Judd by Marianne Spitzer

 

Prologue

Spring 1876

Retired bounty hunter Judson Barrick stepped out onto the porch of the small cabin he had built as a temporary home. It sat in the far northern area of land he and five other bounty hunters inherited in the middle of Wyoming. As he glanced around the vast property, he could envision the cattle and horses they would buy and the crops they could grow to feed their herd. He could see it all—all except a wife and children.

Between the scars on his body from bounty hunting and the reputation he had for never giving up on finding a criminal, he had gained some notoriety in town. Standing an inch or two over six feet, Judd’s nearly shoulder length brown hair and piercing brown eyes made him an imposing figure. Men smiled at him and greeted him with knowing smiles as if they understood his lifestyle. Women glanced away after staring at him with fear or repulsion in their eyes. At thirty-three, he was ready to settle down, but with who and how?

How would he find a woman who might consider marrying him and starting a family? He heard men sent for a mail-order bride, but how could he advertise for one who wouldn’t run from him in fear? Needed:wife for man in his thirties with scars, a past, anda questionable reputation? Judd laughed out loud, thinking about the reaction women would have reading such a request. Maybe he could word it more carefully, allowing his better traits to show while warning the women that he wasn’t the type of man for a preacher’s daughter or debutante.

Judd nodded to himself before heading to the small barn that was more of a lean-to that he had hastily constructed. That’s what he’d do. Write an ad that would appeal to a strong woman who would accept him faults and all. After all, men and women exchanged letters before meeting, and he could assure any woman that while he was a decent man, he also had rough edges. The town might even question her sanity if she decided to marry him.

* * *

A few weeks later:

Over one hundredmiles southwest of Judd’s small cabin, a noisy saloon sat on the edge of a Colorado mining town. If it qualified as a town. A few stores catering to the local miners, a food tent, a ramshackle house doubling as a hotel, and the saloon.

The young saloon girl was tired. She had sung and danced for drunken miners for over four hours, and now she was expected to entertain a few of them in her room before the night was over. Her stomach twisted at the thought, but she forced herself to smile and face the customers.

Dressed in a red satin dress adorned with black flounces that barely covered her knees, she motioned to the bartender that she was headed to her room for a few minutes to freshen up before she returned to the saloon floor. Her dark blonde hair was beginning to come loose from the red ribbon she used to tie it back away from her face. She wanted to hide, but she knew if she tried, she’d face the owner’s wrath. Each time he glanced her way, her heart thudded in fear and she prayed she’d find a way out of her situation. She couldn’t put it off. She’d tried everything she could think of for three weeks. It was either entertain a customer or face another beating. She wasn’t sure which was worse.

Flossie, known only to herself as Molly Hughes, entered the quiet of her dank room above the saloon and sighed as she sat on her bed for a moment’s rest. She reached once again for the newspaper lying on the small table next to her bed and read the advertisement.

Rancher seeking a wife. A strong woman needed who understands what the realities of life might be married to a man with a complicated past. Honest, hardworking, amiable, and can offer the protection of my name and home. Would never abuse his wife or children. If interested, please write to Judson Barrick, Sunset Creek Ranch, Sunset Creek Wyoming.

Molly reread the advertisement. If the man had a complicated past, perhaps he could understand hers. Life as a soiled dove was her worst nightmare, and if it hadn’t been for her drunken father selling her to pay off his gambling debts, she might have been a married woman by then. Safe and sound with a loving husband instead of living upstairs in a saloon. That could possibly change with a man such as this.

Molly folded the newspaper and slipped it under her mattress to keep it safe. She didn’t dare write to Judson Barrick because the saloon owner would beat her or kill her outright for thinking of leaving. Sneaking away was a much better option. She did have some money saved from a few generous drunken customers who offered extra coins occasionally for a dance or song. She could run and walk and somehow try to get to Wyoming.

His name kept running through her mind. Where had she heard that name before? Barrick, Judd Barrick. She snapped her fingers and remembered the two surly men earlier that month who were on the run from a bounty hunter named Barrick. How many men named Barrick could there be? A bounty hunter for a husband certainly would be her safest option.

Now, could she do it? Could she run? Could she make it to Wyoming? Would Judd Barrick welcome her? There was only one way to find out, and that was to try.