Authors: Carré White
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Inspirational, #Westerns
The Colorado Brides
An Unexpected Annulment
Copyright © 2013 Carré White
All Rights Reserved
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
I should have known something was wrong. There had been signs, but I had been unwilling to look at them. The evening I had met Henry, he had been entirely dashing, witty, intelligent, and attentive. His mother, Eleanor Hampton Clayton had been eager for us to meet, as she was one of the professors at the university I attended. It had been my last semester, and I felt accomplished and unstoppable. The world was at my feet, the future wide open…or so I thought.
Looking back, I see how we were often thrown together, as we seemed to attend the same functions: gallery exhibitions, dinners, readings, and plays. I thought it odd that we would cross paths so frequently, but I now know that it had all been Eleanor’s doing. She had orchestrated our courtship, almost as if she were a general, strategically positioning an army for battle. I had been the intended target, and I had fallen like Villeneuve at Trafalgar.
My engagement had been a thing of beauty, spanning twenty-two magical months. The dinner parties, the trips to the city, the carriage rides, and being on Henry’s arm, while holding out my hand, showing off the sapphire and diamond engagement ring that had once belonged to his grandmother. We were the toast of the town, the golden couple, culminating with a magnificent wedding, the likes of which most of our social set had never seen.
But it had all been an elaborate sham, and I, the obedient and loving wife, was the last to know. My seemingly affectionate and obliging husband had no interest in me once we had said our vows, leaving me on my wedding night to drink and gamble at his club. I waited as long as I could, exhausted from having been through the rigors of the wedding, succumbing to sleep, as the candle burnt down to a pool of melted wax. Thus had begun my married life, my husband refusing to share my bed, sleeping in a room down the hall instead. I had wanted to ask him about these matters, but we were rarely alone, his work keeping him away for weeks at a time.
When I confided to my mother about the bizarre quality of my situation, she grew concerned, saying, “You know, my dear, there have been rumors. I wanted to speak to you about it, but you were so happy, and he seemed entirely devoted.”
“It’s far too ghastly to talk about, but, suffice it to say, you may never have a child with this man.”
I’d sat straighter, staring at her. “What on earth are you talking about? If you have some knowledge that I’m not aware of, you need to tell me.”
Her brows had drawn together, as she wrung her hands. “Oh, my. Where do I begin?”
“Somewhere. Anywhere. Just tell me what you know.”
“I’ve heard…well, your father overheard someone talking at his club. They know Henry Clayton, and…they seemed to think that his personal preference…as in intimate preference, isn’t towards the female sex.”
I gasped. “Mother! You mustn’t jest about something awful like that.”
“When you told me about your wedding night, that’s when I knew. You’ve been had, my dear.”
I felt ill. For nearly two years I had been deliberately misled. Eleanor had known her son preferred other men, and yet, she had used me to entice him to ask for my hand. I got to my feet. My heart began racing, producing a sense of light-headedness. “Oh, my…goodness.” I clutched my breast. “I feel like I might have a heart attack.”
She came to stand by me. “No, my dear. Calm down. Take a deep breath.” Her hand was on my back, rubbing gently. “This is anxious tension, and it shall pass.”
“What will I do? I can’t live like this! I want children. I want a man I love. I thought I loved him, but that feeling’s gone away.”
“You’ve been treated fraudulently. You’ve been lied to.”
“Can I annul it?” Hope flared within me. “We’ve not consummated the marriage. I can have it annulled, can’t I? Oh, please say yes. I’ll not stay with…with someone whose preferences are so vile and disgusting. I can’t even bring myself to think about it.”
“Your father’s been looking into it. Yes, you have every right to pursue an annulment.”
I slumped to the chair; my stays were unbearably tight. “Oh, thank goodness. I can’t stay in this situation for the rest of my life.”
“There will be scandal, I’m afraid. You may lose friends in your acquaintance.”
“I don’t care.”
She sat next to me. “Hannah’s gone out west, as has Paulina. I suspect Fanny will want a taste adventure at some point as well. Your sisters have secured happy marriages. From all accounts, they are very content indeed. It pains me not to be able to see my own grandchildren.” She glanced at me. “Now you’re dreadfully unhappy.”
I had been corresponding with Hannah for ages, knowing full well all the hardships she had endured, her husband’s accident and then pneumonia had taken him. She had married a farmer or perhaps a miner, but it didn’t really matter. She was happy. Her letters brimmed with excitement and news of her pregnancy, as the baby would be born any day now. Paulina had met a man while traveling on the Oregon Trail, falling in love with the wagon master. It had all sounded extraordinary and exciting. They had not only experienced adventure in the howling wilderness of the great frontier, but they had also found love.
“I think I have a solution to the ruination of my reputation.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I know what you’re going to say, and I forbid it.”
“I will join Hannah and Paulina.” I jumped to my feet. “I’ll annul my marriage to Henry and pack my things. I’m going to Denver City.”
“I’m a grown woman. You can’t stop me.”
“Think of my nerves. How could you do this? I can’t bear to have another one of my girls leave me.”
“You have Fanny.”
“I’ve raised the most ungrateful gaggle of women I’ve ever met.”
I hugged her. “Oh, stop the dramatics. Everyone knows that, if Fanny and I leave, you and Pa will follow.”
“I have no desire to sit in a wagon for two months, bruising my backbone. That’s for young people.”
“Paulina went with the Chandlers. They weren’t young, mother. If Mary and Abner can do it, so can you and father.”
“Fanny’s still in school. Nothing will be decided until she’s out.” She eyed me. “Don’t look so triumphant. You have to ask Henry for an annulment. He may say no.”
“He will agree to everything I ask.”
“How will you accomplish that?”
“If he denies me, I shall spill his secret. I’ve been played thoroughly, and it will never happen again. I shall never trust a man with my heart or my person. They’re despicable beings.”
“Oh, no. Not all men, Louisa. Don’t make such broad assumptions. You’re bitter now, but that will pass.”
“I’m going to be a free woman soon.” This idea brought a flush of excitement to my cheeks. The possibilities of adventure and romance dangled before me, although I never intended to marry again. “Where is father? I must speak with him at once.”
Her eyes had watered. “If you leave me…I’ll never forgive you.”
“Stop it, mother. You know it’s best that I go. I can begin again with a fresh start. I’ll teach! They need teachers in the west. I’d have the career I’ve always wanted.”
“No. You’ll marry again and have babies, babies I’ll never see.”
“That won’t be the case. I’ll indulge myself with Hannah’s and Paulina’s children. I won’t need my own. There won’t be a shortage where they’re concerned.” I went to the door. “Don't make yourself uneasy, mother. I have a plan. It’s going to be a thing of beauty.”
Her expression revealed displeasure.
Poor mother…but…I have to do this.
August, 1861, Colorado Territory
I held the reins, while Hannah opened a letter, her bonnet hiding her face. “She says she’s dreadfully unhappy that we’ve all abandoned her.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes. Will she mention that in every letter?”
“I believe so,” she giggled. “Can you blame her? We’re the worst daughters. We should be ashamed of ourselves.”
Since my arrival last month, I had adjusted to this new life with surprising ease. Having traveled from St. Joseph to Denver City with a homesteading family, I had witnessed firsthand the extraordinary courage and fearlessness such a journey required. There were moments where I thought I could not go on, especially after their youngest daughter became ill and passed away. I’d never seen such suffering, but they had persevered, keeping their resolve firm, while clinging to their faith.
“Should I take accommodations in town?” This thought had been on my mind for a while. “You need the extra room for Letty.”
“She’s with us now. It can wait.”
“I don’t want to be a burden. There are rooms advertised at the post office. Sally Higgins has a little space above her store.”
“That room is horribly small. It was used for storage. There might not even be a window.” She gave me a look. “You can’t live like that, Louisa.”
“Or I could stay with Paulina for a while. She hasn’t had her baby yet.”
“She’s liable to do so any moment. She thought she was in labor last week.”
We had come from town; the bed of the wagon creaked under the weight of bags of flour, lumber, and a package of tools Nathan had ordered. “I feel like I’m in the way.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We love having you with us. Nathan finds it amusing that Denver City has been beset by the Hoffman sisters.”
Although I was happy that my sister had remarried, I had reservations about Nathan, the first being that he was far too handsome. When I had first met him, I was mildly astounded by his smile, his sense of humor, and easy manner. To add to this, he possessed a lazy, sensual energy. Being in the same house, I was well aware that he and my sister enjoyed one another, as the walls were rather thin. I certainly wasn’t jealous of the bond they shared, but, if I were married to someone like Nathan, I would be worried that he might have an eye for other women. Women noticed him, as I had caught more than one glance in his direction whenever we went to town together.
“Maybe once they build the schoolhouse, I’ll find other lodgings.”
“I would never want to live in Denver City. It’s overrun by drunken miners. It’s still so lawless. Now that we’re officially the Colorado Territory we’ll have some sort of government eventually. These mining districts are incredibly self-serving.”
“No one wants that. They’re hoping that, if there’s a war, it will distract them into forgetting about us. I’m still shocked that eleven states have actually seceded.”
“That’s getting worse by the day.”
“It is indeed.”
We were on a pretty, winding road, the wheels turning over, the conveyance creaking. Hannah carried a revolver, although I had never seen her use it. Being this far in the country, it was imperative that women consider safety first, above all else. There were Indians, the Arapahoe and the Cheyenne, but I had never seen them.
“Oh, look. Those poor children again.”
“What?” I squinted, catching a glimpse of something moving up ahead.