Mail Order Devastation (Montana Mail Order Brides, Book 4), page 1
When her baby is stolen, Mollie Quinn is propelled into an agonizing search for her daughter...only to find that little Nell has been taken across the country to the far West. With no way to afford a train ticket to Montana, a desperate Mollie is forced to take drastic measures, agreeing to become a mail order bride and marry a virtual stranger.
Noah Jamison has lived an easy life as the only son of a Helena shop owner. Running the shop with the help of his widowed mother, he is ready to move on to a home and a wife of his own. He wants a woman who will be a devoted companion and an attentive homekeeper, and Mollie Quinn seems the perfect choice. But when his new bride shirks her duties, sneaking off for hours each day, and dissolving into tears behind locked doors, he wonders if marrying her was a grave mistake.
Will Mollie find her daughter, and convince her new husband to accept them both? Or will her unbounded love for Nell force Mollie to sacrifice her dream of finally having a real family?
Mail Order Devastation is a sweet historical western romance novel of 76,851 words. Though the storyline is *not* Christian-based, it is clean and sweet, with Christian main characters who are complex and imperfect.
Mail Order Devastation
by Julianna Blake
Copyright 2014 Julianna Blake
Published by Timeless Hearts Press
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Table of Contents
Monday, March 25, 1890
North End, Boston, Massachusetts
Mollie grasped the edge of the doorframe, scanning the tiny bedroom, panic clawing its way through her chest.
Between the two narrow beds in the room she shared with her sister, Chloe, stood the white wicker bassinet where Nell usually slept.
The bassinet was empty.
Her daughter was gone.
It was stripped of all its bedding, bare and empty. The basket underneath it where she kept Nell’s tiny clothing was gone as well. Every sign that there had ever been a baby in that room had disappeared, save the bassinet itself.
Where is my baby?
“She’s gone.” Those had been the first words out of her mother’s mouth when Mollie first walked into the apartment.
“No!” She whirled around, expecting to find her mother behind her in the hallway.
But she was alone.
“Ma!” When she raced back down the hallway, her mother still sat by the tall bay windows, tatting lace as she did every afternoon.
“Where is Nell?” she demanded. “Where did you take her?”
“I told you before, she’s gone.”
Memories sprang to mind of all the times her mother had pestered Mollie to give Nell up for adoption, going so far as to say she was “of a mind to take the child in and do it myself.”
Mollie had been sure it was only her mother’s typical attempts at manipulation. But now her baby was missing.
Mollie felt her sanity slide way as the brutal reality seeped into her brain.
Nell really was gone.
Only moments before, Mollie Quinn had hurried home, ignoring the disdainful glares of passing neighbors as she bustled down the sidewalk.
She was used to it.
The long morning of rushing from agency to agency, in hopes of ending a new kitchen maid position was finally over. She was bone-weary and eager to get home and find solace in the only way she could anymore—holding her three-month-old daughter, Nell, in her arms.
When she cuddled Nell to her breast, all her fears melted away. The gnawing worries of never finding a new position had infiltrated her dreams, until half of every night was spent waking from repeated nightmares of being tossed out on the streets by her own mother.
Ida Sweeney Quinn McCammar had been furious all those months ago, when her daughter Mollie had insisted on keeping her child, rather than hiding in a home for unwed mothers and giving the baby up. Despite her railings, Mollie had stuck to her principles. She had grown up with the awful knowledge that her own father had abandoned her when she was only five years old. It had made her feel worthless and unwanted—which is probably the reason her mother finally told her, after hiding the truth for years.
No, Mollie couldn’t let her own daughter feel abandoned, as she had. Not ever.
Knowing how her mother felt about having to bear the extra expense of a baby that she never wanted her to keep, Mollie had dreaded having to return and tell her that she’d had no luck. She had climbed the three steep flights to their apartment on the top level of a triple-decker apartment house in the crowded North End neighborhood in Boston, hoping to find her mother in a rare good mood.
She was late, and she knew she’d be in trouble. Her mother never wanted to watch Nell, complaining that she had her lacemaking business to attend to, and it wasn’t her job to play nanny. That morning she had offered to do it for the first ever, only because she insisted it was time for Mollie to get whatever job she could get, despite the fact that Nell was too young to wean. She had told Mollie find a job first, and worry about finding a way of feeding Nell after that.
It hadn’t made any sense to Mollie—they could neither afford a wet nurse nor the expensive ingredients to make a proper infant food formula. But she hadn’t wanted to anger her mother, so she gave in.
Dreading the argument that was sure to ensue, Mollie had stepped into the apartment, shutting the door and quickly shedding her coat and hanging it up before she turned to face her mother.
“I know what you’re going to say, and—” She had turned around to see her mother alone by the window, tatting her lace. Mollie lowered her voice to a whisper. “Oh! Is she asleep? I thought she’d be fussy and anxious for a feeding by now.”
“She’s gone,” her mother stated in a flat tone, without looking up from her work.
“What?” Laughter had bubbled out of Mollie’s mouth before she could stop it.
Her sister Chloe wasn’t home from school yet, and her stepfather, Felix, would be at his wheelwright shop for hours yet. No one else could be with Nell. She must be napping in her bassinet—Ma is having fun at my
Her mother’s expression was hard.
A trickle of fear filtered through Mollie. Could Nell have taken ill suddenly? Could she be at the hospital? No, it couldn’t be. It must be a joke. Ma couldn’t be so placid if Nell was sick! Not even she could be so cold.
Ida merely worked her shuttle in silence.
It was no joke.
“Wh—what do you mean, gone?” Mollie’s knees wobbled, and she fought to stay on her feet.
When she received only a flickering glance and continued silence from her mother, she had picked up her skirts and run toward her bedroom in search of her daughter.
After running back from the bedroom, Mollie stood before her mother, barely clinging to her wits, her stomach roiling. She reached out to steady herself, grasping the edge of the wingback chair that sat opposite the chair Ida worked in. When the wave of nausea had passed, she fixed her mother with a glare that would melt steel.
“Where is she?” Mollie demanded again.
Ida remained in her chair, stoic, working her tatting shuttle as if nothing of consequence had happened. “Sit down.”
“No! Not until you tell me where Nell is. “Ma? Ma! Look at me!” She could feel the rising panic, the screech of her voice scaling the walls. “Tell me where she is!”
Ida glanced up with disdain, then returned her work. “Sit down and I’ll tell you.”
“Sit down? Sit down? You tell me my baby is gone and you want me to sit down?”
“Mollie Quinn, sit down this instant!” her mother snapped. “You won’t get a word out of me until you compose yourself.”
Mollie obeyed out of instinct—years of bending to her mother’s iron will—but she wrung her hands in her lap, trying to stifle the panic. Every fiber of her being urged her to run, to search, to scream out her child’s name…
“The child is gone. She’ll have nice family that can take care of her the way she deserves.”
“You…what?” Her worst fear had come true. “You…you stole my baby? Your own grandchild?” Shock set in, and her strength leaked away as she stared at the woman who Mollie saw as more a monster than a mother. “How…how could you?” she whispered.
Ida paused in her work, the thread wound around her fingers and the shuttle mid-pass. “Well, someone had to,” she said, her voice dispassionate. “You were too mesmerized by that baby to make the sensible decision…much like you were too mesmerized by her father to stick to your morals.”
It was the same argument again. One moment…a single weak moment…and it would define her for the rest of her life. Mollie regretted that weakness, but had sought God’s forgiveness. And despite her failings, God had given her a tremendous gift in Nell. She couldn’t regret that. She knew many girls had given their babies up so that the babies could have a better life. She respected those girls immensely. Maybe it was the better choice.
But it wasn’t her choice. She couldn’t do it—couldn’t live with it. Not after what her father’s abandonment had done to her. It may not be the same thing, but in Mollie’s heart, it didn’t matter. She simply couldn’t give up her child. She had to be there for Nell. She had to be a part of her life. She knew she could never be a whole person without her little girl.
But Mollie couldn’t gather the strength to defend herself for the hundredth time. All she could think was that her Nell…her baby…her reason for living…was gone.
“You know I’m right,” her mother continued. “You won’t find another position. No decent family in Boston will hire you. You can’t even afford to clothe the child, unless I pay for it. And why should I? It wasn’t my sin, it was yours.”
Mollie found her voice at last, managing to squeak out a whisper. “I know you shouldn’t, but…she’s your grandchild…”
“Don’t I know it! You’ve embarrassed the whole family. I hear them whispering behind our backs. Poor Chloe got teased at school, and she’s completely innocent in all this. Mollie, you had already worked your way up to kitchen maid before all this, and set to take over as the undercook! You were doing better for yourself in a year than I thought you would in your whole lifetime. Now you can’t even get a job as a scullery maid. Only nineteen years old, and you’ve gone down in the world.” Ida puckered her lips, glancing at Mollie in disdain. “Even if you found a position, how could you possibly care for a child, when it would take all of your salary to hire a wet nurse? Or worse, you’d have to hire someone to watch her, and on top of it, take the child to a doctor for him to prescribe a recipe for one of those infant milk formulas!”
“None of that matters, Ma!” Mollie snapped. “You had no right! She’s my daughter. Mine! You had no right to take her.”
“Didn’t I, though? It’s my home, my money that bought that bassinet, and every stitch of her clothing. My money that feeds you, and keeps you both warm.”
Mollie crossed her arms, furious. “Felix earns most of the money around here, and you know it. His income from the wheelwright shop pays for most things. And I know Felix doesn’t mind having Nell around.”
Ida set her tatting aside, glaring at her daughter. “He may pay for the house and large expenses, but my lace pays for the extras—all of which has been going to support your daughter, lately. I’m finally to the point I can buy poor Chloe a nice dress once in a while, and then you have to mess everything up. And stop calling him Felix. Show your father some respect.”
“Chloe gets new dresses all the time—I never did, except for Christmas and Easter, and wore them until they fell off me. And Felix is not my father.”
“He’s a better father than John Quinn ever was!”
“Maybe so—you certainly painted Da to be a demon for last few years, though I don’t remember any such behavior toward us.”
“You were five! What would you know of it? You saw what he wanted you to see, and when he left—without a care for you, I might add—I told you he was away on business. I didn’t want you to know. But then I was forced to at least tell you he was dead, when I found out from the neighbors two weeks later that he’d been killed.”
“And even then, you lied to me. You only told me he’d been in an accident, and none of the rest.”
“I lied to protect you—he was dead already, what good was there in telling you he was a liar and a cheat?”
“Yet you were more than happy to reveal the supposed truth a few years ago, when you were angry at me, and wanted to hurt me!”
“Because you were old enough for the truth, and I was tired of hearing you call Felix your step-father! He’s been a better father to you than John tried to be.”
“I remember Da being plenty nice, despite how things ended with you and him. And you know darn well I care about Felix. He’s been good to me. But he isn’t my real father, and I won’t call him such. But maybe if he was my father, he’d stand up to you when you treat Chloe like a princess, and me like a servant!”
“You always were an ungrateful.” Her mother regarded her with an icy stare. “You’ve been nothing but trouble since you were born, Mollie. I’m tired of dealing with you.”
“No, Ma. You’ve only considered me trouble since Chloe was born. Ever since then, you’ve babied her, treated her like a princess, and treated me like a servant. I more than earn my keep around here. Even when I was working—and pregnant—I did more around the house than Chloe did, and you never saw it. You don’t want to see it.”
“You’re just jealous. You’ve always hated your sister.”
“I love my sister. She may be spoiled, but that’s not her fault. I still care for her. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when you slight me and dote on her. You give her everything, and take away the one thing that means the most to me!”
“We put food on the table and clothes on your back. And this is the thanks we get? You’ve made nothing but extra work for me since that baby came! Your father and I work hard,
The attack cut her to the quick, though it wasn’t the first time she’d heard it. “It wasn’t like that, and you know it, Ma! How can you say that?”
“Because a decent girl doesn’t permit a boy to kiss her, much less do what you let him do!”
“It was one mistake, one time. I let him sweet-talk me into it, I know. It’s my fault, and I’ve paid the price, haven’t I? He left me as soon as I told him I was expecting. I’ve learned my lesson. God has forgiven me—why can’t you?”
“I have forgiven you! But I can’t exactly forget it, now can I? Not with a new babe to look after, and to pay for. I’m done with it.”
“Just tell me where she is. Please. Tell me where to find her, and we’ll move out today.”
“And where will you go? No one will take you in. They’ve all turned their backs on you. Only your ma has stayed by your side.”
“My ma has stolen my baby! How did you even pass Nell off as your own? It’s my name as mother on the birth certificate, not yours!”
“I have my ways.”
“Tell me where she is, Ma. Please? I’ll find a way to provide for her. Just tell me where I can find her, please!” Tears streaked down Mollie’s face, and she clasped her hands in a fervent plea. “I’ll do anything you want! I’ll keep house for you, just as I’ve been doing, and I’ll keep on cooking the meals. I’ll figure out how to make lace, too, if you want. I know I’m bad at it, and you say it’s a waste to teach me, but I promise, I’ll get better! I’ll do anything you want. I won’t ask you to watch Nell for a single second! And as soon as she’s old enough to eat mashed-up food, I’ll use a false name, pretend I’m a widow, and get any job I can. Maybe I can take Nell with me and watch someone else’s child.”
“No one will have you, girl. Not with a bastard baby. And I won’t let you lie. I won’t have you claiming that you added lying to your list of sins, on my account. Besides, it’s no use. I’ve signed away all rights. She’s not ours anymore.”
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