She believes she’s made a good marriage—but she never experiences the happiness and joy she’d expected…
Her harsh, forbidding husband makes Amanda Bradshaw feel more like a brood mare than a wife, and she never experiences the happiness or joy she expected. Though she’s nine-months pregnant with her second child, he orders her to have a boy this time and leaves to go on a cattle-buying trip. Her labor begins, her small daughter is in danger, and Amanda prays desperately for help. When a dusty, trail-worn stranger rides up, she sees the kindness in his eyes and faces the fact that he’s all she has. But will he stay to help?
He’s an escaped convict—and her only hope…
Reed Twining spent several years playing cowboy until wrongly convicted of murder and sent to Yuma Prison. In 1893, he escapes and heads north to safety, until he finds a dying man who begs him to tell his wife he was robbed and murdered. A man who is honor bound to do the right thing, Reed rides in to find Amanda in trouble. Many men would turn and run—but not Reed. Still, when Amanda finds out who and what he is, will she order him to go?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Ranch Wife by Ramona Forrest, Amanda Bradshaw is pregnant with her second child. Her creep of an abusive, cheating husband orders her to have a boy this time and then leaves on a buying trip, even though his wife is nine months pregnant and due to deliver any day. Not only does the jerk also order her to continue watering the garden—by hand carried bucket, no less—but he goes off and leaves her to fend for herself. Of course, he also gets murdered and robbed, so I guess he paid for his sins. Needless to say, Amanda goes into labor, unable to take care of her small daughter or herself. When a travel-weary stranger rides up to the ranch, Amanda know that he is her only hope of survival.
Ranch Wife is a fine addition to this talented author’s many published books so far. The story gives you a very realistic glimpse into just how hard life could be for women in the 1890s. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been to be a pregnant woman in that time. The plot is well conceived and the story well written.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Ranch Wife by Ramona Forrest is a realistic, if harsh, account of a married woman’s life in 1890s New Mexico. Our heroine, Amanda, is married to Harvey, who appears to be a prosperous ranch owner. She moves from her beloved Colorado to New Mexico where her husband’s ranch is located. Far away from her friends and family, Amanda is faced with the fact that her husband is cruel and forbidding, both toward her and their young daughter. Not only does he criticize everything she does, but he is unfaithful, and plunges his ranch into so much debt that, when he dies, the value of the ranch is barely enough to pay off the debt. The most appalling of her husband’s actions is when he orders her to give him a son, then rides of to Albuquerque, hundreds of mile away just days before Amanda is due to deliver, leaving her all alone to fend for herself.
While Ranch Wife is a historical romance, it is also an authentic look into the world of our pioneer ancestors and the brutal realities of life as woman in a time with females were little more than chattel, and every husband demanded that his wife bear him a son. How hard life must have been for these poor women, with so little control over their own lives. It’s a wonder any of them survived. Forrest’s characters, as well as her world building, have a definite ring of truth. One might even think she is a time traveler from the 19th century, she seems to understand these women’s lives so well.
Amanda Bradshaw walked out into the early morning sunshine, her small daughter’s hand held snugly in her own. At times, she stopped and put a hand over her eyes to sweep a lingering glance past her immediate surroundings, out over the far-reaching landscape. The soft purples of the gentler mountains of southeastern New Mexico lay outlined in the distance but, as always, she searched fruitlessly for the sight of the ruggedly outlined mountains of the high Rockies.
Thinking of the immense, sharp, snow-covered peaks of those mountains reminded her of her childhood home. She sighed, squeezing her daughter’s hand. “This isn’t Colorado, is it honey?”
The child, Marianna, looked up, her expression puzzled.
Amanda tried to explain. “I know you can’t understand how much I miss some things.” The pain that lodged in her throat, as she remembered the place where she grew to womanhood, reinforced a deep longing in her aching heart. “Yes, my darling, you have no idea how terribly I miss the sight of those majestic peaks and deep green valleys.” She smiled down at her child. “I can speak openly to you about it, but no one else.” She sighed and murmured, “This is nice country, I suppose, but it’ll never seem like home to me.”
They opened the garden gate and entered. The small family dog followed closely, eager to accompany them, but Amanda closed the slatted gate, locking him out. “We don’t need Piddely digging in here, now do we?” she gently reminded Marianna, to ameliorate the child begging to have the dog with her.
As they walked between the carefully tended rows of beginning vegetables, she frequently bent down to draw her child’s reaching fingers away from the feathery growth of new carrots.
Grasping at them with her chubby hands, the little girl grabbed at a feathery little carrot. “See mommy, I pick it!”
“No, Marianna, they’re not big enough. We must wait.”
The little girl looked up at her, her mouth firm. “Daddy wan’ it.”
“He’ll have to wait, just like we will,” Amanda reminded her. “Daddy expects this garden to provide most of what we need for the summer as well as the winter months.” She snorted then frowned. “I certainly work hard enough to make that happen.”
They walked on a few more steps. “We might get a good crop this summer, if it would rain more.” She said it more to herself than her child, realizing they’d have enough for winter, but only if she carried water every day from the well that lay uphill from the garden.
That arduous task had become increasingly difficult with her burgeoning belly. Her next child would be a strong one, kicking so hard some days she ached with soreness from it. She placed her hand on the high mound, feeling the activity.
Stooping to pull an errant weed, she told the child, “Leave it to molder and rot away in the rows, that small bit of nourishment will help things grow.”
“Rot, Mommy?” Marianna’s face frowned with the question.
“Yes, it goes back into the soil and makes it stronger.” She walked on farther. “As a little girl at home, my mother and I did the gardening. I know how it’s done, but this soil is…different.”
She moved along with the child, seeing small cracks starting again in the clay-filled soil, and groused, “I must haul water again today.” Thinking how her arms would ache and her belly draw up into painful knots from the heavy buckets of water by the time she finished, tears filled her eyes.
The spring lay above the ranch house and the walk uphill, even with empty buckets, had become increasingly difficult for her. “Thank God, it’s downhill when they’re full.”
Standing straight to ease her aching back, she looked about. They only employed two cow hands and she watched them ride to the southwest. Following their diminishing movements with her gaze, she saw the dim outlines of those far away mountains and was haunted again with intense longings.
Often, feelings of homesickness overwhelmed her. She nearly regretted her marriage, though she believed herself more fortunate than most women of her acquaintance.
Times were advancing near the turn of the century, it was 1893 and her husband owned a good sized ranch. A well-managed one, she believed, in this remote valley of southeastern New Mexico. That alone marked him a successful man. Wishing she could rejoice over the matter, she carried a load of guilt because she couldn’t. Her marriage to Harvey had not brought the joy she’d expected and, in her deep disappointment, she realized she’d never felt that way about him, or her marriage.
A shadow loomed across the fence. Her heart leaped nervously in her chest as she drew herself up to face her husband. “You startled me, Harvey.”
She hated that his presence made her feel inadequate, but it always did. Unfamiliar chills passed over her. Was something wrong? “Everything all right? You looked so grim at breakfast this morning.”
“Of course it is, Amanda.” He frowned. “I’ve business to attend to in town this morning and wondered if you’ll be all right here alone.” His dark blue eyes wore those familiar shades of cold steel this morning as he stood before her, lips firm, hands on his hips, with his large form shading a part of the garden.
“Of course. We both will, won’t we, Marianna?” She bent her fond gaze on her golden-haired daughter and stroked the child’s head.
“I pick ’em, Mommy?”
The girl’s voice faltered now in her father’s presence. Her mind, bent on harvesting vegetables, she had a stubborn set to mouth, but she’d stopped asking and had gone silent. Clinging to her mother’s skirts, looking up at her father, she said nothing as she faced him.
Amanda crooned softly to her, “No darlin’, not yet. They’re much too young, just like you.” She swept down, picked up the child in her arms, and kissed her pink cheeks soundly.
“You’re a spoilin’ that child, Amanda. We don’t want that, now do we?”
His jaw set firm in his square face, his eyes gone black with coldness, Harvey scowled. He was a strict disciplinarian, allowing no softness in rearing his children. He’d made that clear to Amanda more than once.
“I guess not, Harvey.” She put her daughter down. “Will you be gone most of the day?” Roswell was over ten miles, and Artesia was about five. Either way, he’d be gone for most of the day and she felt a spurt of guilty joy about it. “I’ll be just fine. Might need to carry water again, but I’ll rest often.”
“See that you do. The boys’ll be out pretty far on the southern ranges today and won’t be any help if you get into trouble.” He’d often said he planned to take on another hand or two but hadn’t, because hiring more men would lower his profits. His two men, down on their luck when he’d hired them, needed their jobs. When they groused about the extra work, he ignored their complaints. They stayed, and she often wondered why.
Amanda saw a softened look in his eye as he appraised her. When he took her in his arms at night and wanted her body, it’d never been the excitement she’d heard whispered about when women got together.
She was considered a very pretty woman, blonde, with a nice trim figure, but he never remarked on that or complemented her. His only comments were about how spoiled she’d been as a child. His constant criticism took any possible joy out of the relationship between them. If she’d been the apple of her daddy’s eye and been mollycoddled growing up, Harvey only remarked how her folks had been way too soft in her upbringing.
She was his wife now and learning his ways. He’d seen to that. Slothfulness was not something he’d tolerate in anyone, including women and children. She stifled a frown as she waited for his next words.
“Well, Amanda, I’ll be off, might be late afore I get back. I’ll check over the garden next morning and see how you’ve done.” Without another word, he turned away and headed toward the corral.
She watched his broad back grow smaller as he walked away and felt near tears. Did the man not see how difficult it was, keeping so many things done to his satisfaction? She bent down, tore another weed out of the ground, and ground it under her heel. “There, you nasty thing, you don’t belong here, get out of my garden!”
She kept on in the garden until she saw him ride away on Spotty, his big strawberry roan. His solid form swung easily as he rode. A graceful rider, she supposed, and a handsome man, so people said. It didn’t matter anymore. She no longer took pride in how fine her man looked in the saddle.
Unconsciously heaving a sigh of relief, she called her child. “Come on, little sweetie, let’s go see what we can find for breakfast.” She took her daughter’s soiled hand and, along with the wiggling dog, they sauntered slowly to the house. A spacious home, it sprawled across a long, low rise. The high location afforded a nice view of the surrounding areas. But to her, nice though it might be, it was one more thing she couldn’t appreciate, or even care about.
In the kitchen, she took out a loaf of freshly baked bread, sliced off two soft, thick slices, one for herself and another for her child. Opening a jar of dark of rich apple butter she’d made last year, she slathered it generously over the slices.
After cutting a slice into small, easy to handle chunks, she sat her daughter on a seat made higher by folding several thin blankets on a chair. “Here you go, honey, eat something. Then play with your toys for a while.” She poured a small glass of milk for the girl and one for herself while wondering which hand had done the milking. She smiled, happy that it wasn’t another chore left to her.
Marianna took up the bread her mother had cut for her and began eating while Amanda wandered aimlessly about the house, looking at things, her bread forgotten.
Their home, comfortable with enough furniture, pictures, rugs, lamps, and those small touches that made a house a welcoming haven, only made her realize she’d never felt they were hers. Could that be the reason I feel the way I do when other women seemed content in their lives?
Amanda tried to understand. Somehow, things on this ranch had no part with her, like they were not hers at all. Even the pictures on the walls had not been chosen by her. Everything had been in place when he’d brought her as a bride to this house, three years ago.
She heard scuffling and giggling at the table and smiled at the messy face of her child, as she slipped bits of bread to the dog. There was no one to see or make disparaging comments on her daughter’s poor manners. “I’ll clean her up after she’s done, might wash up her clothes, too, if I have any strength left.”
Delaying the wearisome task of carrying water for the garden, she dawdled, hating the way carrying the heavy buckets of water made her swollen belly crawl into a tight, hard knot. That happened all too often these days, and when it happened, it worried her about possible harm to the unborn child. Harvey expected her to deliver a fine, healthy boy this time.
Hoping she’d be able to do that for her husband, Amanda shivered at the thoughts of seeing his face if she failed. He’d never raised a hand to her, but the man had other ways of expressing disapproval. How very well she knew that.
Amanda had inner convictions, too. Deep down inside rested a firm resolve that no man would ever lay a hand on her in anger. She’d never allow it and wondered why it ever crossed her mind.
After finishing her own slice of bread and cleaning her child’s face with what warm water was left in the teakettle, she hugged her daughter and, settling in the wooden rocker, took her on her lap. “You’re all nice and clean, love.”
As Amanda softly crooned a few songs in Marianna’s delicately molded ear, the soft body grew limp as the child slipped into a deep slumber. Piddely crept close and reached his damp little nose up to sniff the child’s hand. Having the dog in the house was forbidden, too, but he lay beside the chair, staying close to the girl.
After laying Marianna in her small bed, Amanda returned to the garden. Disheartened at the sight of deepening cracks in the earth that seemed to grow wider as she stood watching, she shrugged and decided to get the job done. She believed the soil mocked her as it became harder with each passing day, forcing her to carry the water even more frequently.
She headed to the buckets, hung on wooden pegs. Even empty, walking up to the spring had become more difficult, but Amanda continually reminded herself she was a strong woman. She carried the heavy oaken buckets for nearly two hours. Each bucket carried less water these days because of the weight, but finally, the garden was moistened, if not flooded with the life giving water.
Her pregnant abdomen had tightened into a hard knot several times, making Amanda sit down to wait for the frightening, tensing sensations to pass before continuing on. Worn and sweating, she sat down on a nearby rock to let the soft breezes cool her heated neck and face. Her child might be awake by now and she needed to check on her, too.
The sound of hoof beats alerted her, quickening her pulse. Had Harvey come home so soon? Looking up, she saw the older ranch hand, Jud Turlock, riding up. A twinge of alarm flashed through her mind.
The man never missed a chance to get next to her if Harvey wasn’t looking. It made her feel hunted and uncomfortable. She rose from her seat on the rock. “Why, Jud, I thought you boys were riding out south today.”
“Well, I forgot somethin’ and had to ride back fer it.” His roving eyes held her in a heated gaze–one she unconsciously understood and found disgusting–then swept over her swollen belly. “See you’ve been a carryin’ water again, too. Ain’t that a bit much fer a woman in the family way?”
“What I do is no concern of yours, Jud.”
Him mentioning her condition was unseemly, but she’d never relate this to Harvey, and the man knew it.
“Well, that husband of your needs to be doin’ the carryin’, instead of runnin’ off to town ever chance he gets. I might just spend a little time helping you out. I’d carry plenty of water for you, spellin’ you for a while, if you’d like the help.”
He offered an ingratiating smile with his comment and edged his horse bit closer to where she stood by the large rock. She said nothing.
Receiving no answer, he turned away and rode his sweating sorrel gelding to the watering trough. He dismounted and tied the horse near where it could drink and, holding his eyes on her, came sauntering back. A man of medium height, solid build, sandy hair, and pale blue eyes, he wore a bushy handle bar mustache. She’d seen him preening that facial foliage many times and knew it was a thing of manly pride to him.
Jud came close to where she stood, too close for comfort. She caught the odor of male sweat and horseflesh. He’d tried to attract her interest many times. What his reason might be, she couldn’t imagine. She’d never have to do with the likes of him. She’d never told her husband about the man’s advances, believing Harvey would blame her.
What has this man in mind, standing close that way? Her heart rate increased along with her temper. She felt her skin grow cold with apprehension. He had no business being here and his behavior was insolent. “Just what do you want, Jud?” she asked, her face screwed tight and her teeth clenched.
“Well, right now, I’m aimin’ to help you out some, ma’am.” His thin smile was reminiscent of a coyote on the hunt. Though reasonably clean, the smell of the man made her feel ill. His coming upon her this way disgusted and insulted her. She clenched her fists as her anger increased.
“You can just get yourself back on that horse and ride on out of here. If I needed help, I’d ask for it.” She growled the words as she smoothed her dress with nervous hands, wishing she had the ability to run. Either that or had packed a handy six-gun. “I’ve done enough watering for today.” She turned toward the ranch house. “I must attend my daughter, if you please.” She headed in that direction until she felt his strong hand clutching her arm.
“No you don’t, ma’am. I know things ain’t nice like they oughta be around here. I’m aimin’ to help you out.” Jud kept his grip on her arm. “You jest might be needin’ my help one of these days.”
His tone held the dark hint of secrets only he knew and she flushed hot. His implications angered her, though she had no idea to what he referred.
“You’d best release me, mister–right now.” Keeping her tone low and as deadly as she could manage, she added, “If I need any help, it won’t be from the likes of you. My husband wouldn’t approve of your laying a hand on me, either.” She flushed, her face felt hot, and tears stung in the back of her eyes. “You’ll be lucky to have a job, or even stay alive when he hears of this.” She jerked hard against his tightly held grip on her arm.
Marianna toddled out the door, along with her dog, and ran unevenly toward her mother. “Mommy, we do garden ‘gin?”
The hopeful sound of her voice told Amanda the girl saw no danger in her mother’s present situation. Her only interest lay in pulling up immature carrots.
With the interruption, Jud released her arm. Perhaps the low growl from Piddely’s furry throat had something to do with it.
Marianna looked at him. “Hewo, Mr. Jud.”
“Hells bells, ma’am, no harm intended–just wantin’ to help is all.”
A sulky look crossed his face as he walked back to his horse and jerked on the reins. Climbing into the saddle, he rode out of the yard uttering muffled curses.
Amanda, unable to care about the expletives voiced before her, felt relief seeing him leave the ranch yard. Dared she tell this to her husband? She shrugged, frustrated, and muttered, “Never sure what might upset him, but this incident would for certain.”
“Mommy, man go way.”
“Yes, honey, he has to work.”
She looked at her arm. The deepening bluish bruises had assumed the pattern of a man’s fingers and the sight of it chilled her, and alarmed her. Could she explain something like that, if Harvey happened to see it? She knew she couldn’t.
She took the girl’s hand and walked unsteadily back to the house. In the coolness of the home, she sought one of the big leather chairs in the large main room used for resting and entertaining friends and neighbors. They seldom had visitors but she often sat there, reading with Harvey in the evenings.
She fanned her brow and closed her eyes. Carrying water was exhausting, and more so each time she did it. Worrying it might be damaging to her unborn child, she closed her eyes and dozed off to the soft, pattering sounds of her daughter playing with her old, worn, cornhusk doll. Her friend, Helen, had made it for Marianna more than a year ago and she preferred it to the finer one her father had bought at the general store in Artesia.
© 2014 by Ramona Forrest