She’s a mail-order bride. He’s running from his outlaw past. Can they become a family or will he be pulled back into the criminal world?

When ex-criminal, Anthony Trevain, finds himself raising his little sister, he places an ad for a mail-order bride. Contrite and ashamed of the life he led, he decides to keep his shady past a secret from his betrothed. To provide for his new family, he is forced to accept a job from the one man who could pull him back into the criminal world.

To escape her society-driven mother, Rebecca Townsend flees Baltimore as a mail-order bride, but when she arrives in the mining town of Creede, Colorado, nothing is as she thought it would be. Beginning to care for her husband, she has difficulty getting past the wall he’s erected around himself.

Will his secrets forever stand between them or will their new family be torn apart before they can even come together?

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Creede, Colorado, May 1892

“I ’m not sure how much more of this I can take,” Anthony Trevain said, his voice pitched low in the half-empty restaurant as he toyed with the food on his plate. He didn’t like the pitiful sound permeating his normally decisive tone. He sounded like a pathetic child to his own ears.

“Are you certain he even knows? Maybe Smith is just guessing?”

Anthony bit down on the tender flesh of his inner cheek. The sharp sting gave him a moment of clarity through his mind’s worried haze. Maybe he was panicking without cause and his secret was still safe? He raised a questioning brow to the man sitting across the table.

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Charlie Mitchell looked and acted the part of a real gentleman. His dark hair was always slicked back to perfection, while Anthony’s always looked as if he’d been in a windstorm. He’d even grown facial hair and trimmed it like Charlie’s—the pencil-thin mustache and perfect goatee—but to his own eyes, he’d looked ridiculous and shaved it off.

While Anthony admired Charlie’s tailored suit coat and pants, wearing anything other than jeans and his normal plaid cotton shirts would be completely impractical for stocking the grocery the Mitchells owned or building his log home. Maybe one day, when he figured out what he was meant to do with his life, he’d consider purchasing a nice suit. But until then, he was content to remain the way he was. Almost.

In the last four years that Anthony had lived in Creede, Charlie and his wife, Nora, had shown him more kindness than he had ever known. The others living in the small mining town—if a narrow block of ramshackle buildings hastily constructed on both sides of East Willow Creek Canyon could be considered a town—hadn’t given him the time of day. He knew they considered him a no-account drifter. But not Charlie. Charlie was his friend and had been the moment he’d arrived on the grocer’s doorstep. Truth be told, he was the only friend Anthony had ever had during his twenty-six-year life.

Charlie stared into his half-empty cup, his large hands wrapped around the blue-speckled tin as he slowly swirled the cooling liquid. Finally, he raised the tin to his lips and tilted his head back, gulping the last of his drink. The sturdy metal clunked when he set it back on the table in front of him.

“In the four years I’ve known you, Anthony, I have heard you say those same words one other time, and it turned out you’d jumped to the wrong conclusion. This hidden past of yours bothers me. You’re a young man with a long life ahead of you. No one can tell you what to do, but I can tell you this. If you don’t talk about whatever you’re running from, it’s only going to get worse. Those feelings will continue eating away inside of you, like rot does to a tree.”

Anthony stared at his own untouched coffee. With a grunt, he pushed it and his half-eaten meal out of the way and crossed his arms in front of him. He leaned forward, his elbows digging into the rough tabletop. “You don’t know what I’ve seen, Charlie. I can’t…no. I refuse to return to that life. I’d rather die before that happens.”

“That’s what I mean. That’s all you give me, cryptic comments about your past.” Charlie sat back in his chair, the cracking ominous in the quiet room. “What could be so terrible? Everyone has a past—mistakes they want to forget.”

Anthony scrubbed his face, the rough callouses on his palms scraping over his cheeks. He dropped his hands into his lap and emptied the air from his lungs. “This goes no further than us, do you hear?” He glared at Charlie until the man gave him an almost imperceptible nod. Anthony glanced around the room. An older couple sat at the far end of the restaurant, silently eating their noon meal. Other than a young boy who looked to be about eight years old, the restaurant was empty.

“As you know, I grew up in New York City. Lower Manhattan, actually. My family life wasn’t the best, and to bring money in, my father skirted the law. My mother tried to shield me, but my father was…persuasive.”

“He hit her?” Charlie’s eyes narrowed.

Anthony nodded. “Among other things. My escape was the streets. I got to know several boys, and before I realized what they were about, I found myself a member of their street gang.” Anthony met Charlie’s gaze. “I was a member of The Whyos.”

Charlie’s expression remained blank, and he nodded his head encouragingly. “I’ve heard of them. Go on.”

Opening up about his past and all the stupid, hurtful things he’d done was like picking at a scab. There was the initial relief as it came off, momentarily stopping the irritating itch. Next came the burning sting as the protective covering was torn away from the tender skin underneath. Anthony said a silent prayer that once Charlie knew about him, he wouldn’t look at him differently or shun him the way everyone else in his life had. He took a deep breath, slowly letting it out as the churning in his gut worsened.

“I was just a stupid kid. I looked up to them…thought of them as brothers. I was one of the lucky ones. A few more boys joined after I did. They were more hardened than we were and took the group down a darker path. After that, our new leaders continued to change the gang until finally passing the edict that the only way to become a Whyo was to commit a murder.”

While he talked, Anthony stared at the white knuckles on each hand, clasped together on the table in front of him. “I know what you’re thinking, Charlie, but I never killed anybody. I’m not proud of who I was then, or what I did. I stole from hard-working people. On the orders of the leaders, I even hurt them. There’s no excuse for what I did. I wanted to belong to something so desperately that I sold my soul. I’ll never be able to make up for what I’ve done.” Slowly, he forced himself to look up until he met Charlie’s gaze. To his surprise, it wasn’t anger or pity he saw in his friend’s brown eyes, but sorrow. The slight shock must have shown, because Charlie’s lips twitched as if he was trying not to smile.

“How did you get out? From what I know of the New York street gangs, once a member, you stay a member. A life-sentence, if you will.”

Anthony shrugged but nodded once in agreement. “You’re right, it is. I saw an opportunity and took it. I’d gotten in deep enough to know if I didn’t find a way out, I’d end up hanging like Johnny Dolan did for his crimes. Dolan was the one who taught me and my best friend how to pickpocket. Unfortunately, once he got a taste of the finer things money could buy, his thirst for blood became paramount.”

“I remember reading about him. He’s the one who gouged out a man’s eyes…was caught with them in his pocket, wasn’t he?”

Anthony swallowed the bile creeping up the back of his throat and nodded. “My other friend in the group was Pat Maguire. He was like me more than the others. Kept to petty thefts, mostly. He had a run-in with a saloon owner and ended up becoming friends with him. Signor Passio was the man who took pity on me. One night, I overheard the group’s co-leaders talking about me and how I needed to prove my loyalty.

“Piker Ryan was one of the worst in the gang. He carried a book everywhere he went. Inside was a list he’d written of the things he was willing to do and the charge for each. He also kept a tally of the jobs he’d done over the years. I knew he’d just accepted a job to take one of the local business owners out for $100 and was supposed to do the deed that same night. I ran several blocks to Signor Passio’s saloon and told him everything. Ryan was arrested as he walked to the mark’s store. Once he was arrested, I was sent to live in North Manhattan with a relative of Signor Passio.

Four years later, I graduated from high school, but the Whyos territory had grown, and it wasn’t safe for me there anymore. Late one night, Signor arrived and took me to the train station. I stood beside him with my belongings stuffed into a small bag: one shirt, two pairs of socks, and a small bible he’d given me at graduation. In my jacket pocket was the ticket he’d bought to Denver and enough money to pay for stage ride here.”

“For whatever it’s worth, Anthony, I’d say you’ve done remarkably well. Like I said before, we all have a past and things we’d like to forget. You’ve done what many of those people never could. You started over and made something of yourself.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Babs Hightower on GoodReads wrote:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The author does an excellent job with the characters and setting. The reader will be turning the pages to see what happens. I will be looking for more books.

Glaidene Ramsey on GoodReads wrote:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I enjoyed this book very much. It had all the elements I love when reading mail order bride books. I hope you will enjoy this book by Heidi Vanlandingham!!!!!!!

Meri Overstreet on Amazon wrote:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Outstanding!

Outstanding western historical! The plot is fast paced and full of surprises. Anthony and Rebecca are magnificently portrayed and EARN their HEA!