Cactus, Tumbleweeds, and Iris
by Kay Chandler
The day Papa waved the ad in my face, the caption sent shocks down my spine: “Wanted—A Maid to Love.”
“Read it, Lily. He’s perfect for you.”
I didn’t want to read it—I’d seen enough. Though my father received a generous stipend, which I’m sure he considered more than my worth, the idea of being a bartered bride caused me great angst. Papa fumed and accused me of reading too many romance novels—works of the devil, he called them—claimed my head was in the clouds. He handed me a letter from my intended and took me to the train station.
Though I dreamed of the kind of love I read about in Clara and the Cowboy or Romance Rides the Range, I had no hankering to live in the land of shoot-’em-ups, where deer and the antelope played. Yet, here I was on my way to Wyoming to marry a cowpunch I’d never met. The marriage masquerade would take place before sundown on the morrow. I pulled out the letter.
“Dear Lily, I can tell from your father’s response that we’re polar opposites. Being the lightkeeper’s daughter, I’m sure you’ll miss the ocean, but I trust you’ll like your new life in Wyoming. My wife died three years ago. The house and my beautiful Iris could use a woman’s touch. I’m looking forward to same.
The color in my face must have changed many times, going from a washed-out pale to exposing amber to a glow-in-the-dark red. I felt sick. He wanted a gardener for his irises, a housekeeper and a woman to touch? The Ice Carnival in New England wasn’t as frigid as the cold words penned in the heartless letter. My long-held romantic dreams flew out the window like a fine, feathered friend.
As the train pulled out of Crossroads Bay, the whistle made a lonely sound. Autumn rains splattering the window were no match for my own river of tears. I looked across the cotton fields and saw Cottonwood Manor and remembered the grand parties we held there, not so long ago. The columns of Cottonwood needed paint and the white roses out front needed pruning, yet I’d always think of it as home—a place where the dogwoods bloom and pink azaleas grow profusely. But Papa was a gambler, and not a very good one. Becoming the lightkeeper and selling me to highest bidder was Papa’s way of recovering from debt.
I shuddered, picturing myself slaving for a dirty cowhand in a shanty surrounded by cactus, tumbleweeds…and a few irises.
“Last stop, White Doves,” the conductor yelled. Not eager to depart, I waited until the last passenger disembarked. Gathering my skirt, I stepped from the train and glanced about. I saw no one. All the way, I prayed for God to intervene. Now that He had, I felt a strange emptiness. Was it possible to experience both sadness and gladness? Can fire and ice occupy the same space? Did I dare go back and tell poor Papa he had to return the money?
I drooled when a tall handsome sheriff stepped from nowhere and grabbed my bags. “Excuse me, Miss,” would you happen to be Miss Lily Adams?”
My heart did cartwheels as I gazed into his cobalt blue eyes. “Yes, and you’re—?” My pulse raced.
“I’m Jake.” He led me into the sheriff’s office, where a little girl sat in a wheelchair. A minister and two witnesses were waiting. Pure Serendipity?
I repeated the vows, “For better or worse,” but from my vantage point, all was better.
He picked up the child.
His brow furrowed. “You seem surprised. I explained about Iris in the ad.”
I smiled. Not letting on, I said, “She’s prettier than I imagined.”
The little girl grinned, stealing this heart of mine. “I like her, Daddy.”
He had a lovely home in town. He picked a bouquet for Iris, and one for me. “Welcome home, my darling bride,” he said as he swept me up and carried me over the threshold.
My heart hammered shamelessly. I suddenly had the urge to write a riveting romance novel. I’d call it Lily and the Lawman.”