Colorado Hope

By: Charlene Whitman

A Sweet Historical Western Romance

(The Front Range Series Book 2)




Chapter 1



May 16, 1875

A fierce wind whipped Grace Ann Cunningham’s hair, yanking at the long strands and pulling them free from their pins. She squinted through the haze of the blustery day and stroked her bulging belly, trying to comfort her baby, who seemed just as agitated by the sudden storm. Her back ached from sitting on the hard buckboard bench all these miles—much less comfortable than the plush sleeper car they’d enjoyed last week on the train from Illinois to Cheyenne.

She frowned at the dark roiling clouds that had moved in and quickly blotted out the sun. What had been a pleasant uneventful morning was now turning into an ominous and unsettling afternoon on the open prairie.

Grace sucked in a breath as the baby again kicked her ribs in protest. Her sweet husband’s sun-browned face tightened in concern as he caught her gesture. He pulled on the reins of the two draft horses—sturdy ones they’d bought yesterday in Cheyenne. Surefooted, the seller had told them. And Monty knew his horses, so she trusted his purchase and assurance that they’d haul them without incident to Fort Collins. But looking at her husband’s face now, seeing the subtle telltale signs indicating that he hadn’t expected this squall nor felt at ease about it, gave her pause. And her normally talkative husband had been too quiet this last hour, eyeing the sky and listening to the roar of the nearby river, as if hearing their complaints and trying to suss out nature’s intentions.

“The baby all right, darlin’?” He scooted over on the buckboard seat to look her over, then took her hands in his.

Warmth from his gentle grip comforted her, but not as much as the love streaming from his adoring gaze.

“I think so,” she told him, then smiled as he laid his hand firmly on her belly.

Grace thanked the Lord in a silent prayer for this wonderful man who’d married her in a simple ceremony last September. All those years she’d lived with her doting aunt Eloisa in the boardinghouse back in Bloomington, she never imagined she’d be blessed with such happiness. When Montgomery Cunningham had first stepped into the parlor to take a room before starting college at Wesleyan University, she’d been a shy, giggling girl of ten. Neither of them foresaw the love that would spark six years later when he showed up again unexpectedly, about to head west to explore and survey lands unknown.

Monty closed his eyes, his hand still on the baby in her womb. She imagined him communing with their baby, speaking to it the way he spoke to rivers, to trees, to the land he traversed by boat and on horseback and on foot. Something had happened to him when he returned from the Hayden Yellowstone Expedition. He had changed from boy to man, yes—but it was more than that. He had fallen in love with the West, and with rivers in particular. Although he’d studied geology in college with John Powell, water captured his heart, and he sought out trips that had him navigating whitewater. Nothing made his eyes sparkle more than talking about the way water moved and sang as it cascaded and carved the face of mountains and spilled into waiting valleys. Well, except the way he looked at her.

Monty may have loved rivers, but Grace knew he loved her more. So much more, for he gladly gave up his exploring to settle down and marry and start a family. Although, Grace thought moving to the new town of Fort Collins, Colorado, was adventure enough. She hoped he’d come to see it that way as well and not be beset by a restless stirring to venture back out into the wild.

The West! Quite the change from her simple, comfortable life in Bloomington—if the lawless and untamed town of Cheyenne was any indication. She shuddered thinking of the seedy saloons and lecherous unwashed men they’d encountered as they sought purchase of their horses and wagon yesterday. If Monty hadn’t assured her she’d live in the manner she’d been accustomed to—with the same stars twinkling overhead—she would never have considered moving west. Not that she fancied some ostentatious lifestyle; she’d lived in a modest home under her aunt’s care. But she desired familiarity and the comfort of belonging to a community.

When he opened his eyes, she dared asked, “How much further?” They’d been traveling since dawn, making good time despite the roughness of the road and the boggy sections dotted with patches of melting snow. They’d been assured in Cheyenne that the fifty-mile road south through Colorado Territory was a bit rough but well traveled—but then, they’d also been given predictions of clear skies and gentle breezes the whole way to Fort Collins.

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