A Marshal’s Bait of Love (Preview)

Chapter One

Texas circa 1870

Many in Hardwood Texas attended the burial of John Thornton, as most considered him a friend. Even those who didn’t know him well had given him a smile and a nod when he had passed by. Hardwood was a speck on the map compared to Houston, about a hundred miles to the south.

Standing alone, wearing black from head to toe, was John’s only child Evelyn, better known as Evie. She had been in a similar situation six months earlier when her mother Greta was placed on the ground. The grass had yet to grow over the mound where she was buried but there was a stone marker carefully placed by John. Her mother would run off for months at a time and only found solace in the bottle. Evie’s father insisted on being buried next to her and never lost respect for his wife. He forgave her misgivings and asked Evie to do the same.

Evie looked around at the diverse gathering of people, all of whom knew her father in some way. She recognized most of them, some better than others. John seldom met a person that he wouldn’t eventually call a friend.

The priest closed his Bible and looked down reverently, signaling the end of the service. The service was brief as Father Black had no choice. He didn’t know John well since he had only recently arrived in Hardwood. Evie had gone to church weekly with her father; John Thornton had believed God was a good one to have on your side.

Evie said a silent prayer as she watched her father’s casket lowered into the ground. She had few memories of life without her father. John was the stable master for the horses and donkeys in town, a job he loved. Evie went to work with him most days, when she wasn’t teaching reading to adults who had no formal education. During the times she was with him, John taught her more than a classroom ever could. He was an avid reader and passed that down to his daughter. No one had ever expected John was that clever, as he never cared much for his appearance and had no formal education. He looked like a pauper, but knew more than most.

Evie turned to walk away, bumping into her best friend Trina Hayworth. Trina’s bright red hair cheered Evie before she said a word. Trina always had something positive to say which made her a great friend to have.

“How are you holding up?” Trina asked. “I imagine it’s scary being in that house alone but don’t worry. If you ring the bell, I’ll hear it at my house, and you know my six brothers will rescue you from any situation. All except the baby, I guess, since he can’t walk yet.”

Evie shook her head. “I’m already used to it and there’s always a rifle next to the front door. The one my father taught me how to use,” Evie added. “And the sounds of a bird on the roof or the sight of small critters scampering across the floor no longer frighten me. I would prefer my father was still with me though, and I’m sure to have moments when my tears fall uncontrollably. He is not though, and I have no choice but to live without him.”

“I admire you for your attitude, Evie. I don’t think I could live without my mother and father, or at least one of them. You seem so calm about the whole thing,” Trina said.

“On, no, I’m not calm on the inside. You know I’m not one to give away my emotions easily unless someone insults my friends or family. Then, as you know, I hold nothing back. This past year has been devasting and to show it, I’ve bitten my nails so there’s little of them left. I fear my fingers will be next,” Evie said jokingly. “The door to the room where my father died remains closed as I cannot bear to see the bed without him in it.”

“You can come stay with my family,” Trina offered. “With all of my brothers, I doubt anyone will know you’re there.”

“The offer is kind Trina, but I need to learn to be self-sufficient because there’s no one left to care for me,” Evie said.

“Don’t you have a slew of aunts and uncles?” Trina asked.

“My mother had four sisters and they live up in Wyoming territory. I sent each one a note when she died… there was no reply of condolence from any of them. She didn’t speak of them much, so I wasn’t too surprised,” Evie said. “My father had a brother, but they were estranged after some falling out they had. I last saw Uncle Archibald when I was ten or eleven. My father called him Archie and he was dressed in pinstripe trousers. Too fancy to care much for his brother.”

They walked down the gentle slope, away from the spot where Evie’s parents and other folks in Hardwood had been buried. There weren’t more than a dozen folks calling that their final resting place but room enough for a few dozen more. According to tales Evie had heard, the local blacksmith had lost his two daughters and wife in a fire. He couldn’t protect them in life, so he put a fence around the hilltop as a way of protecting them in death. He started allowing others to be buried there so his loved ones wouldn’t get lonely.

“You are braver than any woman I know. Do you think you got that fortitude from your father?” Trina asked.

“It was definitely from my father, since he took care of me while my mother drifted around the West. I would have thought it would be the other way around, but early on my father saw that I needed him. Now I realize that my mother was sick in a way, and no one was able to help her. At the time, I was told she was off visiting sick relatives, which made it easier for a young girl to accept. I heard whispers about my mother through the years and she was referred to by names I refuse to utter. All I know for sure is that both my mother and father loved me. They put a roof over my head and food on the table.”

“Your father didn’t have a wife most of the time, which made him a strong person. Most men would choose to give a child to a sister or friend to raise as their own.”

“My father knew who he was and was proud of the life he was leading,” Evie said. “He worked doing whatever needed to be done like cleaning out horse stalls or picking vegetables. His motto was A hard day of work is the same if you collect cow patties in a field or count money in a bank.”

“That sounds like something you would say,” Trina said. “I hope you find something other than collecting cow patties.”

“If that’s all I’m offered then that’s what I’ll do, but I’ll likely get a job in the stable.” Evie sighed. “Trina, I’m twenty years old, I’m alone, and I have no choice but to fend for myself. I know of no one that I’m even remotely interested in marrying. You’re courting Jack Wiggins, the best man for hundreds of miles. I’ve lived in Hardwood all my life, and there are few eligible men for me to choose from.”

“I’ll think of something. Perhaps there’s a man that we know who has a cousin who lives elsewhere, that you haven’t had a chance to meet yet,” Trina said optimistically. “I’ll ask Jack if he has any ideas.”

Evie loved having Trina as a friend because she was always looking for solutions. The ones she came up with didn’t always work, but at least she tried.

“I haven’t a doubt that you’ll have a fantastic idea when you come around tomorrow,” Evie said.

“How do you know I’ll come around tomorrow?”

“Because. I can tell you’re worried about me, and you’ll stop by even if I tell you not to.” Evie hung her arm around Trina’s shoulder. “I don’t know what I would do without you as my friend. Don’t change.”

“No chance of that. I tried changing to appeal to Jack when we first met. He saw right through it and preferred me as I was. Be well and safe while you’re here alone,” Trina said as they arrived at Evie’s. Giving her a hug, Trina headed home.

Evie stuffed a stray chunk of blonde curls under her bonnet where it belonged. On the outside, she was brave, but inside, she had fears. One of those was walking into the dark home by herself. Mrs. Wiggins, Jack’s mother, had stayed in an empty room in the house until her father’s burial. She hadn’t wanted Evie to be alone, and as she had been her mother’s good friend when they were young, she felt responsible for Evie. Mrs. Wiggins had been aware of Greta’s difficulties and frequent absences, so she had always kept an eye on Evie.

Evie yawned as she started up the steps to her home and took a deep breath as she pushed open the screen door. She had wonderful memories of her father in their house, because there wasn’t a day he didn’t smile. There were days when things must have been a struggle, but he still smiled for Evie.

The field behind the house had been fallow for at least the past eight years. They tried to grow corn but that had been a great failure. Everyone they asked advised John to invest in livestock. He said he would do that someday when he had the time and money, but that day never came.

Evie had left the kitchen clean so there wasn’t a chore left to do. Upon further reflection, she realized that she didn’t have to do much of anything. No one was there to check up on her, and if she were a lazy person, that would be good news. However, Evie wasn’t lazy, so she tidied and cleaned anyway.

She was about to go through the books her father had left in a crate. On her way to her father’s room, there was a knock on the door. It surprised her but she thought it was a neighbor checking to make sure she was alright.

Evie opened the door and took a gulp of air that she forgot to release. A tingling sensation traveled from her head to the tips of her toes. The person looking back at her had a resemblance to her father, but his eyes lacked kindness. She had met him before, but many years had passed, and his arrival was a complete shock. Evie let out her breath and waited for her uncle to speak.

“Hello, Evelyn. I’m not sure you recognize me. I’m your Uncle Archibald, or Uncle Archie if you like. This man with me is Mr. Allen Turner, my lawyer.”

Before she could say a word, Uncle Archie had a man carry in two trunks. He handed the man a few coins and dismissed him.

“I’m sorry I missed my brother’s burial, but I will visit the gravesite at some point. I’m the executor of your father’s will and I’m here to carry out his wishes,” Archie said.

Evie was confused. She hadn’t seen him in a decade and never knew her father had a will.

“I can’t imagine my father had much besides this house and I’m sure my father wouldn’t have wanted to turn me out,” Evie said.

Her head was spinning. By the looks of things, Uncle Archie was moving in with her.

“I have the lawyer with me to answer any questions you may have. The will reads that you won’t receive your inheritance until your twenty-third year. I shall be your guardian in the interim and will live with you in this home. My guardianship will end immediately, however, if you were to marry, which seems unlikely. Do you have any questions?”

“My father shared everything with me but never mentioned a will. Can you share with me how much money he had saved without my knowledge?” Evie asked.

“Your father had been saving money since he was ten years old. He was going to spend it as an adult but was too busy raising you. He considered it enough to assure you a comfortable future. The amount is nothing to worry about until you’re twenty-three.”

Uncle Archie excused his lawyer and started explaining house rules which included a strict curfew and who she would and wouldn’t be allowed to associate with. Any gentleman callers had to be approved by him. If Evie were to enter a courtship, the man would be carefully inspected by Uncle Archie.

“It’s a lot for me to take in after the long day I’ve had. I’m going to retire early if that’s alright with you?” Evie asked. She was on her way up the stairs when Uncle Archie called her back.

“I have no concern about you retiring early but I’ll require dinner first.”

Evie sighed and went to the kitchen. It was all too much. Her uncle’s arrival had confused her. She felt as though she were floating and there was nothing to hold on to. Her father had been her life. She would see him first thing every morning and had slept in the room next to him every night. But right then, all she wanted was to go to work the next day. It was the only thing left that Evie could count on.

***

Evie headed home from work with her head hung low. She was overwhelmed by the change in her life brought on by Uncle Archie. Her father had always taught her to stand tall and carry on in the face of adversity. It was easy to do when her father had been around, but now her spirit was weak, and she was unsure of her abilities. Evie’s father had an abundance of faith in her, and she felt as if she was failing him.

Saying she would do anything asked of her was easy, but doing it was a different story. It wasn’t the job that upset her, rather it was the fact that she inherited it from her father. She recalled how sometimes they lost an animal, and it was their job to find it. She smiled, remembering how fun that was, because they made it into a contest. First one to find the animal had to do one chore of the other’s for a week. Though Evie usually lost, it was fun regardless.

She thought going to work would help, but instead, it caused Evie to miss her father even more, since that was where they had spent the most time together. Luckily, Mr. Svenson, the new stable manager, was a kind and sympathetic man whom she had known for most of her life.

As she approached her house, she saw Trina sitting on her steps. A warm feeling came over her; a friendly face was just what she needed.

“I have news to share,” Evie said. She sat down next to her, and told her all about her uncle and the new rules imposed upon her. Trina tried her best to console her.

“Can he do that?” Trina asked.

“Yes, and he made sure I knew it was legal by bringing his lawyer. From the moment he arrived, he’s acted like my jailer and not my uncle. I have a strict curfew, which my father rarely enforced since he trusted me. I’m not even sure he’ll allow me to spend time with you.”

“If that’s the case, you’ll just have to run away. No one is going to treat my best friend poorly. I can’t believe he comes here and expects you to comply with his silly rules. Do you want me to say something to him?” Trina asked.

Evie chuckled. “I appreciate the offer of help, but I feel you will only make things worse. I don’t think he would take well to being told what he can and cannot do.”

“Did you find work?” Trina asked.

“Yes,” Evie said. “Mr. Svenson is allowing me to stay on, in my father’s place, working with the donkeys and horses at the stable. I see a mischievous smile on your face. What are you up to?”

Trina smiled and waved a paper in the air. “Jack and I put our heads together. You my friend, are going to find a husband through the Marital Times. I thought it would be good for you, and now I know it’s necessary for you to rid yourself of your uncle. You need a husband to enjoy life with.”

“I’ve always dreamed of having a husband who respects me and loves me more than anything or anyone else, Evie mused. “I just didn’t think I’d find him through an advertisement in a newspaper,” Evie said.

“I wouldn’t encourage something like this unless I knew it could work. Did you know Jack’s Aunt Gladys found her husband Raymond through the Marital Times, and they’re one of the happiest couples I know. There are probably quite a few husbands and wives who found each other this way, and we don’t know it.”

“Well, it’s not what I imagined, but I’ll give it a try,” Evie replied, sighing for good measure.

“I knew you would say that, so I must tell you, since I know you so well, I went ahead and placed the advertisement for you,” Trina said, chuckling. “Now, I have to go meet Jack. Oh and my mother has invited you for dinner tomorrow. We’re all worried about you here with just your uncle… oh and here’s what I sent to the Marital Times, which they will use to place the advertisement. They won’t change the details but just pull out what matters.” Trina dropped the slip of paper in Evie’s lap. “I do so love it when I have a plan that works,” Trina said with a grin, before skipping away.

Evie watched her friend go, then looked down at scrap of paper.

Dear Sir,

My name is Evelyn Thornton, and I am in search of a mail-order companion. Ideally, I would like a courtship that would lead to marriage. I am twenty years old, and I’ll turn twenty-one in December. I’ve been told my physical appearance is pleasing and I’d like to think that’s true. I am five feet three inches tall with long, wavy blonde hair. My eyes are green. My great grandparents were from England, and I consider myself American.

I am seeking a man younger than thirty-five. I am Catholic, but the man I am seeking doesn’t need to be. I do prefer a man with Christian values who will accompany me to services when time allows.

I live alone in a house that is able to accommodate livestock. I am very good with horses and donkeys because I work with them daily at the town stable.

I am not afraid of hard work.

Applicant can respond to Evelyn Thornton, Hardwood Texas.

Very Sincerely yours,

Evelyn Thornton

 

Evie called out to Trina’s retreating figure. “We don’t know if this will work.”

Trina waved behind her back. Evie was left with a smile on her face. In truth, she thought the bold plan might actually work, and then she’d be thanking her friend.

Sharing her life with someone might be just what she needed, and Trina’s plan started to seem like her best option. Her Uncle Archibald was nothing like her father, and his rules were impossible. Trina’s scheme may have seemed crazy at first, but she began to love the idea.

Evie was still sitting on the steps when suddenly the door opened, and towering over her was Uncle Archie. Her quiet moment was shattered.

Chapter Two

Everyone knew there the sheriff had several deputies in Houston, but not a lot of folks knew about one of them—Lucas McFarlan—and he liked it that way. He was incognito, and working on a major case that occupied most of his time. He had changed his name so frequently that this time he could he used his own, as no one knew it. Luke, as he was known, was assigned the task of finding and dismantling the Grady Gang. The gang of eight men were known to do the destruction of fifty. They shot straight, and didn’t usually leave anyone alive to tell the tale.

Luke got up and walked out to the smoldering fire he had used to cook dinner the night before. There was an oven inside, but he preferred to be outdoors under the endless blue sky. Luke used it to cook up eggs for his sister Jane, who surprised him by joining him out back, using her crutch.

“What are you doing out here?” Luke asked. “I have breakfast handled. I promised Lee I would bring you your meals in bed every day that his sister Grace wasn’t able. I don’t want your husband to think I lied.”

“You and Grace do too much. I’m more capable on one leg than most are on two, and as long as I don’t have to walk a mile, I’ll be fine,” Jane said. “Really… I can’t wait for my husband to be back so you and Grace can get back to your own lives.”

Jane Fink was Luke’s little sister. She’d been standing in line at the post office when the Grady Gang hit town. They were running from the bank they had just robbed, and their guns were blazing. It was their hallmark to create as much chaos and killing as possible, thus becoming feared more than other gangs in the West. Jane was shot in the leg for no good reason. The doctor had to take the leg to save her life.

“My life isn’t on hold,” Luke said. He stood and stretched his six-foot-tall body. “It’s not as if I have to go to the Sheriff’s Office. Dale comes out here for updates on any progress I’ve made with the Grady Gang.”

“I found this on the kitchen table.” Jane dropped a copy of the Marital Times in his lap. She sat on a nearby stump, eyebrows raised, waiting for an explanation.

“It’s not what you think. I have an idea and I have to run it by Dale. It’s regarding a case, and it just might work. Like everything else that has to do with my hunt for the Grady Gang, I can’t share details. I can tell by the way you’re looking at me that you don’t believe me.”

Jane smiled with the same soft brown eyes as her brother. “Even if what you’re saying is true, I still think I’m holding you back from finding a nice woman to marry.”

Luke laughed. “I don’t think I’ll be ready or available to marry anyone, until after I’ve stopped the Grady Gang. I constantly think about the damage they’ve done and how I’m going to stop them. I couldn’t ask a woman who I love and respect to play second fiddle. Until all eight of those despicable men are brought to justice, I can’t marry.”

“You have me confused, big brother. I don’t know what you’re going to do with the Marital Times, but I trust you know what you’re doing. It’s especially puzzling that you have an advertisement circled. What’s so special about Evelyn Thornton?” Jane asked.

“Like I said, I can’t share my plans with you. I’m going to help you back into bed and I’ll bring you breakfast. With open windows, you’ll be able to hear the birds and smell the fresh air.” Luke aided Jane back to her room. “The doctor said you should limit your time out of bed until the wound is fully healed. You’re not a very good patient since you defy every order the doctor gave you.”

“I feel better when I’m moving about, and Doctors aren’t always right. You know I hate being dependent on other people,” she said.

“You’ve helped countless young children as a teacher, and it’s okay to accept help when you need it.”

Jane fell asleep as soon as Luke laid her in bed.

“I see you helped yourself to coffee,” Luke said with a smile as he walked outside and found Sheriff Dale Carpenter sitting on a stump.

“I had to wait for you, so I figured I was due a cup,” Dale said. “How’s Jane?”

“That woman is stronger than all of us combined. Those scoundrels may have taken her leg, but they didn’t take her spirit and strength. It’s tough keeping her in bed so don’t be surprised if she shows up again.”

“What’s this new plan of yours you started telling me about? Are you ready to share it?” Dale asked.

“I received a tip that members of the Grady Gang have been seen in Hardwood, and I figured out a way to get there without it looking suspicious,” Luke said.

“I know better than to argue with your tips even though they do lead to some harebrained schemes at times,” Dale said. “Are you ever going to tell me who’s feeding you this information?”

Luke shook his head. “If I did that, I’d stop getting tips. My father was a flawed man who willfully broke the law, but he introduced me to some people whom I know to this day. They’re hardly angels, but at least they wouldn’t shoot a person in the leg as they leave town. They trust me and that’s something I use for good. Anyway, I figured I’d court a woman in Hardwood, which would be a perfectly acceptable reason to be in town. The last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself.”

“Hardwood’s at least a hundred miles from Houston. Do you even know a single woman there who’s willing to consider you for a beau?”

“All I need is this.” Luke tossed him a copy of The Marital Times. “I believe I found the woman for me. Evelyn has lost both her parents. It reads like she’s looking for company and doesn’t sound desperate for love like some of the other advertisers. I’m not looking to fall in love or break anyone’s heart.”

Dale read the advertisement that Luke had circled.

Lady of 20, Looking for a companion. 5’3” weight in line with height. Blonde curls, green eyes. Catholic although you don’t need to be. Christian values would be nice, Never married. Parents recently deceased. British descent. No children. Prefer under 35 years of age. Live in a home with land to raise livestock.

If you are interested in the above advertisement, respond to Miss Evelyn Thornton Hardwood Texas,

“Are you asking my permission or telling me what you intend to do?” Dale asked.

Dale was his boss, and they were good friends too. He had known that Luke’s father was a scoundrel but realized they were nothing alike. Most people would have held his father’s misdeeds over Luke’s head but not Dale. Not to say he didn’t keep the fact in the back of his mind for the first couple of years Luke was a deputy.

“I’m hoping to get your blessing,” Luke said.

“I’ll give you my blessing and wish you a whole lotta luck,” Dale said. “I almost didn’t forgive you when you disappeared in Dallas for a year. I thought you were dead and almost hired a new deputy to replace you.”

“I got my man, though. Isn’t that what counts?” Luke asked with a smile.

“I suppose so. I guess you had better pen Miss Thornton a note and see if she replies,” Dale said.

“I’ll have to make myself sound especially interesting. Do you have any advice?” Luke asked.

“A girl who’s lived in a small town like Hardwood might be interested in living in a city like Houston. You can say that someday you’d like to bring her here,” Dale suggested. “Of course, you’re asking the wrong person because I’ve been married for almost thirty years. Besides Penny, I don’t know what a woman wants these days.”

“That would be a lie about Houston since I have no intention of doing such a thing. I can’t tell a falsehood to an innocent woman,” Luke said.

“Aren’t you lying from the moment you post a reply to the advertisement?” Dale asked. “I thought your incognito status meant you always lied.”

“Yeah, but this feels different. I suppose that if I take down the Grady Gang anything is worth it,” Luke said. He still felt horrible for lying to a complete stranger and that guilt wasn’t going to be easy for him to shake.

“I’ve heard rumors about law enforcement in Hardwood,” Dale said. “I’ve heard a few of them have connections to known gang members, but they deny it.”

“Of course, they do. Do you know the names of any of the questionable characters?” Luke asked.

“No, but the sheriff there is Berger, whom I met once. You know me, I read a person from the moment I see the whites of their eyes. I’m right most of the time but not always. I didn’t trust this Berger fellow,” Dale said. “His handshake was weak, and he wouldn’t look me straight in the eye.”

“If I recall, you thought I was shifty the first time you met me,” Luke said jokingly. “As far as Berger goes, I understand. He’s a small-town sheriff and you oversee the law enforcement of a city. You’re also bigger than most, which can be intimidating.

“I only knew you as the son of Benny McFarlan so what was I going to think? I eventually came around and realized you were serious when you wanted to be the opposite of your father. You wanted to make up for some of the crimes he committed, and you did,” Dale said.


“A Marshal’s Bait of Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Evie boldly seeks a mail-order husband in a town with few options, meticulously hiding this desperate bid for autonomy from her uncle’s prying eyes. As Luke, her betrothed, disembarks from the stagecoach, his presence not only captivates Evie but also silently heralds the intertwining of their fates…

As she revels in her newfound happiness, can she escape the looming shadow of her uncle’s vengeance?

Luke McFarlane, a determined undercover deputy, arrives in Hardwood with a mission to infiltrate and bring down the notorious Grady Gang. Posing as a simple ranch hand and potential suitor for Evie, Luke plans to use his courtship as a cover for his investigation. However, the unexpected happens—he genuinely falls for the spirited Evie…

He’s never felt more torn between duty and his heart’s command…

As Evie and Luke’s relationship deepens amidst the backdrop of danger and deceit, their future together becomes increasingly uncertain. With Uncle Archie’s suspicious activities hinting at his involvement with illegal activities, and Luke’s true identity threatening to surface, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Can Evie and Luke’s budding love withstand the web of lies surrounding them?

“A Marshal’s Bait of Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “A Marshal’s Bait of Love (Preview)”

  1. Hello my dears, I hope you were intrigued by the preview of this inspiring love story and you cannot wait to read the rest! Let me know your thoughts here. Thank you kindly! Happy reading! ✨

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