Authors: Kit Morgan
ANGEL CREEK PRESS
A Midsummer’s Mail-Order Bride
(Holiday Mail-Order Brides, Book Twelve)
by Kit Morgan
© 2015 Kit Morgan
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.
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Table of Contents
Be who you are. It was who you were meant to be.
Nowhere, Washington Territory, June 1872
Warren Johnson brushed his blonde hair out of his eyes and stared blankly at his grandfather. “You can’t be serious! Sell the farm? But why?”
Samuel Johnson, known to the locals as Old Man Johnson, sighed heavily. “I’m tired. Too tired to deal with this much work. You deserve a better life than what this farm can offer. I’m just lookin’ after ya, Warren.”
“Selling off my family’s legacy is helping me?” His blue eyes darkened. “How? I studied hard at college just so I could take this place over. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Grandpa shook his head. “Well, that may be so, but look what it’s done to me. I can hardly get out of bed in the mornin’.”
“Grandpa, you’re seventy. It’s amazing you do the work you do. In fact, maybe you should’ve had me stay here and help you rather than send me off to college.”
Grandpa waved a dismissive hand at him and snorted in disgust. “I promised your ma I’d send ya. Can I help it if I got a conscience and have to see things through?”
Warren smiled at that. “If it’s any consolation, I’m mighty glad you did. I learned a lot and have great plans for this place. I know it’s a lot of work. Why you took on part of the Rileys’ property while I was away, I’ll never know. All you did was heap more frustration on yourself.”
“Ma Riley needed it, what with both her boys servin’ as lawmen. Now that Clayton’s married, he’s runnin’ things again. Might be only a matter of time ‘fore Spencer gets it in his head to do the same. I reckon they’d be all too happy to buy us out.”
“Grandpa, no. I can’t let you do it.” He got up from the kitchen table. “I won’t. I want this, more than you know.”
“You want back-breakin’ work, cold meals, havin’ to wash and mend your own shirts and the occasional visit from that harpy Nellie Davis?”
“I don’t mind the work. And what has Nellie Davis got to do with anything?”
Grandpa shook his head. “Oh, wait – never mind about Nellie. Those daughters of hers are both married now.”
Warren put his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “Yes, Grandpa, I know. You told me when I got back a couple of months ago.”
“I did? Well, I’ll be. Memory’s goin’, I guess …”
Warren smiled. “Almost gone” was more like it – his grandfather was forgetting things all the time now. “You would’ve remembered if I’d given you the chance.”
Grandpa looked up at him. “You sure you don’t wanna take that schoolin’ of yours and be a banker or somethin’?”
“I’m sure. Besides, I didn’t study banking, I studied agronomy. Apple farming is what I want to do. If it was good enough for the rest of the family, then it’s good enough for me. Besides, the orchards are at a point where they’ll really start producing, and I want to be a part of that.”
“Producin’ a lot of work!” Grandpa grumbled. “My back can’t take it anymore.”
“And it doesn’t have to, if you’ll just let me take over.”
Grandpa let go something between a grunt and a laugh. “You’ll need more than the strength of your back to survive this. Especially since the orchards are ready to yield, as you said.”
“I’ve got all I need already.”
“Ha! That’s what you think!’
Warren’s brow puckered. “What do you mean? You’ve gotten along all right, except for taking on more than you should’ve the last few years.”
“I’m talkin’ about …” His grandfather looked away. “Aw, forget it.”
“Grandpa,” Warren said warily, “what aren’t you telling me?”
“I’d say there’s something. Now out with it.”
The old man pressed his lips together.
“Oh come on, don’t keep me in suspense. What is it?”
Sam’s tired brown eyes met Warren’s bright blue. “Warren, you can’t blame me for what I’ve done. You just can’t.”
Warren’s eyes widened. “That depends on what you’ve done, Grandpa.”
Grandpa bit his lower lip and gave his grandson a sheepish look. “I did what I thought was best for ya! I figured you’d have some sense, and with that schoolin’ of yours you’d take to numbers and such.”
“I’ll put it to good use, don’t worry.” He studied his grandfather’s slumped form.
Uh oh …
what could the old man have done that would have him looking so guilty? “I’ll need it for the farm. I have plans, you know.”
“I know now.”
“Grandpa, what’s wrong?”
The old man paled, his lower lip quivering. “Now before you go gettin’ all uppity on me, boy, let me explain myself!”
“I’ve been asking you to explain! For Pete’s sake, what’s this all about?”
Grandpa audibly gulped. “I done ordered you a mail-order bride.”
Warren stared at him bug-eyed. “You … you did what?”
“It’s that Leona Riley’s fault! She’s the one kept comin’ over here and tellin’ me how happy her two boys Clayton and Spencer have been with their wives …”
“Wives that married apple farmers, I might add!” Warren snapped. He didn’t mean to – his grandfather didn’t deserve to be treated that way. But by golly, first he tried to talk him out of taking over the farm because of all the work, and now this? Just what was the old man thinking?
Grandpa soon enlightened him. “Clayton and Spencer got lucky – they were sent wives that ain’t afraid of work. I’ve been over there a time or two, and they’re fine gals. But for you I was hopin’ to get a lady of refinement. You know, the kind that can read and write?”
Warren squeezed his eyes tight and took a deep breath. “Grandpa, most of the women around here can.”
“Well, this one speaks French! It says so in the letter she done sent ya!”
“Letter?” he squeaked. “She sent a …” Warren scrunched his face up. “Have you been writing letters back and forth with this woman … in
“Well somebody’s gotta do it! How else is she gonna get to know ya?”
“How about by
writing to her?!” Warren rubbed his face with his hands a few times and groaned. “Grandpa, you can’t go around writing letters to someone pretending to be me! Now who knows what she thinks?”
“She thinks highly enough of ya to come here and get hitched!”
“Oh, for the love of Pete,” Warren muttered. “Yes, to the man who answered those letters. Good grief, how many did you send?”
“Only one!” Grandpa said defensively.
“One? You mean to tell me this woman is coming out here to get married after only one letter?”
“Yeah, ain’t it great?”
Warren’s fists clenched in frustration. “No … no, Grandpa, it’s not great. She’s going to come out here expecting to get married!”
“So what’s wrong with that? She’s a mail-order bride, ain’t she?”
Warren took another deep breath to calm himself. It didn’t help much. “Except that I don’t want to.”
Good Lord, had Grandpa lost his train of thought already? “Get married.”
Grandpa leaned back in his chair in shock. “What do ya mean ya don’t want to get married? Land sakes boy, ya got a mail-order bride comin’!”
Warren cast a glance at the ceiling overhead and stifled another groan. Maybe his grandfather had gone completely around the bend. “When is this woman supposed to arrive?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell ya, boy! She’s comin’ in on the afternoon stage. You’d best get to town and fetch her!”
“What?!” Warren gasped. “You mean today?”
“Ain’t that what I said?”
“She’s … what … where …,” he stammered. “Today?!”
Grandpa pulled out his pocket watch. “Yep, in about a half an hour’d be my guess.”
Warren shook his head in disbelief. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
Grandpa looked at him and smiled. “Afraid not. Now, you’d best go hitch up the wagon and pick up your bride. You don’t want someone else to come along and take her, do ya?”
One of Warren’s eyebrows shot up as his mouth formed a crooked smile. Maybe if he was lucky, someone would. “I can’t believe you did this to me. How could you even think I wanted a bride right now?”
“Because it’s high time you settled down. And let’s face it, all the weddings we’ve had here of late have been because of mail-order brides.”
“Charlotte and Abbey Davis weren’t mail-order brides.”
“No, but now that they’re spoken for, there’s no one left, Warren. A mail-order bride is the only way you’re gonna get married.”
“Grandpa, did you even think to ask if I wanted to get married?”
“Well, don’t ya?”
“Someday. Not right now.”
“Well I ain’t gettin’ any younger and maybe
like to see ya married while I’m still here on this earth. Did ya ever think of that?”
, Warren thought to himself. He’d just never voiced it to his grandfather. More than once he’d envisioned Sam’s disappointment at not seeing any great-grandchildren. “Yes,” he finally said.
“Get them horses hitched up, Warren, and bring that gal home. Oh, and don’t forget to stop by the preacher’s first and get married.”
Warren shook his head. “You make it sound so simple.”
“It is! At last you’re seein’ reason.”
Warren looked at him as he headed for the door. He’d have to pick the woman up, of course – he couldn’t just leave her stranded in Nowhere. Besides, if he didn’t, Sheriff Spencer Riley would probably haul the woman home with him once he found out who she was. It would only be a matter time before Sheriff Riley knocked on his door with his bride in tow.
He took one last look at his grandfather, then trudged out the door to the barn. It didn’t seem to take long to hitch up the horses, but his mind was numb and he couldn’t think straight, so for all he knew it had taken a half an hour.
He was about to climb up onto the wagon seat when Grandpa came out of house. “Don’t forget your hat!” he said with a grin and handed it to him.
Warren snatched it out of his hand and smashed it onto his head. “Grandpa! I don’t know whether to … I mean … you had no right …”
“Oh, stop your flappin’ and get into town to fetch that bride of yours!”
Warren groaned in frustration and climbed up. At least he’d have the trip to town to think about what to do. He sure as heck wasn’t going to take the woman straight to the preacher and marry her! Grandpa would surely be upset about that, but dagnabit, he’d had no right to order him a bride in the first place!
He’d have gotten around to getting married eventually. There was no reason for his grandfather to jump to conclusions and think he wouldn’t. However, from the sounds of it, he’d had a little help from Leona Riley. Maybe he should drop by her place on the way to town to give her a piece of his mind …
“Wait a minute,” he said aloud. “Of course – I’ll take her to the Rileys’! She can stay there!”
His shoulders slumped in relief as he drew further from the farm. Yes, drop her at the Rileys – that’s what he’d do. If Mrs. Riley got him into this mess, he was going to see to it that she got him out of it! Besides, the girl would be with other women who’d been mail-order brides, and maybe they’d know how to find her a proper husband.
Still, he hated to just spring the girl on the Riley family. Maybe he could catch Spencer at the sheriff’s office and tell him what his grandfather had done. If anyone would understand, it would be him – he and his brother had been through this. Come to think of it, so had Matthew Quinn – his mother ordered him a mail-order bride and didn’t tell him beforehand …
… and Matthew hadn’t married her! That’s right – he’d married Charlotte Davis! If Matthew could marry someone other than his mail-order bride, then by golly, so could he!
Warren sighed in relief and drove on. One way or another, he’d work this out.
* * *
Bernice Caulder trembled with excitement as the stage pulled into the little town of Nowhere. She’d re-pinned her hair at least three times along the bumpy ride, and wished she’d paid more attention when she put it up that morning at the Gundersons’ stage stop. If she’d really been smart, she’d have asked Mrs. Gunderson to help her, but the woman was so busy with breakfast she didn’t have the heart.
She smoothed her hair one last time as the stage came to a stop and the driver called out their destination. He climbed down and opened the coach’s door. “Here’s yer stop, Miss,” he said, holding a hand out to help her disembark.
Bernice peeked at the boardwalk behind him to see if she’d catch a glimpse of her future husband, but there were only a couple of women walking by. She noticed one of them stopping to stare at the driver, then at her. The woman had a pinched expression that reminded Bernice of her mother and Miss Brubauk. She involuntarily cringed and hoped she wouldn’t have to speak to her.
Unfortunately, the woman and her companion now stood facing the stagecoach as the driver helped Bernice down. The older of the two spoke in low tones to the younger, and she wondered if they might be mother and daughter.