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By Melody Carlson

An arranged marriage to save the family from ruin?

Delia Blackstone knows what her mother is up to—she intends to marry her off to an older man who is all fortune and no future. And Delia’s having none of it.
When a mysterious visitor appears on the family doorstep and offers an opportunity for Delia to travel from Pennsylvania to Colorado, Delia knows it is time for her to strike out on her own and discover a new life. Along the way she encounters a handsome drifter who captures her heart. But is he interested in trading his exciting life of adventure for love?
Two murders, a missing will, and a number of puzzling relationships are enough to unsettle anyone—even smart, capable Delia. Who can she trust? And can she trust her heart in matters of love?

Chapter 1

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

June 1884

Delia Blackstone never liked feeling suspicious about anyone. Particularly her own mother. But everything changed today. It all started right after breakfast, shortly after Father left the house.

Delia experienced mild interest when the unexpected stranger showed up at their front door. She didn’t hear the actual words exchanged, but did note the sharp edge in Mother’s voice as she directed the stranger to the front parlor. The old gentleman was obviously not there to see Father, but instead of playing host to the guest, like Mother would normally do, she took Delia aside.

“I need you go next door at once,” she said abruptly. “Ask Mrs. Taylor if we can borrow her silver punchbowl…for this upcoming weekend.”

“Why can’t I just use the telephone to—”

“Would I ask you to do an errand that didn’t need doing?” Mother gave her an indignant scowl.

“I just don’t understand the urgency.” Delia peered toward the front parlor, curious about Mother’s strange behavior. “Do you really need me to go right this—”

“Good grief, Delia, you never questioned me about every little thing before—I suppose this is just one more delightful reward from your fancy education.”

“I apologize, Mother.” Delia tried not to react to the sting of harsh words as she agreed to perform what seemed a senseless errand. With her two years of university just finished, Delia was now grappling with her parents’ general disapproval of her. They had grown critical of almost everything. From her schooling, her opinions, her aspirations…even her fashion sense—or lack of it.

As she hurried next door, Delia intended to keep this visit short. She knew a simple errand to borrow anything from the loquacious Mrs. Taylor could easily turn into a social visit with tea and cakes and questions. To her relief, after waiting several minutes for someone to answer the door, she was informed the Taylors were not at home. She relayed the punchbowl message to the servant, requesting that Mrs. Taylor call her mother later.

As Delia turned up the walk to her own house, she spied the elderly man already partway down the street. His gait was slow, with a slight limp, as he laboriously made his way toward the streetcar stop. Apparently Mother had little to say to the old man, since it appeared she’d given him his leave quite abruptly. But if that were the case, why was he invited into the front parlor in the first place?

Delia hurried inside and discovered her mother descending the stairs with a deeply furrowed brow. “Who was your visitor?” she asked

“No one of concern,” Mother answered briskly.

Naturally, this only added to Delia’s growing interest. “What did he want?”


“Then why did he come here?” Delia studied her mother. Why she was being so secretive about this?

“I really couldn’t say, Delia.” Mother’s voice was laced with irritation as she smoothed her periwinkle satin skirt. “Why are you so fascinated by that old man in the first place?” She narrowed her eyes with suspicion. “Perhaps he is a friend of yours?”

“Of course not. I was simply curious. You are acting so mysteriously, Mother. Almost as if you have something to hide.”

“You can be most impertinent.” She waved a hand. “Why are you not cloistered in the library with your nose in a book like usual?”

“Because I have read most of the books in that library. At least the ones that interest me.” Delia followed her mother down the hallway that led to the kitchen. “But I am interested in your stranger—”

“Delia Adelaide Blackstone! Stop being so nosey! Do you honestly imagine that old man’s visit had anything to do with you?” Mother pursed her lips tightly, her signal she was vexed.

“If he had nothing to do with me, I’d think you’d be more forthcoming.” By now Delia’s curiosity had blossomed into full blown suspicion.

“Honestly, Delia. I’m worried your fancy schooling has ruined you for all practical purposes. Why did we ever agree to such madness in the first place?”

“Because Great Aunt Adelaide paid my full tuition before she passed away,” Delia reminded her. “There was no hope of getting that money back. Furthermore, I was most eager to learn.”

“Well, I’m grateful it’s over now. Why a young woman needs so much education is beyond me.” Mother turned into the dining room, making a pretense of rearranging the bowl of pink peonies in the center of the large mahogany table.

“So you refuse to tell me about your mysterious visitor?” Delia picked up some dropped petals, holding the delicate pieces in her palm.

“Gracious me, Delia, do you think everything concerns you?”

“Possibly.” Delia suddenly realized this might be the opportunity she’d been looking for since coming home from university last week. She needed to raise an unsettling subject, one that had grown even more disturbing last night—around this very table. She glanced over her shoulder. It seemed she and Mother were alone. “It concerns me…that you and Father are very intent on marrying me off,” she said quietly.

Mother’s brows arched slightly, but her mouth remained a firm line, her eyes averted from Delia’s.

“I suspect that this morning’s visitor is somehow related to your plans, Mother. That might explain why you wish to keep me in the dark about him. Tell me, was your unexpected visitor Henry Horton’s father?”

“No, no, of course, not.” Mother waved a hand. “That is perfectly ridiculous. You always imagine things.”

“The man seemed of the right age,” Delia continued. “Henry Horton must be sixty, and that old man looked well beyond eighty.”

“Henry Horton is only fifty-two.”

“That’s ten years your senior, Mother. I cannot believe you wish to marry me off to a widower who is even older than my own parents.” She glumly shook her head. “Am I such a burden that you must foist me off on the first man who comes around?”

“Henry Horton is quite a catch.” Mother scowled. “As you know, he owns a prosperous steel mill. And as you know, you have no dowry. Furthermore you are not getting any younger, dear. Good grief, you’ll be twenty-one in November. I was married by seventeen.”

“So you have told me. Dozens of times.”

“Then you tell me, Delia, how many men will be interested in an overly educated wife who is getting a bit long in the tooth?”

“What makes you think Henry Horton is interested?”

“He told your father as much, just last night. And it wasn’t the first time he’s mentioned you’re a fine-looking woman.” Mother smiled in a catty way. “Father believes Henry plans to make his intentions known very soon.” She clasped her hands together. “Do you know how much this pleases us, dear daughter?”

“I’m sure your pleasure has nothing to do with Henry Horton’s wealth.” Delia didn’t like being sarcastic, but sometimes it was impossible to hold back.

“What, pray tell, is wrong with being rich? Are you complaining that Henry’s family owns one of the finest new steel mills in Pittsburgh? And if you are worried about playing mother to his three sons, don’t concern yourself. The firstborn is older than you and the other two are nearly grown and away at school most of the time.”

“So my wishes don’t matter to you?” Delia peered into her mother’s pale blue eyes. “You would see me married off to a man I don’t even care for?”

“You would want for nothing, Delia. You could sit and read books all day if you liked. I hear that Henry has an impressive library with bookshelves that go from the floor to the ceiling. Does that not appeal to you?”

“Haven’t you also heard that books can be borrowed from a lending institution without signing a wedding certificate?”

“Your education has made you most obstinate, Delia. Not an admirable trait in a wife, I should say.”

“If wishing to have a say in the choice of my husband is considered obstinate, I suppose you’re right.” Delia suppressed the urge to raise her voice and throw a childish fit. But did her mother truly think that she couldn’t see through this marriage arrangement? Delia knew her parents’ finances were unstable—at best. She’d noticed that some of the servants had been let go this past year, and that some old paintings and costly carpets and furnishings were missing—assumedly sold to cover debt.

Delia suspected her family’s money concerns were the main reason they were so determined to marry her off to Henry Horton. Never mind that the wealthy widower was short and round with stringy, thinning hair and smelled like stale tobacco and machine oil. Not that Delia was one to judge anyone based solely on appearances. But when she’d spoken with him last night, while he was their guest for dinner, all he’d talked about was the modernizations in his beloved steel factory. And when she remarked about the poor quality of the air near the steel mills, or the fact that many factories were unsafe workplaces, or that she was appalled to hear that they actually employed children, he had gotten rather annoyed with her. Not a good sign for a happy marriage.

“I should think you would be grateful,” Mother said with a look of dismay.

“Grateful for what?”

“That your father and I are looking to your welfare, Delia. You should thank us for caring enough to secure your future.”

“My future?” Delia frowned at her mother. “Do you honestly believe that I am unable to—”

“Where are the twins?” Mother used an urgent tone, as if the eleven-year-olds might be in some kind of imminent danger if left to their own devices—which might be true, but nothing new. Delia recognized the distraction tactic.

“I saw Julius in his room earlier,” Delia said flatly. “I couldn’t say where Julianne is keeping herself.”

“Well, if you will excuse me, I must speak to Cook at once.” Mother gave the peonies one last tweak then, with her bustled skirt rustling noisily, hurried toward the kitchen. Delia knew there was no real reason to converse with Cook right now. Mother was simply avoiding her.

Delia slowly went up the ornately carved staircase, ready to lock herself in her room until she figured a way out of this prearranged engagement plan that seemed to have taken on a life of its own—and without her consent. At the landing she observed Julianne dart down the hallway, away from Delia’s room, with a guilty expression on her pixie face.

“What were you doing in my room, little sister?” Delia asked pointedly.

“Nothing,” Julianne said curtly, and oddly similarly to their mother.

“Then why were you in there?” Delia persisted.

“I was, uh, looking for something.” Julianne feigned innocence.

Delia smiled as she patted her sister’s blonde head. “Come clean, little sister. Tell me what you were looking for. Perhaps I can help. Although I can’t imagine I’d have anything of interest to you anyway. Mostly books and—”

“Oh, but you do.” Julianne brightened. “Your earrings!”

Delia laughed. “You mean Great Aunt Adelaide’s earrings?”

“Yes.” Julianne nodded eagerly. “They’re so beautiful.” She frowned. “But I don’t see why she left them to only you. What about me?” Her lower lip jutted out.

“You were a very little girl when Auntie passed away,” Delia reminded her. “And, as I’ve told you before, I will pass some on to you—but not until you’re old enough to actually wear them.”

Julianne scowled. “A girl at my school isn’t much older than me, and she wears earrings…sometimes.”

Delia shook her head. “Mother would not approve.” She reached for Julianne’s hand, leading her into her room. “But show me which ones are your favorite. Perhaps they’ll be the ones I give to you on your sixteenth birthday.”

Julianne’s eyes grew wide. “Truly?”

“Well, as long as you don’t pick my favorite ones.” Delia led her over to the dressing table where the carved box that Great Aunt Adelaide had left her was still open. For the most part, Delia wasn’t overly fond of jewelry. And it only seemed fair she should share some of the pieces with her little sister…someday.

“These are my favorites.” Julianne picked up the emerald earrings. Teardrops set in delicate gold filigree.

“Too bad, little one.” Delia playfully tugged one of Julianne’s ringlets, watching it bounce back into shape. “Aunt Adelaide would not approve of your choice. She always said that these emeralds perfectly matched my eyes, and she made me promise to wear them on my wedding day.”

Julianne scowled.

“But these beauties.” Delia selected a similar pair with blue topaz stones. “These match your eyes, Julianne.” She held them up to her little sister’s earlobes. “Oh, my!” Turning Julianne to face the dresser mirror, she continued. “These are perfect with your eyes. Look how pretty!”

Julianne smiled. “Would you truly give them to me?”

“When you are sixteen.” Delia put the earrings back in the carved box.

Julianne looked longingly at them. “That’s so long to wait. Couldn’t I just keep them in my room? Just to look at sometimes?”

Delia firmly shook her head. She knew Julianne well enough to know she would probably sneak them out to wear to school. Chances are they would be lost long before she turned sixteen.

“What if I told you a secret?” Julianne said suddenly. “In exchange for the earrings.”

“A secret?” Delia shrugged with disinterest.

“Yes! A secret that concerns you,” Julianne declared.

“What sort of secret?” She suspected it would be related to Henry Horton. Hopefully Mother wasn’t planning an impromptu wedding, although that might explain her sudden need for a silver punchbowl. Come to think of it, Mother had even spoken of weddings last night.

“I was in the parlor when that old man came to the door a little while ago,” Julianne said mysteriously.

“What do you mean—you were eavesdropping?”

“It wasn’t intentional, Delia. I sneaked some sugar cookies from the kitchen, and I was eating them in the parlor when I heard Mother send that old man in there. So I had to hide quickly. I got beneath the round table, under the purple tablecloth, and just waited.”

“You hid in the parlor while Mother talked with her guest?” Delia was both appalled and intrigued.

“Yes.” Julianne nodded eagerly. “And I got caught too. Now I’m supposed to stay in my room all day as punishment.” She wrinkled her nose.

“But instead, you go sneaking about in my room?”

Julianne shrugged. “I got bored.”

“So what did you hear?” Delia fiddled with a garnet necklace, feigning disinterest.

“I can’t tell you.”

“If you can’t tell me, why bring it up, silly goose?”

“Because I may tell you—if I didn’t have to wait until I’m sixteen for those earrings.”

“What makes you think I want to know your secret that badly?”

“Because, I told you, Delia. They were talking about you. And if I were you, I would want to know.”

Was it possible Julianne really had heard whatever transpired between Mother and the elderly stranger? Even if Delia didn’t approve of her little sister’s eavesdropping habits or hints to bribery, wouldn’t she be a fool not to find out about the mysterious visitor? Especially since it concerned her. In all likelihood it was related to this arranged marriage that her parents were so determined to force upon her. She had to know!

Chapter 2

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

June 1884

As he packed his bags, Wyatt Davis realized that some folks might consider him a drifter—and it didn’t trouble him at all. Not many men could say they’d traveled close to 15,000 miles by the age of twenty-seven. But before his next birthday, Wyatt planned to have bragging rights to such a feat. His first 3,000 miles had been traveled partly by foot and partly by covered wagon when, at the age of five, he’d traveled with his parents along the Oregon Trail. They’d left Pennsylvania in 1863 after his father, crippled by the war, decided to move his family to Oregon.

Today Wyatt was returning to the West—and not a day too soon. As he put several pairs of new woolen socks on top of his satchel, he tried to remember why he’d been so doggoned determined to come to Philadelphia two years ago. Why was he willing to leave his ranch behind and head out on horseback for such a long trip? Certainly, it was a great adventure—crossing the Great Divide and the Great Plains and some mighty rivers—but had it been worth it?

When Wyatt set out in the spring of 1882, his plan had been to make enough money to set his property up as the best cattle ranch in his region. His primary goal was to get rich. At the time, it had seemed a good idea, but now it just seemed plain foolish. Money, he realized after twenty-one months of hard work and penny-pinching, wasn’t everything. Spending twenty-one months working for his uncle in the city had been interesting and educational at first, but downright tedious in the end. He longed for the wide-open spaces of the West.

As he closed his satchel, he remembered his true motivation for coming out here. To get away from Maryanne. He’d wanted to escape the memory of the vivacious girl with her flame red hair and flashing blue eyes. Riding a horse across the entire country seemed just the way to do it.

When the Boswell family arrived out West in an ox-pulled wagon, Wyatt thought their sixteen-year-old daughter was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. Although to be fair, there weren’t a lot of attractive young women to choose from, so that alone gave Maryanne a distinct advantage. Perhaps if he saw her now, after being around all these fancy city women, he’d find her homely. Funny how one’s perspective could change given time and distance.

Wyatt had made fast friends with Mr. and Mrs. Boswell. His new neighbors had been worn out from the trail and ill-prepared for settling in before winter. In need of a roof over their heads and with six mouths to feed, there was much to be done. Being neighborly—and wanting to be near Maryanne—Wyatt had made himself useful to the Boswells. So useful that he neglected his own homestead.

Prior to that distraction, Wyatt had been working the land his parents had acquired through the Oregon Homestead Act. As their only child, he’d inherited their acreage after both parents died within a year of each other. Just seventeen at the time, Wyatt felt the loss deeply. To assuage his grief, he threw his energy into improvements, but after a few years he realized it would take more than muscle and sweat to transform the 320 acres into the productive cattle ranch his father had dreamed of.

So when his buddy Jake Hardy invited him to partner in a gold-mining venture in southern Oregon, Wyatt happily agreed. His drifter nature, first discovered on the Oregon Trail as a child, beckoned him. They traveled south, and after two long, hard years working a fairly worthless claim, he and Jake went home with a few hundred dollars in their pockets. Wyatt put his earnings right into the property. He enlarged the barn and purchased some livestock and had just started work on the leaky old packrat-infested cabin when the Boswells arrived.

Smitten by Maryanne, Wyatt set his own projects aside to help her folks build a small cabin and barn. Throughout winter and spring, Wyatt continued offering his assistance by clearing timber and putting up split-rail fences. As the year progressed, Wyatt felt certain he had a future with Maryanne. She seemed to confirm this with her flirty blue eyes and fiery hair. Then right after Maryanne turned seventeen, she went off and married Duke Martin, a man nearly old enough to be her father.

Although he was hurt, Wyatt had nothing against Duke. A decent and respectable man, making an honest living with his well-stocked mercantile, Duke Martin was a widower with two children. Still, it seemed unfair that he should win Maryanne. Especially after all that Wyatt had done to help her family and the sacrifices he’d made. Shortly before the wedding, Wyatt learned the truth—the Boswells had relied heavily on credit from Martin’s Mercantile. Their account had grown impossibly large during their first year. When Mrs. Boswell discovered that Duke Martin fancied Maryanne, a deal was struck.

Wyatt could almost understand this, but when he questioned Maryanne about her upcoming nuptials, thinking she might have some resistance to being treated like chattel, he was surprised to discover that she seemed generally unconcerned. And that’s when he realized that she had never loved him. In all honesty, looking back, he suspected that his pride was hurt more than his heart.

Wyatt decided it was time to drift again. Leaving his leaky cabin behind, he sold off what little livestock he owned then informed friends and neighbors that he planned to take the Oregon Trail backwards. Wearing Pa’s old buckskins, Wyatt set out on horseback with a pack-mule loaded with provisions. He was a drifter.

“Wyatt?” His aunt’s voice echoed through the small guesthouse he’d been staying in since arriving in Philadelphia. “You still here?”

“In the bedroom, Aunt Lilly,” he called back. “Just finishing my packing.” Lilly was his father’s older sister and, next to his mother, one of the sweetest women he’d ever known.

“Oh, my.” She let out a sad sigh as she gazed at the bags by the door. “You are truly leaving us…going back West after all.”

“Afraid so.” He put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “But once again, I thank you for your kind and generous hospitality. The only thing I’ll miss about Philadelphia is you and Uncle George.” He smiled apologetically. “But I’m just not a city person, Aunt Lilly. I crave the wide-open spaces, the mountains, the rivers and trees. I suppose I’m like my father in that respect.”

“You are very much like your father.” She nodded sadly as she handed him a paper wrapped parcel. “Something for your trip.”

“Thank you.” He took the package from her and, feeling its firmness, suspected it was a book. He and Aunt Lilly shared a mutual love of reading. In fact, that was one other thing he would miss about Philadelphia—his aunt and uncle’s library.

“Although I understand your feelings, Wyatt, I do wish we’d been able to convince you to stay. Your uncle will be too old to keep running the boot factory in a few years. You would’ve been the perfect replacement for him.”

“I’ll admit that Uncle George’s offer was tempting.” He set the package on top of the socks. “If all I wanted was to become rich—and I’ll admit that’s how I felt when I set out on this trip—I would take him up on it. But I’ve learned a lot since coming east. I believe there’s more to life than gaining wealth now.”

She smiled, but her eyes were sad. “For a young man, you have good sense. Wise beyond your years.”

He chuckled. “Well, most of my lessons were learned the hard way, dear aunt, but thank you for saying that.”

“George is very sorry to lose you at the factory. Last night he told me how impressed he was by you—he said you have gumption. And, as you must surely know, your uncle is not one to dish out praise.”

Wyatt nodded grimly at that understatement. As much as he liked and respected Uncle George, he was well aware of his uncle’s austere disposition. With hardworking business ethics, he desired nothing less than the very best from all his employees. And Wyatt, working his way up into a managerial position, felt as if he’d never quite measured up to his uncle’s high expectations.  

“Before he left this morning, George said you were the finest employee to ever work at the Bauman Boot Factory.”

Wyatt blinked in surprise. “He said that?”

She brightened. “Yes. Does that make you want to change your mind about leaving, Wyatt?”

As badly as he wanted to please his aunt, he knew it was impossible. “Sorry, I still need to go. But I do appreciate knowing that. Thanks for telling me.”

“George asked me to inform you that your crates from the factory were delivered to the railroad station yesterday afternoon. I still can’t fathom how you’re going to manage to sell so many pairs of boots. I hope you won’t regret it.”

“Boots are valuable out West,” he explained, not for the first time. “Especially in mining towns like Juneau.” Buying the boots at cost, he expected to make a nice profit.

“You still intend to journey all the way up to the Alaska Territory? You’re not the least bit concerned about wild animals or Indians?”

His smile laced with tolerance, Wyatt was well aware of how foreign his plans sounded to his citified relatives. “My friend Jake has been in Juneau for several months. He’s already staked a claim for both of us. And his last letter was very reassuring. You really shouldn’t worry, Aunt Lilly.”

“It’s hard not to worry when I read stories of miners being buried alive or freezing to death up there.” She shook a finger at him. “And what about what you said, that you’re not seeking wealth? Yet you run off to the wilderness to sell boots and search for gold. I don’t understand.” She shook her head in dismay.

He laughed. “Dear Aunt Lilly—I am headed to Alaska for the adventure and to spend time with my friend, but I’m not opposed to making a little money. I’ve had enough mining experience to know the odds are stacked against me hitting the mother lode. That’s not why I’m going. But I also know that miners pay good money for supplies. Good boots can be almost worth their weight in gold.”

“Despite your claim to be a drifter, you’re a shrewd businessman. And you still plan to purchase tools in Pittsburgh?”

“Yes. Uncle George recommended a factory and even gave me a letter for the owner.”

“And two weeks from now you will load all your goods onto a ship in San Francisco and sail to Alaska.” She laid her hand on her chest. “You’re a very brave man, Wyatt.”

“It’s an adventure,” he happily reassured her. “And at the end of my adventure I hope to have enough funds to turn my ranch into all that Pa dreamed it could be.”

“Your father would be so proud of you. I know how much he loved that land.”

“It really is a beautiful piece of property.” Wyatt felt surprised by how much he suddenly missed Oregon.

“When I’ve listened to you, describing the mountains and rivers and meadows out there, I can almost see it. In my mind’s eye Oregon is very beautiful.”

“Everything out West is beautiful.” He fastened the buckle around his leather bag, cinching it tightly.

“The women too?” Aunt Lilly’s brows arched. “Do you suppose you will find a bride out there, Wyatt? Someone to share your beautiful ranch with you?”

Wyatt shrugged as the image of a redheaded flibbertigibbet flitted through his head—with absolutely no appeal. “The truth is I wouldn’t care to be saddled with a wife right now.” He reached for his satchel, closing it as well. “I’d rather remain a drifter for the time being.”

“You are a good man, and a handsome one at that,” she declared. “Any single young woman should be glad to land a husband as fine as you.”

“Well, I’m in no hurry. Maybe someday the right one will come along. But I won’t settle for just anyone.” He winked at her. “I want a woman as wise and kind as you, Aunt Lilly. And just as pretty too.”

She waved her hand at him. “I’m just a faded old woman. But back in my day…well, I did manage to turn your uncle’s head.”

“I’ve seen your portrait in the drawing room. You were a true beauty in your youth. And you’re still a fine-looking woman.”

Clearly touched by his words, she sniffed as she reached for a lace-trimmed handkerchief. “I hate to see you leave, dear. It’s been like a breath of fresh air having you here.” She dabbed her eyes. “I know you must be going soon. What time is your train?”

He checked his pocket watch. “Ten forty-five. I suppose I should be on my way.”

“I told Peter to have the carriage ready and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ride to Broad Street Station with you. George would’ve come with us, but he had things to attend to.”

“Uncle George already said his goodbyes.” Wyatt reached for his jacket.

“The truth is I think he was afraid he would become emotional.” She made a tsk-tsk sound. “That would be too unmanly for him.”

Wyatt laughed as he pulled on his jacket and picked up his bags.

“Is that all you have?” she asked. “Just three bags?”

“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” He laughed. “To be honest, this is more than I arrived here with. I suppose I have gathered some moss.”

Together they walked across the well-tended yard that ran between the guesthouse and the mansion where his aunt and uncle lived. “I’m aware that trains have rather nice dining cars nowadays,” she told him, “but I asked the cook to pack you a hearty lunch. I’m sure it will be preferable to train food.”

Before long, they were on their way, and to Wyatt’s surprise, he felt a bit emotional himself. It was no small thing saying goodbye to his only living relatives. But not wanting to be unmanly, he contained it. “It’s been a blessing getting to know you, Aunt Lilly,” he said solemnly. “And Uncle George too. After Ma and Pa died, I felt alone in the world. With no family around.”

“I always felt bad that your parents weren’t able to have more children.” She sadly shook her head. “It seemed that both your father and I were not blessed in that way.”

Wyatt reached for her hand. He knew that Aunt Lilly had lost two children in a cholera epidemic. Just one more reason she had been so eager to keep Wyatt with them. “I will miss you,” he said quietly.

“You will be in my daily prayers.”

“Thank you. And we will remain in touch through letters,” he assured her.

“Yes.” She nodded eagerly. “And I will send you new books as promised, and you can write me your opinions of them.”

“I look forward to it.”

“So tell me your plans again, Wyatt. I want to know where you’ll be and when. So that I can pray for you during your journey.”

“I’ll be grateful for your prayers.” He paused to think. “Pittsburgh first. I’ll spend the night at the Franklin Hotel and tomorrow I’ll purchase tools and have them sent to the train station. Then I’ll spend another night at the hotel and depart Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon. For the next week, I will be headed West. Destination San Francisco. I should be quite comfortable in the berth I booked and, as you mentioned, there is a dining car. Not such a bad way to travel across the continent.” He smiled. “When I think of how long it took to ride east on horseback, compared to how quickly one travels by train, I have to laugh at myself.”

“But it was an adventure,” she reminded him.

He squeezed her hand. “You do understand me.”

“In San Francisco you board the ship bound for Juneau,” she said. “Make sure you send me a letter after your arrival.”

“I will write to you from several stops along the way,” he promised as the carriage pulled up to the train station. “And just as you pray for me, I plan to pray for you and Uncle George too.” He flashed her a mischievous grin. “Do you know what I’ll be praying for?”

“I have no idea.” She tilted her head to one side.

“I’m going to pray that you two will make the train trip out there to visit me one day. To see my ranch and all the beauty of the West.”

“I believe we would be inclined to make the long trip—if it was to attend our nephew’s wedding,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

He chuckled. “Well, I suppose you never know.”

“Because that is what I will be praying for, Wyatt. I plan to ask God to send you just the right woman.”

He leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Thank you, Aunt Lilly—for everything.” He saw tears glistening in her eyes as he reached for his bags. “We will remain in touch.”

She waved her handkerchief with a trembling chin. “God bless your journey,” she called as he climbed down from the carriage.

He waved one more time then turned, hurrying into the bustling train station. It was well and good that his sweet aunt planned to pray for his future wife, but like Wyatt had told her, he was in no hurry. He still had places to go and people to see…and a wife, if that was meant to be, would have to come later.