» Hell On Women

Hell On Women cover

Blurb

Description: In the aftermath of the Civil War, Annabel Rawlins, a Louisiana belle, agrees to marry Travis Kinlaw, a Texas rancher, in order to have a home of her own. She is unprepared for life on the frontier. Travis is away on cattle drives six months of each year, and there are threats of Indian raids. In addition, she must help care for an invalid mother-in-law, a rebellious step-daughter, and a husband who seems haunted by the memory of his first wife.

Nevertheless, Annabel succeeds in making the ranch a comfortable home and in presenting her husband with a son. Then tragedy strikes and Annabel loses the will to keep struggling. Travis has to decide if he can make peace with his past in order to have a future with his wife.
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Excerpt

The gentlemen did not rejoin us in the parlor that evening, and mother assigned me the task of seeing Millie and Linda to bed. Walking along the gallery, we passed Kenneth's closed and darkened door. For once, I hoped he had left the plantation to "visit friends." I dreaded to think what might happen if his path crossed Captain Kinlaw's again. While the Captain had acted with restraint tonight, he'd still dealt Kenneth a telling blow, and shown a fierce nature hidden beneath his quiet manners.

After helping the girls into their nightgowns and listening to their prayers, I went to my room and got ready for bed even though I didn't feel the least bit sleepy. I put a thin wrapper on over my nightgown, picked up a small book of poems I'd been reading, and lay down on top of the bedspread.

A tap on my door surprised me. Who would be coming to my room this late? I relaxed when my Mother entered the room. "Annabel, you're not asleep, are you?"

I sat the book aside. "No, Ma'am. I've been reading."

"Your father wishes to speak with you."

"Should I get dressed?"

"You're all right the way you are. He's waiting in our bedroom."

There was tenseness in mother's expression. "Is something wrong?" I asked.

"No. Just come along with me."

I pulled my wrapper more tightly around me and followed her onto the dark gallery. Such a formal summons to my father's presence usually came only when he wanted to lecture me for some mis¬chief I had committed, so I couldn't quite accept Mother's assurance that nothing was wrong.

Father stood in the middle of the large bedroom, his hands clasped behind his back and his expression serious. "Annabel, I'm sorry to disturb you at such a late hour, but there is a matter of importance your mother and I wish to discuss with you."

"What is it, Papa?"

"Come over here and sit down, please." I did as he asked, and he began to pace in small circles in front of me. "I suppose you know that Captain Kinlaw is a widower, and has been so for some time. When his mother realized he would be stopping in New Orleans, she suggest¬ed he look for an appropriate lady to marry while here. She even wrote to your Aunt Jane and sought her assistance in the matter."

He paused and mopped his brow with large handkerchief. Misgivings made my brow a bit damp too. "This evening, the Captain asked for my permission to propose to you."

I stared at father in amazement. "Me! Did you tell him that was impossible?"

"I told him I would speak to you about it."

"What is there to speak about? I hardly know the man. I certainly don't love him, and I'm sure he doesn't love me after such a short acquaintance."

"I know this seems very rushed, but the Captain has been away from his home for a long time and is planning to return there next week."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Next week! Does he think I could marry him and move to the wilderness in a week? Papa, I'm surprised you even agreed to speak to me about this."

"Now wait, Annabel, there's a lot to consider here. Captain Kinlaw owns a large amount of land in Texas, and with these new cattle trails, there seems to be excellent opportunity there. The drive he just completed netted him quite a profit in cash. Cash money, my dear, do you know how hard it is for any Southerner to come by cash these days?"

The intensity of my father's voice sent a twinge of fear through me.

"You know what a difficult time I've been having," he continued. "Quite frankly, I've recently been facing the very real possibility that we will lose our home."

"How would my marrying Captain Kinlaw affect that?" Despite my best efforts to remain calm, my voice quivered.

"He has offered, as a member of the family, to loan me enough money to cover my labor costs this season. If we can just save this year's crop--"

I gasped in horror and jumped to my feet. "You're selling me, then, just like a slave! Oh, Papa, how could you?" Tears began to splash on my cheeks, and I fled, running blindly along the gallery to my room.

I threw myself across the bed, pounded the mattress with my fists, and moaned loudly. My parents, even Aunt Jane and Uncle Leon, had plotted to marry me off to that cowboy. They had shown me like some prize heifer! Well, all their scheming had been for naught. Before I let them marry me off to a stranger, I'd drown myself in the bayou!

When a hand touched my shoulder, I nearly choked on one of my own sobs. Jerking my head up, I saw my mother's white, tear-stained face.

"You've done your father a great injustice, dear."

"Oh, Mama! How can you be part of this? Don't you love me?" I buried my face in the bed, letting my tears wet the coverlet.

Mother lightly rubbed my back. "Hush that foolish talk. Of course I love you and so does your father. Don't you know he would never force you to marry anyone?"

"He must know I don't want to marry that man," I gasped through my sobs.

"Why not?"

The question surprised me so much that I looked up and gulped back my sobs.

"Have you really thought about it?" Mother asked. "He's a strong man with good prospects and that's pretty rare in these times."

"But he's so old!"

"He's twenty eight, that's young for a man. Perhaps he seems older because of all he's been through. Anyway, your father is nearly ten years my senior. Do you think he's too old for me?"

"No, but you love Papa."

"And I've filled your head with stories of our wonderful courtship. You want the same thing, and I want you to have it," her voice cracked, "but these are different times-hard times. So many of our men have been lost, and those who are left are being crushed by the burden of rebuilding our world. I fear the gallant days are gone forever. But you have a chance to have a home and children of your own. Don't throw that away without giving it serious thought.

I moved to sit beside her. Could I be wrong? I did want a home of my own. Might this be my only opportunity to have it? "But how can I marry a man I don't love?"

"Annabel, I was in love with your father when I married him, but I love him more deeply today. True marital love comes from sharing a life, the good times and the bad, from building a family and a future. Captain Kinlaw is a hard worker, and he comes from good stock. I wouldn't encourage this marriage if I didn't think you could have a good life with him."

"And will we come to love each other?"

"I don't have a crystal ball, honey. I can't assure you of the future, but I know women are meant to be wives and mothers, and it would set my heart at ease to see you married to a strong man."

"Will we truly lose Riveroaks?"

"Don't worry about that, we'll get by. Leon says he can get your Papa a position in the city."

"Would Papa have to work for a Yankee? He couldn't stand that."

"He can if he has to."

The thought of my father making such a sacrifice for his family made me feel small and selfish. "Well-I guess I can marry Captain Kinlaw."

Mother threw her arms around me "Oh, no, my darling, this is for the rest of your life. You can't do it unless you truly want to."

"But, Mamma, how can I know if I truly want to."

"Tomorrow you can talk to the Captain, and then search your heart, and you will know. Now, come and apologize to your father. He's terribly upset."

Grateful for a chance to once again be firmly set in my family's affections, I readily agreed to face Papa.

With tears of joy streaming down his face, he brushed my apology aside. It had just been a misunderstanding, he assured me, due entirely to his clumsy explanation of the situation. Of course, the final decision would be mine. He would never agree to the wedding unless I did too, and I wasn't to worry about what would happen to my family if I decided to reject the Captain's proposal. We would get by, he promised.

After hugs and kisses all around, I returned to my room and lay sleepless for several hours as I tried to remember all I had seen and heard of Travis Kinlaw. He was a silent, somber, man who appeared gentle, but had also shown great fierceness. Why did he want to marry me? What would it be like to be his wife?

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