I’m just finishing up a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.” She gestured with her chin over her shoulder. “Want one? They’re still warm.”
Caitlin sighed. “No thank you.” She followed her friend back into the kitchen, her gaze sweeping over the room, cluttered with two cast-iron stoves and shelving and counter space. The shelves lining the walls were filled with tins of flour and salt, sugar, and baking powder and baking soda, smaller tins of spices and other things like dried raisins and cranberries and apples. Reveling in the aromas and despite her decline of a cookie, her stomach rumbled.
She followed Zoe to the huge wooden table in the middle of the room, where a flour-dusted rolling pin lay beside a mound of raw cookie dough. Without glancing at her friend, Zoe picked up the rolling pin and finished rolling out the dough. She then reached for a round, metal form and began punching out cookies and placing them on a flat tin baking sheet.
“So what brings you here so early in the morning, Caitlin?” She glanced up with a lifted eyebrow. “Another argument with your parents?”
Caitlin winced. “It wasn’t exactly an argument,” she demurred. “More like another discussion, and a one-sided one at that.” She paused. “And I also had the oddest conversation with my aunt upstairs afterward.”
“Do you know that I haven’t seen more than a glimpse of her since she arrived? She closes herself up in her rooms upstairs and doesn’t even come down for mealtime, but has a tray brought up to her room. And yet this morning, after the discussion, I went upstairs to change to come visit you and she beckoned me into her rooms.”
Caitlin frowned. “And I got the impression that she was almost trying to discourage me from bending to father’s will. But I hardly have a choice, do I?”
“They still want you to get married to someone of their choosing.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. “And I suppose they told you it would probably be someone who wasn’t close to your own age. After all, they’ve made it more than plain that no menfolk around here wanted to court you, let alone marry you, because of your willful ways.” Zoe tried to smile and cheer her up. “Any man would be lucky to have you for a wife.”
“At least life with you would never be dull and boring.”
Caitlin made a face. “They keep implying that it’s my duty.” Suddenly, she felt bad making such a complaint to Zoe, who’d had little choice in her own decision to get married. “It’s not the marriage part that bothers me so much, Zoe. It’s being told who I have to marry.”
Zoe nodded in understanding. “That’s true. At least Barty proposed to me of his own free will, and I accepted of my own free will. Mostly.” She gave her friend a look. “Do they have a suitor in mind for you? Someone they’ve been hinting you should marry?”
Caitlin watched as her friend expertly filled the baking pans with the raw cookie dough shapes and then slid them into the ovens and closed the doors. She moved back to the table, crossing her arms over her chest. Dismay filled her voice as she replied. “I heard my parents talking in Father’s study last night. I heard a name.” She tried to ignore the knot of nausea and fear in her belly, tried to blink back tears of dismay as her finger traced a figure-eight in the dusting of flour on the table.
“Caitlin.” Zoe placed a hand on her arm and gave it a squeeze. Her voice was soft and filled with uncertainty she asked. “Who? Who is it?”
Tears blurred her vision and her voice cracked as she looked up at her friend and barely managed to get the words out. “It’s Harold. Harold Sweevly.” Though her heart filled with dread, she knew she really had no choice, and that’s what made it all so horrid.
“Sweevly? He’s such a boorish fellow.” She shook her head. “No, Caitlin, you can’t marry him.”
As if that settled the matter. Another batch of cookies had baked and slid onto plates to cool before Zoe spoke again.
“I think I have some news that might cheer you up.”
Caitlin sighed and tugged her gaze away from the knot of wood on one of the floor planks, miserable. She lifted an eyebrow, not believing Zoe could say anything to cheer her up at the moment. “Really?”
“Guess who arrived back in town yesterday? Marcus told me.”
Caitlin looked at Zoe and saw her smile, her cheeks flushed. How could she look so pleased when Caitlin had just told her the worst news? She offered a small shrug.
“You’re not even going to guess?”
Caitlin saw the disappointment on Zoe’s face and told herself to stop feeling sorry for herself. She tried to pretend interest. “Who?”
“Nathaniel. Nathaniel Hanson.”
The name stunned Caitlin. Nathaniel! Her childhood friend, the one with whom she had played every day, the two of them always doing just about everything together, whether it was exploring around the ranch, instigating pranks on their school friends or even some of the ranch hands, or racing their horses through the east pasture…
How many years had it been since she’d seen Nathaniel, his dark brown hair always tousled and tugging over his eyes with the breeze, those green eyes of his that seemed able to look into the very depths of one’s soul? His mother had worked as a cook on the ranch, his father was the foreman before he’d been injured. After his father had been crippled and his mother had passed away, Nathaniel had left to live with a relative in New York City.
She realized Zoe had asked her something.
“Sorry, Zoe, what did you say?”
“I asked if Nathaniel’s father still lived in that cottage on your property.”
Caitlin absently nodded. “Yes, it’s quite far from the main house. He does odd jobs around the ranch, but not so much lately due to his worsening arthritis. I don’t hardly ever see him. He stays pretty much to himself these days.”
Caitlin’s mind was spinning. Nathaniel was back? And he hadn’t come by the house to say hello? And what would she have done if he had? Her thoughts went back to those days, those weeks before he had left Dallas for the big city up north. Yes, he’d been grieving his mother’s death, but she couldn’t help but feel hurt that he hadn’t come to see her before he left. He’d been one of her best friends growing up and then he’d suddenly begun distancing himself from her, from everyone, even his good friend, Marcus. Then, he had completely disappeared from her life.
He had left her all alone, with parents who didn’t understand her, with a town that considered her so different, so willful, so undisciplined and unladylike that no man wanted her. Yet now they were likely negotiating a deal with thirty-year-old Harold Sweevly, a bitter man with the sourest disposition she’d ever come across. Never mind that Harold’s little brother, Jeremy, and Nathaniel and Marcus had been the best of friends. The three had often included Caitlin in their little group. That had been before the accident, before Jeremy died. After that, Harold had always blamed Nathaniel and Marcus for his little brother’s death.
Such a long time ago, a time filled with laughter and freedom and no concerns, until Jeremy died. Until Nathaniel’s father had been injured so badly he lost his job as foreman on the ranch, and until Nathaniel’s mother had gotten sick and died. Until Nathaniel had withdrawn into a shell of his former self and then boarded a train heading north without even coming to tell her goodbye.
“Letters from her Valentine” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Nineteen-year-old Caitlin Holden is an exuberant young woman who believes in true love, and thus has unfairly gained the reputation of being difficult by potential suitors. As such, her parents diligently set out to find a suitable husband for her, one who is wealthy enough, not only to support Caitlin, but the family’s coffers as well. Yet, when Caitlin discovers an old cigar box in her attic with decades-old Valentines exchanged by two mystery lovers, she begins a journey to uncover the truth behind the letters.
Will she be brave enough to refuse to marry for money and take her chance at love?
Nathaniel Hanson grew up with Caitlin Holden, but in his teens moved to New York City where his uncle taught him everything there was to know about banking. After inheriting a bank in his native Dallas from a benefactor, Nathaniel returns while keeping his newfound wealth a secret from everyone. Upon his return, he is surprised to find that the gangly child he remembers has grown into a lovely woman, one with whom he starts falling in love. As he and Caitlin rekindle their relationship, he also finds a box of old Valentines in his father’s home…
Will Nathaniel’s secret destroy his burgeoning love for Caitlin?
As Caitlin and Nathaniel try to uncover the mystery of the Valentine letters, they must also overcome obstacles in their path to find true love. Caitlin’s parents give her an ultimatum regarding her refusal to marry their choice of a husband, and Nathaniel faces a dangerous enemy from his past. Will they make it unscarred or will they make the same mistakes as the other doomed lovers of the past?
“Letters from her Valentine” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.