Mail-Order Mistletoe Brides: Christmas Hearts / Mistletoe Kiss in Dry Creek (Love Inspired Historical Series)

Mail-Order Mistletoe Brides: Christmas Hearts / Mistletoe Kiss in Dry Creek (Love Inspired Historical Series)

4.4 17
by Jillian Hart, Janet Tronstad
     
 

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Big Sky Brides Find a Family—and Love—This Christmas

Christmas Hearts by Jillian Hart

Thirteen-year-old Amelia longs for a new ma. Little George needs a father's guidance. For their children's sake, Cole Matheson and Mercy Jacobs agree on a businesslike marriage. But though Cole tries to keep his distance, Mercy offers the very thing he's stopped

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Overview

Big Sky Brides Find a Family—and Love—This Christmas

Christmas Hearts by Jillian Hart

Thirteen-year-old Amelia longs for a new ma. Little George needs a father's guidance. For their children's sake, Cole Matheson and Mercy Jacobs agree on a businesslike marriage. But though Cole tries to keep his distance, Mercy offers the very thing he's stopped believing in—the chance to forge a real family.

Mistletoe Kiss in Dry Creek by Janet Tronstad

"Passable cook wanted as wife. Marriage in name only." Noah Miller doesn't expect any replies to his plainspoken ad, though it's the only kind of offer the guarded rancher's prepared to make. Until widowed Maeve Flanagan and her sweet daughter arrive, turning his home and his heart upside down….

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
12/01/2013
Agreeing to wed storekeeper Cole Matheson in order to provide a home for her young son and his teenage daughter, Mercy Jacobs heads for Angel Falls, MT, never thinking their simple marriage of convenience would become one of love in Hart's touching "Christmas Hearts." When her philandering husband is killed in a barroom brawl and she loses her job, Maeve Flanagan answers an ad to be Noah Miller's ranch cook and wife-in-name-only in Tronstad's humor-laced "Mistletoe Kiss in Dry Creek." VERDICT Two East Coast mail-order brides find love and belonging in this pair of tender, loosely linked romances that comprise the third faith-based mail-order bride holiday collaboration between veteran inspirational romance writers Tronstad and Hart, who live, respectively, in Washington State and Southern California.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780373829910
Publisher:
Love Inspired
Publication date:
12/03/2013
Series:
Love Inspired Historical Series
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Montana Territory
December 20, 1886

The steel clickety-clack of the rails slowed as the town of Miles City came into sight. Mercy Jacobs felt her heart catch. Being a mailorder bride was nerve-racking. With every mile and every stop on the route, her new home of Angel Falls came closer and closer.

And so did the reality of meeting the stranger she'd agreed to marry.

"Ma?" Her seven-year-old son fidgeted on the seat beside her, straining to see above the lip of the win-dowsill to get a better view of the approaching town. "Will Angel Falls be like this one?"

"I don't know, George. Maybe." She smiled past her nervousness. Cole Matheson, the man whose advertisement she'd answered, had written of a friendly railroad town lined with shops, one of which was his own.

"Will it be snowy, too?" Those wide baby-blue eyes filled with a child's hope.

"I reckon so, as your new pa said in his last letter to bundle up, that our first Christmas in Montana Territory was guaranteed to be white."

"Boy, I sure do wanna go out and play in that." George sighed wistfully. As the train chugged a little slower, the view of snowy fields, rolling hills and the snow-mantled roofs of homes clustered along the outskirts of town became crisp, no longer blurred. Easy to soak in and dream a little. George let out a sigh of longing that fogged part of the window. He swiped it away with one hand and watched two children building a snowman in their backyard.

Snow had been hard to come by at their home in North Carolina.

"Miles City, next stop!" The conductor's voice carried above the conversations of passengers in the crowded car, packed with folks traveling to be with family for the holiday.

"Well, that's me." Maeve Flanagan turned around in her seat to smile back at Mercy. The small child seated beside her peered out the window, too. "This is as far as we go."

"Are you nervous? You look nervous. Why, you're absolutely pale." Mercy leaned forward and caught her new friend's hand. They'd met back East when Maeve had boarded the train, a mailorder bride, too. "Take a deep breath."

"I'm fine. It's merely last-minute butterflies." Maeve smiled gently. She was truly striking at nearly six feet tall with beautiful red hair and blue-green eyes. "This is what I've been waiting for this entire journey. Meeting Mr. Noah Miller."

"He'll be everything you've been hoping for, I just know it." Mercy gave Maeve's gloved had a squeeze of encouragement. "Our prayers will be answered."

"We've prayed so often on this trip, surely the Good Lord has heard us." Maeve paused as the train's brakes squealed, making conversation difficult.

The train jerked to a stop, bouncing them in their seats. With the final jerk, all motion ceased. Her time with Maeve had come to an end, but she knew regardless of where their separate paths led them, they would always be friends. Some journeys bound hearts together, and this was one of them.

"Why, it's my two mailorder brides." The conductor, kindly Mr. Blake, paused in the aisle with a sympathetic smile on his round face. He might be a big man and built like on ox, but his heart was bigger. "I've been praying for you lovely ladies. Think of the happiness awaiting you. Why, I can't imagine a thing more romantic. It's almost like a story, first declaring love with each other through your letters and then finding a deeper love when you meet. It must be all poetry and declarations of the heart, like a fairy tale happening just to you. Not only am I a happily married man, so I know what's waiting for you, but it's the Christmas season. Love and happy endings are in the air."

"That's very kind of you," Maeve said gently, as if she wasn't so sure.

Mercy was even less sure. Love was not the reason she had traveled across the country to wed a stranger. She managed a weak smile.

Mr. Blake was not derailed easily. He pulled something from his pockets. He held up two sprigs of handsome green leaves bearing small white berries. A tiny bow of thin velvet ribbon added a festive touch. He grinned widely. "Think of this gift as a wish and a prayer for your happy marriages. For your first kisses on Christmas Day with your new husbands."

"It's mistletoe!" Maeve exclaimed, surprised.

"Oh, thank you." Mercy accepted hers, touched by his thoughtfulness. She wished to say more but he'd already touched his hand to his cap and moved on to help an elderly lady with her valise at the end of the car.

"Bless you, Mr. Blake." Maeve quickly pinned her spray of mistletoe to her collar. "I appreciate the thoughtful wish."

"And you'll have mine, too." Mercy gave Maeve a brief hug. "My prayers for you won't cease."

"Nor will mine for you." With that, Maeve grabbed her young daughter's hand. Little four-year-old Violet was adorable with her dark auburn hair, cherub's face and violet-blue eyes. She looked up at her mother expectantly. Maeve appeared grim as she stepped into the aisle. "Be happy, my friend."

"You, too." She knew how Maeve felt—hollow, knowing that Mr. Blake's wishes for them could not come true. A business arrangement did not a real marriage make. She hugged Maeve and said goodbye to Violet, and they were gone, traipsing down the aisle.

Lord, please grant her happiness in her new marriage, Mercy prayed. Somehow.

Her stomach clenched as she settled back into her seat. Soon, it would be her turn to step off the train and meet the man she'd agreed to bind her life to. She smoothed George's flyaway blond hair with her hand. That cowlick always stuck straight up, regardless of what she did. Love for her boy filled her heart.

He was the reason she'd accepted this mailorder situation. Regardless of the type of man Cole Mathe-son turned out to be, if he was a good father to her son, she would be content. She would endure any disappointments silently and be grateful for a convenient marriage, one without love.

*
• *

"Hurry, Pa! We'll be late for the train." Amelia's voice echoed through the dry-goods store, rising above the rustle and din of Christmas customers filling the aisles. The tap of her impatient gait struck like a hammer in uneven raps through the store as she skirted knots of customers and arrowed straight for him. "You promised, Pa. You said you'd keep an eye on the time."

"It's been a busy day." Cole Matheson looked over the top of his reading spectacles, pausing in tallying up Mrs. Lanna Wolf's purchases. He frowned at his daughter. "I haven't heard the train whistle. It's not time yet."

"It's four o'clock." The thirteen-year-old skidded to a stop in front of the counter, her apple cheeks pink from running, her strawberry-blond hair threatening to escape her braids, strands tumbling loose to curl around her face. She looked as if she'd been playing outside with the boys again, with chunks of snow melting in her hair and her blue flannel dress wet in spots. She gestured toward the clock on the wall. "The train's late and so are you. C'mon, we've got to hurry."

"I have to finish helping Mrs. Wolf," he said sternly, for all the good it did. Amelia was used to his ways and wasn't troubled by them. "Now politely apologize to Mrs. Wolf."

"I'm sorry, ma'am." Amelia bobbed in a quick curtsy. "But my new mother is coming on the train today, and Pa isn't nearly as excited about it as I am."

"Why, this is wonderful news. I hadn't heard." Lanna Wolf smiled gracefully, apparently not troubled by the child's behavior. "Congratulations to you both. What a happy thing to have happen right before Christmas."

"It's my Christmas present," Amelia was quick to explain. "It's the only gift I've asked for every Christmas for three Christmases in a row, and this year I finally wore Pa down. All I had to do was mention how I needed a ma on account of one day soon I'll be needing a corset, and that did it. It changed his mind on the spot."

"I suppose it would." Lanna laughed, seemingly unaware he'd turned two shades brighter than a beet.

"And she's really nice. I read every one of her letters and even wrote her two. She answered them both. I think she'll be a really good ma." Amelia released a dramatic, satisfied sigh. "It'll be the best Christmas present ever."

For his daughter, at least. Cole slipped his glasses higher on his nose and squinted at the column of figures. He doubled-checked his addition and gave Mrs. Wolf her total.

"Just add it to my account, please, Cole." Lanna settled her warm winter hat on her elaborate knot of hair. "Can you deliver this all by supper time?"

"My delivery boy will do his best." He scribbled a note to the boy on the slip, letting him know that Mrs. Wolf was a priority customer. "Hard to say with the storm moving in."

"Yes, it has the feel of a blizzard out there," Lanna agreed while his daughter bounced up and down in place with her "hurry, Pa" look. "Blessings on your new marriage, and Amelia, I'm so happy you'll have a new mother. What are the odds, I wonder, that she knows what she's getting into?"

"I'll behave, I promise." Amelia's sweet, heart-shaped face shone with earnestness. Amelia was a good girl, but she was rambunctious, regardless of how much she tried otherwise. Perhaps a prim and proper mother's influence would help curb that.

It was his only prayer. Mercy Jacobs came across in her letters as quiet and sensible, and heaven knew that was exactly what his daughter needed. Curbing Amelia's unladylike behavior was the true reason he'd agreed to marry a complete stranger. Every woman he'd approached in town either laughed at his convenient marriage proposition or gaped at him with horror.

At least he hoped Amelia was the reason those women had looked at him that way.

"I'll take over, boss." Middle-aged and efficient Eberta Quinn bustled over in her sensible brown frock. "I'll finish wrapping Mrs. Wolf's packages."

As Lanna hurried off to her next shopping errand, other customers piled in. They all had that hungry look, since Christmas was a handful of days away. Cole frowned, debating. "It's getting busy. I don't want to miss an opportunity for a sale. I should stay. Maybe—"

"No," Eberta scolded him, shaking her head. "I know it's a good time for business, but if you don't meet that lady at the train, what will she think? It will make a bad impression."

"This is a marriage of convenience." He'd been clear about that in his advertisement and in the many letters he'd exchanged with Mrs. Mercy Jacobs. "She's hardly expecting a bouquet and courting words. She'd likely appreciate a friendly greeting. Perhaps you could do it."

"Pa." Amelia stepped in, rolling her eyes and shaking her head at him as if she wasn't surprised by this at all. "For once, leave the shop to Eberta. This is really important."

It wasn't the shop he cared about as much as the fact that he wasn't so good at relationships. On this side of the counter, he understood his role. He felt comfortable with it. Greeting customers, totaling up purchases, helping people find what they were looking for. This was a transaction he understood.

His true worry that he would disappoint Mercy Jacobs, the woman who'd traveled so far with the heartfelt promise to love his daughter. What if she was secretly hoping for some semblance of a real marriage? What if she'd been wishing for a man capable of loving her?

His heart had been broken so long ago, and he couldn't even remember when it had been whole.

A whistle sounded in the distance, faint through the walls of the shop.

"It's coming! We need to hurry." Amelia's much smaller hand crept into his. "Oh, I can't wait to meet my new mother."

She held on so tight, the way she used to do when she was small.

It was a reminder that she was still a little girl, that while she'd grown tall and slender, she absolutely needed the woman who would be getting off that train.

"Angel Falls, next stop!" The conductor's friendly voice boomed through the car.

A frantic flutter of heartbeats tapped against her sternum. Mercy drew in a slow breath, trying to steady her nerves. This was the moment of truth. When she discovered whether everything Cole Matheson had written about his town, his daughter and himself were true. Her palms went clammy as she worried for her son. How would George feel if Mr. Matheson wasn't the man he claimed to be?

She smoothed down the boy's flyaway cowlick, willing it to stay down for a good first impression.

Just trust in the Lord, she told herself. Trust the feelings and the signs that have brought you here.

"Look, Ma!" George went up on both knees, struggling to get a good view as the train started its slow descent on the town. "There's horses in that field. Horses."

"So I see." She leaned in, love in her heart for her son, daring to hope for him. "Look at them run."

"They're racin' the train. Wow." George pressed his nose against the glass, hungry to lap up the sight of the majestic creatures in shades of blacks and browns galloping against the snowy-white world. His boyish shoulders lifted up with satisfaction. "What if those are Mr. Matheson's horses? What if one of 'em will be mine?"

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" She let her son dream, her sweet good boy, giving thanks for the man who'd promised to give George one of his horses and riding lessons. Everything George had been dreaming. Her throat closed up tight. She needed to believe Cole was a man who kept his promises. Her late husband, Timothy, had meant well, but he hadn't been so good with that. She hoped history wasn't about to repeat itself.

A touch on her sleeve caught her attention. The conductor stood there, smiling down at her, his gray hair peeking out from beneath his cap. "I'll get your satchels for you, ma'am. You have your attention full with your fine son."

"I'm gonna learn to ride like a real cowboy." George beamed, his grin ear to ear, his button face flushed pink with pleasure. Why, she'd never seen his navy blue eyes so bright.

She didn't know what she'd do if Cole Matheson let him down. Tears burned behind her eyes at the thought and she smiled weakly up at the conductor. "Thank you, Mr. Blake."

"My pleasure." The kindly man set both her and George's satchels on the floor at her feet. "I see you're wearing your mistletoe."

"I pinned it on. I need all the help I can get." She tried to laugh to hide her reservations, but she feared she didn't quite succeed.

Something that looked like understanding flashed in the older man's eyes. The anxious flutter in her chest doubled. So much depended on this first meeting. She thanked the conductor, who moved along to help another passenger with her bags, and looked out the window with George.

It does look like a friendly town, she thought over the squealing sound of the brakes. She drank in the sight of tidy streets, the white steeple of a church spearing up over the storefronts and the school bell tower not far away. The train made a final jerk to a stop, and the depot's platform stretched out before them. A half-dozen people waited for the train, searching the windows anxiously as if eager to be reunited with loved ones—all except for one man.

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