Sarah by Kay P. Dawson

Chapter 1

“Sarah! You need to think this through. Running off to marry a complete stranger just because one man has hurt you doesn’t make any sense!”

“That isn’t what I’m doing at all, and you know it, Beth!” Sarah stood perfectly still while she let the words sink in.

Beth’s eyes grew bigger as she remembered their conversation months ago when Sarah had shared what she overheard between her mother and Alistair McConnell. Alistair was their father’s friend and lawyer and had spent a lot of time with all of them over the years while they were growing up.

Since their father’s death, he’d stepped up to help when he could, and they’d noticed him and their mother falling in love. When Sarah woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago, she overheard Alistair asking Caroline to marry him.

“So that’s what this is about? You’re going to answer an ad for a husband so that you don’t have to feel responsible for Momma not marrying Mr. McConnell?” Beth sounded incredulous, even though she knew what Sarah was like, and truth be told, she wasn’t surprised she’d made this decision.

When Alistair asked Caroline to marry him, Sarah had nearly leapt for joy. Her momma had experienced so much loss and pain in her life, enduring circumstances that would have surely killed someone weaker than her. Orphaned as a young girl, Caroline had been forced to work in a brothel to survive. That was how she’d met Sarah’s father Thomas.

Their father had saved her from that life and set up an apartment for the family they had together, but he’d never given her his name or offered marriage. He was married to a society woman, and a union with Caroline would never have been accepted.

She’d raised the three girls mostly on her own, and she deserved this chance for her own happy ending.

But Sarah had been surprised to hear her turn Alistair down, saying she couldn’t marry in good conscience until she knew her daughters were all taken care of and settled into their own lives. She felt she owed them that much after the years they’d spent without a real father, and she worried marrying another man now might not be fair.

Caroline had told Alistair because of the pain their father had caused them the girls might not ever want to marry or settle down. Not only that, but they were both already past marrying age, so she needed to continue just being their mother, guiding them to their own futures, without causing any more change or havoc in their lives.

Sarah had been left speechless. Momma would feel terrible knowing she’d overheard this.

She also knew her Momma was fierce, and if she ever felt that Sarah was marrying because of what she’d heard, she would never let it happen.

That’s why she had to make sure her mother believed she was heading out West to meet a man she hoped she’d end up marrying for love.

“I’ve been writing to Hank for quite a few weeks now, ever since we got back to town after Everly and Ben’s wedding. I saw our sister find true love by answering an ad for a mail order bride, and there’s no reason to believe the same won’t happen for me.” She lifted her chin a couple inches higher as she stared at her sister, daring her to argue. “And, when I tell Momma, she’ll never know any different. As far as she will ever know, I’ve fallen in love with him already.”

Sarah watched her younger sister roll her eyes. She tried to remain calm on the outside, even though inside she was just as unsure as Beth about what she was planning.

“Hank seems like a nice man who needs a wife. I’m sure in time I’ll be able to love him.” She tried to convince her sister as much as herself of the truth in her words.

Sarah almost laughed at the expression on Beth’s face. Her jaw was hanging open as she struggled to find words that would explain how much she didn’t believe a single word she had just heard.

Finally deciding there were no words that could be said, Beth just laughed out loud.

“Am I supposed to believe the Sarah I’ve always known to be a hopeless romantic, will be content to find a kind man who she’ll possibly love in time? I don’t think I’ve heard anything so ridiculous in my whole life.”

Turning her back on her younger sister, Sarah looked out the window. Knowing Beth was right wasn’t helping her right now. She needed to do this. Their older sister Everly had gone off to marry for the security of her family. Now it was her turn to do the same thing to ensure the happiness of her mother.

Beth came over and put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “And I don’t think Momma will believe it either,” she softly added.

“Momma would feel terrible to think you’re doing this just for her. And anyway – what about me? I’m still here, so it’s not like she can run off and get married like you’re hoping!”

Sarah turned back around to face Beth. “Well, that’s why you’re coming with me.”

Again, Beth was left with no words as she stared back at her as though she’d just grown another head.

“Don’t look at me like that, Beth. You’re going to come with me, like I did for Everly when she went out to meet her future husband. Then, you can stay with me and we’ll find you work to do out there so that Momma can be free to marry Mr. McConnell. You know you loved it out West when you went to Everly’s wedding. We can find you work keeping houses or teaching in a school – maybe you can even find work in a stable like you do here. The people are much more accepting of women working, because the jobs need to get done and there aren’t enough men to do them out there.”

Beth sat down on the chair and put her arms on her legs while she tried to understand everything Sarah was saying.

Sarah knew this was her chance to convince her. “I need a chaperone, and you know you aren’t happy here. You’ve always loved working with horses, and you’d be free of the past we have to live with here, where everyone knows how we grew up. It’s different out West. Everyone gets to have a fresh start. And, you’ll have me and Everly – she and Ben just live a half day’s ride from Mulder Creek.”

Sarah watched the expression on Beth’s face change to one of excitement. She knew her sister was too wild to stay here in Chicago where women were expected to act “proper” and “civilized”. And, she had to convince her to come with her in order to give their mother the freedom to get married. Sarah desperately wanted to do this for her, because Momma deserved this chance to be happy.

Sarah crouched down in front of Beth. “Please, Beth. Everly risked everything to marry a stranger for us. It’s my turn now to do this for Momma. And I know you want the same thing. This will be our chance to do something good for her, to repay her for everything she’s done for us. We’ll look after each other, and I know Ben will keep an eye on us too, so we won’t need to worry about being all alone. I’ve sent a letter to Everly to tell Ben to meet us when we get off the train, so he can make sure Hank is a good man for us to stay with.”

She could tell by Beth’s face she was convinced. She grabbed her sister’s shoulders and pulled her in for a hug. “It will be wonderful, Beth! Now, we just have to convince Momma.”

Tired of tossingand turning while sleep eluded her, Sarah got up and went to the small room that served as kitchen, dining and sitting room in their small apartment. Making herself some tea, she walked over and sat in the chair by the window, listening to the rain fall on the roof outside.

They’d decided to wait until morning to tell their mother what they had planned. Sarah knew Momma wouldn’t be happy about it, but as long as she believed it was for love, she was sure she wouldn’t stop her.

She looked around the tiny apartment that had been home to her mother and sisters all these years, recalling memories of happy times mixed together with some of the more painful memories that had occurred between those walls. Her mother had done everything to make sure the three girls had happiness, and she knew how hard it’d been for her.

Her father had been in and out of their lives. Sometimes it would seem like he wanted to try being a father to them, while other times the pain he left when he walked out the door to go back to his “real” family, as they’d always called them, cut them straight through to the heart.

She’d always tried to stay positive, believing the good in her father, even when she could see the hatred building in her sisters towards the man who would never give them his name.

But she’d never told her sisters just how much her own heart had been hurting. She never wanted to let on because she felt that if she did, the anger and pain her sisters were feeling would consume them. She believed she was the only one who could keep them from losing all hope, and she needed to try and keep them all happy.

She was the “happy” sister, the one who believed in fairytales.

So many times, she’d seen her mother cry when their father left, but often she thought she could see pain in his eyes too when he had to say goodbye. She always wanted to believe the best in people, even when the truth seemed otherwise.

Watching what her parents went through, never living together as husband and wife as they wanted, made her terrified of that same fate. She read the romance books, even while her sisters poked fun at her, saying romances like the ones in books didn’t actually exist. They were already both so bitter over what they’d witnessed with their parents, neither one of them believed in true love.

That was, until her older sister Everly had answered an ad just a few short months ago for a mail order bride. Now, Everly had found her true love, and while Beth was convinced it was just a one-time stroke of luck, Sarah believed it could happen for her, too.

She even thought at one time she might have found her true love, only to realize all those years of reading the fairy tales and romance books had caused her to see things that weren’t really there.

She curled her legs up under her while she wrapped a throw around her shoulders to stop the chill from the room. She hated when thoughts of Jake interrupted her sleep, and she got so angry at herself for letting him still consume so much of her thoughts.

Jake was the cousin to Ben, her sister’s new husband. Sarah had gone out to stay with Everly to support her sister, and to make sure she was safe. Everly never wanted to get married, and Sarah knew if she’d sent Everly on her own, she likely would have turned and ran straight back home without ever giving it a chance.

What Sarah hadn’t counted on were the feelings she started to have for a man who’d make it clear he never wanted to fall in love or get married.

When she’d first met Jake on the front porch of Ben and Everly’s house, she felt her breath taken away, just like in the books she’d read. She thought from his expression he felt much the same way. Over the weeks, they’d spent time together, but it seemed instead of getting closer to him, he was pushing her further away.

Each time they were together, he was angry with her over something she didn’t even know she’d done. No matter how hard she tried to figure out what she could do to make things work between them, he wouldn’t let her in.

She’d held onto the hope that when it was time for her to leave, he would realize he had feelings for her and ask her to stay. Her heart broke when it never happened. When she said her goodbyes to her sister, brother-in-law and the other family gathered around the morning she was set to leave, Jake had merely tipped his hat down with a simple, “Have a safe trip home.” He looked deep into her eyes before he turned and jumped onto his horse.

Her last memories of him were nothing but a cloud of dust as he rode out of the yard.

She came home needing to mend her broken heart and take her future into her own hands. She wouldn’t end up with a man like Jake who’d never offer her more than what her father had given her own mother. She thought she’d have time to find someone who could give her the love she was craving, but hearing her mother and Alistair talking that night had changed everything.

She had to do something now, and the ad Hank put in the paper seemed to be the answer she’d been looking for.

Hank’s ad said he’d lost his wife and needed a woman to fill his heart. He sounded so heartbroken and alone, Sarah felt compelled to write to him. They’d sent a few letters back and forth, and he seemed genuine and thoughtful. She couldn’t believe he was real – he sounded almost too good to be true.

He lived in Mulder Creek, which was just a half day’s ride from High Ridge, Wyoming, where Everly lived. He had his own ranch, no children and was looking for a young wife who could make his house more home-like and possibly give him children to love.

Sarah felt a sadness in him and wanted to be the one to help him heal. And, if the truth be known, she wanted to try healing herself as well.

She’d already set the plan into motion, agreeing to come out to Mulder Creek to meet him. She signed an agreement he sent saying she’d stay for at least two weeks to see if they were suited. He said he had a sister who lived with him who would ensure everything was “proper” and she wouldn’t need to be uncomfortable staying with a strange man.

The way he was concerned for her need for propriety gave Sarah hope Hank would be a good man. But, just to make sure, she sent the letter asking Ben to meet them. Everly was expecting a baby any day now, but she hoped it would work out that Ben could take a day to ensure their safety when they got off the train.

In only two more days, she would leave to meet her future husband. It made her sad to leave home, but she still hoped she’d find love the way Everly had with Ben.

And she hoped Hank could heal her heart and give her the future she’d always dreamed about.