Bound By A Bitter Secret (Preview)

Chapter One

February 1889 – Buffalo, New York

     Julia Bright blew into her hands, hoping to thaw her freezing fingers before unlocking the door to Bright’s General Store. Her breath rose in white puffs into the sky above, which lingered in the first hint of dawn. Stars still blanketed the expanse as Julia took a deep breath of the crisp air before stepping inside. The familiar bell over the door rang as she pushed her way in, welcoming the building’s protection from the bitter wind.

     Quickly lighting the lamps as she went, Julia made her way to the backroom and shed her coat. “Good morning, Gracie,” Julia smiled, scratching the ears of the charcoal-grey resident cat, encouraging a barrage of cries for a filled food dish. “Yes, I know, you’ve worked your shift.” She filled the small bowl. “Keeping this place free of mice in this cold weather more than earns your keep.”

     Julia hurried to light a fire in the old stove, warding off the cold that seeped in around the windows. She turned the sign on the front door to read ‘open’ and pulled back the heavy window coverings that helped keep the room from truly freezing in these winter months. She nodded, checking off her mental list of things to do. “Now then, at last,” she grinned, pulling an envelope from her coat pocket. The hand in which the address was written had become familiar over the past few months. She eagerly pulled the letter from within and went to the backroom to read it.

     “My dear Julia,” she read, sending her heart fluttering. Somehow, though they’d never met, Roman Buckley’s voice replaced her own as his words flooded off the page. “We’ve finally reached the true cold of winter for this region, although I’m told by those who have lived in the East that our winters pale in comparison to yours. We even have a dusting of snow this year! That doesn’t often happen here, but when it does, the cattle are in fine form. They seem happy to play in the strange stuff. However, it does make work on the ranch a bit difficult. I’ve never quite understood how business continues as usual after a blizzard in other parts of the country. Do you enjoy the cold weather?”

     Julia sighed and shook her head. If he only knew that an escape from this frigid region had partially fueled her response to his matrimonial ad in the first place. “How is your mother?” she read on. “You mentioned in your last letter that she had been in poor health. I hope all is well enough now. I know this may sound silly, but I saw something today that made me instantly think of you, of what might soon be us….”

     The bell over the shop door rang from the front room, causing Julia to reluctantly pull her attention back to her surroundings. She glanced longingly at the letter before dutifully joining her customer out front.

     “Good morning, Doctor Henderson! How are you?” she greeted.

     “Julia, it’s always a pleasure to see you!” the older gentleman exclaimed. His bushy grey eyebrows all but covered his eyes when he smiled. “How is your mother? I haven’t seen her in a few weeks. I hope that is a good sign.”

     “Mother is doing all right. She’s done far better about keeping around the house after she fainted while sweeping the shop floor. The colder months always seem to be more difficult for her.”

     The doctor ran his fingers over his silvery mustache. “Yes, that is rather common in such cases as hers. I’m glad to know she’s taken my instruction to heart this time, though. I’m sure it hasn’t been without a good deal of persistence from you.”

     Julia laughed. “You know her well. She’s a gentle soul but set in her ways. She always insists that the store is where Father would want her. I can’t say much one way or another, but the way she speaks of him, I’m sure what he’d really want is her taking care of herself.”

     “Yes, indeed.” He nodded with a sigh. “I’m sorry you never had the chance to meet him. He was a good man, and he loved your mother fiercely. He was prepared to love you with the same fervor.”

     Julia smiled, running her fingers over the small photograph that always remained behind the front counter. It was the only likeness of her father she’d ever seen, along with her mother at what must have been near her own age. “Doctor, I’ve had something on my mind, and I would like your opinion of it. Do you feel that Buffalo has become too harsh for my mother’s health? The summers are lovely, but these winters…I fear she gets worse every year.”

     The doctor studied her for a moment. “Are you considering moving her?”

     “I’m not sure what I’m considering.” She shrugged. “There are so many details to be taken into account. I only know that I need to do what is best for her.”

     He nodded understandingly. “I believe it might be a good option for her, but only at a time when she’s strong enough to make the journey. And of course, your destination should be carefully chosen.”

     “Naturally.” She took a deep breath, unsure if his answer had lifted any weight from her or not. This was still such a huge decision. “I only wondered what you thought of the idea. I’m not sure I could convince her to leave this place anyway.”

     “You’d have a real struggle with that, I’m afraid,” he said with a chuckle. “I suppose I should get back to my clinic. I only came to pick up my order.”

     Julia reached for a package from the shelf behind the counter. “I had it waiting for you.”

     “Tell your mother I said ‘hello.’ And don’t hesitate to send for me,” he called back, already pushing out the door. 

     “Thank you!” she replied. Once the door had swung closed, she rushed back to the desk, scanning Roman’s letter to find where she’d left off. “I ran into an acquaintance of mine in town today with his new bride, a young woman he met while visiting his family out east. They were in the general store where she was eagerly choosing fabric to sew new curtains. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous and mundane to you, but it is something that I long for. I finally have my piece of land with a house completed on it. And the herd may be small this year, but it will be enough to give a steady start for the years to come. All I’m lacking now is a woman to share it with. I need someone to come in and trim these barren walls, filling them with love and laughter. I need your touch to turn this house into a home.”

     Julia’s hands began to shake as she rose from her chair, still gripping the letter. “If you are ready to move forward with this arrangement, I am eager to welcome you to Stark’s Crossing as my bride.” She clutched the letter to her chest, struggling to steady herself. She had trusted this day would come, as he was the one who had advertised for a bride, but so much hope had filled her mind as she anticipated this moment over the months prior. Gracie stretched and rose from her place beneath the desk, rubbing against Julia’s legs.

     “He’s finally asked me,” she whispered, scooping the cat up. “At long last, everything is coming together. Now all that’s left is to convince Mother to come with me. But how on earth I am to accomplish that is beyond me.”

     The bell over the door rang once more, and Julia quickly put Gracie down and returned to the front room. Her heart quickened momentarily upon seeing the familiar blond head and blue eyes of Pete McGuinness. He had changed a great deal since the last time she’d seen him. Then again, it had been a few years. He was no longer the schoolboy she remembered, but rather a man, and a handsome one at that. He had his new bride on his arm as she made her way around collecting their needed goods. Julia sighed and steadied herself. The scene was just one more reminder of why she’d responded to Roman’s ad. Seeing him with her was not a welcomed heartache but likely an unavoidable one now that they’d moved back to the area.

     “It just wasn’t meant to be,” she whispered to herself. “You must let such thoughts go.” Once upon a time, she had dreamed of being that girl escorted around on Pete’s arm. But his family was well-off, and he’d never experienced the responsibilities that she maintained daily. He had wanted her to be free to come and go whenever he pleased, never understanding why her mother couldn’t handle the store on her own. His lack of understanding should’ve been enough to put him out of her mind. That was no way to treat someone that you cared about…a sign he’d never truly cared for her in the first place. Nonetheless, it had hurt, and that pain had run deep enough to drive her heart far from Buffalo. 

     “Hi Julia!” he exclaimed with that old familiar grin. “Wow, it’s been a while! Have you met Natalie? You have, haven’t you?” he babbled on, glancing from one woman to the other.

     “Hello, Pete. Yes, I’ve met Natalie. It’s nice to see you both,” Julia forced herself to say. “Can I help you find anything?”

     “No, I think we can manage,” Natalie replied curtly. 

     Julia nodded, making herself remain quiet otherwise. Natalie always had been rather snobby, having come from the wealthier circles of Buffalo along with Pete. Her manners had only deteriorated once she learned that Julia had once held the interest of her husband. Now that they were married, Julia was sure she continued to come to the store just to flaunt things.

     The young couple couldn’t leave quickly enough, but somehow that was reassuring. Whereas once, she had wished for Pete to linger as long as he could, she now felt peace with the matter. She would not be in this town much longer. No, soon she, too, would be promising herself to a man…and one that excitedly wished for her. She could move on, no longer yearning for someone she’d never call her own.

     As the day drug on, Julia struggled to keep her mind on her work. Sure, she’d spent the last few weeks with her mind in California as much as Buffalo, but today’s letter changed everything. It was no longer just a fanciful dream. It had become a reality at last. She forced herself to sit down long enough to take a proper inventory, a task that usually fell to her mother but had been left lacking in her absence. A few more customers trickled in and out as the hours ticked by, but nothing out of the ordinary.


     That evening, Julia turned the sign in the shop window to read ‘closed’ before collecting her belongings. She earnestly pulled Roman’s letter from the backroom desk, along with the small photograph he had included with his first correspondence. She paused, studying the image of the handsome man she hoped to soon marry. His hair was cleanly cut and dark in color, though the greys of the photograph didn’t reveal its true hue. Dark eyebrows accented lively eyes and a winsome smile. He truly was far more than she dared hope for when she had chosen his matrimonial ad. Only one thing remained between her and a train ticket to California…and she was waiting for Julia at home. 

     The walk home passed more quickly than she would’ve liked as she was deep in thought. She paused in her own front yard, looking up at the smoke that rose from the chimney high overhead. She made her way up the front steps, still wondering how she could tell her mother the news. Swinging the door in, the aroma of fresh bread danced in the air. 

     “Mother? I’m home,” she called, shedding her coat and scarf. Hearing no answer, Julia reopened and shut the door more firmly, giving a slight rattle to the floor. Mother’s hearing wasn’t what it had once been, and unannounced arrivals tended to startle her.

     “I’m in here, dear,” her mother Emma called, poking her head out of the kitchen. “Supper is almost ready. I trust things went well at the store.”

     Julia rushed into the kitchen. “Please, Mother, sit down! You shouldn’t be on your feet. I would have tended to the cooking.”

     “Nonsense.” She shook her head. “You already worked the store by yourself all day. I’m not incapable of preparing a meal.”

     “I wasn’t suggesting that you were.” Julia leaned in, kissing her on the cheek. “I merely meant that you shouldn’t have to. Is there anything I can help with?”

     “I suppose you can dish things out,” she said with a sigh, leaning on the back of a chair.

     “All right, come and sit down,” Julia insisted, leading her to her place at the table.

     “How did things go at the store? I don’t like staying home all day.”

     “Then you shall come with me tomorrow, but you must promise to take it easy. Doctor Henderson insisted on it,” Julia reminded her, placing a plate of chicken and potatoes in front of each of their seats.

     Mother nodded reluctantly. “I don’t think it’s necessary, but if it will put you at ease, I’ll simply tend to the books.”

     “All right then. Doctor Henderson stopped in today and was asking about you. He thinks it would be best for you to stay off your feet for a while longer. We can’t chance you having any more fainting spells.” Julia eyed her mother, wondering if she was being selfish for even considering Roman’s offer. Was it truly what was best? She certainly couldn’t leave her mother here, not alone. “That brings me to something else,” she began cautiously. “That letter that came in the post yesterday evening, it was from Roman.”

     Mother momentarily glanced up from her plate. “That nice-looking young man you’ve been writing to?”

     “Yes, and the conversation took a bit of a turn this time. Mother, he wants me to marry him.” Julia’s heart fluttered just saying the words.

     Her mother sat down her silverware and really looked at her daughter for the first time. “Well now, that is news. I suppose you knew that would come eventually, though. I’m happy for you.”

     “Thank you,” Julia said with a smile, “but I wouldn’t dream of leaving you here. The house, the store, your health…it’s all too much for you to look after alone.” She reached out and took her mother’s hand. “I want you to come with me.” 

     Silence fell between the two women as the thought lingered heavily in the air.

     “You want me to travel out West?”

     “I do. I think the warmer climate would be good for your health. And you’ve worked the store long enough. I know it is what Father left to you, and ultimately me, but that was more than twenty years ago. Don’t you think we could hire someone to run it on our behalf?”

     Mother pondered that thought for a moment. “I suppose it may be a possibility, but this is my home. I’m not sure I could leave this place behind.” She glanced around the kitchen she’d been cooking in for the past twenty-five-plus years.

     “I understand, but you must begin to consider what will be the best for you long term.”

     “Perhaps you’re right.” Her mother sighed. “But you’re putting the cart before the horse. This intended of yours sent for you, not me.”

     “Yes, I’ve thought of that, but surely he will understand. He seems like the sort of man that would.”

     “I don’t know. I couldn’t possibly travel on that assumption. And I wouldn’t want to be a burden.”

     “Oh, Mother! You could never be a burden!”

     “Thank you, dear, but you can’t speak for your husband-to-be.” She took a deep breath and gently brushed Julia’s red curls from her face. “You may travel on your own with my blessing, but I could not consider going myself unless I knew he had agreed to it.”

     “Very well, then. I’ll write to him and explain things. But one way or another, I cannot go in peace until I know you will be cared for.”

     Her mother cupped her hands over her face, leaving them there. Her fingers shook slightly, and her face looked a bit pale. “I think I’d better go and lie down, dear. I’m feeling faint again.”

     Julia quickly rose to her feet and took her by the hand. “I was afraid you might’ve overdone things. Careful now.” She slid her arm around her mother’s waist and led her down the hall to her new bedroom. The days of being able to climb up the stairs to her large bedroom were behind them. Once Julia had her safely in bed, she returned to the kitchen to tend to the washing.


     Later that night, Julia sat up for a long while near the fireplace, pouring her heart into a letter. At long last, she sat back on the couch and read it over. “My dear Roman, I am so delighted to know that you want me to come to you! It is something I have hoped for since the day your first letter arrived. Life there on the ranch sounds more like home than I thought possible through a letter. I want to join you and begin our new life together, but my heart is truly torn.

     I mentioned my mother to you and her fragile health. I must admit, I am concerned over the prospect of leaving her. I know it is asking far more of you than you have agreed to, but please, would you consider accepting me with her in my care? I feel as if I know you so well already, though I only learned your name a few short months ago. I wouldn’t burden you if I didn’t truly want to pursue a life with you. I will anxiously await your response and hope to be with you soon. Most sincerely, Julia.” 

     Her heart ached within her for fear of losing this charming man, but she nodded determinedly. “There is simply no other way. And if he is anything like the man that I believe him to be, we’ll all be together soon.”

Chapter Two

Stark’s Crossing, California

     Roman Buckley wiped the sweat from his face before shoving his pitchfork deep into the straw pile once more, heaving fresh bedding over the stall door. The smell of the barn was thick with the doors closed, but it was a small discomfort for protection from the whipping wind outside. Snow flurries danced in the air as gusts took them whirling around the ranch yard. 

     “Remind me again why you’re still working chores here?” Marcus Stark asked, receiving the pile of straw from within the stall and spreading it around. As Roman’s best friend, he was always willing to help if it meant an afternoon to hang around together. “I thought you were moved in on your own land now.”

     “I am,” Roman grunted, heaving bedding over into the next stall. “But if I can work my land and still find a few hours a week to spend over here, Pop is willing to pay me as a hired hand. That money will be useful soon.”

     “To welcome your new bride, I suspect,” Marcus piped up with a grin. “Have you heard back from her after sending your invitation?”

     “I have.” Roman smiled, pausing his work. “I received a letter yesterday.”

     “And just when were you going to tell me?” Marcus threw his hands in the air. “Is she coming?”

     “She will be once she receives my response,” he sighed, leaning on his fork. “Her mother is in her care, and she was hesitant to leave her. She wanted my blessing on her bringing her along.”

     “Hmmm, mother-in-law?” Marcus raised a brow.

     Roman shook his head. “If that’s what it takes to have Julia join me, then so be it. I realize that any number of women could have responded to that ad, but I never thought I could feel so much for someone before I ever met them. I’m telling you, she’s the one I want.”

     “Whatever suits you.” Marcus shrugged, returning to his work.

     “Besides, I think that a feeling of responsibility toward family is a good trait. I’d likely feel the same way if my pop was in poor health.” Roman joined Marcus inside the last stall, helping spread around the straw and finish things up. 

     Marcus nodded along, knowing Roman would justify anything to bring this woman to California. He had spoken of nothing else since their first correspondence.

     “There’s enough room at the ranch house. I had included the extra bedroom in hopes of welcoming a child, but we can always build on later,” Roman continued.

     Marcus put his tools back in their places and wiped his face down as Roman babbled on enthusiastically. It was several more minutes before Roman finally paused.

     “All right, what is it?” Roman asked upon seeing Marcus propped up against the stall door, studying him. “You don’t seem to agree.”

     Marcus shrugged. “No…I’m happy for you. I just wonder what your pop thinks of all of this.”

     “Why should he care?” Roman scowled.

     “He’s your pop. He has an opinion on every breath you take. Remember, that’s why you wanted your own ranch in the first place? You could have taken over any piece of his land and lived out your life comfortably, but he would have had a say in everything.”

     Roman stood tall and stretched, giving his back a break. “True, but I do have my own land now.”

     “Yes, but you’re working for him again,” Marcus pointed out. “Does he know you sent for a bride?”

     “He knows.” Roman nodded, forcing open the barn door despite the wind and leading Marcus out. The wind nearly ripped the door from his hand as he closed it behind them. “He didn’t seem to care about a bride, so long as she wasn’t a McKinley. Besides, I won’t be working for him much longer anyway. It’s not like I’m hurting for the money. I just wanted a little extra to help welcome Julia with.”

     “If you say so.” Marcus nodded unconvincingly. “As I said, if you’re happy, then I’m happy for you.”

     Roman patted him on the shoulder. “I know that, and I’m grateful for it. Do you want to come inside and warm up?”

     “No thanks, I have to ride into town to help my father with something. You can come along if you want.”

     The men saddled up and set out on the near forty-minute ride into town. Stark’s Crossing was a busy little place, unlike most of the boom towns that had faded from existence once their gold supply had run dry. No, the locals were determined to keep this one on the map, branching out to farming, ranching, and even trapping and logging. An established range of businesses meant that the rail companies of San Francisco would continue to service them…a necessity in this region.

     Snow flurries whirled through the air as the horses kicked up mud from the damp streets through town. The men finally came to a stop on the east end, in front of the sheriff’s office. Shouting from within promised a lively afternoon. Marcus shot Roman a sideways glance as they swung down from their steeds.

     “Sounds like Pop is having fun today.” He shook his head before pushing the door in.

     “He was trespassing on my land, Sheriff! He had no right to be there!” a young man with red hair and a sour expression shouted from within a jail cell.

     “That’s not true! The path goes around his land! You can’t just shoot at someone because their horse wanders five feet off the path!” a darker-haired man retorted from the cell opposite.

     “His horse didn’t wander! He was tampering with my fence line. And when I got out there, he pulled a pistol on me!”

     “Liar! If a man comes at you waving a shotgun, what’s a man supposed to do but draw his own weapon? I’ve done nothing wrong, Sheriff!”

     Sheriff Matthew Stark threw both hands in the air. “I’ve heard enough!” he shouted. “You were both causing a commotion and brought the main path through the low country to a complete standstill. I’m holding you both until I feel safe releasing you, and there’s nothing you can say that will change it!”

     “Hey, Pop. Busy day, I take it,” Marcus greeted, meeting his father’s weary stare.

     “Am I ever glad to see you,” the sheriff sighed. “Here, grab some coffee to warm yourselves, and then come outside where I can hear you.” Sheriff Stark led the young men out the back door, muting the shouting from within the jail.

     “You said you needed a break, but I didn’t know it was that bad.” Marcus chuckled.

     “You haven’t seen half of it,” the sheriff groaned. “That’s the third fight I’ve broken up today, and I’ve already had to warn Dominic McKinley that threats won’t get his nephew out of jail. I’m telling you, it’s been one scuffle after another this week. Is a lunch break with a hot meal too much to ask for?”

     “That’s what I promised you, so go and have it. Just lock the place up, and I’ll hang around out front until you get back.”

     Sheriff Stark looked cautiously at Roman. “I don’t have to worry about you, do I? I know there’s a Buckley in there, too.”

     “No, sir,” Roman assured him. “That fight is his. I try to stay out of things unless they directly involve me.”

     “Good.” The sheriff nodded. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”

     “Take your time, Pop. Have a decent meal,” Marcus called after him. “I guess things really have been a handful lately,” he told Roman once they were alone.

     Roman shrugged. “I don’t like the McKinleys any more than anyone else, but these little scuffles have nothing to do with me. I don’t know why everyone thinks they need to get involved every time.”

     “That doesn’t sound like you. You always used to jump to the aid of any of your relatives.” Marcus tilted his hat down, trying to block the bitter breeze.

     “Yes, I know. But some of the fights that have come up lately have just been ridiculous. People are getting hurt, Marcus, people that don’t have anything to do with this feud.”

     “You don’t have to tell me! Remember, my pop has to break them all up.”

     “I don’t know, somehow I think both sides are wrong. I just want to be left out of it so I can welcome Julia here peacefully.”

     Marcus scoffed. “I can understand that, but I don’t think you’ll ever truly be able to separate yourself from it. Your Pop wouldn’t stand for it.”

     “I know. That’s why I wanted my own land positioned at a distance from him and everything else. If I don’t go around the McKinleys, there can’t be a fight.”

     “Maybe….” Marcus was interrupted by another barrage of shouts from within the jail. “Quiet down in there,” he shouted, banging on the door.

     Roman sipped on his coffee, watching the steam rise from the cup in a whirling white cloud.

     “As soon as something happens on your pop’s land, though, he’s going to be beating at your door to come and help,” Marcus continued, having momentarily quieted the jailhouse.

     “And I would gladly help if it truly were a threat to Pop. But most of this nonsense is just tempting someone to do something stupid, so revenge can be taken without fingers of blame being pointed.”

     Marcus raised his hands. “Again…I know. It all needs to stop, but I doubt if it ever will.”

     Roman shook his head. “Sadly, I think you’re right.”

     “But you said Julia has agreed to come out here. That’s what you’ve wanted, even if things might still be a bit rough around here.”

     “True, and she can’t get here soon enough. I only hope this mess won’t drive her away.”

     “Have you told her about it?” Marcus asked, pulling Roman closer to the building for a little protection from the wind.

     “No…I started to, but I didn’t want her changing her mind before she gave things a chance. I just told her that we could consider relocating if she doesn’t like it here.”

     “Relocating? You just finished your house!”

     “I know, but it won’t mean anything to me without her in it,” he groaned. “I’m hoping it won’t come to that. She doesn’t have anything to do with this. And Pop will protect her as quickly as he would protect me, I’m sure of it. As long as we spend most of our time on one of the ranches, there shouldn’t be any problems.”

     “I hope you’re right. You know you can count on me to do whatever I can.”

     Roman smiled. “I know that. And speaking of that, I did have something to ask you. I told Julia I’d meet her in San Francisco. I would like to get married there and enjoy a honeymoon of sorts. Would you come along and act as my best man? I’ll need a driver and someone to help tend to any details. I’ll pay your expenses. You know I’ll do the same for you…should that day ever come.”  

     Marcus laughed. “I’d be honored! You know that. Just let me know when you plan on going.”

     “I will. She’s supposed to be coming within the next week. I just need to find out the specifics.”

     “Consider it done.” 

     Roman nodded. He knew he could count on Marcus. 

     “Uh oh, here comes your pop, and he doesn’t look happy.” Marcus gestured toward a rider galloping toward them. 

     “Good, I’m glad to see you’re already here!” Samuel Buckley muttered as he swung out of his saddle. “Is the sheriff inside?”

     “No, sir. Pop went to lunch. He should be back any minute,” Marcus spoke up.

     “Are you aware that he’s holding your cousin on false charges?” he boomed, dropping a heavy hand on Roman’s shoulder. “I suppose you’re waiting here to talk some sense into him.”

     Roman sighed, shooting a sideways glance at Marcus. “I’m not involved in this one, Pop. I wasn’t there to see what happened.”

     “There were other witnesses! They said he was only defending himself,” Samuel countered.

     “Yes, but there were others who said that he pulled his pistol unprovoked. Both sides are going to bend the truth to suit them. That’s why both men are in jail,” Marcus interrupted.

     “But you can’t believe a McKinley! They’ve never been a trustworthy bunch! Jim Buckley should not be in there.” He pushed past Roman and Marcus, trying to shove the door in. 

     “The jail is locked up until the sheriff gets back,” Marcus informed him, turning to face the now red-faced older man.

     “Unlock this door! Do you have the keys?”

     “No, sir. Pop keeps them on him. Even if you could get inside, the cells need different keys.”

     “Not to mention the fact that you can’t just release a prisoner, however temporary his sentence may be,” Roman muttered. “I’m no happier about it than you are, but Jim got himself into this bind. It has nothing to do with either you or me.”

     “It most certainly does! He’s been falsely accused!”

     “You don’t know that!” Roman insisted. “Don’t make things any harder on Sheriff Stark. Jim won’t rot in the couple of days he’ll be in there.”

     Samuel stared down his son. “Just whose side are you on?” he demanded. “I don’t know what’s come over you lately, but I don’t like it.”

     “Pop, I….”

     Samuel stormed past Roman without letting him finish. “Where is that sheriff?” he shouted, making his way down the street.

     Roman groaned and rubbed his face. “Why is it so much to ask to simply be left alone?”

     Marcus sighed. “Just focus on your coming wedding and honeymoon. Things will sort themselves out here. No matter what your Pop says, you don’t have to fight a fight that isn’t yours.”

     Soon, Samuel came barreling out of the restaurant, pulling Sheriff Stark by the elbow. The sheriff begrudgingly followed, still carrying the rest of his chicken leg. The men made their way back to the jailhouse, shouting over each other.

     “Now, unlock this jail!”

     Sheriff Stark looked at Marcus and Roman with exhaustion in his eyes. “Samuel Buckley, don’t make me arrest you as well! You cannot come barging into my jail and demand that I release a man from my custody!”

     “You wouldn’t dare!” he shouted. 

     “You are impeding on my ability to keep peace in this town. Those are grounds for arrest if I ever heard of one! Now you’re going to go on home, and I will release both your nephew and Luke McKinley when I’m convinced that they can be civilized. I will not release them while I know they’ll just go back to fighting.”    

     “Do you hear this?” Samuel boomed, grabbing Roman by the arm. 

     “Come on, Pop,” Roman urged. “Let’s go back to the ranch before you get yourself into any more trouble.”

     “If trouble finds me when I’m trying to free an innocent man, then so be it!” He puffed out his chest.

     Roman shook his head, glancing at Marcus and the sheriff apologetically. “Let’s go,” he said more firmly, pulling Samuel by the arm. 

     Finally, Samuel followed his son, but not without making a scene until they were out of earshot. Roman wearily rode along in silence as his pop ranted and raved for the full forty-minute ride back to the ranch. Roman barely slowed upon arrival, seeing his pop into the yard before turning back and galloping off toward his own land. He was in no mood for small talk, knowing the only topic it would consist of. 

     It was nearly dark by the time he rode into his own barn and swung himself to the ground. He worked quickly to tend to his horse. The temperature was dropping, and a hot meal was calling his name. Oh, to have Julia already here! To have a true home to return to, with a warm smile and hot meal waiting for him! That day couldn’t come soon enough.

     An hour later, Roman sat on his couch with a bowl of soup in hand, reading Julia’s latest correspondence once more. He leaned his head back with a sigh. So much had changed in such a short period of time. How could a woman he’d never yet laid eyes on cause him to question so much?

     It was not so long ago that he, too, would have readily faced time behind Sheriff Stark’s jail bars to defend his family’s name. It wouldn’t have mattered if a life was on the line or a simple insult was shouted, he’d have jumped to the rescue. But somehow, that all seemed too harsh, too risky, and even downright corrupt now. Simply having the name Julia Bright roll off his tongue ushered in a need for a peaceful existence to welcome her to. It no longer mattered to him who was wrong or right, and he wasn’t really convinced it ever had. No, all that mattered now was the future that lay ahead of him.

     He set his bowl aside and stood to rekindle the fire. Running his hand along the side of the mantle, examining his own handiwork, he nodded approvingly. “It’s time…it’s time to put it all behind me. Pop can do as he wishes, he always has, but I’m ready to settle down with my bride.” He glanced over at the bare windows, and his mind drifted back to his letter to Julia. “I’m ready for her to be here and bring life and warmth to this place.”

     Just one week remained before he’d be off to San Francisco to collect her, and he would not be returning as an unwed man.

“Bound By A Bitter Secret” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Growing up, Julia has always longed for a great love story to brighten her soul. Her dream comes unexpectedly to reality, the moment she hears from a handsome rancher, Roman, and decides to go west. However, upon her arrival, she discovers that a long-standing feud has been haunting her husband’s family. When a dark secret about her unknown identity is revealed in a letter, how will her relationship with Roman be affected? Will she have the strength to determine her fate?

To achieve what she dreamed of, she must fight…

Roman Buckley is a kindhearted rancher, eager to create his own happiness, away from his family’s troubles. When his correspondence with Julia ends in a marriage, he is devastated by his family’s hostile behavior towards her, because of her resemblance to their rivals. Even though he does everything in his power to protect her from them, Julia’s disappointment will cause her to take cautious measures against him…

When the truth comes to light, how will Roman react to the crushing news that threatens to destroy his only chance at love?

Roman and Julia will find their lives entangled, as they fight to hold onto what they have left. If they are to beat the odds and uncover secrets that have plagued their lives, they will have to face the close-mindedness of their families. Unless they act quickly, their love could end in tragedy… Could love triumph over the deep-rooted suspicions?

“Bound By A Bitter Secret” 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!

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