What kind of woman would answer an advertisement and marry a stranger? Escape into the history of the American West along with nine couples whose relationships begin with advertisements for mail-order brides. Placing their dreams for new beginnings in the hands of a stranger, will each bride be disappointed, or will some find true love?Perfect for the Preacher by Megan Besing 1897, Indiana Fresh from seminary, Amos Lowry believes marriage will prove to his skeptical congregation that he’s mature. If only his mail-order bride wasn’t an ex-saloon girl, and worse, pregnant. The Outlaw’s Inconvenient Bride by Noelle Marchand 1881, Wyoming After a gang of outlaws uses a mail-order bride advertisement to trick an innocent woman into servitude, an undercover lawman must claim the bride—even if it puts his mission in jeopardy. Train Ride to Heartbreak by Donna Schlachter 1895, Train to California John Stewart needs a wife. Mary Johannson needs a home. On her way west, Mary falls in love with another. Now both must choose between commitment and true love. Mail-Order Proxy by Sherri Shackelford 1885, Montana A mail-order marriage by proxy goes wrong when a clerical error leads to the proxies actually being married instead of the siblings they were standing in for. In their quest to correct the mistake, the two discover outlaws, adventure, and even love. To Heal Thy Heart by Michelle Shocklee 1866, New Mexico When Phoebe Wagner answers a mail-order bride ad that states Confederate widows need not apply, she worries what Dr. Luke Preston will do when he learns her fiancé died wearing gray. Miss-Delivered Mail by Ann Shorey 1884, Washington Helena Erickson impulsively decides to take advantage of her brother’s deception and travels to Washington Territory in response to a proposal of marriage intended for someone else. How will Daniel McNabb respond when Helena is nothing like he expected? A Fairy-Tale Bride by Liz Tolsma 1867, Texas Nora Green doesn’t feel much like Cinderella when her mail-order groom stands her up. But could the mysterious jester from the town’s play be her Prince Charming? The Brigand and the Bride by Jennifer Uhlarik 1876, Arizona Jolie Hilliard weds a stranger to flee her outlaw family but discovers her groom is an escaped prisoner. Will she ever find happiness on the right side of the law? The Mail-Order Mistake by Kathleen Y’Barbo 1855, Texas Pinkerton detective Jeremiah Bingham is investigating a mail-order bride scam bankrupting potential grooms. When unsuspecting orphan May Conrad answers his false ad, she becomes the prime suspect in the case.
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|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
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About the Author
Megan Besing adores reading, writing, and reviewing stories with happily-ever-afters. Her own writing has received many awards, including being a multi-category finalist in ACFW’s Genesis and a winner of MCRW’s Melody of Love contest. She lives in Indiana with her husband and their children where she dreams of the beach and drinks way too many Vanilla Cokes. Connect with Megan at www.meganbesing.com.
Noelle Marchand is an award-winning author who graduated summa cum laude from Houston Baptist University with a BA in Mass Communication and Speech Communication. Her love of literature began as a child when she would spend hours reading under the covers long after she was supposed to be asleep. At fifteen, she completed her first novel. Since then, she has continued to pursue her writing dreams. She enjoys spending time with family, learning about history, and watching classic cinema.
Donna Schlachter lives in Colorado, where the Wild West still lives. She travels extensively for research, choosing her locations based on local stories told by local people. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime, and facilitates a local critique group. One of her favorite activities is planning her next road trip with hubby Patrick along as chauffeur and photographer. Donna has published 12 books under her own name and that of her alter ego, Leeann Betts, and she has ghostwritten five books. You can follow her at www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com and on Facebook at www.fb.me/DonnaSchlachterAuthor or Twitter at www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter
Since her debut in 2011, Sherri Shackelford has become a highly acclaimed author of nine novels published with Love Inspired Historical. Her debut novel was a finalist in the ACFW Genesis Awards. Her books have earned a Readers’ Choice nomination from Romantic Times Magazine, as well as placing in the National Readers’ Choice Awards. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter. A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.
Michelle Shocklee is the author of The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill, the first two books in the historical romance series The Women of Rose Hill. She has stories in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books and writes an inspirational blog. With both her sons grown, she and her husband of thirty-plus years enjoy poking around historical sites, museums, and antique stores near their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at www.MichelleShocklee.com.
Ann Shorey has been a full-time writer for over twenty years. She made her fiction debut with The Edge of Light, Book One in the At Home in Beldon Grove series. Her latest releases include Love’s Sweet Beginning, the third book in the Sisters at Heart series, and several novellas. Ann and her husband make their home in southwestern Oregon.
Liz Tolsma is a popular speaker and an editor and the owner of the Write Direction Editing. An almost-native Wisconsinite, she resides in a quiet corner of the state with her husband and their two daughters. Her son proudly serves as a U.S. Marine. They adopted all of their children internationally, and one has special needs. When she gets a few spare minutes, she enjoys reading, relaxing on the front porch, walking, working in her large perennial garden, and camping with her family.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a preteen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a BA in writing, she has won five writing competitions and was a finalist in two others. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenage son, and four fur children.
Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee of more than eighty novels with almost two million copies in print in the US and abroad. She has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award as well a Reader’s Choice Award and is the winner of the 2014 Inspirational Romance of the Year by Romantic Times magazine. Kathleen is a paralegal, a proud military wife, and a tenth-generation Texan, who recently moved back to cheer on her beloved Texas Aggies. Connect with her through social media at www.kathleenybarbo.com.
Read an Excerpt
Southern Indiana 1897
Sophie Ross worried the edges of the secondhand Bible on her lap. If only she'd been the one to have worn out its leather binding, she might not have the baggage that she did — literally — the carpetbag tucked beneath the pew served as a reminder of how important today was.
It shamed her to admit she wasn't hearing much of the sermon. Her focus remained on the preacher himself. His description was exactly as he'd written.
Brown hair on the verge of blond. Medium build, a bump on the bridge of my nose from when my brother swung a stick that bruised my face for weeks.
Not that the bump appeared visible from her seat in the back. She peered over an array of bonnets and hats with flowers and feathers and, quite possibly, one topped by a bird's nest with speckled eggs. Sophie smoothed her faded calico dress. Her shined boots didn't compare to the silk dresses and lace gloves across the aisle.
After the closing song, those in attendance flocked to the exit with more gusto than was sung during any of the hymns. No one noticed her in the corner. Neither had anyone greeted her upon arrival. Of course she'd snuck in as services began. Nerves had twisted her stomach early in the morning, even though she knew God had this whole situation under control. He'd lined everything up when she needed it most. But who wouldn't be a little anxious about meeting the man she was about to spend the rest of her life with?
Sunshine flooded in the opened doors, swirling around the vaulted ceiling and highlighting the ornate stained-glass windows, much fancier than Pastor T's sanctuary. She shook her head. A sanctuary — a church — didn't belong to one preacher or another. They were all God's. Only God's.
At last Sophie's fiancé stood before her. This was it. The start of a new forever. He extended his hand in greeting. "Glad to have you join us for service today. I'm Pastor Amos Lowry." His grip was strong and sure, and to her surprise, she didn't hesitate or even flinch. God was indeed answering her prayers. Every last one.
He released her hand and cleared his throat. "Are you in town visiting family?"
Right. She hadn't sent a photograph of herself. He couldn't recognize someone he'd never seen before. "I'm Miss Ross."
No recognition registered on his face. She leaned against the pew back in front of her. They'd only exchanged five letters after she'd answered his ad. It was fine that he didn't recognize her name, even when she couldn't imagine forgetting his. Those two words had been floating around her mind for weeks.
Sophie tucked a wayward curl behind her ear. "I'm ..." She licked her lips. Why was this so difficult to say? "I'm Sophie Ross, your mail-order bride."
"My mail-order bride? You're ..." He squinted as if trying to make her into someone else. Was her description inaccurate? She'd written exactly what Mrs. T suggested, even though Sophie never would have called her eyes — lovely, of all things. They were too large. Too dark brown to be considered pleasant. But Mrs. T had insisted.
Doubt, or something close to worry, flashed in his eyes that held a thin green ring around their acorn center. His eyes, on the other hand, were quite lovely indeed. He glanced toward the front of the sanctuary where people mingled and the pianist organized her music.
"I'm sorry." She dipped her chin. "I thought you were agreeable to ... us." The last part barely audible with her lips trembling. She resisted the urge to tug his latest letter out and show him the words she'd memorized. What had given her hope for a normal future.
As long as you know what will be expected of a preacher's wife, and you're still willing, I'd very much appreciate you arriving once you've had time to put your affairs in order.
Hours were spent probing Mrs. T on all things preacher-wife-like, and after much prayer, Sophie decided she could, with the Lord's help, become such a spouse. One who prayed and cooked for those in need. Be considerate of the extra time the church would take from her and her husband's moments together. She understood that money probably would remain tight for their family. Marrying a preacher may not be agreeable to every woman, but for Sophie, it was the safest route.
But no proof of his promise on paper matched the message expressed on his face. In person, willingness or not, she wasn't what he hoped for. How could she have thought she, of all people, would make a suitable preacher's wife?
"I'll go." She reached for her carpetbag, the one she should have kept at the boardinghouse. When she'd arrived yesterday, Amos was away visiting a family. She'd had enough for room and board for two nights. However, Momma had trained her to never allow her valuables out of sight. Considering this was all she had left, Sophie couldn't afford to go against her upbringing at least on this one particular matter.
The handle slipped from her grip and fell with a thump. Where would she go? Anywhere but near that obscene building she was raised in, and she couldn't go back and stay with Pastor T and his wife. Not with the sudden death of their son-in-law, and their daughter and grandchildren returning to live with them.
"No. No." He grabbed her carpetbag off the polished wooden floor and placed it on the pew separating them. His hands found hers, surrounding them in warmth. "Please stay. I held every intention of making a grander impression on you ... m–my bride." He pressed his lips together as if the words tasted funny.
"I'm the one who must apologize. I was only caught off guard. I believed you'd write again to tell me of your date of arrival. I had planned on sending funds for your travels. ..." His fingers shifted, almost linking in between a few of hers. His touch didn't bring fear, but rather a gentle promise of safety. A hope of a true home waiting where she could put everything behind her. "But I'm glad you're here now."
"Then ... we're still to wed?"
"Indeed. If you'll have me?"
"Pastor Amos?" A tiny speck of a woman stood at the end of the pew. The feather on the side of her hat very well may have been taller than the woman herself. White gloves concealed everything up to her wrists. A patchwork of wrinkles outlined her eyes, the only clue hinting at an older age.
Amos released Sophie and backpedaled as far as the pew behind him would allow.
"Will you still be joining us for the midday meal?"
If Sophie had known Amos any better, or at all, she'd believe she'd caught him grimacing. But with the feather woman's wide grin, apparently, she hadn't noticed the way he'd crinkled his nose.
"Ah, yes. Your generous invitation. Would it be possible ..." Amos rubbed the bump on his nose. "What I mean to say —"
"I think he's worried about your cooking, Margaret." A bearded man stepped beside the feather lady, patting his thick stomach. "You've nothing to worry about, Pastor Amos. My wife can't mess up beef stew and cornbread. Her persimmon pudding on the other hand ..." He let out a low whistle.
"William, please. That was one time. Surely, I've made up for that awful moment. Even your mother forgave me for serving such a burnt dish."
William chuckled, his stomach jiggling, proving he was doing more than fine on his wife's cooking. "Tell that to Dusty. That dog still cowers when we bring a bucket of persimmons into the house."
"I'm sure you're a fine cook, Mrs. Olmstead. However, something's come up. Arrived, really." Amos stole a peek at Sophie, his face unreadable, but at least there was no scowl. "A personal —"
Margaret's eyes grew large, her gaze darting back and forth between Sophie and Amos. She thumped her knuckles against William's chest. "Is this who I think it is?"
William's beard pulled upward as he chewed in his bottom lip. He stilled Margaret's knocking fingers. "I don't know why you're asking me?"
She rose on tiptoes and tugged on William's ear. "When will you learn to use these? The good Lord knows He's gone near blessed ya with an acre of them. You were at the pastor interviews. Hmm? This must be her. The pastor's future wife."
"Depends on the vote." A gruff male voice carried across the sanctuary. From the corner, a man marched toward their group, the spurs on his boots echoing with each rattled step. Graying whiskers covered his chin and a mole rode on top of his left eyebrow. He took in all of Sophie the way men had assessed Momma in her work attire.
Sophie shivered and crossed her arms over her chest.
William grunted. "Majority will rule, Hanson. You've already swayed the preacher into ordering a wife. So you see, even you can't say he's not the perfect man for the job."
A vote? Wasn't Amos already their pastor? The church wasn't going to vote on their upcoming marriage, were they? Mrs. T never discussed anything on that church matter. Amos' first letter explained why he desired to obtain a wife quickly, but he failed to mention she'd have to be approved of — by more than just him.
Margaret clapped, the feather on her hat wavering like a pendulum on a grandfather clock. "That's it." She pointed at Amos, as if Hanson hadn't added a layer of tension. "That's why you were trying to get out of your invitation to lunch. Not because of my cooking, William. You thought you'd be rude asking to bring your intended along with you." She clucked her tongue. "Have no fear. Ha! See what I did there? Your sermon being on the fear of the Lord. Which was intriguing and profound. Anyhow, I've got plenty of stew."
She clapped her hands twice more as if she might break into a jig. Did church people do that sort of thing? Sophie wasn't certain of all the rules yet. Pastor T had assured her she knew all the important ones. She hoped so.
"I'm the luckiest lady in the church." Margaret continued on, without kicking up her heels. "What an opportunity to be the first to get to know our soon-to-be pastor's wife. What a fit the quilting circle will make when they discover I got to feed you first."
"Humph," Hanson grumbled.
William arched his shoulders. "Would you like to join us for some stew, Hanson? Oliver and Ruby, too. As my wife said, we've got plenty." The few other families circulating the sanctuary stopped their conversations. The whole room seemed to be leaning in, waiting for Hanson's answer.
"Hardly." He gave Sophie one more glance-over before stomping away and slamming the church doors behind him.
William shifted closer to Amos. "Don't worry about Hanson. And I believe if you give everyone a quick introduction, the crowd will get what they stayed for, and we can be on our way to eat that stew."
Amos smiled, but his jaw was clenched. "Welcome to Hilltop Chapel, Sophie. These are the elders and their families. Well, most of them." He introduced them, their names bouncing around Sophie's mind. She'd met so many new people, learned so many things since Pastor T found her kneeling near Momma's grave and offered her a life outside the saloon. How would she ever remember it all? "And this is Sophie Ross, my fiancée."
Margaret sighed. "Ahh, I remember the good ol' days of courting. Pastor Amos, don't forget women like flowers and gifts and walks and compliments." She shot William a heated look before beaming at Sophie. "But you won't have any trouble coming up with compliments like William. Sophie here's a beauty. Truly." The other wives nodded, murmuring their agreement. After a moment, Margaret's brows narrowed, and she put her fists on her hips. "Pastor Amos, isn't she a beauty?"
Amos blinked twice before loosening his tie. "Yes. Of course. Sophie, you look ..." The tiniest bead of sweat etched on his brow as his lips worked silently.
Sympathy clutched at her uneasy middle. The poor man. Nothing like putting him on the spot. She shook her head. He didn't have to give her a compliment. Didn't have to do any of those things Margaret listed off. He'd pledged to marry her. Nothing else was required, especially in front of all these strangers.
"You're more than I dared to pray for," he whispered.
How wrong she'd been. She did need to hear those words. His approval settled in her heart, much richer praise than hearing anything concerning her appearance, because she'd seen firsthand how quickly outward beauty faded.
"All right." William rubbed his palms together. "Dinnertime."
The knot that had awoken Sophie this morning tightened at the thought of food. Lord, please let these nerves go away soon.
Amos gave her a crooked grin as if he, too, had been praying the same thing. Maybe it wasn't doubt she'd seen earlier in his eyes, but a mirror of her own nerves. What a gift God had given her, a man who could overlook her upbringing. Now, if only the congregation would agree.
Amos craned his neck, feeling much like a schoolboy. If only his mail-order bride had been seated across from him instead of beside. Sophie Ross — his Sophie — was beautiful. Her description in her letters hadn't done her justice.
I'm of average height. Slender. Honey hair and have a dusting of freckles that frame my lovely brown eyes.
Why would she ever have needed to answer a mail-order ad? God had blessed him. There was no simple way around it.
In the Olmstead's kitchen, they huddled near the center of the long table. A white oblong doily separated William and Margaret from him and Sophie like a path through the Red Sea. Four other chairs sat against the wall as if being punished. A Bible, proudly displayed, rested on a shelf. Was that a glare from the sunlight, or was there dust on the cover? Perhaps their daily reading Bible was in a handier location.
Amos managed a spoonful of food. On any other day, the meal would have been a welcomed treat. Mrs. Olmstead knew how to liven up beef stew. However, how was he supposed to get to know his future wife when the dinner table topics centered around a dog's intestinal issues, and why Margaret chose not to include carrots in today's menu?
Speaking of the Olmstead's dog, he nudged his wet nose against Amos' elbow. With his grayish-brown coloring, there was no guessing why he'd been named Dusty. The dog wagged his tail and whined, his pleading eyes set on Amos' next bite.
"Dusty. Corner. Get on over." William pointed to a faded patchwork quilt, child-sized, that lay over a flattened pillow.
The dog might as well have Amos' share with the way nerves were attacking his body, preventing him from enjoying the food. He should have asked to reschedule their invitation, but he couldn't afford to be rude. Olmstead had been his biggest supporter during his interviews. Amos resisted the urge to yank off his tie. At least the meal provided ample time to consider how to make a better start with Sophie.
He ground his teeth against another tasty lump of stew. He should have been there to pick her up from the stagecoach. Or had she arrived on the train? Or both? Where was she staying, and most importantly, how does one go about wooing their intended? Amos took a drink and accidently moved his leg too far to the left, brushing against Sophie's dress.
She sucked in a breath.
"Excuse me." Had the thought of him near sent her in a panic? With all her beauty, maybe he hadn't measured up to her expectations?
Her cheeks turned pink. No, perhaps nerves, like him? He prayed that's all it was.
Margaret crumbled a piece of cornbread into her stew. "Have I managed to mess up the meal? Everyone's hardly eating."
William tilted his bowl and downed the rest of its contents. A belch loud enough to rival the church bells announced his satisfaction. "It's more than fine."
Amos waited for a reaction from Sophie, but she didn't seem fazed by William's lack of table manners. Pauline's quick tongue would have lashed William before he'd had a chance to close his mouth. Perhaps God had done him right by allowing his childhood friend to reject his offer of marriage. Of course God knew better. At the time he'd disagreed, but now ...
"So when's the wedding? I assume it will be after service. That way all the families won't have to make more than one trip into town for the week."
"Marg, easy. These two might want to get to know each other first."
"Get to know each other?" She batted at his words. "They'll have the rest of their lives for that. What this town needs is a wedding. It's been much too dull around here." Margaret leaned forward, her focus on Amos. "Will it be this Sunday or the next?"
Amos automatically looked to Sophie. That was a good sign, right? He was already receptive toward his future helpmate. This fiancé-husband stuff wouldn't be too difficult.
Sophie's long lashes fluttered. She really had the perfect amount of freckles.
William cleared his throat, a smirk on his face.
Right. There had been a question. "Well, I ..."
"I imagine they'll have to wait until Pastor Gable can return a trip here, dear. It's not like Amos can go and perform his own wedding. He'd planned on returning for a visit next month."
"Well. That may work. It would give the quilting circle a chance to finish our project. Oh, I think you two are going to love it. We may have just enough time to finish for the wedding night."
The air in the room grew so thick Amos drew his napkin to his face.
Margaret's brows pinched. "Are you all right?"
Amos wiped his forehead. As long as there was no more talk of the wedding night. Amos loosened his tie. He hadn't even thought to discuss that in his letters. Would theirs be a marriage in name only? He hoped not.
"Sophie?" Margaret asked, not looking at him.
Sophie's coloring had vanished. Her fingers clinched the collar of her dress. What a horrible fiancé he was turning out to be. He should be more focused on Sophie, not himself.
Amos took her free hand and rubbed his thumb along her smooth skin.
Sophie stared at their joined hands. "Shall I return closer to the wedding then?" Her voice fell into a whisper.
Excerpted from "The Mail-Order Brides Collection"
Copyright © 2018 Kathleen Y'Barbo.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Perfect for the Preacher,
The Outlaw's Inconvenient Bride,
Train Ride to Heartbreak,
To Heal Thy Heart,
A Fairy-Tale Bride,