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Lorana Hoopes

An Unexpected Love Audiobook

An Unexpected Love Audiobook

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When a mail-order bride meets disaster!

All Jesse Jennings ever wanted to do was marry his fiancée Pauline and be a rancher, but when Pauline is killed by a band of robbers, Jesse dons a deputy sheriff’s badge, swearing he will obtain justice for her wrongful death.

After Kate Whidby’s parents pass away, she is forced to live with her brother and his new wife, but living with a woman who not only doesn’t like her but resents her presence proves too difficult, propelling Kate to accept a mail order bride offer. But when she arrives in Texas, not all is as it appears. Kate’s betrothed has a dark past and when the truth comes to light, she is sent fleeing into Deputy Sheriff Jesse Jenning’s arms.

Will Jesse find Pauline’s killer? Will Kate find safety and protection? And will he be able to let go of his past to build a new future with Kate?

Journey back to 1883 in this sweet historical romance by USA Today best selling author Lorana Hoopes. You'll fall in love with the characters and the town as they work to stop a band of robbers and find love along the way. Read now to start the adventure.

First Chapter

Boston, Massachusetts 1883

Mary Katherine Whidby, or Kate as her family called her, pressed her lips together as she watched the dirt fall onto the wooden casket that housed her mother. Every thud was like a knife to her heart. Her father had been taken a year prior in an accident, and though her mother had tried to remain strong, her broken heart had finally caught up to her. Well, that and the influenza that had run through the town a month ago, but Kate was convinced it was her mother’s broken heart that made her susceptible to the influenza.

A hand touched her arm, and Kate looked up to find the weathered and wrinkly eyes of Mr. Tanner staring at her. His thinning white hair barely covered his balding pate, and deep creases marred much of his face. He was at least twice her age if not more, but he’d had his eye on her since her father’s funeral. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Mary Katherine.”

Kate bit the inside of her cheek to keep her sarcastic reply to herself. She hated being called by her formal name, although perhaps in Mr. Tanner’s case it was just as well that he didn’t use her informal moniker, but she did not believe for a second that he was truly sorry for her loss. In fact, she wouldn’t put it past him to propose marriage like he had at her father’s funeral. He seemed incapable of taking no for an answer. Though she was not brazen enough to ask, Kate was almost positive that he was simply looking for a woman to take care of him as his health deteriorated. His own wife had passed a few years prior and Kate had ascertained through the rumor mill that his children had no interest in taking care of him. Not that Kate could blame them. From what she knew of Mr. Tanner, cantankerous might be too kind of a description.

Still, she should consider his proposal. It was one thing to dismiss it when her mother was still alive, and she could claim she needed to remain single to be her mother’s caretaker, but now that her mother was also gone, her situation was more pressing. Society did not permit her to  live by herself which meant that she would have to join her brother in his residence, and while that situation was not ideal, her brother had recently married and his wife Abigail was not a fan of Kate’s.

“My offer still stands, Mary Katherine. I could use a woman to keep my house in order. I know you are not much for womanly duties, but I could make an exception since you are so easy on the eyes.” His lecherous gaze traveled the length of her body, and Kate shivered.

“Thank you, Mr. Tanner, but I am afraid my answer is still no.” She took a step back, allowing her distance to remove his hand from her arm. He did not try to close the distance, but anger flashed in his eyes. 

“You will change your mind, Mary Katherine. Of that I am sure.”

When he turned and walked away, Kate let out the breath she’d been holding in a sigh. She would have to do something, but she could not marry that man. Every fiber in her body believed it would be a giant mistake.

“Kate, how are you doing?”

Kate relaxed at the quiet, peaceful voice of her friend. Anna was a kind and sweet woman who, unlike Kate, had mastered the art of being content taking care of a home, and had married a nice man a few months ago. The two women tried to keep in contact as often as they could, but that was growing difficult now that Anna was expecting her first child. “I am unsure what to do next, Anna.”

Kate would not share that information with most people, but she knew that Anna would keep her secret.

Anna nodded sagely and leaned closer as she whispered, “I suppose Mr. Tanner was proposing once again.”

“He was, and I turned him down again, but the only other proposal I have received was from Jonathan James and he is not a Christian man.” Kate shivered as she pictured Jonathan James’ stern face. Instead of age etching out the lines on his face, a hard life and alcohol had. The man worked at The Bell in Hand Tavern, a place that Kate would never condone nor step foot inside, and she had no idea if he really wanted to marry her or was hoping he could put her to work if he was her husband. She had no intention of finding out.

“So, what are you going to do?”

Kate surveyed the small cemetery. The ceremony had not been large, and most of the attendees were now making their way home. She would have to leave as soon as her brother was ready. “I do not know. My training is lacking in any area I could seek employment, and there have been no reasonable prospects.”

“Well, there is one option you may not have thought of yet.”

“What is that?” 

“You could answer a mail-order bride request in the paper.”

Kate’s eyes widened and her hand flew to her chest. “What? I could do no such thing. That would mean moving across the country to live with a total stranger.”

Anna’s brow lifted. “Would it be worse than living with Abigail?”

Kate sighed and shook her head. “Probably not. I can understand her need to make her house her home, but I do not understand her cruel treatment.”

Sincerity flooded Anna’s eyes. “Have you talked to Robert about the situation?”

Kate shook her head again. “He is being kind enough to take me in, but he is not the brother I remember. Ever since Father passed, he has been gruffer and more easily riled. He does not take his responsibility lightly, but I do not want to add to his concerns.”

“Then I think you must consider the other option. I have a few friends who answered such ads and while they say the work out west is difficult, they have found happiness with the men they chose to marry.”

Kate lifted her chin and pulled back her shoulders. “I am not afraid of hard work, but I am not convinced that is the right option.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Robert approaching and knew she needed to terminate the conversation with her friend. “However, I will pray about it. Thank you, Anna.”

As she leaned in to give Anna a quick embrace, her friend whispered in her ear, “And I will be praying for you.”

“Kate, it is time.” Robert’s stern voice left no room for argument, and Kate flashed a small wave to her friend as she fell into step with her brother. “We will stop at the estate to pick up whatever you need and get you settled in our house tonight.”

“Must we?” Abigail asked, linking her arm through Robert’s. “Couldn’t she stay at the estate a few days to pack everything up?”

“It would not be proper for her to stay there alone. Besides, the bank will be keeping most of the items with the house.”

Kate’s heart clenched at the thought of all the items she would be forced to leave at the house. She knew that items were just things, but they were the only things she had left to remember her parents by and the thought of someone from the bank stuffing them away in trunks brought tears to her eyes. She quickly blinked them back. She was Mary Katherine Whidby and she would not cry.

* * *

Sage Creek, Texas 1883

Jesse Jennings removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. The heat was beating down fiercely today, and his eyes burned from the sweat trickling into them, but at least the last fence post was in. With his cattle once again safe, he would now be able to focus on putting the finishing touches on his homestead, so he could marry Pauline. That was the light at the end of the very hot tunnel.

As he replaced his hat, the sound of horsehoofs carried through the air. Jesse turned and watched until the form of Sheriff Johnson could be made out. Stifling a sigh, Jesse lifted his gaze to the lawman.

“What can I do for you, Sheriff?” It was a question he didn’t really need to ask because he knew the answer. Sheriff Johnson had come around once every few days like clockwork the last few weeks to try and enlist Jessie as a Deputy Sheriff. He could appreciate the man having confidence in him, but Jesse had no interest in law enforcement. Sure, he enjoyed the protection the law provided as much as the next person, but he was just a simple rancher, and all he wanted to do was marry his sweetheart and raise cattle.

Unfortunately, time and money had dwindled after some rough winter weather and the previous summer’s drought, extending the finishing of the homestead.

“You know why I'm here, Jesse,” the older man said as he dismounted his chocolate brown stallion. “There was another robbery last night. This time at Doc Moore’s office. No one was hurt, but they took a lot of his supplies. We need more men to help patrol. At least until we catch these varmints.” He removed his hat and ran his leathery hand through his salt-and-pepper hair.

“I'm sorry to hear that Sheriff, but as I've told you before, I’m not a lawman, and I need to finish this homestead and get the crops ready for farming this summer.”

Sheriff Johnson planted his hands on his slim hips and donned his hat again. “Well, I can set with that, but the attacks appear to be becoming more frequent. I just hope you still have a home when all is said and done.” With that, Sheriff Johnson tipped the brim of his black Stetson before re-mounting his horse.

Jesse lifted a hand in a loose wave and watched the sheriff recede from view. Maybe Sheriff Johnson was right. He was young and in shape and not half bad with a gun if he did say so himself. Plus, the position was bound to pay a little. He could certainly use some money to start his life with Pauline, but not right now. Once he finished the homestead he’d be able to think about it. Right now, thoughts of Pauline with her long blonde hair consumed his thoughts.

Jesse checked the sun on the horizon. It had sunk low, leaving the sky a brilliant orange and pink color.  He had lost track of time and needed to wash up before dinner with Pauline. They did not occupy the same homestead yet, but he tried to attend dinner with her every night he could. Setting up consistent habits was something he thought important.

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.