Coulson's Wife (The Coulson Series)

BOOK: Coulson's Wife (The Coulson Series)
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Coulson’s Wife

By Anna J. McIntyre

 

The
beginning of the Coulson Empire, 1918:

 

Mary
Ellen’s father didn’t trade her for a house–
exactly
. Marrying the
wealthy and handsome Randall Coulson is not something Mary Ellen wants to do,
but being the obedient daughter she agrees to the marriage.

 

Randall
Coulson wants Mary Ellen for one reason–to give him sons. He has no desire to
form a bond of love or friendship with his young bride. His own heart is
already taken.

 

A
bittersweet story of love, lies and family secrets, taking place during a
turbulent period of American history, when the perception of women and their
role in society changed in one woman’s lifetime.

 

Titles

THE COULSON SERIES

Coulson’s Wife

Coulson’s
Crucible

Coulson’s
Lessons

Coulson’s
Secret

Coulson’s Reckoning
(Coming in 2014)

 

 

Other Books by Anna J.
McIntyre

After
Sundown

Sugar
Rush

While
Snowbound

 

Find Anna J. McIntyre
at Amazon

 

Coulson’s Wife

By
Anna J. McIntyre

 

PUBLISHED
BY:

Robeth
Publishing, LLC

Copyright
© 2013 B. A. J. Holmes

This
is a work of fiction.

Robeth
Publishing, LLC, All Rights Reserved.

 

Dedication

To Elizabeth because it was your
favorite.

 

 

Prologue

A
fter five sons, Sally Johnson Browning gave birth to a baby
girl on July 4, 1900.  She named her daughter Mary Ellen. Sally and her husband
Edward would have five more children, all boys.

The
dawn of the 20
th
century was a time of peace and prosperity for the
country. The bloody Civil War had ended just 35 years earlier. The number of
states in the Union had grown to 45 and Republican
William
McKinley was President. McKinley would not be president for long, as he would
be assassinated the following year and replaced by
Theodore Roosevelt.

The average life
expectancy for the white population was less than 48 years in 1900, and just 33
years for people of color. Men outnumbered women by over a million and a half,
and their feeling of superiority was not limited to their sheer numbers. The
fairer sex was banned from restaurants, clubs, saloons and voting booths.
Admission to certain establishments was only allowed when the female was
accompanied by a male chaperone.

Edward Browning was the
unquestionable head of his household

as were other men from his generation.
He worked
over 55 hours a week to support his
growing family, earning less than $600 a year. At the time, a pound of beef
went for 10 cents, a dozen eggs sold for 12 cents, and a pound of coffee cost
15 cents. There were approximately 8,000 registered automobiles in the country
and those cars had fewer than 150 miles of paved highways to drive on.

The
electric icebox had yet to be invented, but the telephone, whose patent had
been issued 24 years earlier, was bringing the world closer.

Chapter One

 

B
y
the summer of 1918, the world was almost four years into what was termed the Great
War.  The United States of America, now with 48 states, had been in the conflict
for a little over one year. To conserve steel for the war effort, the United
States War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets. Not only did
the effort help liberate enough steel to build two battleships, it was a
liberating moment for women.

In America, more and more
states were giving women the right to vote. A new woman was emerging

one who dared to cut
her hair, drove automobiles, sought financial independence through employment
and no longer wore confining corsets.

Some men welcomed this
new woman, yet many were horrified and sought brides who were more traditional

and manageable.

 

“The girl is only seventeen,”
William Hunter reminded Randall Coulson.

Randall, who sat
perched on the leather wingback chair drinking a glass of brandy, waved his hand
dismissively and took another sip of the amber liquid. From his chair, he
watched his business partner pace back and forth in the parlor. William was obviously
annoyed with Randall’s announcement. Lace curtains, disturbed by May’s evening
breeze, fluttered inward from the opening and barely touched the side of William’s
right, and then his left arm as he paced the room in a fit of agitation.

Twenty minutes earlier,
he’d stopped by Randall’s Philadelphia estate to welcome his friend home after
a business trip to their plant in Virginia. He didn’t expect to be greeted with
news of an impending marriage with a girl who was practically a child.

“Seventeen is a respectable
age for a girl to marry. And good lord, man, sit down. You’re making me dizzy!”

“I don’t want to sit
down!” In spite of his protest, William sat in the empty wingback chair. Randall
chuckled and then reached out and picked up a second glass of brandy that sat
on the small oak table separating the two chairs. He handed it to his longtime friend
and business partner, who took it without comment. William promptly downed half
the contents from the glass.

“Why are you so upset
that I’m marrying this girl? I’ll be thirty next year; it’s about time I start
a family. You should consider it yourself, you know. You’re older than me and
not getting any younger.”

“I’m all for you
marrying, but good lord, marry a woman, Randall, not a girl!”

“I really don’t see
what you’re so upset about. My grandmother was fifteen when she married my
grandfather.”

“Times are changing,
Randall.”

“Exactly, and that’s
one reason I chose this girl. She hasn’t cut off all her hair and raised the
hem of her skirt like so many young women are doing these days.”

“I can’t believe you
want to marry the Browning girl because of the length of her hair and skirt. And
you have to admit, there is something very appealing about a Castle bobbed
dame.”

“A doxy you mean, which
might be an entertaining diversion; definitely not suitable as a wife. I’m not
about to marry some silly broad who thinks she should have the right to vote;
who believes she is in some way equal to a man.”

“They are getting the
vote, you know. In many places they already can.”

“I suppose you’re
right.” Randall let out a sigh, finished his drink, and then set the glass on the
side table. “But I intend to marry a woman who’ll vote as I tell her to. Mary
Ellen seems like a most sensible young thing.”

“And how does she feel
about being your wife?”

“She’s a proper young
woman who’ll obey her father, and when married, she’ll obey her husband. I’ve
barely spoken to the girl. But it’s all been arranged with her father.”

“Randall, why this
girl? There must be countless young women who’d be thrilled to be your wife,
and would obediently vote as you say. Why drag some innocent from the hills of
Virginia here?”

“It’s quite simple,
really. I want sons. Browning’s wife has given him ten sons. Have you seen
Browning’s wife?”

“Yes. She’s amazingly
lovely, and still has a trim figure.”

“Exactly. Women who’ve
birthed that many brats typically have hips broad as a barn and breasts that
fall to their waist. If I’m to be chained to a wife for eternity, I’d prefer
she be someone whose body does not repulse me. But I also want sons. She looks
just like her mother, so I suspect she’s like her mother in other ways too.”

“You are a romantic,” William
sardonically quipped before emptying his glass and depositing it back on the
table with Randall’s.

“This war won’t last
forever, William. It’s made us rich men, but before it ends, we need to be
prepared for the transition. I can’t waste my time courting some silly girl. I’d
rather have this matter settled and hopefully I’ll have a son within the year.”

“Browning’s sons, the
older ones, aren’t they all overseas?”

“They all enlisted last
June. From what I understand, their mother wasn’t thrilled, and I suppose for
good reason

the eldest was
killed last month.”

“I’m sorry to hear
that.”

“Men die in war; that’s
the reality of the situation. I suppose you and I should be grateful the war
department needs what our company can produce more than they need you or me on
the battlefield. But I really didn’t know him, or any of the brothers.”

“I suppose you’ll get
to know the rest of them since they’ll be your brother-in-laws.”

“Oh please, William,
don’t get all maudlin on me.” Randall stood up abruptly and snatched his glass
off the table to go pour himself some more brandy. “I’ve already made it very
clear to Browning what I expect of this arrangement. Mary Ellen will be allowed
to visit her family once a year, if she so wishes. But they won’t be welcomed
here. I’m procuring a wife, not a bunch of hillbilly relatives.”

“And Browning was good
with that?” William watched him refill the glass. Although Randall had been his
friend since they were children and business partner since they reached
maturity, the man could sometimes be such an ass. William pitied poor Mary
Ellen.

“Why wouldn’t he? As
soon as the wedding vows are exchanged, his family moves into a newer, larger
house I’ve purchased for them. Most generous of me.”

“I wouldn’t boast about
this little transaction of yours. You’ll have suffragettes camping on your
doorstep.”

Randall only shrugged
in response before sitting back down.

“Are they at least
coming for the wedding?”

“Good lord, no. The
girl will be arriving June 2, chaperoned by Browning’s older sister. I met the
woman when I was back there. She’s one reason I felt confident this would
work.”

“How so?” William
picked up his glass and started to take a sip before realizing it was empty.
Instead of refilling the glass, he set it back on the table and waited for his
friend’s response.

“She’s a handsome
woman. I believe she is

or
was

a school teacher.
Everyone in that family knows how to read and write. I want a traditional wife,
but not a stupid one. I want a manageable wife who’s pleasing to look at and capable
of producing sons but she must be able to fit in socially.  With a little
training, I’m confident Mary Ellen will manage fine.”

“When is the wedding? I
always thought the bride’s parents handled that sort of thing.”

“We’ll be getting
married as soon as she arrives. I was hoping you’d come over that day and be
one of the witnesses. Her aunt can also serve as a witness.”

“You’re getting married
here?”

“Yes. I’d prefer people
to think I simply eloped with the girl. Sounds more romantic, which is always
good for public perception, and I don’t have time for a formal wedding. Those
things are always a foolish waste of money.”

“Oh yes, you are the
romantic, Randall,” William scoffed. “Don’t you think your bride will want
something a little special?”

“I intend to adequately
provide for her. She’ll have nothing to complain about. I think that is sufficient.
She’s to be my wife, not my mistress.”

“Exactly what is that
supposed to mean?”

“Men tend to spoil and
pamper their mistresses. A wife is to be properly managed.  If you over-indulge
your mistress, and she steps out of bounds, it’s fairly easy to show her to the
door. But with a wife, it’s best to keep her well in hand, because if she does
get out of control, she’s not quite as easy to dispose of.”

“I’m impressed with how
much you know about managing wives and mistresses, considering you’ve had
neither.” William chuckled and stood up to go refill his glass.

“But I do observe. So
will you be here?”

“You mean to be a
witness?”

“Yes.”

“I suppose so, but I
wish you weren’t doing this.”

“Why?”

“Because,” William said
as he returned to his chair with a full glass and sat down, “Mary Ellen
Browning seems like a very sweet, unspoiled, and innocent girl.”

“You’ve strong opinions
for a girl you’ve only seen, what, once

or twice?”

“Twice. The last time
was this past summer. As you’ll recall the Brownings invited me for supper.
Their daughter helped serve. She was quite lovely.”

“Good lord, are you
smitten with my bride?” Randall laughed, sounding not a bit jealous.

“Of course not. I
barely spoke to the child. And she is a
child
. But there was something
very endearing about her. You’re too much for someone like that.”

“William, I’m not sure
if I should be flattered or insulted.” Randall laughed then sat up a little
straighter in his chair, flattered by his friend’s comment. Selecting a wife,
in his opinion, was not much different than choosing a good hound or horse.
While he hadn’t ridden a horse for years, as a teenager Randall often accompanied
his father when selecting a new one for the stable. He believed a prospective
wife should be examined with the same critical eye as when choosing a horse. A
wife was another possession

one
with a specific purpose

to
give him sons.  

“I’ll stand by you on
your wedding day. You know I will. I just wish you’d reconsider this particular
match. She’s awfully young and innocent. What about Clare Taylor? She was quite
smitten with you, and she looks fully capable of giving you your desired sons.”

“You know, I’m fairly
certain that forty years ago I could’ve legally married a ten year old in this
state.”

“That’s an appalling
thought, Randall.”

“Oh, I’m not saying I’d
want to marry a ten year old. But once you see Miss Browning, you’ll realize
she’s filled out quite nicely and is fully equipped to handle the duties as my
wife. Hardly a child.

“As for Clare, the last
time we were to go out, I went to pick her up and discovered she’d cropped off
her hair. Looked scandalous. The next thing you know, she’ll be marching with
the suffragettes.”

“How did you respond to
her new hairstyle?”

“Oh, I suspect not what
she wanted to hear. I told her I would not be taking her out in public looking
like that, but she was welcome to come back to my home and spend the evening in
my bed.”

“You didn’t!”

“I certainly did. If
she doesn’t respect me enough to not embarrass me when I take her out in public,
then don’t blame me if I leave her in a fit of tears. If she chooses to behave
like a doxy, she should expect to be treated as one.”

“Why haven’t I heard
about this before? When did this happen?”

“The week before I left
for Virginia, which is what gave me the idea to procure a wife from a more
sheltered background.”

“What in the world did
her father say? I would imagine he was furious with you.” 

“Don’t be ridiculous.
He stopped by my office the next day and thanked me. I wasn’t the only one she
embarrassed by her foolish behavior.”

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