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Authors: Maggie Brendan

Alove of her own

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HEARTof theWEST* 3

ALOVE OFHer Own

ANOVEL

MAGGIE BRENDAN

In memory of my mother, Maggie (Mary Magdalene), and my father, John Samuel O’Neal, who loved a good Western. And in memory of my sisters Gail and Estelle, and my brothers Sam and Orville. I love and miss you all.

Many waters cannot quench love,neither can the floods drown it.

Song of Solomon 8:7

© 2010 by Maggie Brendan

Published by Revella division of Baker Publishing GroupP.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287www.revellbooks.com

E-book edition created 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-1178-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Scripture is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Published in association with Tamela Hancock Murray of the Hartline Literary Agency, LLC.

Contents

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Author’s Note

Acknowledgments

1

The Yampa Valley, ColoradoSeptember 1896

The brisk Colorado wind tugged at April McBride’s silky tresses underneath her Stetson hat, tickling the exposed skin at the nape of her neck. She threw her head back in delight, and her laughter spilled across the valley floor, causing her roan’s tail to twitch. There wasn’t anything April would rather do on a fall day than be out riding with total abandonment. She pushed her mount higher up the slope.

A half hour later she reined her horse in as she reached the crest of the craggy ridge overlooking the Yampa Valley. Her gaze traveled down to the rumbling Blue River below where a familiar figure on horseback had stopped to give his horse a drink.LukeWeber.But this time her heart no longer thumped with excitement. Luke paused at the river’s edge and rested his arms across the saddle horn. He glanced up to her on the ridgeline above him and lifted his hat in greeting. April returned the greeting with a wave. After a brief moment, Luke gave his horse a nudge and continued on downstream.

Who would have thought that she and Luke would be just friends one day? Certainly not April. It all seemed so long ago now . . .

Her world had come crashing down the day Luke told her there would be no wedding. Her shock had been profound, and April, who was never at a loss for words, was speechless. She’d tried to absorb what he’d said while her heart, frozen in pain, threatened to stop beating altogether. How could he not love her? She had loved him deeply and was ready to begin their life together.

Her ego had suffered terribly, and she wondered what was wrong withher. But how could she argue with someone who told her he didn’t share the same feelings? She couldn’t. If it had been the other way around, she wouldn’t have wanted him insisting that she marry him just because he loved her. No . . . it wouldn’t have worked. April could see that now, but it had taken a long time to reach that perspective. How many times had her mother told her that she was praying for her and the right man would come along when the timing was right? Too many to suit April.

She’d lived with a shattered heart, refusing to see any of the eligible bachelors in Steamboat Springs who constantly pursued her, and now, after four years, her heart had slowly mended. Luke and Crystal were going to have a baby soon, and she could honestly say she was happy for them. Who wouldn’t be when one could see the love in their eyes? Her mother was certain that her mended heart was the work of the Lord. April wasn’t so sure about that, but she knew she had finally moved on and was genuinely happy for Luke and Crystal now.

Enough of this reflecting. The day was simply too beautiful to waste ruminating about the past, so she headed the roan back down into the valley, allowing her to take the lead on their way back to the Rocking M Ranch.

Hours later, April stripped off her leather gloves and picked up the mail as she entered the large foyer of her home. With a measure of contentment, she started going through the stack. It was nice to have the house to herself while her parents were away in Ireland for their thirtieth wedding anniversary. She shuffled through the assortment of bills and invitations, releasing a squeal of delight when her eyes latched onto an envelope marked Montana in her brother’s bold handwriting. It was crumpled and dirty, and the postmark was early August. Where must it have traveled before reaching her? No matter. Seeing a letter from Josh brought a huge smile to her face, and she decided to go sit in the garden, away from the maid who was cleaning, to savor every word privately. Settling down on the bench near the angel fountain with its soothing flow of water in the background, April picked up her engraved letter opener and slit open the envelope to find a single page from Josh.

Dearest Sis,

Hope all is well with you, and our parents areenjoying their trip to Ireland. Mother wrote me thatshe was really looking forward to it.

The main reason I write again so soon is to tellyou that I am engaged to marry the girl of mydreams! Her name is Juliana Brady, and we are tobe married September 25. I realize I should havewritten sooner, but time slipped away from mesomehow. Now that we’ve finally set a date, we wouldbe honored if you would come and represent ourfamily.

Please telegraph me your answer and the time ofyour arrival, and I will reserve a room for you at theStockton Hotel right away. I can hardly wait for thewedding and to see you again!

With much love and affection,

Josh

Tears of joy stung the corners of her eyes. What wonderful news, but oh, how disappointed her parents were going to be to miss Josh’s wedding. April decided to send one of the servants into town to telegraph her reply. She should send a telegraph to her parents as well, even though they would be unable to get back in time. Maybe Josh had already done that.

A trip to Montana! Maybe that was exactly what she needed to get excited about her life again. New, fresh faces sounded very appealing. She rose, stuffed the telegram into her pocket, then hurried down the brick path to the house, immediately thinking of what she’d need to pack.

“Tilly!” April called, and the stout maid hurried down the hallway to reach her.

“Yes, ma’am? What’s all the excitement?” She was breathing heavily when she stopped short in front of her mistress.

“Hurry, I’ll be leaving for Montana as soon as I can make the arrangements,” she said, then rushed to the large secretary and jotted a message down on a piece of letterhead. “Can you fetch Robby to send a telegram?”

“I’ll do it right away, and I’ll have him get your valise down from the attic too.” Tilly turned to go find Robby.

“One bag won’t do. I’ll need my trunk for certain.” April clapped her hands together, then grabbed Tilly’s hands and swung her around in a circle. April’s straight, silky blonde hair flew about her shoulders until Tilly giggled and they were both out of breath.

“You must be going to see Josh.”

“Yes! It’s the best news—Josh is getting married!”

“Land sakes, Miss April, you can’t go alone. Do you want me to accompany you?”

April stopped and stared at her. “Mmm . . . I think I can do this alone. I’ll be on the train and stage the entire way with lots of company. Besides, you’re needed here.”

“That may be so, but you will need my help.”

April clicked her tongue against her teeth. “I’m grown and can handle a trip by myself. Don’t forget it’s almost the turn of the century. Women are doing many things on their own right now.”

“Maybe so, but your parents are not going to like this one bit,” Tilly muttered. “No sirree, not one bit.”

But April was already taking the stairs two at a time in her riding pants while Tilly stood looking up at her mistress and shaking her head. When April got excited about something, the entire household had better watch out!

“When you’re ready, come up to my bedroom. I need to get organized,” April called over her shoulder as she reached the landing.

“Yes, Miss April, just as soon as I find Robby to send your telegram.” Tilly scooted her stout frame as fast as she could in the direction of the kitchen.

Billings, Montana, was nothing more than a cow town to April’s way of thinking, much like Denver. Lots of dusty streets, rough-hewn buildings, and plenty of bustling activity that she’d observed from her window seat as the train flew past the center of town to the rail depot situated on the eastern outskirts. The smell from the hundreds of sheep corralled near the railroad station overpowered her, and April reached for her handkerchief to cover her nose. Josh had told her in one of his letters that Billings was a major depot to ship the woolies back East. She wondered for the tenth time today why her brother wanted to live in Montana after living most of his life in Colorado. Aching and tired, she was not looking forward to another long ride from Billings to Lewistown. One never knew what kind of characters you might encounter in this part of the country.