Texas Lucky Online - Maggie James

Chapter One

The stagecoach struck another gopher hole in the road, and Tess bounced so high she nearly struck her head on the roof. Her bonnet slipped to one side, and just as she tried to straighten it, she was thrown to the side.

“Gracious, Sam, do we have to go so fast?” She leaned out the window to call up to the driver. “I’m getting bumped to pieces down here.”

He spat a wad of tobacco juice, and she ducked back just in time to avoid being hit as he yelled down, “We’re almost there, missy. I guess the horses smell that cold beer a-waitin’, ’cause it’s all I can do to hold ’em back.”

“Cold beer, indeed,” she muttered with a disgusted sniff, settling back against the worn leather seat. Out of all the drivers she had encountered during the arduous trip west from Philadelphia, Sam Conch had been the most uncouth. His partner, Rooney Wessner, was no better. They were both as dirty and unkempt as the stagecoach itself, but since they were private hire, she supposed she could not expect much better. After all, the stationmaster back in Prescott had explained how difficult it was to get to her destination—a watering hole, as he had called it, for prospectors in from the desert and drovers traveling to and from cattle drives. Devil’s Eye, Arizona, she had been told, was truly in the middle of nowhere.

Glumly, she stared out at the desert glistening in the late afternoon heat of the April sun. Giant saguaro cactus with their fluted columns of plant flesh, shaped and sized in as many different ways as humans, dotted the landscape in every direction. In the distance, a vast carpet of verbena and golden poppies trailed up the mountain slopes.

It all looked so lonely and desolate, which was exactly how she felt, for it had not been a journey she had wanted to make. Still, she was anxious to get it over with, anxious to meet Saul Beckwith…the man her father had sold her to.

Sold.

It was an ugly description of the situation, but she could think of it in no other way, because that was exactly what her father had done. He had taken money from Saul Beckwith in exchange for forcing her to marry him.

Her father had said she should be grateful he had arranged the union. After all, at nineteen, Tess appeared destined for spinsterhood, but not because men found her unattractive. Actually, she had always been too busy for suitors, as running the household for her widowed father and caring for her younger brother, Perry, took up all her time, and potential swains had turned their attention to young ladies without family responsibilities.

The last four years had been particularly burdensome due to her father having gone away, like most able-bodied men in Pennsylvania, to fight for the Union in the Civil War. But she had managed, looking forward to the day when the war would end and things would settle down to normal.

Normalcy, however, was not to be, for when her father did return, he was nursing a serious wound, his health declining.

Fearing he might not live long, Jasper Partridge had wanted to make sure his family would be taken care of after he was gone, and Tess was horrified when he announced that he had made arrangements for her marriage. But he assured her that Saul Beckwith, a man he had met during the war, would make her a fine husband. Saul needed a young, healthy wife to bear the many children he wanted, as well as share his life in Arizona prospecting for silver. He was a widower, having gone west before the war, and his sickly wife had been unable to withstand the hardships there and died.

Tess had begged her father to change his mind, but one night when he had been drinking to try to quell the pain of his wounds, he admitted Saul had paid him. And money, he’d said, was what he desperately needed, for he now also had the burden of providing for his sister, Elmina, who had been widowed in the war. Therefore, Tess getting married was the ideal solution. Elmina could take over the house and the rearing of Perry, and Tess would not be an old maid after all.

She squeezed her eyes shut against the painful memory of the night her brother had crept into her room to kneel beside her bed and cry unashamedly in his misery over both their fates. Aunt Elmina had