Authors: Ashley Merrick
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Victorian Era, #Western, #Fifth In Series, #Saga, #Fifty-Books, #Forty-Five Authors, #Newspaper Ad, #Short Story, #American Mail-Order Bride, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Marriage Of Convenience, #Christian, #Religious, #Faith, #Inspirational, #Factory Burned, #Pioneer, #Indiana, #Sisters, #South Bend, #Widower, #Two Children, #Burn Scarred, #No Romance, #Name-Only Marriage, #Financial Security, #Best Friends Daughter, #Mother Disappointed, #Adversary, #Community, #Family Life
© 2015 by Ashley Merrick
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 written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
, Indiana 1890
ichard Blake woke
to the sound of crying again. He waited a moment to see if the sound would subside, but it grew louder instead. With a sigh, he eased his body out of bed and touched his bare feet to the cold wood floor. Winter was coming soon and the wind howled outside. He glanced out the window and saw only the faintest light from a sliver of moon. Judging from the pitch black darkness, he guessed it was just after midnight. A small figure appeared in his doorway as the crying continued.
“Daddy, Sammy is sad,” his seven-year-old daughter whispered. He bent down and pulled her in for a hug.
“I know, honey. It’s okay. Let’s go get him and then we can all go back to sleep again.”
“Can I sleep in your bed? Sammy, too?” Her high-pitched voice sounded so young to him. He knew this was all just as hard for her as it was for her three-year-old brother, Sammy.
“Of course you can, honey.” He took her small hand and they walked the short distance down the hall to Sammy’s room. The child was tossing and turning in his bed, half-asleep and whimpering. Richard walked over to him, and gently patted his forehead.
“It’s okay, Sammy. Daddy’s here.”
The crying stopped for a brief moment and then started again, but softer. Richard scooped up his son and carried him back into his bedroom, with Julia following close behind him. He settled Sammy in the middle of the bed and as soon as Richard and Julia climbed in beside him, the crying stopped.
“Daddy, are we ever going to stop being sad?” Julia asked.
“I hope so, honey. I truly do.”
“I still miss Mommy.” Her voice quivered and Richard reached over and squeezed her hand.
“I know you do. I do, too.”
A few minutes later, Julia’s breathing slowed and Richard knew she was asleep. He wished for the same escape himself, but instead, he was wide awake. This had become an almost every evening ritual, with the children ending up in his bed and him being sleep-deprived. Ever since Mattie had died, they had been stuck in this limbo. For nearly six months now.
Reluctantly, he conceded that his brothers might know best after all, and it might be time to act on their suggestion. It wasn’t at all what he would have chosen to do, but his children needed a mother. Richard finally felt his eyes grow heavy as he made the decision that would change all of their lives. Tomorrow morning, he was going to place an ad in the Grooms’ Gazette for a mail-order bride.
hree weeks later
, Lawrence, MA
oday’s the big day
, then?” Michelle asked softly. India Mitchell nodded and took a sip of her tea, which had long grown cold. She’d barely touched it and had only managed to choke down one piece of toast.
“Yes, and I’ve never been so nervous. What if he doesn’t like me?” She voiced her biggest fear to her roommate, Michelle, who was her closest friend, other than her own sister Beth, who had left with their mother just a few days before. They were moving to Montana with Beth’s groom-to-be and his two young nieces, who now lived with him. India was feeling very alone and worried. Since the Brown Textile Mill had closed due to a fire, she and her sister and about a hundred other women were suddenly jobless. With such limited prospects, most of them had taken their former manager Roberta’s suggestion to answer an ad in the Grooms’ Gazette to become a mail-order bride.
India hadn’t been at all excited about the idea, but with no other options, she knew she had to be realistic. Some of the girls were excited and saw it as a grand adventure. India was more cautious than that. She picked up the copy of the newspaper, which was dog-eared and worn by now, and glanced at the ad she’d replied to. It had a big circle around it, to let the other girls know that she was writing to Richard Blake. His was the only ad that had appealed to her. She liked that he seemed direct and concerned about the well-being of his two young children who needed a mother. He also made it clear that he was not looking for a true wife, but rather someone who would take good care of his children. He also mentioned something about being scarred in a fire, the same fire that killed his wife. India wasn’t bothered by that, though. She’d gotten the sense that he would keep to himself and that was fine with her.
He’d written back right away and seemed seriously interested. He mentioned that he was going to be in Boston on business soon and would like to meet her. Then, if either had no objection after meeting, they could be married the next day and travel together to his home in South Bend, Indiana.
India swallowed nervously at the thought of spending several days alone with a virtual stranger as they rode the train to his home. She wished he was bringing the children as that would at least give her something to do, to watch over them. But, he’d said his mother had agreed to stay with them and they were looking forward to that. She understood. It would be too difficult to drag the children across the country. If all went well, she would meet them soon enough.
“What time are you seeing him?” Michelle asked as she reached for India’s neglected other slice of toast. “You’re not going to eat this, right?”
“No, go ahead. My stomach is in knots.”
“He sounds like a nice enough man. Read me his letter again,” Michelle demanded as she took a big bite of toast.
India drew his letter from her purse and unfolded it. She suspected Michelle had only made the request to put her mind at ease and she appreciated that. She’d read his letter so many times now that she practically had it committed to memory. She read it aloud:
ear Miss Mitchell
you for your kind note. I do appreciate your honesty, that you are not seeking a love match but rather a position as my wife because of your own unfortunate situation. That suits me well, as I am primarily seeking someone who can be a good mother to my children and who understands that she will be a true wife in name only. I was once married and loved my wife very much. She recently perished in a fire and I was unable to save her. I should warn you that although I used to be considered by some to be attractive, I don’t know of any who would describe me that way now. Although I survived the fire, it left its mark and the right side of my body was badly burned. There are ugly scars on my face as well and it makes some people uncomfortable. I wanted to be very clear about that so that you are not too shocked or surprised by my appearance. I will understand if you do not wish to go forward, given this information.
f I have not scared
you off, then I look forward to meeting you soon. I will be in Boston in two weeks’ time and will call for you. We can plan to have lunch on that Tuesday. While I cannot offer you a handsome, loving husband, I can promise you that I am a good, kind person who has the financial means to support my family comfortably. If, after meeting, we are both inclined to proceed, we can be married the next day and be on the train to Indiana that afternoon.
to meeting you soon.
With great respect,
he sounds perfect for you,” Michelle said and then squeezed India’s arm to reassure her. “Just meet him. You’ll know if it’s the right thing. Trust yourself.”
India smiled. “I will. It feels like it may be. I’m just nervous. It’s a big step, a venture into the unknown.”
“Well, you look lovely.” Michelle studied India’s hair and then said, “If you like, I can play with your hair a bit, maybe pull the sides back and use your pretty silver combs?”
“Oh, thank you. I’d like that.”
Michelle went and got her brush and India’s silver combs from her dresser. She returned and brushed through her long, dark brown hair until it gleamed. She pulled the sides back and slipped the silver combs in to secure the style.
“Perfect! Take a look.” Michelle held up a hand mirror so India could check her reflection. She had done a good job. India considered her hair to be one of her best features. It hung long and straight to the middle of her back and set off her pale, creamy skin and dark brown eyes. She considered herself average otherwise, average height of 5’ 3” and her figure was ordinary, though lately a bit on the slender side. With all of the girls out of work, they weren’t eating as well as they used to. Baked potatoes or cabbage soup were their most common meals and India was tired of both. But at least today, she would have a good lunch, and only hoped she’d find an appetite to eat it.
Just as India was admiring what Michelle had done with her hair, there was a knock on their apartment door. Their other roommates, Della, Dacey, and Chevonne weren’t home so it was just her and Michelle.
“I’m not expecting anyone,” Michelle said with a grin as she got up to open the door.
India’s stomach did a flip. It must be Richard Blake. She didn’t feel ready. But she supposed she probably never would. India opened the door and both girls stared in confusion at the handsome blonde man standing in the doorway. Richard Blake had described himself as dark-haired and obviously scarred. This man was neither.
“Hello. I’m here for India Mitchell?”
“Are you Richard Blake?” Michelle looked as confused as India felt.
The man chuckled. “No, I’m Henry Davis. I work for Mr. Blake. He asked me to bring Miss Mitchell to the hotel where he is staying. They will be dining in the restaurant there.”
“Oh, of course. I’m ready.” India put her long wool coat on, tied a pretty pink scarf around her neck and then grabbed her purse.
“Have fun!” Michelle called as India shut the door behind them. She followed Henry outside and climbed into the passenger side of the nicest buggy she’d ever seen. Henry made sure she was settled, then took the reins and they rode off. Neither one of them said much, but it was a short trip and ten minutes later, he pulled up in front of the Northbridge Hotel, which was the best hotel in the area. India had never stepped foot inside before.
Once Henry had the horses tied up, he came around to India’s side and helped her down. She followed him in and he led her to the restaurant, to a round table in the very back of the room. As they approached the table, a dark-haired man stood and held out his hand. He smiled tightly as he saw them and when he turned his head slightly, she could see the scarring along his right jaw. She noticed that the angry red skin was uneven and extended all the way to his eye, causing it to droop just a little. It gave that eye a slightly sleepy look, which really wasn’t unattractive. In fact, because of his letter, she’d expected him to be quite a bit worse looking. She could tell from the square cut of his jaw and his strong, straight nose that he’d once been quite an attractive man. More so than she had anticipated.
He smiled as she reached the table and light entered his eyes, but just for a moment and it was so quick that she almost wondered if she’d imagined it.
“Miss Mitchell?” His voice was deep and low. It commanded attention and India felt herself standing taller.
“Yes. Mr. Blake?” She shook his hand as he nodded and gestured for her to sit across from him.
“Yes, my friends call me Richard.” He turned his attention to Henry who was standing silently to the side. “Thank you, Henry. I will see you later this afternoon.”
“Very good, sir.” Henry walked off as India settled into her chair and found herself fascinated at the aura of power that seemed to surround Richard Blake. It was immediately apparent that he was a man of significant means, indeed. He hadn’t mentioned in his letter what the nature of his work was. India guessed that he must be a business owner of some kind.
Before either of them had a chance to speak, a black-suited waiter was at their side offering to take their drink order.
“I’ll just have lemonade, please, if you have it,” India said.
“Of course. And you sir?”
“A black coffee, please.”
The waiter glided off and then Richard spoke. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course,” she replied automatically.
“So, India, tell me about yourself. Why does this arrangement suit you?” Richard spoke bluntly and his eyes were on hers as she took a breath to answer him. She decided that she would be just as direct.
“You mentioned in your ad that you are not looking for a love match, that you want someone who will be a mother to your children. That appeals to me. If I can be frank, this isn’t how I imagined I would get married, but my options are limited.”
Richard nodded thoughtfully.
“Thank you for your honesty. I’ll be just as frank. I’m only doing this for my children. They cry almost every night for their mother.” He paused then and looked away before continuing. “I had love once. I don’t expect to find it again. That is not what I’m looking for. As long as we both are being truthful, I think this may be a good arrangement for the two of us. You won’t want for anything financially ever again.”
India nodded in agreement and then asked, “What do you do for work?” She was curious to know where his money came from.
Richard smiled and his face softened as he spoke. “My brothers and I all work together. My father started the business. We joined it and helped grow the company. We build the best carriages and buggies in the entire country. The buggy that Henry drove you here in is one of ours. We are available nationwide now. That’s why I’m here, actually. We just signed a distribution deal to expand even further on the East Coast.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. The buggy was lovely.”
“Thank you.” Richard looked pleased to hear it. “You’ll like South Bend. We have a home on the river, and that is how we transport many of our vehicles.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. I’m afraid that my knowledge of the area is poor.”
“I’ll show you around. We always have several carriages and buggies on the property, so you’ll have access to one to go exploring, if you like.” That was nice to hear, and given the family business it made sense.
The waiter returned then with their drinks and stood ready to take their lunch order. India had barely glanced at the menu.
“Do you like fish?” Richard asked. She nodded and he told the waiter, “We’ll both have the fish.”
“It’s very good, a fresh water trout they catch right here,” he said.
That sounded fine to India.
“Tell me about the children.”.
“Julia is five and the image of her mother. She’s a sweet girl, with blonde curls and blue eyes. Sammy looks more like me, or so I’ve been told. He just turned three and he’s a handful. He has a lot of energy.” He frowned then and added, “He hasn’t been sleeping well. His crying wakes his sister and of course, I wake up, too. So, none of us have been getting enough sleep.”
“They still miss their mother.”
Richard nodded. “It hasn’t quite been six months. I know these things take time.”
“And you have other family nearby?” India asked.
“Yes. My parents live nearby and I have four brothers and one sister. All are married except for my two younger brothers.”
“And you’re close?” India thought of her sister, Beth, who was like a best friend, and of her mother. She was used to seeing them whenever she wanted. Now she had to make do with letters. Beth had insisted, though, that they would find a way to visit each other and India hoped that they would.
“We are close. We all get along very well, for the most part. Except for the occasional disagreement on how to do things at work.” He smiled wryly. “We all have strong opinions.”
“That must be nice, to have a business that you can share with your family?” It sounded wonderful to her.
“Yes, I suppose we are lucky. It’s worked out very well so far. And what about you? You mentioned a sister and mother?”
“They left just a few days ago,” India said with a sigh. “I miss them so much all ready.” She went on to tell Richard about her family.
“I’m sorry that you won’t be able to see them as often. Perhaps if they will be coming back to Boston again, they might be able to stop and visit along the way.”
“Beth mentioned that as a possibility. I’m hopeful that it might happen at some point.”
The waiter arrived soon after and set down their meals. The smell of fresh-squeezed lemon and butter teased India’s nose. The fish looked wonderful. She took a tentative bite and then smiled happily. This was by far the best meal she’d had in weeks and there wasn’t a hint of cabbage or potatoes anywhere. The fish was served on a bed of rice with mixed vegetables on the side.