“Jo, I’ve got a problem. And I only see one solution.”
Gideon Lowell stood bareheaded in the deserted cemetery on the outskirts of the sleepy Wyoming town of Carter’s Junction. His worn, gray cowboy hat rested atop a tombstone that read, “Johanna Lowell. Beloved wife and mother.”
But she’d been so much more. Scarcely a day went by that he didn’t miss her since he’d brought her home from Los Angeles to rest forever on this lonely, windswept hillside. At night he still reached for her in his sleep. He even turned around sometimes, expecting to see her, but she was never there. Wife, lover, friend. Mother of his children. He had loved her all his life.
“You know how hard it’s been on the kids since you’ve been gone. Three housekeepers in less than two years. Shuttled back and forth between the Rocking L and your sister Emily’s place whenever the latest housekeeper left. For myself, I wouldn’t care, Jo. I could make do.” He cleared his throat, his breath visible in the frigid February air. “But the kids, honey. For their sake I’ve got to break my promise to you.”
If anyone had been around to see him talking to himself, Gideon would have been mortally embarrassed. But since he was alone on this snow-covered hillside, he could do as he pleased without worrying about his neighbors thinking he’d gone over the edge.
Gideon didn’t come to the cemetery much anymore. With three children to raise and a thriving sheep ranch to run there wasn’t a lot of time left over. Furthermore, it was a painful reminder of the worst day in his thirty-three years. But there were still times when he felt compelled to talk things over with Johanna. He’d always done so ever since they were kids, and even though he knew she was dead, Gideon didn’t see why that meant he had to stop.
He crouched to brush away the snowdrifts from the bottom of the gravestone with his bare hand. “They need a mother, Jo,” he continued, “not a housekeeper. Nicki still isn’t talking, and the doctors say she’s probably locked herself away from being hurt again. She needs a stable home life and a lot of love if she’s ever going to come out of this.”
His heart ached as he thought of their eldest child, Nicki. Their firstborn. He’d delivered her himself because Johanna had waited too long to announce she was in labor and they hadn’t made it all the way into Sheridan in time. If only he could bring Nicki through this as easily as he’d brought her into the world.
“And then there’s Trina. Losing you has made her afraid she’s going to lose me, too. She cries whenever I leave her at Emily’s. And Andrew…he’s not even two yet, but still he knows there’s something missing from his life. He hardly ever laughs.”
He sighed deeply. “I’ve tried, Jo. God knows, I’ve tried. But I can’t do it alone anymore. The insurance money paid off the mortgage on the ranch and the rest is in the bank for the kids’ education, so their future is secure. But money can’t give them what they need right now. They need a mother. Someone who won’t pack up and leave when things get tough. Someone to be there for them, to love them and help me care for them.”
Gideon stood up and squinted into the setting sun, ignoring the cold seeping into his bones. “So, as I said, honey, I’ve got to partly break a promise to you. I know I swore there’d never be another woman for me—that I’d remain faithful to you for always.”
He leaned his weight on one hip in a casual stance belied by the harsh intensity of his tone. “I’ve never broken my word on that. But the kids need a mother, and the only way I can see to give them one without giving them up is to get married again.”
The wind off the mountains to the west picked up, ruffling Gideon’s golden brown hair and dusting snow over the grave he’d just brushed clean.
“Now, don’t fret about it. It isn’t anyone you know. As a matter of fact, it isn’t anyone I know, either. I’ve thought it over, and I realized the only way to do this, the only way I can bear to do this, is to advertise for a wife. That way, she won’t be expecting things from me I don’t have left to give.”
Gideon pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of his sheepskin jacket, unfolded it, and glanced at what he’d written, even though he already knew it by heart. “I’ve already written an ad for the Casper newspaper and an application for one of those online mail-order bride web sites. You know, the ones we used to make jokes about. Somehow, it’s not so funny anymore.”
He cleared his throat again. “I won’t lie to you, Jo. The loneliness gets pretty fierce at times. Our bed has been cold and empty for a long time. I need sometimes, Johanna. I dream of you and wake so hard and aching, that I think I’ll die of it. I reach for you and you’re not there. You’ll never be there again.” His voice deepened. “And I’m only human, honey. I know there’ll be times when I turn to her for relief. But she’ll never be you. She’ll never fill your place in my heart, I promise you. I’ll love you till I die, Johanna. Nothing can ever change that.”
He stood for a long time in silence, his powerful body casting a long blue shadow over the snow. At last Gideon reached for his Stetson, settling it firmly on his head.
“I have to go now, honey. Emily has the kids again and I want to stop off to spend some time with them.” He refolded the piece of paper and tucked it into his pocket. “And I have to do the ad and the application tonight…before I lose my nerve.” Gideon glanced around, reassuring himself that he was alone, then placed his large, callused hand on the headstone.
“I love you.”
GIDEON’S BRIDE, Copyright © 2016 by Amelia Autin Lam