This week I thought I’d do a sample from The Mail Order Bride’s Deception. I expect to finish the first draft this week. :)
Rapid City, Dakota Territory
Sadie Miller’s heart raced with trepidation as she looked at the letter in her hands from the man who waited for his mail-order bride. She couldn’t read it. But she remembered what a kind old lady had read to her at the train station. It was from a man named Allen Grover who lived in Rapid City who had a six-month-old son named Gilbert.
Allen sounded like a nice man, the kind of man she could enjoy spending the rest of her life with. Hazel had said he was the kind of man who’d be good to her. Then she gave Sadie her drawstring purse with the money, letter and ticket. Even now as Sadie held the woman’s things, she couldn’t help the mixture of feelings that the items provoked. What happened to Hazel had been horrible, but it had been the very thing that freed her. This was her chance. A new start. A new life. A chance to put the past behind her.
She peered through the small window of the stagecoach, wondering what Allen Grover looked like. Her gaze passed over a couple of men before she found one who was holding a baby in one arm. He was in front of the mercantile and he was a handsome man. Tan from hours spent outdoors, taller than the average man, light brown hair under his hat, and muscular from hard work. He wore a pair of denims and a faded blue and white plaid shirt that had seen better days. Yes, that had to be him. No other man had a child with him.
She took a deep breath. When she stepped out of this stagecoach, she would be Hazel McPherson. Not Sadie Miller. She closed her eyes for a moment and reminded herself that she could do this. She had to do this. Because if she didn’t…
Well, it was better if she didn’t think about it.
The horses slowed so she braced herself until the stagecoach came to a stop. She adjusted her hat and patted her auburn hair which she had pulled back into a bun. Except for an errant curl that fell from the pins, everything was in place. Keeping the letter out, she closed the drawstring purse and got ready to get out. The moment she set foot on the dirt road, she would be Hazel.
The driver opened the door and held his hand out to help her down. She accepted it. Her legs shook as she took her first tentative step forward. This was it. There was no going back. Daring a glance at the young man, her steps slowed when she realized he was already heading in her direction.
Her heartbeat picked up. Would he believe she was Hazel? Did Hazel tell him what she looked like in one of her letters? Did she look enough like Hazel for him to think it was her? Hazel had brown hair with golden highlights, not the reddish tint she did. And she’d been thinner and taller than Sadie. But why would Hazel mention something like that? She might mention her hair color, maybe even her eye color, but she probably wouldn’t go further than that.
“Are you Miss Hazel McPherson?” the young man asked.
Her gaze went to the sleeping child in his arms before going back to him. Nodding, she offered a hopeful smile. “Yes.” She held out the letter to him. “Are you Allen Grover?”
“I am, but you can call me Al.” With a glance at the letter, he chuckled. “And I wrote that letter. I’d recognize my sloppy handwriting anywhere.”
She laughed at his joke. “I had no trouble figuring out what the letter said.”
“You’re one of the few.” He motioned to the stagecoach where the driver and gunman were tying the horses to a post. “Don’t you have any luggage?”
“Oh.” Luggage? “Um, well…” She turned back to him. “I wanted a fresh start. I thought I’d make my own clothes, especially since the weather is supposed to be colder here.”
Thank goodness she’d taken the time to listen to the couple who spent their whole time chatting about the Black Hills before they got off three hours before she arrived. But that was neither here nor there. At the moment, she had more pressing things to deal with.
“I brought some money for the clothes,” she assured Al. Judging by what he was wearing, he didn’t have much to his name, and the last thing she wanted him to do was change his mind and not marry her—or rather Hazel.
“I was afraid I scared you when I warned you about how cold it can get out here in the winter,” he said as he took her by the arm and led her up the platform in front of the mercantile. “I know it’s nothing like Atlanta.”
She had no idea what Atlanta was like, so she’d just have to take his word for it. “I appreciated the warning,” she ventured, hoping it was the right thing to say. “I like to be prepared.” Especially after everything she’d been through. “I don’t like surprises.”
“You won’t get any from here. There’s not much to do. I hope you don’t get bored.”
“Boredom is the least of my concerns.” In fact, she welcomed it. The quiet blessedness of boredom would be wonderful! Peaceful even.
“You might be saying otherwise after being here a month.”
He shot her a smile that threatened to melt her right on the spot. She had a weakness for dimples and he had such cute ones. And his green eyes with brown flecks around the pupils twinkled, hinting at the joy in his life. Such joy had eluded her for quite some time. It’d certainly be nice to be surrounded by it again.
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask about his first wife but she decided against it. Hazel probably knew the details, and if she asked the wrong questions, he’d know she wasn’t the woman he expected her to be.
Choosing for a safer question, she asked, “May I hold Gilbert?”
They stopped and he placed Gilbert in her arms. Afraid she might hurt him, she was careful as she brought him closer to her. He opened his eyes and glanced back at his father before turning his large brown eyes to her. She offered the boy a tentative smile, wondering if babies picked up on an adult’s uncertainty. All he did was stare up at her as if he’d never seen a woman before.
She knew nothing about caring for babies or children and had no idea if Hazel did or not. But even so, she guessed that each child was different, just as every person was different. She was going to be his mother now. The sooner she got used to him, the better.
She brushed back one of his blond curls. “He’s got lovely hair.”
“Yes, he does.”
“Oh?” Did Gilbert take after his first mother?
Unfortunately, he decided not to divulge anything. He resumed his walk and started telling her where stores were in the town. Despite her curiosity, she didn’t press him for more information. For all she knew, he’d told Hazel everything already so why would he repeat himself? Besides, he was taking her as his second wife, and that being the case, he’d want to focus on her. Pushing aside the stab of guilt in her gut, she forced her attention to what he was saying. Hazel was dead. There was no bringing her back. And that being the case, all she was doing was filling in for her. Yes, it was a lie. Yes, she was deceiving him. But what harm could possibly come from it? It wasn’t like anyone from Nebraska was going to come up here to visit Hazel.
“I spent the better part of the day getting the cabin ready for you,” Al said.
“I told you it’s only got two bedrooms. I know you’re used to a large home with servants at your beck and call. This won’t be anything like that.” His steps slowed. “Are you sure you want to go through with this? Once we marry, it’s forever.”
Hazel came from a large home with servants? Sadie had no idea this was the case based on the simple clothing Hazel wore. But Hazel did have a lot of money in her drawstring purse. Just what had Hazel’s life been like and why would she leave such luxury to come out here?
“Hazel?” Al asked, drawing her attention back to him.
“I’m sorry. I got distracted.” No sense in telling him why. “What is it?”
“I was asking you if you’re sure you want to marry me. Life out here isn’t an easy one. There are bitter winters. You’ll have to cook, clean, and sew. Now, I meant what I said. I want you here, and Aunt Betty is more than happy to teach you what you need to know. But it’s hard work, especially when you have a child to tend to. You’ve led such a sheltered life. I’m just not sure you’re up to it.”
She thought over his words with interest. “You accepted my reply to your mail-order bride advertisement.” Or rather, Hazel’s reply. “Forgive me if you mentioned it and I forgot, but did you not get any other replies?”
“I didn’t mention it,” he quietly replied. “Because no other replies came. I had sent out the ad when Gilbert was born.”
So that’s why he jumped at the chance at marrying Hazel. She was the only one who answered and he had a child who needed a mother. Well, she was nothing like Hazel. Her life hadn’t been one of luxury. She’d had to learn to fight and struggle to survive. She’d known hunger, pain, and loneliness. These were things Hazel had rescued her from.
Tears she’d learned to suppress threatened to expose her weakness. She quickly blinked them away. She focused on the man standing in front of her and the child in her arms. This was a new beginning. A new start. She could do this.
“Hard work and cold winters don’t scare me,” she told him.
There were worse things out there. Monsters that took the form of men. She rubbed Gilbert’s back and looked at Al. He wasn’t a monster. He was a good man—an honest man. And he was desperate for a wife who’d be a mother to his son.
“I want to marry you, Al. I wouldn’t have come all this way if I didn’t. It might take me some time to get used to being here, but I will. I promise you that.”
He relaxed and smiled. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you wanted to leave after you saw this place, but I’m glad you’re staying.”
She returned his smile, assured that he really would have let her leave if that was what she wanted. No man had given her a choice before. It was nice to control her destiny for a change. “I am, too.”