East Texas, Spring, 1878
You’ve got thirty days to find a husband or I’ll find one for you.
Her father’s recent ultimatum bounced around Emma’s head like a hail
stone, causing her concentration to falter.
“Miss Marshall? Are you all right?”
John Ralston, the cattleman she came to Ft. Worth to see, watched with
“My apologies, Mr. Ralston. I guess I am still tired from the trip.”
He nodded. “I understand. It’s a long trip from Bakersville.” He
motioned for the waitress to refill their coffee. “I wasn’t aware of
your father’s illness until I received your telegram. I have to say,
finding a woman such as yourself interested in my Herefords is
“My father told me about them after your meeting last year. I can’t
wait to see how they fare. How long has your herd been here? Has our
finicky weather had any adverse effects on them?”
The next hour flew by, and when it ended, Emma was the proud owner of a
Hereford bull and two heifers.
After Ralston left, she lingered over her coffee and savored the success
of having completed not only the purchase of new breeding stock, but
negotiating the sale of the herd they would bring in next month. The new
purchase would be picked up then and driven back to the ranch.
He trusts me to negotiate the sale of our cattle but not to run the
ranch. The smile of accomplishment faded. No matter how hard she tried,
Rafe Marshall believed only a man could run Twin Oaks Ranch.
Their last conversation, still a vivid memory, played out in her mind.
“I’m dyin’, girl. Doc sez I ain’t got much longer. I gotta know
Twin Oaks will be in good hands.”
“By good, you mean male.” It took tremendous effort to keep the hurt
gnawing her insides from showing in her voice. “That’s what you
He sighed and squinted. “We been over this time and again. Ranchin’
ain’t woman’s work. You’re almost twenty-six. You should’ve been
married years ago with a passel o’ young’uns for me to spoil, not
runnin’ round in britches and boots tryin’ to do a man’s job.”
“I’ve no wish to get married, Papa, I’ve told you so
repeatedly.” Because being married is like being property. No voice,
no face, no freedom.
He ignored her comment. “Tom Blakely over to the Lazy B would be
She stared in disbelief. “You can’t be serious. He’s ancient. At
“Or maybe Hank Walker.”
His mention of the local attorney made her skin crawl. Hank made no
secret of his interest and was prone to show up unannounced requesting
she accompany him for a ride or the occasional dance.
She never accepted. He never gave up.
“I wouldn’t marry Hank Walker if he were the last man on earth.”
Rafe blew out a noisy breath. “I mean what I say.” Pale blue eyes
bored into hers. “Find a husband in thirty days or I’ll find one for
you.” “And if I don’t?”
He paused. “Then Twin Oaks goes to my brother in Ft. Worth when I
That thought brought her back to the present with a jolt. Would he
really give away her home, force her marry someone she didn’t love?
How could a father do something like this do his only child?
The coffee she enjoyed a moment ago turned sour in her stomach. Heart
filled with despair, she adjusted the bow on her bonnet, and rose from
the table. The desk clerk here at The El Paso Hotel mentioned earlier a
new mercantile recently opened down the block. She decided it would be a
great place to find gifts for her two best friends, Sarah and Mable.
Preoccupied with her father’s dictate, she collided with a cowboy
walking by as she exited the hotel.
Without conscious thought, she grabbed for his arms to keep from
tumbling down the steps to the muddy street below. Her fingers clutched
strong muscles that tightened beneath them, sending unexpected tingles
up her arms.
Large hands grabbed her waist, their warmth adding to the unfamiliar
sensations coursing through her.
“Whoa, there, ma’am.”
His soft drawl caused gooseflesh on her arms and her gaze jerked up to
his face. Eyes, grey as a storm cloud, caused her breath to hitch.
He hesitated, then set her away from him and tipped his hat. “Excuse
me, ma’am. I wasn’t watching where I was going.” With a quick nod,
he walked away.
She stood immobile for several heartbeats, then looked down at her
gloved hands, surprised at the warm tingles lingering there.
The memory of those hypnotic eyes followed her the rest of the day and
into the night, disrupting her sleep and making her irritable for the
long journey home.
By the time she arrived two days later, she was accustomed to their
frequent invasion of her thoughts.
Since her father expected an immediate report, she didn’t bother to
freshen up before entering his room. She removed her bonnet and gloves
as she took her usual chair beside his bed. “How are you feeling
“How did it go? Any problems?”
She took a breath before replying. “No, there were no problems. Mr.
Ralston agreed to the terms we discussed before I left.”
“I expect so since I had Leo telegraph ahead.”
Her heart sank. “I should have known. I’m a woman and therefore
can’t do anything without a man to help me.”
He clamped his jaw and remained silent.
She stood and paced around the room. “I can do anything any man on
this ranch can do, even better than some, and I’ve handled everything
just fine these last few months you’ve been sick.”
“The only reason the men do what you tell them is because I’m still
here.” He struggled to sit up, then sank back on the pillows when his
strength faded. “They won’t listen to you when I’m dead, and
everything I spent my life building will be gone.”
She turned and faced him, emerald eyes stinging with unshed tears. “I
don’t understand how you can think so little of me.”
“Don’t start that nonsense again, girl, I – ”
“My name is Emma Rose. Not Girl!” She hated it when he referred to
her as girl as though she didn’t even rate being called by her name.
She lowered her voice. “I’m sorry your son died with my mother.
I’m sorry I’m not a man.” She paused a moment to gather her
composure. “I finally realize no matter what I do, it will never be
enough. You want me to find a husband…fine…I’ll find a husband.”
She stormed out of his room, slamming the door shut behind her, ignoring
his demand they discuss the new foreman due to arrive soon.
Rafe glowered at the closed door, annoyed with himself for once again
making a mess of things, but he lacked the time for tact and diplomacy.
He was dying.
He accepted that. What distressed him more than the disease eating away
his body one bite at a time was the thought of his only child being left
alone when he died. His beautiful, smart, and head-strong Emma Rose who
had the misfortune to inherit the predominant traits of both her
parents. Tall and beautiful like her mother, with tobacco colored hair
and emerald eyes that flashed with life or cut you to the bone, and
headstrong and independent like her father.
I should’ve done a better job with her, made sure she knew how to be a
woman. Now, it’s too late.
Devastated by the death of his wife when Emma was ten, he’d closed
himself off for years. By the time he realized his mistake, the void
between them appeared insurmountable.
When was the last time I told her I loved her? How proud I am of her? I
just want her to be happy. His brow furrowed as he tried to remember the
last time he saw her smile. It shamed him to admit he couldn’t.
She loved the ranch and it belonged to her. He had no intention of
leaving it to his worthless brother; he merely used the threat as
incentive to get her to at least look for a husband.
He wanted her to take his concerns seriously. Despite what she thought,
he suffered no reservations about her ability to run the place. The men
respected her and she worked hard to earn and keep their respect.
What killed his soul was the thought she would grow old alone.
He blew out a breath and drummed his fingers on his chest. I should’ve
told her about the posters and the ad in the Ft. Worth paper.
Excerpted from "Mail Order Groom" by Dana Wayne. Copyright © 2017 by Dana Wayne. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.