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"What are you doing here?" Daniel Westland scowled at his younger brother, Levi. He'd been running late, and seeing his brother standing there, looking freshly cleaned and pressed, was not what he'd expected. The wildflowers in Levi's hands spun daintily in the breeze that swished about them as the stagecoach pulled to a stop.
Dust filled the air, and both men shaded their eyes against the grit. As soon as the horses came to a complete halt and the dust settled, Levi answered, "I imagine I'm here for the same reason you are, big brother."
Levi grinned. His green eyes sparkled with mischief. Daniel's scowl deepened. Surely Levi hadn't sent off for a mailorder bride, also? But then again, maybe he had. Daniel pulled his hat farther down on his forehead to shade his eyes from both his brother and the sun.
While they waited for the driver to leap down and open the carriage door, Daniel thought of the woman within the stagecoach. She was a schoolteacher and had written that she felt it was time to have children of her own. The letter promised she had all her teeth, that she was twenty-eight years old and believed in God.
Daniel's jaw tightened. Once more he wanted to scream that he didn't have time for this, he had a ranch to run! Why his mother, Bonnie Westland, felt the need for grandchildren now was beyond his comprehension.
Truth be told, he wasn't ready for a wife or children, but his mother was feeling the pinch of old age. At Christmas she'd decided that her sons needed wives and she needed grandchildren. She'd proclaimed over dinner that the first son to marry and produce a grandchild would inherit the ranch.
Daniel swept his hat off and ran a weary hand through his hair. His mood darkened as he again noticed the fresh bouquet of wildflowers in Levi's tan hand. Why hadn't he thought to pick Miss Hannah Young flowers?
The two men's gazes met and clashed. Levi winked at him and then continued to watch the door expectantly. Why did Daniel let his younger brother get under his skin so? He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
Unlike Levi, he didn't have time to stop and smell the flowers, or in this case pick them for a stranger. He slapped at the dirt on his pant legs. He'd been more concerned about fixing the west fence on the ranch before he had to meet the stagecoach and his mailorder bride than he had sprucing up for her.
The driver set a wooden box in front of the coach door and then reached for the handle.
Daniel quickly did a self-inventory. His tan shirt hid most of the day's sweat and grime. Thankfully, he was wearing dark brown pants or he'd really look shabby to his new bride. His work boots were covered in a fine layer of dirt and mire. He knocked a chunk of dried mud off the hem of his trouser leg.
The sound of Levi's low, appreciative whistle brought Daniel's head up.
A vision of loveliness stood in the doorway of the coach. As she stepped down onto the wooden box, her blue travel dress floated about her, much how he would imagine ocean waves would look. Silky black ringlets framed her heart-shaped face. Stormy blue eyes scanned the small town and then alighted on him.
She held his gaze for several long minutes, and during that time Daniel felt as if his heart were being squeezed and his lungs had lost all means of holding air. He hadn't expected Hannah Young to be so beautiful.
Levi stepped forward and clasped her hand in his. "I'm Levi Westland." He helped her step down from the box until her feet touched the ground. "Are you Mil-licent Summer?"
Her voice sounded soft and almost musical. "I'm sorry, Mr. Westland. I'm Hannah Young." Confusion laced her pretty blue eyes. "I am here to meet Daniel Westland. Did he send you to pick me up?"
"No, ma'am. I'm his brother, Levi."
Daniel stepped forward. "I'm Daniel Westland." His words squeaked out, making him sound much like an adolescent instead of the thirty-three-year-old man he was. He cleared his throat and stepped forward, extending his hand.
She smiled and placed her small gloved fingers in his. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Westland."
The coach driver set two large bags down beside her. "Here is your luggage, ma'am." He picked up the wooden box and replaced it inside the carriage.
Hannah released Daniel's hand and thanked the driver.
Levi looked inside the vehicle. Disappointment laced his voice. "Weren't there other passengers?"
The driver grunted as he climbed back aboard the stage. "Not this trip." He slapped the reins over the horses' backs, heading to the livery at a fast pace.
Levi stood watching them go. The dejected look on his face said it all: he had hoped to have a bride today, as well. Was Levi disappointed because he was behind in the game? Or had he somehow learned to care about Millicent Summers through her letters?
The look on his younger brother's face bothered Daniel. He squashed the feelings. He couldn't let them affect him now. Thanks to his mother's challenge, the ownership of the family ranch was at stake.
He returned his attention to Hannah Young and offered what he hoped was his best smile. "It's nice to meet you, too. Are you ready?" At her slight nod, he pressed on. "I thought we'd head on over to the preacher's house, and then enjoy an early supper before going out to the ranch." Now that the time to actually get married was here, Daniel felt as if someone had tied a big stone around his neck and was about to toss him into the river.
Would he ever feel right about marrying a woman who he wasn't sure he'd be able to protect and love? After the death of his sister and his inability to protect her on the ranch, what made him think he could take care of a complete stranger? If only his mother hadn't interfered in his life, he'd never have to find out.
He picked up her bags and looked again in Levi's direction. His brother stood off to the side with the flowers still clutched in his hand. Confusion furrowed his brow.
A featherlight hand landed on Daniel's forearm. "I'm sorry, Mr. Westland, but am I correct in my assumption that you are planning on our wedding being today?"
"Of course." He turned toward the buckboard, which waited in front of the general store. The sooner they got this over with, the better.
Her hand slipped from his arm. He'd taken several steps before he realized Hannah was no longer by his side. Daniel looked over his shoulder and saw that she stood where he'd left her, her arms crossed and a stern look upon her face.
He walked back to her. "Is something amiss, Miss Young?"
A new sharpness filled her voice as she informed him, "Mr. Westland, I don't believe that is what we agreed upon. Per my letter, we will not be married until I am properly courted, and only if we find there is love in our hearts for one another."
Daniel dropped the bags. He didn't like the firmness in her voice when she spoke to him. He wasn't one of her students, and they had to get married today.
Anger caused his next words to come out swift and full of emotion. "Madam, getting married today isn't something I relish, either. But it is what happens when a man places a mailorder bride ad and a lady accepts the offer. I did not agree to any other terms. I have a ranch to run, and the sooner we get this " for a moment he faltered for words " this marriage thing over with, the better. Now come along." He reached for her arm, figuring the tone he'd just used with her had scared more than one cowpoke into doing what he ordered.
She stepped back out of his reach. Determination laced her blue eyes and she responded in a stern manner of her own. "I don't think so, Mr. Westland. I sent a letter and told you my stipulations. By sending me tickets to come here, you agreed to those terms."
Daniel spread his legs and planted his fists on his waist. He ignored the grinning Levi, who'd taken a sudden interest in them. His sibling no longer resembled a dejected hound dog.
He turned his gaze from his little brother and focused on her. "Miss Young, I did not receive your letter and would never have agreed to your demands. Did you or did you not answer my mailorder bride ad?"
She offered him a sweet smile. Her blue eyes sparkled in the morning sunlight, much like a woman's jewels. Daniel felt sure she was about to say that it was all right and she'd be happy to marry him on the spot.
Instead, Hannah said, "Yes, I did. And I only did so because I thought you agreed to my terms. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get my letter, but the terms still stand. I am not trying to be a demanding woman, Mr. Westland. But I will not be forced into a quick marriage."
Sweetness dripped from her lips, but determination filled her eyes. He could tell this woman was giving no quarter in their disagreement. He also realized they were gathering more attention than a bucking bull on Main Street.
He ground his teeth and scowled at his brother, who grinned back at him. This was not working out as Daniel had planned. "Come along. We'll discuss this over lunch." He walked back to her luggage and jerked it up.
Leave it to him to pick a bride who wanted to marry, but only for love. Why hadn't he gotten the missing letter? In the last one he'd received she'd said yes, that she'd like to come to Granite and meet him. Had she mentioned a long engagement? No, he felt sure he'd have remembered it if she had.
Upon reflection, he realized she'd said "meet" him, not marry him. His assumption that all mailorder brides had to get married might have cost him his ranch.
Hannah followed behind Daniel Westland. His straight shoulders and tight jaw screamed of his anger and confusion. She believed him when he'd said he hadn't gotten her letter, but Hannah held fast to the dream of marrying for love.
She'd already been left at the altar once because the young man didn't love her. It was too bad he'd decided to tell her so in front of all their friends and family. It was a hard lesson, but she'd learned it well. Now Hannah refused to marry a man until she was sure of his love and she heard him proclaim the words I love you with his own lips. Hannah didn't think it was too much to ask.
She turned to see a smiling Levi Westland strolling beside her. He looked a lot like his older brother, with the same green eyes, even white teeth and sandy-brown hair. Only where Daniel's was short, Levi's touched his collar, and twin dimples winked from his cheeks. He was shorter than his brother by a few inches. "Yes?"
He cleared his throat and spoke in a louder-thannecessary voice. "If my brother isn't willing to agree to court you, I will. I'll even wait until you fall in love with me before we marry." Levi held out the wildflowers he'd been holding tightly, and offered her a bright smile.
If the situation had been different, Hannah would have laughed at the comical way he'd gallantly made his announcement. Levi seemed very sure that he could make her fall head over heels in love with him. Her gaze moved to Daniel as he lifted both her bags into the buck-board. What did he think of his brother's declaration?
Hannah took the flowers Levi offered and smiled sweetly at both men. "Thank you, Mr. Westland. I'll keep that in mind."
A low growl came from Daniel as he turned from the buckboard. Hard green eyes swept over his younger brother.
"Levi, leave Miss Young alone."
Mischief danced in Levi's face. His dimples deepened as he grinned. "Why, big brother? Have you changed your mind already?"
Daniel ignored him and came to stand in front of Hannah. "Would you like to eat at the hotel dining room? Or The Eating House?"
She squared her shoulders and asked, "Which is more private and offers a pot of hot tea?" Had Daniel changed his mind? She didn't think so. From the set of his jaw and the fire in his eyes, she'd almost bet that he hadn't.
"Probably The Eating House," he said, stepping to her side and cupping her elbow in his callused hand.
She marveled at the gentleness of his touch. Even though he was mad enough to spit nails, Daniel's hand betrayed none of the anger Hannah was sure he was feeling.
Levi moved to the other side. "I think pot roast and fresh bread are the special today," he offered as he grinned across at Daniel.
Hannah felt small as she walked between the brothers. She straightened to her full height of four feet eleven inches and was still almost a foot shorter than Levi. Daniel towered a few inches over his brother, making her feel even smaller.
Aware of the limp she'd attained as a child, she tried to keep her footsteps strong and even with theirs. So far neither Daniel nor Levi had mentioned her slight hobble; perhaps it wasn't as important to them as she had feared it would be.
Normally Hannah would have relished the silence among the three of them, but when she'd made the decision to start a new life, she'd also decided to become more sociable. Talk more, express more, live more.
So to break the tension-filled stillness she asked, "Mr. Westland, who is Millicent Summer?" She turned her gaze on Levi.
He cleared his throat and looked away. "She's the woman who answered my mailorder bride advertisement. It seems I'm not the only one who had that idea." Levi cut his eyes toward his brother once more.
Hannah followed his gaze. Daniel continued walking, but his jaw worked and his lips had thinned. Confusion warred within her. "But why did you both send for a mailorder bride?" She looked about the small town. Maybe there just weren't enough women to go around here in Granite, Texas.
"Let's get a pot of tea in front of you and I'll tell you everything," Levi answered.
Hannah nodded. A sick quiver churned her already unsettled stomach. She prayed it was simply because she hadn't eaten since the early hours of the morning, but knew it was her normal reaction to forthcoming bad news.
Daniel growled between gritted teeth. "Don't you think I should be the one to tell her?"
They walked toward a large building with the name The Eating House painted over the door. The fragrance of fresh bread drifted from an open window, which sported red-and-white curtains. Hannah's stomach growled.
Levi followed them and chuckled. "You should, but I didn't think you would."
Daniel ignored his brother. He released her arm and yanked the door to the restaurant open. His green eyes blazed in Levi's direction.
Hannah entered in front of the men. The rich fragrances of coffee and roasted meat filled her nostrils, but she ignored them. Her mind circled the question: What secret was Daniel Westland withholding from her?
Once more he took her arm, and began to direct her to the back of the room. They passed wooden tables and chairs. Salt and pepper shakers were the only objects on the tables. She was happy to see that the table-tops looked clean.
Why wouldn't Daniel tell her? What had he been keeping from her in his letters? She'd thought him an honest and hardworking man. The letters had hinted at long hours and a busy life. Hannah had been looking forward to working by his side.
Now dread caused her hands to shake. Daniel stopped at the last table and held out a chair for her. She laid the flowers down, slid into her seat and then clutched her hands together in her lap.
What did she really know of the Westlands? Had she allowed her romantic thoughts to put her in a mess of hot water? A new knot developed in the pit of her stomach as Hannah realized her friend Eliza might have been right. Becoming a mailorder bride might have been a bad idea.