Authors: Debra Holland
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Victorian Era, #Western, #Forty-One 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, #Montana, #Practical, #Life Planned, #Perfect Husband, #Disaster, #No Choice, #Imperfect Man
Bride of Montana
Grace: Bride of Montana
Four years after
Mail-Order Brides of the West: Bertha
Two and a half years before
Wild Montana Sky
Sweetwater Springs, Montana
After Frey Foster nailed a piece of trim around the porch column, he carelessly pulled back the hammer, catching the claw in the front of his shirt. He heard the rip of severing threads and the click of a button hitting the wooden floor of the Flanigan’s porch. Biting off a curse, he watched the tiny brown disk roll off the porch and bounce down the stairs to land in the dirt churned up by the construction.
He glanced down at his shirt, now minus three buttons, the other two residing in a small bowl on the chest of drawers next to his bed. The shirt gapped, exposing his long johns, the summer weather having taken a cold turn in the last couple of days.
He huffed in exasperation.
His dog Gertie, a Rottweiler mix, lifted her head and gazed at him with a curious expression.
Frey started down the steps. He was about to scoop up his errant button when the back door opened.
Trudy Flanigan stepped outside, holding a glass of cold tea. She wore an apron over a navy print work dress that brightened her blue eyes. “Here you go, Mr. Foster. I’ve added a touch of sugar and a sprig of mint, just the way you like it.”
Frey grabbed the tiny disk and straightened. Standing two steps below the woman put him just about at her eye level. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Mrs. Flanigan eyed his gaping shirt, then her gaze traveled to the button in his hand, back up to the others that were missing, from there to the patch on his right shoulder, affixed with awkward stitches, and finally to the unmended tear along the side. She extended a hand for the button. “Why don’t you give me that? I’ll find a safety pin for you.”
Sheepishly, Frey handed it over.
“Wear a different shirt tomorrow and bring back this one. I’ll mend it and attach the buttons.” She raised one blond brow. “You do have the others?”
Relief washed over him. Between finishing the mansion for Banker Livingston, overlapping with building the new home for the Flanigans, plus trying to work on his own house at odd hours, he didn’t have time to think of his clothes. Frey figured if he could remember to bring the wash to Widow Murphy from time to time, he was managing just fine. But he could hardly walk around with his shirt open. Wasn’t seemly. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll bring them.”
She fisted her hands on her hips. “You need a wife, Mr. Foster.”
Frey couldn’t deny the truth of her words, not that he had time to find one. “That I do. But I have a house to build first.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve seen your house. There are walls and a roof. Therefore, your home is far enough along that you can start courting.”
From inside the house, the cry of a baby made her whirl and disappear through the door.
If only I had someone to court,
Frey thought as he gazed at her retreating back.
None of the few available women in Sweetwater Springs had caught his eye, and the batch of girls approaching marriageable age were still too young for him.
Course, I haven’t done much lookin’. One might be tucked away on a farm or ranch somewhere.
Frey took a long draught of his tea, the cool liquid quenching his thirst. He’d worked hard all day, struggling with installing the trim on the porch. He was a mason, not a carpenter. But with the house all but finished, he’d given his team of two brothers a holiday so they could travel home to visit their ailing mother. At least the custom cutting was done, and all he had to do was fit everything together.
Frey took another drink, enjoying the taste of the tea and the scent of mint. With a shake of his head, he started back up the stairs, envying Seth Flanigan. His accomplished wife was pretty, friendly, and one heck of a cook. A good mother, too. Most important of all, she seemed like the sticking kind, not one to run off and leave aching hearts behind.
He suspected Seth realized his good fortune, for the man obviously adored his wife—the first mail-order bride to come to Sweetwater Springs. He shrugged off the thought and returned to work.
The sooner I finish, the sooner I’ll have the time and the money to work on my own place.
Engrossed in finishing the third column, Trey didn’t notice the passage of time, until he heard the dinner bell ring. His stomach rumbled in response. The best part of this job was partaking of Mrs. Flanigan’s cooking every day he was here.
Frey set down the hammer and walked around the front of the house to the horse trough. He could wash up in the kitchen because the house had indoor plumbing, but he didn’t want to disturb Mrs. Flanigan.
As always, Gertie trotted after him.
He picked up the chipped enamel dog bowl and filled it for her.
Gertie drank eagerly.
Frey worked the pump, washed his hands, and splashed water on his face, using a cloth kept there for drying off.
Untying the strip of leather holding back his shoulder-length hair, he smoothed the strands into a tail and looped the leather, knotting the ends. As presentable as he could make himself, given his missing buttons, Frey stood and took in the view of the first house he’d been commissioned to build—not like Banker Livingston’s where he was only one of the bricklayers.
Set on a knoll, the clapboard house was situated as the point of a triangle, with the barn and the old cabin as the bottom corners. An open area and a vegetable garden lay between the three buildings. The brick home was constructed in the latest foursquare design. Two and a half stories tall, the house had a four-columned porch that spanned the front. A dormer was centered on each of the four sides of the roof—a change the Flanigans had requested from the usual single one in the front and a feature he’d added to his own home.
From the porch to the left, they could view the fields beyond the barn, to their right lay the garden, old cabin, and forest. The couple had also wanted a back porch that matched the front one, for Mrs. Flanigan loved the view of the mountains.
The front door stood in the center of the columns, and the white-trimmed windows of both stories were symmetrical. To Frey, the whole house had a simple, pleasing balance, and he was so grateful to the couple for following his suggested architectural style, even though old Chappie Henderson—the nearest neighbor and the only one besides the Flanigans and their hired man who’d seen the place—had teased Seth about the newfangled design, saying four solid walls was good enough for him.
You are the key,
Frey said to the house.
When people see you, they’ll want homes like you, and I’ll have the lots ready and waiting. Better still, I’ll have the houses already built, and the owners can buy them and move on in.
Of course, with the foursquare in this out-of-the-way spot, not many people would see the place unless they called upon the Flanigans or came specifically to view his creation. He pivoted, wishing the forest between the farm and the town had receded. But the woods looked as thick as ever with the breeze blowing through the green pine trees that blended with the maples, aspen, and beech.
Grandiose dreams, perhaps. But Frey was far closer to achieving them than he’d been a year ago when he was only a laborer—a skilled one—working on the Livingston mansion and saving every penny to buy his own land. A chance encounter with Seth Flanigan and a conversation about architecture led to the offer for him to build the foursquare.
He shot a glance at the barn and at the fields beyond, ready for the harvest, but he didn’t catch sight of Seth. So he walked to the front, skipping the stairs and lunging to the porch. “Stay,” he commanded Gertie, pointing at a corner.
With that signal, the dog curled into a ball and lay down.
After making sure to wipe his boots on the straw mat, he let himself in. Once again, he stopped, this time surveying the interior, which still smelled of new wood and varnish.
To his right lay the living room and to the left he would come into the large entryway and staircase. Arches joined the rooms, and the plaster walls were still without wallpaper. As he walked across the floors, no squeaks sounded on the oak planks, and he took satisfaction in the quality of their construction.
Frey moved past a row of photographs hanging on the wall and stopped before a framed newspaper ad. He’d glanced at the words before, but after the button incident today, they took on new meaning.
MAIL-ORDER BRIDES OF THE WEST AGENCY
SEEKS BACHELORS OF GOOD REPUTATION
FOR QUALITY BRIDES PROFICIENT IN
COOKING AND HOUSEKEEPING
Must own a house and be able to provide for a wife.
References required, preferably from your minister
or other reputable person who is familiar with your character.
In your response, state details about your appearance,
location, level of education, vocation, and home,
as well as what you require in a wife.
$50.00 includes agency fee and train ticket.
Send information to Mrs. Seymour,
10 Manor Lane, St. Louis
Over the past four years, the paper of the ad had yellowed. Frey had heard stories of the mail-order brides, both through town gossip and because the Flanigans had regaled him with tales of their early days. He’d also met two of the other couples brought together by the Mail-Order Brides of the West Agency, and as far as he could tell, and as well as what he’d heard, they, too, were happily married.
An idea took hold, and Frey wondered if he should consider a mail-order bride. The thought of a wife like Trudy Flanigan held great appeal, but the qualities he wanted in a bride weren’t so easy to determine.
While he could ask for and immediately see if a woman was tall or short, fat or thin, blonde or redheaded, how could he measure her dependability and commitment to marriage—especially a marriage with a stranger? Loyalty wasn’t a visible trait, and certainly took
—sometimes ones full of hardship—to discern.
Too bad I didn’t know that about Ingrid right off.
At least I’ve gotten over her breaking our engagement.
Frey exhaled a sharp sigh and turned, only to see Seth Flanigan standing between him and the kitchen, his arms crossed, a knowing look in his gray eyes. By ordinary standards, he was a tall, well-formed man, but Frey not only topped Seth’s height, but also the breath of his shoulders. Seth was about five years older, and a hint of gray smudged his sideburns and the corners of his forehead.
The homeowner had pitched right in with the construction, and the two men had become friends. “Time for a bride, eh?”
“So your wife says.”
Seth threw back his head and laughed. “Trudy fancies herself a matchmaker.”
The sound of quick footsteps came from the kitchen heading to them. “I heard that, Seth Flanigan.” She moved around her husband, nudging him with her shoulder, and handed Frey a safety pin. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting on this. The children kept me so busy that I forgot to bring the pin out to you. Nothing like a dirty diaper to jog my memory.”
The men chuckled.
Seth reached over to the wall and tapped the glass covering the ad. “Caught the Viking looking at this. He’s wife hunting.” He winked at Frey before glancing down at Trudy. “Better than trying to capture one.”
Frey sent Seth a mock scowl. “I left my battle axe at home.”
Frey pinned his shirt closed.
Sporting a big ole safety pin is only marginally better than no buttons, but at least I’m decently covered.
He took a breath. “Think there might be a woman at that bridal agency for me?”
Mrs. Flanigan pursed her lips. “Mrs. Seymour isn’t running the agency anymore, or at least she hasn’t been for the last few years.”
Frey must have allowed himself to hope, for now he felt disappointed.
Mrs. Flanigan tilted her head, obviously thinking. “How about this? I’ll write Mrs. Seymour and ask her advice. Perhaps she still is in contact with women who want mail-order marriages.”