Authors: Rosie Harper
Tags: #Mail-Order Bride, #Western, #Historical, #Romance, #Victorian, #Adult, #Forever Love, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Wild West, #Texas, #Stephenville, #Small Town, #1800's, #Cowboy, #Courageous Women, #Rugged Men, #Dressed As Man, #New Mexico, #Prospecting, #Wealthy, #Mercantile Success, #Town Newspaper, #Western Frontier, #Wild World, #Adversary, #Disguise, #Charade
Copyright 2016 by Rosie Harper- All rights reserved.
In no way is it legal to reproduce, duplicate, or transmit any part of this document in either electronic means or in printed format. Recording of this publication is strictly prohibited and any storage of this document is not allowed unless with written permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.
Respective authors own all copyrights not held by the publisher.
Mariette & The Cowboy
A Mail Order Bride
By: Rosie Harper
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Mariette & The Cowboy
Mariette pulled her hat down over her brow tightly. She was so close, had so nearly gotten everything she could ever have dreamed of – all tucked away safely in the vaults of the Santa Fe bank. Just one more trip to the Ortiz Mountains, to glean everything she could from her claim and she would finally be able to lose the buckskins she wore, and become a woman once more. She didn’t miss the fripperies, the corsets, and hooped petticoats one bit, but she was lonely.
It was hard to be in this wild country, surrounded by tough men who’d rob you as soon as look at you. She’d had to be a whole new person, Marcus Flint, a man who took no prisoners, and would fight tooth and nail to protect all he had. She had built up a persona, by dropping hints, telling tall tales about Marcus’ exploits around campfires to men too far in their cups to even make it back to their tents. She never let down her guard, kept up the gruff voice, and the surly manner whenever she saw anyone come near - and the novelty of her adventure had worn off long ago.
As she rode up the worn pathway towards the little shack she had built herself some three years ago, she looked out at the beauty all around her. She hadn’t been able to enjoy it much, had spent those three years sleeping with a pair of pistols under her pillow, and a knife strapped to her ankle night and day. Prospectors weren’t too cowardly to attack someone in their sleep if they perceived you to have a more prosperous claim, and hers had paid out every season. She knew many of the men who worked the claims nearby all secretly coveted her spot, and she was thankful that so far Marcus’ reputation had kept them at bay. But it didn’t take much, one over confident braggart who thought he could change everything could make her life a living hell if he chose.
She kept herself to herself as much as possible, had only really made gotten to know a few of the brave souls who toughed it out each year. Most came and went, some frustrated they had found nothing; others who had been lucky and found gold first time. Most of the men around her were foolish, as soon as they found even a smidgeon they were off down to the nearest trading post to exchange it, so they could buy beer and women. It was a lonely life, and she could understand their reactions – and many of them were just downright lazy. They had come out here expecting to get rich quick, and had found that it was nothing but backbreaking and laboriously dull work from sun up to sun down. But she had chosen, and even enjoyed taking the slow and steady route. Every bit of gold she had she had kept as gold. She figured it would always have value no matter what – she didn’t always trust in the promissory notes the banks and traders offered her. There were no guarantees with those.
She made four trips a year to the vault, and each year her pile of gold grew. She was already a wealthy woman, but she wanted to be secure for life – no matter what may happen to her. She had seen too many women left abandoned by drunken husbands without means to support themselves and their children. She was determined that would never be her own fate. But, despite her low opinion of many of the men in her family, and of her current acquaintance, she hadn’t yet given up on the hope of becoming a wife, maybe even a mother one day.
She wondered if Bartlett would be back this time. He was a handsome devil, and unlike so many of their peers he worked hard on his claim. But, like many of them it didn’t take much for him to head off to find the kind of entertainments only money could buy. She liked him, when he was sober he was good company, and easy on the eye to boot. Not that she could ever let him catch her as she checked out his tight buttocks as he bent over the river to pan for gold, or swept the sweat from his brow in an extravagant gesture as he stood shirtless on a hot day and stretched, his back muscles rippling in the sunlight.
She often wondered how he might feel about her if he ever found out that she was in fact a woman, but knew that could never be until she had left this territory for good. She didn’t hold out much hope for him finding her attractive even if he wasn’t fazed by her androgynous existence. She was very tall, with auburn hair that could put a copper kettle to shame. She had no illusions, she knew she was what might be termed at best handsome, at worst many – but out here that played to her advantage. She kept her hair short, and tried to make she always looked a little dirty so nobody would ever realize she had no beard. So far nobody had ever been close enough to her to find her out, and she just had three months more to makes sure nobody else did.
The night was dark, and she heard a rustling as she settled down into her bed roll to sleep. “Marcus, you still awake?” a voice called. She could tell it was Bartlett. She quickly pulled on her breeches and jacket and pulled on her hat.
“You alright?” she called back wondering why he was returning so late.
“I got lost on the way back from town. Been wandering around for hours. Then I saw your fire. You always lay it just so,” he said, “so I knew I was close.”
“Come up and warm yourself. I’ll make us some coffee.”
“Thanks.” He stared at her as he came to the fire. He hunkered down on his heels, and stared at her. “When you going to tell me you’re a female Marcus?” he said with a grin.
“I wasn’t intending too considering I’m not,” she retorted.
“Sorry, but I’d wager everything I have that if I were to catch you down at the creek, washing yourself that I would find that under those shapeless clothes that there is a shapely woman’s body. And, you forgot to bind your breasts to come out and meet me!” he said with a grin. “Don’t worry, I’d never tell a soul. I like having you around too much, you make being up here bearable.”
The saloon bar was empty. Hardy pushed his way through the swing doors and made straight for the bar. It had been a very, very long day. He was dripping wet, and was heartily wishing he had listened to the man at the staging post about twenty miles north of here. The man had laughed at him when he’d said he was going out to find work. The jovial old man had told him that a real storm was brewing, one that would make finding his way anywhere nigh on impossible. Hardy had dismissed his words. He had been conned by too many men wanting to get him to stay another night as he had made his way across the country to seek his fortune to even consider trusting someone who might profit from such advice. The sun had been shining and the sky bluer than a cornflower in summer. He had nothing to fear, he had been sure of it. Just an hour later and the black clouds had descended all around him, and the rain had begin to drip in fat droplets off the brim of his hat, and within minutes he had been soaked to the skin – shivering and unhappy.
Now he needed a few shots of whiskey, a good meal, a hot bath and a place to stay for the night. He prayed that there would be opportunities in this little town that might supply all four. The barman greeted him warily. He’d been upset initially when people had been a little standoffish, even surly as he had ridden further West, but as he saw the tough conditions they lived in, and heard the tales of bandits, savage Tribes and all manner of criminal goings on he had begun to grudgingly accept people’s distrust of strangers. “Whiskey please, and could you tell me if there is a hotel nearby? I think I need to dry off and get me a bath!” He kept his tone light, polite, trying hard to let the man know, without him saying it in as many words, that he was okay.
“No hotel Sir, but we do have rooms here. I believe one of them is free. I am sure we can accommodate you. How many nights do you intend staying?” The barman places a shot glass in front of him and poured a rich, amber liquid into it.
“I’m not sure. Probably just the one night. I’m trying to find work out here, but have had no luck,” he said kicking his worn boots at the solid oak bar in frustration. The West was supposed to be the land of opportunity, well if you ignored the danger of course, but he’d yet to see anything that so much as had a faint whiff of being a chance for a better life. He picked up the shot glass and raised it in a sardonic salute, knocking it back swiftly. It hit his innards, and made him react with a sharp inhalation of breath. The barman grinned.
“Well, Caleb Green may be hiring, he has a ranch just out of town – just took over the one next door too so will probably be looking for some help,” a rich, deep woman’s voice said from behind him. Her voice was sweet as butterscotch, as husky and rich as the whiskey now warming his belly. He turned to see where it had come from.
Wow! The woman was tall, almost as tall as he was himself and he was just over six feet. She was mighty finely dressed though, and her eyes were alight with humour. She wasn’t pretty, no she was so much more than the insipid girls he had known back home. This was a real woman, with curves in all the right places - and if he wasn’t much mistaken, this was a woman who knew exactly what she wanted from life.
She held out a gloved hand to him, “Mariette Macardle.” He took the proffered hand, but found himself suddenly feeling unsure if he should shake it, or kiss it. Thankfully she took the decision out of his hands as she grinned at him and pumped his hand firmly.
“Hardy Williams. It’s a pleasure,” he said, and truly meant it. Even if there was no work, it would be worth staying in town for a while just to see if he could get to know this glorious woman better. “Did you say Caleb Green? Where might I find him?”
“Well right now, probably in bed with his new wife!” she said with a knowing wink at the barman. She slapped her purse down on the bar, and turned back to him. “But I would imagine that tomorrow you will find him up at the old Greive place, checking over what he has just purchased. Which means that you will probably be finding yourself at a loose end this evening, am I right?” she asked with a playful smile on her lusciously full lips. He nodded, suddenly he was nervous. His throat had closed tight around the words he wanted to say out loud. “Well, we like to pride ourselves on our hospitality here in Stephenville, and I am having just a very intimate supper for some friends. You would be more than welcome to join us?”
“Erm, th..that would be most kind,” he stuttered, taken aback at her instant generosity.
“Elliot, would you mind checking to see if you have any bottles of decent Irish whiskey in the cellar please? I have Judge Fitzpatrick joining me, and he will not touch anything that isn’t from the Emerald Isle!”
“Sure, Miss Mariette. I’ll get Matty to drop them by for you,” the barman said warmly. Clearly this young woman was well known to him, and he thought that odd. He had seen no ring, and single women rarely stepped foot inside a Saloon where he came from unless they were there to sell themselves. Then again not that many married women did either, unless they’d had the misfortune to have married the owner. She counted out some coins, and then moved towards the door.
“Can you point this lovely young man in the direction of my house for about seven thirty? And if at all possible if he could be bathed and shaved first, and in some clean clothes it would be a bonus.” She winked at Hardy, and he began to wonder if he had just been steamrollered into something he might just regret.
“I will indeed Miss Mariette, now you take care of yourself. I shall make sure Mr Williams has a comfortable room, a hot bath, and he looks like he may be my size so if needs must he can even borrow something of mine. I’ll make sure he is respectable for you.”
“Respectable I’m not worried by, but presentable I insist upon!”
Hardy watched her, his mouth wide open in amazement as she swept magisterially out of the door. What a woman! And she seemed to want his company. He couldn’t for the life of him think why, he’d been worse than a dumb teenager – unable to string a sentence together. His hands felt sticky from sweat, and he could still feel his body’s arousal at her mere presence. What he wouldn’t give to be able to sweep her off her feet, and make her his? But to do that he’d need to be able to take charge of the situation, and it was patently clear that might just be harder than it should be.
As he soaked in the tub that Elliot had brought up for him, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He had simply never met anyone, let alone a woman who was quite so forthright. He sure as hell hadn’t met one who could turn him into a gibbering wreck with just one smile and a firm handshake. He prayed that he wouldn’t make such a fool of himself again, especially not in front of her guests. He had a feeling that anyone looking at him for even a second would see right through him, and gaze easily upon the heat in his loins and the muddle in his head that Mariette Macardle made him feel. Well, he’d have to make sure nobody did see it. Because he damn well had to spend whatever time he could with her.
Warm and dry, he found himself with a few hours to kill before supper. The storm had cleared, leaving a bright sky and so he headed out to explore the little town. Hardy was impressed to see that they had a church, a courthouse, a well stocked general store and a number of other shops. He wasn’t interested in their wares though, more that the town was big enough to warrant so many. He walked a way out of town, and was enchanted by the broad vista that spread out before him. A herd of cattle were grazing not too far away, and the Bosque River wound its way sensuously across the landscape. He had to admit it would be a fine place to settle, if he could only find work.
He looked longingly at the Longhorn Cattle munching contentedly on the rich grassland, and wished he could have his own ranch, but sadly he had not so much as a dollar to his name. No, he would have to work hard, save harder and maybe one day he would be able to have his own place, his own family, his own wife. He hadn’t met him yet, but he already had the tiniest bit of envy of Caleb Green, who seemed to have everything Hardy had ever dreamed of.
He didn’t begrudge his older brother, Matthew, a thing. His Father had left the farm back in New York State to him when he died. But it was only a small farm, had not needed them both to work it and there had been nothing left to give to Hardy to set him up elsewhere. But what he did envy his brother for was his beautiful wife and six month old son. They were so very happy together, and Hardy had begun to find it harder and harder to be around them the more their blessings seemed to accumulate. All he seemed to attract was trouble.
First, his favourite horse had gone lame making it hard for him to find work, then he had been mistaken by the local Sheriff for a notorious bandit, and finally he had been held up at gunpoint by that self same bandit. He had decided it was time to go somewhere, anywhere to see if he could outrun his bad luck. His brother had given him every penny he could spare. It would be enough for him to buy a new horse and pay for a train ticket to Fort Worth. But, it seemed his misfortune had followed him. His bags were stolen on the train, leaving him with nothing but the money for a horse.
A moment of unusual good fortune had been upon him when he found Blaze. He was a stocky crossbreed, with plenty of strength and stamina. He would make an ideal mount for a cowboy. But, sadly Hardy had yet to find a ranch that needed an inexperienced cowboy. He had some skills. Living on a farm his entire life did not make him completely useless, but his family had grown crops, not bred livestock and his roping technique left much to be desired.
Maybe at last his luck was changing, he prayed as he looked out over the land he longed to call his home. At least there was hope of work here, and if nothing else he had gotten to meet the most stunning woman he had ever seen, and would be dining with her tonight. Despite the storm, this was definitely the best day he had enjoyed since before his Father had passed away. He turned to walk slowly back to the saloon, tipping his hat and greeting everyone he met with a cheerful smile. Every one of them smiled back, and welcomed him to town. Yes, Stephenville was already feeling more like home than Gabriels had ever done.