I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to say this, but His Christmas Bride (spicy)/Holly: The Christmas Bride (sweet) is here! At last! For those of you who’ve been dying to find out more about George, here’s your chance! And who doesn’t like a good Christmas story to get them in the mood at this time of year? Wanna get started on the first chapter? Here you go! (buy links at the bottom)
Haskell, Wyoming – December, 1876
Rev. George Pickering stood on the platform of Haskell’s train station, bundled against the cold nip in the air. The scent of imminent snow filled his senses, and he hunkered down into the scarf wound around his neck. He’d had the foresight to dress warmly enough so that he wasn’t standing there shivering as he waited for his mail-order bride to arrive on the next train, but even if he hadn’t, embarrassment would have kept him warm as toast.
Half of Haskell had turned out to wait with him.
“This is so exciting,” ranch-owner Virginia Piedmont commented to her best friend, Josephine Evans. The two women were liaisons with Hurst Home, the safe place for women in Nashville where most of the mail-order brides who had come to Haskell were from. They were the only ones who had a right to be there. Not that that stopped the others.
“I know,” Jill Abernathy, the wife of one of Haskell’s two doctors answered. “Imagine, our very own reverend finding true love at last.”
George sent her a modest smile, though he could barely manage that. Sending for a bride in the mail was hardly a recipe for true love. He hadn’t asked for that and he didn’t expect it. All he wanted was a companion to share his load, both temporally and spiritually. He’d agonized for weeks over whether it was cold-hearted of him to bring in a woman to marry simply because his congregation was getting bigger by the day and he needed help ministering to them. But help was needed. And his hope was that he and the woman Mrs. Breashears had picked out for him from the many unfortunate women taking refuge at Hurst Home would be someone he could come to care for deeply, make a life with, have children with. He’d always pictured himself as a father.
“Oh! I think I hear the train whistle,” Josephine announced.
A ripple went through the crowd—and it was a crowd—behind George. Sure enough, a few seconds later, the faint shriek of the train sounded faintly in the distance. George took a deep breath. This was it. His new wife was on the way. He prayed that this time his wedding would go better than the last time.
“Ah, Rev. Pickering. There you are.”
George turned to find Howard Haskell striding toward him, the crowd parting as if he were Moses and they were the Red Sea. A tall, somber man in black with a thick beard walked slightly behind him.
“I’d like to introduce you to Rev. Alexander Robbins,” Howard went on before he’d fully reached George. When he did, he stopped and gestured toward Rev. Robbins as though showing off a prize bull. “He’s the minister I’ve brought in to perform your wedding ceremony.”
George smiled and extended a hand to Robbins. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for stepping in to help.”
“It is important for a man to be married properly in the eyes of God.” Robbins shook George’s offered hand, his grip almost too firm. His voice was solid and deep as well. Everything about him radiated stoicism and severity. “As God has decreed, it is better to marry than burn,” Robbins raised his voice, drawing the attention of some of the onlookers. “So you shall be married in His eyes and according to His laws, avoiding the sinful path that is so easy for man to walk.”
George blinked. “Yes.”
Howard raised a brow at the man, as if he was unsure whether to be shocked or impressed. A moment later, he cleared his throat. “Rev. Robbins here comes highly recommended by some of my new associates in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.”
“Isn’t the WSGA that horrible organization that Rex Bonneville belongs to?” Josephine asked.
“It is,” Virginia—who was Howard’s sister—answered with a snort. “I told him not to join.”
“Unfortunately, my dear,” Howard grumbled, “it’s become apparent to me that all ranch owners worth their salt who want to be a voice in this territory must belong to the WSGA.”
“Oh, dear,” Josephine sighed.
The train whistle sounded again, closer this time, bringing George and everyone else back to the moment at hand. He sent Robbins a nod and a smile, hoping it wasn’t too dismissive, and turned to shield his eyes from the sun as he looked down the train tracks.
The tracks had originally been built to one side of town, meaning that the entire town of Haskell rested on the north side of the tracks. Up until recently, everything on the south side had been privately owned ranchland, uninhabited except for an occasional drifter or two setting up a tent when the weather was fine. But just a month before, Robert Petty, the old man who owned the land, had sold a huge parcel to Rupert Cole. Rupert was not only the husband of one of George’s oldest friends, Bonnie, he was also half of a construction company that operated out of Everland, a town down the line from Haskell. Already, the land on the opposite side of the tracks was laid out with parcels for half a dozen buildings, and George had it on good authority that Rupert was planning to build even more.
“Margaret says she’s the sweetest thing.”
George yanked his thoughts out of speculation about Haskell’s imminent growth and paid attention to the conversation Virginia, Josephine, and Mrs. Abernathy continued to have just behind him.
“She is.” Eden Chance wedged her way through the crowd to join the conversation, her baby on her hip. “Holly was one of the sweetest girls I knew back at Hurst Home. I’m so excited she’s coming here.”
“Such a tragic history, though,” Josephine went on. “Although all of you ladies from Hurst Home have tragic histories.”
“That’s the point of the place, I suppose.” Mrs. Abernathy nodded sagely.
“And yet, every one of the women who have come out here to marry one of our boys has turned out to be a splendid person,” Virginia added.
“And we’re all so grateful for it,” Eden said. She bounced her baby boy and grinned. “Every one of us has been blessed with the life we’ve found here.”
“I’ve no doubt Holly Hannigan will be the same,” Josephine said. “Margaret writes that she’s a quiet sort, somber after an unhappy marriage.”
A knot formed in George’s gut. Unhappy was the ladies’ code for cruel and abusive. Margaret Breashears had made no secret of the fact that Holly had endured much pain in her first marriage, that fear of bodily harm was what had driven the poor woman to flee from her husband. The brutish husband in question had died several months after Holly took shelter at Hurst Home, but that was as much as George knew.
“I’m certain she’ll make a perfect minister’s wife,” Virginia continued. “Margaret says she’s pretty and intelligent, that she’s efficient and helpful. Apparently, she once worked in a shop.”
“She did,” Eden confirmed. “Her family owned the store where she worked, and a couple more besides.”
A prickle raced down George’s back. He shrugged it off. It must just be the chill and the threat of snow in the air. Beyond that, it had to be a coincidence. He’d known a woman named Holly once. Before, in his old life. She’d been a shop girl too. She’d almost been his wife. She would have been his wife. His entire life would have been drastically different…if she hadn’t left him at the altar.
Ready to read the rest? Here’s where you can get it!
Holly: The Christmas Bride (sweet) is available exclusively at AMAZON and for KU