The early spring sun was stifling. It always was in Texas. Normally, Rose loved the feel of the sun on her face. She loved the way in which it tanned her skin slightly, like a small act of rebellion. But today, she was irritable. Her dress, a light blue satin number, was too stifling overtop her petticoats, and the stiff collar was making her feel breathless in the heat.
If she was anywhere but her best friend’s engagement party, she would have left hours ago. As it were, she was standing in a shaded corner, sipping her third glass of lemonade and trying her best to avoid her mother.
“You look absolutely miserable,” Rose’s best friend Eliza said. She was wearing a pale, yellow dress embroidered with bright blue flowers. It set off her dark, black hair and made her skin look creamy and flawless.
“I’m not miserable,” Rose said. She plastered a smile on her face and took a small sip of her drink. “This dress is simply too warm.”
Eliza raised an eyebrow at Rose’s words. “You look as though you’d rather be anywhere but here.”
Rose sighed and moved slightly out of the shade. “I’m sorry,” she said to her friend. Rose did not wish for her terrible mood to ruin her best friend’s special day. Eliza was excited to be engaged. She’d been courted for the last six months, and Rose knew that she’d been waiting and waiting for her beau, Samuel, to ask for her hand. Rose was happy for her. She simply wished that the party wasn’t so full.
Eliza gave Rose a smile and reached out to squeeze her shoulder. “You don’t have to apologize,” she said. “I tried to convince my mother there was no need for such a party, but she insisted we needed to give the rest of the unmarried ladies of the town a chance to find love.”
Rose laughed and shook her head. “Some of the ladies are enjoying the chance to show themselves off.”
“You make it sound so tawdry,” Eliza said. “It’s not a cattle auction.”
“Might as well be,” Rose said under her breath.
The truth was that while Rose was happy for Eliza, she had absolutely no desire to marry. At least not yet. At eighteen, Rose was at the prime age for marriage, but she was determined to do anything that she could to avoid marriage for as long as possible.
Eliza released a heavy sigh. “I hope that one day you’ll be as lucky as I am,” Eliza said, her tone wistful. “I’ve never been happier.”
“And I’m happy for you,” Rose said. She truly was. “I simply don’t wish to follow you down the aisle.”
Eliza laughed. Rose was glad that she wasn’t taking offense to Rose’s bad mood. Rose made a silent promise that she would do her best to be more supportive in the future. Eliza might not take any offense, but Rose knew that her friend deserved better.
“Anyway,” Eliza said, interrupting Rose’s thoughts, “you may want to find a better place to hide. Your mother is looking for you.”
Rose groaned loudly, eliciting a smile from Eliza. Rose had come to Eliza’s before the party under the guise of helping her get ready, which had allowed Rose to avoid her mother. Mary Miller was determined to marry her daughter off, and now that Eliza was engaged, Rose knew that the pressure was going to be even greater.
“Rose!” Rose’s mother had found her, and Rose cringed at the sound of her mother’s voice.
“Too late,” Eliza said.
“What are you two doing all the way over here?” Rose’s mother asked.
“Just getting out of the sun,” Eliza said.
Rose was grateful for her friend. Eliza’s easy-going nature extended to everyone.
Rose’s mother clucked her tongue slightly. “You shouldn’t be standing on the outskirts here,” she said. “You are the bride.”
“I was just making sure that Eliza’s skin didn’t burn,” Rose said. Her mother would continue to lecture them if Rose didn’t intervene. “A bonnet doesn’t really go with this outfit, and we don’t want her burned before the wedding.”
Her mother instantly turned grave. “True,” she said. “You’ll want to make sure to stay out of direct sunlight.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Eliza said. Rose bit her lip in an effort not to start laughing at the graveness of Eliza’s tone. They were in Texas, and though it was spring and the weather was just starting to heat up, there was not a great deal one could do about staying out of the sun.
“I’m going to go and find Samuel,” Eliza said. Rose scowled at her friend for leaving her alone with her mother, but Eliza simply gave her a dazzling and mischievous smile.
Rose’s mother wasted no time pulling Rose out of her shaded respite. “There are several young men here who you simply must meet,” her mother said, dragging her towards the heart of the garden party by her gloved hand.
“I know every young man in this town,” Rose reminded her mother. Bandera wasn’t a large town, and Rose had grown up with most of the available, unmarried men in town.
Rose’s mother sighed deeply. The two of them were close, but this was one place where they started to disagree. Rose’s mother wanted her daughter married and settled as soon as possible now that she was eighteen, but Rose wanted to wait. She didn’t see the need to marry so soon. Her family was well off financially, and as their only child, she thought that she could wait a few years.
“Don’t be so difficult,” Rose’s mother said pleadingly. “This is the time to begin getting to know these young men as potential suitors and not schoolmates.”
“I’m only eighteen,” Rose reminded her mother. “I still have plenty of time to make a match.”
Before her mother could say anything else, a young man stepped in front of them, cutting off their path towards the middle of the gathering. The man was handsome with light blonde hair that looked like a golden crown in the sunlight. He was tall, and his dark jacket fit snuggly across his shoulders. And if he was anyone else, Rose was sure that her mother would have thrown her towards him with abandon. But Mary Miller had standards, and for that, Rose was grateful.
“Mr. Platt,” her mother said, her voice chilly and polite, “what can I help you with?”
Rose waited with bated breath. Richard Platt, who was standing before them, was one of the few young people Rose didn’t know very well. Part of that was because his family rarely attended church or any sort of town event, and the other reason was because her mother and father would not have been alright with Rose being friendly with the son of the man who owned the local gaming house. The Platts were not respectable enough.
“I was hoping to speak with Miss Miller here,” Richard said congenially. His crystal blue eyes looked her up and down, and Rose did her best to stop herself from squirming uncomfortably.
“Unfortunately, Rose must return to the party,” her mother said. “She’s Eliza’s dearest friend, so she’s eager to be by her side.”
It was a ridiculous excuse considering that Eliza was back to being glued to Samuel’s side. But Richard Platt knew his place. He might be a wealthy man, but his family business made him socially unacceptable for any of the wealthy mothers of the town.
“Of course,” Richard said. He gave a little bow and moved out of their way. As Rose and her mother started to make their way towards the center of the party, she felt the hot breath of Richard Platt play across her ear. “Hopefully, I’ll see you around.”
Rose said nothing, content to pretend that she hadn’t heard him as she kept her eyes forward.
“I’m surprised that Eliza’s mother would invite such a character,” Rose’s mother said.
Rose had to agree. The Platts weren’t normally invited to such polite events. They were the types who were avoided by the women of the town unless they were trying to find their husbands.
“Eliza’s mother invited the entire town,” Rose said.
Richard Platt wasn’t the only person that Rose was surprised to see at the engagement party. James Clark, the son of the largest landowner in Bandera, was also present.
“I saw James Clark,” Rose’s mother said. There was a twinkle in her eye, and Rose did her best not to groan. James Clark was not yet married or attached, and every single mother of an eligible young woman wanted him. Rose almost laughed as she thought about it.
James Clark was a notorious bachelor who was determined not to marry. It was well-known around town, so much so that her own mother avoided him like he had the plague.
“Samuel is James’s best friend,” Rose said. “I’m not surprised that he’s here.”
Rose looked across the way and watched James. He was a handsome man—
the type that drew a woman’s eye, even one who wasn’t very interested. James stood in a small patch of shade, looking as miserable as Rose was sure she had. He was tall, well over six foot, and dressed in a light gray suit. His dark, curly brown hair was slicked back from his face, but there was a stray curl that popped down his face.
“James has turned into a handsome man,” Rose’s mother said. There was a sly tone to her voice, which Rose did not like. She always thought that her mother was smart enough to know that James Clark wasn’t an option. Even if Rose was interested in finding a husband, James would not be the one for her. He might be handsome, but he was as arrogant as a peacock.
“Get that look off your face,” Rose said. “James Clark isn’t interested in finding a wife.”
Her mother laughed slightly and shook her head. “It seems that you two would be perfect for one another.”
Rose rolled her eyes. The heat was starting to get sweltering, and Rose was wishing that she’d worn a lighter dress. “I need another lemonade,” she said.
Her mother reached out and grabbed her lightly by the sleeve. “Don’t think about sulking off into another corner. The summer months are busy around here, and who knows when you’ll next get a chance to be near so many eligible young men.”
Rose fanned herself with her free hand. She could feel a small bead of sweat forming at her hairline, and she silently cursed Eliza’s mother for not hosting an in-door gathering. “No one will want to marry me if I’m a melted puddle at their feet.”
Her mother wrinkled her nose at Rose’s words, but she released the grip that she had on Rose’s sleeve. “Lemonade, and then, I want you right back here. Douglas Johnson’s son has just returned from a stay back east, and I hear he’s looking to make a match.”
Rose gave her mother a tight smile. “Well, I mustn’t miss him,” she said before turning on her heel and walking towards the refreshments. She’d get another glass of lemonade, say goodbye to Eliza, and make a hasty escape.
If not, mother will have me married off by the end of the evening.
Rose knew that her mother was well intentioned, but that didn’t make her any less annoyed at the prospect of being paraded around like a prize-winning mare.
Just a year or two, Rose thought. That’s all I want.
Rose sighed as she took a sip of the tart liquid in her cup. She might pray for a year or two of freedom, but every day, she was starting to feel the walls closing in on her. As she watched her mother laugh at Douglas Johnson’s joke, she was starting to wonder if she’d be lucky to even get another month of freedom.
Marriage eventually came for every young woman, and it seemed that this summer, her time was up.
James could not remember a time in his life when he’d been more painstakingly bored.
Maybe when you were a boy sitting in church, he thought. But even then, he was young enough that he was able to engage in some sort of mischief. Now, at the age of twenty-five, it was expected that he upheld the rules of polite society, so as one of the mothers of the town talked about her daughter’s many, few, accomplishments, he was expected to nod politely and endure.
“Stella has become so accomplished in her needlework that I’m sure some of the young ladies of the town wouldn’t say no to some embroidered gloves,” the woman said. Her daughter, the aforementioned Stella, stood next to her, preening at the compliments.
“I’m sure that they would be lucky to have such a gift,” James said politely.
“Oh,” Stella said, “maybe Eliza would like a pair of gloves to go with her wedding clothes.”
“Perhaps,” James said. He wanted to get off the topic of weddings as soon as possible. He was already starting to see the hungry look in both Stella and her mother’s eyes, and he wanted no part of this conversation.
“How is your father doing?” the woman asked.
James suppressed a groan. He knew that this woman genuinely did not care about his father’s health. It was well-known that his father had been in decline since he caught a nasty fever a year ago. These days each passing hour seemed to make his health worse and worse. It was why he wasn’t at Samuel’s engagement party.
But James wasn’t going to tell this woman that.
“He’s doing well enough,” he said vaguely.
“Well,” the mother said, “do give him our best.”
“Will do.” James had no intention of talking about any of this with his father. Partly because he did not even know this woman’s name, but also because he did not want to give his father hope.
James’s father wanted him married off just as much as the mothers of Bandera wanted him to marry their daughters.
“I better get back to Samuel,” James said. He tipped his hat slightly at both of the ladies before walking away.
James looked around quickly, hoping to see some sort of escape, but there wasn’t any. Eliza’s mother had decided to host a garden party, taking advantage of the nice weather but also making it difficult for James to blend into a corner or hide in an auxiliary room.
“Trying to avoid another mother?” a soft female voice asked.
James turned to see Eliza and Samuel standing behind him, arm in arm, looking like the perfect couple.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” James said.
“You look like a cornered animal,” she commented. “And I saw Mrs. Johnson cornering you.”
“Was that her name?” James asked.
Eliza rolled her eyes, and Samuel chuckled. “How do you not know every single person in town?” Samuel asked. “After all, it’s not that big.”
Samuel was right, and though James knew a great deal of the people who inhabited the town, he preferred to keep to himself, especially these days.
“You and Rose should have banded together,” Eliza said.
“Why?” he asked. He couldn’t stop the rudeness in his voice. Rose Miller always seemed to bring that out in him. Ever since they were kids, they’d never gotten along.
“She looks just as miserable as you,” she said. “You two would make quite a pair.”
James gave Eliza another tight smile. He liked her well enough. She was a nice girl and good natured. He liked how she made Samuel laugh and smile. But he was also not interested in having another person trying to marry him off.
He was especially not interested in being paired off with Rose Miller. The Millers were probably the closest family to his own, and he’d spent most of his time growing up with Rose. She’d become quite the beauty over the last few years, but he knew that she was still the little girl who liked to trip him into the mud.
“I don’t think you want Rose and me anywhere near one another. Unless you like hearing screaming and arguing.”
“I forgot that the two of you hate one another,” Eliza said. She sounded exacerbated.
“We have our reasons,” James said diplomatically.
She’s insane, James thought.
“It doesn’t matter,” Eliza said. “She left.”
James was surprised. Rose wasn’t a wallflower, and she was Eliza’s best friend. He was grateful that she wasn’t there. He didn’t need to add Rose Miller to the list of reasons that he did not wish to be at his best friend’s party.
“I’m going to go and find my mother,” Eliza said, interrupting James’s thoughts.
Samuel placed a small kiss on Eliza’s cheek, causing her to giggle before she went off in search of her mother. James suspected that she was attempting to give the two of them some time alone, which he appreciated but found unnecessary.
“Don’t look so glum,” Samuel said. “It’s a party.”
“I’m not glum,” James replied. “And while I’m happy for you, I’m not interested in being the next one married off.”
Samuel shook his head. “I don’t know why you are so against marriage,” he said. “Finding your true partner…it’s a wonderful thing.” Samuel’s face softened, and James knew that he was thinking about Eliza.
He clapped his friend on the back. “As I said,” he told him, “I’m happy for you, but I don’t need a companion. I simply need my ranch and to be left in peace.”
“A wife helps you find peace,” Samuel said.
This time it was James’s turn to roll his eyes. Eliza made Samuel a lovestruck fool, which he would remind his friend of someday that wasn’t the day of his engagement party.
“Well,” James said, “you’ll have to find enough peace with your wife for both of us.” James clapped a heavy hand on Samuel’s shoulder.
“Are you leaving?” Samuel asked.
James nodded. “I need to get back to pa,” he said.
Samuel nodded solemnly. Samuel wasn’t just James’s closest friend; he was also the foreman on the Clark family ranch. He, more than most, knew the severity of James’s father’s health.
“Tell him hello,” Samuel said.
“I will.” James nodded. “He’ll be excited to hear all about this.”
The two men exchanged small, tight smiles. James knew that his friend was thinking the same thing that he was—his father might not live long enough to see Samuel and Eliza married.
Eliza’s family was close enough to the Clark ranch that James was able to walk back home. The air was warm, but he was grateful for the bright, cloudless day. He’d lived on the ranch his entire life, but he didn’t think he really appreciated its vast beauty until he got older.
Nowadays, he took any opportunity he had to walk around the land. He liked breathing in the fresh air, which smelled like grass and cattle. The land was flat, and when he was standing on the porch, he swore that he could see their entire ranch.
“James?” James’s father’s deep but weak voice spoke out from behind him. He turned around, surprised to see his father standing in the doorway.
“You shouldn’t be up,” James said. It was his automatic response.
His father’s wrinkles deepened as he frowned at James, and James knew that he had said the wrong thing. John Clark was a proud man, and for most of his life, he had had reason to be proud. He’d taken a small plot of inherited land, and he turned it into the largest cattle ranch in the town. Until last year, he’d been a force to be reckoned with.
“How was the party?” his father asked. He walked slowly towards him, and it took everything in James not to reach out and assist. But he knew that his father needed to be given space.
“It was fine,” James said. “Samuel and Eliza seemed happy.”
His father gave a small smile. He started walking slowly towards the porch chair. Sitting in the chair was the furthest he could get these days, but James knew that being outside was good for his father’s soul.
“Who else was there?”
James shrugged. “Practically the entire town. Eliza’s mother invited everyone.”
His father smiled. “She’s proud. Eliza’s a wonderful young woman, and she’s made quite a catch.”
James breathed in deeply. He knew where his father was going with all of these questions. John Clark wanted nothing more than for his only son to marry. In fact, it was the only thing that the two of them ever disagreed over. James had decided at a young age that he was not interested in marriage. His mother had died when he was only six, and he’d watched the toll such a loss had taken on his father. He had no desire to experience that kind of pain for himself.
No, James wanted to live his life on the ranch in peace.
“Don’t start,” James said.
“Start what?” his father asked, pretending to not know what James was talking about.
James sighed. He didn’t want to anger his father. He wanted to make him proud, but marriage was simply out of the question for James, and he didn’t like feeling pushed.
“You know,” he said.
“You need to marry,” his father said. It seemed that he was done playing games.
James sighed even deeper. “I don’t want to argue with you.”
“Then, don’t argue,” his father said.
James pressed the heel of his palm into his eyes. He could feel an ache growing there. He needed a whiskey. The strongest thing that Eliza’s mother served was lemonade, which definitely wasn’t going to help him get through this conversation.
“I want to make you happy,” James said. “I really do, but I’m not willing to give you this.”
His father was quiet, and for a few minutes, his stern face reminded James of a time before he was sick. “Then, I suppose I may not be willing to give you the ranch.”
It was the same threat that his father had been making for a year. James had never hidden his desire to avoid marriage, and though his father hadn’t been happy about it, for the most part, he’d never pressed the issue. Looking back, James suspected it was because his father believed that he would eventually change his mind.
That all changed once he’d gotten sick. Now, there was a desperation to his words that hadn’t been there before, and he was willing to leverage James’s inheritance in a bid to get what he wanted.
“I don’t want to argue with you,” James repeated. He didn’t know what else to say. His father was the only parent he had left, and while he would do almost anything to please him, James didn’t want to tie himself and some poor girl into a marriage that wouldn’t work.
“I’ve told you before,” James said, his voice level and even, “if you force my hand, you’ll be condemning some poor young woman to a loveless marriage, and you’ll make me resent her. I don’t want that, and I don’t think you do either.”
That was the ace in James’s pocket.
His father released a raspy breath. “I just want you to find happiness.”
James said nothing. No matter how many times he told his father that he would be happy manning the ranch, his father refused to believe him. James knew that this pressure came from the heart, from a desire for James not to be alone, but it was starting to drive him to the brink of madness.
“Why don’t we go inside?” James asked. “It’s getting warm.”
His father smiled. “You’re a good son—always looking out for me.”
It was a nice thing for him to say because, at that moment, James felt as far from a good son as a person could get.
It hadn’t taken Rose long to sneak out of Eliza’s party, with her friend’s blessing, of course. The moment her mother was distracted by town gossip, Rose knew that she could make a break, and she’d be happily ensconced back home before her mother could think twice.
She felt a little bad about leaving so abruptly. After all, Eliza would only have one engagement party. But Rose wasn’t sure that she could have handled being paraded around the place like she was the finest cut of meat at the gathering.
Rose sighed deeply as she walked into the front door of the house. She swore to Eliza that she would find a way to celebrate, just the two of them.
“Rosie, is that you?” her father’s voice called out, startling Rose into slamming the front door.
She cringed. She’d hoped that he would be out or that she would be able to sneak in with little noise. It appeared that that was out of the question now.
“It’s me,” she said reluctantly.
Rose walked past the parlor and into her father’s study. He was sitting there behind the large, mahogany wood desk that her grandfather had built when he’d made his first profit. His office was in disarray, which she found amusing. Ledgers lined every surface, and small blots of ink dotted the fine carpet her mother had bought from the Carolinas. Rose loved the smell of her father’s office—leather and tobacco. It reminded her of being a little girl and sitting on his lap as he discussed business.
“I’m surprised you are back so soon,” he said. “Where’s your mother?”
Rose looked sheepishly down at the ground. “I may have left prematurely.”
Her father leveled a stern look at her. While her father might not pressure her into marriage the same way that her mother did, she knew that he wanted her settled. Rose was her parents’ only child, and as a young woman, she could not inherit her father’s ranch. Her husband would, so it was imperative that she find one. At least, according to her mother.
“I don’t care to be lectured right now,” Rose said. She did not wish to disrespect either of her parents, but she did not want to talk about marriage, at least not for today.
“You need to begin thinking about the future,” her father said. It was how he always started. “You are eighteen now, and it’s time that you think about what comes next for you. You aren’t a child any longer.”
Rose bit the inside of her lip in an effort to keep her opinions squashed. More so than her mother, her father knew that her desire for freedom came not just because she did not want to be married but also because she wanted time to explore her passion.
“I don’t think that waiting a year or two is going to make that much of a difference. After all, there are more young, eligible men in this town than there are women.”
Her father said nothing. Rose suspected that there wasn’t much for him to say. For the last few months, the pressure that her parents had been putting on her to attend social gatherings and to find a suitor had intensified.
“Won’t Eliza be angry with you for leaving her party?” her father asked.
Rose pursed her lips. This is a new tactic, she thought.
“Eliza was very busy,” Rose said. “Her mother invited the entire town to the event. Richard Platt was even there.”
The color drained from her father’s face. “Are you alright?” she asked, rushing towards him slightly. Her father hadn’t been in bad health, but as he got older, she worried. She’d heard tales of healthy men dying in the fields, and even John Clark, who had always been a force to be reckoned with, had been overcome by a fever.
“I’m fine,” he said, waving her off.
He didn’t look fine, but Rose decided not to push things. Her father was a proud man, and he wouldn’t take kindly to her trying to baby him.
“Why was Richard Platt there?” he asked. “Did he say anything to you or your mother?”
It was an odd question.
“He asked to speak with me, but ma wasn’t having that. You know that she doesn’t think much of the Platts.”
Rose’s mother was a good, Christian woman who abhorred gambling and drinking. The Platt men weren’t the type of people she’d ever want to be associated with. Rose didn’t have such lofty morals, but she’d heard a great deal about Richard Platt over the years, enough to know to avoid him.
“Why did he want to speak with you?” her father asked. His voice was high and worried, and Rose was starting to become more and more concerned about him.
She shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “Ma wasn’t going to leave me alone with him.”
Her father nodded, but the panic look didn’t leave his face. “That’s good. It’s good your mother was there.”
Rose stepped forward until her hips were pressed into the edge of her father’s desk. Her blue eyes examined him carefully. He’s hiding something, she thought.
“What is it?” she asked. “Why do you have so many questions about Richard Platt.”
Her tone wiped the panic look from her father’s face. It was replaced instead by a hard stare. This did nothing but confirm to Rose that there was something odd happening between her father and the Platts. Something that he did not want her to know about.
“Why do you have so many questions?” he asked.
Rose placed her hands on her hips. Her father was a good businessman because he knew how to intimidate people. The problem was that she’d learned all of his tricks. As a child, he’d allowed her to sit at his feet as he made land deals. She knew that he liked to trip people up with questions, which was what he was doing now.
“You are the one interested in Richard Platt’s presence at a party you didn’t even attend,” she said to him.
If possible, his eyes hardened even further. Rose had great respect and love for her parents, and she normally wouldn’t have been so rude. She couldn’t help it, though. There was something about her father’s behavior that was making her nervous. Rose had never known her father to visit the gaming houses, but she wondered if he owed the Platts’ money for some other reason.
“I don’t want Richard Platt sniffing around my daughter,” he said.
Any other time it would have made sense, but something about her father’s behavior just felt odd to her.
Before Rose could push even further, she heard the sound of the door closing with a loud thud, and she winced slightly. She’d been hoping to avoid a confrontation with her mother, but she was sure that that was about to happen.
“Rose Lynn Miller!” Rose’s mother’s voice boomed down the hallways and carried into her father’s office. Her father looked pleased. He knew that her mother’s presence saved him from asking any further questions.
“She’s in here!” her father yelled out.
“Traitor,” Rose muttered.
Her mother’s heeled boots slapped across the hardwood floor as she stormed into the study. “What are you doing here?” she snapped.
Rose cringed at the sound of her voice. It was high and shrill, which was what generally happened when she was really angry. “I told you that I was overheated.”
Rose knew that she would have to deal with her mother’s anger, but she’d been hoping that she would have the night to let her cool off.
“If you were overheated, you should have gone inside,” her mother said. “Instead, I have to hear from Eliza that my own daughter decided to ‘retire’ for the afternoon.”
“I knew that you wouldn’t allow me to come home,” Rose said. Her words did nothing to assuage her mother. Instead, they actually made her angrier.
“Do you have any idea how you embarrassed me?”
Rose had had enough. She was tired of the pressure that her parents were putting on her. For her entire life, they’d encouraged her to be a free thinker and follow her passion. In the last two years, they’d gone back on that and made it clear that her passion needed to bring her closer to marriage.
“Do you have any idea how embarrassed I constantly am?” Rose asked. She felt tears filling her eyes. “You are basically trying to sell me off. You don’t care what I want.”
The anger drained out of her mother as quickly as she’d stormed into the study. “Rose…” her mother reached out, but Rose shook her off. She knew that she was being rather dramatic, which wasn’t normal for her, but the pressure was beginning to overwhelm her.
“I’m going to go and rest,” Rose said.
She turned tail and stormed past her mother and up the stairs and into her room. She was glad that no one was coming after her. Rose needed a breath. She’d spent the afternoon with her mother breathing down her neck in an effort to find her a beau, and now, she was worried that her father was hiding something.
Rose didn’t want to think. She slid her hand under her mattress and grabbed her sketch paper. Her pad was her most treasured possession, only second by the piece of charcoal that she always kept on her bedside table.
Art was Rose’s greatest passion, and it was partially the reason why she prayed for one or two more years of freedom. It sounded silly, but Rose knew that she wasn’t going to be able to draw and paint when she was responsible for running a household and eventually caring for children.
I’ll be a complete extension of my husband and family, Rose thought, as she grabbed a piece of charcoal. She rolled the piece of it between her fingers, enjoying the way that it blackened her nails.
She started sketching on the pad. The quick motions of her drawing allowed her to clear her head. Rose had started drawing as a young woman. Strangely enough, she’d received her first piece of charcoal from John Clark, James Clark’s father.
Their families had been close when she was growing up, and he’s given her some art supplies when he’d noticed her trying to draw in the dirt. She smiled as she remembered it. It was the only nice thing she associated with James. Everything else was him picking on her and making her feel like she wasn’t worthy to breathe the same air as him.
Rose rolled her eyes as she thought about him, but she kept sketching. Rose did not understand why her parents weren’t willing to compromise with her. She wasn’t asking to never marry. She was simply asking not to be pushed into it.
The only thing that she wanted was time. Time to find herself. Time to draw and paint. Time to be her own person.
Rose sighed and placed the charcoal lightly on the paper. She bit her lip in an effort not to cry. Eliza’s impending marriage, while exciting, was also creating a great deal of anxiety in Rose. Now that her closest friend had fallen, Rose felt like she was on an island being circled by the sharks, and there was simply no telling how long she would be able to hold out.
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Rose Miller has been told her entire life that girls of a certain age must marry. Despite this, she is more passionate about painting and wants to make the most of her time before settling down. So when her father tries to force her into an arranged marriage with the town’s most infamous bachelor, she refuses to go along with it. Desperate to escape a grim future, she approaches her childhood rival with a most unusual proposal… one that will put her heart to the test. When unexpected feelings towards him start rising to the surface, will she manage to stick to her plan, or is her predetermined fate truly inevitable?
James Clark cannot step out into town without being chased by mothers hoping to marry off their daughters. Yet tying his happiness to another person is not in his plans. So when his father informs him that he will be cut off if he doesn’t get married soon, James finds himself in a tight spot. At that moment, his childhood arch-enemy, Rose, comes to him with a peculiar plan that could solve both of their problems… a pretend courtship. Only he never imagined that feigning affection for her would come so naturally, and before long the line between pretense and truth becomes blurred. Will he manage to make Rose see that she is the one who truly owns his heart?
A fabricated relationship appears to Rose and James as an easy solution for their troubles. What neither of them realized was that the heart often has a plan of its own… For all that, when fate brings another shocking twist, Rose must decide whether her loyalty lies with her family or with her heart. In the end, will Rose and James break the barriers that are keeping them apart, or was their love only ever meant to be a facade?
“A Deal with Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.