Forever, Victoria


By Dorothy Garlock

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Victoria McKenna is a Western woman — tough on the outside, but soft on the inside. When her late father’s cattle ranch on Wyoming’s notorious Outlaw Trail is underhandedly sold to a stranger named Mason Mahaffey, Victoria prepares for a confrontation. But when she faces a handsome cowboy with five orphaned brothers and sisters, it’s clear she’s met her match.



FOREVER, VICTORIA. Copyright © 1983, 1993 by Dorothy Garlock. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

For information address Warner Books, Hachette Book Group, USA, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

 A Time Warner Company

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2268-8

A mass market edition of this book was published in 1993 by Warner Books.

First eBook edition: May 2001

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"Face it, Victoria,

We're here to stay."


Something tightened in Mason's chest. He wanted to unbraid that heavy coil of hair and watch it slide through his hands. He could still feel the softness of her in his arms and the silkiness of her hair against his mouth. He studied her face.

"I've been trying to think of a solution and have come up with two alternatives. You can marry me and live here in this house with me, or you can move down to the valley and homestead." He paused. "Admit that you found it pleasant to be in my arms last night. We could build a good life together, golden girl."

Victoria was stunned momentarily, then jumped to her feet. "Homestead on my own range? Marry you so I can stay in the house my papa built?" Her voice rose to an almost hysterical pitch. "Get out! Get out!" She stood with her hand clenched into a fist and fought for control. "You're a—a bastard, Mr. Mahaffey."

"I've been called worse, Miss McKenna."


*                    *                    *

"FIVE STARS—HIGHEST RATING! An author who bows to no one in the portrayal of romantic love. . . . When Dorothy Garlock sits down to write a love story the results are as warm and softly memorable as the emotion itself."

—Affaire de Coeur


"GOLD FIVE STAR RATING! There is plenty of action and double-dealing going on as well as the undercurrents of tenderness which always fill Ms. Garlock's works. . . . Every time I think she's written her best, she comes up with one better."

—Heartland Critiques



Books by Dorothy Garlock


Almost Eden

Annie Lash

Dream River

Forever Victoria

A Gentle Giving

Glorious Dawn


Lonesome River

Love and Cherish


Midnight Blue


Restless Wind

Ribbon in the Sky

River of Tomorrow

The Searching Hearts

Sins of Summer



The Listening Sky

This Loving Land

Wayward Wind

Wild Sweet Wilderness

Wind of Promise

With Hope



Published by






With love and thanks

to my aunt and uncle

Orah Delle and Buck Colson

for giving me love and being proud. . . .




*  1  *

Victoria felt herself tremble with rage, bitter pain, and bewilderment. She pressed the horses on faster and faster, pushing them against the instinct that cautioned them to move slowly on the downhill grade. She was scarcely aware of the deep ruts and sharp, heavy rocks that jolted the wagon. The words on the paper in her pocket so consumed her thoughts that there was no room for anything else. She had no idea how many times she had read the letter. She only knew there would be no need to read it again. The words were forever imprinted on her mind.


August 1, 1870

Miss Victoria McKenna

Double M Shady Valley Ranch

South Pass City, Wyoming


Dear Miss McKenna,

I will be arriving September 16 to take possession of the property I purchased from your brother, Robert McKenna, while I was in England. I trust you received the letter telling you of that transaction. It will be necessary for you to vacate the house immediately. Have the foreman, Stonewall Perry, meet me at the railhead with a wagon to transport my family to the ranch.


M. T. Mahaffey


"You had no right to sell my home out from under me, Robert McKenna, you English bastard!" Victoria cried aloud, her voice hollow with despair. "Pa didn't mean for you to have the ranch! He meant for me to have it. He wrote it on a paper and gave it to me!" The only ears to pick up her words belonged to the horses, stumbling on the steep incline, weighted down by the pressure of the wagon as it relentlessly pushed them downward. "I wish I never wrote and told you Pa was dead!" They reached the bottom of the hill and the trail leveled out.

Victoria's agitation finally communicated itself to the team and the pair picked up so much speed that she found herself pulling harder and harder on the reins to slow the pair to a fast walk. When that was accomplished her thoughts once again wandered back to the subject that had dogged her mind since she'd received the letter from Robert telling her he had sold the ranch to an American he had met in England.

Her half brother had gone back to his mother's native land fifteen years ago. Victoria had been only five years old the last time she had seen him, but she had never forgotten Robert's bitter hatred for her and her mother. After his English wife's death Marcus McKenna had lost his heart to a girl from a western-bound wagon train. Robert never forgave his father for remarrying after his mother died. He hated the West as much as his father and his new bride loved it.

It had not occurred to Victoria, when she informed Robert over a year ago that their father was dead, that he would think he had any claim to the ranch. The letter telling her he had sold it hit her like a blow between the eyes. She had raced to town with the paper her father had signed saying that all his worldly possessions were to go to his daughter, Victoria McKenna.

"I know it's Marcus's signature, Victoria," Mr. Schoeller, the family lawyer, said. "But who saw him sign this?"

"Only me and Stonewall."

"You should have sent for me. We could have drawn up a proper, legal will. However, I'll see what I can do. We'll place a claim with the courts. In the meanwhile stay at the ranch. Possession is nine-tenths of the law these days."

It's going to be all right, she tried to tell herself, as she drove the team up South Pass City's main street.

Victoria McKenna made a picture for eyes to catch and follow. It was quite usual for people to stare at her when she came to town. She was willowy thin, and intensely serious. Her thick blond hair was braided in one long rope that hung down the middle of her back to her waist. The wide brim of her flat-crowned hat shaded her smooth skin and her large, luminous amber eyes that were her singular claim to beauty. Her tip-tilted nose wrinkled under its scattering of freckles, and her mouth, generous and expressive, but too wide and vulnerable altogether, softened now into a gentle curve, the mutiny gone. This was her country. This ugly, brutal, violent land was her land, and these people her neighbors.

The streets of Wyoming's frontier metropolis were choked with traffic. A bull train sprawled over the dusty road like a thick snake. Victoria threaded her way through the masses of freight wagons, buckboards, and prairie schooners. From each side of the street men watched her go by. Businessmen in black suits and beaver hats, gamblers in jim-swinger coats, Chinese men with queues, and Indians. And everywhere there were dogs—big dogs, medium-sized dogs and runts, searching for food, playing, sniffing, and chasing each other, right in the midst of the hubbub.

Victoria heard the blast of the train whistle and the scraping of iron against iron as the wheels slowed down. She took her time getting to the train station. Let the pink-cheeked tenderfoot wait, she thought. Let his soft, dimpled wife rub shoulders with the men who people this brash land—dirty, coarse men who are either too boisterous or too silent, spitting brown tobacco juice from between stained teeth, leering boldly at any woman who catches their fancy.

She felt her heart jump in her throat as she realized the moment she had been dreading was at last drawing near. Only a few more minutes and she would be facing the man who thought he was the new owner of the Shady Valley Double M. The train jerked to a rough, awkward stop. The time had come. She tied the team to the hitching rail beside the loading platform, smoothed her skirt down over her hips with her gloved hands, and pulled at the brim of her hat. Her stomach was roiling from the tension that had held her in its tight grip for weeks.

From the end of the platform Victoria scanned the crowd with anxious, worried eyes as she searched for a family with the unmistakable look of the tenderfoot. When she saw none she felt a sensation much akin to relief. The crowd began to thin out, and after a few minutes of standing alone she wondered if she had missed them or if they had gone inside the station. Her hands shook from something between rage and despair and she yanked at the hat again. If they had, they could very well come out, she muttered silently. She wasn't going in after them. She crossed her arms and waited.

Almost everyone had left the platform when Victoria noticed a man standing alone at the far end. He was dressed in the casual style of the West and it was apparent to her he was not the one she had come to meet, and yet her eyes kept returning to him again and again. He was tall and lean and he lounged against the side of the station with all the confidence of a westerner, born and bred. She became aware of a tension and vibrancy about his body that made her think of a coiled spring. With a sudden quickening of her heartbeat, she realized that this stranger, whoever he might be, was staring at her with the bluest eyes she had ever seen. His gaze was so intense it ensnared hers for several seconds longer than propriety allowed. She gave him a scathing look and turned her head away, only to turn back to find him staring at her as brazenly as before, and again she could not bring herself to draw her eyes away. Slowly he lowered his eyelids until his eyes seemed mere slits in his dark, thin face.

Damnit, she thought with a tinge of resentment. He's arrogant and insolent! No doubt he thought she was encouraging him. No wonder he felt free to take such bold advantage with his eyes! She blushed heavily and began to walk restlessly up and down, being careful to keep her eyes averted from the stranger. Slowly all the sounds on the platform died away and she looked up. To her surprise the stranger was still there, and he was looking at her with a puzzled expression as he carefully studied her face.

Victoria yanked at her hat brim and spun on her heel.

"Victoria McKenna!"

For a second Victoria thought the man had said her name. It was preposterous, of course. But what if—? She whipped around. He had moved away from the wall and was coming toward her.

"Victoria McKenna."

Her name came from his lips and Victoria gazed at him, aware of the exasperation lurking in the blue depths of his eyes. He pushed his hat back and she saw the small white strip near his hairline where the suntan stopped, the glint of a couple of gray strands among the blue-black, clipped hairs at his temple, the strength of his sun-browned throat in the open-necked shirt, the grim set of his mouth as he closed his lips after saying her name.

Forcing herself to look bolder than she felt, she lifted her chin. "Did you speak to me?"

"You know I did. I'm Mason Mahaffey."

"M.T. Mahaffey?" She felt nothing but a cold shock as she looked into his unfathomable blue eyes.

"Mason T. Mahaffey." He threw the words out angrily, as if they were a challenge.

Stunned, she could think of nothing to say, and the two of them stared at each other as time slipped past them. His stabbing eyes searched her face inquisitively, while Victoria's amber ones stared up unhesitantly from beneath dark lashes and straight brows. It was Mason who finally spoke.

"I didn't expect you to come to meet us, Miss McKenna."

"Well, who did you expect? Stonewall Perry?" she snapped irritably. "My foreman has more to do than make a fifteen-mile ride to bring a message that I can deliver myself."

"And that is?" His beetling brows lowered and drew together.

"I am not leaving my home so you and your family can move in. My half brother, Robert McKenna, swindled you out of whatever money you paid him for the Double M Ranch, because my father left that ranch to me. My lawyer has the will. So, Mr. M.T. Mahaffey, you and your family can stay at the Overland Hotel until you can catch a train back to wherever you came from!" Victoria took a deep breath and turned on her heel toward the wagon.

Mason Mahaffey seized her elbow in a grasp that hurt, and practically jerked her to a halt and spun her around.

"Don't think that I'm such a fool that I'd buy a piece of ground without a clear title and a deed." His face was a mirror of scorn and contempt. "Robert told me you were a spiteful hussy, that you'd make trouble if you could."

She jerked her arm from his grasp, reached for the horse whip in the wagon, and faced him with sparks of anger flashing from her amber eyes.

"You put your hands on me again and I'll whip you within an inch of your life!" She drew the whip back threateningly. "And what does Robert know about me?" she spat. "He hasn't seen me for fifteen years!"


Victoria's eyes flicked to the group coming around the end of the station leading four saddled horses. One was a boy of twelve or thirteen years and the other two were young men with peach fuzz beards on their faces. She looked, then looked again. The two were identical in every way—size, features, hair, coloring. One of them grinned at her, and the other's face remained serious.

"Mason?" The one with the serious face spoke.

"Take the horses around and tie them on the other side of the wagon, Clay. Pete, go get your sisters." Mason kept his eyes on Victoria all the while. "We've got a fifteen-mile ride ahead of us."

"You're not riding in this wagon!" Victoria went to the hitching rail and jerked on the rope holding the team. She felt the whip leave her hand and herself set aside.

"We're taking this wagon, Miss McKenna. If you don't want to go along to show us the way I'm sure we can hire a guide," he drawled with a slow, cold anger.

"I've told you that you have no right to the Double M, and I have no obligation to put you up. I don't want you out there. Have I made myself clear?" Her words came in a furious hiss, and tears of humiliation stung her eyes.

"I'm not concerned with what you want, Miss McKenna. I fully intend to take my family to our ranch. If you're going to ride along with us, I suggest you get on that wagon seat. Maybe you'll cool off on the long ride to the Double M."

Victoria felt an icy hand of fear clutch at her heart as she looked in the hard eyes that stared back at her. There was no pity or kindness in their depths. Surely, she told herself desperately, I won't lose my home to this cold-blooded bastard. Her stomach twisted into a painful knot.

Mason stood at the head of the team. "Doonie, help Clay with the baggage."

The younger boy grinned up cockily at Victoria and swaggered into the station. The serious twin, Clay, looked as if he wanted to apologize. Mason's eyes missed nothing. Reluctantly Victoria climbed up on the wagon seat. Now she could see that a few bystanders had witnessed the scene and her face burned with embarrassment.

"Hold the team, Clay, and I'll help Pete with Nellie."

Victoria barely heard his words. For a second she was tempted to slap the reins against the horses' backs and move away, but the saddle horses were tied to the wheels of the wagon. She sat, stiff with resentment, eyes straight ahead. Mason's voice jarred her.

"Move over so my sister can sit beside you." He stood beside the wagon. The grinning twin had a young lady in his arms. She was wearing a blue cotton dress and matching bonnet, and looked shyly up at Victoria, her large blue eyes full of apprehension, as if she expected to be scolded.

"I can ride in the back of the wagon, Mason," she said in a soft slurred voice.

"Too rough. You sit up here on this spring seat with Miss McKenna." He guided her foot to the wagon wheel and she grasped the seat and pulled herself up. Mason's arms held on to her waist while she eased herself down into the seat.

"There," she said and smoothed her skirt down over her legs with nervous hands. "Where's Dora?"

"Here I am. Can I ride up there, too?"

Lordy! How many more are there? Victoria thought as she looked down into the eight-year-old's face with a heavy sprinkling of freckles and a snaggle-tooth grin.

"Sure, there's room." Mason lifted her up. "You can sit between Nellie and Miss McKenna. I don't think she'll bite you."

"Let's get something straight, Mr. Mahaffey!" Anger burned in Victoria's eyes and a hot flush flagged her high cheekbones. "First, I don't appreciate your sarcasm, and second, when I get ready to bite someone it won't be a child." She looked closely at his impassive face, surprised to see no signs of anger. She continued in a more controlled voice. "And third, people who push themselves in where they're not wanted can't expect to be treated like honored guests."

"Very true," he retorted. "If you expect to spend the night at the Double M, watch your tongue. You'll be my guest." She gasped, her face stiff with anger, her amber eyes sparking with rage. He turned away as if what she would say would be of no consequence. "Load up, boys, so we can get goin'."

"Nellie, I'm thirsty," Dora whispered loudly.


Victoria felt the jolt as the baggage and boxes were loaded into the back of the wagon. She stared straight ahead, unable to look at this most overbearing and arrogant man. She could not shut off her ears, though. His voice held the deep ring of authority as he issued orders to his brothers and they jumped to do his bidding. He was used to giving orders and being obeyed, of that Victoria was sure. She was equally sure that this was absolutely the worst day of her life.

A numbness heavier than a beaver cloak swathed her. She saw her hands on the reins and from long training automatically did what a driver would do. She slapped them against the horses' backs and guided the wagon down the dusty road.

On the way out of town she turned the team up a side street and stopped in front of the livery. She wound the reins around the brake and jumped down, ignoring Mason Mahaffey and his family.

"Hello, Claude," she called to the bent old man who came ambling out of the shed. "Do you mind if I water my team? It's a long dusty ride back to the Double M."

"Ye know I don't mind, Miss Victory. Just help yoreself. I'll go 'n' git ya a bucket a good fresh water so ya can wet yore own whistle afore ya go."

"Thank you, Claude."

She dipped a bucket of water from the trough and carried it to the horses. Mason and his brothers led their horses to the trough. Claude came with a bucket and a dipper. Victoria accepted a dipper full of water and drank thirstily, then refilled it and handed it up to the older girl on the wagon seat. Nellie gave the dipper to her young sister who emptied it, then handed it back to Victoria who refilled it for her.

"Friends of yores, Miss Victory?" Claude jerked his head toward the watering trough.

"Friends of mine?" Victoria said in a clear voice. "I never saw them before in my life." She climbed up onto the seat. "Thanks, Claude. Next time I come in I'll bring you a berry pie."

"'Bye now, Miss Victory. Ya keep an eye peeled. Lots a toughs on the road."

"Don't worry, Claude. I've got my rifle under the seat. Y'haw!" She slapped the reins against the backs of the horses and they moved away at a fast clip.

Victoria was glad when they left the rutted streets of the town and the road stretched out ahead of them. A slight breeze kicked up little eddies of dust along the trail, but did little to dissipate the afternoon heat—not that she noticed the heat. Her mind was swimming in a sea of confusion and bewilderment as if trying to awake from a hellish nightmare. She wished it were a nightmare, but the four horsemen who trailed the wagon were real, as were the two girls who sat silently on the seat beside her.

The trail narrowed. The scattered boulders had grown fewer, the trees thicker. They wove through the slender black columns of pines, climbing higher and higher as they traveled in a westerly direction. At one place the trail narrowed still more and followed the natural contour of the wooded hillside. Here, for a short while, there was shade and relief from the glaring sun.

"How much farther, Nellie? I've got to . . . you know . . ." Dora had moved as far away from Victoria as was possible on the narrow seat as she whispered to her sister.

"I don't know. Sit still and don't think about it." Nellie put her arm about the younger girl.

"It isn't like I thought it would be," Dora murmured. "Mason said we'd be goin' to a new home and we'd all be together again . . . and happy . . . and you 'n' me would keep house."

"Shhh. We will. You'll see."

"But she don't like us. . . ."

"Please, Dora!"

"Well . . . it's better than bein' with Aunt Lily," Dora said tiredly, "but I still got to . . . you know."

They reached the top of the hill and Victoria pulled up on the reins, stopping the team. Almost instantly Mason was at the side of the wagon, a questioning frown on his face.

"What are you up to now?"

"Your sister needs to go to the bushes," she said with sarcastically heavy patience and stared straight into the eyes that held hers for a moment then shifted to Dora.

The child stood up. "I'm sorry, Mason, I just can't hold it!"

Victoria held the reins up so Dora could crawl under them. Mason leaned from the saddle and lifted her to sit across his lap and turned the horse toward the trees. Victoria couldn't hear what he was saying to the child, but his voice was calm and patient. When they returned he lifted Dora back on the wagon and looked at the other girl.

"Nellie?" he said with a gentleness that caught Victoria by surprise and she looked at the girl fully for the first time. She was shaking her head vigorously and a rosy glow tinged her cheeks. "How much farther?" There was no gentleness in the voice that asked the question of Victoria.

"An hour and a half," she said crossly. "We'll be there by sundown."

"This is the Outlaw Trail, isn't it?" It was a question but he expected no answer. "I'll ride ahead a ways. Pete and Clay will stay with you."

"They needn't bother, Mr. Mahaffey. I've traveled this trail all my life and I expect every outlaw that travels it knows about me. I've never been bothered. I feel safer with them than with you."

"I wasn't thinking about you, Miss McKenna. I was thinking about my sisters." His cold, brittle eyes flicked across her face before he touched the brim of his hat and put his heels to his horse.

Victoria put the team in motion again, her nerves strung out as taut as a bowstring. The anger she had used to hold back the tears was about to desert her so she dredged up the words from the letter. They never failed to get her seething. I will be arriving September 16 to take possession of the property . . . It will be necessary for you to vacate. . . .

"Why don't you like us?" Dora's voice broke into her thoughts.

"Dora—no!" Nellie said sharply.

The tears spurted and began to roll down Victoria's cheeks. She was appalled. Oh, Lordy! I can't bawl in front of these people. I just can't! Her reasoning did nothing to stop the tears that flowed. So she turned her face away and tried to wipe them off on the sleeve of her shirt.

"Don't mind Dora. She doesn't understand," Nellie said softly, sympathetically.

"And I suppose you do!" Victoria managed hoarsely.

"Not all of it."


On Sale
Apr 12, 2001
Page Count
304 pages

Dorothy Garlock

About the Author

Dorothy Garlock is the author of more than 50 novels that have sold 15 million+ combined copies and are published in 15 languages. She lives in Iowa.

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