SECOND CHANCE REUNION
It's been five years since Adelaide Harper broke Chris Johansen's heart–and their long–distance engagement. But when she steps off a train in Peppin, Texas, and strolls back into Chris's life, he can't help but panic. Because to avoid his parents' plan to arrange a marriage for him, he's let his family believe he and Adelaide are still engaged.
Adelaide is facing her own troubles with a matchmaking mama and a parade of aggravating suitors. So pretending to let Chris court her could help them both. And after five years, there's no need to worry that the time together will reignite their long–buried love…is there?
Bachelor List Matches: A hand–picked bride for every bachelor in small–town Texas.
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Chris Johansen was running out of time. Worse yet, he was running out of women.
He had to find a bride before his parents figured out his long-distance engagement to the sweetheart of his youth had ended years ago. If they did, they'd send for a mailorder bride from their old country of Norway faster than he could say "Goodbye freedom." Or, "Hello, stranger."
He'd tried to find himself a wife among the women of Peppin, but all he had to show for his efforts was a bruised ego. Every single one of the women he'd expressed an interest in had turned him down flat. They'd also turned right around and married other men within months or even weeks of his failed proposal. Isabelle Bradley was no exception. He'd proposed to her only a few weeks ago. Now, in a matter of minutes, she was going to marry the town blacksmith and become Mrs. Rhett Granger. Chris had been asked to play his fiddle at the reception. First, he was supposed to collect his twenty-year-old sister, Sophia, from their parents' house.
The rich strains of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" grew louder as he approached the front door. He followed the music to the parlor where his father, Olan, served as conductor for his siblings. Fifteen-year-old Viktor avoided Chris's gaze, concentrating on his cello. Hans, the brother whose birth had come as a surprise to their parents eight years ago, sacrificed a few warbling notes of the flute to offer a gap-toothed grin. August, at eighteen the brother closest in age to Chris, caught his eye and offered a sympathetic look.
As the tension built, Chris waited until his father's decisive, swirling hand motion brought the music to a halt before saying, "Please, tell me the only inspiration for this music is the wedding ceremony for Rhett and Isabelle."
August lowered his viola and shook his head. "Pa found a bride for you."
"Congratulations," Viktor mumbled in an apologetic tone.
Chris glanced to his father for confirmation. Olan nodded. Chris swallowed hard. "Pa, we need to talk."
Chris didn't wait for Olan's response. He just turned on his heel and walked out onto the front porch, where his father joined him.
"I know what you're thinking," Olan said, "but please just hear me out."
Chris gave a single nod before sitting beside Olan on the porch swing. "Son, how long has it been since you've seen Adelaide?"
"About five years, I reckon."
His father shook his head. "And she's still holding you to a promise you made five years ago."
Not exactly. Chris glanced away, resisting the urge to loosen his shoestring tie. The stranglehold he felt had nothing to do with his tie and everything to do with guilt. When his parents had sat him down right after graduation to talk about his future, he'd told the truth by admitting his unannounced engagement to Adelaide Harper. At the time, he'd believed that she would follow through on her promise to return to Peppin one day and become his wife. However, Adelaide had broken off their engagement four years ago.
Chris had neglected to mention that small fact to his parents. Only Sophia knew, because she happened to be with him when he'd received Adelaide's last letter. Thankfully, she hadn't breathed a word about it to anyone.
"Adelaide ought to have sense enough to marry you. Or, at least, break things off so that you can marry a good Norwegian girl like Britta Solberg."
Chris narrowed his eyes. "Just a minute. Who is Britta Solberg?"
"Your aunt Karen's friend's cousin. By all reports, she is a steady, sensible girl."
"Who is looking for passage to America?"
His father looked downright insulted. "And what's wrong with that? It was only twelve years ago that we arrived in America ourselves. Don't forget that, or that not everyone back home is able to arrange a passage over here. It's our duty to help our family and friends. There isn't enough land to go around for farmers in the country. The factories in the cities barely pay enough for the workers to live on."
"I know, Pa."
"Then, please, be reasonable." Olan stood and placed a hand on Chris's shoulder. "I understand that your heart is attached to Adelaide, but is it possible that hers is not as attached to you?"
Knowing the answer to that, Chris couldn't hold his father's dark blue gaze.
"You are my oldest son and the epitome of everything that goes with that mantlesensible, responsible, intelligent and a good example to your younger siblings. You deserve a woman who can match you. If you think that woman is Adelaide, then do something to fight for her. Otherwise, give Britta a chance."
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell the truth about everything. Yet, how could he? If his father was pressuring him this hard while under the impression that Chris was practically engaged to someone else, how much worse would it be if the truth came out?
Everything else in his life seemed planned for him, was it so horrible that he wanted to pick the woman he'd spend the rest of his life with? He knew exactly the kind he wanted, too. She would be someone who evoked only the safe, companionable kind of love. He'd had more than enough of the all-consuming variety and the heartbreak that went with it.
Olan squeezed Chris's shoulder before releasing it. "Think about what I said, but don't take too long to do so. I want to see at least one of my children married and, perhaps if the Lord is especially generous, hold my first grandchild."
Chris knew his father's words didn't stem from impatience but fear. Doc said that Olan's time on Earth was limited. How limited, it was impossible to guess.
One thing was for certain, stress made Olan's heart flutters and pains come stronger and more often. Chris, along with his mother, sister and three younger brothers did their best to keep the atmosphere at home and the store light, comfortable and peaceful. However, they all feared a day might be coming when their efforts wouldn't be enough.
Sophia interrupted his somber ruminations by stepping onto the porch. "Chris, I'm ready. We'd better go. I don't want to be late."
Chris barely managed to wait until they were out of their father's earshot before saying, "Tell me everything you know about this Bridget Saltzberg person."
"Well, I know her name is Britta Solberg, but that's pretty much it. No, wait. I do know one more thing." She pinned him with her ice-blue eyes. "You sure as shooting better not marry this woman because that will set a precedent, and there is no way I'm marrying some man I've never met from a country I hardly remember. Just tell our parents you won't do it."
"Have you forgotten that you're the only one who gets away with the saying no to our parents?" He released a long-suffering sigh. "They've spoiled you rotten, princess."
She gave an offended little laugh. "Surely, I deserve a little of it after growing up with four brothers and no sisters."
"Hmm. That's debatable."
She rolled her eyes, then joined arms with him and nudged him with her shoulder. "Don't give up on finding someone, Chris. You can't."
He covered her hand with his and gave it a gentle squeeze. Her encouragement was sweet even if it wasn't entirely altruistic. They didn't have time to discuss it any further for they arrived at Bradley's Boardinghouse where the wedding was set to take place. As they walked up the sidewalk laid out on the boardinghouse's immaculate lawn, Chris couldn't help shaking his head, "I can't believe the Bradleys are selling this place."
Sophia stopped in her tracks. "They are? How do you always know these things before I do?"
"You didn't know?" He grinned when she shook her head. "You've got to do a better job of keeping your ear to the ground. I guess you also don't know that Isabelle's father is going to take over running the hotel, which is why they are going to have the reception there. Or, that Isabelle and Rhett bought a new house to live in after they return from visiting his family. Meanwhile, her family will be moving to a house just down the street from theirs"
"Thank you, town crier, but I'd like to see the bride walk down the aisle if you don't mind."
She was right to urge him onward, for they ended up being the last guests to take their seats. The bride was radiant. The groom looked more confident than Chris had ever seen him, which was saying something since Rhett had always been awkward around women. There was no stammering or hesitating from the bride or groom as they said their vows.
A few minutes, later Chris kissed the bride's cheek and offered his congratulations to the groom. Rather than releasing his hand after the handshake, Rhett caught his arm and hauled him into the empty kitchen. Chris managed to pull away from Rhett's grasp and frowned at him. "Hey, what's all this about?"
"Sorry for the manhandling. I need to get back to my guests and my bride so this has to be quick. Since Isabelle didn't accept your proposal, am I right to assume that you're still looking for a wife?"
Chris grimaced. "Yes, but I'd rather keep that news quiet if I can."
"You do realize you've tried to court nearly every woman in town, right?"
"Yes, but I assumed they'd all be good enough to keep it to themselves, or at the very least to each other. As it is, my parents don't know I'm looking for a wife and that's the way I want to keep it."
"They won't hear it from me. The reason I pulled you over here was to give you something that should help." Rhett glanced surreptitiously at the kitchen door before pulling a folded piece of paper out of his suit-coat pocket and holding it between them. "Wherever this thing goes, love seems to follow."
"Is that "
Rhett nodded. "The Bachelor List."
"Really?" Chris almost didn't recognize the hushed, eager, nearly awed tone of his own voice. "Do you have any idea how much I pestered Ellie for a look at that?"
Their friend Ellie Williams was the most successful matchmaker in town. Her list of all the eligible men in Peppinlined up with who she saw as their matcheshad sparked a bit of a frenzy among the bachelors last fall. It had also helped her find her own match with her childhood-friend-turned-husband Law-son. However, she seemed to resent the attention it had brought her, and refused to answer any questions about who any man's match might be.
Chris wasn't sure how Rhett had ended up with it. At the moment, he didn't care. This list would point him in the direction of the woman who was meant for him. The love stuff he could figure out later.
He reached for the first real hope of success he'd had in months, only to see it disappear behind Rhett's back. Rhett gave him a tempering look. "Not so fast. This is a very powerful listor, rather, God's been using it in very powerful ways. Quinn Tucker was able to convince Helen to marry him simply by showing her this and because she loved the nieces and nephews in his custody who needed a mother. This list helped me recognize that I was in love with Isabelle and set me on the quest to win her heart. I know God will use it for good in your life, too, or else I wouldn't have felt prompted to give it to you. However, like anything with power, it comes with rules."
"What kind of rules?"
"You have to keep it safe and keep it secret. Don't change anything on it. If Ellie finds out you have it, she'll ask for it. Don't give it back to her. Instead, pass it along to another bacheloras the Lord directs you, of course. Do you agree to all that?"
"I agree. Now may I have it?"
Rhett handed over the list, patted Chris on the shoulder and then left, presumably to return to his bride. Alone in the kitchen, Chris wasted no time in unfolding the list. He scanned the column of names for his own. Finding it, his gaze also landed on the name of the woman with whom he'd been matched. His jaw clenched.
This made no sense. Why would Ellie match him with a woman who no longer even lived in Peppin? Actually, it wasn't that hard to guess. Ellie had been part of their childhood crowd. She must have seen them together and thought exactly what Chris hadthat they were meant for each. That, somehow, someway, Adelaide would return to him and they would be together.
They'd all been wrong. He and Adelaide weren't together. And there was absolutely no chance that she would ever return to Peppin.
"There is absolutely no chance I'm getting off this train in Peppin." Leaning back in the chair of the small desk provided in their private Pullman car, Adelaide Harper crossed her arms and lifted her chin.
Her stepfather, Everett Holden, allowed only a hint of a humor to show in his eyes. "This is the last station that will allow us to transfer onto a train to Houston, so you'll forgive me if I get off here. Be so good as to send your mother and me a telegram when you get to Louisiana so that we know you've gotten that far safely. I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip."
Adelaide watched as he grabbed his suitcase, reporter's notebook and Kodak camera, then exited the private train car. With a satisfied nod, she turned her attention back to the manuscript spread out on the sloped writing surface of her portable desk box. If he thought he'd scare her into joining him with the prospect of an extended trip on a train, he had another thing coming. She'd like nothing better than to continue on alone. She did her best writing while traveling, which was why she always begged to go along with him on his rare but necessary business trips. They always used separate private cars which meant she could close the door and block out everything while the clack of the train wheels lulled her into the imaginary worlds she created on paper.
She also treasured the short breaks these trips gave her from her mother's constant attempts at matchmaking. Adelaide was almost certain that with a little more hard work she could become an independent woman who wouldn't have to settle for romance or marriage. Rose might realize that, if she ever acknowledged that Adelaide was a published and increasingly successful author.
They'd become a part of Houston's high society through her mother's marriage to Everett. His family name was one of the most respected in the city. Her mother expected Adelaide to be a proper society lady, and society ladies didn't stay spinsters or write dime novels. They got married, had children and dedicated their time to charity or musical accomplishments.
Adelaide had never fit into that world. She'd never truly fit anywhere, despite or perhaps because of the fact that she'd lived in so many places growing up. That's why she enjoyed writing. It gave her the chance to create a place that belonged to her even if she couldn't truly live there.
A knock sounded on the half-open door. Expecting to see her stepfather, she was surprised to find it was the porter, instead. "Miss, the gentleman said you needed help with a suitcase."
With a resigned sigh, she tucked her pencil and papers into a compartment of the portable desk before folding it into its box form. She did her best to ignore the mix of panic and dread filling her stomach as she nodded toward the suitcase. "Yes, please. It's on the bed."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I always enjoy the stories that Noelle writes about characters in Peppin, Texas! This story focuses on Adelaide and Chris. As in previous stories in this series, there is a Bachelor List that someone made up that matches men in the town to ladies in the town and it's been very successful so far! when Chris sees his match is Adelaide, he can't believe it because they were previously engaged 5 years ago and Adelaide left town and hasn't been back. She broke up with him and he doesn't see how they can possibly be a match! Then, all of the sudden, there is Adelaide, back in his town again and things take off from there! This story has a little bit of mystery, a lot of romance, family issues, and former characters from previous books! I enjoyed it a lot. I would recommend it!