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Mail-Order Brides of the West: Trudy (A Montana Sky Series Novel), page 1

 

Mail-Order Brides of the West: Trudy (A Montana Sky Series Novel)
 


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Mail-Order Brides of the West: Trudy (A Montana Sky Series Novel)


  MAIL-ORDER BRIDES OF THE WEST:

  TRUDY

  by

  Debra Holland

  Copyright © 2013 by Debra Holland

  ISBN: 978-1-939-813-02-2

  Kindle Edition

  All rights reserved by the author. The reproduction or other use of any part of this publication without the prior written consent of the rights holder is an infringement of the law.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I have many people to be thankful to for their help in writing Trudy’s story.

  To Caroline Fyffe for going with my idea

  to have a joint mail-order bride series

  To my editors:

  Louella Nelson

  Linda Carroll-Bradd

  Adela Brito

  To my formatters:

  Amy Atwell

  Rob Preece

  To my beta readers:

  Hannelore Holland

  Hedy Codner

  Larry Codner

  To my cousin and personal assistant:

  Mindy Codner Freed

  To Ewout VanderWende,

  Volunteer blacksmith at The Museum of the Rockies

  To all my readers:

  Thanks for loving my stories!

  1886

  SEVEN YEARS BEFORE

  WILD MONTANA SKY TAKES PLACE

  CHAPTER ONE

  St. Louis

  At last, I’m free! Trudy Bauer stood in the parlor of her father’s home, watching her younger sister Anna and her groom Martin Ramsey accept the congratulations of their family and friends. Anna glowed with joy, and her lanky young husband, who’d just graduated from divinity school, gazed at her with pride. Anna had chosen not to wear white, opting for a more practical wedding gown in slate blue that matched her eyes, with only a hint of a bustle. Her future as a minister’s wife meant she was destined to wear subdued dresses for the rest of her life.

  The first white roses of spring decorated the mantle of the fireplace and matched the bouquet held by the bride and the single blossom pinned to the groom’s lapel. The veil tucked back over Anna’s face dimmed her dark red hair and almost matched her porcelain complexion.

  Trudy didn’t envy her sister’s married state, but she did feel some twinges about the couple’s plans to travel to Africa as missionaries. A sigh escaped. In her favorite novel, Jane Eyre, St. John had died as a missionary in Africa. Even though she knew the man was a fictional character, his death stood as an illustration of all the dangers Martin and Anna would be undertaking.

  She glanced out the window at the street of Queen Anne houses, planning how soon she could escape St. Louis and embark on her own adventure. She was so tired of residing in the city and longed to live in nature—to see glorious vistas every day.

  At the end of the week, Trudy promised herself, thinking of the advertisement she’d locked away in her desk drawer. As soon as the rest of the family returns home.

  Her father’s booming voice brought her back to the present. Tall and auburn-haired, white streaking his beard, Carl Bauer stood with Mrs. Minerva Breckenridge, the woman he’d been courting for the last four years, and gave his son-in-law, Martin, a friendly buffet on the shoulder. “You take care of my little girl, hear!”

  Martin nodded rapidly several times. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “Yes, sir. You have my promise.”

  “I know you will, son. Wouldn’t have let you take her off my hands, otherwise.” He leaned over to place a kiss on Anna’s cheek. “Be happy, daughter.”

  “I will, Papa.” Anna’s eyes grew misty.

  Seeing her sister’s emotion made tears well up in Trudy’s eyes, and she placed a hand on her chest to cover a sudden burst of pain. With Anna headed to Africa, and her own plans to journey out west, the two sisters probably would never see each other again. Even letters would be rare.

  Their middle sister, Lora, and her wealthy banker husband stepped forward for their own congratulations. Lora and Emmett had traveled from New York for a short visit to attend this wedding, the first time in three years the family had gathered together. With a sense of shock, Trudy realized her father and sisters wouldn’t be present at her wedding. As a mail-order bride, she’d be married among strangers—live among strangers. Her lungs constricted at the thought.

  Can I do it? But Trudy didn’t see any other way to travel west, see the grandeur she’d only read about, have the new experiences and adventures she’d dreamed of for so long.

  The reception sped by only too quickly, as the family and their guests ate and drank, talked, laughed, and toasted the bride and groom. Before the newlyweds left the house to begin their new life together, Anna took one rose out of her bouquet to keep for herself and pressed the rest of the flowers into Trudy’s hands. “Now you can follow your dreams, sister. Thank you for staying to help Papa raise me. I’ll pray for you every night.”

  Trudy’s vision blurred. With difficulty, she held the tears in check. “And I you, sister. May your marriage bring you everything you’ve dreamed of.”

  Anna glanced at Martin, waiting patiently, and gave him a glowing smile. With one last hug and cheek-to-cheek touch, she was gone.

  In a daze, Trudy said good-bye to the rest of the guests. When all but Minerva had taken their leave, Lora and Emmett retired to their bedroom.

  Trudy’s father dropped a good-bye kiss on Minerva’s cheek. As the woman left, she gave Trudy a sympathetic look. Minerva was close enough to the sisters to know Trudy’s struggle with sending Anna off to the wilds of Africa. She’d raised her sister for the last five years, and Anna had never shown any sense of adventure...until she fell head over heels for a seminary student—and not just an ordinary seminary student, but one who had a passion for mission work.

  Trudy moved to the window and gazed after Minerva as she walked to her carriage. Plump and dark-haired, the woman didn’t resemble Trudy’s tall blonde mother in the least. But she had a kind heart and made her widowed father happy.

  He joined her at the window. “It’s your turn now, daughter. You’ve helped me raise your sisters as your mother asked you. Now it’s time for you to live your own life and for me to marry Minerva.”

  “I’m ready. I know it’s been hard on you, Papa, not having a wife.”

  He chucked her under her chin as if she was still a girl. “Wasn’t just me. What with caring for her ailing mother, Minerva couldn’t also take on a passel of almost-grown daughters.”

  “Three is not a passel.”

  “Sometimes felt like it!”

  They laughed.

  “Papa, I’ve decided… I’m going to be a mail-order bride.”

  With a shake of his head, he let out a sigh.

  Trudy glanced up at him and saw the sadness in his eyes, slate blue like Anna’s.

  “I suspected something of the sort, Birdie.”

  The sound of her childhood nickname made her lean into him, inhaling the familiar scent of tobacco and man.

  “You’re sure you won’t take Harold Wheeling?”

  She wrinkled her nose at him. Their next-door neighbor—good, boring Harold—had long pined after her. “You know I won’t. Harold will make someone a fine husband, just not me.”

  He put his arm around her shoulders. “You’re like your mother, wanting to fly free and have adventures. Settling down with a lawyer in St. Louis clipped her wings.”

  “She loved you, Papa,” Trudy said loyally, patting a hand on his chest.

  “I know. We were happy. And I want my girls to be happy too. I just wish you all had chosen to stay here.” He dropped a kiss on her
forehead. “Twenty-four years ago, you made me a father. You’ve been brightening my life ever since.” His voice thickened. “I’m going to miss having your cheerful spirit around me every day.”

  “Will you come visit me?”

  He held up a hand. “Only if you pick a husband who lives in a town along the railroad route. At my age, I’m not traveling by stagecoach, nor would I subject Minerva to that mode of transportation.”

  “Is that all?” Trudy teased. “No more requirements?”

  “Only that he’s a good man who will provide for you.”

  “I’ll do my best to pick one, Papa. I’m using Mail-Order Brides of the West. They’re a reputable agency. I checked them out.” But even as she said the words, with a shiver of dread, Trudy knew she’d have no way of evaluating her husband’s character beforehand. She would be taking a risk that would impact the rest of her life.

  CHAPTER TWO

  Seth Flanigan rode into the town of Sweetwater Springs from his farm on the prairie. He stopped by the train depot to pick up his mail.

  Jack Waite, the stationmaster and mail clerk, handed over the back issues of the Billings Herald Seth subscribed to in order to keep up his knowledge of the larger world—or at least, the larger world of Montana.

  After tucking all but the latest issue of the newspaper into his saddlebag, Seth led his quarter horse, Saint down the street to Hardy’s Saloon, trying to avoid the worst of the mud puddles. He had himself and Saint, a sorrel with flaxen mane and tail and a personality to match his name, all spiffed up to go a courtin’. He didn’t want to muddy his boots and pant legs more than he had to.

  As he approached Hardy’s, Seth’s heartbeat kicked up. He hadn’t seen Lucy Belle Constantino since the last thaw between snowstorms, when he’d made a quick trip to town, ostensibly to find a little company after being cooped up by himself for weeks. But really he had some flirting in mind. He’d been dreaming about Lucy Belle’s shiny black curls, her snapping black eyes and curvy figure, and wanted to see that knowing smile she flashed just for him.

  Seth lowered his hand to cover his front pocket where the garnet ring rested snug against his hip. Today’s the day I’ll become an engaged man. Soon there’d be no more ache of grief from missing his ma and his stepfather. No more lonely nights with only the company of his dog for months on end. Lucy Belle would soon be warming his bed and lighting up his life like a firecracker. He knew she’d be grateful to stop her work at the saloon. She wasn’t one of Hardy’s prostitutes. Although sometimes the customers didn’t know that, and she’d had to turn aside numerous propositions. But not one of marriage.

  Seven horses were tied at the hitching rail outside the saloon. He recognized Slim Watts’s brown gelding, Hosiah Jung’s pinto, Jasper Blattnoy’s black mare, and to his surprise, young Nick Sanders’s chestnut. Not that seventeen or eighteen years, or whatever age the kid had on him, was too young to drink. But the boy’s boss, John Carter, ran a tight outfit. Didn’t approve of his hands spending time in the saloon. And Sanders was Carter’s ward. If Carter found out, there’d be hell to pay.

  Seth walked through the open door of the faded two-story green building and glanced around, his heart quickening in anticipation. He took a breath of the whiskey-and-cigar laden air. He didn’t see Lucy Belle right off. She wasn’t leaning against the long polished bar talking to the two customers he only knew by sight, nor behind the counter wiping glasses and serving drinks. She hadn’t draped her arms over the piano where the skinny musician plucked out melodies that filtered tinny music though the room and out into the street.

  Seth winced. The piano needed tuning, and to him, the sound of the music was like a cat’s claws on a chalkboard.

  Lucy Belle wasn’t sitting at any of the three round tables for a drink with a customer, nor was she playing in a card game. Maybe she’s in the kitchen. He glanced up at the railed balcony running across half the room. She wasn’t leaning over the rail and watching, and he didn’t dare go upstairs and see if she was in her tiny room.

  Fighting off a stab of disappointment, he took a seat at an empty table and nodded friendly-like to the men and one youth playing poker at the table next to him. Cigar smoke curled over their heads. Slim, Hosiah, and Jasper greeted him by name.

  Seth raised his eyebrows at Nick’s presence at the table, and the boy gave him a shy smile. Kid like that has no place at a card table. He’ll be cleaned out in no time. At least he isn’t smokin’.

  A stranger in a black suit nodded before returning his gaze to study his cards.

  Normally, Seth would take a seat at the poker table and be dealt in the next hand. But he wanted some private time with Lucy Belle, and he couldn’t just up and leave in the middle of a game. Instead, he pulled out the newspaper.

  Just as he read the first headline, the sound of boot heels and the jangle of spurs made him look up to see who’d just come through the door. He grimaced when he saw Frank McCurdy stroll in like he owned the place. The man doffed his Stetson, so the sun through the windows shone on his blond hair. His gold eyes cut to Seth and passed over him as if he didn’t exist.

  McCurdy had the spread between Seth’s place and Sweetwater Springs. Two years ago, he’d raised a big stink about Seth riding over a corner of his land where he could easily ford the stream to get to town. He’d tried to bar Seth from “trespassing.” Forcing Seth to stay off his land meant a five-mile ride around the stream to the next ford. Took the intervention of the sheriff to get him to back down. Like growling dogs, the two men had snarled and circled each other ever since.

  McCurdy had also been paying a lot of attention to Lucy Belle lately. Mostly, Seth thought, just to rile him up. The man’s wandering hands were too familiar with her person, sometimes going so far as to smack her on the bottom as she passed by. Once, he’d made her spill a tray of glasses. Each time, Seth mustered all his restraint not to rip off McCurdy’s arm, and that was even before he came up with the idea of marrying her.

  Lucy Belle warned Seth off from defending her, saying the attention was all part of the job, regardless of how she detested it. She made it clear that she could take care of herself. Mostly, the woman could—usually with a smile, a quip, and a graceful twist away from groping hands.

  Seth’s ma had been that way, too, when she worked as a saloon girl for half of his growing years—her head held high, a ready smile, no matter what human skunks said and did to her. He’d hated his ma’s situation then, as he did Lucy Belle’s now.

  Seth turned his attention back to the paper so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge the varmint sauntering by. He skimmed the article ranting about the job Grover Cleveland and Congress were doing in Washington. He was a voting man, yes indeed. But after that, he had no say in what those men in the government were up to. Wrangling that bunch into making sensible laws was like trying to herd monkeys and just as likely to succeed. No sense twisting his tail about what they planned to do or not do. But that opinion didn’t set well with the men who liked to argue politics, including McCurdy.

  Lucy Belle was right fond of a political debate, and she was firmly on the side of Cleveland. She didn’t like Seth’s refusal to argue and would flash her dark eyes at him, lifting her pert nose a few inches. Sometimes she flounced off, the ruffles on her short dress bouncing over her rounded bottom as she walked. A mighty pretty sight.

  To stop himself from drumming on the table in impatience, he grasped the paper and perused the next article. It discussed the president’s upcoming marriage to Frances Folsom, twenty-seven years his junior. Normally, Seth would have skimmed over that article too, but his own approaching nuptials made the topic more relevant. And he knew Lucy Belle would be interested in the information.

  The advertisement for the Mail-Order Brides of the West Agency caught his eye. Mail-order mates. Thank goodness, I don’t have to resort to anything like that!

  Due to his growing restlessness about the long wait for Lucy Belle to appear, by the time Seth read about the Ha
ymarket Riots, he could barely focus on the words. Laying the newspaper on the table, he got up and strolled to the bar.

  The poker round had just ended, and Slim grinned at him, showing the gaps in his teeth. He tilted his head at the table in an invitation for Seth to join them.

  Seth smiled his thanks and shook his head.

  He passed McCurdy, who’d taken a seat at an empty table and nursed a glass of whiskey. Little early in the day to be drinking, in Seth’s opinion, but most of the men who patronized the saloon didn’t share his views.

  Hardy, the saloon owner, was a burly hulk who, with his hooked, round nose, bushy drooping mustache, and long jowls, always reminded Seth of the bull walrus he’d seen in the pages of his favorite book about exotic animals. “What’ll you have, Seth?” the barkeep asked.

  “Coffee.” Seth leaned against the bar, waiting while Hardy went to pour him a mug from the pot that always simmered on the stove in the kitchen. As the man went through the door to the other room, Seth craned his neck to see if he could catch a glance of Lucy Belle back there.

  Hardy returned sooner than Seth expected and caught his glance. The saloon owner set the mug on the counter. “You looking for Lucy Belle?”

  Something about the man’s tone made Seth’s instincts prick.

  The noise at the poker table stilled, and the stares of all the men penetrated his back. Not wanting them to know his private business, Seth shook his head.

  “Sure, he is,” McCurdy drawled, loud enough for the whole room to hear. “He always flirts with that little whore.”

  Rage shot through Seth. He fought to keep his hands from clenching and slowly turned to face McCurdy.

  The man must have seen the desire for murder in Seth’s eyes for he smirked and rose, his hand hovering over his gun.

  Behind him, the sound of a rifle being cocked froze Seth in his tracks. Hardy mostly kept the Winchester for show, knowing just the sight and sound of the rifle was enough to deter most troublemakers. But he wasn’t afraid to use the weapon. He also kept two loaded Colts and a club under the counter for when he needed to take quick action. For the most part, Sweetwater Springs being peaceable and all, the saloon owner didn’t use them much.

 
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