Authors: Maya Stirling
Nathan's Montana Bride
Abigail Long paused at the entrance to the Grand Hotel and asked herself one final time if she was really sure she wanted to go through with this.
Her sister Florence laid a hand on Abby's elbow. "Abby? Are you feeling unwell?"
Abby shook her head. "No. I'm fine."
"You're sure you want to go ahead with meeting him?"
Abby smiled at her sister. "I'm sure. It's the least I can do after the distress I have caused him. Anyway, I have you to take care of me."
Florence smiled and nodded. The two sisters made their way through the ornate entrance and into the hotel's
Coming to a beautiful place like this would normally have been a pleasant experience. The luxurious furnishing, wood panelling and marble floor spoke of affluence. It was such a strange place for such a singular meeting, Abby reflected. But the hotel had the virtue of being a safe place to come and meet the man who had travelled so far to see her.
Abby and Florence took a seat near a window. It was early morning and there were a few other residents relaxing and reading newspapers or chatting quietly. The hotel had an air of quiet elegance that was reassuring to Abby. She was pleased that she and Florence had taken the time to put on their finest morning outfits. They looked completely at home amongst the well attired guests.
"How do I look?" Abby asked Florence nervously.
"Beautiful as always," Florence replied.
The two sisters had contrasting appearances. Florence reached over and shifted a stray blonde hair away from Abby's wide cheeked face. Abby's normally porcelain skin was flushed with the exertion of the walk to the hotel.
Florence had similar fine features, but with dark hair and brown eyes.
Abby's blue eyes shone with anticipation as she searched the reception room. Where was he? Had he changed his mind about coming?
What was she going to say to him? It was almost unbelievable that he had come so far just to see her. She couldn't imagine what kind of man would do such a thing.
He had come all the way from Montana!
Abby swallowed suddenly aware of how dry her throat had become.
Florence gave her sister a concerned glance.
What was she going to say to him? He had come for answers and she had no idea what she was going to say to him. Abby didn't even think he deserved an answer. Who did he think he was, coming all this way to demand an explanation? She had changed her mind. That was all she had done. In
these modern, improving days a woman was entitled to change her mind. Boston society wasn't like the wilds of Montana.
"Do you see him?" Florence asked looking over toward a group people who had emerged from the stairwell and were now making their way to the reception area.
Abby scrutinized them. "No. None of them look like a rancher from Montana, I guess."
Florence smiled. "What does a Montana rancher look like anyway? They must be tall and dark and muscular with all the outdoor work they do."
Abby scowled at Florence. "He's not just a common cowboy, Florence. In his letters he claims he is a prosperous rancher who has worked hard and done well for himself. Then again, one can't always believe what someone says in a letter. For all I know he might be short and bald and fat."
"I do hope not," Florence said with a gasp.
Abby looked firmly at Florence. "Please remember I'm not here to enter into a marriage with Mr. Grantly," she said. "On the contrary, I am here to put paid to his attempts to persuade me to go with him to Montana and become his wife."
"You're the one who changed your mind," said Florence.
Abby's brows furrowed. "As I am perfectly entitled to do. And, if he had been a gentleman he would have understood that and accepted that. Instead of which he has come all the way out here with the apparent intention of either demanding an explanation or, even worse, trying to persuade me to change my mind."
"I don't think anyone can change your mind about anything, Abby," said Florence.
Abby shook her head. A twist of nerves clutched at her stomach as she thought of the real reason she had refused Mr Nathan Grantly's proposal. It had nothing to do with anything so trivial as a change of mind. No. There was more to it than that, but she could never tell her sister. Florence was just too young to understand and in any case the matter was of such delicacy that the shame of it would overwhelm Abby if she even tried.
Some things just had to remain secrets, even between sisters. Florence only wanted Abby to be happy. The sisters were close, always had been. They had shared so much but Abby could never share the sadness of her life with Florence. It wouldn't be fair on her sister who was such a delicate and sweet young woman.
Abby turned and was about to suggest to Florence that they order some tea, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere the figure of a young girl, no more than five or six years of age and elegantly dressed in a charming, pretty outfit, crashed into the sofa, letting out a yell which echoed in the restrained silence of the room. Heads turned to see what was the cause of the noise.
Startled, Abby reached out to prevent the young girl from falling to the floor. Abby grasped the blonde haired girl's shoulder and tried to stop her from crashing her head against the hard marble. Abby felt a rush of relief as he managed to support the girl.
Abby stood and reached down to the girl, holding her upright. "My! Watch what you're doing little one. You could have hurt yourself there," Abby said. The girl looked up, green eyes bright with excitement.
Abby smiled involuntarily. The girl was so attractive looking. She had beautiful even features and her smile was plain infectious. Then she opened her mouth and spoke and Abby felt the a stab of shock.
"Are you Abby?" the little girl asked.
Abby felt her jaw drop. She frowned down at the girl. "Why yes. How do you know my name?"
"Because I told her," said a deep, slow, male voice.
Abby raised her head and gazed at the tall, wide shouldered man standing in front of her. The man laid a gentle hand on the young girl who turned and wrapped her arms around the man's strong legs.
"Papa. It's Abby," the little girl said in a quiet, sweet voice that made Abby's heart skip a beat.
"Ms. Long?" the man said, removing his wide brimmed hat.
Abby felt the ground shift beneath her. She rested a hand on the arm of the chair to steady herself.
"Mr. Grantly?" she asked, her voice cracking slightly.
Nathan Grantly smiled and nodded. "I recognized you from the likeness you sent me," Nathan said.
Abby looked at Nathan and frowned. "And this is your daughter?" she asked hesitantly.
Nathan's smile got even broader and he looked down at the little girl with obvious pride and love written all over his face. "It sure is. Emma. Say hello to Ms. Long."
Emma turned and smiled at Abby. "Hi Miss Abby," she said.
Abby smiled in spite of the shock she felt. Nathan Grantly had a daughter!
He hadn't told her that in his letters. She'd had no idea. He'd told Abby that he was a widower and the tale of his wife's passing from pneumonia had truly touched Abby's heart. But Nathan hadn't mentioned his daughter who was just about the cutest girl Abby had ever laid eyes on.
Abby introduced Florence and they all took their seats. Abby tried desperately to compose herself. She looked over at Florence, giving her sister a questioning look. All that Florence could do was match her sister's look of consternation.
Abby looked at Nathan who was twisting his hat in his hand and looking back and forth between Florence and Emma.
"Florence. Perhaps you could take Emma and show her the lovely garden this hotel has," Abby said, giving Florence the clearest hint that she needed time alone with Nathan.
Florence reached over to Emma. "How'd you like to go through that door over there, " she said pointing, "and I'll show you some of the prettiest flowers you've ever seen."
Emma frowned at first. "Montana's full of flowers," she said.
Nathan reached down and held Emma's shoulder. "Yes but the flowers here in the East are different. Go with Florence for a short while."
Emma hesitated, gave Florence a firm look and then nodded.
Florence stood and took Emma by the hand. Abby looked up at Florence. "Ten minutes should be enough," she said.
Looking at Nathan she saw his brow furrow at those words. Maybe she could have said that more sensitively, she thought. But there wasn't going to be much else to say.
Florence nodded and led Emma away.
After they had disappeared through the door Abby turned to Nathan. She was about to say something when Nathan stood suddenly and drew his chair closer to her own. Abby was taken aback by the gesture.
Up close Nathan was even more striking than she had thought. His eyes were blue, like her own. They fixed Abby with a look which made something shift inside her. The color of those eyes was so arresting that Abby couldn't look away from them for a few moments.
Nathan's mouth widened and his white even teeth flashed what Abby thought was a mischievous smile at her.
Abby settled her hands in her lap and straightened her posture. It was time to look and behave like the Boston lady she was.
"Well. Here we are then," he said after clearing his throat.
Abby's lips tightened into a polite grin. "Indeed we are. Your daughter is beautiful," she said maintaining a formal tone to her voice.
Nathan shifted his wide shoulders and pulled at the collar of his shirt. Abby thought he looked distinctly uncomfortable in the perfectly pressed suit he was wearing.
Nathan smiled. "She sure is. It's been a real job keeping her from busting with excitement this whole trip," he said.
Abby noticed that his voice was strong and had an appealing deep, vibrant quality. The men she met in polite circles, here in Boston, all seemed to have thin, flat voices.
Nathan's was wholly different.
"You didn't mention Emma in any of your letters," Abby said, more abruptly than she intended.
Nathan's eyes narrowed. "I didn't think it was the right thing to do. I thought I'd keep that for a future letter."
"It might have been an important thing for me to know."
"Would it have made any difference to your change of heart?"
"How do you know that's what it was?"
"It looked like a change of opinion to me. It took me by surprise, I can tell you. I thought things were developing nicely between us."
Abby shifted in her seat. "When I considered becoming your bride things were very different for me."
She looked away for a brief moment. "I can't go into the details. Especially not here."
Nathan leaned in closer and Abby could catch the scent of him. It was a curiously attractive mixture of leather and soap. "We had an agreement. I thought we had an understanding."
Abby lowered her head. How could she tell this man that she couldn't go through with their agreement. It had started out as an appealing idea, something which would solve so many problems in her life.
But then she'd had to alter her plans. Everything had changed for her the day she had come to understand that the life she had dreamed of would never be possible. He would never understand that. She was sure of that.
"It's a very difficult situation Mr.Grantly."
"Nathan," he interrupted. "Call me Nathan. Please."
Abby nodded. "Things are a little more complicated than they were when we first corresponded."
"How so?" he asked, his eyes eager for an answer.
Abby tightened her lips. She sighed and wondered just how much she could tell him. Nothing. That was what she could tell him. But he had come such a long distance for answers she couldn't give him.
"I wish I could provide you with the answers you so desperately need, Nathan. But I can't."