The Substitute Wife
Releases May 9 – Preorder Available
HARRISON . . .
Once his fortune in silver mining is secured, Harrison Carter finally sends back home for his fiancée. It’s been four years since he’s seen Jenny.
But it’s Retta Pierce, Jenny’s sister, who arrives by stagecoach with young daughter Adeline in tow. When this lovely, soiled dove brings devastating news and a written plea from Jenny to marry and care for Retta and little Addie, what’s a good man to do?
RETTA . . .
Fulfilling her dying sister’s request, Retta travels across dangerous territory to marry a man she barely remembers. But the hard miner who meets her at the stagecoach surely isn’t the same one her sister claimed was kind and honorable, a gentleman who’ll embrace her and her daughter as if they were his own. Has she made a mistake she’ll pay for, the rest of her life?
TWO PEOPLE . . .
Thrown together in shared sorrow, Harrison and Retta struggle to forge a life in the brand-new state of late-nineteenth-century Colorado.
The earsplitting whistle made Retta Pierce choke up as she hugged her sister goodbye on the train platform. Jenny’s slight frame trembled in her grip, and Retta fought back her worry.
Too thin. Too frail. Shoulders drooping, as though too heavy to hold up.
“There must be a better way, Jenny,” Retta murmured, stricken. “It’s just not right—”
Her sister’s features took on that stubborn look Retta knew so well, indicating there’d be no changing her mind. “And what would be right, Retta? For Papa to really hurt you the next time he feels the urge to beat the devil from your soul? For him to finally slip and hit Addie?” Tipping up Retta’s chin with two shaking fingers, she smiled gently. “That darling girl is the best thing that ever happened to this family, no matter how her skunk of a father ran off and left you.”
Jenny glanced over to where their Aunt Millie stood under the metal portico, holding two-year-old Adeline in her arms. The desolate flapping of a loosened, rusty panel, noisily vibrating in the chilly breeze, only added to the solemnness of the day. Moisture gave a sad sheen to her aunt’s eyes as she cuddled the toddler closer.
Retta’s sigh was as broken as her heart. “No, of course not. But to leave you when you need me the most . . . Please, Jenny. Don’t ask.”
The dark circles around Jenny’s blue eyes gave her complexion a grayish cast. She shouldn’t be standing out in the wind like this, as sick as she was. She could barely stay upright. But Retta knew all too well her sister’s inner core of strength, because Jenny was cut from the same cloth as their beloved mother, gone three years now. “Mama wouldn’t want me to desert you,” Retta began, only to be silenced by her sister’s dismissive wave of one skeletal hand.
“Mama would do exactly what I’m doing.” She shoved a wrinkled pouch into Retta’s shabby reticule, ignoring her protests. “Take it. You think I would leave Mama’s rubies to rot in Papa’s strongbox?” She snorted weakly, but her disdain was evident. “It’s your future, darling.” Her voice dropped to a wisp. “It’s my legacy to you.”
Fighting back tears, Retta held on to her sister’s fingers when she would have pulled away. “You can’t go back. Papa will know you took Mama’s necklace, and will beat you for it.” She gripped her bag between whitened knuckles, then gasped at the clinking sound coming from within. “Are those coins? Jenny, where did you get them?”
Jenny drew herself up, straightening her shoulders, and for a shining moment Retta saw her sister as she’d been, before consumption ravaged her body. “My dowry. Yours, now.” She patted the reticule in Retta’s fist. “There’s a letter folded inside with the coins. You take that letter to Harrison. It explains everything. Tell him I wish for him a happy life. Tell him I’m sorry.”
She dashed wispy locks of dull-brown hair off her perspiring forehead. “I’m going to stay with Aunty until, well, until . . .” Her chin firmed. “I will be safe and well-cared for. By the time Papa sobers up enough to realize we both left him, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.”
A rambunctious boy bumped them as he sprinted across the wooden platform to keep up with his family. “Oh, Jenny,” Retta murmured sadly, steadying her sister when she nearly lost her footing.
Retta blinked away fresh tears as Jenny gave her hand a final squeeze, before she eased away.
Aunt Millie transferred Retta’s sleepy daughter into her arms then whispered in her ear, “I know, child. She wouldn’t admit anything but I know how sick our Jenny is. I’m taking her back to Dewfield with me. I promise you I will never say a thing to your father, and I’ll care for her faithfully.”
“You’ll keep in touch? You’ll write?” Retta clung to her aunt’s vow, even as everything inside her demanded she remain to care for Jenny herself.
“Yes, indeed. Have no worries.” Millie curled a supporting arm around Jenny’s thin shoulders. “I’d best be getting you back to the house, darling girl. A nice cup of cocoa and a nap will do you wonders. Just you wait and see.”
An errant tear tracked down Jenny’s pale cheek that she quickly batted away before offering an encouraging smile. “Harrison is a good man, Retta. Be happy. All I want for you and Addie is to have a good life. Promise me you’ll give him a chance.”
Retta’s stomach clenched with fear and uncertainty, even as she hesitantly agreed. For the love of her sister, she’d acquiesce to her final wish. Though it’d been four years since Jenny had last seen her fiancé. Who knew what kind of man he was now?
Jenny traced a slender finger down Retta’s cheek. “I love you, little sister.”
Blinking through a flood of tears that fell silently against the top of her sleeping daughter’s head, Retta whispered, “I love you, Jenny. I’ll hold you in my heart forever.”
There were no final goodbyes, just an assortment of promises and encouraging murmurs, before Aunt Millie guided Jenny from the platform, toward a waiting hackney.
Struggling for composure, Retta held Addie close. As the March wind whipped around her ears, she watched them go until their figures merged into a single, blurred image, and the train whistle blew its final, ‘All Aboard’ warning. Only then did she allow the conductor to help her with her baggage.
Harrison had reserved a sleeper for Jenny, an extravagance to be sure, but safer for a woman traveling alone.
What will he do when I arrive instead?
Blinking furiously, Retta guided Addie through the doorway. Inside the cramped compartment, she laid the sleepy child on the narrow bed and covered her with the only blanket she could find. Addie cuddled into a ball, snoring lightly. Retta brushed the tangled golden curls from her fair brow, trying to envision what sort of future awaited them out West.
Love for her child stiffened her spine. Her baby—her world.
I’ll make a better life for you, I promise.
Even if she had to travel halfway across the country and marry a stranger to do it.
Uncaged Review: A promising beginning to a new series by these talented authors. In the days of silver mining, men work hard to secure their futures and Harrison is waiting for the day that he can bring home his fiancée Jenny. When Harrison arrives at the stagecoach to pick up his love, he doesn’t find Jenny, but her beautiful sister Retta instead, who has been almost ruined by a man who seduced her and left her, with a daughter to raise on her own. When Harrison reads the letter from Jenny, who pleads with him to marry and take care of Retta, Harrison honors his dying fiancée’s wish.
Over the course of this story, we see the love story unfold, the patience of Harrison as he gives Retta time to trust, and Retta for her courage of agreeing to marry a man she never met. I felt like I was sitting in a rocking chair in front of a general store, watching it all unfold. Learning that this story was written based off of a true story, makes it that much more special. Historical western lovers will enjoy this one.
Reviewed by Cyrene
4 1/2 Stars