Leah Townsend, a recently orphaned heiress, flees
discovering her fiancé’s plot to kill her after their wedding. She needs a safe
place to hide, and finds herself accepting a newspaper marriage proposal from a
God-fearing young rancher in the Richmond . But when Leah
arrives at the mountain ranch, she learns her intended husband was killed by a
grizzly, leaving behind a bitter older brother and a spunky younger sister. Montana
When Gideon Bryant finds a city girl standing in his log cabin, his first thought is to send her back where she came from. He’s lost too many people to the wild elements of these mountains––his parents, his wife, and now his brother. His love for this untamed land lives on, but he’s determined not to open his heart to another person.
But when an accident forces Leah to stay at the ranch for seven more months, can Gideon protect his heart from a love he doesn’t want? Has Leah really escaped the men who seek her life?
“Are you going to poison her the way you killed your last wife?”
Leah Townsend froze in the hallway, her right foot suspended midair as her breathing stopped.. She lowered her toes to the floor, and then sidled closer to the closed study door—still not daring to breathe. The thick Persian rug muffled her footsteps. As she leaned forward, the strong scent of oil wafted from the mahogany wood door.
A throaty chuckle drifted out of the room. “I haven’t decided yet. When I get tired of the nagging, I’ll find a way to dispense with her. Assuming she’s received her inheritance and her father’s estates are legally mine.”
Leah’s blood ran so cold it froze in her veins. Dispense with her? Her brain repeated the words once, twice, and then took off like the hooves of a racehorse. Her blood began to move again, rushing through her so quickly it roared in her ears.
She’d recognize that voice anywhere. It held the suave tone of a man very sure of himself. The tone of the man she’d had nightmares about every night for weeks. The tone of the man her father had legally contracted her to marry in six days. Simon Talbert.
“You think she’ll still go through with it? Now that her old man’s dead?”
Leah strained to place the other voice. Her betrothed had left the dinner party to take care of a business matter, but she hadn’t noticed with whom.
“She has no choice.” Simon’s voice again. “Unless she appeals to the courts to break the contract. But she won’t do that. It was her father’s dying wish. And after all, why wouldn’t she want to marry a fine catch like me?”
A tingle ran down Leah’s spine. Was he a murderer? Papa had been so excited about this marriage, surely he wouldn’t sign her life away to a man who would kill her. Oh, why had she ever agreed to this crazy arranged marriage?
What had she heard about Simon’s first wife? Only that the woman had been sickly and died at twenty-three.
A wave of fear started in Leah’s stomach and welled up her chest until it almost smothered her. What had Papa said about Simon? She could hear his deep, comforting voice even now. He has a fine reputation in the business community and will be able to care for you very comfortably.
Money. This whole business of arranged marriages and betrothal contracts was about the money. And status. And what each person could gain. Except for the bride. The bride was the only person who lost in this game. M Maybe not every arranged marriage was unpleasant for the woman, but this situation looked to be very dangerous for her.
She focused her attention again on the sounds drifting through the door. The men must have moved toward the windows, because their voices had lowered to an indistinct murmur.
Disappointed, Leah pulled away. She needed to get back to the drawing room anyway. Someone might question her absence, maybe even send a servant to help her.
Leah started down the hallway, but the door jerked open before she could take more than a step. She whirled, then froze, staring into the face of her betrothed, a man seventeen years her senior.
“Simon,” she gasped. Did he realize she’d overhead? “I was just returning from the powder room. If you’re finished with your business, perhaps you can escort me back to the drawing room.” Leah extended an elegant hand, brows raised in the coy expression she’d learned from too many society parties. She didn’t dare draw a breath.
Simon studied her, his tall form debonair in a dark tail coat and manicured black hair. At a glance, it was easy to see why the ladies flocked after him, and even more so when they learned of his extensive wealth.
But something about his posture now raised goose bumps on Leah’s arms.
“My dear.” His voice was too rich. Too smooth. Leah inched backward, but Simon stepped toward her. “Did you, uh… stand here waiting for me long?” As he neared, a whiff of spirits permeated the air, and red framed his dark eyes.
“No. No, I was just passing by.” Breathe. She had to appear nonchalant.
Simon’s eyes narrowed. Could he see through her façade? “My partner and I were just reminiscing. But many of our business dealings are highly confidential.” Another man moved into the open doorway behind Simon. This man was shorter and leaner, but carried himself the same way Simon did.
His scrutiny smothered her.
“If you overheard our conversation, it wouldn’t bode well for you.” Simon’s gaze bore a hole through her. “Of course, the last thing I would want is for anything to hurt you, my dear. Or hurt your close friends.” Steel laced his every word. “Close friends like your Miss Emily.”
Emily, her companion. Her dearest confidante.
Leah braved a glance at his face. His eyes had shrunken to black slits. Danger radiated from every pore.
He took another step forward, his hand tightening like a vice over her fingers. His words clamped down her chest. Her lungs wouldn’t fill.
“The good news is…” He breathed hard air in her face. Leah forced herself not to react as the alcohol assaulted her eyes. “…I have many influential friends. Friends in the police force. In the courts. Friends who will believe my word without question.”
He placed Leah’s hand on his arm, then tightened his grip over her fingers, holding her securely in place. “It’s fortunate for you, dear Leah, we’ll be wed this week. I wouldn’t want your life to end in a…painful and unfortunate manner.”
A chill forced its way through Leah’s body.
Simon turned toward the main corridor and began walking, his hand ensuring Leah stayed with him each step of the way. The other man receded into the room and closed the door.
Leah’s heart beat so wildly her stomach ached. What should she do? She was walking on the arm of a murderer. How could she get away? Had he really meant he’d kill her if she said anything about what she’d overheard?
They were about to rejoin the party now. She had to compose herself until she could determine what to do. She couldn’t allow Simon to see anything he said concerned her.
Deep breath. Shoulders squared. Chin up. Pleasant expression. Now float forward, full of poise and grace. The actions were ingrained, habit from many years of drilling and constant reminders, mostly from Emily.
“Ah, Mr. Talbert. Miss Townsend. We were just discussing the wedding gowns for the season.” Mrs. Troutman cooed. “Miss Townsend, I’m sure you’ve become quite an expert on the topic with your wedding close at hand. Perhaps your fiancé can spare you so we can hear the details.” She patted the settee next to her while gazing expectantly at Leah.
A conversation about wedding gowns, her own in particular, was the last thing she could handle right now. But it would get her away from this man. Although, maybe she should be discussing the gown she’d like to be buried in instead.
Leah slid her hand from under Simon’s grasp and glided to Mrs. Troutman. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Simon offer a stiff bow, then stride toward a group of gentlemen. Leah had an urge to hug the snobby woman beside her.
She endured a few minutes of the woman’s gushing about the fashion plate in the front of this season’s Godey’s Lady’s Book, but Leah’s mind fidgeted. She had to get away from this house or she just might lose her poise. And Emily had always taught her a woman never, under any circumstance, loses her poise.
Leah smiled at Mrs. Troutman and tried her best to sound genuine. “I’m so sorry, ladies, but I’m afraid I must retire early this evening. I’m not feeling well. I will look forward to joining the discussion at another time.”
“Oh, dear.” Mrs. Troutman spoke in a cultured tone that reeked of condescension. “And you’re practically the hostess of our little party, since you’re betrothed to the host. Whatever will we do without you?”
She sounded as if she knew exactly what she would do with the loss of Leah’s company. Most likely take the opportunity to thrust her own spoiled daughter under the notice of Simon Talbert, as she’d done so many times before. And she could have him. If Mrs. Troutman only knew what the man was really like, she would run far away from this tainted mansion.
But then remorse pricked Leah’s chest. No woman deserved what Simon had in mind.
Leah gave the ladies another manufactured smile. “I’m sure my absence won’t stunt the evening’s enjoyment in the least. In fact…” she leaned forward conspiratorially “…I’ll rely on you to make certain of that.”
Mrs. Troutman preened like one of the peacocks Leah had seen in the park off
“Of course, dear. Now do go and take care of yourself.”
Leah glided across the room toward Emily, her companion, former governess and—since Leah’s mother had died six years ago—her dearest friend and mentor. Emily, elegant in her long, slender cuirass bodice, stood with the Lindsey cousins. Next to her, the younger ladies looked silly in their too-bright and childish Dolly Vardens.
“But, Emily, he has the croup. Do you really think that will help?” asked Olivia Lindsey.
Emily nodded, then looked up, her eyes studying Leah. “Aren’t you feeling well, love?”
How did Emily do it? Leah had been sure she’d had her high-society mask in place. “I have a bit of a headache, and wondered if you would mind leaving a little early?”
Emily’s eyes crinkled at the edges into a soft smile. “Of course not. I’ll go call the carriage now.”
“Please don’t.” Leah said the words a bit too quickly, but she had to get away before Simon saw her leave. “I’ll do it and meet you in the foyer.”
Twin lines of concern formed between Emily’s brows. “All right, then.” Emily turned to her two companions as Leah made her escape. “Olivia, I’ll be praying your little Henry heals quickly...”
Emily was so kind. One day if Leah ever finally grew up—which didn’t seem to have happened yet at twenty-two -—she wanted to be as good and kind and caring as Emily.
Leah wound her way around clusters of acquaintances and society friends, almost to the wide double doors open to the foyer.
“Miss Townsend.” The suave baritone voice stopped her cold. Leah didn’t turn, forcing Simon to come around to face her. His eyes were black…cold.
“You’re not leaving, are you?” Something hard glittered in his gaze.
“I, uh, I’m not feeling well.” His scrutiny was too much. Leah dropped gaze. “I thought I would retire early.”
Simon touched her chin with a forefinger, raising her face to his. He rested his thumb on the other side of her chin, in what would have appeared to anyone else as a tender gesture among sweethearts. But the pressure with which he gripped her chin left no doubt in Leah’s mind of his message.
“I trust you’re too ill to have a chat with anyone. I’ll come visit early tomorrow to check on you.” He dropped his hand but stepped nearer, drawing himself to his fullest height. Less than a foot of space separated him, and Leah could see every damp pore on his face. “I’m sure no one would begrudge me spending every moment possible with my bride-to-be.”
His posture relaxed and Leah didn’t wait for a better opportunity. She turned and fled the room.
Emily, always the thoughtful one, waited until they were safely tucked into the carriage before she turned to Leah. “What in the world is wrong? I’ve never seen you so pale.”
Leah fidgeted with the silk ruffle on the hem of her coat.S Should she tell the authorities? Tell anyone? Would they believe her over Simon? Papa had signed the contract with the man over six months ago, just before his death. Leah had always been convinced Simon was most interested in her wealth. Not the modest dowry she would bring to the marriage, but the vast amount of money and holdings kept safe in a trust until her twenty-third birthday—next February.
With Simon’s money and extensive connections, not a soul in
would believe a
twenty-two-year-old woman over a respected business man like him. Why, at least
fifty women in Richmond
would switch places with her in an instant to have an opportunity to marry such
a rich widower, despite the age difference. Richmond
Even Emily would be skeptical. She always had trouble believing the worst in people. But she would believe Leah. And maybe she could help.
“What happened, love?” Emily’s gentle voice was prodding.
Leah took a deep breath. “When I was leaving the powder room, I heard voices coming from one of the hallways. I was curious, so I walked a short way and heard Mr. Talbert speaking with another man. They were…talking about me.” She steadied her voice and told her friend about the tête-à-tête, and Simon’s reaction to her presence.
At the end of it all, Emily was speechless.
“Do you remember hearing how the first Mrs. Talbert died?”
Emily’s forehead wrinkled and her eyes grew distant as she rubbed two fingers over her jaw. “She always seemed healthy when I saw her. About a year or so after they were married, though, she stopped coming to most of the social events. I didn’t hear much more about her for a while, but about six months later I heard she had passed away. I always assumed it was complications from being…in the family way.”
Emily turned her attention back to Leah, eyes piercing. “Is it possible you misheard the conversation or misunderstood Mr. Talbert’s meaning when he spoke to you?”
Of course, Emily would be reluctant to believe such a horrible thing. Leah could hardly believe it herself. How could Papa have trusted this man?
Her jaw tightened with conviction. “I’m positive I heard them correctly. And Simon made himself very clear.” She turned to grasp Emily’s hands, choking fear rising in her chest again. “What am I going to do? I can’t marry him! I don’t think I can even stand to be near him again. He said he would call early tomorrow to check on me. I’m sure he’s planning to make sure I don’t go to the authorities.” Would Simon go as far as kidnapping her? But why not? A man who was plotting murder wouldn’t think twice about a little kidnapping in the process.
Emily freed herself from Leah’s hands only to wrap her arms around Leah’s shoulders and rock, just like Mama used to do. “Leah, love. I don’t know what we need to do just yet, except I know we need to pray. God will show you. He has a plan even in this, but you have to seek it. Seek Him. He loves you even more than I do.”
Leah fought the sting of tears as the warmth of Emily’s hug soaked through her fear.
Leah blew out her breath in a frustrated stream. Flipping through her Bible, she tried hard to fight the feeling her life was falling apart. Curled in a warm flannel nightgown against the late March chill, she sat tucked in bed, searching for direction.
Father,p please speak to me. Do you have a way for me to escape this?
But was escape right? Hadn’t God said to honor her fa ther and mother, that her life would be long in the land the Lord would give her? But obeying her father’s wishes appeared to be at direct odds with living a long life, in this case. Was God planning to save her through some miraculous act? Like he did with Daniel in the lions’ den?
Mind rambling, she opened the Bible again and began reading in First Samuel. The early days of the Israelites always fascinated her. No matter how many times they wandered, no matter how many really bad choices they made, God always brought them back. He always forgave them when they truly humbled themselves before Him. Leah found herself absorbed in the story of young David and how God used him to calm King Saul when the distressing spirit would come up him.
“And David was playing music with his hand. Then Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away from Saul’s presence, and he drove the spear into the wall. So David fled and escaped that night.”
Goose bumps covered Leah’s arms, and a little chill shot down her back. She kept reading.
“Saul also sent messengers to David’s house to watch him and to kill him in the morning. And Michal, David’s wife, told him, saying, ‘If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.’ So Michal let David down through a window. And he went and fled and escaped.”
When Saul was trying to kill David, David fled and escaped.
That’s what she had to do.
Misty Beller was raised on a farm in
, so her
Southern roots run deep. Growing up, her family was close, and they continue to
keep that priority today. Her husband and two daughters now add another
dimension to her life, keeping her both grounded and crazy. South Carolina
God has placed a desire in Misty’s heart to combine her love for Christian fiction and the simpler ranch life, writing historical novels that display God’s abundant love through the twists and turns in the lives of her characters.
Writing is a dream come true for Misty. Her family—both immediate and extended—is the foundation that holds her secure in that dream.
To purchase Misty's book:
To connect with Misty:
Misty Beller is giving away a copy of The Lady and the Mountain
giveaway is only available to Man.
To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice -- once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post.)
Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart