The Christmas Mail Order Bride (Holiday Mail Order Brides, Book One)

BOOK: The Christmas Mail Order Bride (Holiday Mail Order Brides, Book One)
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ANGEL CREEK PRESS

 

The Christmas Mail Order Bride (Holiday Mail Order Brides, Book One)

by
Kit Morgan

 

Copyright 2013 Kit Morgan

 

Find other titles by Kit Morgan Including:

 

His Prairie Princess (Prairie Brides, Book One)

Her Prairie Knight (Prairie Brides, Book Two)

His Prairie Duchess (Prairie Brides, Book Three)

Her Prairie Viking (Prairie Brides, Book Four)

His Prairie Sweetheart (Prairie Brides, Book Five)

Coming Soon:

Her Prairie Outlaw (Prairie Brides, Book Six)

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without permission in writing from the publisher.

All characters are fictional. Any resemblances to actual people are purely coincidental.

Cover design by The Killion Group and Hotdamndesigns.com

 

 

License Notes

 

This e
-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

To Mary Tackett, whom I affectionately referred to as Gran Ma Mere, and whom I kept knee deep in romance novels for the last two years of her
glorious ninety three year old life.  Unfortunately, Gran Ma Mere Mary could read them faster than I could supply them!  Her daughter Gayle and I had to stay on our toes to keep up with her voracious reading habit! I had the pleasure of creating a small token book for Mary (OK, so it started out as a birthday card Gayle and I were making and turned into a book!) that told the tale of her life as a young wife and mother raising her nine children on an apple farm in the Lake Chelan area of Washington state. Within its pages one quickly learns the Tacketts are a fun-loving, life-living bunch. They have been a great source of joy since the day I met them and I am honored by their friendship. So here’s to the hard working Tacketts who by simply breathing the air in apple country can tell you what apple is growing in what orchard and then some!  Love you guys!

 

Kit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One

 

New Orleans, October, 1870

 

Summer James sat outside Mrs. Ridgley’s office and listened in horror to the conversation going in inside.  Though the door was closed, she could still make out the bulk of the argument going on as Mrs. Ridgley and someone called Slade battled it out. Summer had no idea why they would be arguing about her but she’d caught enough of the conversation to come to the conclusion that that’s exactly what they were doing.

She’d arrived
with a letter of recommendation written by Mrs. Teeters herself, the head of the Winslow Orphanage. Once she reached eighteen Summer had been given a choice.  Find respectable work in New Orleans, or find it elsewhere.  Elsewhere being in the guise of becoming a mail order bride to some far off settler or farmer thousands of miles away.  As she hadn’t found any sort of respectable work in New Orleans, she was forced to seek what opportunities lay in the “elsewhere” category.

  Summer
jumped as the man called Slade slammed a fist down on Mrs. Ridgley’s desk.  Would he harm the woman?  What could he possibly be so upset about?  Just as Summer made up her mind to enter unannounced and interrupt the heated argument for Mrs. Ridgley’s sake, two huge negro men came storming up the stairs from the first floor of the building and did the interrupting for her.

“Get this vile man out of m
y sight!”  Mrs. Ridgley ordered as they burst into the room. 

“You haven’t s
een the last of me, Eugina!  You can’t keep putting me off forever!” The man called Slade spat.

Summer
shrank a little in her chair.  He was tall and lean and had an ugly scar running down the left side of his face.  He turned to the two men who had planted themselves one on each side of Mrs. Ridgley’s desk, and snarled at them. One of the men raised an amused brow as if to say,
“oh really?”
then pointed to the door and took a threatening step forward.

  “Jethro, wi
ll you please see Mr. Slade out? 
All
the way, out.”  Mrs. Ridgley stated firmly to him.

“With pleas
ure, ma’am!” said Jethro who now headed toward Mr. Slade.

Summer
quickly glanced toward the stairs and fought the urge to bolt in their direction as Mr. Slade stormed out of the office ahead of the bigger man.  He stopped right in front of her and glared, his eyes narrowed to slits. Summer didn’t deem herself a beauty.  She was underweight, her blue eyes had dark circles under them from lack of sleep, and her long blonde hair needed a good washing.  Yet the man looked her over like she was some prized piece of expensive horseflesh before he licked his upper lip and smiled. 

He
then quickly bent to her and whispered, “I’ll see you later, sweet.” 

But before she could so much as blink an eye he was yanked upright by Jethro whom hauled him to the stairs and then none too gently began to shove him down the stairwell. Summer gulped back her fear and chanced a peek at Mrs. Ridgley who now stood behind her desk, a firm look of resolve on her face, and motioned the other man to bend down so she could whisper in his ear. 

When she was done giving him instructions he smiled and stroll
ed out of the office to Summer.  “Mrs. Ridgley will see you now, miss,” he told her in a deep pleasant voice. 


Th … thank you,” Summer said as she gripped her reticule and stiffly stood.  A chill went up her spine at the odd snippets she remembered of Mrs. Ridgley and Mr. Slade’s heated argument.  Did she dare ask Mrs. Ridgley what it was all about? From what she could make out from the other side of the door during their dispute, it almost sounded like Mr. Slade was trying to
buy
her from Mrs. Ridgley!

“Please sit down, dear.
  Solomon, stay outside the office until Miss James is ready to leave will you?  Then I want you to escort her back to Winslow.”

“It would be my pleasure, Mrs. Ridgley.” He smiled, a won
derful warm smile before he turned to Summer. “When ever you’re ready to leave, Miss James, I’ll be right outside.”

Summer could only stare at him and give a solitary nod in return as he backed out of the office and closed the door behind him.

“Please, sit down,” Mrs. Ridgley told her.

Summer sen
t her a weak smile and sat in a old chair placed on the other side of an equally old desk. In fact, the desk and chairs weren’t the only thing in Mrs. Ridgley’s office that looked worn out.  The rest of the furniture had also seen better days and she noticed how the wallpaper was peeling in several places about the room.  But the office as a whole was clean and orderly, the windows and their curtains also clean, though frayed. Summer briefly wondered if being there was such a good idea and sent up a quick prayer that the state of Mrs. Ridgley’s office wasn’t an indication of the people who utilized her mail order bride service.  But then, wasn’t she exactly that?  Poor looking, feeling worn out, frayed, and with no place left to go?  At least she was clean!  Well, most of her anyway.

“I’ve searched
my files and picked which applicant I think most suits you.”

“Applicant?  I thought I would get to choose between several?”

Mrs. Ridgley clasped her hands in front of her on the desk. “The truth is Miss James, I’m afraid we only had one gentlemen answer our advertisement so far.  Of course you’re welcome to wait until we receive more, but I wouldn’t advise it.”

Disappointment sunk hard and fast into
Summer’s belly, so hard and fast her insides knotted up with pain.  “But … but what if … what if I don’t care for the gentleman?”

Mrs. Ridgley sighed heavily.  “Miss James, the alternative you face is nothing I would wish upon anyone.  I strongly advise you to take what we have to offer.”

Summer felt her feet go suddenly cold, as if all her blood had ceased to flow through her veins, her very heart stopped by Mrs. Ridgley’s words. “Alternative?”

“Miss James,” Mrs. Ridgley began, her voice stern. “Take this offer of marriage from…” she quickly looked at the papers in front of her, “this Mr.
Clayton Riley.  He sounds like a wonderful man and look, he even sent his picture.”  She shoved a small photograph toward her.  It was cracked and faded.  Summer picked it up to get a better look. She could hardly tell what the man looked like!  She turned it over to see if anything had been written on the back. Good Heavens!  Was that
blood
?

“He has already sent train
and stage fare…”

“What!

“It’s something we ask for right up front so we can get a bride out of … out to their prospective groom right away, anxious as
most gentleman are to get married.”

Mrs. Ridgley sent her an imploring look at that point. 

Slowly, ever so slowly, Summer began to put it all together.  “What did that man want with me?” she asked softly.

Mrs. Ridgley closed her eyes a brief moment.  “Mr. Slade is a very bad man, Miss James.  He’s been a thorn in my side ever sinc
e the war ended and I started this business.”

“But
, what did he want with me?”

The woman swallowe
d hard and looked at her. “We were business associates at one time, but I left after the war to do other things, more worthwhile things, such as help young ladies as yourself find a better life than the one offered here.”

Summer gripped her reticule and stared Mrs. Ridgley down.  “What sort of business were you in?”

“That is a part of my past I do not wish to discuss.  Now, if you would read over the gentleman’s application, we can proceed.”

A tear came to
Summer’s eye.  She now guessed what this was all about.  She understood what would happen if she turned down the one applicant Mrs. Ridgley’s mail order bride service managed to get.  No wonder there was only the one. 

Mrs. Ridgley was catering to the
unwanted. The women no other mail order bride service would touch.  Who wanted a dirty little orphan like herself with no idea of how to be a lady?  Or a starving widow left alone because of the brutality of war? Or perhaps even a soiled dove wanting a better life?

Of course, men like Mr. Slade did. 
Summer heard rumors of how they preyed upon them night and day, went hunting for them in fact. Like a spider seeking its next meal, when a woman came within range, they grabbed her up and imprisoned her in their web of deceit and lies, indebting the victim to them so deeply there was no escape. 

So, Mr. Slade
had
been trying to buy her!  Well, perhaps
buy
wasn’t the right word. 
Claim
might be better. 

If
Summer didn’t take Mr. Riley’s offer of marriage, what was she to do?  Continue to wander the streets until she found a job?  In two days she had to be out of Winslow and had nowhere else to go. People had already complained to the law about Winslow’s over crowded walls.  No wonder Mr. Slade told her he’d see her later!  He fully intended to snatch her up as soon as she left them!

“Oh no …”
Summer barely managed to breath. “What am I to do?”

Mrs. Ridgley shoved
the papers across the desk, took a pen, dipped it in an inkwell, and held it out to her. “Sign this, and I guarantee you’ll survive.  If you don’t, I know what awaits you.  He’ll make a slave of you Miss James, and there’s nowhere you can run from a man like that.  And if not him, then another will come.”

Tears began to stream down
Summer’s cheeks as she put forth a shaky hand and took the pen.  Her lower lip trembling, she scrawled her signature across several pages then set the pen down. 

Mrs. Ridgley breathed a sigh of relief.  “I’ll have Solomon esco
rt you back to Winslow.  He'll return in two days to fetch you to the train station.  Do not leave the orphanage until he comes, do you understand?”

Summer nodded, took a handkerchief from her reticule and wiped her tears away.  “What … what sort of man is this Mr. Riley?” she sputtered then blew her nose.

Mrs. Ridgley picked up the papers and leafed through them.  He sounds like a kind, gentle, m
an.  He was a captain in the union army and is now a Sheriff in a small town out west.

“Out west?  How far out west?  Where are you sending me?”  Summer asked, her eyes wide.

Mrs. Ridgley leafed through the papers once again before she looked at her across the desk.  “I’m sending you to Nowhere.”

“Nowhere?”

“Nowhere, it’s in the Washington territory.  You’ll take the train as far as Salt Lake, then you’ll have to ride the stage for the remainder of the journey.”

Summer’s mouth dropped open
in shock.  How utterly fitting!  She could just imagine introducing herself a couple of months from now. 
Hello, I’m Summer Riley, and I’m from Nowhere.

She wanted to bury her face in her hands but didn’t for Mrs. Ridgley’s sake. The woman was trying to save her from a horrible fate.  Mr. Slade was obviously seeking women for
his
business
and had no qualms about stealing one such as herself right off the streets!  Mrs. Ridgley was right, it was only a matter of time before he got his hands on her.

Summer straightened in her chair.  “Thank you.”

Mrs. Ridgley smiled.  “If I can help you or any other girl get a chance to make a better life, then I’ve done my job.  No matter if you’re an orphan, widow, or any thing else.”

Summer managed a smile. “Thank you.  There are others coming of age at Winslow.  They’ll need a
chance too if unable to make it by themselves.”

“I already know.  Mrs. Teeters has given me a list of names.”

“She has?”

Mrs. Ridgley smiled.  “My dear sweet girl, your name was at the top
of the list.”

Summer smiled and nodded.  “
Mrs. Teeters.  I’ll miss her terribly.  She knows where I’m going then?”

“Yes, dear. She knows.  And I’ve also told her that the man who awaits you is a ki
nd man, a gentle man, just as his letter here states.”

BOOK: The Christmas Mail Order Bride (Holiday Mail Order Brides, Book One)
12.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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