Lindsey slipped out of her room and into the empty hall. It was still early morning, and there was no one else awake yet. She was often the first one up in the house. She seemed to have a special ability to wake up before the sun.
She padded down the hallway, her boots making a soft thumping against the wooden floor as she went. She loved mornings—the sound of the birds singing, the soft breeze rushing in from the outdoors when she opened a window, and the still quietness that allowed her a moment to herself.
She went straight toward the kitchen. If she was honest, she really wasn’t the only one who woke at this time of the morning. Maria, the cook, woke up pretty early and liked to get a head start on cooking for the day.
Today, she seemed to be running behind. As Lindsey stepped into the kitchen, Maria was still starting the fire in the huge fireplace and vegetables sat uncut by the copper pots on the counter.
She looked up from her work as Lindsey came closer.
“Good morning, child. I’m just starting breakfast. Why don’t you grab a knife and start chopping those tomatoes?”
Lindsey smiled and quickly followed Maria’s instructions. The kitchen was a place where she spent a lot of her time. Maria accepted her for who she was when many others looked at her like an outcast.
Lindsey lifted her fingers to the side of her face as she thought of it. Her birthmark had caused her to lose many a friendship and to be hurt many times by people’s comments, odd looks, and thoughts.
There were people in her life who loved and accepted her, though, like Maria, her best friend, and her parents. But sometimes, being so different was lonely.
“Where’s Sheila?” Lindsey asked. Sheila was her best friend and Maria’s daughter.
“She’s coming. She wanted to help her father with a few things this morning. She said to tell you she’ll be in later.” Maria hurried around the kitchen, moving things here and there, washing and chopping. There was a certain comfort in the familiar hustle and bustle of the kitchen.
“Are your parents up yet?” Maria asked. “I feel as if I am very behind today.”
“No, I didn’t see any sign of them, though my father’s study was closed. I suppose he might be up after all.” Lindsey shrugged. “I’m sure they’ll call us if they’re waiting to eat.”
“Thank you, my dear.” Maria scraped the tomatoes that Lindsey had just finished chopping into a copper skillet, then carried them over to the stove. “Eggs with stewed tomatoes; it really is delicious on a cool morning like today, wouldn’t you say?”
“I would. Can I have a carrot?”
“For your horse?” Maria gave her a knowing look.
“You know how she loves them.”
Maria always made it clear that she thought animals should not be spoiled. While one minute she would scold about how horses didn’t deserve carrots every day, Lindsey would spot her slipping scraps to animals. She had a soft heart, even when it came to animals, despite the efforts she put into portraying otherwise.
“All right, today you can have one, but you really shouldn’t get the horse in the habit of so many treats. When you show up without one, she might not be so happy with you.”
Lindsey laughed off Maria’s concerns. There were days she brought nothing to her horse, but Sky would never hurt her, no matter how much she wanted a treat.
She took the two small carrots Maria handed her, deciding not to mention she’d been given two rather than one. Either Maria was feeling generous, or maybe she hadn’t noticed that she’d handed Lindsey an extra.
“Thank you, Maria,” Lindsey called as she rushed out of the kitchen, out the back door, and toward the stables. The sun was peeking out over the horizon, casting a beautiful golden sheen over everything.
Sky nickered happily when Lindsey stepped into the stables. She was a beautiful mare. She was an off-white color that bordered between white and gray. The little swirls of lighter and darker gray on her neck reminded Lindsey of the Sky, and that was how she’d earned her name.
Lindsey’s father had purchased Sky when she was a young foal. She had been a bottle baby, left orphaned when her mother died a few days after she was born, and the farmer hadn’t wanted to take the time to care for her.
“Here’s a friend, you know, someone who is a great listener when you have a problem to talk about,” her father had said.
Lindsey had fallen in love at first sight. She spent every minute with Sky that she could, and that connection only grew when Lindsey started to ride Sky two years later. She felt a certain freedom and happiness when riding Sky through the open fields, the wind in her hair and on her face with nothing to hide. It was a beautiful feeling she craved and one she took advantage of feeling every moment she could.
“Good morning! Look what I brought you.” Lindsey extended one of the carrots. Sky grabbed it eagerly, crunching in contentment as Lindsey started telling her about helping Maria in the kitchen. Once Sky finished her second carrot, Lindsey patted her nose affectionately. “I have to go back inside for breakfast, but I’ll be out right afterward so we can go for a ride.”
Lindsey reluctantly left the stables. She always enjoyed her moments with Sky, when she felt like she could truly be herself. Her horse didn’t care that she had a birthmark covering a third of her face. She didn’t believe in superstitions or that it was bad luck. Sky loved her because she was Lindsey, and nothing more or less.
When Lindsey got back to the house, her parents were already seated at the dining room table. Her mother was sipping a cup of tea, and her father was reading the paper, his spectacles balanced delicately on his nose. It was an image Lindsey was used to. Her father loved reading the paper, and even if there wasn’t a new one, he would take the time to read the old one over again.
“Good morning, Lindsey. Have a seat, breakfast should be here soon.” Her father smiled warmly at her and gestured for her to take her place at the table.
“Did you wash your hands? You have straw on your dress again. You were out in the stables, weren’t you?” her mother asked.
“I was.” Lindsey smiled sheepishly.
“You know I prefer it when you go to the stables after we eat, dear.”
“I know, Ma. I’m sorry.” She did try to stay out of the stables before breakfast to keep her mother happy, but sometimes she couldn’t help herself. Lindsey slid into her seat and folded her hands in front of her.
Her mother wanted a different sort of daughter, one who wasn’t an embarrassment to everyone who saw her. She did her best to hide it, but it showed sometimes. Especially on days like today.
Because of the birthmark on her cheek and ear, everyone stared at Lindsey whenever she went out. The whispers and rumors and superstitions abounded. Lindsey hated it. Why couldn’t people see that she was just that, a person? She looked a little different, but that was all. There was nothing different on the inside.
“Lindsey?” Her mother’s voice brought her out of her thoughts. She shook her head slightly and looked over at her mother who was surveying her critically. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Just distracted.” Lindsey plastered on a smile for her parents’ sake. They loved her and they worried about her trying to fit in.
Lindsey appreciated that they tried to be on her side even though she wasn’t perfect, but it also made her feel guilty, and like she needed to try to make things right for their sake. Maria walked to the table with large bowls of steaming food, setting them in the center of the table so that everyone could dish up a plate for themselves.
“Well, breakfast is here. Let’s eat, I’m starving.” Lindsey’s father took the lead in serving up his plate, and both Lindsey and her mother followed. She was glad to have the conversation off of her and between her parents once again.
Lindsey leaned forward on Sky. Her hands were buried in the mare’s mane, tightening with each soft roll of the rhythm that the horse’s hooves made against the ground.
The cool breeze blew in her face, pulling back her hair. This was where she felt the most herself. She didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing her. She didn’t have to wear a bonnet with her hair done just right or smear something on her face to cover the red blotch that constantly reminded her that others saw her as something different.
She smiled as she rounded the corner back toward the house. Even though she’d been out riding for over an hour, it felt as if it had only been a few moments. She wished she could turn around and go back out to the fields with Sky, coming back that evening when it was time to turn in for the night.
She spotted Sheila off by the barn, waving at her frantically. At least she had a good conversation with Sheila to look forward to. She could always tell when her friend was excited. Like now, she looked as if she was ready to attempt to run across the meadow and meet Lindsey before she got home just to tell her the latest news or gossip.
Sheila was Lindsey’s best friend for a couple of reasons, the biggest of which that they were so similar. They both had attributes that were deemed unattractive and unwanted by society.
Just like Lindsey’s birthmark, Sheila, too, had been born a little bit different. Her left leg was slightly shorter than her right. With a special shoe, it was barely noticeable, but it was still there. She struggled to run, and she’d had to deal with plenty of teasing from others their age growing up. Besides her short leg, Sheila was a beauty. Lindsey loved the way her friend looked, and she often wondered why she hadn’t managed to fall in love and find a husband yet, as there should be a line of men waiting to get to know her.
Sheila’s fiery red hair glistened in the sun, and her green eyes sparkled as Lindsey approached.
“There you are. I thought you’d be out riding for the rest of the day.”
Lindsey giggled as she dismounted. “I thought about it. What’s going on? You look excited today.”
“I am. I just got another letter from Bob, and do you know what he asked me this time?” Sheila’s expression was begging Lindsey to ask her.
A familiar ache filled Lindsey’s heart. She knew what sort of relationship Sheila had been pursuing with Bob.
“What did he ask you?”
“To marry him!” Sheila did a strange little twirl, her skirts billowing as they followed along with her movement. “I’m getting married, can you believe it?”
Sheila’s eyes were almost misty, and it made Lindsey feel bad for ever being jealous of her friend. The idea of marriage or falling in love had been mostly unattainable for either of them. They used to talk under the big oak tree about how they would be old maids together, figuring out how to make a living for themselves when no man would have them.
It seemed that the dismal future they’d imagined for themselves wasn’t going to happen for Sheila, and despite the loneliness creeping up in Lindsey’s mind, she was happy for her friend. She grabbed Sheila’s hands and did a little dance with her, pulling her in circles, not caring if anyone saw them.
“You’re getting married! You love him, don’t you?”
Sheila pulled her hands back and clasped them together. “Of course I do. I don’t imagine I could love anyone more. I haven’t met him, but I imagine he is handsome and wonderful—and even if he isn’t handsome, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m in love with who he is. The words he’s written me, they’ve touched my heart even though they come from halfway across the world.”
Lindsey sighed with contentment for her friend. If only she could find the same for herself, then everything would be right in the world. But she was starting to think that such a moment would never happen.
Ted hoisted the last feedbag onto the neat stack in the barn. He loved the days when they brought new feed to the barn, and everything was reset for the next couple of months. There was something about being all stocked up and ready for the next stretch that was satisfying.
“Is that all of it?” Bob asked from behind him.
“I believe so.” Ted slapped his hands together. “Looks like the cows are set for a while.”
Bob nodded but looked distracted, as he had been more often than not lately.
“What’s the matter?” Ted asked him.
“Nothing, just thinking. She said yes.”
“Sheila?” Ted had been following his friend’s journey with his mail-order bride for some time now. He knew how excited Bob was about his tentative arrangement with Sheila.
“Yes. I don’t know why I almost expected her to say no, and yet she didn’t. I’m going to be sending her the money for her ticket over here, and we’ll be married soon. Isn’t that wonderful news? I thought it was going to be so much harder than this, finding a bride.”
Ted chuckled. “I have no idea why you thought that. There are plenty of young women right here in town who would have had you. They would have given you a chance for sure, and some of them would most likely have been good wives, too.”
“I know, I know.” Bob shrugged, looking sheepish. Ted knew the main reason he’d opted to find someone through the newspaper was that he had some difficulty getting to know new people.
With Sheila, most of their relationship had been through letters, and they’d never had to have a sit-down conversation yet. She would come to town, and they’d be married almost immediately. That was the perfect sort of relationship for Bob.
“Maybe you should try this. I know you said you didn’t want to find someone after what happened with Susan, but maybe it’s time. You know, all these years I’ve been so lonely and putting off finding the perfect person because I was worried about what would happen if I couldn’t. Now that I gave it a chance, I believe I’m going to be marrying the love of my life.” Bob looked at him intently.
“No. No thanks.” Ted was certain he didn’t want to give the mail-order bride situation a chance. He didn’t want to give any romantic relationship a chance.
He’d had his one good moment where he’d thought he would be happy with his true love for the rest of his life, and he’d lost it. He and Susan were supposed to be settled down with children and grow old together. That hadn’t happened, and he never wanted to go through the pain of what it felt like to be ripped away from such a beautiful reality in such a terrible way again.
“I’m happy for you, Bob. I really do hope that Sheila is everything you’ve ever hoped for, but I’m afraid that getting married and settling down is not on the cards for me anymore.”
Bob looked sympathetic and seemed to be reconsidering trying to convince Ted otherwise. Then he just sighed, apparently giving up, and turned to leave the barn. “I suppose it’s up to you, after all, though I hate the idea of you growing old alone. Susan wouldn’t have wanted that for you. She would have wanted you to be happy.”
Ted matched his friend’s sigh. “Susan would have wanted to be here with me. I hate that she can’t be.”
“I know. I hate it, too. She was my friend as well, you know.” Bob’s expression was sorrowful.
Ted cleared his throat and his gaze traveled out to the pastures where the cattle were grazing. “Do you think we’re ready for the new group of cattle?” He was eager to change the topic away from Susan, love, and mail-order brides.
“Almost ready. I sent the ranch hands out to check on the outer pastures this morning. I think it’s going to be close, but we’ll manage to get things together in time. I’m excited about this new group of cattle. It’s going to help us grow this ranch to what it could be. Sheila… she should help, too, you know? Having a woman’s touch around the place could be useful.”
Ted nodded. The more ranch hands they employed, the harder it was to manage things like meals and cleaning. They’d hired a cook for a while, but then she’d been unable to continue and they hadn’t found anyone new since.
“When do you reckon she’ll be here? And are you sure she’s going to be cut out for this type of life? Isn’t she from the city?”
“She is, but I have a feeling she’s going to fit right in. Just give her a chance, okay?”
Ted gave a grunt of agreement. He was going to do his best to accept Sheila and accept his friend being in love with her.
It was a bit strange to him how Bob could manage to fall in love so quickly with a woman simply by exchanging words, but maybe it was possible. When he’d met Susan, things had moved quickly and they had married around six weeks after meeting each other. It hadn’t lasted long, for reasons different than everyone had anticipated.
Ted and Bob left the barn behind and parted ways as they approached the big house. He had plenty more chores to finish for the day before he could rest. There was never a moment where there wasn’t something that needed to be tended to, especially now that they were working harder than ever to expand and make the ranch more successful than ever. He had always dreamed of owning a ranch like this. Now that he owned that ranch with Bob, it didn’t feel quite as great as he’d thought it would.
The reason for that was most likely the fact that Susan wasn’t there with him to enjoy it.
People thought that falling in love should be easy for him, or something he was actively trying to seek out, but it wasn’t that simple. Whenever he even considered love or women or finding a wife, he couldn’t stop thinking about Susan and the promises they made to one another when they got married. He missed her more than anything, and he was certain he would never find someone who could overcome the barriers he’d worked so hard to put up around himself and his heart.
“Soulmates Marked by Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lindsey Smith has always hidden a part of herself, a birthmark on her cheek that she has had since birth. When her parents find a man who doesn’t seem to mind the birthmark and wants to marry her, Lindsey thinks it might be her only chance at love. However, the more she gets to know Ben Blackwell, the less she wants to marry him. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid a life of misery, she decides to flee west in search of a better life.
Will she finally find what her heart craves?
Having loved and lost, Ted Sanders, a young, grieving widower has vowed to seal his heart and never love again. When the mysterious Lindsey shows up along with his friend’s mail-order bride, he intends to keep his distance in order to protect his wounded heart. That becomes harder and harder, though, as he keeps running into her. Little does he know, the sudden turn his life is about to take…
With the kind-hearted Lindsey around, how could he possibly avoid falling in love again?
Despite starting out timidly, Lindsey and Ted’s growing affection proves to be stronger than they could ever have imagined. Yet, Lindsey’s betrothed can not take no for an answer and puts everyone in danger. Will Ted and Lindsey find a way to overcome the challenges in their way? Or will their dream of a happy ending slip through their fingers?
“Soulmates Marked by Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.