Rose: Bride of Colorado
To escape a family scandal, Boston socialite Rose Winchester left home and took a job in a garment factory. But after a fire, she is left with no means to support herself and is forced to become a mail-order bride.
Although neither Charlie nor Rose expects their relationship to develop into anything more than friendship, love blossoms between them, but their fragile relationship is tested when secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart.
Charlie Halstead leaned against the sideboard in the Bar-H ranch’s kitchen, his ankles crossed and his arms folded across his chest. His father, Robert, paced the length of the room, slamming his hand on the thick oak table on each pass.
Finally, he stopped in front of Charlie and glared at him. “I’ve had enough of your shenanigans. It’s time for you to grow up and start acting like an adult instead of a … a hooligan.”
Charlie met his gaze, even though one eye was already swelling shut and his cut lip stung like a hundred bees had been feasting on it.
He didn’t bother responding. He’d been on the receiving end of this lecture more than once over the years, and he’d found it was best to keep quiet and let his father rant until his frustration was spent.
Robert raised his hand and shook a finger at Charlie. “If that man had been hurt bad, you’d be behind bars right now.”
This time, though, Charlie couldn’t contain himself any longer. “He was a cheat. Any other man would have put a bullet through him.”
“If you hadn’t been gambling, you wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.”
“I was just letting off a little steam—”
As if he hadn’t heard a word Charlie had said, Robert resumed his pacing. He stopped at the other end of the table, where Charlie’s mother was sitting, her hands twisting a lace handkerchief between her fingers. “Your mother and I both agree, it’s time you got married and settled down.”
“What?” Charlie spun around to face his father, then realized he’d made a huge mistake. Pain ricocheted through his head and dizziness clouded his vision.
“You and Eugenie will get married this spring and you’ll spend your time here on the ranch like a decent family man instead of going into town every night.”
Charlie’s stomach twisted. He’d been well aware his whole life that both his and Eugenie Apsley’s parents had practically arranged a wedding between the two. But that was not going to happen.
As soon as his vision cleared, he straightened and took a step toward his father. “No. ”
“Eugenie expects to marry you—”
“Because you and her father have convinced her it’s the right thing to do.”
“She loves you.”
Charlie spoke slowly so his father couldn’t misunderstand. “No, she doesn’t. She loves the idea of being a Halstead. I’m not going to marry Eugenie. Not now. Not ever.”
He couldn’t imagine waking up to Eugenie every morning for the rest of his life. Time and time again over the years, he’d witnessed the sense of entitlement she’d managed to hide from his family — as if the world only existed to make her life easier. He’d seen the way she treated people when they were of no further use to her.
His parents thought she loved him. He knew better. He was pretty sure the only reason she wanted to marry him was because she loved the idea of being a Halstead. If he did marry her, it wouldn’t take long before the novelty wore off, and he wasn’t about to get himself into a lifelong sentence of being treated like a hired hand.
“This isn’t the Middle Ages,” Charlie snapped. “You can’t force me to marry somebody just because you and Mr. Apsley want to join forces.”
His father’s eyes narrowed, his face hardening. “I can if you expect to inherit this ranch.”
Had he heard right? Or was his brain still addled from Dooley Smith’s right hook to the jaw? “What?”
“You heard me.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Either you get married and settle down, or I’ll take you out of my will and Edward will inherit the Bar-H.”
Charlie couldn’t wrap his mind around the possibility that he’d lose the ranch, especially to his good-for-nothing cousin. Edward was one of the laziest men Charlie had ever met, and the man didn’t know one end of a branding iron from the other. The Bar-H – the ranch where Charlie was born on and had worked with his father on for as long as he could remember – would be ruined within a year.
Charlie loved this land, loved every blade of grass, every tree, every stone. He’d woken up every morning of his life to a view of the snow-tipped Rocky Mountains, the fresh clean air, the sound of hawks screeching overhead.
He’d always expected he’d spend his last days here as well.
Now, his father was threatening to take all that away because he didn’t want to be saddled with Eugenie Apsley.
“Ma? You going along with this?” He set his gaze on his mother. Surely she’d take his side. She’d always defended him, protected him, no matter what kind of scrape he got himself into.
This time, she said nothing.
He met his father’s steely glare. “You’d really cut me out?”
His father turned away, jammed his hands in his pockets and stared out the window to the pastures and grazing land in the distance. Bar-H land.
Charlie noticed his mother dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, but still, she didn’t speak.
Finally, Robert turned back. “We’re not completely heartless,” he said. “We want you to have a good marriage, the kind of marriage your mother and I have had all these years. You and Eugenie are well suited to each other. You both come from good stock, you both grew up knowing the ranching business, and your children will be well-bred.”
“What about the fact that I don’t love her?”
“You can learn to love one another, just as your mother and I did.”
Charlie shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around the ultimatum he’d been delivered.
“The church will be reserved for the last Saturday in May,” Robert announced. “By then, you’ll be twenty-eight years old. Well past marrying age. So if you aren’t married by midnight on that date, your name will be removed from my will. That’s my final word on the subject.” He crossed the kitchen and held out his hand to Charlie’s mother. “Come along, Ada. Charlie has a lot to think about.”
With a sympathetic glance in Charlie’s direction, his mother rose and followed his father out of the room.
Charlie dropped into a kitchen chair and stretched his feet out in front of him. Eugenie – or the ranch. What was he supposed to do?
Sure, he was a little wild now and then, but he never shirked his responsibilities here on the ranch. And now, because of a little saloon brawl – and it was a little brawl compared to some he’d been in – he could lose everything.
But marry Eugenie? He let out a bitter laugh. No way in hell was that ever going to happen.
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, gazing absently at the rough oak plank floor. The sun dipped in the sky outside, and shadows filled the room, but still he sat, searching for a solution.
Either you get married and settle down, or I’ll take you out of my will and Edward will inherit the Bar-H. His father’s words rumbled around in his brain.
Suddenly, the answer came to him.