Renegade Wife - By Charlene Sands

Chapter One

Bountiful, Texas


Molly McGuire stood at the Bountiful train depot, her Irish ire no longer tempered by womanly grace, then paced the plank sidewalk, waiting. She’d endured the long arduous trip from St. Louis, riding in a crowded, dusty railcar, her hopes for the future mingling with a heavy dose of uncertainty.

She closed her eyes, briefly sending up a silent prayer that she wasn’t making a mistake in coming here. Yet, what other option had she? She’d pondered long enough trying to find a way west to keep the promise she’d made on Mama’s deathbed. Now, she was here, awaiting a man who hadn’t the decency to meet her properly or timely—a man who would claim her as his bride.

A bead of perspiration fell from Molly’s unruly auburn hair, the shade from under the depot roof doing little to stifle the sweltering Texas heat. Molly removed her gloves and her emerald-green traveling jacket, and reached up to lift the feathered plume hat from her head. She tossed them onto a nearby bench seat next to her valise and continued her pacing. Shielding her eyes from the bright sun, she squinted southward toward a town seemingly robust with people, who were milling about and conducting business, as well as exchanging pleasantries on the street. That and the heavy summer air were reminiscent of St. Louis yet that’s where the similarities seemed to end.

She’d gathered from her correspondence with one Kane Jackson, her betrothed, that Bountiful was a wealthy ranching town—a land rich with prime grazing land and thousands of Longhorn cattle, a special breed that Molly had read about in one of Charlie’s dime novels.

She smiled sadly, thinking about her brother and his escapades. Charlie had always been a dreamer, a boy inclined to put his head in the clouds, always thinking lofty thoughts. He’d run away from home to find grand adventure out West, to make his fortune to send back home, but this last escapade had nearly broken Mama’s heart.

Molly had come all this way, to marry, yes, but also to find her wayward brother. She’d promised Mama. And herself. No one had heard from Charlie in months. No telling what sort of trouble her sixteen-year-old brother might have found. Molly would do whatever it took to find Charlie. He was the only family Molly had left.

“Miss, would you like me to escort you to the boardinghouse?”

Molly whirled around. The depot operator smiled, an apologetic expression on his face. She glanced at a tarnished wall clock just above the depot’s front door. Heavens, she’d been waiting for more than two hours. “Oh, um, no, thank you.” It wouldn’t do to vent her anger at the friendly depot operator. Molly would save that for the man who’d left her stranded on the outskirts of town for most of the afternoon.

She grabbed her jacket and gloves, then plunked her hat atop her head. The feather swooped down to tickle her nose. With one swift move, she tugged the annoying feather aside, then lifted her valise and mustered as much dignity as one could in this situation. “Do you know where Mr. Kane Jackson lives?”

The depot operator blinked then scrubbed the back of his neck as if it pained him. “Mr. Kane Jackson, miss?”

“Yes, he was to meet me here.”

“Well, uh, he lives north of here. The Jackson spread is the biggest in these parts. About ten miles out, I’d say.”

Molly realized it was far too late in the afternoon to hire a driver and a buggy. She heaved a sigh and nodded, “Thank you.”

“Wait, uh, miss?”

She peered into the man’s light brown eyes. “Yes?”

“Maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t show. If you don’t mind me saying, Kane Jackson ain’t exactly a friendly sort.”

Molly’s insides churned. Butterflies gripped tight and fluttered wildly. She didn’t know much about Kane Jackson, but he’d agreed to her terms and that’s all that had mattered. From her understanding there weren’t too many mail-order brides who could dictate any terms—usually the ladies were the ones making all the compromises. She’d found a man who would help her in her search for her brother. She’d gained passage West. Molly had considered herself fortunate in that regard. But she hadn’t gotten the impression from his letters that he wasn’t a decent, honorable man. In truth, she’d been looking forward to meeting him, hoping for a future with both a husband and brother by her side.

“I’m not here for friendship—” she said, glancing at the name badge pinned to his