For two years, resentment, anger and pain has kept him alive. Abandoned by his feckless wife, his son taken, Brett Madison has become a changed man. As circumstances have changed his life for the better, he is not the easy gentleman he used to be. Betrayal and bitterness have hardened him. He won’t be that man again, but can his wife accept him as he is now, stricter, and not willing to accept anything less than submission to his will or to his hand?
Charlotte Madison learns manipulation from the masters – her parents. Unaware of the danger of pushing a man too far, she carelessly abandons what is real for an allusion of what could be, only to be lured into a dangerous scheme where she is an unknowing pawn.
As two reawakened hearts open and heal, they realize that love, trust and loyalty will carry them beyond their past mistakes and into a new loving future.
Bank of California, San Francisco, April 1871
Brett Madison limped into the bank, leaning heavily on a trim walking cane of black ebony.? The only female clerk looked up with interest.? This was the man’s third visit, and she knew her employer, the bank president, would stop whatever he was doing to see him.? That meant Mr. Madison was wealthy because the bank president thought too well of himself to bother with any other clients except the very wealthy.?
The clerk wondered if Mr. Madison had been ill. He was thin and walked with a cane, but even so, he was broad-shouldered and, she thought, quite handsome. He had neatly trimmed chestnut hair, and on a prior visit she’d noticed his hands were large, rough and scarred ? man’s hands. He was so different from the dandies who strutted the streets of San Francisco. She found them dapper and prissy, very unlike Mr. Madison. She offered him a smile, but when he only responded with an absent-minded nod she sighed and knocked on her employer’s door to announce the visitor’s arrival.
Within minutes Mr. Gerome Fitzwater, President of the Bank of California, San Francisco branch, opened his door and came out smiling.? Brett Madison accepted the offered handshake, which he appreciated more than Fitzwater’s fine office.? Brett Madison’s wealth was too new for him to be impressed by men whose only interest in him was his fortune.? For the most part, he was mildly amused when older men cowed to him simply because of the size of his bank account.? Personally, he’d be glad to get out of San Francisco.? He was a simple man; he didn’t like crowds and could barely stand the fancy suit he was wearing.? He had one more stop to make, and then he was going to go find himself some land, preferably as far from the city as possible.
Circle J Ranch, approx. 43 miles from Yreka, California, late May, 1871
As Brett rode up to the small ranch house, the foreman Tom Grady, a large imposing man with a full head of silver hair, came out onto the porch to meet him.? He was followed by his Mexican wife, Rosa.
"Well, Mr. Madison, is it a done deal?" Tom asked stepping off the porch.
"Mr. Brett!" A pint-sized little girl dashed out the door and leapt into Brett’s open arms.? "Are you coming to stay?"
"I’m coming to stay, Mandy!" Brett answered, swinging the seven-year-old around.
"And, do I get to live in the main house again?"
"Not yet," Brett warned.? "I have to go away for a bit, but when I come back, it’s for good!"
"Yeah!? I’m going to go tell Junior!" the little girl exclaimed and took off running, pigtails flying behind her.
The foreman shot his wife a look and shook his head, not looking too pleased.? "Sorry about that, Mr. Madison.? That little gal seems to have forgotten her manners."
Brett watched Mandy for a moment and then turned his attention back to his foreman.? "The paperwork is final.? The Circle J Ranch is no more.? As of two days ago, the property was registered as the H/M Karma Ranch.? I stopped at the blacksmith’s on the way through to order new brands.? You got anybody that can burn the new name into a gate sign?"
"Sure, Leroy can do that.? You’ll have to write it down and draw it out though, ’cause he can’t read." Tom scratched his head.? "No offense meant, Mr. Madison, but I thought you said your wife’s name was Charlotte.? How’s she going to feel about you naming the ranch after another woman?"
Brett laughed, his thin face lighting up with humor.? "It’s just Brett; if you’re going to be working for me I’d prefer that we be on a first name basis.? Yes, my wife’s name is Charlotte.? Karma isn’t a woman; it’s a Buddhist belief."
"A what?" Tom questioned.
"It is part of a religion practiced in India and China and places like that overseas.? The old man, Harley Granger, that I wintered in with, the one that pieced me back together after my horse fell on me, told me about it.? It means ‘you reap what you sow’ or ‘do unto others what you expect others to do unto you.’? That’s what this place is to me?Karma.? I did someone a good deed, expecting nothing in return for it, and now that good deed is being repaid a hundred times over to me.? That’s Karma."
Tom Grady gave the younger man an amused look.? "You may get all that, but most people around here are still going to think it’s named after a woman."
"They’ll get used to it," Brett said, a shadow of something dark crossing his face for a fraction of a second.? "I’ll be gone about two weeks.? I’m heading down to San Francisco to get my family."
"Well, I’m still running the place like it was run under Mr. Dunlop before he and the missus were killed in that flash flood.? I sure will be glad to be working for an owner instead of that dang bank.? I fired a hand last week?"
Brett let the ranch foreman ramble as they walked toward the main house.? He let his eyes wander over the buildings, the house, the barns, the bunkhouse and the many other outbuildings, the corrals, and land that stretched as far as the eye could see.? Twenty thousand acres of the best land he’d ever seen, and it had everything – plenty of water, land fit for cattle, and land fit for crops.? It even had large stands of timber.? It was a place that a man could be nearly self-sufficient.? It was more than he’d ever dreamed of owning.?
This was Karma as old Harley Granger had explained it to him.? He’d worked over four years to prove-up his homestead in Elko, Nevada.? Four years of hard work and sweat to make a home for his family.? Four years of wasted time and effort.? Before he’d even managed to prove-up and own the land free and clear, his capricious wife had taken their son and high-tailed off to San Francisco to live with her parents.? She’d clearly figured that he’d follow them.? It had taken him a while to realize that with his wife and child gone, the homestead didn’t mean all that much.
He’d given it up, handing it over free and clear to a friend who’d saved his life when he was a boy.? Brett had planned to go after his wife and son and start over again.? He hadn’t had a clear idea of how or where, but he’d been heading in that direction nearly a year ago.? Now, thanks to an old prospector who’d found him half dead in the snow and pieced him back together, he was the owner of the H/M Karma Ranch.? If this was Karma as old Harley had explained it to him, it was old Harley who’d earned his way into a heavenly afterlife.
San Francisco, late May 1871
Charlotte Bundy Madison tucked her two-year-old son into bed, gave him a kiss and nodded to the governess as she left the room.? She didn’t like that Sammy had a governess; she didn’t particularly like Mrs. Cornwell.? Her mother had hired the woman, and Gloria Bundy refused to listen when Charlotte complained about how strict the old woman was with her son.? Sammy was little more than a baby and needed love and fun, not rigid discipline.
"Your father would like to see you, dear.? He’s in his office," Gloria Bundy said as Charlotte entered the formal dining room for dinner.
Charlotte took a deep breath and stood on her tiptoes to check her appearance in a hallway mirror. Her father always wanted her to look perfect, and she pinched her cheeks to add color and checked to make sure her waist-length blonde hair was still tightly wound in its rolled braid.? She knocked on the door before opening it. "You wanted to see me, Father?"
Woodrow Bundy looked up from his paperwork and smiled.? "Yes, I would like to ask a favor of you, Charlotte."
Charlotte shut her eyes.? "If this is about Mr. Leslie O’Horran, the answer is no."
"Charlotte," Woodrow said.? "You misinterpreted Leslie’s attentions.? He explained what happened.? He was leaning over you to open the carriage door for you."
"I am not mistaken, Father," Charlotte said firmly.? "Mr. Leslie O’Horran tried to force his attentions on me."
"You misinterpreted and insulted him by jumping out of the carriage and refusing to allow him to bring you home," Woodrow said firmly.? "Leslie is the son of my employer.? He’s having a lunch meeting tomorrow at the Astor Hotel. I expect you to attend and apologize."
"No," Charlotte refused.? "I will not meet with Mr. Leslie O’Horran anywhere at any time.? Father, I am a married woman.? It is not proper for me to meet with him and most certainly not at a hotel.? The only reason I went the last time was because you told me that Malinda Cartwright and her fianc?, Jacob Morrison, would also be present and that wasn’t true.? I do not like Mr. O’Horran and I’m not going to meet him."
"Yes, you will," Woodrow ordered.?
"No, I won’t," Charlotte exclaimed.? "Father, what you’re asking me to do is completely unacceptable and a breach of decorum! How many times do I have to remind you that I’m a married woman?? I barely escaped Mr. O’Horran’s clutches the last time we were alone.? If it had not been for that nice policeman who walked me home, I don’t know what would have happened."
"Mr. O’Horran is a fine, upstanding young man, as is his father." Woodrow Bundy put down his fountain pen and stood up.? "Charlotte, you are my daughter and I only want what is best for you.? I have been patient and I have been forgiving.? You are living in my home, and your mother and I accepted you back after you made the mistake of marrying that worthless homesteader.? You are twenty-one years old and it is time for you to remedy those mistakes and get on with your life.? It has been nearly two years.? Face the facts, Daughter; your husband has abandoned you.? Leslie O’Horran is a fine young man, and he is willing to overlook your mistakes; he is even willing to take on that man’s offspring.? Leslie has made an offer of marriage, and it’s time for you to accept your mistakes and free yourself so you can remarry and have a life befitting your status and upbringing."
"No!? That miserable weasel of a man tried to put his hands on me in an inappropriate manner!? I can’t believe you’re asking me even to consider such a thing!" With a swish of her skirts, Charlotte ran from the room, rushing upstairs to the nursery, where she ordered the governess out.? Locking the door behind her, she burst into tears.
* * * * *
"Mr. Madison, come in," John Harper of the Pinkerton Detective Agency said as he opened his office door.?
Brett took a seat in the small cramped office as John Harper closed the door, opened a cabinet drawer and took out a file folder.
"What did you find out?" Brett asked.
John Harper studied his client.? The young man, only twenty-six he’d said, had requested surveillance on his wife with the intention of gaining information to use against her and his in-laws.? He wanted to remove his son from their home.
"Let me ask you this first," the investigator said, not opening the file.? "Do you intend to divorce your wife?"
Brett Madison looked startled at the idea, but then his eyes hardened.? "Has she given me reason that I should divorce her?"
"Circumstantial, perhaps," John admitted.? "But I’m asking. What do you want?"
"I want my son," Brett said firmly.? "When Charlotte and I married it was for the usual reasons; we were young and I believed her to be in love with me.? But, after the first couple years, she began to change and I didn’t much care for those changes.? In our third year, she stole my son and brought him here to San Francisco to live with her parents.? I haven’t seen either one of them for two years.? I reckon I’m still angry, very angry."
"Legally, Mr. Madison, you can walk into the Bundy’s home and remove your son.? They can’t do a thing to stop you from taking your child.? Legally, you can divorce Charlotte Bundy Madison with the circumstantial evidence that I’ve gathered on charges of adultery.? I have signed statements from three sources that she has met with a single man in a hotel two times.? That is all the proof that a judge would need to grant a divorce."
As Brett Madison looked away, the investigator could see his Adam’s apple convulsing.? The young man looked devastated.
John Harper opened his file.? "The facts are, Mr. Madison, these statements may be enough for a judge to grant a divorce, but they are circumstantial at most.? You wife met a Mr. Leslie O’Horran in the restaurant of the Astor Hotel at least two times that we could document.? Once was with several other couples and once by herself.? There is no actual proof that your wife is having an affair, Mr. Madison.? In fact, I met your wife and I was quite impressed by her.? I was doing surveillance, which in my job is what I spend a good deal of time doing.? I was tipped off that Mr. O’Horran had made a reservation at the hotel restaurant, so I observed the meeting.? She met Mr. O’Horran at the Astor Hotel, but almost immediately they left in his carriage.? Only after a few minutes, the carriage was pulled over to the side of the road and your wife jumped out.? She had some very heated words for her escort.? Mr. O’Horran got out of the carriage and looked quite angry, so I interceded.? I identified myself as a policeman and your wife allowed me to escort her home, but only if we walked.? Your wife is a very beautiful and charming young woman.? She refused my offer of a carriage ride, and we walked nearly two miles to her residence.? A woman does not accept an escort from a total stranger unless she’s been frightened.? I believe she only took that action because it was the lesser of two evils.? She believed I was a policeman, and she was afraid to be left alone with Mr. O’Horran."
"What did she say?" Brett demanded.
"Only that she had gone to the hotel and expected to be met by several acquaintances.? She said she hadn’t done anything to make Mr. O’Horran believe that she was interested, but even so he’d made unwelcome advances. She said she was married and that she loved her husband and was waiting for him to join her in San Francisco.? It made me wonder," John Harper said.
The investigator smiled and shrugged.? "It’s what I do.? That’s why I’m good at my job.? I took your investigation considerably further than you asked.? Mostly out of curiosity and because once I get my teeth into something I’m like a dog with a bone.? I can’t let go of it until I’m satisfied with the answers."?
"And, you found out what?" Brett asked.
John Harper pulled a notebook out of his desk, filled with notes.? "Your father-in-law, Mr. Woodrow Bundy, took a job at the Central Pacific Railroad five years ago in a managerial position.? He works directly under Mr. Hyrum O’Horran, Sr. who has the title of President of Land Management.? Mr. O’Horran, Sr. is also on the Board of Directors of Central Pacific Railroads.? Mr. Hyrum O’Horran is the typical wealthy, upper-echelon society type.? He has made a lot of money through his railroad connections and he married into more.? Money speaks loudly in this city, and Mr. O’Horran is a very powerful man.? I couldn’t figure out how a man of Mr. Bundy’s background, with no previous railroad experience, could land a job as a manager for the CPR.? I spent some working time on the connection between the two men and it dates back to a schoolboy friendship."
"What does all that have to do with my wife?" Brett asked.
"I’m getting there," John Harper said.? "Sometimes what seems to be normal and right isn’t.? Your in-laws are living rather extravagantly for a man of Mr. Bundy’s position and salary.? Digging a little deeper, I found out that the Bundy’s home is actually owned by Mr. O’Horran, Sr.? I was looking for a connection between those two men and that led me to their children.?
"I don’t believe in coincidence, Mr. Madison.? On a hunch, I came up with a legal clerk from Mr. O’Horran attorney’s office who remembers writing up a marriage contract between Leslie O’Horran and your wife, initiated by their fathers.? I haven’t come up with the actual document yet, but the clerk remembers it very clearly as it was not a typical marriage contract.? A substantial amount of money and property was involved.? Your wife would have been about sixteen at the time.? I believe your father-in-law agreed to convince Charlotte to marry Mr. O’Horran’s son in exchange for a monetary settlement, a high-paying job and a large home."
"Charlotte has been married for over five years now," Brett said.? "Any contract they had drawn up has no validation.? She’s a married woman."
"True, to reasonable men," John Harper replied.? "But I don’t think we’re dealing with reasonable men.? Mr. Bundy basically sold his daughter for a better lifestyle.? Mr. O’Horran had reasons then and still has them for trying to arrange for his son to be married.? Although, why he’s waited this long is still a mystery to me.? The senior Mr. O’Horran is protecting his family’s reputation in order to maintain his position in the societal rankings of San Francisco.? The younger Mr. O’Horran has some issues that are extremely embarrassing to his parents.? I think there is a game of coercion going on and your wife is being used as a pawn in that game."
"What’s the younger O’Horran done?" Brett asked.
"Not done, but is. He’s a spoiled man – a wastrel – and apparently has been since his adolescence.? He is one year younger than your wife which would make him twenty now." John Harper’s expression turned grim. "Leslie O’Horran has a reputation of forcing his sexual attentions and his fists on women.? He has been accused of rape and assault many times, and this history of behavior started when he was only fourteen.? In every case the accusations were recanted, cases closed.? He also has a history of homosexual activity and has not been very discreet about it.? Such things are considered unmentionable and illicit and would not bode well for the O’Horran family.? So far, the senior Mr. O’Horran has paid a great deal of money to keep those secrets covered up."
Brett straightened and frowned.? "Does Woodrow know what kind of man he’s exposing his daughter to?"
"I have no way of knowing that," John Harper admitted.? "But, my educated guess would be no.? Mr. O’Horran, Sr. has gone to great lengths to silence any hint of impropriety by his son and he’s been doing this for years.? The younger O’Horran is by all accounts a pampered momma’s boy.? He is actually a stepson, as Mr. O’Horran married a widow with a sizeable fortune, and the stepson came with the money.? Mr. O’Horran is a man with a great deal of power and influence in this city.? He has spent a lot of money and effort to keep his stepson’s reputation unblemished."
"Good, God!" Brett exclaimed.? "All this is about money and his position in society?"
John Harper nodded at the young man’s disgusted tone.? "I believe so, for Mr. O’Horran and for Mr. Bundy.? I believe you put a kink in their plans by eloping with Mr. Bundy’s daughter, but I don’t think they’ve given up on resurrecting their deal.? It means a lot of money, and status, for your father-in-law, and it means respectability for Mr. O’Horran, the younger.? That respectability is very important to the O’Horrans. There have been at least three incidents this year that have been covered up."
"What kind of men would protect a monster like that?" Brett growled.? "I know Woodrow was livid when we ran off and got married.? I was twenty-one and Charlotte had just turned seventeen.? It was legal though.? A girl over fourteen doesn’t need her parent’s permission in Nevada.? He didn’t want her marrying me, that’s for sure!? He and her mother tried to talk Charlotte into having our marriage annulled, but we wouldn’t have any part of it.? I was able to control her parents’ influence over her when they lived in Elko, but after they moved, even though they were hundreds of miles away, it actually got worse.? Every time I picked up the mail there would be dozens of letters and packages."
"Probably influencing her to leave you, so she could be influenced to fulfill the marriage contract.? It would be easier to convince her to get an annulment, or even a divorce, if she were living in the lap of luxury," the detective surmised.? "The accident that you had, are you sure it was an accident?"
"Very sure. I can’t blame that on anyone but myself," Brett said and he looked to the investigator he’d hired.? "My wife said she still loves me?"
"She volunteered that information," John acknowledged with a hint of a smile.? "If you divorce your wife, you’re playing right into the plans of Bundy and O’Horran, Sr., and in my humble opinion, throwing an innocent to the wolves.? Do you want to give your marriage another try?"
"I wasn’t the one who gave up on it," Brett snapped.? "Yeah, I’d like my wife back.? Not the girl who left, but the girl I married."
"That part would be up to you," the investigator said with a chuckle.? "But from what I saw and heard, Mr. Madison, she’s worth fighting your in-laws over."
"That’s the hard part.? How do I get my in-laws to back off?"
John Harper smiled and pulled two newspapers out of his desk drawer.? "Funny you should ask that, because I have an idea."
* * * * *
Charlotte woke up with a headache.? She hated arguing with her parents, but she was not giving in.? If her father’s employer wanted to get mad because his son had behaved badly, that wasn’t her fault!? And she certainly was not going to entertain the idea of marriage with that man!? The very idea made her shudder.
She was on her way to breakfast when the doorbell rang.? With a sigh, she opened the door, gasped in shock and then threw herself into the arms of her husband.
Brett was knocked off balance and being kissed thoroughly.? Well, that was an improvement, since some of their last arguments had been because she’d started thinking herself too much of a "lady" to enjoy relations with her husband.? He backed off and regained his balance, pushing Charlotte aside slightly.? He had a plan, and by God, he was going to stick to it.
"Brett!? Where have you been?" Charlotte demanded, searching her husband’s face.? He was much thinner than he’d been before and he was leaning on a cane.
Damn she looks good, Brett thought.? Still every bit as beautiful as the day he’d married her.?
"Madison," Woodrow Bundy snarled coming into the foyer his huge frame pudgy from overindulgence.? "So, you think you can show up after abandoning your wife and son?"
"I didn’t abandon anyone," Brett snarled back.? "My son was stolen from me, and I’m here to take him back."
"You’re not taking my grandson anywhere," Woodrow Bundy said puffing up.? "My daughter either."
"Father!" Charlotte exclaimed.
"Let’s take this somewhere private," Brett said to his father-in-law, ignoring his wife.
"Fine," Woodrow snapped.? "My office."
Brett followed his father-in-law and closed the door behind him, leaving a confused and upset Charlotte outside.? Mr. Bundy took his position of authority behind his desk but Brett ignored his motion to be seated.? He remained standing.
"What would it take to get you out of my daughter’s and grandson’s life?" Woodrow demanded.
"Far more than you have," Brett promised, unbuckling a leather satchel.? "I’m here for my son and I will leave with my son."? He slapped two newspapers down on Woodrow’s desk.
Daughter of Central Pacific Railroad Manager Charged with Adultery in Scandalous Divorce read the secondary headline for the San Francisco Pacific News. The headline for the San Francisco Evening Tribune wasn’t much better. "Son of Central Pacific Railroad Board Member O’Horran cited as defendant in Adultery Divorce," the paper proclaimed.
Woodrow jumped up, stared at the newspapers and then sat down heavily in his chair again.? "You can’t do this.? Why would you do this?? Why would you disgrace yourself and my daughter?"
"I haven’t done anything that would bring disgrace on me, Woodrow," Brett said in dangerous voice.? "But, after what I’ve been through for the past two years, I can and I will drag you and your entire family through the mud.? You messed with the wrong man when you decided to destroy my marriage.? I will create a scandal that San Francisco’s upper crust will love.? The names Bundy and O’Horran will be on the front pages of every newspaper in California and this is only the first volley.? I have documented proof that any judge would accept and I’ll bury both of you in the process.? My research tells me that the Central Pacific Railroad has morality clauses in all their contracts.? Mr. O’Horran might survive this scandal because it involves his son and not him directly, but you won’t."
"You’d do this to Charlotte?? You’d do this to your own wife?" Woodrow demanded.
"Charlotte walked out on me, remember?" Brett said.? "And, you were behind that.? It would give me great satisfaction to see you lose everything – job, respect, whatever you think is your exalted station in life."?
"What do you want?" Woodrow demanded.
"I want you and your wife out of my life," Brett said bluntly.? "I’m walking out of here with my son, maybe with Charlotte if she agrees to my terms.? You back off and stay out of my way.? You do that, and those headlines won’t be on San Francisco’s front steps tomorrow morning.? You fight me, and I’ll destroy and disgrace you and everyone associated with you!"
Woodrow Bundy looked into Brett’s eyes as if trying to assess if the younger man would carry through with his threats.? All he saw was raw anger and disgust.? He gave a reluctant nod.? "If I agree, you won’t file for divorce or bring charges against the O’Horrans?"
"That’s the deal on the table.? Get Charlotte’s mother and take her out of here," Brett ordered.? "Stay gone for a couple of hours.? I need some time to talk to Charlotte and to get her things together.? You’ll know when you get back what decision Charlotte has made.? Either way, my son is going with me."
Woodrow stared again into the young man’s hard, unforgiving eyes and then he walked out of the office.?
Brett folded up the newspapers and put them back inside his leather satchel.? The power of the press, John Harper had called it, when he’d shown him the fake newspapers.
"What’s going on?? Brett?? Father?? Would someone, please, tell me what’s going on!" Charlotte looked from her father to her husband when they walked out of the office.? Brett was supposed to be here to take a job with her father.? Why were they arguing? She didn’t understand what was going on and neither of them would give her an answer or even speak to her.?
* * * * *
Brett waited until the Bundys left the house before he spoke to Charlotte even though she was yammering at him and demanding answers.? He went to the front door and motioned for a young woman and a man waiting in a carriage to come into the house.?
"Charlotte, this is Nurse Ferrall; she will attend to Sammy.? Take her upstairs and dismiss that other woman.? Leon, our driver, and I will bring up the trunks.? Pack up Sammy’s clothing and whatever."
"Brett!? Tell me what’s going on!" Charlotte demanded.
"Charlotte, do as you’re told," Brett snapped harshly.? "Show Nurse Ferrall the way, and instruct her on what to pack.? Then, get back down here; we have some talking to do."
Charlotte swallowed nervously and nodded.? She was confused, and worried.? Her Brett was here, but he was acting so strangely.? He was being so stern and mean and he frightened her.? She turned and led the nurse upstairs to the nursery and pointed out where Sammy’s clothing was stored before gathering u