It’s here! The day is finally here! Book 3 in The Brides of Paradise Ranch is now available, either as the spicy version, His Bewildering Bride, or the sweet version, Wendy: The Bewildering Bride. A big shock is in store for Haskell, Wyoming, but it could also be the beginning of something wonderful. And for this weekend only, both books are available for only $0.99! Grab them before they go to regular price! Here’s how it starts…
Nashville, Tennessee – 1875
Hurst Home stood at the end of a long street in Nashville, near a bend in the Cumberland River. To the outside observer, it was nothing more than a plain, rather large house shaded by oaks. Its quiet front porch was sometimes occupied by modestly-dressed young ladies, but more often than not, it seemed to be nothing more than a serene, somewhat neglected dwelling. The only thing unusual about the house was the high, stone wall that surrounded it and the wrought-iron gate that discouraged casual visitors from stopping by.
To Wendy Weatherford, Hurst Home was a blessed oasis of relief in the middle of a life of turmoil. She checked over her shoulder as she approached the front gate, fumbling for the key in the brocade reticule she carried. No one was paying her any mind—the street where Hurst Home stood was dozy in the best of times—so she quickly unlocked the gate, shifted the basket on her arm that carried her sewing, and slipped through.
Once inside, she locked the gate behind her. She didn’t have anything—or rather, anyone—to fear, but more than a few of the young women she’d gotten to know since seeking refuge at the home were hiding from someone or another. For their sake, she was contentious about keeping the house safe and unnoticed. She hurried up the path to the front porch, unlocked the front door, and skipped inside.
The world inside of the secure walls of Hurst Home was as different as night to day from the outside.
“Has anyone seen my scissors?” Miriam Long shouted from halfway up the main staircase in the hall.
The burbling chatter of half a dozen ladies in the parlor to the left of the hall stopped, and one of the girls shouted back, “No. They’re not in here.”
From the wide dining room on the right, spritely red-head Talia Lambert popped out to say, “Are you sure you didn’t leave them in the kitchen when we were baking bread?”
Miriam huffed a dramatic sigh and struck a long-suffering pose—the back of her hand pressed against her forehead—as she leaned against the wall. The move showed off her perfect figure and the long waves of her blonde hair. “Will I never cease misplacing valuables?” she lamented.
Wendy cleared her throat. Miriam had come to Hurst Home straight from the theater, where she was in danger from an unscrupulous manager who thought he could sell more than just tickets to see Miriam perform. Wendy had only known the woman for three weeks, but that was enough to know that you could take Miriam off the stage, but you couldn’t take the stage off of Miriam.
“Here.” Wendy searched in her basket to find her second-best pair of scissors as she approached the stairs. “You can borrow mine.”
Miriam’s face lit up. “Oh, Wendy. You really are a darling.” She skipped down a few steps to meet Wendy as she came up. Wendy offered the scissors, Miriam took them, then kissed Wendy’s cheek. “I don’t care what they say about former slaves getting above themselves these days. You’re the most darling of women, no matter how you were born.”
Without the faintest idea that her words could be hurtful, Miriam skipped the rest of the way down the stairs, brandishing the borrowed scissors, and swung around the corner into the parlor with the others.
“I am ready to do battle with the quilt,” Miriam announced to the others, out of sight.
Wendy sighed, exchanging a glance with Talia, who continued to stand like a frail shadow in the doorway.
“She means well,” Talia whispered.
“I know.” Wendy managed a smile. “Unfortunately, she’s right about what people say.”
She turned to head up the stairs to take her work to her room, but Talia called after her, “I doubt that.”
Talia skittered away from the dining room doorway and followed Wendy upstairs. Wendy waited for her, and the two walked together up to the second floor and the room Wendy had been assigned when she came to Hurst Home.
“You’re the most talented seamstress I’ve ever seen,” Talia went on. “I know it, Miriam knows it, everyone in the house knows it, and soon all of Nashville will know it too. It…it doesn’t matter what you look like.” She lowered her eyes, a bright flush coming to her cheeks, betraying that she didn’t fully believe what she said.
Wendy opened her door, set her basket on the chair just past the doorway, then turned to fold Talia in a friendly hug. “Would that the world was filled with more kind hearts like you,” she said. “But I fear it will take more than the end of slavery and the passage of a few laws before my people will have the opportunities they deserve.”
“But things are better now, aren’t they?” Talia asked, sitting on Wendy’s bed and glancing up at her with big, innocent eyes. “Your people are free. You can go to school, engage in a profession, own land, vote.”
Wendy nodded as she sank to sit on the bed with Talia. “For now, yes. But laws that harm can be passed as easily as laws that help. And there are still many who look at me and see the evidence of their own defeat instead of my skill or my heart.”
“I don’t understand.” Talia’s face fell. “I’ll never understand.”
Wendy reached out to hug her dear friend. As she did, creaking came from the stairs. A moment later, Elspeth Leonard—another of her housemates, a somber, proper Englishwoman who was slightly older than the rest of the women in the house—appeared in the door. She smiled kindly at the sight of Wendy and Talia.
“Wendy, I was told you had returned.” Elspeth had a voice and an accent that soothed and charmed. Of all the women in the house, Wendy felt as though she could carry on the most stimulating conversations with Elspeth. But there was no time for conversation today. “Mrs. Breashears told me to alert you that she wishes to see you as soon as you have a moment.”
Brow raised, Wendy exchanged a look with Talia. She stood. “I’m ready now if she is.”
Elspeth smiled. “She’s in her office.”
Wendy crossed out to the hall, Talia following her. The three women headed back down the stairs to the first floor. The noise from the parlor had grown tenfold since Miriam joined the women there. They were all laughing and talking over each other, and someone had sat down at the piano and was banging out Stephen Foster tunes.
“Thank heavens they’re not allowed to make that much noise all night,” Elspeth whispered as they turned the corner and headed to the back of the house. “None of us would ever get any sleep.”
Talia giggled, and Wendy shook her head, smiling over the truth of it.
They reached the door to Mrs. Breashears’ office, and as Wendy knocked, her two friends waved goodbye and went on their way. At Mrs. Breashears’ call of “Come in,” Wendy slipped into the room, shutting the door behind her.
“Ah, Wendy. I’m glad you’re home. Please, come, sit.” Mrs. Breashears jumped straight to business, gesturing for Wendy to take a seat in one of the chairs across from her desk. As soon as Wendy was seated, she went on with, “You know that we have an association with a frontier town in Wyoming, correct?”
“Yes.” Wendy’s heart sped up. She’d heard all about Haskell, Wyoming from the minute she set foot through the door of Hurst Home. It was all the girls could talk about once their imaginations turned to the opposite sex. “Two of Hurst Home’s women have been sent to Haskell as mail-order brides.”
“Precisely.” Mrs. Breashears nodded, folding her hands and resting them on her desk. “And when you first came here, one of the questions on the information sheet I asked you to fill out was in regards to whether you would be open to considering marriage to one of the ranchers or frontiersmen in Haskell, should the opportunity arise.”
“Yes.” Wendy scooted to the edge of her seat. “But I didn’t think it was all that likely that you would be able to find a match for me.” She had heard of some former slaves seeking their fortunes out West, where there were more opportunities and where common folk looked the other way in regards to skin color. From all she’d heard, the West was so desperate for new settlers that they didn’t care what a person looked like or what their background was. That was why so many foreigners were coming from Europe to make new lives.
“You’re in luck,” Mrs. Breashears announced, interrupting her thoughts. “For I think I’ve found exactly the young man for you.”
“Really?” Wendy couldn’t keep the smile off her face. This was it. This was what she’d wished and dreamed of for so long—a husband, a family of her own, and a future filled with possibility.
“Yes, his name is Cody Montrose, and he works as a ranch hand on Paradise Ranch,” Mrs. Breashears explained, picking up a telegraph and reading through it.
Cody Montrose. Wendy repeated the name to herself, pressing her hands to her stomach. Wendy Montrose, Mrs. Cody Montrose.
Mrs. Breashears cleared her throat and went on. “As I understand it, Mr. Montrose is a bit on the lively side. I’m assured he’s a good man,” Mrs. Breashears pushed on. “I wouldn’t consent to match any of you girls up with a man that fell short of my high standards. I have been given to understand that he needs a little settling, though.”
Wendy shrugged, her smile growing. “I don’t mind. Just because I’m not a hummingbird doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy their company.” Like Miriam, for example. She could never keep up with the girl’s antics, but she enjoyed her company nonetheless.
Mrs. Breashears seemed relieved. “I’m glad to hear it. We are looking for a woman who can be a steadying influence. And if it helps, each of the young men from Paradise Ranch who are willing to take a bride are having homes constructed for them. So even if Mr. Montrose does prove to be a handful, you’ll have your very own house to maintain while he goes off to work on the ranch every day.”
Wendy smiled at the thought. “A woman could put up with a lot to have her own house.”
“Indeed.” Mrs. Breashears winked. “Though as I said before, I am assured that Mr. Montrose is a good man.”
Wendy shifted forward. “Does Haskell have a dress shop or a tailor or any establishment that could use my sewing skills?” Sewing may have been her job and her means of putting food on her and her mother’s table for years, but she still loved it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Mrs. Breashears tilted her head to the side. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. Certainly there must be something.” She fussed with the papers on her desk for a moment. “Oh dear. I really should educate myself more about the town before I rush about making promises.”
“It’s all right.” Wendy reached across Mrs. Breashears’ desk to touch the older woman’s arm in support. “I’m so grateful that you were able to find a man that suits me that I would live in a remote shack if I had to.” Anything to get away from the sadness and misfortune that had marked her life so far. It wasn’t as if she had any family left in Nashville, or even Memphis now, to miss her.
“I’m so glad.” Mrs. Breashears sighed in relief. “So shall I telegraph them, letting them know it’s a match?”
“Yes, please.” Wendy beamed.
Ready to read more? Both His Bewildering Bride and Wendy: The Bewildering Bride are available now! And they’re $0.99 for this weekend only! So grab them while they’re on sale.