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The Unexpected Wife(2)

By:Mary Burton

Frank nodded wearily. “I know. I promised Elise I’d find someone to care for Matthias and the boys.”

“So what’s your problem?” Mrs. Clements said.

Frank rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “Talking about finding a wife for Matthias and actually getting a wife is worlds apart. He’s not a man to cross.”

Holden stretched out his long legs as if to get comfortable. “I got to admit, I’m a little nervous about this myself. I don’t want to be around when he finds out what we’ve been up to.”

Mrs. Clements bit back her growing impatience with Frank. Men. They didn’t have the stomach for the hard work. “Holden, now you aren’t waffling on me, are you?”

He sat straighter. “Nope. I am committed to this. What’s her name again?”

“Abigail Smyth,” Mrs. Clements supplied.

“Matthias is going to be furious,” Frank said.

“There’s no way Matthias can handle his homestead and take care of the young ones,” Mrs. Clements added. “They need a mother. He needs a wife.”

“And we need Matthias to stay in the valley,” Holden said. “He’s a damn good man who loves this land. He’s also a crack shot who’s not afraid to deal with renegades and outlaws, both of which we don’t need especially now that the railroad is scouting a rail line this way.”

Mrs. Clements nodded. “This community is just starting to thrive and we can’t afford to lose ground now.”

Frank rose and walked to the window. The morning sun’s orange-and-red lights simmered below the horizon. “I ain’t so sure if he’ll ever love another woman.”

“This ain’t about love, Frank,” Mrs. Clements said. “It’s about marriage. The two don’t have much to do with each other in Montana.”

Frank nervously tugged at the cuffs of his jacket. “And what are we gonna do if Matthias digs his heels in? What if he tells this Abigail to go on back to San Francisco?”

“We won’t allow it,” Mrs. Clements said. Steel coated each word.

Frank tightened his long fingers around the rim of his weathered felt hat. “All this lying just don’t set well with me.”

Mrs. Clements waved away his concern. “I have faith that the two of them will work this out.”

Despite her words, she said a silent prayer that they had done the right thing. Matthias was a man of few words, and he was friendly enough. Sure, his ice-blue eyes burned like Satan’s when he was angry, but he never threw the first punch or stirred up trouble. A soldier, bounty hunter and most recently a rancher, there wasn’t a better man to call if you were in trouble. When Matthias Barrington gave his word, he moved heaven and earth to keep it.

Still, crossing Matthias Barrington was about as smart as tangling with a rattler or a grizzly. “Matthias will be glad in the end.”

Holden rolled his eyes heavenward. “If he don’t kill us all first.”

Chapter One

“Abby, quick, grab the muffins!” Cora O’Neil shouted from across the basement kitchen. The heavyset Irish woman punched her meaty fist into a mound of leavened bread dough. “By the smell of them they’re about to burn.”

Abby set down the bag of flour on the wide kitchen table and, wiping her hands on her apron, hurried to the large cast-iron stove. Using her apron as a mitt, she opened the heavy door and pulled out the tin. The heat of the hot metal quickly burned through the thin cotton fabric and scorched her fingers. She dropped the pan on top of the stove with a loud whack.

“Hurry up, now,” Cora said. “Fill that basket on the tray with the muffins while they’re still hot. You know how your Uncle Stewart gets when ’is muffins is cold.”

Abby pushed a sweaty strand of hair off her face. She’d been anxious to get her chores done early today so that she could intercept the postman before he dropped off the morning mail and Uncle Stewart read it. She checked the heart-shaped watch pinned to her blouse. Nine-fifteen. She’d have to hurry.

She dropped the hot muffins into the basket lined with linen. She’d been corresponding with a man in Montana for months now. In his last letter, he’d asked for her hand in marriage. In her last letter, she’d accepted. Now all that remained was the final travel details. Her hands trembled with excitement as she tried to picture her new life, her fresh start.

Since her parents’ deaths and her move to her uncle’s house in California ten years ago, she’d been an unwanted annoyance to her relatives. Because they’d been unwilling to sponsor her in society, she’d soon found herself trapped between the world of the people who lived upstairs and those who lived downstairs.