Okay, technically Release Day is tomorrow, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. *leans in and whispers* The books are already live on all retailers. That’s right, His Perfect Bride (spicy version) and Corva: The Perfect Bride (sweet version) are up and running…and available for just 99 cents until Friday only! So grab a copy while the price is low! The Brides of Paradise Ranch are here! But right now, you can get started reading…
As the train whistle blew, its shrill sound competing with the squeal of brakes that signaled their final approach to the station in Haskell, Wyoming, Corva Collier clutched her paint box to her chest. This was it. Her heart raced at a thousand beats per minute as she took one final look out the window.
For days, she’d seen nothing but vast, empty space out the train window—first endless stretches of grassland and then wide plains with towering mountains all around. The expansive vistas filled with greens and browns, greys and purples that she’d only ever imagined when she mixed her paints, had captivated her. Every bend in the tracks had shown her a new picture, begged her to open her paints, lay out a canvas and translate the beauty into a captured moment. Of course, it was impossible to paint on a moving train packed with passengers, but it was not impossible to dream.
At last, after darkness and terror that she thought would never end, it was possible to dream.
Another sharp whistle shook her out of her thoughts. The open landscape—dotted here and there with herds of cattle or smaller groups of horses—gave way to a sudden and cheery town. The train lurched to a stop in front of a wooden platform. The wood was still a verdant light brown, suggesting the platform was new.
Corva smiled, telling her shoulders to unbunch. The West was new, Wyoming was new, and Haskell was newer still. Mrs. Breashears had explained this quaint town that had popped up on the whim of rancher Howard Haskell and his family, explained the dire need they had for women to marry the ranch hands and businessmen who had rushed to claim their corner of the booming enterprise. The prospect of settling somewhere far away from Nashville, far away from the nightmare of Atlanta as well, was all the incentive Corva needed. The sweet letter she’d received from Mr. Franklin Haskell, personally inviting her to come to Paradise Ranch to be his bride, was merely icing on the cake of her escape from a life that had felt like death itself.
As soon as the man who sat across the aisle from her stood and walked to the front of the car, Corva dipped into the pocket of her coat and took out a small, round mirror. She checked her hair, turned this way and that to study her face. The bruises that had constantly marred her complexion for most of her life had been gone for a year, but in her heart she expected to see them pop up again at any moment. That didn’t mean she liked what she saw, though. She was nothing but a short, ugly, useless—
No. Those were Uncle Stanley’s words, not hers. She closed her eyes, took a breath, and reminded herself that her uncle was in the past, and his temper was nothing but a few faded scars to her now. As those scars healed, her work—the work of believing in herself—had begun. Believing in herself was so much harder than she’d thought it would be.
“Miss, are you getting off here?” the conductor asked from the front of the car.
Corva cleared her throat. “Yes.” Her voice was no more than a wisp. She stood, slipping the mirror back into her pocket and tightening her grip around the handle of her paint box. She moved to the aisle and twisted and reached for her carpetbag in the rack above the seat.
“I can help you with that.” The conductor strode forward to fetch her bag. It was new and possibly the prettiest thing she owned, aside from the potential in her paints. Mrs. Breashears had purchased it especially for this journey.
“Thank you.” All Corva could offer the kind conductor was a smile, but that seemed to be payment enough. He smiled in return—the way Corva imagined her long-departed father would have smiled at her—and preceded her up the aisle to the door, bag in hand.
As she stepped down onto the platform in Haskell, Corva held her breath. Behind the scent of coal smoke and metal that was the train, she caught a whiff of freshly sawed wood, animal, and beyond that, something cleaner, purer. Men and women in every kind of dress from tailored suits to worn aprons, bustled against the backdrop of a town burgeoning with new life and the fresh colors of whitewash and painted shutters. Her gaze drifted to the mountains in the distance, their caps still snowy, even though it was late spring.
“Now, who’s here to meet you, Miss Collier?” the conductor asked. “It would be irresponsible for me to turn a sweet thing like you off on your own.”
Corva blushed and lowered her head, blinking rapidly. Sweet? Her? No one had ever called her sweet or taken any sort of interest in her at all. She opened her mouth to answer.
“Corva Collier? Miss Corva Collier?”
Corva and the conductor both turned to find a pair of grey-haired ladies in fine dresses with astounding bustles marching toward them.
“Yes, you must be Corva,” the one on the right—slightly older than the other but as vibrant as a young girl—said. “Margaret Breashears said you were a painter.” She nodded to the box Corva carried.
“Is that what that is?” the younger of the two said. She looked as full of life as a woman half her age. The word “trouble” popped to Corva’s mind as she studied the two of them together.
“Yes,” the first one said. “It’s a paint box.”
“Oh, how lovely.”
“I’m Virginia Piedmont.” The first woman thrust out her hand for Corva to shake.
“And I’m Josephine Evans.” The second one followed suit.
It was then that Corva realized her mouth still hung open from the comment she’d been about to make to the conductor. She snapped it shut, blushing furiously, shifted her paint box to her left hand, then shook hands with both women, adding a quiet, “How do you do?” in her soft, Georgia accent.
“Well, now that you’re here,” Virginia said, beaming with satisfaction. She nodded to the carpetbag that the amused conductor still carried. “Is that all you brought with you?”
“Oh, no.” Corva’s heart leapt back to her throat as she glanced from the women to the train, and then pleadingly at the conductor.
The good man sensed her thoughts enough to say, “I’ll fetch your crates, Miss Collier. Don’t you worry.”
“Crates?” Josephine asked as she reached to take the carpetbag from the conductor. “What crates?”
“You’ll see.” The conductor gave her a saucy wink, then hurried along to the last train car.
“I brought a few paintings with me,” Corva explained. “I…I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind?” Josephine laughed. “Why would I mind? That sounds delightful.”
“It’s really up to Franklin to mind,” Virginia said.
“You’re…you’re his aunt, aren’t you?” Corva asked. “At least, he mentioned an Aunt Virginia who was helping bring me here in his letter.”
“Yes, dear.” Virginia beamed. “That’s me. It was nice of Franklin to remember me.”
Josephine sucked in a breath and nodded, as if remembering something herself. Then the two women turned in unison to look behind them.
Corva looked as well, and pressed a hand to her stomach. There, standing just beyond the edge of the platform on the board sidewalk that stretched away down the town’s main street, stood a man in a suit. Corva felt her cheeks go pink and her skin tingle with excitement and apprehension. The man was startlingly handsome, with dark hair and eyes so blue she could see them across the distance. He was clean-shaven and well-groomed, and the suit he wore was finely made and tailored to fit him perfectly. But what drew her attention were the iron braces on his legs—like twin cages—and the ivory-topped cane that he leaned against.
Franklin Haskell. Her groom.
There you go! Ready to read more? You can start reading the sweet version (nothing inappropriate), Corva: The Perfect Bride exclusively at Amazon by clicking here.
For the spicy version (scenes! It has scenes!) His Perfect Bride, click here to be taken to Amazon, click right here to be taken to iBooks, and click on this link to go to Barnes & Noble to read on your Nook.
I hope you all enjoy this fabulous new series!