by D Jordan Redhawk
Finding a husband after the American Civil War isn’t easy.
When twenty-two-year-old Bostonian Clara Stapleton discovers the address of a likely bachelor in the wilds of the Alaskan bush, she throws caution to the wind and sends him a letter. Soon she’s on the adventure of her life, leaving the comfort and stability of a well-to-do family for a man she’s never met and a life of uncertainty.
Callie Glass isn’t happy with her brother Jasper’s proposal to a mail-order bride, though she knows it’s not her call. And when a tragic accident takes Jasper Glass’s life, Callie doesn’t hesitate to call off the wedding in a letter to Clara. Callie is soon surprised to find a strange woman settling into her cabin, a stranger who had never received news of Jasper’s demise.
While Callie insists that the other woman should return home, Clara digs in her heels. If Callie can live without a man in this isolated land, why can’t she? Both headstrong women struggle in the ashes of their dashed hopes and dreams, slowly coming together to forge an alliance for which neither is prepared.
GCLS Goldie Awards
Alaskan Bride — Finalist, Historical Fiction.
The Lesbian Review
The writing in this book is excellent, using the language and syntax of the time to support the worldbuilding in a way that's still easy for readers to understand now. The characters are also wonderful, and I particularly loved the grit Callie showed as she adjusted to life in Alaska.
Lambda Literary Review
This is the kind of story that Redhawk does best—women in the wilds of Alaska, driven by love of the untamed beauty surrounding them and an internal determination to succeed in adversity. Then, she skillfully sprinkles the tale with a love interest that is both unattainable and irresistible.
Alaskan Bride is an electrifying historical romance…set in the days of the Alaskan gold rush, filled with memorable characters, thrilling action, and romance that pulls at the heart strings.
Rainbow Book Reviews
…Redhawk writes dialogue very well, and she overlays each scene with just the right amount of insight into what each of these women is thinking of the other. The pacing was excellent throughout but especially toward the end, when the trouble with the bad guys builds to an exciting finish along with the romance itself. At this point I really did turn the pages too fast because I couldn't wait to see how it all resolved. A great read!
Lesbian Reading Room
D Jordan Redhawk has created an interesting set of characters between the more refined Bostonian family and the roughneck frontier folk. The beauty of the landscape and the harshness of the lifestyle play an important part in the background of the story as we witness Clara's transformation from Boston debutant to gun-toting frontier homesteader. I really enjoyed this story and hope there is a sequel, as we can certainly have more of Callie and Clara's lives together. Excellent writing, unusual setting, passionate characters and very well done realistic storyline.
“Are you cutting a shine with me?” The young woman rattled the section of newspaper across the table at her companion. Her cheeks dimpled as she smiled. “You? A mail-order bride?”
Clara Stapleton felt the skin of her face and throat heat. Her eyes darted about the cafe, and she prayed to God that the nearest patrons hadn’t overheard Emma Whitman’s loud proclamation. None of the half-dozen other habitués paid their table any mind, either having missed the implications of Emma’s words or perhaps being too polite to exhibit a response. Clara’s stomach quivered with a mixture of relief, excitement and quiet audacity that she even considered this controversial topic. The idea of searching for a husband via matrimonial agencies smacked of desperation. Confident that the occupants of neighboring tables remained oblivious, she snatched the newspaper from Emma’s hand. “Hush!” She leaned over the table to scold her best friend. “Keep your voice down!”
Emma glanced around the small establishment, the impish joy on her round face extinguished by sudden concern. The expression didn’t last long as she too judged there had been no witnesses to her outburst. A familiar mischievous light returned to her brown eyes, and her bow mouth creased to allow the dimples a speedy return. She mimicked Clara and leaned close across the detritus of their afternoon tea. “Are you serious? Searching the advertisements for a husband?”
Clara’s butterflies intensified. The revelation of her intentions to her dearest friend somehow brought her purpose into sharper focus. Her scheme was no longer an amorphous wondering in her mind now that she’d dared speak the words aloud. For a brief moment she entertained the notion of naysaying herself, of capitulating to Emma’s delighted question with a negative. To do so would conjure a prevarication between them, something to which they’d promised one another as children they would never fall prey. Such a lie would chip away at the foundation of their closeness and eventually destroy that which Clara held so dear. She pressed her hand against her trembling stomach. “Yes Em. I’m serious.”
Emma flounced backward in her chair, eyes wide, smile turned incredulous. Her fingers worried her napkin ring, the silver flashing reflections from the sunlight that splayed across the tablecloth. She studied Clara for a long moment. “I must say, Clara, the idea never occurred to me.” She gazed at the newspaper clutched in Clara’s hand and lowered her voice. “But it sounds positively wicked!”
Relief briefly overrode all other concerns, and Clara wondered why. She and Emma had supported one another through dozens of escapades throughout their shared childhood, some undertakings more questionable than not. Why wouldn’t Emma throw her full support behind Clara for this cockamamie idea? She returned Emma’s smile. “It does sound wicked, doesn’t it?”
Emma reached across the table and wiggled her fingers at the newspaper until Clara returned it. She carefully straightened out the wrinkled pages, shuffling through them until she found the one with the title “Matrimonial News.” Her eyebrows rose as she noted Clara’s careful selections marked on the newsprint. “I see you’ve found some creditable entries.”
Clara’s cheeks burned. She used her napkin to fan herself. “There are a few that seemed…appropriate.” Her discomposure wilted under a stronger sense of exhilaration, and she scooted her chair closer to Emma’s. They both perused the advertisements, and Clara pointed at a circled entry as she spoke. “This gentleman seems nice enough. Landowner, successful farmer and relatively young.” Another. “And this one is a widower with a pub here in Boston.”
Emma scowled at the adverts. “Yes, but the landowner is in Georgia. His property is no doubt still war-torn even after all these years. Do you want to marry a man whose family may have been slave owners? He’ll probably have you singing the ‘Bonnie Blue Flag’ at your wedding.” Before Clara could respond, Emma skipped to the second example. “And a pub owner? Really?” She glared with stern intent at her best friend. “You don’t know the first thing about running a tavern. What he needs is a workmate as well as a wife. Do you believe you’re capable of pouring busthead and ale for hundreds of drunken men?”
“I’m not certain,” Clara said, more unsettled by Emma’s use of the slang for whiskey than by her argument.
“I am certain. Neither of these men is suitable.” Emma returned her brisk attention to the paper, rapidly scanning the pencil marks her friend had used to accentuate possibilities. “And this one? Alaska? There’s nothing there except smelly old miners and snow!”
Clara eyed the advertisement as she groped for the proper words. “To be honest, that one is my favorite.”
Emma gaped at her. “Your favorite?” She read the advert aloud, ducking her head closer to the newsprint and lowering her voice when Clara hissed. “Matrimonial - A worthy man, age 34, seeking a well-educated younger woman for marriage in the Alaskan District. A trapper by trade, I am industrious, clean and even-tempered with thirteen hundred acres of homestead and need a help-mate and loving wife.” She let the paper fall to the table and rounded on Clara. “A trapper? In the mountains of the Alaskan territory? Are you moonstruck? When was the last time you spent a night out-of-doors?”
A little riled, Clara returned Emma’s unrelenting gaze. “He has a homestead.”
“A hovel, perhaps.” Emma sniffed disdain as she retrieved the advertisements once more. “It would be easier to learn how to sling drinks in a pub.” She peered at the trapper’s advert. With an air of disgruntled reluctance, she pursed her lips. “Thirteen hundred acres isn’t something to sneeze at, I suppose. It’s a wonder he claims to be a trapper rather than a gold miner. And thirty-four seems a bit old.” She turned the paper, as if looking for more information on the backside. “It doesn’t say he’s a widower. Why hasn’t he been married before now?”
“He’s no older than some of the layabouts rooting around for companionship here,” Clara argued. She and Emma had both had their fill of the local men who had taken it upon themselves to woo them. The majority of those allegedly eligible bachelors were too old, too young or had neither the stability nor financial fortitude to begin families. Those men that would have been acceptable already had wives or had located connubial prospects far away. The last thing Clara wanted was to succumb to the sublimely wearisome businessmen who’d come knocking at her father’s door. She craved something different, something provocative. She tapped the Alaskan’s advert. “And he’s already an accomplished tradesman and landowner.”
“Both excellent points.”
Emboldened, Clara continued. “I’ve also heard that the countryside there is absolutely stunning. Crisp freshwater springs, Olympian mountains and deep forests.” She stared into the distance, inadvertently falling into a daydream. “Fish fairly jumping out of the rivers and lakes, elk and moose wandering right up to your home. Pristine air…”
Emma cocked her head at Clara. “But…Alaska. We’d never see one another.”
Clara’s fantasy popped. Aghast, she snatched Emma’s hand, holding tight. “Yes we will! I’ll come visit and bring my family. My children must meet their godmother, of course. And my best friend.” She smiled. “And you must come visit me as well. Perhaps I can convince you and your future husband to join us there.”
“Perhaps.” It was Emma’s turn to blush, her dimples turning a delightful shade of red. The man she’d always wanted for her future husband was no secret to either of them. Clara’s brother, Bradford Stapleton, currently attended Harvard University as a student of law. Emma had become enamored of his gallant good looks and bright blue eyes when they were children.
The vision expanded in Clara’s mind. She and her jaunty husband stood on their porch, overlooking the majestic scenery of Alaska while their children played in the yard. Emma and Bradford, arm in arm, coming abreast of a slight rise, waved greeting as they led Clara’s many nieces and nephews to their new home.
“Will there be anything else, young ladies?”
Flustered by the interruption, Clara blinked up at the new arrival at their table.
The proprietor of Huckleberry Above Persimmon, Mr. Tally, hovered at her elbow. His pronounced girth was swathed in a pristine apron, and he grinned at the two young women as he wiped his hands on a towel.
Emma was quicker to her senses, folding the newspaper with alacrity in order to block the nosy restaurant owner from discerning the topic of their interest. “I believe not, sir. Thank you.”
Faint disappointment brushed across Mr. Tally’s face. Clara didn’t know if it was due to his inability to learn what they’d discussed or the realization that they were finished with their meal. Gossip about town suggested that he had wandering hands.
Taking Emma’s cue, Clara located her handbag. “How much do we owe, Mr. Tally?”
The owner’s dissatisfaction faded, replaced with rapacity. “The ‘tally,’ if you will,” he chuckled at the oft-repeated play on his name, “is twenty cents. Unless I may interest you in a serving of baked apples? They’re hot out of the oven and most delicious.”
Clara extracted a coin purse, and carefully selected a quarter. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary, Mr. Tally.” She proffered the coin. “The beefsteak was quite filling.” Mr. Tally bobbed his head as he accepted payment. While he fished in a pocket for change, she smiled and patted his forearm. “Please keep the remainder.”
“As always, the service was excellent,” Emma cut in, preparing to rise.
Mr. Tally hastened to assist them from their chairs. He peppered them with inconsequential chitchat until the women found themselves on the front step of the restaurant.
“Next time it’s my turn.” Emma used the reflection in the front window to adjust the gray felt sailor hat she’d donned for their outing. When all was to her satisfaction, she turned to her friend.
“Certainly.” Clara linked her arm through Emma’s and they strolled down the busy sidewalk.
“So, you’re certain then?”
Clara squeezed Emma’s arm. “Yes, I am.” She watched the bustle of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys rumble past, the clouds of dust left in their wake. Freshly cut wood lashed to a cart went by, the scent of pine drifting through the air. The sidewalk was crowded with people—mostly men on business—but the occasional woman or two had chosen this fine day to shop or enjoy their afternoon tea in style. Clara would miss the flurry of activity in which she’d been raised, the cosmopolitan atmosphere of her hometown.
“And you’re set on the Alaskan?”
“Yes.” Clara smiled.
Emma made a moue. “I can’t change your mind?”
Clara stiffened. “I must confess that I’ve already written him.”
“What?” Emma pulled back, mouth and eyes wide. “You did not!”
Unable to speak, Clara nodded. She didn’t know whether Emma would take her precipitous action as daring or a betrayal of their friendship. Emma’s quicksilver emotions could sway in either direction.
Emma’s expression teetered between dismay and awe, finally settling on grudging admiration. “You are a little hussy, aren’t you?” she asked in a whisper, a puckish grin upon her face.
Her acceptance nearly caused Clara to swoon as relief flooded through every muscle and nerve. Her eyes stung with the unshed tears of uncertain stress. The one constant in her life had been Emma. Hurting her was akin to hurting herself. Now that Clara had vaulted the obstacle of Emma’s opinion in this matter, she realized how foolish she’d been. Of course Emma would support her in this endeavor, foolhardy or no. Such had been the way of their friendship throughout their lives. They loved each other more than their own siblings and parents. Clara doubted she’d ever be able to discover that depth of adoration with a man. If such was the case, she could at least live a life surrounded by natural beauty.
The ropes dug into Callie Glass’s shoulders, a familiar sensation after a half-dozen years on the trapline. Behind her she heard the wooden rails of the sledge grate against rock and hardpack. Occasionally she’d hit a patch of ice and snow from the last storm, and the sledge would lurch forward, its load of carcasses swaying with the abrupt change in speed. Though she sweated from the exertion, she wore her jacket. She hated the fact that she’d taken after her mother, inheriting a frail-looking and feminine body that belied her sinewy strength. To counteract the initial impression of being a lightweight, a pretty little thing with a tendency toward hysteria, she wore bulky clothing to appear physically larger. The tactic didn’t always work.
A wisp of golden hair fell from beneath her slouch hat, tickling her nose. She puffed a breath to dislodge it from her face. The stubborn lock drifted back into place. As much as she wanted to stop and tuck it back under the brim, she refrained. The cabin was ahead on an uphill incline. If she halted now, she might not be able to get the heavy sledge back into motion for the last hundred feet. It would be mortifying to wait for her brother to return from Skagway with their only horse because she’d foundered the sledge this close to home.
The scent of rich loam and pine trees gave way to the smell of wood smoke and the sea. About a quarter mile away from the cabin, the waves along the Taiya Inlet slapped loud against the shoreline. Another steamer full of miners must have recently passed en route to Skagway. To distract herself from her recalcitrant tresses and the burn of exertion in her thighs and back, Callie gazed over the water toward the fold of land that hid the Chilkoot Inlet. Another ship had rounded the corner and was headed landward, smoke and steam emitting from its stacks as it neared.
She sneered at the ship, stilling her face as the action brought another annoying tickle to her nose. Every ne’er-do-well and blowhard had turned up with gold in his or her eyes these last few months. Skagway hadn’t been her most favorite place in the world to start with, but now it had swelled to bursting with the influx of Johnny Newcomes and muckmen who thought they could make it rich in the northern goldfields.
Callie put her back into the effort as the sledge hit a rough patch of ground. Not for the first time did she thank God above that her brother, Jasper, hadn’t fallen sway to gold fever. Rather than drop everything in her lap and head north with the rest of the hopeful miners, he’d extended their trapline and sold the extra meat and hides to Skagway butchers. As the town’s population bloated beyond its borders, more mouths needed feeding and more bodies needed furs to keep warm. Up in the Yukon, optimistic men grabbed up mining claims. South of Skagway and in the opposite direction of the goldfields, Jasper Glass had extended his property to thirteen hundred acres so as not to completely trap it out. The Glasses did excellent business without overtrapping their land or having to worry about trespassers and squatters. No one gave the passing hillsides a moment’s thought as they sailed past to Skagway with their fever-dreams of glory and wealth.
With a grunt, Callie pulled the sledge the last few feet into the yard, a cleared area at the edge of the shore pine forest. The land here transformed from trees to scrub and meadow as it rolled down to the inlet’s edge. In the past she’d go down to the rocky shore and watch the occasional ship come through, and wave at the curiosity seekers and sailors on the deck, but not anymore. There were too damned many of them.
She shrugged the ropes off her shoulders and swung her arms back and forth to ease the muscles. Removing the wide-brimmed hat from her head, she shoved the noncooperative hair back up onto her scalp and wiped her forehead with a handkerchief she fished from a pocket.
Three buildings squatted around the yard. Smoke drifted from the largest one’s chimney and the front door stood open, a packhorse tied to the railing. The roof peak was barely six feet tall, and the roof jutted out four feet past the threshold to create a dirt-packed porch. The low ceiling inside was uncomfortable to Callie who stood only two inches shorter. Jasper was forced to duck his head while inside, being somewhat taller than she. The oilskin that normally covered the two windows had been rolled up and the shutters thrown wide. An assortment of tools and accouterments for day-to-day living in the wilderness cluttered the rudimentary porch—two wooden stools, a pair of snowshoes that needed repair, chains of different sized metal traps and two canteens hung from hooks, Jasper’s leather pack and about a cord of firewood. Moose antlers adorned the top of the forward roof peak, high enough so as not to impale anyone attempting to enter.
The smallest building was the smokehouse. It doubled as a place to store and prepare meat and furs to be sold in town. A cord of mostly cedar wood was stacked to one side. Between the two stood a sturdy shed just large enough to house their one packhorse, with thick walls and a single door to protect against the carnivorous wildlife. Deep gouges had been dug into one corner, white against the weathered logs, where a hungry bear had attempted entry. Callie had received three hundred dollars and a healthy respect for charging grizzlies from that skin.
“Ho! Jasper!” Callie called. “I’m back!”
She saw movement out of the corner of her eye; her brother ducked out into the late afternoon sunlight. Like her he was tall and slender, his blond hair cut short and thinning at the temples. He smiled welcome from beneath a meticulously shaped mustache that curled ever-so-slightly at the ends; he looked more and more like their father every day. “Looks like a fine haul.” His trousers were stained but serviceable and the top three buttons of his butternut shirt were open. Brown suspenders dangled from his waist.
“Not a bad ’un.” Callie untied the tarp and pulled it free. “Mostly marmot and hares, but we had a lynx and a couple of red foxes on the line.”
“Bully.” Jasper circled the sledge and helped her sort through the day’s catch. “Supper’s almost ready. I can put this up in the shed if you want to go eat.”
As much as she desired to do exactly that, Callie shook her head. She prided herself in not shirking her responsibilities. Most men fell into two categories. The worst one by far was the “little woman” syndrome where she received pats on the head and advice to return to the house where she belonged. The less ammunition she gave anyone for that opinion the better. “Naw. It’ll take less time if we both work.”
Jasper knew better than to argue. They unloaded the sledge and hanged the carcasses inside the smoke shed. As they toiled, he kept up conversation, filling her in with news from his trip to Skagway.
“And can you believe that lily-livered Billy Quinn? Sucking up to every skirt that sways past like God Himself has put him on this earth for all womankind?” Jasper shook his head in disgust. “It’s a wonder he ain’t been shot. He doesn’t care if a woman is married or not. He just barges right in with his innuendo.”
“Billy Quinn’s a deadbeat. I don’t think he’s worked a day in his life.” Callie folded the tarp from the sledge as her brother bundled the rope. “Besides, he hangs with Jamie Perkins. You need to stay away from them. Rumor has it that all them are running from the law.”
Jasper shrugged, tied off the rope and tossed it onto the already disordered porch. “I know. I ran into him at the post.”
Neither of them had family to speak of so why would her brother check the mail? He hadn’t mentioned contacting the government about expanding their property again. Not that she’d mind if he did, but he normally discussed business propositions with her. She hauled the now empty sledge to the side of the shed and grunted as she hoisted it up. Jasper came to help and they tipped it over to rest at an angle against the side wall.
Callie dusted off her hands. “What’s at the post?”
A blush spread across Jasper’s fair face, alarming in its brilliance. “I—I got a letter.” He pulled the trimmed but long edges of his bushy mustache into his mouth, hands on his hips as he stared out over the water.
Her suspicions grew and she cocked her head. For the life of her she couldn’t think of anyone who’d send Jasper a letter. All their family had been dead and gone for years. Unless there’s something about the property in Oregon. But he sold that, didn’t he? “Who’s it from?”
If anything, Jasper became more flustered. He gave a half shrug and rubbed at his mouth and chin, muttering into his palm as he answered.
“What?” Callie stepped closer. “What’d you say?”
“A woman.” He dropped his hand, the gesture sharp as it resumed its place at his hip. “I got a letter from a woman in Boston who wants to come marry me.”
Callie stared, unable to comprehend his words. She puzzled over them, repeating them in her head in an effort to make sense of it. A woman? Marry Jasper? “Wait…what?”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I ain’t getting any younger, Callie! If I want to start a family, I need to be getting on with it.”
His irritation sparked the same emotion in her. She mirrored his stance and glared back. “How’d she know to write to you? Huh?” He looked away and she shifted to recapture his gaze. “That newspaper man three months ago, right?”
Jasper nodded. “Yes. When I sent you to pick up the beans from Hank Sheraton.”
She recalled the man they’d met during a supply run, thinking him a slimy weasel at the time. “Did you pay him money?”
He rolled his eyes. “You know I did. How else could I get an advertisement?”
Scoffing, she threw her hands up in the air before slapping her thighs. She turned away. “You had no way of knowing if he was on the up-and-up. He could have been lying. Didn’t I say I saw him talking to Soapy?” She referred to Skagway’s local crime boss. If there was a shady way to make a dollar off an unsuspecting soul, the con man Soapy Smith could find it.
“But he wasn’t lying. See?” An envelope crackled in Jasper’s hand as he reached over Callie’s shoulder from behind and waved it in her face.
She snatched it from his grasp, twisting with long practice to avoid his immediate grab to get it back. Two quick steps took her out of his reach, and she checked to make certain he didn’t follow. They’d had years of keep-away though he was a full twelve years older than her. When he didn’t chase her down, she relaxed and opened the envelope, the scent of lilac wafting from the paper. She paused as she inhaled the aroma, experiencing both enjoyment and scorn for the hussy’s use of perfume as a lure. Another quick peek back showed Jasper resigned as he stood with his hands in his pockets. Callie unfolded the letter.
I confess I am nervous as I pen this missive for it has never before occurred to me to seek matrimony from the pages of a newspaper. I hope I do not portray myself as a shameless harridan—I do not even have the pleasure of knowing your name. Nevertheless, I have found your entry most intriguing.
My name is Clara Stapleton. I am aged twenty-two and seeking a husband. I live in Boston, Massachusetts, but do not let my metropolitan origins sway your rudimentary opinion of me. Though I am born and bred a city girl, I have had the opportunity to spend summers out of doors, fishing and camping with my family in the Green Mountains. I imagine your property must be splendid beyond words. Grand mountains, forests and rivers… Living in such magnificent beauty every day must seem a gift from God Himself!
Though I have no experience with the trapping lifestyle, I’m more than willing to learn. I would like to provisionally accept your offer of matrimony if you’ll have me. I only ask that any marriage will be annulled should we discover that we are unable to coexist.
Please contact me posthaste with your answer. I breathlessly await your response.
The penmanship flowed with delicate lines, and the letter was dated a month ago. Callie picked out the details, already disliking the woman who wrote it. “Boston? Really?” She handed the letter and envelope to Jasper who snatched it quickly from her hand. As he carefully returned the letter to its envelope, she crossed her arms over her chest. “You want to bring a city girl here?”
“She’s been camping and fishing during the summers.”
It was Callie’s turn to roll her eyes. “Well, so had I before Ma and Pop passed on. That didn’t mean I was experienced enough to live up here in the bush.”
“You’ve done well enough.” Jasper tucked the folded envelope into his pants pocket.
“Because I’m not a normal girl.” Callie shook her head. “You really want to do this?”
Jasper gusted out a sigh. “Look. I know you don’t want children or a husband. That ain’t your way.” He held his hands up to stop her as she opened her mouth to argue. “This isn’t about you, Callie! It’s about me. I want a wife, children. Can’t you just imagine a passel of young’uns playing out here in the yard? You’d have nieces and nephews to spoil rotten.”
A sense of loss fought with wistful yearning. She’d always liked children, just didn’t want to have her own. The idea of bedding down with any man disgusted her. “There’s not enough room for three in the cabin, let alone a bunch of kids.”
“I know that, silly!” Jasper laughed and jerked a thumb behind him. “I thought we could build another place over there, a bigger one for me and the missus.” He pointed to the cabin. “You can keep the original homestead.”
Callie brought both hands up to her head, knocked her hat back and scrubbed at her temples. Things were going to change, and all Jasper could see were his imaginary children frolicking in the yard. She couldn’t blame him—he was right that it was past time for him to get started on a family if he was of a mind. He was strong-willed, handsome and a decent man. He’d make a fine husband to some lucky woman. That didn’t mean Callie wanted to be around to watch it happen.
She hated change with a blind passion.
Jasper sighed. He grimaced at the ground. “Look. If you’re that dead set against it, I’ll tell her no. In fact, I just won’t answer the letter.” He punctuated his words by kicking at the dirt with a toe.
“You’d do that?”
He shrugged. “You’re the only family I’ve got, Callie. I don’t want to lose you over a woman I don’t even know.”
Damn it. She hated it when he capitulated like this. His reasonable reaction always made her feel like a cad. She was jealous, plain and simple; she had no right to interefere with him finding someone with whom to settle down. Just because she didn’t feel the urge to get hitched to a disgusting hairy bastard who’d make the rest of her life miserable didn’t mean Jasper couldn’t get married.
Jasper had already turned away, taking her silence as agreement. He trudged toward the cabin.
“Wait.” Callie closed the distance between them. She took his hand in hers. The bones of their fingers and their fingernails were identical despite the difference in size, echoing their familial ties as strongly as the shared blood beneath their skins. “You’re right. I’m the only family you’ve got, but that’s because you need to get to work on it.” She squeezed his hand. “Write her back. Tell her to come.”
His face lit up. “Are you sure? I don’t want to—”
Scoffing, she released his hand and pushed him away. “I said it, didn’t I? What more do I have to do? Write her a letter myself?”
Jasper’s smile faded. “About that…”
Immediate suspicion leeched the forced levity from Callie’s spirits. “What?”
“Your writing is much better than mine,” he began.
“Aw, you’re joking! You want me to write the letter?” Callie punched him in the arm.
Jasper grunted with the force of the strike. He stepped out of reach and rubbed the injured area. “Would you? Please? I don’t want to frighten her with my chicken scratches.”
Callie didn’t like the brassy woman as the situation already stood. That dislike wouldn’t take much to tip over into active hatred.
When Callie didn’t answer, Jasper wiggled his eyebrows. “I’ll run your trapline all week,” he offered, his expression one of hopefulness.
Callie pointed a finger at him. “You’re damned lucky I love you.”
Jasper laughed with relief, knowing that this was his sister’s way of saying she conceded. “Come on. I have a pot of blackstrap on the stove. I know just what I want to tell her.”
Callie allowed herself to be dragged into the cabin, half pleased by Jasper’s high spirits and half disgusted by the cause of them. Whoever this woman was, she’d better be the best thing in the world for her brother. If she wasn’t, Callie was prepared to make her life a living hell.