Written in 29 minutes.
Almost as soon as she’d closed her mouth, Elizabeth knew that something was terribly wrong. When the pair of men had come into the station, she’d spied the gold star pinned to the taller of the men’s shirt. She’d been pleasantly surprised that such a good looking man would need to advertise for a wife, but she’d heard all about the imbalance of men and women out in the West.
Still, as he’d drawn closer, Elizabeth’s stomach had begun to quiver. He was more than just generally good-looking with sandy blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. He had broad shoulders, and a kind smile—
The younger man at his side bore some resemblance — similar hair color and eyes, but he was a bit more spindly and his eyes kept darting all over the place. But the sheriff—Jason Morgan—hadn’t made eye contact with her—his eyes had passed over her at first.
Something was wrong.
“I’m glad you made it safely,” the younger man said—maybe the cousin Jason had written about in his letters? “I know Jason was worried about you traveling with your son.”
“Oh—” Elizabeth twisted to look at Cameron still dozing fitfully on the bench, shoving her doubts down. Maybe Jason was just nervous. That was possible. They’d only written a handful of times—perhaps he was even shy around women. That might explain why he’d searched all the way back East for a wife. “He did well enough, but the last few legs, we had to travel overnight and he didn’t sleep much.”
“I was born out here,” the cousin said cheerfully, though he was speaking a bit fast. He elbowed Jason. “But Jason traveled here when he was just a kid, not much older. Right?”
“What?” Jason blinked, then cleared his throat. “Uh, yes.” He rocked back on his heels. “From San Francisco. When I was nine.”
“Not nearly as far as you came,” the cousin said—what was his name? Something with a D—David? Elizabeth couldn’t quite bring it to the forefront of her memory. Everything had scattered when the men had arrived, and she was still trying to make sense of everything. “New York or New Jersey?”
“New York.” Elizabeth fiddled with cuff of her dress. “Port Hamilton. On Lake Ontario.”
“Well, you’ve moved from one lake to another,” David—no, Dillon! That was it—said. Elizabeth remembered that it was spelled differently. “And Jason’s got the Colorado running past his ranch outside of town. You’ll love it.”
She looked at the man in question who hadn’t said more than a handful of words. What was she supposed to do? Push him into conversation? What if he was just a quiet man?
“I’m looking forward to it,” Elizabeth said. She lifted her chin. “I was hoping that I could get Cameron settled somewhere. You said that I’d be staying in the hotel for a few days while we made arrangements?” she asked Jason.
“Uh, yeah. I—” Jason looked at his cousin. “Did you take care of it?” he asked Dillon, and Elizabeth was a bit surprised by the tense tone. Jason had nearly bit the words out. Was Dillon normally unreliable?
“Of course. Just as you told me. A little suite with a bedroom and a sitting room.”
“All right then.” Elizabeth returned to the bench to pick up her bag, looping the straps over her arm, then carefully hoisting Cameron into her arms. She swayed for a minute—her little boy wasn’t as little as he’d once been and the added weight—
“I’ll—I’ll take that.” Jason reached for her bag. “I’d—” He carefully removed it from her arm without disturbing Cameron who had only opened his eyes bleerily, then snuggled closer to her. “The hotel is just across the way.”
“Well, then let’s get to it, I suppose.” She pasted a smile on her face and followed the men outside, wondering if she’d made a terrible decision after all.
Jason made sure the woman—whose name she still didn’t know—and her son were comfortable in the rooms that were, of course, registered in his name. The woman behind the check in desk had raised her brows, but Jason had just glared. If Britta Westbourne opened her mouth before he had this settled—
As soon as he’d cleared the hotel entrance, he’d grabbed his cousin by the back of the neck and dragged him around the corner and shoved him against the brick wall. “What the hell is going on?”
“Okay, I can explain—” Dillon held up his hands. “I meant to tell you. I started to a thousand times, but it wasn’t something that really rolled off the tongue, you know? And then before I knew it, she was on her way—”
“On her way,” Jason said flatly. “But you had time to find out her travel arrangements and pay for her hotel by charging it to my account. Dillon—”
“Look, just hear me out, okay? Listen.” Dillon took a deep breath. “It’s not like I sent for the first women who replied. A lot of women replied. I mean, a lot,” he repeated. “So I made sure I picked someone you’d like—”
Jason gritted his teeth. “What—”
“She’s a hard worker, and she’s devoted to her kid. I mean, she was super clear about the son right away.” Dillon’s face was flushed. “And talked about how she wanted someone who’d love him and be a father. You like kids. And she likes to talk. You hate to talk—she’ll fill all the silence—”
“You—” Jason had to step back or he’d do something he’d regret. “You wrote her as me. She has no idea that I don’t know.”
“Well, no. And she doesn’t need to.” Dillon shrugged. “I’ll give you her letters, and you’ll know everything she told you. You said you’d get married if the right woman came around. She’s the right woman—”
“Says you,” Jason retorted. “Then you marry her—”
“Oh, no. We both like to talk. We’d irritate each other in five minutes.” Dillon’s eyes widened. “You promised—”
“You made me promise that knowing she was already here,” Jason interrupted. “That’s not fair—”
“Give me one good reason she’s not perfect for you!”
Jason opened his mouth, then closed it. The trouble was—the idiot had a point. The woman was beautiful—someone he’d take a second, even third look at—damn it—
“I don’t even know her name, for one—”
“Oh, that’s easy. She’s Elizabeth Webber from Port Hamilton, New York. Her son is Cameron, and she’s twenty-four. He’s four, I think. Nearly five, maybe I don’t remember. Just read her letters, you’ll see—”
“She wrote them to you,” Jason said with a shake of his head. “And she wrote them because of some advertisement you created. It’s not right. And you’d have me lie to her some more? Lie to her for the rest of our lives?”
“I—” Dillon frowned. “Well, why should it matter? She came here to marry a stranger—”
“The fact that you don’t understand the difference tells me how stupid you are. Go back to the jail. I’ll stay and clean up your damn mess—”
“Jason—” His cousin’s face fell. “You’re not even going to give her a chance?”
“It’s not fair to either of us.” Jason shoved Dillon towards the street. “Now get out of my sight.”