Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Woo Hoo! It's Christmas in July!

Ahhhh, who doesn't love a fun Christmas tale in July?

And we love it even better when it's FREE!  


Sheriff Clayton Riley asked for a pair of boots for Christmas, not a mail order bride! Unfortunately for Clayton, his brother and mother figured a bride would look better on him than a new pair of boots! After all, he'd been sulking around long enough after the death of his wife, and his family decided it was time to take matters into their own hands and see to it Clayton had a very merry Christmas! 

Summer James was young, she was beautiful and, an impoverished orphan. Who would want such a woman? Obviously no one. For here she was, eighteen and now of age to set out on her own. But New Orleans was full of men with evil intent for one such as herself, and she saw no other choice but to take the only offer for survival she could find and become a mail order bride. What she didn't count on was becoming Sheriff Clayton Riley's Christmas present! 

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Love covers over a multitude of sins ...

A good thing too!  Independence is filled with folks thinking their way is the right way!

One

 Independence, Oregon April 1871

 Pastor Luke Adams was a simple sort.  He had three white shirts, two pairs of trousers, one pair of suspenders, two coats, one pair of boots and a hat.  That was it. It was all he owned.
 Leaving Chicago and heading west was the best decision he ever made. The tiny congregation of Independence, Oregon was just the sort of place he could immerse himself, work, and grow old in.  The people were friendly and always willing to lend a helping hand, the parsonage was adequate for his needs (even if bigger than he’d liked) and it came fully furnished. 
 But it wasn't long before he discovered certain residents liked to keep tabs on their neighbors as well as the folks in his congregation. Some did this by friendly banter, others by a series of afternoon teas throughout the month. And of course, everyone ventured into Tindle’s Mercantile at some point during the day to catch a bit of gossip;  Mrs.Tindle being the self-proclaimed eyes and ears of the town.  Even now she was hard at work …
 “Widowed you say?” asked Mrs. Vander, the mayor’s wife. Petite and soft-spoken, she fanned herself at the unsettling news.
 “Yes, and with no children, but I suppose he’s better off that way,” added Mrs. Tindle.
 “A pastor without a wife? No such thing! Whose idea was it to hire him?” demanded Mrs. Smythe, the undertaker’s wife and town matriarch. “It’s indecent!”
  “Your husband, for one,” Mrs. Vander pointed out in her bird-like voice. “Not to mention mine. In fact, I think Mr. Tindle had the final vote on the matter, didn’t he dear?” she asked as she turned to Mrs. Tindle.
 “Octavius thought Pastor Luke a fine addition to our town,” answered Mrs. Tindle. “Except …”
 “Except what?” the other two asked in unison.
 “Except for the fact he’s not married,” Mrs. Tindle answered with a dramatic sigh.
 “This will never do!” Mrs. Smythe bellowed. “You know how people talk.”
 “Don’t we though?” Mrs. Vander squeaked.
 “Mercy, what ever will we do?” lamented Mrs. Tindle.
 “I have no idea, dear.” Mrs. Vander said as she stared at her wide-eyed.
 “I wasn’t asking you,” Mrs. Tindle told her. “I was making a plea to the Almighty.”
 “Well how is one to know?” asked Mrs. Vander.
 “Mercy!” Mrs. Smythe quipped. “Don’t think that every time someone says the word ‘mercy’ they’re addressing you!”
 “Well I declare! What else am I to think? It is my name!”
 Such was a typical day in the life of Mrs. Tindle, Mrs. Smythe, and Mrs. Vander.  Martha, Maude, and Mercy had been friends the moment they met on a wagon train headed west over fifteen years ago.  They were considered the pillars in the church, not to mention the town. Their husbands held high positions.  One provided goods and services that fed and clothed the townsfolk, another buried them, and Mr. Vander looked darn good in a suit. His oratory skills were also a plus, and he wasn’t at all adverse to public speaking, which is how he landed the job of mayor.
  “I heard him tell Amelia Wilson he didn’t plan to marry again,” Maude announced as she adjusted her hat.
 “What?!” exclaimed Martha. “But he has to get married! We can’t have a single clergyman!”
 “Such a shame, he’s far too handsome to be single,” added Mercy. “But I don’t know what any of us is supposed to do about it. There isn’t a single woman around for miles.”
 Martha drummed her fingers on the mercantile counter, her brow puckered in thought.
 “Oh dear,” Mercy remarked flatly. “She’s got that look again!”
 Maude blanched. “Martha Tindle! What are you thinking? You know the last time you had that look, we got in deep trouble with our husbands! “
 “I’m still having to bake pie for Horace to make up for it,” added Mercy. “And you both know I loathe pie of any kind.”
 “It wasn’t our fault the mill burned down,” said Martha. “How were we to know Sarah Miller’s cat would knock the lantern over?”
 “Enough you two! We have to figure out what to do for our poor, lonely pastor,” said Maude as she rubbed her chin.
 “Did he say he was lonely?” asked Mercy.
 “It’s only a matter of time, dear,” Maude said, her voice dropped to an ominous pitch.
 Mercy’s eyes widened at the sound, and she gulped. “Wha … what then should we do?”
 “I know!” Martha said as she waved both hands at them. “My cousins in Nowhere, you know, up in the Washington territory? Well, they both got mail order brides for their sons!”
 “Mail order brides?” Maude asked. “Are you out of your mind?”
 “Oh, how romantic,” Mercy commented, ignoring Maude’s remark. “I think a mail order bride is a lovely idea.”
 Maude groaned in disgust.
 “What’s the matter?” Martha asked. “Don’t you like the notion?”
 “You never know what you’re going to get with a mail order bride!” Maude huffed. “What if she’s an idiot?”
 “So what if she is?” asked Mercy.
 “You are missing the point,” Maude chastised. “We don’t want just anyone married to our pastor. After all, the church is very important to this community. She’ll have to know how to cook, and organize all sorts of functions, and reside over our teas, and judge at the harvest festival, and any number of other important tasks!”
 “Oh,” Mercy replied in a flat tone. “You’re right.”
 “If it worked for my cousins, then why wouldn’t it work for us?” asked Martha.  “My nephew Matthew got a lovely bride, as did my nephew Arlan.”
  Maude took a deep breath. “I say we put it to a vote. All those in favor of getting Pastor Luke a mail order bride, please raise your hand.”
 Three arms shot up.
 “Good! It’s settled then!” said Maude. “Martha, write your cousins immediately and find out how they got their brides. We want to use a reputable establishment that will send us a young lady of refinement. We’ll settle for nothing less than perfection in this town.”
 “Right away!” Martha said as she reached under the counter and pulled out some paper. She then brought out a quill and ink, set them down, and began to write.

* * *

  Three weeks later, at the Ridgley Mail Order Bride Service in New Orleans.
 
 “Ain’t seen no sign of Mr. Slade, ma’am. It’s like he just up and disappeared. You didn’t say nuthun’ to make him leave town, did ya?” asked Jethro.
 The gentle giant sat in a chair across from Mrs. Ridgley’s desk and waited for her to answer. She smiled at him, knowing full well the big Negro would like nothing better than to be rid of the likes of Thaddeus Slade. The man owned three brothels, and was a constant threat to women everywhere. She’d also once been in love with him.  Once.
 She shrugged.  “I asked him to attend church with me.”
 Jethro stared at her in shock. “Church! Mrs. Ridgley, if that man ever set foot in a church, he’d die on the spot for what he’s done!”
 Eugina Ridgley sat back in her chair. “Perhaps you’re right. But, everyone deserves a chance to redeem themselves, even Mr. Slade.” She picked up the mail he’d brought and began to sift through the letters.  “Ah, this looks interesting,” she said and reached for the letter opener.
 “What is it?” asked Jethro.
 She read the missive and smiled. “It’s a request for a bride from a Mr. Adams in Independence, Oregon. Hmmm, he’s a pastor.”
 “A pastor?” Jethro echoed. “We ain’t never got a request from one of those.”
 “No, we haven’t.” She looked up from the letter. “Who does Mrs. Teeters have? Are any of the orphans of age?”
 “I don’t recollect none old enough to be marryin’, Mrs. Ridgley. What you gonna do if’n you don’t got no bride to send?”
 She sat back in her chair. “This does propose a problem.”
 “What kind a bride he lookin’ for?”
 She picked up the letter. “I seek a woman of character, refinement, good posture, and one good at … baking pies,” she read.
 Jethro stared at her. “That sounds reasonable.”
 “If we had a bride to fill it, which we don’t. I’ll have to write him back and tell him he’ll have to wait …”
 “Aunt Eugina!”
 Eugina’s head came up at the voice. She leaned to one side to see past Jethro. “May I help you?” A young woman stepped into the office. She looked very familiar.  Her light golden brown hair was piled on top of her head in the latest fashion, her amber eyes bright with interest and recognition. Unlike Eugina, who couldn’t for the life of her remember who the girl could be. Wait a minute, Aunt Eugina? “Winifred?” she guessed.
 The girl hurried into the room, came around the desk, and without waiting for her to stand, hugged her. “I’m so glad t,t,t, to … see you! I, I … “ she stopped, her face red, and held her breath.
 “Winnie, it is you!” Eugina exclaimed as she pushed them apart and looked at the girl.  “Still have that stutter, I see.”
 Winnie bit her lower lip and nodded.
 “Well, I’m sure you’ve learned to live with it. How are you my dear? And where is your mother?”
 Winnie’s eyes became downcast, and she pulled a handkerchief out of her reticule. “Gone.”
 Eugina stood. “Gone? What do you mean, gone?”
 Winnie met her gaze and shook her head. “She … g,g,g, …got influenza.”
 “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. No one wrote to tell me. Sit down, dear,” Eugina instructed as she waved at a nearby chair. “Jethro, see about some tea, will you?”
 “Yes, ma’am!” he said and stood. He gave the young woman a compassionate look, and left.
 Winnie sat. “I’m sor … sorry,” she took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I didn’t write, I decided to visit instead.”
 Eugina stared at her. “You don’t stutter when you hold your breath?”
 Winnie nodded.
 “Oh, my.”
 Winnie’s face began to turn red. “I had no place else to go.”
 “What? I thought you said you were  … oh, wait a minute.” Eugina had to have a moment to think. As she recalled, her brother didn’t have many assets when he died, and didn’t leave much for Winnie and her mother to live on. Sure, they got by until now, but if Hester, Winnie’s mother was gone, then the poor thing really was alone. As was she. “My brother’s gone, my two sisters and their husbands, and now your mother.” She looked at Winnie, tears in her eyes.
 Winnie nodded and took a deep breath. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
 “You’re not a bother, I just need a moment to take this in.” She sat, her stomach in knots. It was an odd feeing to realize her entire family was no more. The others hadn’t had children, and died young. Winnie was the youngest among them. “How old are you now?”
 “Twenty-four,” she answered. “I know I should have married long ago, but mother … had no one, and  …”
  “You don’t have to explain. I understand.” Eugina’s eyes fell to the letter on the desk. “And I may have a solution for you, if you’re willing to hear me out.”
 Winnie took a deep breath, and nodded.
 Eugina picked up the letter, and handed it to Winnie.
 “What’s this?” she asked.
 “It’s a request I received from a gentleman seeking a mail order bride. I think you should consider it.”
 Winnie slowly raised her face, mouth half-open in astonishment. “Me? A mail … or, or, or …”
 “Calm down, you know how you stutter when you get nervous or excited.”
 Winnie took a deep breath and held it. “I’ve never thought of being a mail order bride.” She let the breath out and tried to steady her breathing as she perused the letter. “A pastor?”
 “Yes, and he sounds like the sort of man that would be good for you.”
 “But I … I couldn’t.”
 Eugina reached across the desk and took one of Winnie’s hands in her own. “I know you’ve been through a lot taking care of my sister-in-law all these years, and that both of you had to struggle. You could start a new life with this man, a good life in a growing town.  Lots of women go out west to be mail order brides.  Besides, what kind of life would you have here?”
 Winnie swallowed hard, tears in her eyes. “But Aunt Eugina, what man wou …wou… would want me?”
 Eugina sighed. “What man wouldn’t want you? You’re pretty, smart, you can cook …”
 Winnie shook her head. “No, I …” she took another deep breath. “…can’t. Mother’s diet was limited. I only know how to make soup.”
 “That explains why you’re so thin …” Eugina said as she eyed Winnie across the desk.  “But no matter, you have many attributes men seek in a wife. Of course you could stay here, but I’m afraid it would be terribly lonely for you.”
 “You don’t want me to stay?”
 “I never said that, I would love to have you stay. In essence, you’re all the family I have left, but I don’t know how fulfilling life here would be for you.” She gave her niece’s hand a squeeze. “Winnie, you know I want the best for you.”
 Winnie’s eyes filled with tears as she took another deep breath. “I hardly left the house this last year, I’m at a loss as to what to do with myself.” She looked at the letter again, read it for a moment, and then asked, “ What do I need to do?”
 Eugina smiled as she took out pen and ink from her desk. “Write him back.”
 “That’s it?”
 Eugina nodded. “Tell him a little about yourself, and if he thinks you’ll suit, he’ll send a train ticket and stage fare.”
 “That’s it? Good Heavens, I had no idea it was so easy to get a husband!”
 Eugina sighed. “Indeed.”
 Winnie took the piece of paper offered, picked up the pen, and with a shaking hand, began to write.

* * *
   
   Dear Mr. Adams, I’ve read your letter and think I would be a good match for you. I’m twenty-four years old, have light brown hair and amber eyes. People say they are my best feature. I can clean and sew and am very good at looking after the sick. Please respond and let me know if you think we would suit.
 Sincerely,
 Winifred Longfellow

  Mercy passed the letter to Maude. “Well, I think she sounds lovely.”
 “She doesn’t say a word in here about cooking!” Maude complained.
 “If she can clean and sew then of course she can cook,” pointed out Martha.
 The three sat in Mercy Vander’s elaborate parlor. Not only was Mr. Vander mayor, he and his wife had the nicest house in town.  They even had a cook who doubled as a maid and tripled as a governess for their son Garrett.  Consequently, the woman was relieved when the young master got older and went off to college. It meant she was down to cook and maid again, though if Mrs. Vander had her way, she’d dress her up as a butler too.
 “More tea, Mrs. Vander?” the servant asked.
 “Why, thank you Betsy. Don’t mind if I do.” Betsy poured her another cup before she moved on to her guests.  
 “I think we should write the young lady back and accept,” suggested Martha.
 “Let’s not be too hasty. What about other applicants?” asked Maude. “Has anyone else written?”
 “No, Mrs. Ridgley sent a note along with the letter,” Mercy told her. “It says Miss Longfellow is the only bride available. If we reject this one, who knows how long we’ll have to wait for another to come along.”
 Maude set down her teacup and sighed. “Very well then. Martha, take a letter.”
 “Why do I have to take a letter? I wrote the last one.”
 “Oh, Betsy, dear?” Mercy asked. “Would you mind?”
 Betsy set down the teapot and went to a small desk near the fireplace.  She took out a piece of stationary, picked up a pen, dipped it in an inkpot, and turned to her employer.
 “Isn’t she a dear?” Mercy asked her friends. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
 Betsy stood at the ready, and fought the urge to roll her eyes.
 Maude turned to her. “Dear Miss Longfellow,” she dictated. “I think you’d make me a very happy man …”
 “Should he sound eager?” interrupted Martha. “The word ‘happy’ makes him sound too eager.”
 “A man out here ought to be happy for a wife,” countered Mercy. “Any wife!”
 “She’s going to make him happy, and what woman wants to marry a grump?” added Maude.
 Betsy sat at the desk and stared at the three, her mind racing over whom the women were talking about. If she were a man, she’d think twice before letting a group of old biddies attend to something as private as one’s personal love life. What idiot let himself get talked into allowing them the task of obtaining a mail order bride?
 “Betsy,” her employer called across the room. “Leave in the word ‘happy’.”
 Betsy scribbled it down.
  “My dear Miss Longfellow,” Maude began again. “Ah let’s see, a happy man, yes … ah ha! And I think we shall be very happy together. You’ll be a fine addition to the church and community.”
 Mercy stared at her. “That’s not very romantic.”
 Betsy shook with suppressed laughter. The poor sap they suckered was even letting them answer his bride’s letter for him? Was he out of his mind? Who was this man?
 “Romance is irrelevant at this point,” Maude snapped. “The important thing is to have her delivered … I mean shipped out … I mean brought here.”
 “We all know what you meant,” Martha stated as she reached for her cup. “Which of us is she going to stay with when she arrives? We can’t just spring her on the poor man.”
 “Why not?” asked Mercy.
 Betsy’s mouth dropped open as her brow rose in amusement. Was she saying what she thought she was saying?
 “Pastor Luke has a lot on his plate, we have to be considerate of that,” added Maude.
 Betsy snorted with laughter, and almost fell out of her chair. All three heads turned to  her as she quickly righted herself and resumed her position.
 “She can stay with us,” added Maude. “If need be, we can rotate until Pastor Luke and this Miss Longfellow marry.”
 Betsy could stand it no longer. “What are you talking about? Can’t Pastor Luke send for this woman himself? He’s not that busy!”
 “Oh no, that would never do!” Mercy exclaimed. “You see, he doesn’t …” she quickly glanced at her counterparts. They sat as stoic as ever. “That is to say … he can’t be bothered.”
 Betsy stood. “Mrs. Vander,” she started then looked at all three faces in turn. “Has Pastor Luke given his consent for you to do this for him?”
 The matrons glanced at one another with fleeting looks. “Well,” Mercy began. “Like I said, he can’t be bothered with such trivial things right now.”
 “Trivial? A mail order bride is trivial?” Betsy gasped.
 “I must say, Mercy, your hired help’s respect is sadly lacking,” huffed Maude.
 “Now Betsy,” Mercy began in a panicked voice. “Promise us you won’t breathe a word about this to anyone! Especially Pastor Luke!”
 Betsy was about to comment when Maude cut her off. “If you do we’ll see you fired!”
 “You’ll do no such thing!” Mercy squeaked. “Why, Betsy’s been with us since we came west from St. Louis!”
 “Dock her pay then!” countered Maude. “We’ve got to get this settled and done with. Who was in charge of the train ticket?”
 “I was,” answered Martha.  “I’ll go down to the station first thing tomorrow morning and purchase one.”
  “It’s settled then,” said Maude. “Betsy, sign that letter, Pastor Luke Adams.”
 Betsy could only stare. “You three are some kind of trouble, and you’re gonna be in a heap of it if your husbands find out.”
 “They aren’t going to find out, are they?” Maude said with her eyes narrowed to slits.
 “Don’t look at me,” said Betsy. “I ain’t gonna be the one to tell them. Besides, they’ll find out just as soon as that mail order bride steps off the stage and goes looking for poor Pastor Luke!”
 “Then we’ll just have to make sure one of us is there to meet her so that doesn’t happen,” said Martha.
 Betsy shook her head. “You do that, and good luck. Because once Pastor Luke finds out what you three have been up to, he’s gonna be preaching nothing but fire and brimstone every Sunday for a month!

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

It's Sneak Peek Time!

Sometimes it's good to slow down and smell the roses ... or find things out the hard way!


One

The town of Nowhere, in the Washington Territory, April 1871

 “The Weaver farm!” Sheriff Spencer Riley stared at his deputy like he’d just grown a horn in his head. “What in Sam blazes possessed you to want to ride all the way out there?”
 Tom Turner smiled. “They like hearing my stories. Thought I’d take Rose with me this time, make a day of it.”
 “Two days, you mean. You know it takes one to ride out there, not to mention another to ride back. That’s three days, Tom. I’m not sure I can spare you that long.”
 “Been quiet around here, Sheriff, and besides, Billy’s wantin’ to work the extra hours on account he can’t stand being in the same house with his mother in-law. You know how Mrs. Davis drives him plumb loco.”
 Spencer smiled. “That she does …” He pushed himself away from the desk he’d been leaning against, and put on his hat. “I’m going down to the mercantile for some licorice. Do me a favor will you, and go through those wanted posters before you leave?  It may be quiet now, but who knows how long it will last.”
 “Then I can go?”
 Spencer sighed. “I suppose, I know you and Rose haven’t had any time to yourselves since you got married a couple months back. Ah, go ahead, but three days is all you’ve got.” He shook his head. “Maybe you’re in the wrong line of work? Seems to me you’d make a fine living telling those stories of yours. Maybe you outta write a book so folks can read them instead of you having to take off for the hills to tell them.”
 Tom smiled. “Trust me, I’ve thought of it. But with as many stories as I have it would take too long to write em all down. I ain’t got that much time, Sheriff.”
 “Well, at least you’ll have plenty of tales to tell your youngins’, when you have some that is.”
 Tom grinned. “Working on it, why do ya think I want to take Rose with me this time? It’s a long drive out to Weaver country.”
 Spencer chuckled. “Three days, deputy. That’s all I can spare.”
 “Understood,” Tom said, his smile still in place.  He watched Spencer leave the Sheriff’s office then turned to the stack of wanted posters and began to sift through them. 
 Most were new posters of the same old outlaws, some of which had already been apprehended. One however was new, and he noted something familiar about the man depicted in the printed drawing. “T.J. Slade,” he said to himself. “Now where do I know you from?” He scanned the poster. It said the man’s main crime was kidnapping, and that he’d struck in Colorado, Wyoming, and was last seen heading toward the Washington territory. “Well ain’t you a busy bee?” Tom said to the poster as he pinned it on the wall. He glanced to his rifle near the door, and decided it might be best to take it with him, especially if Rose was to accompany him out to the Weaver farm. Who knows if T.J. Slade had managed to worm his way as far as the poster stated.
 Tom put on his hat and coat, grabbed his rifle, and headed out the door.  If he and Rose left first thing in the morning they’d be out at the Weaver farm in time for supper, and Mrs. Weaver was a fine cook. He smiled again and thought of poor Ryder Jones and his new wife Constance.  That woman couldn’t cook a whit when Ryder first married her. Neither could any of her sisters, come to think of it. But Ryder managed to teach her how, among other things. Things no English lady should ever learn, but teach her he did. A good thing too, for Ryder’s lessons on how to survive in the wild had served to save him from a horrible fate and kept him alive. A plumb miracle now that he thought on it, but then, his tales of Clear Creek were chock full of miracles. That’s just the kind of place it was …

* * *

The following evening, at the Weaver farm …

 “Don’t leave any of the blood and guts out this time!” Calvin demanded. “I know there has to be some in this story!”
 Tom smiled as he squeezed his wife’s hand. “I promise I won’t,” he told him. “But I might tone it down for the sake of the womenfolk.”
 “But I like the blood and guts too,” Rose argued. “Don’t tone it down on my account.”
 “I can take it,” Mrs. Weaver added as she poured everyone a cup of coffee. “Anybody want more pie?”
 “No Ma, we’re fine,” said Arlan, the eldest of the Weaver brothers. He looked at his wife Samijo sitting beside him. “What about you? Can you handle a gory story?”
 Samijo swallowed hard and looked at Tom. “How bad is it?”
 He leaned toward her from across the table. “It’s got some blood, but if Constance could handle doing what she did, her being an English lady and all, then I’m sure you can handle hearing about it.”
 Samijo took a deep breath and put both hands on her coffee cup. “All right, you may begin, I’m ready.”
 Tom waited for Mrs. Weaver to take her seat, took one last look at everyone seated around the table, cleared his throat, and began. “This here tale is about the second sister that came to Clear Creek from England to get married. Constance was the curious one of the three, and the one most likely to get herself into trouble. In fact she’s a lot like my Rose here.”
 His wife looked at him and smiled. “She had an adventurous side?” she asked.
 “You could say that,” he told her with a wink. “Constance was willin' to take risks her sisters weren’t, including marrying Ryder without much courtin’. Zero in fact.  Eloise, her younger sister, got busy gettin’ herself courted by Ryder’s brother Seth, while Constance and Ryder (already married) were way out on the prairie trying to finish Ryder’s house. Sadie Cooke warned Constance not to marry up so quick like but that English miss was stubborn, and once she made her mind up to do something, she did.
 “When did she marry?” asked Mrs. Weaver.
 “Not three days after her sister Penelope. Other than a couple of trips into town, no one saw them for days and days, except for the Cookes, but that was only for a visit.”
 “If no one saw them for days, then how do you know what happened?” asked Daniel, the youngest of the Weaver brothers.
 “How old are you Daniel?” Tom asked.
 “Nineteen.”
 “Then listen up, cause maybe you can learn somethin' from this story before you’re old enough to marry. That goes for you too, Calvin and Benjamin,” he said as he addressed the twins. “Listen and learn.”
  The twins were a few years older than Daniel. They glanced at each other before giving their attention back to Tom. “We ain’t gonna learn nothin’ if’n you don’t start the dang story!” Calvin pointed out.
 Tom shrugged. “Okay, here we go. First let me point out that Constance had about as much patience as a youngin’ on Christmas mornin’. She couldn’t wait to get married and didn’t care none about the courtn’ part.”
 “That’s one thing I never understood about mail order brides,” commented Mrs. Weaver.
 “Worked for me, Ma,” said Arlan as he put his arm around Samijo. “We get along fine.”
 “Yes, and that’s a good thing, but things didn’t go so smoothly with Constance and Ryder …

* * *

 Clear Creek, Oregon, June 1861

 “I now pronounce you man and wife,” said Preacher Jo. “You may kiss the bride.”
 Constance leaned toward Ryder and pursed her lips together.  He lifted the tiny scrap of veil from her face and did a double take at her tightly shut eyes and lips. “Ya thinkin’ a kiss from me is gonna be bad?” he asked.
 Constance opened one eye, her lips still pressed together. She puckered her lips, then re-pursed them. Pucker, purse, pucker, purse. “How am I supposed to know? I’ve never kissed anyone before,” she said in exasperation.
 The wedding had been quick, the preparation quicker.  As soon as the ladies sewing circle got her dress put together, she pleaded with Sadie (who acted as Constance's main chaperone) to bypass time spent courting, and get right to it.  Sadie was hesitant, if only because Ryder’s place wasn’t ready to house a bride.  The roof wasn’t done, not all of the windows were finished, heck, as far as she knew, the house didn’t even have a functioning door. But Constance didn’t care about any of it, she wanted to be married. 
 In the end, Sadie gave in, and now stood shaking her head at Ryder’s new English bride.  The girl was na├»ve to the ways of the west, and had a rude awakening coming.
 Ryder puckered his lips, pulled her to him and kissed her. There was a funny little “popping” sound as he broke the kiss that elicited a chuckle from Wilfred Dunnigan.  Colin and Harrison, along with their stepfather Jefferson, were out on the prairie chasing down strays and checking into a rumor about cattle rustlers in the area. The Sheriff himself had gone along, which in turn left Wilfred without his afternoon checker game, so he in turn volunteered to give the bride away.
 “I wish she would have waited,” Colin’s wife Belle whispered to Sadie. “You know this isn’t going to be easy for them.”
 “I know. But many a mail order bride has done the same thing. Of course, they  probably weren’t from England. Maybe she’ll want to come back to the ranch for a few weeks while he finishes up his place.”
 “She’s too stubborn for that,” Eloise chimed in. “She’s my sister, and I love her, but sometimes she is just so … so …”
 “Unreasonable?” suggested Penelope, the eldest of the three.
 “Exactly,” said Eloise.  They watched as Ryder and Constance stared at each other, both looking like a couple of scared rabbits.
 Sadie sighed. “Grandma Waller and I fixed a dinner basket for them to take back to Ryder’s place. I also put in some things Constance will need.  I hope he’s got food out there other than what we’re sending.  It’s a long ride to town.”
 “Just how far from town is his ranch?” asked Penelope as she was joined by her new husband August.
 “About two and a half hours from here,” August answered before Sadie could open her mouth. “And he hasn’t got a wagon.”
 “You mean Constance is going to have to ride with him, on his horse?” Eloise asked, aghast.
 “Yep,” August said with a grin. “Now won’t that make for a sight? Your sister all gussied up in her wedding dress, riding across the prairie with Ryder?”
 “I think it’s absurd,” said Penelope. “Maybe we should invite them to stay with us until he finishes his cabin?” she suggested.
 “Absolutely not,” August said. “We just got married last week, remember? I want my privacy.”
 “What privacy? Clyde keeps ... interrupting everything,” Penelope giggled.
 “Clyde?” asked Sadie.
 “My rooster,” August huffed. “That darn bird has been more trouble …”
 “Now August,” Penelope said in a scolding tone. “as annoying as he is, that bird did save my life.”
 August rolled his eyes. “So you keep reminding me. Maybe Ryder could use him out at his place, that way I don’t have to put up with him chasing me around and pecking at my boots all the time. Not to mention the way he pecks at the glass of our bedroom window.”
 Belle laughed. “He does what?”
 Penelope nodded. “You heard him right. Our rooster pecks at the bedroom window, and our bedroom is on the second story.”
 “And he only does it when we’re …” August said, bobbing his head this way and that.
 “Oh no!” Sadie laughed. “That’s so odd, but it’s funny.”
 “Until it’s your bedroom window, Mrs. Cooke,” August told her. “If you and Harrison had owned that bird, little Honoria may never have been born.”
 Sadie chuckled as she glanced to Grandma Waller who sat bouncing eighteen-month old Honoria on her lap.  “Maybe you should loan your rooster to Ryder. He might finish his house sooner if he isn’t distracted by … you know …”
 August cast Ryder and his new bride a mischievous look. “You may have something there, Mrs. Cooke.”
  “August Bennett, you wouldn’t,” Penelope chastised.
 “I most certainly would. But not today, we’ll plan a little trip out to Ryder’s place in a week or two. That way you can check on your sister and I can make sure Ryder hasn’t done something stupid.”
 “What do you mean?” Eloise asked, concern in her voice.
 August smiled. “Oh I don’t mean stupid, but I can see him doing things like teaching your sister how to shoot or skin a critter.”
 “Constance? Skin an animal?” Eloise asked in shock.
 “She wouldn’t be the first woman around here to know how to do that sort of thing. Your cousin Duncan’s wife Cozette knows how to hunt and do just about everything a man does.”
 “Oh but August, Constance would never do such a thing! She’s far too much of a lady.” Penelope assured.
 “Oh yeah? Well, if I know Ryder, he’ll try to turn her into something else entirely.”
 “Nonsense,” Penelope said.
 August looked her in the eye. “You want to make a little wager on that Mrs. Bennett?”
 “What? A wager? Don’t be ridiculous.”
 “He licked his lower lip and grinned. “Pie every night for dessert, for two weeks! That’s what I’ll bet you.”
 “Why August, I had no idea you could bake,” she told him in a teasing tone.
 “Oh no, you’re not gonna get out of this that easily. I’ll bet you that within a month, Ryder has your sister skinning critters, tanning hides, and shooting a gun!”
 Penelope’s mouth dropped open. “That will never happen!”
 “I agree with Penelope,” added Eloise. “Our sister would never do anything so … so …”
 “Manly?” August tossed at her.
 “You’d best have Mrs. Dunnigan teach you how to bake a pie, Mr. Bennett,” Eloise shot back. “Constance is, and always will be, a lady.”
 “You mean I get to ride all the way home with you on your horse?” Constance suddenly blurted above their conversation. “How exciting!”
 August grinned in triumph as Penelope and Eloise groaned. “You were saying, ladies?”
 Penelope glanced at Eloise as Constance took Ryder by the arm and pulled him toward the church doors. “Maybe we’d better have Mrs. Dunnigan give us a pie baking lesson tomorrow.”

* * *

  The wedding was a blur, one left far behind. All Constance could think about was the fact she was married, just like her sister Penelope, and that her new husband was whisking her away to his charming farm out on the prairie where they would live happily ever after!
 “It ain’t much, but it’ll be home,” he commented as he helped her onto his horse then mounted up behind her. “I’m sure all it needs is a woman’s touch.”
  She smiled as he wrapped an arm around her waist to make sure she stayed put, then took the reins. “I’ll make it just as pretty as Penelope’s house!” she said with excitement.
 Ryder gulped. “Well, my place ain't exactly like August’s farm, ya know. I ain’t no farmer.”
 “Oh, I know that,” she said. “You want to breed horses.”
 “Yes, ma’am, that I do.” He turned his horse as Sadie approached them with a basket.
 “I’ll come out as soon as I can with your things,” she told Constance and handed her the basket. “Here’s a little something for tonight. I hope you enjoy it.”
 “Now ain’t that nice?” Ryder commented. “You didn’t have to go through all that trouble, Mrs. Cooke.”
 “Wasn’t no trouble at all!” shouted Grandma Waller from the church steps. “You have a nice supper, ya hear? And take care of that little lady, Ryder!”
 Preacher Jo and his wife Annie joined Grandma on the steps. “Pleasure marrying you!” Preacher Jo called after them as Ryder turned his horse again and kicked him into a trot. “The pleasure was all mine!” he called over his shoulder and tightened his grip on Constance. “We’ll come into town in a few weeks!”
 The small wedding party waved at them as they trotted away. “Why do I get the feeling they’ll be back in town a lot sooner?” asked Belle.
 “On account that boy ain’t got supplies for two days let alone two weeks,” said Wilfred. “His cockeyed way of doing things may have been fine all this time when he was a bachelor, but now that he’s got a wife, he’s gonna have to shape up.”
 “She can’t cook, Wilfred,” Sadie stated. “And she hardly knows how to clean or do laundry.”
 Wilfred let go a whistle. “High time she learned then. And she’s gonna have to if’n she’s with the likes of Ryder Jones.”
 “Mr. Dunnigan?” Eloise asked. “Is Ryder’s brother Seth as … as … wild?”
 “No. Seth Jones is what you English would call civilized. Them two boys are like night and day.”
 “Oh, thank Heavens,” Eloise mumbled.
 “But don’t get me wrong, those boys are fiercely protective, and can hold their own in a fight. Seth may be more cleaned up working in Mr. Van Cleet’s fancy hotel, but he was once just as wild as Ryder, living in the outdoors, hunting, catching things with his bare hands ...”
 “What?” Penelope gasped. “What are you talking about?”
 Wilfred grinned. “Why, don’t you know?”
 “Know what?” asked Eloise.
 Wilfred chuckled. “Seth and Ryder Jones were raised by Indians.”
  Penelope and Eloise both looked after Ryder’s horse as it disappeared around the livery stable and out of sight. “Oh dear Heavens!” Penelope exclaimed.
 “However will Constance survive?” Eloise added, a hand to her chest.
 “Same as you once you’re married,” stated Wilfred. “One day at a time.”