Effie Stout is in her third season and beginning to worry if she’ll ever find a husband. But just when she sets her sights on a good prospect, the unthinkable happens. Her family falls into ruin. Forced to become amail-order bride by her step mother, Effie does her best to live like the other half and not get her or her would be groom killed in the process.
Forrest Lang agonized over whether or not to send away for a mail-order bride and when she arrives, he soon discovers he should’ve left well enough alone. The woman is a disaster! How can he come to depend on a woman who can’t even peel a potato? Problem is, he married her. Now what? Find out in this fun romp full of humor, faith and love.
And here's a little sneak peek!
New York City, April 1888
Effie Anne Stout watched her cousin Della pour them each a cup of tea. They were both the eldest of their siblings, both in their third season after coming out into polite society, and both starting to worry. If they didn’t find husbands this season, they’d likely be snubbed next year. Worse, their younger sisters were joining the ranks of debutantes, adding to the competition. Perhaps, Effie thought, she shouldn’t have turned down so many proposals the year before …
“I don’t understand why Minnie, your dear sweet sister and my cousin, would refuse Robert Wilkins,” Della said as she set down the teapot.
“Because you turned him down last year, remember? Besides, it’s only her first proposal, and the season’s barely begun.” She took a sip, eyeing her cousin over the rim of her cup. They were in Effie’s private drawing room, which would’ve belonged to her mother if she were alive. But Mabel Stout had died long ago, and her stepmother Fanny never cared for the room.
“I’m determined to make a wise choice for myself this year,” Della went on. “Mother’s in a state, I can tell you.”
“Aunt Jane has said nothing to me,” Effie informed her. Indeed, Aunt Jane treated Effie and her two sisters as her own. Unlike their stepmother, who to this day couldn’t keep their names right – calling Effie “Lula,” Minnie “Effie” and Lula “Minnie.” After ten years, one would think the woman would have it down. But she only tolerated Ulysses Stout’s daughters, nothing more. Still, since she’d been unable to give Ulysses a son (or any child, for that matter), she was forced to be cordial to them … most of the time.
Not that Ulysses and his brother were lacking for progeny – between them they had eight beautiful children. Effie and her sisters were different shades of blonde, their eyes varying blue hues. Della and her sisters Hattie and Pearl had dark hair and hazel eyes, and her two younger brothers, twelve and fourteen, were already handsome. Ulysses had made noises about wanting a son of his own, but figured himself well-blessed regardless.
The problem was that with Lula and Pearl, the youngest pair, debuting this year, there were now six Stout girls on the marriage mart. Effie and Della would be in danger of landing on the spinster shelf if they didn’t stop being picky and choose husbands for themselves. Ulysses had begun making noises about that, too – loud ones.
Effie set her cup down and squared her shoulders. “Della, you’re the first to know.”
“Know what?” Della asked with a tilt of her head.
“I’ve decided to marry Walter Durridge.”
Della stopped spooning sugar into her teacup. “What? That boor?”
“That rich boor,” Effie amended. “My father suggested that he’d bring both our families a lot of business. And he’s not completely unlovely …”
Della stared at her, shocked. They both knew Walter well, having met – and quickly passed on – him their first season. The Durridges were rich indeed, but Walter hadn’t suited either of them. Until now, perhaps, in desperate straits. “Couldn’t you hold off and see what other proposals come your way? As you said, the season has barely begun.”
“True, I could wait. Though Father has made it clear I have to marry someone.”
“So has mine. But … Walter Durridge?” Della shuddered.
“Let’s face it, cousin, the other bachelors haven’t been any better. At least my family likes Walter – that’s more than you could say for a lot of the proposals offered us over the last couple of years.”
“I agree,” Della said with a reluctant nod. “Most were, at best, hideous.”
“And most of the rest were barely upper middle class,” Effie added. “Credit to Walter, boor though he may be – at least his family’s bankbook is attractive.”
Della put a hand to her mouth and giggled. “You don’t mince words, do you?”
Della sighed, took a sip of her tea, and suddenly straightened when Effie’s father stormed into the drawing room. “Uncle Ulysses, what’s the matter?”
Ulysses Stout, a tall, thin man with light brown hair and mutton-chop sideburns, frowned before speaking. “Della, go home – your father has something to tell you. Effie, gather your sisters. I have an … unfortunate announcement to make.”
Effie thought she might faint. “Unfortunate?” she repeated. “How unfortunate? What are you talking about?”
“Do it!” he barked.
Effie and Della exchanged a quick look and hurried to comply. Della set down her cup, got up and rushed out the door. Effie lifted her skirts and hurried from the room, a string of unimaginable horrors running through her mind. She’d never seen him so upset. Had her sisters done something? But how could they – Minnie and Lula had been in their rooms resting after a seemingly endless barrage of callers that morning. Were they not going to receive an invitation to the Whites’ ball? Had the dressmaker they were using this season fallen ill, or worse, died? And oh, dread of dreads, had something happened to Walter Durridge?
When she returned to the drawing room, her sisters in tow, their father had calmed enough to sit and pour himself a cup of tea. “What is it – what’s happened?” she asked, glancing around. “Where’s Mother?”
“Your stepmother is still out. She … doesn’t know. But likely she will before she comes home.”
“Know what?” Minnie asked, her dark blue eyes wide with curiosity.
He looked at the trio and swallowed hard. “There’s no easy way to say this other than to say it.” He wiped his hands on his trousers. “We’re wiped out. We’ve lost everything.”
Effie felt her knees go weak. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“I mean it’s gone. All gone.” Ulysses put his face in his hands and did something none of them had ever seen him do. He cried.
Effie stopped breathing. Minnie went to their father, sat and put an arm around him. Lula stood next to Effie, tears in her own eyes.
“Ulysses!” Fanny Stout cried as she marched into the room, not even stopping to give the maid her wrap. “I just heard the most horrible rumor – that nasty Ethel Birch told me …”
“It’s true,” he interrupted. “We’ve nothing. He took it all. I should have seen this coming.”
Fanny stood, her eyes narrowed to slits. “How could you? How could you lose everything? What about Septimus?”
“He’s wiped out too. He’s telling his family now.”
Fanny’s hands flew to her mouth. “No! Not both of you!”
Lula’s lower lip trembled. “Father …?”
He looked at Minnie, her arm still around him, then at Lula and her tears, before finally fixing his eyes on Effie. She stood frozen like a Greek statue, her blonde curls spilling over one shoulder, pride the only thing holding her up. “Your Uncle Septimus and I have been embarrassingly swindled. There’s no better way to put it, and nothing we can do about it.”
Effie closed her eyes, trying to take his words in. “You’ve … you’ve …what?”
He sighed and wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. “We gambled, and we lost. It’s as simple as that. All of our money is gone.”
Effie took a step back. “All? What do you mean by all?”Later, she’d regret asking that.
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