The Judge's Bride: Montana Brides of Solomon's Valley Book 1
A lonely judge orders a mail order bride. A desperate widow accepts the offer to keep her children.
Did I tell you she had ten children? No, well she didn't tell him either.
Oh, and then there's that feud the judge is trying to settle.
Read on and enjoy a sweet historical romance set in 1881 Montana.
Montana Brides of Solomon's Valley
The Judges Bride ~ Book 1
Zebulon's Bride ~ Book 2
The Sheriff's Bride ~ Book 3 Coming this summer!!
You may purchase The Judge's Bride by clicking here.
Fierce pounding yanked Judge Solomon Taggart from his dream. He threw off the blanket, swung his feet to the floor, and groaned as they met the cold wood. More hard raps rattled the front door below as well as his usually mild temperament. “I’m coming!”
Bad enough they’d taken him from his sweet Clara, at least the dream of her, but now he’d been thrust into the chill of morning earlier than planned. After throwing on pants and shirt, he stomped to the main entryway, grabbed the longhorn door handle, and flung it open to find the reason for his inconvenience.
Matt Stearns, the young foreman of his ranch, fidgeted before him. Mussed hair, boots on the wrong feet, and unbuttoned shirt proved he’d been jolted out of the sack, too.
The judge motioned for the man to enter. “What’s the trouble?”
Matt pointed toward the valley. “It’s them kids of the Murphys and Howards. They’re fighting over a half-grown calf on our land, and one of ’em has a gun.”
“Who’s watching them?”
“Fisher and Yates. Told ’em not to shoot. They’re just kids.”
“Get my horse. Better saddle Big Sandy, I’m not in the mood to deal with the black.” The judge went to the gun rack and retrieved his favorite Winchester. He didn’t plan to shoot anyone, but it made a good bargaining tool to diffuse these differences. Reminded of the cold, he grabbed his sheepskin jacket from the coat rack.
The Murphys and the Howards. Those two families were nothing but trouble. They were nice enough if you met them alone, but together, it was like mixing fire and nitro.
With a sigh, he stepped into the predawn morning and watched his breath fog the air. Why did those fool kids pick such a cold day for their nonsense? The chill crept into his forty-year-old bones and made him wonder just why it was his job to come between the feuding families.
As a former judge in Tennessee and owner of the Rockin’ C, the largest ranch in the valley, the folks looked to him for leadership. Not that he minded. Except when it came on one of these bone-chilling mornings.
Matt rode to him, leading the big palomino that had been with the judge since he’d carved out his ranch. Sturdy and reliable, Big Sandy was just the horse for an early morning ride. He took the reins and mounted. “How far do we have to go?”
“They’re out near Fork Creek.”
“Let’s get there before we have a tragedy.” The judge nudged the stallion into an easy lope and headed for trouble.
Half an hour later, they rode up a ridge littered with scrub oak and brush. Below, maybe thirty head of Rockin’ C cattle grazed on the slopes leading to the creek. To one side, a heifer was singled out, tied to a tree, and bellowing her head off.
“Where are the kids?”
Yated pointed to the rise opposite them and then to the brush near the calf. “Boy’s on the ridge. Girl is in the brush. She’s got a gun.”
The judge winced. “The girl has a gun?”
“Rifle. And she knows how to shoot. She’s kept the boy away from the cow.”
“That half-grown heifer one of ours?” Solomon had fought for his cattle. Killed to protect what was his. But not a kid.
“Don’t know. Can’t see a brand. Fisher is with the boy. Hope you can talk some sense into that girl.”
The judge felt old as he reined his horse down the ravine. He’d fought Indians, rustlers, and squatters, but how do you reason with a girl? He’d never had much luck with his daughter, Shirley, much less his wife, Clara. Ah, he missed them.
Throwing a glance heavenward, he sighed. You were supposed to stay with me, honey. I wasn’t ready for you to leave. Better if that fever had attacked me. He’d have fought heaven and hell to stay with his family.
Shoving away the memories, he squinted into the brush. “Girl! It’s Judge Solomon Taggart. I’m here to settle this dispute. Hold your fire.”
The bushes in front of him parted. “It’s me. Cassidy Howard. I came for my cow. She broke loose, and I tracked her here. That crazy Murphy boy tried to take her from me.”
“Hold your fire. That goes for your temper and your gun.” The judge dismounted. He stepped over a fallen log, walked to the young cow, and ran a hand over her left hip. No brand. Meant it wasn’t one of his. Or if it was, it got past his crew, and that was unlikely.
“Cassidy, can you prove it’s yours?” He studied the girl. With her wild blond hair and sky-blue eyes, she was going to be a beauty in a few years. Already, her womanhood was beginning to show, but it was going to take a tough young man to tame her. She had a temper to match the wildest cowboy on his ranch.
With a wary gaze to where the Murphy boy still hid, Cassidy came into the open. Rifle at the ready, she pointed to the black and white cow. “She’s got a nick out of her left ear … where my dog bit her.”
Sure enough, just as she said, there was a notch. Course half the cows around sported a cut on their ears. This was rough country. Wolves, cougars, coyotes any of them could have taken out a chunk.
Solomon looked up to where the boy hid. “You have any proof this is your cow?”
Ronan Murphy slid down the steep hill with Fisher scrambling behind him. He stopped on the opposite side of the creek. “We’re missing a few. That’s one of ’em.”
Getting tired of having to settle their disputes, the judge glared at him. Although at sixteen, Ronan Murphy was more man than boy and the wild one of the Murphy clan.
“Son, I know you’ve been up before my court for more trouble than I could do in ten lifetimes. Why should I believe you?”
Ronan sneered at Cassidy. “Can’t take the word of a Howard. You know they all lie.”
Solomon caught the girl’s rifle barrel on the rise and wrenched the gun from her hands. “There’s not a cow alive that is worth a man’s life.”
Cassidy glared at him. “I heard you shot plenty who tried to steal your cattle.”
“That was before we had law and order.”
“There’s no sheriff in Shirleyville.”
“I’m a judge, and I have the … oh, why am I trying to explain it to a little girl. You just do as I say. I’ll give this rifle to your father and let him deal with you.”
The coy smile and sparkle in her eyes reminded him that Cassidy had her daddy tied and tossed. For a man with four daughters, Stephen had proven inept in dealing with half of them. The youngest and oldest seemed to be reasonable, but those two in the middle, well, the judge didn’t envy Stephen the trouble they were bound for.
The judge threw the rifle to Matt. “Keep that until I try to figure out what to do with these two.”
Catching it with one hand, Matt glared at Cassie. “Yes, sir. I’d say bending her over your knee and whooping her a few times sounds in order.”
The judge grabbed Cassie’s arm as she charged toward his foreman. Squirming like a wildcat, she pointed at Matt. “You just try it.”
Matt winked at her.
“I agree with Matt.” Ronan laughed. “I’d like to see that.”
Tired of the ruckus, the judge shoved Cassie behind him. “If there’s to be any whooping, it’s going to be done by your fathers. And if I know Ben Murphy, I’d say your hide is about to be tanned.”
Ronan backed away, the smile gone from his lips. After a quick glare at the girl, he faced the judge and shrugged. “It might be her cow, looks too scrawny to be one of ours.”
Solomon stared at the boy. He’d caught Ronan in more than one lie before. “Good. That’s progress. You willing to let her take this cow?”
The kid nodded. “I need to get home. My ma will be looking for me to come to breakfast. Sorry Judge.” Ronan sent a scathing glare at the girl and mouthed, I’ll get you.
The judge doubted it. Cassidy could take care of herself. Still, he’d make sure to tell her father and the boy’s father what happened.
With his sternest look, Solomon pointed at each of the troublemakers. “I want you to tell your parents what went on here. The truth. And how you made me come out in the cold of morning to settle a dispute. I’ll expect a good dinner from each of your families, and when I’m there, I will tell your parents what happened.”
Neither of the kids looked the least bit remorseful. Ronan pointed toward his ranch. “Ma is cooking chicken today. I’ll tell her to expect you if you want.”
“That’d be good. I’ll be at your cabin this afternoon.” After making sure the two went their separate ways, the judge made his way to his horse. “Matt, if those two go at it again, shoot me.”
His foreman chuckled. “You and me both. I’m hungry. I can smell George’s flapjacks from here.”
“The smell of burnt jacks do carry a long way on the wind. Let’s get home, get warm, and eat our fill.” On the way back, the judge had to laugh to himself. At least, he’d get two good meals out of the ordeal. Not that George wasn’t a good chucker, but it’d been a long time since he’d tasted a woman’s cooking. A fact that had prodded him to send that letter to the agency. Even now, he wavered between hoping it’d soon be answered or lost.
His mirth soured as he thought about the Murphy and Howard feud. The kids were getting older and like the morning’s dealings showed, getting more dangerous. Cassidy wasn’t the only one who knew how to shoot.
Solomon had hoped he’d spend his later years in peace. Those two families had spoiled that idea.
Ah, the dream he’d been in the middle of before Matt interrupted.
“I miss you, gal.”
Rachel Dowd plunged Larry’s nightshirt into the water and rubbed vigorously to get the night stains and smell from his clothes. Perhaps it was because he was a twin that he wet his bed. Or maybe losing his father at such a young age. Still, his twin brother, Terry, had no problem in that area. They might be identical, but their personalities were night and day.
She stood and stretched her aching back. “Sarah, if you’ll take the rest of the girls’ things, I’ll finish with the boys.”
Her oldest daughter nodded. She was the quiet one. So much like her father. And so in need of her father.
Rachel glanced skyward and wondered if her husband was watching his family from his heavenly perch. That he’d died still came as a shock, and it’d been two years already. She held out the little nightshirt. Satisfied it was as clean as it was going to get, she handed it to Annie. “Hang this one up, please.”
“Alright, Mama.” With bright red hair and freckles to match, the little girl smiled wide and hung the nightshirt.
Rachel may have lost her husband, but she still had her children. All ten of them. For that she was thankful. She’d known several families who had all died from a fever. She surveyed the yard and her hard working and romping brood aged from twenty to four. She had just never counted on losing Frank in a freak accident. He was cutting down a rotted tree and a large branch had fallen and hit him in the head, killing him instantly.
After grabbing another shirt, Rachel was about to douse Robert’s grass stained Sunday shirt in the water when she happened to look down the road and saw trouble coming. Fear trounced her peace. Frank had loved her and the children, but he’d not been good with the money. Add in a hard drought for the last two years and their farm was in trouble.
She set the shirt down and went to meet Mr. Hartsfield. No doubt, the banker had come to talk about her bills. He’d already warned that the bank would have to foreclose soon if things didn’t turn around.
A darted look to the dry fields did little to alleviate her fears. She stopped and let the man walk the rest of the way toward her. Out of the corner of her eye, she felt relief as her oldest son, William, came from the fields to stand beside her.
Mr. Hartsfield took off his hat. “Mrs. Dowd, William.” He sighed. “I had a meeting with the board. We’re going to have to foreclose on the farm. You’re too far behind. Whatever you get for the place won’t even cover your debt.” He paused, looked past her to the lively yard where her children romped. “We realize a widow in your situation can’t take care of a family the size of yours. The town council has offered to help place some of your children in homes.”
Rachel shoved a hand in her pocket. The letter had come yesterday. Until this moment, she’d not decided on her answer and had put off thinking about it. “No. I will not have my family torn apart. That we can’t keep the farm is clear to me. I have made other arrangements.” She stood tall and begged her confidence not to fail.
Mr. Hartsfield fiddled with his hat in his hands. “I am sorry, Mrs. Dowd. If there had been any other way, I wouldn’t have pressed the issue. It’s out of my hands—”
“I understand.” She didn’t. Frank had poured himself into the land and the community. One lousy accident and all was lost to him. He wouldn’t even be able to rest in peace knowing his family was taken care of and living on the farm he’d toiled so hard for.
“I pleaded with the board, but they want you out by the end of the month.” He looked truly miserable.
Not willing to let him off easy, Rachel remained silent.
“Do you have somewhere to go?”
Feeling the paper in her hand, she nodded. “Yes.” She didn’t offer where and hoped this Judge Taggart would take in her and the children. His letter had agreed and offered an arranged marriage, but she’d never mentioned how many children. Montana would be a long ride. Too far to turn around and come back.
“Be out the end of the month, Mrs. Dowd.” He sent a worried glance at William, and then turned and walked back to his waiting buggy and driver.
“Mother, do we have somewhere to go?”
She turned to her eldest. At twenty, he was a man. Should be on his own, but he stayed to help her out. “That letter from Montana. Judge Taggart has agreed to marry me and give you children a home.”
Concern worried his brows, so much like his father. “You don’t know anything about him. And all the way to Montana Territory. Is there no other place?”
She put a hand to his cheek. “I don’t want you to worry. We have no relatives, only one another. I will not have my family broken apart by well-meaning old biddies.” Rachel had not realized how angry she’d become at the small town of Cadbury, Minnesota. But since the time of Frank’s death, she’d been harangued by the older women telling her she needed to parcel out her children to those families in need of youngsters as a fever had taken so many five years ago.
Sadness tugged at his eyes. “I could get a job—”
The letter weighed heavily in her hand. “No, I’ve made up my mind.” She glanced back at her brood. “I’ll tell Sarah to watch the children and finish the wash. William, hitch up the buggy. We have things to attend to.”
Her oldest took over and like a small army, the children marched to their oldest siblings commands, albeit, with a few looks her way and she pointing a warning finger in return.
First thing she needed to do was write an answer to the letter. She hoped Judge Solomon Taggart was a loving man. Although, by his stilted letter, he’d offered her a home but not love. Companionship. A marriage of convenience. A trade. She would be his wife, and he would provide for her and the children.
She finished her answer to his letter and sealed the envelope. Regret gnawed at her conscience. She had yet to reveal the number of her children. For all Judge Taggart thought, he was getting a wife at the cost of caring for a couple of children. Would he annul their agreement when he discovered she was bringing an army?
“Too late now.” She grabbed her reticule, stuffed the few dollars they had, and left the house to find William. Today, she would arrange to sell what they couldn’t take and seal their future. Sarah wouldn’t be happy. She had that Adler boy interested in her. Yet, he never seemed quite the trustworthy type to Rachel. No, she and all her children would go.
A new life. She tried to keep the excitement in the forefront. To slip into the black abyss of leaving so many memories was too much. She’d not look back, only forward. For her children. They needed a future.
Rachel climbed into the wagon. She only needed to see her children happy and provided for and kept together. She wasn’t looking for love or even friendship. Yes, she’d be a good wife for the judge. But only in return for his provision for her children.~~~~~~~~~
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