Out of print. Available as e-book.
His Brother's Bride by Jenna Kernan
Only a desperate woman would marry a man she’d never met, even if it was her dying husband’s last request. But with a young daughter to protect, Clara Justice, is desperate, so she accepts the proposal from Nate, the black sheep of the family.
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WED UNDER WESTERN SKIES "will truly make you wish you were the blushing bride." and calls Jenna's story "beautiful and heartwarming."
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As Nate Justice saw it, he had a choice between two equally bad alternatives. Either he could ignore his brother’s last request, or he could marry his widow.
Jacob would have done it for him and expected Nate to be capable of the same kind of selflessness. He rubbed a hand over his brow. He had no notion as how to be a husband, let alone husband to a woman as proper as Clara.
Only his love for his older brother could have induced him to make a proposal so contrary to his nature. Nate wanted to do the right thing, but this didn’t feel right. What was a respectable lady going to do in a rough and tumble mining camp where the only women within a hundred miles are whores?
Lord help him.
From his seat at an empty table in his saloon, Nate searched for answers in the worst of places – a liquor bottle. He spotted the old hypocrite who called himself Reverend headed his way. Just what he needed – a sermon from a drunk. The Padre spouted verse like a whale spouts seawater, but only as a means to achieve his goal; in this case he had his eye fixed on the half empty bottle of whiskey on the table. The man drank, whored and gambled most of his waking hours, making him no different from the miners. The Reverend always absolved himself, and anyone else who needed it after a binge with some verse about man’s weakness and God’s mercy.
“I was told you abstained from spirits,” said the Reverend, taking a seat without invitation.
“On any other day you’d be right.”
“Then perhaps you would feel inclined toward company.”
Nate pushed the bottle at the man who did not wait for a glass. When he finished a long pull, he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and made a sound of pure satisfaction. He maintained control of the bottle, gripping the glass neck as if it was a sinner in need of redemption.
“Bless you, son.”
“Oh, I’m just brimming with blessings.”
The Reverend gave a wary smile. “So I have heard.”
Nate glared at Charley, who’d obviously been gossiping again. His barkeep took up a glass and began polishing.
The reverend continued without notice. “Perhaps I can do you a service in the near future.” The man nodded conspiratorially. “The Lord says, ’Go in unto thy brother’s wife and marry her.’”
He had Nate’s attention.
“To marry your brother’s widow,” said the Reverend, nodding his approval. “It’s the honorable thing.”
“Well there’s a first time for everything.” Nate regained custody of his bottle with a forceful tug and took a swallow.
“You are modest, sir. I know for a fact you have a soft heart.”
Nate shook his head. “You shouldn’t start drinking so early in the day.”
The Reverend leaned in, conspiratorially, “I’ve seen you.”
Several possibilities ran through Nate’s mind, and he scowled. Hitting a minister would certainly not hurt his reputation, but he resisted.
The man continued, unaware of his peril. “You feed a stray cat out back.”
“How in hell do you know that?”
“I’ve slept in that alley a time or two.”
“That enough to get me into heaven, you think – feeding a cat? In your professional judgment, I mean.”
“Well my son, that’s a fair question. Do you have anything on your conscience?”
Nate gave a wry laugh, and then pushed back his hat. “I don’t have that kind of time.”
His new friend reached for the bottle, his fingers creeping forward like a spider.
“Well then let’s stick to the present. I’m thinking of backing out. What do you say to that?”
“You run the largest saloon in Colorado City, so I’d say you do not shirk from responsibility, nor lack the funds to adequately provide for a woman. I’ve seen you over at the Bella Rouge, meaning you obviously enjoy female company on occasion, but keep no steady woman.” He took another slug from the whiskey. “So this must be personal. Does she have bucked teeth?”
“I’ve never seen her. All I know of her comes from my brother’s letters. He loved her and in his eyes she was singular to her gender – a woman of virtue. Now I’m dragging her to a dirty mining town where the only minister is drunk everyday before noon. She deserves better than a saloonkeeper for her husband, don’t you think?”
The minister sat back, dragging the bottle to his side. “A valid point. She undoubtedly will be the only female in town not inclined to charge by the hour.” He eyed Nate. “You could pull up stakes.”
“Location won’t solve my inadequacies.” Nate stared at the man. “Any chance you’ll remember this conversation tomorrow?”
The Reverend shook his head. “Doubtful.”
Nate reclaimed his liquor bottle.
“I got her acceptance right here.” Nate pulled the letters from his breast pocket, splaying them as if they were a deck of cards. He drew out the first. “This one is from my brother asking me to see to his family.” He slapped an envelope on the table before him as if discarding. “This here is from her saying my brother passed.” Another discard.
Nate paused to draw in a breath. The lump remained lodged in his throat as he again fought the overwhelming sense of loss. Word reached him seven months past and still he couldn’t get his mind around the truth.
Jacob was gone over a year.
His older brother loved him and with his passing, Nate lost the only person in this world he cared about.
“And that one?” prompted the Reverend.
“From her. She asks my help. My brother’s death left her without means, and she has a young daughter.”
“A child – here?”
Nate propped his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his fist. “Can’t account for my own stupidity.”
“Overwhelmed by grief no doubt.”
“Never thought she’d have me. She must know of me from my brother. Only shows how desperate she is because yesterday I received her reply. She’s coming here. Why, I cannot fathom.”
The Reverend’s bushy brow lifted. “Perhaps she has no other option.”
“That’s true. If she did, she’d have taken it.”
The Reverend pointed at the final correspondence, asking a question without words.
“This?” Nate held up the final letter. “Evidence of my low character.”
He lay the envelope upon the others.
“My withdrawal of the only honorable proposal I ever made to a woman.”
His drinking partner pointed a bony finger at the damning evidence. “You haven’t sent it yet.”
The Reverend’s smile did not comfort. “Did you include funds with your original communiqué?”
"Then I suggest you resign yourself, my son - for she has likely already crossed the Mississippi.”
The whiskey rolled in Nate’s stomach as the truth of the words struck him in the gut.
“Now, now, my son. The Lord says a man must leave his parents’ house and cleave unto his wife. It is the natural way of things. A woman will bring order to your chaos.”
“From what I’ve seen, women generally have the opposite influence.”
“Ah, you have had bad experiences. Do not judge all women by the ones who have wronged you. Just remember your mother’s love”
“She’s the one I was thinking on.”
Nate saw the surprise on the man’s face and wished he could take it back. Not that it wasn’t true; his mother was a cold-hearted bitch, the perfect match for his father with his exacting standards of morality. Damn and damn again. He remembered too late why he quit drinking. It made him a babbling fool. Any notion that struck his mind popped out of his lips like a soap bubble rising from a washtub.
Nate stood. “Keep the bottle, Reverend.”
“Bless you, my son. And remember, the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
A boy skidded into the saloon, eyes searching as he blinked in the dim light of The Lucky Strike.
“You can’t be in here, boy,” said Charley.
“There’s a lady at the station. Everyone’s there. Where’s my pa? He’ll want to see this.”