She went west to marry a stranger…
In 1892, Hannah Carlson, an innocent young farm girl from Iowa, arrives in Flagstaff, Arizona, as a mail-order bride. She marries Jacob Moore and soon finds herself isolated on his ranch with a sadistic monster. After months of physical and mental brutality, Hannah—nearly dead from her injuries—fights back, striking a fatal blow, and flees into the night. Now she’s on the run from the law with her infant son…
Now he’s the only one who can save her…
When lonely surveyor Brice Fowler discovers the battered woman who has taken refuge in his cabin, he tends her wounds, takes care of her, and finds her sanctuary on the Jesse Bidwell Ranch, caring for the rancher’s ailing wife. Brice falls deeply in love with Hannah and wants to marry her, but she fears the intimacy of marriage. After running afoul of an overzealous cowboy, Hannah is arrested, tried, and sentenced to hang for the murder of her husband. Knowing she has only one chance, Brice combs the deserts of Arizona for an unlikely witness whose testimony could save her life. But will he make it in time?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Hannah by Ramona Forrest, Hanna Carlson is a mail-order bride. She comes out to Arizona in 1892 to marry a man she has never met. Though he seem nice enough at the outset, only a few short weeks after they are married, he turns into a sadistic monster. After her infant son is born, her husband flies into a rage and beats her nearly to death. Terrified for her son and herself, Hannah hits him in the head with a skillet, killing him. Not knowing if he is dead or alive, Hannah takes her son and flees into the night. When she discovers a cabin in the mountains, she takes refuge there, surprising the owner, Brice Fowler. Brice is appalled at her battered condition and nurses her back to health. She stays in the cabin until she heals then joins Brice on his surveying job, until he takes to a ranch where she can find a job. But when Hannah is assaulted by a vicious cowboy, who gets fired, he turns her into the sheriff, and Hannah is arrested. Now it’s up to Brice to save her. But can he?
The story is charming, filled with interesting characters and fast-paced action. The author’s vivid descriptions and knowledge of life in the Old West give the book a strong authenticity.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Hannah by Ramona Forrest is the story of an innocent young woman who comes out West as a mail-order bride and discovers hell on earth. The man she marries is a rancher, and once he has Hannah isolated on his remote ranch, he changes his demeanor from gentleness to cruelty, brutally abusing her, both mentally and physically. After a year of this torture, and shortly after the birth of their son, her husband beats her severely. Certain that he will finally kill both her and the baby, Hannah waits until he falls into a drunken stupor, bashes him over the head with a cast-iron frying pan, takes her child, and rides away into the mountains, taking refuge in the remote cabin of lonely surveyor, Brice Fowler. He allows Hannah to stay in his cabin until she heals then he takes her a rancher whose wife is dying and who needs help in caring for her. Once there, Hannah becomes a member of the family, grateful that she and her baby have finally found a safe place to hide. But her peace is short lived. When she spurns the advances of one of the ranch hands, he attacks and tries to rape her. But the ranch owner intervenes, rescuing Hannah and firing the ranch hand, who promptly goes into town blabs about the strange woman and baby living at the ranch. When the sheriff hears of it, he goes out to investigate and ends up arresting Hannah for the murder of her husband. Now it is up to Brice to find the only witness who can help her.
Hannah is another jewel in the crown of this accomplished author. Well written, intriguing, and thought-provoking, Hannah is the story of one woman’s fight to save herself and her child from the vicious things that some men can do. It’s a heart-warming and heart-breaking tale of courage, sacrifice, and second chances.
Northern Arizona, early spring, 1892:
In the early morning, after long tedious miles through country wild and unfamiliar, Hannah Carlson stepped off the train and caught the first glimpse of her final destination. She’d arrived in the roughly hewn mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona. Small, rustic, and crude in appearance, the town wound its way slowly and haphazardly upward. It appeared as though the small gathering of shacks, stores, and stone buildings rested in the shadows of the far mountains that held bits of snow glistening in the sun.
Clusters of weathered, clapboard buildings, in various states of repair, sat snugly side by side and, beyond them, the landscape was covered with conifers. There were other trees she did not recognize scattered about amidst the buildings. The outlying homes appeared nestled in a green, tree-covered park.
One peak in particular, the highest of them, rose bare and stark above the tree line. How different from Iowa. Those wild and rugged mountains are glorious! The air felt thin to her, cool and pine-scented. Icy-tinged, it nipped at her nose.
Standing alone, her possessions beside her, Hannah waited for the person who would meet her. Seeing no one about, she took in her new surroundings. The town and buildings were about what she’d expected. The wild frontier town of Flagstaff, sprawled before her, upward over low foothills, edging toward the soaring San Francisco Peaks.
She’d read that Flagstaff was the center of commerce for northern Arizona and, in 1892, it was young and raw. Though a small place, the community bustled with early morning activity. In addition to the fumes of railroad machinery, dusty streets, and the occasional sharp assault of animal dung, she caught the clean, sharp scent of pine trees in the cold, dry air.
She glanced frequently about. The man she was to meet hadn’t shown himself. Would he fulfil a good part of her maidenly expectations?
Her hands trembled as she paced about on the railway platform, waiting for a man she’d never laid eyes on. Would the man she was to marry be here to meet her? Would she like him–at all. Would he be a good man?
She shivered. Get hold of yourself, girl. With increasing trepidation, since no welcoming voice had met her, she grappled with visions of herself, a young woman of eighteen, stranded alone in a land completely unfamiliar. Looking about, she realized it hardly seemed a part of the country she knew.
Hannah felt prepared to be a frontier wife. Readying for this journey into a new life, she’d studied the sort of life her prospective bride-groom offered. She awaited seeing new lands, meeting new faces, and riding horseback about this beautiful, wild land.
She’d read all she could find about the West, and the agency had said she had the option of refusing the marriage if the prospective husband didn’t satisfy her expectations.
Hannah squared her shoulders and looked about again. It was early spring and those tall, majestic peaks just beyond Flagstaff gleamed with small remaining bits of glistening snow. Was that why the breeze seemed so cool–
“Miss, might you be Hannah Carlson?”
She startled at the sound of a voice, deep and soft, resonating from a broad chest. A solidly built man approached, looming tall over her small person.
“Yes, I am. Are you Jacob Moore?”
“Yes, ma’am, I am.”
The man appeared friendly, soft spoken and, to her delight, quite handsome with his square jaw and darkly tanned skin. His features bore the deep vertical lines of a man who spent much time outdoors.
Now that he stood before her, the mere size of him made her feel off center. Taken aback by his great stature and those deep, dark eyes, a small shiver passed through her. Why, she wasn’t sure.
His clothing looked strange, as well. He wore rough corded pants stuffed into strange appearing high-heeled boots, a leather vest, and a checkered shirt of some coarsely woven material. Clean and neatly dressed, his hair had been newly barbered.
But she gasped at the sight of the gun holstered about his hips. “Oh, God!”
She got herself in hand and remembered what she’d read. This is the West–they carry guns here.
“Care for a bite to eat, miss? You must be worn out from your long journey.” He’d paid no mind to her reaction to his gun, other than a slight smile as he held out a well-muscled arm. “They’re servin’ breakfast at the hotel right across there.” He nodded toward the other side of the street, rutted with dried mud.
The masculine scent of him sent a thrill of apprehension through her body, but Hannah shyly placed her hand on the crook of his arm. They set out, walking side by side, to enter, sit down, and order a meal–a solid, though plain, meal of ham, potatoes, coffee, and a huge stack of flapjacks.
She acquainted herself with Jacob Moore as well as possible in the short time he allowed. “How far away is your place?” She couldn’t think of anything else at the moment, since the entire situation seemed so bizarre.
They chatted a bit, until the breakfast was consumed. He turned in his chair to face her. “Well, Hannah, would you want to marry me, now you’ve had a look?” He grinned at her with a wide mouth and slightly squinting eyes. His face bore the markings of his outdoor life, deeply tanned, seamed, toughened skin, and a squint that could be from working in the brightness of a semi-desert sun. “We could make it to the ranch before sundown, then.”
She had to decide, and now. He appeared to be a big bear of a man who exuded gentleness, confidence, and manly grace. Nothing about him gave a clue as to what her future held. Ready to begin the life of a rancher’s wife, she acquiesced readily to their union.
Jacob smiled down at her as he escorted her down the boardwalk and along the side of the rutted street to a small weathered cottage. “This here’s where the parson lives, Hannah. I believe he’ll marry us right away, bein’ you’re willin’.”
The parson’s home, small and poorly furnished, rather matched the couple within. His plainly dressed, thin little wife served as the only witness, and the marriage took place without fanfare. No man stood with Jacob Moore, and Hannah, used to a lot of joyous hoop-la at weddings, thought it rather unusual. Has this man no friend to stand with him on his wedding day? She questioned it, said nothing, and shrugged away negative thoughts in her eagerness to begin life as a married woman and rancher’s wife.
The stodgy older parson, Will Elkins, appeared near-sighted and slightly confused. His frail, wispy-haired wife, Martha, attended the wedding and helped him with the paperwork required to complete it.
After the hasty nuptials, Martha offered Hannah and Jacob a drink of sarsaparilla water as they waited until the parson recorded the marriage in his log book. Curiosity in the wife’s probing eyes was obvious as she observed them.
“New out here, are you?” Her eyes squinted with the question.
Hannah nodded, her head held high. “Yes, ma’am, I arrived here just today.”
Men in this country were lonely and isolated. Finding a bride in this manner was an accepted practice. The interest gleaming in Martha’s eyes made Hannah wonder how many of these marriages they’d seen, if any.
The marriage completed, she and Jacob set out on a long, rough ride over rock-strewn, rutted roads in a buckboard filled with supplies. She clung to Jacob’s arm as she took in the strange, wild scenery. Passing wonderful huge pines covered with rough reddish bark, Hannah inhaled the scent of them. Miles of chaparral, scrub oak, and piñon pine delighted her senses as the team made its way to lower, more open, grasslands.
Completely strange and new to her, she waited for him to name all she was seeing and instruct her in the ways life was conducted in the wilds of Arizona. Jacob, delighted to answer her questions, cast heated glances into her eyes. Those looks sent wild tremors racing through her body. Sitting close enough to catch his male scent, she trembled inwardly, trying to imagine her wedding night. Anticipation and fear coursed through her small, slender body. Would he be gentle with her? She’d married him, and her happiness now lay in this man’s huge, work-worn hands. Had she done the right thing in marrying a total stranger?
Evening descended rapidly over the wild escarpment that lay on all sides, and she thrilled at the vivid colors across the western sky. Nothing she’d read had prepared her for the incredible beauty of this country. In the deepening dusk they arrived at a large ranch yard. The horses were sweating and blowing from the last hill they’d climbed to enter the wide area between the ranch house and outbuildings. Other horses whinnied to the tired team, and dust rose from their corral as they stamped about and hung their heads over the rails in welcome.
Her excitement grew as Jacob pulled the team to a halt and turned to her. “This is it, Hannah, my ranch.”
She heard the pride in his voice as he waved his long arm about, encompassing the house, barns, corrals, and the vastness that surrounded it. The glorious purples and mauves of the fading light threw long shadows over the distant mountains and the sight of it struck a chord of wonder in her heart. This ranch was hers now, too.
Looking away from the glowing sky, she saw a long, low-roofed house of rough timbers and stonework. A wide covered porch held up by poles ran across the front. Bales of hides, shovels, and equipment lay stacked across it and strange-looking items hung on the walls.
Jacob helped her down, took her bags, and led her into his home. Setting her possessions in the only bedroom, he looked into her eyes. “I won’t be long, my wife.”
His deep, hushed tones set her heart a flutter as he left her to put his tired, sweating horses, to feed and rest.
His words filled her with anticipation. She awaited him with timidity and eagerness. She busied herself putting things away, guessing where they might belong, though it was dark inside and she couldn’t see the layout of the house. She didn’t know where the lamps might be and fumbling about gave her a feeling of unease, even of trespassing. “This is my house now, but–”
Heavy-treaded footfalls sounded on the wooden floor when Jacob reentered the low-slung home. He came to her, said no words of love and longing, but swept her into his strong arms and held her so tightly she could scarcely catch her breath.
His grip crushed the breath from her lungs, until she cried out, “Jacob, you’re hurting me!”
Told there might be pain, she was instantly ashamed for complaining. But his roughness frightened her, and she found it difficult to comply with him.
“Come on, now. It’s not so bad.” He grabbed her close, pulled her blouse open, ripped away the tiny buttons, and squeezed her tender young breasts. She tried to hold her fear in check, but when he threw her on the bed and fell roughly onto her, she cried out. He stopped her mouth with heavy kisses, grinding into her lips. She felt his teeth and, in fear, struggled to escape.
He was big and very strong. Unable to stop him or reason with him, she tried her best to believe this was the normal course of events on a wedding night, but when he pulled up her skirts, tore away her underclothing, and plunged deep into her tender flesh, she screamed. His hard mouth stopped her cries and the pain she endured was heightened by her rising fear.
His rough and painful assault continued on and on. Her agony and despair was such that she prayed inside her mind she’d live until morning!
This is my wedding night! When it was finally over, she was fearful, filled with pain and bitter disappointment from her new husband’s brutal assault. She clung to the side of the bed, keeping her body as far from him as she could. Listening to Jacob’s heavy, deep snoring, she felt the horror of her situation settle insidiously and permanently over her. Oh, God, help me. What have I done?
She’d long planned to meet her new husband’s embrace fully, excited at being a wife, eager to find the fulfillment of wedded life. She’d never heard of a wedding night like this, filled with pain and desolation. No one had ever told her it could be this way. Terror of her new husband claimed her. It struck deep.
Awakening, she scanned her surroundings. With a sigh of relief, she saw her new husband was gone. Bruised inside and out and exhausted, she fought her terrible disappointment, trying to accept what he had done to her as the lot of the married woman.
In his absence, she limped slowly through the house, blood smeared on her legs, as she acquainted herself with her new home. The stove looked ancient, but she stuffed a few shreds of paper in and chucked a few sticks of wood on top. Finding a half box of matches, she lit the fire. Enjoying the warmth it gave off, she hunted about for what foodstuffs were available. She managed a cup of coffee and sat at the table, contemplating her future.
© 2010 by Ramona Forrest
Kayenta Mountain Media:
A good Western requires certain characteristics. It needs to have suspense and drama, plenty of action, heroes and villains, be based on a real time in history, and include geographically accurate depictions of the gorgeous and dangerous landscapes of the rugged west. The ending must be satisfying, as the good guys win and the villains are punished. Hannah has all of those things and more.
A good Romance also requires certain characteristics including a sympathetic heroine who is strong yet vulnerable, a dashing masculine hero who also has vulnerabilities, plot twists, and the underlying fear that things won’t work out. Then it must end with a “Happily Ever After” ending. Again, Hannah fits the bill perfectly.
Hannah Carlson is one of hundreds of mail order brides who left more civilized places to marry men they had never met in the Wild West.
Hannah left Iowa to wind up in rugged northern Arizona, an area that you will feel you know well, because the author obviously knows what she’s writing about. Hannah’s husband turns out to be an awful brute named Jacob Moore. He beats her repeatedly and keeps her isolated in his cabin. Finally one night, to save her own life and that of her infant son, Hannah bashes the jerk’s head in with a frying pan and flees, not knowing whether he is dead or alive.
On the run, and suffering from her terrible injuries, Hannah stumbles into the cabin of a lonely surveyor, Brice Fowler. Brice nurses her back to health and finds her a position, taking care of the ailing wife of a rancher.
There are plenty of ornery characters in this book and also a lot of good ones. The author takes great care to make them all realistic and believable, keeping to the theme of the times (1892), and authentically describing the living conditions and peoples of the area. There were none of the disturbing contradictions that non-historians make when writing about the Old West. Ramona Forrest has obviously lived there and studied the history. It shows in her writing.
Hannah eventually gets charged with the murder of Jacob Moore. To get the evidence to save Hannah’s life, Brice goes on a desperate mission into the depths of the Navajo Nation, searching for the midwife that helped deliver Hannah’s baby, and is the only person besides Brice that can attest to the beatings Hannah had received.
There are many interesting twists as the story unfolds. It is an enjoyable read as a Western or as a Romance and certainly is a delightful and suspenseful Western Romance. ~ JJ Riever, Kayenta Mountain Media