The third book in The Brides of Paradise Ranch series is almost here! His Bewildering Bride (spicy version) aka Wendy: The Bewildering Bride (sweet version) was delayed as I wrestled with some vicious cold germs earlier in January, but it should be released by next weekend! But here you go, you can get a sneak peek now….
With a smile on her face, feigning confidence, telling herself she was ready to meet her new life head-on, Wendy took a step forward—
—and was immediately cut off as a man in a dusty suit stepped into the aisle in front of her. His movements were deliberate, and he paid Wendy no regard whatsoever as he turned to reach for his bag. His bulky form blocked her without apology.
“Excuse me, sir.” Wendy fought to keep her impatience in check. “May I walk around you?”
The man took one look at her over his shoulder, curled his lip in a sneer, and barked, “You’ll wait your turn, you uppity darkie.”
Indignation snapped like a whip down Wendy’s spine. She held her back straight and kept her chin up. “Common courtesy would dictate that a gentleman stand aside to let a lady pass.”
The man snorted and yanked his bag from the rack above his seat. “I don’t see any ladies, only a pretentious—”
Wendy’s jaw dropped at the word he called her. The heat of anger flushed her face, but the man had already moved on, charging down the aisle to the train’s door. Wendy waited until the man had stepped down from the car to move. Fury made her dizzy, and disappointment turned her stomach. She’d had such high hopes that things in Haskell, Wyoming would be different.
Ahead, a man with a bushy moustache sent her a sympathetic look as she approached the door. “Sorry, miss,” he mumbled. “We’re not all like that in Haskell.”
“Oh?” Wendy cursed the waver in her voice.
“Nope.” The man held out his hand. “Herb Waters is the name. I own the livery in town. Well, for now. My sister in Denver…” He stopped abruptly and laughed at himself. “My sister tells me I talk too much. I’ll let you get on with things.”
Mr. Waters gestured for Wendy to walk ahead of him down the aisle. If there was one kind man in Haskell, there could be others. Wendy paused before the train car’s door, closed her eyes, and took in a breath. Her mother’s words—said so many times before she passed away—settled over her. “There are good people in this world and bad people. What they look like has nothing to do with it, it’s how they treat their fellow men that means everything.”
She opened her eyes and forced a smile. One rude man was not going to ruin the happiness that waited for her on the platform right outside the train. If her hands were free, she would have smoothed any stray hairs away from her face, checked to be sure her stylish, plumed hat was in place, and adjusted her skirts. As it was, she could only clear her throat and step down onto the train platform.
Uncertainty hit her as soon as her heels clicked on the boards. Haskell was small, but the platform was busy. Mr. Waters zipped out from behind her and rushed off on his own business. Porters and a man in a stationmaster’s uniform worked unloading baggage from the last car on the train. Wagons were parked around the platform, and the passengers that had already disembarked were hugging and greeting friends or family. The rude man who had insulted her was being fawned over by four young ladies in dresses that were fashionable, yet somehow inappropriate for the dusty street. Wendy winced at the sight. Those young ladies would have be ideal customers if she was in a position to continue sewing. Then again, if the man—who, judging by age and the girls’ reactions to him, must have been their father—held the opinion of her that Wendy assumed he did, there was a fair chance they wouldn’t patronize her anyhow.
There were other people scattered about the platform, waiting for passengers or perhaps cargo, but not one of them looked like he could be Cody Montrose. There was a small circle chatting and staring expectantly at the train that consisted of an older woman, a fine gentleman just past his prime, and two young men dressed for work. They squinted at the train’s windows as if looking for something. Wendy wished them well in their search, but kept scanning the platform and the street right below it for her fiancé.
Relief flooded her when she saw him—or at least the only man in sight that looked like he could be for her. He strolled deliberately across the street in front of the platform—a fine, chocolate-skinned man in a suit that must have been purchased from San Francisco. He was clean-shaven and had somehow managed to avoid getting dust on his shoes. As he walked, he took out a gold pocket-watch to check the time. From a distance, Wendy could see how fine the piece was.
“Excuse me,” she called to him, walking quickly to the edge of the platform.
The regal man stopped, searching around him with a confused frown to see who had spoken.
Wendy put on her brightest smile, heart swelling with satisfaction at her future husband. “Excuse me, I’m right here.”
The man turned to her, his expression softening to politeness. “Yes. You are.”
Wendy blinked. Her heart began to shudder in her chest. The man didn’t seem to have an idea who she was. “I’m your bride,” she explained. “From Nashville. Wendy Weatherford.”
The man continued to stare at her. He shrugged and shook his head. “I didn’t send for any brides. I did send for the latest editions of The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. I don’t suppose you have those with you?” His grin was charming, amusing even, but it carried no recognition.
Behind her, she thought she heard someone say, “Wendy Weatherford?”
But before she could react, she was already asking the finely-dressed gentleman, “Aren’t you Cody Montrose?”
The man in front of her burst into laughter so quickly that prickles formed across Wendy’s face, and her hands and feet went numb.
“I’ve been called any number of names in my time, but Cody Montrose has never been one of them.” He continued to chuckle, coming closer to her to offer his hand. “The name’s Solomon Templesmith,” he introduced himself. “And you are?”
She had barely recovered her composure, let alone gathered herself enough to give him an answer, when a man’s voice behind her said, “You’re Wendy Weatherford?”
Dread twisted in Wendy’s gut as she turned to find the older man and woman and the two young working men approaching. It was impossible to tell which one of them had spoken, but it hardly seemed to matter. They all wore variations of the same bewildered stare.
“Yes.” She turned fully toward them, trying to smile but failing in her shock. “I am Wendy Weatherford. And you are?”
All four of them stood stock still, eyes wide.
At last, the woman sighed and said, “I think Mrs. Breashears left out one tiny detail in the description she sent.” More silence, then the woman shook her head and gestured as if she were brushing a fly away from her face. “I’m Mrs. Josephine Evans,” she explained, hand outstretched to take hers.
Wendy half lifted her hand to shake Mrs. Evans’s before realizing both hands were full.
“Here.” The older of of the two younger men hopped forward, his expression serious, though not unkind. “I’ll take those.”
His eyes met hers for a moment as she handed her carpetbag and sewing kit over. A spark of attraction swirled through Wendy’s already fluttering stomach. He had gentle, hazel eyes, and right then they seemed to brim with compassion for her situation. She swayed toward him for a heartbeat, as if he was the lifeline being thrown to her. The older woman still had her hand raised, though, and as soon as her bags were with the kind-eyed man, Wendy took it. She smiled as serenely as she could.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Evans,” she said. Inch by inch, she recovered her composure and held herself with as much grace as she could in the situation.
Mrs. Evans peeked at her companions, then cleared her throat. “This is Mr. Charlie Garrett.” She introduced the older man.
“Miss Weatherford.” Mr. Garrett bowed as he shook her hand.
“This is Mr. Travis Montrose.” Mrs. Evans gestured to the man who now held Wendy’s things. Her face pinched, her shoulders twitched, and she turned to the other young man. “And this is Mr. Cody Montrose.”
Wendy smiled and faced her fiancé, back straight, hand outstretched in greeting. “Mr. Montrose.”
Cody Montrose stared back at her. His were the only set of eyes that were still rounded in shock and, Wendy was loathe to admit, horror. He’d gone pale, except for bright splotches of red on his cheeks and his mouth hung open. He didn’t take her offered hand.
“Nuh-uh,” he said at last, shaking his head. “I can’t marry her.”
Tension sizzled in the air around them. Wendy’s chest and throat squeezed.
“But,” Mrs. Evans started, hands fidgeting in front of her. “But you sent for her.”
“I didn’t send for her,” Cody said. He gestured to Wendy, sweeping her with a look from head to toe.
Wendy felt as exposed as if he’d shouted for everyone in Haskell to come take a look at her. “I’m sorry if I’m not what you were expecting.” She could only manage a whisper. “You are not what I expected either.”
She twisted to see if Mr. Solomon Templesmith was still witnessing the scene, but that gentleman had moved on and was now talking to Herb Waters, like the two of them were good friends. A shiver of panic curled through Wendy. She was on her own in the middle of nowhere, about to be abandoned.
Oh no! Poor Wendy! What’s going to happen to her? Find out very soon!