Several weeks later
As Grant and Louie shook hands with the pastor after church one Sunday and they stopped to speak to Louie’s friends and other members of the congregation, he reveled in how quickly he’d been accepted into the community of Granville Flats. Grant was fully aware there were several reasons for his, one being the now infamous rescue he alone had effected to rescue Jenny as well as keeping Louie safely by his side throughout the hunt, instead of leaving her alone in the store. Only a few of Louie’s close-knit circle were aware of Clem’s part in the whole adventure, but for good reason, his true part in the kidnap was kept between them.
Looking over now, to where Clem and Jenny walked side by side, their heads close as they talked, Grant was impressed with the young man; Clem was introduced to the township as a distant cousin of Grant’s, who had been traveling through and just happened to learn Grant was in town. As Clem wasn’t from these parts, the truth was unlikely to come to light, and Clem was keen not to be associated with the poor decisions he’d made up until that point.
Another reason why Grant was welcome was the fact that he had just been sworn on the Friday as sheriff of Granville Flats; the mayor had officiated over the ceremony on the verandah of the sheriff’s department, with the townspeople filling the road outside. Everyone had turned up, apart from, as Lena announced in a loud voice after the ceremony, the former sheriff and his five useless deputies, whose noses had been put firmly out of joint once the mayor had dispensed with their services. Deputy Albrecht had deputized Grant several days after Jenny had been rescued, and he’d been familiarizing himself with the local laws.
Grant took Louie’s arm and they walked slowly around the outside of town, around the back of the empty quarter, and back through. He’d been working with Deputy Albrecht and the mayor on ensuring all of the deserted properties were cleaned up if they’d been dossed in by vagrants or criminals passing through, and firmly secured in the hope that more new people would move to the town in the future. That was the aim they would work toward over the next year, and that was what Grant had promised to everyone in his acceptance speech.
Louie had helped him to write it; he had the education and was able to put words down on paper, in his scrawly handwriting, but she was the one who made it come alive as she explained more about the reasons she came to Granville Flats and why she stayed. She helped him understand how to communicate with certain influential individuals in town, like Mr. Brian Post and Miss Lena Olivetti. Lena, despite her brusque exterior, had a soft spot for him, Grant was sure, but purely because he brought ‘her girls’ home safely, as she told him regularly. Her beady eye kept him in line, especially when it came to courting Louie, and although he was willing to wait as long as necessary to make her his wife, he knew he wanted to propose to her, to confirm his commitment to her. He’d already made that commitment to the town, now it was her turn.
And that was the reason for the extended walk; he wanted to keep her to himself for as long as possible that morning after church, while he worked up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. He was in no doubt that she would say yes; they’d talked at length about their future plans together, but he was very keen to impress on her just how much she meant to him, from the moment she told him she wanted him to take the bounty to rescue Jenny, to the moment he told her he would let her accompany him, to the moment he first kissed her, to the moment he held her close in the store, and every single moment since then.
Since meeting Louie, there had been a lot of firsts for Grant; including having a companion on the bounty, to staying put in one place for more than a few days, to letting himself believe that he could have his dream of a wife and family, and doing work that meant something. That was all down to Miss Louanne Merritt.
Realizing they were nearly back to the inhabited part of town, nearly back to civilization, Grant knew he had to do it right then, right there, no matter how unromantic the setting, his intention to make Louie his wife was borne out of love and respect for this enchanting woman. He stopped mid-step, and took the knee, despite the squelch of mud and the seeping damp he felt on his trouser. He knew he’d put the ring safely wrapped in a handkerchief, but now he couldn’t remember which pocket he’d put it in, and was bent over patting the outside pockets of his jacket. He groaned when he couldn’t find it and then remembered it was in the inside chest pocket. He clasped at his chest with both hands and was relieved to feel it.
“Grant, are you unwell?” Louie stopped, her voice panicked, and she dropped to her knees, in the same muddy puddle, her hands on his shoulders.
Grant smiled as he pulled out the handkerchief, but was then appalled at the look of worry in his beloved Louie’s eyes.
“I am fine, I was just looking for something.” He carefully unwrapped the kerchief and produced a thin band of gold, with a love knot. “Miss Louanne Merritt, will you marry me?”
Louie’s expression changed from worry, to shock, and she pressed her hands to her cheeks.
“Oh,” was all she said.
Grant held the ring between them, and his stomach fluttered with nerves. Had he done it wrong? Had she expected a proposal with flowers, something more romantic?
“Yes,” Louie cried suddenly. “Yes, of course I’ll marry you.”
Grant laughed, his eyes stinging with tears of relief and joy, but he brushed them away quickly before taking Louie’s left hand and placing the gold band on her ring finger. She held her wrist and admired the ring for a few moments before meeting Grant’s gaze.
“You’ve caught me, Sheriff Ellison. I’m yours.” She smiled and Grant grinned in return as he pulled her to him, and pressed his lips on hers.
He’d waited for what felt like a lifetime since he first kissed her to do this, and his heart soared with the knowledge that they would have the rest of their lives together to kiss, and hold each other tight.
“Let’s go and tell Jenny,” Louie laughed and pulled him to his feet.
Grant looked down at her muddied dress, and at his own dirty trousers. He hoped Jenny would be happy for them; he’d enjoyed getting to know her over the past few weeks, and she was slowly warming to him. For a while, it felt like she viewed him as one of the baddies, even though they both knew he wasn’t, but he was determined to win her over, especially as they were soon to be family.
If Miss Olivetti, on the other hand, spotted Louie and he muddied, she was likely to come calling in an instant, demanding to know what he’d done to her precious girl. But he hoped too that Lena would be happy that Louie would soon have a husband who would protect her from any outlaws.
As they reached the store, Louie tried the door handle, but the door was firmly locked, and she gave a little sigh of frustration. Jenny had been taking security very seriously since her kidnap, and insisted on locking every door and window when she was alone in the building, and as Grant had been courting Louie very regularly, meaning Jenny was alone more often, that meant Louie was locked out upon her return.
Louie took a few steps backwards so that she could see the upstairs windows, which were also firmly closed.
“Jenny, it’s me, can you let us in?” Louie called up, and soon enough, Jenny’s blonde head could be seen.
Louie stepped back towards the store front and took up Grant’s arm again. He wanted to hold her close again, but Jenny unlocked the door, and let them inside, looking around suspiciously, before locking the door once more.
“I expected you home immediately after church, Louie. What on earth have the two of you been doing?” Jenny demanded, and Grant knew she had been worried.
Louie had told him that her sister now eschewed any romance novels, and was assuming the role of big sister, checking Louie’s movements. They assumed it was Jenny’s way of dealing with her ordeal, and were thankful that Clem was around to bring the old Jenny back out when they were together. Louie hoped that slowly, the old Jenny would come back, but didn’t think it was a bad thing that she now considered security more frequently than she did.
“We’re getting married,” Louie burst out and held out her hand to show Jenny her ring, dancing a little on the spot.
Grant took the action as happiness and felt a swell of pride that this wonderful woman had accepted his proposal of marriage. Both he and Louie watched Jenny’s face closely for her reaction; they hoped she would be happy for them, but given Jenny’s obsession with security and a newly exposed fear of being alone, it could go either way. They had agreed quickly when walking back to the store that they would wait until Louie was sure that Jenny’s insecurity had faded, as they couldn’t live as man and wife in the same small flat above the store. Louie was worried that if she left too soon, Jenny might never recover fully, but Grant was not.
He had spoken with Clem just yesterday, and Clem’s intention was to ask Jenny to be his wife as soon ashe’d saved up enough money for a ring. He’d been taken back on as an apprentice blacksmith with Smithy John, who was more than happy to instruct and supervise a surprisingly competent Clem.
Grant had already planned to share the reward money for the capture of Rex and his gang that had been put up by another law department in Oklahoma City between himself, Deputy Albrecht, and Clem, which would allow the young man to buy his ring sooner. Rex, Jody, and Jack had been shipped to the courthouse in Oklahoma City, and had been tried for a long list of crimes, found guilty and sent to jail for a long time, which pleased Grant no end.
Now, Jenny’s face shone like the sun, as she smiled and joined her sister in laughter, as they hugged and danced around, locked together. This was a side of Jenny that Grant had yet to see; she remained reserved in his presence, and it did his heart good to see how happy she was for Louie, and for him apparently, as Jenny let go her sister and threw her arms around him in celebration.
“I’ve been waiting for you to propose to Louie for so long,” Jenny drew out the last syllables in dramatic fashion, and Grant met Louie’s amused gaze over his future sister-in-law’s shoulder. “Now maybe Clem will make me his wife. Can we have a double wedding if he does? I will be so jealous if Louie gets married before me.”
Jenny continued to chatter with excitement, and for the time being, there was no sign of the effects of her ordeal. The two sisters talked weddings and Jenny called Grant brother for the first time, and he felt lucky to have Jenny as a part of his family. It was something he’d been missing for a very long time, and his thoughts instantly flew to Nathan in San Francisco. Of course, he must write to him, to tell him of his news, and to invite him to the wedding oncethey’d set a date. He would make the effort as always, to remind Nathan that he was a part of a family, even though he’d made the decision to be apart from Grant all those years ago.
Grant hoped his letter would find his brother safe and well, that he’d reply and be happy for him;that’s if he was still alive, and Grant put that thought aside, because he didn’t want anything to encroach on the happy scene before him.
Grant Ellison was getting married to Louanne Merritt; he had everything he’d ever wanted from life.
Six months later
Louie squinted at the low autumn sun, as she hung outthe laundry on the washing line, in the garden. It was a chore she didn’t think she’d ever tire of. Yes, she’d been hanging out washing for a lot of years, especially when it was just her and Jenny, but this was different. This was the washing line created from the rope that Granthad tied from the outhouse to the edge of the back verandah of the house they’d moved into the day after they were married.
It had only been a week since she said I do to Grant, and moments later, Jenny had said the same to her beloved Clem. As happy as she was to Mrs. Grant Ellison and as full as her heart was of love for Grant, seeing her darling sister so happy, and back to her normal self, made her heart sing with joy.
Clem had taken another four months to ask Jenny to be his wife, and because Louie had promised Jenny they’d have a double wedding, something both she and Grant could kick themselves for, they had only set a date just two months ago. The arrangements, as well as running the store, kept Louie and Jenny busy, and the time had flown by. Invitation had been sent out to everyone in the town, including the newcomers who were slowly moving into Granville Flats, giving the empty quarter a new promise of life.
Louie and Jenny had matching dresses, and whereas Clem wore a suit jacket, Grant was determined to wear his sheriff’s uniform. He wore it at every opportunity, and some smart alec at the wedding party had teased that Louie should make sure he didn’t wear it in their marital bed. They had laughed with everyone, but Louie knew how proud Grant was to be Sheriff Ellison, and it made her proud too.
The church had been full to bursting, but as Jenny and Louie walked together up the aisle towards their soon-to-be husbands, she could see Grant glancing around the gathered congregation for one wedding guest in particular, his brother Nathan.
Louie had encouraged Grant in his wish to have his brother at their wedding, despite the years and miles between them. At first, Grant had been enthusiastic, when he initially wrote to Nathan, to the last known boarding house where his brother had stayed, telling him about how he’d settled down in Oklahoma, was engaged to be married and was also a lawman. He wrote again a month later, having had no response, and by the time Clem had proposed to Jenny, four letters had been sent and known acknowledged. Grant had thought the worst, and became despondent for a while, until Louie suggested reaching out to the various sheriff’s offices in and around San Francisco, by telegraph, to find out if there was any record of Nathan. He had done so, but up until the day before the wedding, no letter had reached Grant, and he told Louie he held no hope.
The wedding ceremony had gone without a hitch and the happy couples left the church to wait outside, greeting and thanking each guest for their love and support. Since the whole town had turned out to celebrate the unions, it took a while and then just as Louie had said her last thank you, she turned to face her husband, and saw he’d turned as white as a sheet, his mouth slightly open like he’d seen a ghost. Turning, Louie could see a tall, slim, well-dressed young man, who had the same eyes as her husband, walking out of the church, his hands nervously turning his hat in circles.
She squeezed Grant’s hand as he took two long strides toward the younger man, and embraced him tightly. Louie assumed this was his brother, and as she met Nathan’s gaze over Grant’s shoulder, he gave her a smile just like Grant’s and she knew that Grant’s got his wish.
Clem too was back in contact with his family, and his mother, delighted to have her son back having feared him dead, upped sticks from Kentucky, and had moved back Granville Flats, bringing Clem’s dog along with her. She found it hard to believe Clem’s wild story about how he met Jenny, and how they fell in love, because as with all mothers, she believed her son could do no wrong. However, she was happy to have Jenny as a daughter-in-law and worked at the laundry, for Mrs. Blunt, with whom she became great friends.
Nathan too was considering his future, and he and Grant had spent many hours talking, catching up on all the years since they’d been apart. Louie had insisted Nathan stay with them in their new home, as there was plenty of room, and she enjoyed getting to know her brother-in-law, who was so much like Grant, despite being apart for so long. After a few days of being in town, Nathan decided to up sticks and move to Granville Flats, and he went back to San Francisco just that morning to settle his affairs, and would be back in a few months’ time.
Louie pegged the last piece of washing to the line, and the setting sun glinted on her engagement and wedding rings. She held out her hand to admire them, and a thrill ran through her as she saw Grant striding toward the house, his work as sheriff done for the day. Louie greeted him with a passionate kiss as he lifted her into his arms, carrying her other the threshold, just as he had done for the past week. He never wanted to take for granted that he was her husband and she was his wife, and so for as long as he was able, he planned to do it for the rest of his life.
He often joked though that he was glad they’d set up home in a house rather than in the flat above the store, otherwise he’d have had to have carried her up a flight of stairs. Louie too was happy to be able to start married life in their house, knowing that Jenny, still a little insecure about things, was much happier in the familiar surroundings of the flat, with Clem to keep her safe.
Over dinner, Grant talked about the new deputies he had just recruited, whose main role would be to patrol the empty quarter and to keep the newcomers safe. And with Nathan’s plans to move his business and life to Granville Flats, the hope was that would generate more interest, more jobs and provide a future worth having to anyone who wanted to join their community.
“Do you ever regret stopping in Granville Flats?” Louie teased over her shoulder, as she fried wild hog, caught by Grant and Nathan the day before, on the stovetop.
“Never,” was the answer that Grant always gave. He told her she’d given him everything he had ever hoped for, dreamed of, so how could he ever regret that. “What about you? Any regrets?”
Louie usually said no, but she’d been thinking about how they met. Even though Jenny had sworn off romance novels after her kidnap and rescue, telling everyone that she’d lived through it for real, she didn’t need to keep reading any more, Louie had developed a bit of a taste for them, especially after falling head over heels in love with Grant.
“I do have one,” she told Grant as he came to stand behind her at the stove, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“Oh?” He sounded disappointed and she turned her head to look at him, his face next to hers.
“The way we met wasn’t very romantic, was it?”
Grant chuckled. “Nothing about our courtship, from the first time we met to when I proposed to you, has been very romantic.But now we have our house to ourselves, I plan to change that, Mrs. Ellison, starting right now.”
Louie giggled as Grant pressed a kiss to her neck.
“What about dinner? You spent hours hunting yesterday.”
“Hunting for love comes first, Louie.” Grant turned Louie in his arms, and she wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck.
She was nervous, as this was the first time they’d been in their house alone since becoming man and wife, but Louie knew with Grant by her side, she would face married life and all its challenges and joys face on, for she was loved.
“You can stop hunting, Mr. Ellison.” Louie smiled at her husband, pressing her lips gently to his. I’ve got all the love you need.”