Mail Order Bride_The Enchanted Bride, page 1
Chapter One - Penelope
Chapter Two - Departure
Chapter Three - The Nightmare
Chapter Four - Trouble is Coming
Chapter Five - Pain
Chapter Six - Trust
Chapter Seven - The Proper Proposal
“Penelope?” There was a jolt to her arm. “Penny?”
Penelope Smythe jumped with a gasp. She hadn’t realized she had drifted off from the conversation her friends had been having. While they laughed and giggled over the most recent gossip that had been flying around Philadelphia society, Penny had found herself staring out the window and over the river outside the tea shop. It wasn’t exactly a magnificent sight, not after seeing it every day. Penny just stared at the water and felt nothing.
Philadelphia didn’t hold any magic for her anymore.
She turned her head and stared at her friends, who were all watching her curiously.
“Sorry? What was that?”
Jenny Scott frowned, touching her arm.
“Are you all right, Penny? You’ve been sitting there staring off into the distance for the past ten minutes. I didn’t think we were that boring.”
“Oh, you weren’t boring.” Penny hurried to say, then she sighed. “I’m sorry, Jenny. That was thoughtless of me.”
“No more than usual.” Leoni Sullivan grunted, giving Penny a smirk as she sipped her tea. Jenny’s frown deepened.
“Leoni, don’t be mean.”
“Well, Penny is thoughtless. She does things without care and attention and it drives her parents to despair.”
Penny raised an eyebrow. Leoni was one to talk; she was worse by far. She spoke before thinking it through and had caused many a social embarrassment, but she simply didn’t care.
Penny did wonder at times why they were friends. They had of course known each other since they were two and Leoni was a loyal friend when she wasn’t alienating people.
“Now’s not the time, Leoni.” Marta Tabor sat on Penny’s other side. She brushed her red hair out of her eyes and sat forward. “What’s wrong, Penny? You’ve been out of sorts for a while.”
That was true enough. Penny hadn’t been feeling right since her eighteenth birthday. Something inside her just wasn’t settling and it had Penny suddenly seeing things in a different light. Social engagements weren’t as interesting as they had been. Life didn’t seem as colorful. She just didn’t have the enthusiasm.
Her friends would understand. Or would they? Marta was the quietest but she was also the most astute. Jenny was clever and could read between the lines. Leoni was the problem but she had known Penny a long time; she should be able to understand.
Penny took a deep breath, looking at her hands folded in her lap.
“I don’t know if I should tell you. You’ll take offence.”
“Try us.” Marta said.
Penny huffed. There was no way to ease into this.
“I’m bored. Bored of Philadelphia. Of this place. Not of you lot,” She hurried to add when she saw shocked looks around the table, “You’re my best friends. But of Philadelphia, of life in general. Just…” She shrugged. “Practically everything.”
“Yes, that’s not insulting at all.”
“You know what I mean, Jenny.”
“I know exactly what you mean.” Jenny sighed and nibbled on her biscuit. “We’re young and we’ve been stuck in the city all our lives. It’s not easy when we’ve done practically everything our restricted lives allow, as it is. But there’s nothing we can do.”
“But we could do something, couldn’t we?” Penny protested. “We could go out into the world and make something for ourselves.”
Marta raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“That’s as maybe, Penny, but would you actually do it?”
“If I had something out there for me, I would. Then I would actually have some use in life.”
Penny did feel like she was of no use to anyone. She had no job, just an education that she wasn’t able to use because her parents refused to let her get a job. They told her she was born into money so she didn’t need to earn it. Penny had all the money she could want at her fingertips and yet that only made her balk. She wanted to have money of her own, money she had earned. That felt a lot more satisfying.
Not like her parents. Penny had found herself getting more and more distant from her mother and father, especially her mother. It had been getting worse since they started looking for men for their daughter to marry. Penny knew all of them and didn’t care for any. She wasn’t about to marry someone to please her family. That was no way to please herself.
But they would never let her leave. Even if she had an offer out in the big wide world. Penny would have to be sneaky and practically run away. That was the tough part. If only there was a way for Penny to get out of Philadelphia. She no longer wanted to live here.
“Well, you want to find greener pastures, so to speak.” Leoni grinned and reached into the huge bag she always carried around with her. “How about using this?”
Leoni drew out a magazine which was yellowed and had been folded many times. She held it up for the perusal of the three curious women sitting with her. Penny could barely make out the worn writing on the front.
“What is it?”
“It’s The Matrimonial Times.”
“How long have you been carrying that about?”
Leoni rolled her eyes.
“I found it this morning when I was clearing out some papers. I got this off Amy Morrison a couple of years ago.”
“Amy Morrison. Last I heard she was going off to Montana. Her parents said she ran away and they’re still appealing for help to bring her home.”
Penny had heard that too, but that hadn’t sat well with her. Amy wasn’t the running away type, and her parents were very much like Penny’s; nothing was to ruin their image.
Leoni rolled her eyes.
“You don’t believe that, do you? She went to get married. Her husband’s a lovely man who’s the town’s doctor. I’ve been writing to her since she left. She’s due to have her second child in the New Year.”
“Aww,” Marta clasped her hands to her breast and sighed. “That’s sweet.”
It was sweet. Penny didn’t see Amy as the runaway type but she could see why her parents refused to believe she left to get married. They had wanted her to marry Jacob Ryder, a vile bully whom nobody cared for. He was charming but as soon as he drew you in, he turned into something else. Amy had called him a monster. A doctor in a small town was the last person her family would have wanted her marrying.
Penny was glad Amy had found happiness. She needed that. But that didn’t help her right now, unless she was misunderstanding Leoni’s meaning.
“Where would that get me?” She asked.
“You could find a husband.” Leoni gestured at the table. “We could all do it.”
“What?” Jenny squeaked. “Us?”
“Why not? We’re of marriageable age and I don’t particularly fancy any of the men here.” Leoni made a face. “I know Father is going to make me marry one of them before I turn twenty-one. I don’t want to do that. And this paper has men out in the West advertising for wives on the East Coast. Like us.” She was beginning to sound triumphant. “We can pick ones that appeal to us the most. If it worked for Amy, it could work for us as well.”
Marta raised an eyebrow.
“I thought your parents were in talks with David
“They are.” Leoni scowled. “He’s an absolute bore.”
“He’s a sweet young man.”
“Have you had a conversation with him? Seriously, he could talk a hind leg off a donkey and make it fall asleep without trying.”
Penny giggled. She could agree with that. While she conceded that David Tilley was a good-looking man who was very intelligent, it made him socially awkward. Leoni was possibly the worst choice for a wife for him.
She looked at the magazine. It looked old. Very old. And very well-thumbed.
“You said you got this from Amy?”
“I don’t think it would work for us.” Penelope indicated the magazine. “Chances are this is going to be out of date.”
Leoni rolled her eyes.
“I wasn’t going to use this one. It was just a suggestion. I know where I can get a more recent copy.” Her eyes were starting to sparkle as the excitement built. “But we’re going to have to go to another place to write the first letters. We can’t have our parents finding out.”
“Then let’s pick one up and go to mine.” Penny gathered her things and stood. “Mother and Father are visiting friends and won’t be back until late.”
Penny was glad she had managed to pretend she was unwell for that. They were going to visit the Ryder family. Why her parents found them so interesting was beyond Penny; the parents were just as bad as the children. Penny had grown up with Letitia and she had been a mean little girl. Jacob was a bully and Darren…the less said about Darren, the better.
Still looking unsure, Jenny stood.
“I don’t know whether this is a good idea or not but I’m in.”
“So am I.” Marta giggled. “I like the idea of being married to a gruff man from the West.”
“Well, they can’t be as bad as the ones we’ve got here.” Penny agreed.
Smirking triumphantly, Leoni stood.
“Let’s do this, then.”
Austin Black rode up to the general store trying not to slide out of the saddle, and dismounted as his saddle gave way, sending him sprawling in the dirt. At least it had got him there before it gave way.
And Austin was grateful that nobody had been around to see him make a fool of himself. He should have mended this when it first started going, but Anton had told him that there was plenty of wear in it. That was the last time Austin was going to listen to his brother’s advice.
Cody wasn’t about. Austin was used to seeing him pottering about outside. He was one who could never sit still; the store owner always had to be doing something. But there was no sign of him.
That was unusual.
Confused, Austin stepped into the store. Cody Laws was sitting on a stool behind the counter staring at a letter in his hand with a dreamy smile on his face, such that Austin had never seen before. He looked like he was away with the fairies.
Austin rapped sharply on the countertop.
Cody jumped, almost falling off the stool. He grabbed onto the countertop and managed to keep his seat. Righting himself, he glared at Austin.
“Good heavens, Austin! Would you not do that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Sneak up on me like that.” Cody straightened up and adjusted his waistcoat before folding the letter away into his breast pocket. “That’s very rude.”
“Cody, a herd of cattle could have come charging through here and you wouldn’t have noticed. What was so important that it had your complete attention?”
He gave Cody’s pocket a pointed look. Cody rolled his eyes.
“Hasn’t anyone told you that you’re too nosy for your own good, Austin?”
“My mother told me that all the time.” Austin smirked and leant on the counter. “Now, come on, what are you reading? Let’s see.”
“Honestly, Austin, I swear you haven’t grown up.” Cody tittered. “You’re just like a nattering old lady.”
“Make up your mind with how you want to describe me, Cody. What is it?”
Austin liked teasing Cody. They had known each other since they were children and Cody was like an older brother. Austin enjoyed making him flustered but Cody was good-natured about it. He didn’t take a swing at Austin like Anton normally did. Cody sighed and fished out the letter again, his thumb giving it a caress.
“Fine.” He sighed. “If you must know, I’ve been looking for a wife.”
That Austin hadn’t been expecting.
“Looking for one? Cody, you’ve no shortage of women who want to marry you. Ever since you turned eighteen, they’ve been queuing for your attention.”
Cody made a face.
“But they’re not what I want.”
“Try telling that to Charlene Grayson.” Austin chuckled. “How many times has she been here in the past week?”
“Five times in three days. But she’s only seventeen.”
“She’s very determined to have you.”
Cody shook his head.
“That child doesn’t know who’s good for her.”
Austin begged to differ but Cody was very set in his opinion. He indicated the letter in his friend’s hand.
“You decided to advertise for a wife instead? Doesn’t that sound a bit desperate?”
“It works, Austin. It really does. Several men around here have found wives through writing off to them. I’m sure some of your fellow laborers have done the same.”
“A few. Where do you think Perdita came from?”
Austin sneezed as the dust got up his nose, sending more dust and sand onto the counter. Cody jumped back.
“Sorry.” Austin swiped the dust off the countertop and took off his Stetson, slapping it against his leg. “Who have you picked for your wife, then? Who’s going to become Mrs. Laws?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“You don’t know?”
“There are a few interested, but I can’t really decide.” Cody looked at the folded letter in his hand. “But this one is making me curious. I can’t seem to put her letters down.”
Austin could see by the way Cody’s eyes were shining and the look on his face that this girl was different to the others. She had something that nobody else had. That was a particular touch that was rare. Austin had barely seen it and it had clearly happened to Cody.
“Sounds like she’s special.”
“She is.” Cody dug into his pocket and drew out a small photograph. “Take a look. Her name’s Penny.”
Austin took the photograph and looked. Staring up at him, unsmiling, was a young woman with fair hair. She seemed to have a clear complexion with soft features but a defiant tilt to the chin and a challenge in her eyes. There was something captivating about her. Austin could see why Cody was taken with her.
“Pretty. Very pretty.” Austin handed the photograph back. “Why can’t they smile in these pictures?”
“Take that up with whoever invented photography.” Cody took the picture back and slotted it back into his pocket with the letter, running his hand through his blond locks. He hadn’t been for a haircut in a while and it was brushing his collar. “She lives in Philadelphia and she sounds eager to explore beyond there.”
“Doesn’t sound like the settling down type if she wants to explore.”
“You wouldn’t think so until you read her letters. She’s very eager to learn and sounds very enthusiastic about my job and helping me out.”
That was all Cody had wanted. Someone to help him out at work and at home. Most of the women, if not all who wanted to be Cody’s wife, weren’t up to helping out in the store. They just wanted to be waited on hand and foot. Austin was surprised that girls who had grown up in the middle of the desert weren’t less pretentious and less picky. He just couldn’t understand that.
“Well, you don’t want a bored wife, do you?”
“Austin, be ser
Austin had to agree with that. Penny would look very handsome on Cody’s arm and Cody did need someone in his life. If Penny could make Cody smile like this when she was actually here with him in Eugene, it would be worth it.
“Why don’t you go for it? Hedge your bets with this one.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” Austin grinned and indicated Cody’s face. “I haven’t seen this light in your eyes before and you’re smiling so much your face is going to crack if it gets any wider.”
“Well, she does make me smile.”
“That would be good enough for me if I were in your shoes. Go for it. And while we’re at it, you can get me some more leather for my saddle. It’s worn out again.”
“Sure.” Cody shook his head as he came around the counter and headed towards the back of the store. “What do you do to that saddle to have it worn out three times in four months? Actually, don’t answer that.”
“Nothing like that, don’t worry. Women don’t flock to me like they do to you. They don’t want a sweaty ranch handler who seems to be allergic to dust.”
He sneezed again as the dust tickled his nose. Then he sneezed again. Cody chuckled and selected a few sheets of leather.
“You never know. Maybe you could write off for a bride. I could give you a few pointers.”
“I’m not that desperate.”
Cody gave him a knowing look.
“Give it time.”
Austin puffed out his chest.
“I’m young. I’ve got plenty of time.”
Then he sneezed loudly again. He would have plenty of time if he stopped sneezing.
She was going to be married. Penny couldn’t believe it. She sat on the bed staring at the most recent letter from Cody. He had sent her a train ticket to Eugene, Oregon, departing Friday. That was two days away.
It was finally happening.
After deciding it could be a bit of fun, Penny had written off to three men. One hadn’t got back to her, which she found rather rude; one was so upfront and lewd that she had thrown his letter into the fireplace, and the third had been Cody. He seemed genuinely interested in her, had good handwriting compared to the messy scrawl most men had, and he asked questions as much as he answered hers. His photograph hadn’t been too bad either. Penny liked his kind: a handsome face with his mop of blond hair. Safe but exciting at the same time.