For the Sake of His Children
A marriage of convenience? Rachel Hewitt couldn't possibly accept. Not even for the sake of three adorable little girls who desperately want a new mother. Sheriff Tristan McCullough offers Rachel a home and family, but not the one thing she truly seekssomeone to love her for herself.
Tristan McCullough hoped to find a wife on the wagon train, not a nanny. The hardworking widower wants a marriage without emotional risks. But independent Rachel intrigues him. One minute she's winning over his shy little girls, and the next she's tackling danger head-on. She might just be Tristan's unexpected second chance at happiness if he'll risk his wary heart again.
Journey West: Romance and adventure await three siblings on the Oregon Trail
About the Author
Renee Ryan grew up in a Florida beach town outside Jacksonville, FL. Armed with a degree in Economics and Religion from Florida State University, she explored various career opportunities, including stints at a Florida theme park and a modeling agency. She currently lives in Savannah, Georgia with her husband and a large, fluffy cat many have mistaken for a small bear. Renee can be contacted through her website at www.reneeryan.com
Read an Excerpt
Fort Nez Perce
Exhausted, footsore and chilled to the bone from a recent rainstorm, Rachel Hewitt leaned against her family's covered wagon. As she looked out over the organized chaos, one thought emerged. Nearly there.
At long last, the wagon train had reached the final leg of what had turned out to be an arduous, five-month trek across the Oregon Trail.
Despite the hardships along the way, spirits were high among Rachel's fellow emigrants. A brand-new life awaited in Oregon City, with the promise of fertile soil, large land grants. Endless possibilities awaited. And yet
A sense of quiet despair crept into her usual optimism.
Wrapping her shawl tighter around her shoulders, she traced her fingertip along the edges of a wooden slat. Familiar sounds filled her ears. Hammers striking iron. Saws carving through wood. The creak of wagon wheels and children's laughter and the bleating of worn-out animals.
Soft footsteps approached from behind her. Rachel moved to the other side of the wagon. She didn't especially want to speak with anyone right now.
Rachel's family, along with many others, had made the decision to build rafts or buy canoes rather than risk the treacherous land route or abandon their belongings. It had seemed the wisest course of action. But as she eyed the rushing waters swollen from the recent storm, she wondered if the worst was yet to come.
The cold wind sweeping off the Cascade Range carried the scent of winter over the land. Time was running short. Little room for mistakes or wrong turns.
Rachel looked around her once again. This time, all she saw was the solitary figure standing on the riverbank.
Tristan McCullough. The handsome, widowed sheriff of Oregon City had joined their wagon train weeks ago. He'd deftly guided their weary group through the treacherous Blue Mountains, past The Dalles and on to Fort Nez Perce.
His strength of character had made an impression on everyone, including Rachel. He was the embodiment of masculine power and something far more troubling. Something her mind shied away from, refusing to acknowledge.
The sun peeked out from a seam in the clouds and wrapped Tristan in a thin, golden beam, turning his sun-kissed hair a burnished copper. And his eyes, those intelligent, compelling eyes were probably a full shade lighter now, a cool moss green against his tanned skin.
A shiver passed through her as she watched Tristan eye the rushing waters with a concerned expression.
Was he contemplating another route to Oregon City? Not likely. The only other route was along the sandy, narrow shoreline. But large boulders and steep cliffs, some rising over a hundred feet above the river, would have to be scaled or gone around.
While fraught with its own set of dangers, the Columbia River was still their best option. The one they would take.
Unless Tristan said otherwise. Unless
"Rachel, what's wrong?" Her sister's soft, lilting voice fell over her. "You're frowning."
Rachel bit back a sigh. Of course the ever-vigilant, fundamentally caring Emma would seek her out.
"I hadn't realized I was frowning." She kept her voice even and her gaze averted. "I was merely lost in thought. Nothing to worry yourself over."
"If you say so."
Something in her sister's voice had her looking up. A mistake. Rachel felt her smile slip the moment her eyes connected with Emma's.
Even with her brows drawn together in worry, her sister exuded happiness. Emma had always been strikingly beautiful, with her golden brown hair and vivid blue eyes. But now that she'd fallen in love with Nathan Reed, she was even more so.
The ex-fur trader and longtime loner brought out the best in Emma. Her confidence grew with each passing day, her innate shyness dissipating with every hour she spent in Nathan's company.
Rachel was pleased for her sister. She was. But now that Emma and their brother Ben had both found love on the Oregon Trail, Rachel was feeling a tad lost. For the first time in her life she didn't have a clear sense of belonging.
At least she knew what to expect in her immediate future. Once the wagon train arrived in Oregon City she would take over the care of their oldest brother's home.
Surely Grayson, who'd arrived in Oregon Country nearly two years ahead of them, would welcome her help.
What if he didn't?
"You're frowning again."
Rachel pulled in a deep breath. "I was thinking about Grayson."
"What about him?"
"I just hope he still needs me to take over his household duties when we finally arrive."
But what if he didn't? she wondered again. She couldn't bear the idea of being useless in her own brother's home, or worse, find herself a burden to him.
"Of course he'll need your help," Emma said. "That's been the plan all along."
Rachel gave a noncommittal nod, then promptly changed the subject. "I'd better get back to work. We have a lot to do before we enter the river."
A vision flashed of their belongings stacked from floor to canvas ceiling inside their wagon. They'd unloaded most of the items already, but there was still more. Several other tasks needed accomplishing, tasks that must be complete before the men finished building their raft. She shouldn't be wasting time feeling sorry for herself.
She started toward the back of the wagon.
Emma reached for her. Not wanting to prolong their conversation any more than necessary, Rachel sidestepped the move as casually as possible. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts, at least until she could manage a shift to a happier mood.
"You're sure that's the only thing on your mind?" Emma's hand fell away. "You're not worried about the river crossing?"
"Of course not." She lifted her chin to punctuate her point. "I trust all will go according to plan."
Before she could say more, a group of young children rushed past them, sized small to smallest. Their unrestrained laughter rang out as they tossed a well-worn ball between them. Rachel marveled at their capacity to find joy in the moment, in their ability to take full advantage of this short respite.
She used to recover from hardships that quickly. She used to take setbacks in stride. But her current situation proved far more difficult. For the first time in her nearly twenty years of life, Rachel was facing a solitary future. With no clear direction. No real purpose.
No one to care for but herself.
Though the youngest in the family, she'd seen to her siblings' needs through the years. After Grayson left Missouri, Ben had worked their small ranch and Emma had nursed their father until he died. Rachel had run the household.
When Grayson sent a letter encouraging them to join him in Oregon Country, Rachel and her siblings had embarked on this journey as a family. Their individual roles had been clearly defined, their stories tightly woven together.
But now, Emma and Ben each had someone else in their lives. Someone they loved and who loved them in return. Rachel's future was no longer linked with that of her siblings.
Not that she begrudged them their happiness. She simply wanted to know where she belonged in the family now that roles were shifting and two more people had joined them.
A sigh worked its way up her throat. This time she let it come, let it leak past her lips.
The worry deepened in Emma's gaze. Or was that pity Rachel saw in her sister's eyes?
Oh, no. She would not be pitied. Anything but that. "If we're going to finish unloading the wagon before noon we better get to work."
Not waiting for a response, she pushed around her sister.
"Rachel, wait." Emma stopped her progress with a hand on her arm. "Why do I sense you're hiding something from me?"
"Because you're overprotective of your baby sister?"
"It's not that." Emma gave her a look of exasperation, the kind only one sibling could give another. "You're sad."
Rachel started to deny the shrewd observation, then decided what would be the point? Emma would see through the lie. "Maybe I am. But only a very, very little. I've been thinking about" she shrugged "Mama."
And it was all Tristan McCullough's fault.
Though no one spoke of it anymore, he'd joined the wagon train for another, strictly personal reason other than merely to guide them along the last leg of their journey. With Grayson's urgings, he'd also come to determine if Emma would be a suitable mother for his three young daughters. Rachel didn't fault him for that.
She actually admired Tristan's commitment to his children. It was noble of him to want to provide them with a mother. Rachel knew what it was like to grow up without one. Hers had died of consumption when she was barely five years old.
What would Tristan do now that Emma was engaged to Nathan Reed? Would he seek out someone else on the wagon train to marry?
Unable to stop herself, Rachel's gaze sought Tristan once again. As if sensing her eyes on him, he turned his head in her direction.
For a brief moment, their glances merged. The impact was like a sledgehammer ramming into her heart. She nearly gasped.
Her response to the man confounded her.
But, really, he shouldn't be so attractive, so capable and strong, so disappointed things hadn't worked out between him and Emma.
Why wouldn't he be disappointed? Emma was beautiful and kind, nurturing and soft-spoken. She would have made Tristan's daughters a good mother.
Nevertheless, Rachel didn't regret pointing out to the good sheriff that Emma wasn't available to become his wife. She was, after all, in love with another man.
Although, perhaps, Rachel could have chosen her words a bit more carefully. Perhaps, her delivery could have been slightly less forceful.
" and who could forget her cinnamon rolls?" Emma's sigh jerked Rachel back to their conversation. "I wish Mama would have shared her recipe with us, or at least written the ingredients down somewhere."
Rachel pressed her lips tightly together. Apparently, her sister had been carrying on the conversation without her, talking about their mother's skill in the kitchen. Rachel liked to think she'd inherited her own gift of cooking from their mother. She tried to pull up Sara Hewitt's image from her memory.
She came away empty, as always, and felt all the more alone for trying.
"I miss her," she whispered, mostly to herself. "So much."
She'd been too young when her mother died to remember her face or many of her physical attributes. But she did remember her soft, sweet voice. Her warm hugs and unending kindness. And how their father had never fully recovered from her death.
"Oh, Rachel." Emma shifted to a spot directly in front of her, a strange of sense of insistence in the bold move. "You know Mama loved you. Never forget that."
Rachel nodded. Of course she wouldn't forget their mother loved her. She distinctly remembered Sara Hewitt whispering in her ear every night at bedtime, Rachel, my beautiful, precious daughter. You 're my very own, special gift from God.
She hoped one day to say the same words to her own children.
"We all love you. Ben, Grayson, me." Something strange came and went in Emma's eyes. "Never doubt that, not for one moment of a single day."
What a strange thing to say.
"Of course I know you love me." A wave of peace wrapped around her like a comfortable old blanket. Family was everything to the Hewitts. So Rachel's siblings would soon be married. That only meant their close-knit family was growing larger, with more people for her to love.
Yet Rachel still faced an uncertain future. Alone. You aren't alone, she reminded herself. You have your brothers and your sister. And their soon-to-be spouses. Rachel also had the Lord.
She had to trust His plan for her life would be revealed once she arrived at Oregon City, if not sooner.
"Rachel? Emma?" Their brother's fiancée, Abigail Bingham Black, stuck her head out of the back of the wagon. "Can one of you give me a hand? This trunk is too heavy for me to lift on my own."
"Coming." Welcoming the interruption, Rachel hurried around to the back of the wagon. With a flick of her wrist, she unlatched the tailgate and then lowered it with care.
Smiling her gratitude, Abby moved in behind the trunk and pushed while Rachel pulled. Emma joined in and, after a few grunts and groans, the three of them had the large case sitting on the wet, spongy ground at their feet.
Clapping her hands together in satisfaction, Abby gave the trunk one firm nod, then deftly climbed back into the wagon.
Rachel smiled at the agile move, thinking how far the petite blonde had come since the wagon train left Missouri. Had anyone suggested four months ago that the well-bred, overeducated Abigail Bingham Black would become engaged to her brother, Rachel would have openly scoffed at them. She'd considered the spoiled socialite completely unworthy of Ben, especially since Abigail had broken his heart six years prior.
Rachel had been wrong about the other woman, completely.
Abigail had pulled her weight from the very beginning of their journey. First, by singing to the wagon train children at night. Then, she'd approached Rachel for lessons in daily practicalities in exchange for music lessons. The suggestion had been mutually beneficial. Over time, they'd become friends.
Rachel couldn't think of a better woman to marry her brother. And she liked Emma's fiancé just as much.
A movement out of the corner of her eye pulled her attention back to the riverbank. Back to Tristan.
Their gazes locked and held once again.
A dozen unspoken words passed between them. For a moment, the world seemed to stop and pause. Rachel couldn't catch a decent breath. Then
Her pulse skittered back to life. Her breathing picked up speed. Remorse filled her.
Perhaps she'd overstepped when she'd first met the widowed sheriff.
Rachel had been so caught up in protecting Emma, insisting her sister "follow her heart" and be allowed to make her own choice, that she hadn't considered how doing so would affect Tristan. Or his three young, motherless daughters.
She'd never met his little girls, yet Rachel still felt a connection to them and their plight.
More to the point, she owed their father an apology. Not for warning him away from Emma but for the way she'd addressed the situation.
If not now, when?
Tristan felt the corner of his mouth twitch. It was the only outward sign of his irritation as Rachel Hewitt approached him with strong, purposeful strides. She might be small, but she was certainly determined.
He couldn't deny the young woman was pretty, in an untraditional sort of way. Her wild, curly brown hair that seemed to defy any attempts at taming and those dark brown eyes were an attractive combination. Her sweet, youthful face held no guile, and she'd proved herself to be full of life, especially when she was around, or caring for, little children.
Tristan admitted, if only in the privacy of his own mind, that he'd been a bit taken by Rachel Hewitt when they'd originally met.
Then she'd opened her mouth.
Out rolled one unwelcome opinion after another. Although she was almost always right, he wasn't used to a woman speaking her mind with such enthusiasm.
How like her to seek him out and share one of her opinions when he had far too many other concerns on his mind. There were countless tasks that needed addressing before the wagon train set out down the river. He wished there were a better route, but the Columbia was hemmed in by steep slopes and cliffs of hard rock on either side.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It tended to drag at times. Christian based. No trash.
A very good story that will stay with you long after you close the boiok.
“Wagon Train Proposal” by Renee Ryan is the third and final book in the continuous series 'Journey West', and a wonderful finish to the whole series. Now even though this is the final book in the series that doesn't mean that this can not stand alone for it most certainly can. If one has not have the pleasure of reading “Wagon Train Reunion” or “Wagon Train Sweetheart” then that is ok for it is not absolute vital to read them, but they do help with some background on both Rachel and Tristan. The series long story-line reveals the culprit or culprits pretty early one but just because the culprit or culprits are revealed early doesn't mean that the guilty party or parties are not a problem later on in the story. Actually because of the culprit or culprits I was on edge wondering when this person or persons would strike. I couldn't help but laugh for I expected things to go one way and I kept waiting for it all to go down, and when it went down, I am not sure if I was disappointed because it didn't happen the way I thought or laugh because of the way it did. Well I know I laughed at one point during this whole event, so maybe it is just a little bit of both. There is a twist in the story that was so unexpected that I actually had to go back and reread the page again to make sure I read it right the first time. This is a secret that deeply affects one of the characters. It sure added something I never saw coming and well I can almost see how it made the character stronger. Stronger because they dealt with it, forgave and is now learning to deal with the secret that has been brought in the open with courage. I wonder how many other readers are going to reread the paragraphs or page when this all comes out. Rachel is the youngest Hewitt sibling and she has three very protective siblings along with three protective in-laws, to the point it is almost funny. Rachel is a woman who is not shy about stating her opinions in the slightest, is not afraid of hard work and feeling a bit uncertain about where she belongs. She had plans when she finally reached Oregon City but suddenly those plans are out the window so now she much come up with something else, which she does. There is this natural grace about Rachel as well determination and strength. Tristan is a man who takes his job seriously and has a plan. He is also a man of great honor as we first saw in “Wagon Train Sweetheart” and again in this story. He has this fierce love for his three precious children without a single doubt and will do whatever he must to protect them. He has reasons for some of the things he feels, even though most think they might be unreasonable, at the time I could almost understand his thoughts. Though things don't work out as he plans them he is flexible enough to do whatever it takes. I had wondered time and time again why a certain character was always there and wondered if maybe this character was going to play a larger part than they actually did. I also wanted to see another character find their own happy ending. Actually to be honest there is another character as well who I wouldn't mind finding their own happy ending after all this person has been through and what they are still facing. I don't think we will see those things come out in future books, but maybe my own imagination will just have to take over. I hope all who have the privilege of reading this entire series will enjoy it as much as I did.
Love this story!
I really enjoyed this book. This book had wonderful characters and a great plot. I had a hard time putting this book down.