RANCHER SEEKING WIFE
A newspaper ad is the desperately needed answer to Kate Whittington’s prayers. Abandoned by her mother—the town tramp, raised in a bleak Maine orphanage, and a spinster without prospects, Kate dreams of a home and family of her own. Unfortunately, when she arrives to begin her new life, the man she believes she married by proxy denies placing the ad. He denies ever corresponding with or marrying her. Worse, he’s a Texas Ranger who’s recently been wounded while rescuing a boy from the Comanche—a boy he believes may be his long lost son.
Reed Benton doesn’t want a wife, doesn’t believe Kate’s story of an ad and letters, but he does need help taming the wild, resentful young boy under his roof—a boy who is a painful reminder of a past filled with betrayal and lies. There is no place in Reed Benton’s heart for a woman.
Can the faith of one woman with nothing left to lose create a miracle and heal two damaged souls?
“A tender, satisfying historical romance”—Publishers Weekly
“A gifted writer . . . able to enthrall readers and touch their deepest emotions.”—Romantic Times
About the Author Jill Marie Landis is the New York Times bestselling author and seven-time Romance Writers of America Finalist for the RITA Award. Long known for her historical romances, Jill Marie Landis also now writes The Tiki Goddess Mysteries (set on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, actor Steve Landis.)
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|Product dimensions:||6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.67(d)|
About the Author
The author of fifteen bestselling novels, Jill Marie Landis lives with her husband Steve in California and Hawaii. Her list of award-winning books includes Come Spring, Blue Moon, Sunflower, and Just Once.
Read an Excerpt
Twenty years later . . . Saint Perpetua’s School for Orphan Girls. Applesby, Maine. October 1869.
Kate awakened, heart pounding, blood racing. She did not move until her pulse settled back into a slow, steady rhythm; then she drew back the sheet and slowly slipped out of bed. Moonlight spilled across her pillow.
She had long ago given up trying to sleep when the moon was full. Nights bathed in moonlight held too many memories of the life she had lived with her mother.
It was fall again. Maine nights had grown desperately cold already. Kate shivered as she walked through a puddle of milk-white light to the only window in her sparsely furnished attic room. A utilitarian piece of unbleached muslin hung limp before the pane, as unadorned as everything else in this world of routine and orderliness where she had spent the better part of her life.
I stayed too long.
Kate drew aside the curtain and stared back at the man in the moon, unable to think of anything except what Mother Superior had told her after dinner when she had called her into the office: “I received word today that the archdiocese is closing the school at the end of the month, Katherine. We sisters are being sent to a new church school in Minnesota. The girls will be relocated, but I’m afraid that you will have to find other employment. I’m so sorry, Katherine. I wish it could be otherwise, but there is nothing I can do.”
Eleven years before, desperately in need of another teacher, the good Sisters of Saint Perpetua had asked her to stay on after graduation. She was given room and board and a small stipend in exchange for teaching history and elocution to girls of all ages.
At eighteen, rather than face the streets of Applesby, she had accepted the offer without hesitation, knowing that someday she would have to go out into the world again.
She promised herself that one day she would resurrect her old dreams, that she would have that pretty little home of her own and a family to hold dear.
As time slipped away and spinsterhood crept upon her, she devoted eleven years to Saint Perpetua’s orphan girls and all the joys and challenges of dealing with them. She had made a home here, one that was safe and warm and familiar. The nuns and the orphans had become her family.
She had a certificate of education. She could read and write in Latin. She was a teacher, a scholar.
A spinster with no living relation.
The thought of having to leave after so long filled her heart with dread.
She had a little money put by, surely enough on which to survive until she found other employment. She would have to find another place to live—no easy task in a hamlet where her mother had been the town whore.
She had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn, and no one to turn to—not even her mother. On Kate’s eleventh birthday, Mother Superior had told her that the old shack near the wharf had burned down, that her mama had died, trapped inside.
Even in death, Mama had been infamous.
Kate could not go to her mother and tell her that she had forgiven her abandonment, or that she had cried herself to sleep for months, missing her mama more than she would have missed her heart if it had been taken from her.
Now she looked out the window at the round face of the man in the moon.
“Where will I go? What will I do?”
The moon man smiled back.
Or perhaps he was laughing at her. She could not tell.
At the end of October, when the butcher made his final call to the nuns for an accounting, he found Kate standing outside the kitchen door with a hand-me-down satchel in hand. When he asked where she was going and she said that she did not really know, he took pity on her and told her she was welcome to rent the empty room above his shop. He was middle-aged and married, a portly man with fingers thick as the sausages he stuffed, and almost entirely bald.
With no alternative in mind, Kate accepted. She rode the butcher’s cart back to the shop, a sturdy whitewashed building near the center of town that was frequented all day long by housewives and maids.
The room was adequate and clean, a refuge where Kate spent the better part of the morning scouring up the courage to go out and find employment.
That afternoon, the butcher’s wife knocked timidly on the door and told her that she would have to leave on the morrow.
“Not that we don’t want you here, you see. It’s just that, well, some folks still remember your ma, and folks tend to gossip. We can’t afford to have our business ruined, you understand. It’s nothing against you, of course.”
That was how Kate learned that Applesby had not forgotten Meg Whittington—that like Mama’s, her name was still as tarnished as an old copper pot.
She packed her somber dresses and scant personal belongings again. The next day she held her head high, kept her tears inside, and moved on.
She rented a room in an old, gray weather-beaten shack by the wharf. It belonged to a sickly old woman in need of coin more than she cared about Kate’s name or her mother’s reputation. The stoop sagged and the corners of the front door had been scratched raw and splintered by the old woman’s flea-bitten dog.
It reminded Kate so much of the places she had lived with her mother that once inside the small musty room, she sat down on the lumpy mattress and burst into tears.
To escape the dreary place, she pulled herself together, put on her hat, and picked up her crocheted reticule—a misshapen, handmade gift from one of her girls. She slipped the drawstrings over her wrist and walked away from the wharf, up Main Street and toward the remnants of the tall evergreen forest that once grew down to the sea.
She could not help but notice that some of the older folks stared as she passed by. Slowly the shame she felt as a child began to attach itself to her again.
She drew herself up tall and straight and walked on. The stares of passersby confirmed what her mirror had always revealed—she was the image of her mother. She had grown up looking into a reflection of her mother’s eyes, wide-set and dark brown. She thought her lips too full, her mouth far too toothy, like her mama’s, so she never smiled too wide. Her arms and legs were long, her waist thin, her breasts embarrassingly full. Thankfully, the few serviceable dresses she owned were unadorned and drab and so overly modest that they did not call attention to her figure at all.
She never thought she’d experience that old shame again, but the sting was uncomfortably familiar, even after all these years.
She stopped by the printer’s and purchased a copy of the Applesby Sentinel; then she strolled over to the small park in the middle of the town square. She chose an empty bench beneath a maple covered with dried leaves that refused to fall. The paper snapped as she folded it back on itself, the corners luffed in the same breeze that set the maple leaves whispering. She began to scan the advertisements.
Since the school term had already begun, she doubted she would find a teaching position, but someone in a nearby town was surely in need of a nanny.
Quickly glancing past advertisements for real estate, gents’ clothes, and Aladdin stoves, she found one ad seeking a maid for a boarding house in a village just up the coast. There was another for a seamstress, but she had no talent for sewing.
A lumbermill needed a cook, but cooking was out of the question, too, unless the men were of strong constitutions. Whenever she was on kitchen duty, the nuns always offered up extra prayers.
Suddenly a small, boxed advertisement set off with fancy block type one-third of the way down the page caught her eye.
rancher seeking wife send a photograph with an introductory letter to: reed benton lone star ranch, texas
Kate slowly lowered the page to her lap and stared down at the words.
Rancher seeking wife.
Her long-buried dream shimmered like a mirage until the letters on the page blurred.
All those secret wishes, all those hopes tucked away in the bottom of her heart, dreams that had faded over the years she devoted to the students of Saint Perpetua’s.
What if she were to leave Maine forever?
What if she were to reach out for her dream?
She ran her finger over the bold type, closed her eyes, and turned her face toward the fragile fall sunlight. Just the word Texas conjured all kinds of images. Wild, wide open spaces. Cattle and cowboys. Indians. A handful of knowledge that she had gleaned through reading various periodicals and accounts over the years.
A place to start over. A place to settle down where no one recognized her. Perhaps even a place to start a family.
When a dying leaf drifted down from the maple and touched her cheek, she opened her eyes. The breeze whipped across the square, picked up a few fallen leaves, and sent them scuttling in a whirlwind dance. Kate lifted the lumpy reticule and slid the crochet along the drawstrings. Her savings lay at the bottom of the bag, a wad of carefully folded bills and a few coins.
Surely there was enough to spare for a photograph.
Surely there was enough to gamble a bit of it on a dream.