Darkness consumed her for a few moments after the man’s hand had covered both her mouth and nose. She now wished the darkness had stayed with her. She tried to fight but they just laughed, she couldn’t see their faces, they covered her eyes, now she gagged nearly suffocating, she couldn’t cry out for help. She had just stepped out of the out-building behind the station and suddenly they were dragging her into a barn, she could smell the hay and manure, heard the animals snorting, she saw nothing the man had his hands over her eyes. To her horror another tied a gag in her mouth. Eventually they tied another kerchief over her eyes. Holding her down they took turns, there were three she learned. No escape. No help. The smell of liquor, the groping hands, and mouths and the painful invasion of her innocence, again and again. Assaulted front and back until she thought they would tear her in two. After an eternity they seemed tired of their game and left her sobbing in pain and humiliation.
Now she was ruined, how could she fulfil her vow to Wade? He would not accept a used woman. He was expecting an innocent maid. She wept until her tears seemed to fail her. Making up her mind to at least show up and explain Amelia stuffed the kerchief they had left behind into her bag and rose to assess her appearance. She needed another dress, this one was torn in several places and had stains on it in other places. Quickly she ran to the building next to the station and slipped inside. It was a mercantile and a strong looking middle-aged woman startled her. One look and Millie Trent knew what had happened. She took Amelia in and helped her wash, then picked out another much plainer dress insisting the entire time that she needed to call the sheriff. Amelia begged her not to and asked that she instead send a telegram to Wade Landau in Coldash Corner telling him she had been delayed in Benson City and would arrive tomorrow evening instead of tonight. Millie did not like it one bit but finally agreed. Only hours ago, her biggest worry was her innocence, now it was lost and her chance for a good life gone.
The clack of the iron wheels on the tracks was constant and the rhythm was hypnotizing and the sway of the cars as they rolled along had nearly every passenger asleep. It was nearing midnight and Amelia knew she should be sleeping but her thoughts were still on a collision course with her fears. She kept telling herself this was her best chance for survival. In the city there was no place for a young unmarried girl. Mrs. Prodi had left her this one option when she passed, a dress, several coins, and a list of men needing a mail-order-bride.
Most girls left long before Amelia had, she was eighteen now, those before her that Mrs. Prodi had rescued and raised had left between fifteen and sixteen. The boys left sooner as they were able bodied, farmers welcomed those. Girls that could not marry were likely to end up in a brothel. Mrs. Prodi did not want that for any of her charges. She had favored Amelia and allowed her to work for the past couple years. Now there was little choice, she selected several names and read their letters. Deciding to write to Wade Landau first she had been drawn to him. So, she accepted the ticket and agreed to come.
Possibilities in her mind of how to explain wiped away her former fear of being a good wife and bounced off her shattered heart. Mrs. Prodi had been the only mother she had known Amelia had been left in a basket with her name pinned to it on the church steps. They had turned the baby over to Mrs. Prodi, Amelia was the youngest child she had ever taken in. She had been courted only twice, it had taken very little time for young men to find out her deformity and soon she was shunned. Her hands were not ugly just different, the middle two fingers on each hand were fused, it did not interfere with her work. She was also very adept at needlework.
The train chugged on into the night, the sick feeling in her stomach and the painful ache in her body soon took its toll and Amelia nodded off exhausted from worry. She awoke with a start the train was pulling into the station. Now the pain in her heart and body nearly took her breath away. Slowly she picked up her small satchel and stood. Unable to make herself move forward she remained there staring at the door until all other passengers had departed. Now she forced one foot in front of the other, Wade would be waiting, and she gathered her strength.
There was now a lone man still standing on the platform as she stepped down, he wore a single flower in his lapel, a simple yellow marigold, it was her clue to his identity. She quaked inside, unable to raise her eyes she forced one foot in front of the other. Suddenly forward progress stopped as a tall lean body stepped in front of her. Slowly Amelia looked up. Long powerful legs in fitted jeans, a slender waist opened to a wide, powerful chest. She paused swallowing hard. When she raised her eyes to his she nearly melted, golden bronze skin, clean shaven chiseled jaw, high cheekbones. Closely cropped ebony hair, with a long shock listing over his right eye, and she felt herself drowning in those deep, deep blue eyes.
Wade stared down into the greenest eyes he had ever seen on a woman, or anyone else for that matter. She was petite, but looked strong, yes from the manual labor she had been used to. A heart shaped face, small perfectly shaped lips, and creamy smooth skin, several long tendrils had escaped the massive pile of softness perched on top of her head, he could not discern the color. It shone fiery red mixed with seven shades of gold all the way to a sparkling white, he had never seen the likes of it before. Finding his voice Wade simply asked, “Amelia?” She nodded, another lazy curl slipped from the nest and slid down onto her shoulder.
She flicked the curl over her shoulder, embarrassed that it would not behave. Her heart was racing, he was stunning, and she was now less worthy than before. Still words escaped her. He retrieved the small valise then looked back at the train. “You have another?” He asked gruffly, masking his instant attraction to her. She shook her head no, the rest of those glorious tendrils came cascading down, falling to her waist. Hastily she tried to pull them together to no avail, sighing she noticed a slight twitch on his otherwise stoic face.
She then followed him as he strode down the boardwalk, needing two or three steps of her own to match his stride. He stopped momentarily and dropped her valise in a very sharp looking wagon, it was a buckboard but seemed to be made of some type of cherry wood, dark rich red color almost looked polished. He began walking again and she hurried to keep pace, then he stopped suddenly, causing her to bump into him as she was watching her feet on the uneven boards.
He turned and pulled a pocket watch. “Fifteen minutes,” was all he said, he sighed, took her hand with one of his and tipped her chin up to meet his eyes. He studied her a moment, then seeming to decide continued, “I am offering you a marriage mostly of convenience.” She was confused. “We will marry and then when and if you decide to become a true wife . . . relationally, I mean . . .” He could see he was not saying what he meant. He softened, “I would never force your affections, should you desire physical relations and thus a true marriage, my door will be open. You need only come to me.” He studied her a moment longer and then turned to enter the Justice office.
Amelia’s mind was throwing out all her other options, now he had given her an out, he had originally said one or the other could respectfully walk away, now he was saying she could marry and did not have to have relations unless it was her desire. She could stay with him until she could find a way to support herself and not having consummated the marriage, she would not be deceiving him, well not as much. She was bone tired and hurting mightily, this man was more than she could ever have dreamed of, now she just needed to heal and find a place to go. She could not shame him, he was a good man and deserved what he asked for a young, innocent bride.
She sighed and followed him into the small office of the justice. The service was just paperwork and promises, when he pulled the ring from his breast pocket she teared up and hid her hands in her skirt. Gently he reached down and retrieved her left hand then slid a tiny pinky size ring on her finger. She could not process the thoughtfulness. He then surprised her further with another ring on a gold chain, a beautiful solitaire emerald.
A soft smile crossed his lips as he lifted the cascade of red and gold through the chain. It was a long chain and Wade deftly dropped the ring between her breasts. “Best not to let many know it is there.” Was all he said, but that smile told her volumes and she immediately felt guilty. She had no intention of consummating this marriage, she had judged herself unworthy, severely unworthy, and would soon have to explain ‘why’ to him. For right now she would not crush his hopes of a wife and family. Her fear now was that he might get a little attached or just used to her and then would want a real marriage.
Not really expecting a kiss to seal the deal Amelia was taken aback when he tipped her chin up and softly caressed her lips with his. The warmth that flooded her soul left her dazed, slowly she opened her eyes and there was that smile again, barely there, almost a look of triumph. Amelia collected herself and allowed Wade to guide her out to the wagon. He made one more stop and retrieved a basket from the café on the corner. “Would not expect you to cook on your wedding day.” He said so softly she strained to hear him.
Her heart lurched within, he was doing everything right, trying so hard to make this awkward meeting pleasant for her. If yesterday had not happened she would be in heaven right now, but it had happened, and she felt the pain and guilt rising in her breast, choking her. As they rode towards his ranch, she tried to keep her mind off the pain of her bottom sitting on the wagon, though padded it did not take long before the pain was bringing tears to her eyes. She stole several glances at him. He was absolutely gorgeous, and she wondered why he had resorted to a mail order bride. Were there no women close by that could catch his eye? Had he been hurt before? He has a story she was sure, and she wondered if he would ever share it with her. Then remembered she could not stay long. It would not be fair, but would this hurt him even more?