Mail Order Mistletoe (Brides of Beckham Book 17), page 1
Mail Order Mistletoe
Book Seventeen in Brides of Beckham
By Kirsten Osbourne
Copyright 2015 Kirsten Osbourne
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Meg O'Reilly wonders what ever made her want to be a teacher. The last four members of the demon horde are making her life miserable. When one of them slaps a copy of the Grooms' Gazette on her desk and tells her to go see their older sister so she can find her a groom, she reads through the paper and decides to do just that. Confident in her decision, she sends a letter to the man she chooses that very day.
The one thing Lars Borgen is not looking for is love. He wants a wife to share his life, his work, and his bed, but he doesn't ever expect to feel any tender emotions for her. Expecting a plain bride, he is startled when beautiful Meg steps off the train looking for him. Will he be able to hold steadfast and keep from falling in love? Or will his sweet, pretty bride win him over, giving him a second chance at love?
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Margaret O'Reilly took a deep breath. She had the four youngest of the Miller children, not-so-fondly known as the demon horde to all of Beckham, Massachusetts, in her class, and she was ready to strangle every single one of them. Why would a seventeen-year-old boy put a snake in his teacher's desk? Why would he even think about doing something so ridiculous?
"I'm going to send a note home to your parents. I need one of them to sign it and send it back to prove that they've read it. Who wants to carry it home?" Meg asked, her voice stern and angry.
None of the four children from the family would even look at her, let alone agree to take the note. "Fine, I'll walk over there after school." She knew the children didn't want her in their home. They'd made that clear in the past.
Eventually, the youngest of the children, a ten-year-old girl named Ida raised her hand. "I'll take it home. But the others will probably throw me on the ground and take it from me before I get it there." She had her blond hair in braids, and she was the best-behaved of the four, though that wasn't saying much.
The words didn't shock Meg one little bit. She'd seen what the demon horde was capable of, and she was downright sick of them.
When the school day ended, she gave Ida the note, and made her promise to have it signed. As soon as Ida walked off, Tom, the eldest of the demon horde still in school sauntered to her desk, a newspaper in his hand.
"I'm sorry you don't like my brother and sisters and me, teacher."
Meg glared at the worst of the four. "No, you're not. You're not a bit sorry, or you wouldn't behave as you do. Please just go home and leave me alone." She was tired of looking at him.
He set the newspaper on her desk. "Since you're such a failure at teaching, I thought you might want to go see my sister. Her name is Elizabeth Tandy, and she lives in town on Rock Creek Road in the biggest nicest house you ever did see. She sends women out to be mail order brides. You know, women who aren't good at anything else, and can't find themselves husbands. She sends them."
Meg closed her eyes and counted to ten again. When she finally opened them, she was alone. In the month since she'd started teaching there, the Miller children had locked her in the outhouse and tipped it over, put three reptiles, six rodents and two amphibians in her desk, started four fist fights, done no schoolwork, and sent a letter to the school board saying she wasn't pretty enough to teach there.
Why, she didn't know. She knew for a fact she wasn't ugly. Probably just their way of trying to chase her off.
She looked down at the newspaper with the words Grooms' Gazette emblazoned across the top. Maybe she was stupid, but she was actually considering it. She read through a few of the ads, some were funny, but there was one that seemed downright intriguing to her.
"North Dakota farmer needs a woman for housework and companionship. Twenty-eight years old, not ugly, and has all his own teeth. See Elizabeth Tandy on Rock Creek Road in Beckham, Massachusetts, or write to Mr. Lars Borgen in SunSet, North Dakota."
"Well, if Mrs. Tandy is the older sister of the demon horde, maybe I can talk to her about her poorly behaved siblings while I chat with her about Mr. Lars Borgen," she said to the empty schoolroom. She got up and swept the floor, making sure the fire was banked before heading into town. She should have enough time to make it to town and back before it was too dark to see her hand in front of her face.
She locked the door and headed toward town, dreading meeting another member of the Miller family. Surely they weren't all as—pleasant as the ones she'd already met.
When she got to Rock Creek Road, she realized she wasn't going to be able to make it back to her house beside the school before dark. She needed to do whatever she could to get away from her terrible situation, though. The dark could be faced once. The demon horde could not be faced for a full year!
She knocked on the door of the huge house, intimidated by the sheer size of it. She'd grown up in a large house, but it hadn't belonged to her family. Papa had been the gardener and her mother the cook. They were so proud that she was teaching. Hopefully they'd understand what the demon horde was driving her to do.
The door was opened by a tall blond man. "May I help you?"
"Yes, I'm here to see Elizabeth Tandy." Meg suddenly wished she'd taken the time to wash her hands and face. She could see soot all over her hands from cleaning up the mess the children had made when they had dumped it all over the classroom to—well in an effort to cover her with soot. It had worked beautifully.
"Is she expecting you, Miss—?"
Meg shook her head. "No, she's not. It's Miss O'Reilly. I'm here about her newspaper."
The man nodded. "Right this way, Miss O'Reilly. Would you care to wash your hands and face before you see her? There's a sink right through here." He opened the door to the bathroom for her, and Meg ducked inside thankfully. She quickly washed her hands and face and stepped back out into the hallway.
"It's not a problem. Mrs. Tandy is in her office." He walked to a room at the back of the hall and opened the door for her. "Elizabeth, there's a Miss O'Reilly here to see you."
Mrs. Tandy stood, and turned toward the door. Meg was immediately struck by her beauty, and her extremely pregnant state. She looked like she could have the baby she was carrying any minute.
"Please don't stand!"
Elizabeth laughed, her eyes sparkling. "I promise, the baby won't fall out on his head if I stand. Bernard? Would you please bring us some tea and cookies?"
As soon as the man had left the room, Elizabeth grinned at Meg. "I find any excuse a good one for tea and cookies at this point in my pregnancy." She patted her belly with obvious affection. "Please sit down, and we'll chat."
Meg took a seat on the couch, while Elizabeth moved to sit beside her. "It's nice to get out of that awful desk chair for a bit. You want to be a mail order bride?" she asked.
"Yes, I do. I'm the teacher at the local school, you see, and the demon horde—I mean your siblings—are amusing themselves by making my life miserable."
Elizabeth put her hand over Meg's. "I'm so sorry. My younger si
"So you know?"
Elizabeth laughed. "How could I not? I lived with them. Trust me, they've done nothing to you, their teacher, that they haven't done to me. Repeatedly." She nodded at the copy of the Grooms' Gazette that Meg was still clutching with a death grip. "Did you choose someone?"
"Yes, him." Meg pointed at the advertisement she'd read back in the schoolhouse.
"Ah, yes. Mr. Borgen. So you want to be a farmer's wife?" Elizabeth asked with a smile.
"I want to be anywhere doing anything that doesn't involve your brothers and sisters. I would become a coal miner if I thought it would help me."
Elizabeth chuckled softly. "I don't think you'd be well-suited to that particular vocation. Let me find the letter Mr. Borgen sent me, and you can see if you still want to go to North Dakota."
She stood and walked to her desk, quickly finding the letter and bringing it back.
The door opened then, and the same man came back with cookies and tea. "Bernard, why don't you join us?" Elizabeth asked.
"Oh, I couldn't."
"Of course, you could." Elizabeth grinned at him. "I insist."
Bernard took the chair behind the desk, looking very uncomfortable. "I don't feel like it's my place to be in here when you're interviewing future brides," he said softly while Meg tried to concentrate on the letter and not on the conversation going on around her.
"It wasn't your place when you were my butler. As my husband, it's your place."
Meg blinked a couple of times. Elizabeth had married her butler? She'd assumed Elizabeth had moved there with her husband, and had married wealth. How had one of the Miller's gotten so much money?
She turned back to the letter, forcing herself to start over so she'd know what it said.
"Dear Potential Bride,
I'm a farmer in North Dakota, a beautiful state. I moved here in 1897 to be a farmer in a land that wouldn't be nearly as harsh as my homeland of Norway. Norway was a wonderful place, and I miss it a lot, but the land was not meant for farming, so it was not meant for me.
I am looking for a wife who is between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two. I would like her to be able to cook and clean well. She must not be bothered by being alone. I live a two hour drive from the nearest town, and I don't have time to run to town every few days to amuse a bride.
I need companionship and someone to cook, but I don't ever plan to fall in love with my bride. If you see yourself as a woman who will never be able to be happy without love, I'm not the right groom for you.
If you are interested in marrying me, please write me a letter. I am anxious to have a wife before winter sets in.
Meg blinked a couple of times after reading the letter. He wanted a wife but he didn't ever plan to love her? She wasn't sure she wanted that, but she could change his mind. She was sure of it! He was a better candidate for a husband than the other men she'd read about in the paper.
"I'll take him."
Elizabeth laughed, handing her a pencil and some paper. "Go ahead and write him a quick letter, telling him about yourself. It'll take about a month to get a response. No one has been interested after reading his letter, so I'm certain he'll choose you."
"A month? I have to teach the demon horde for another month?" Meg wanted to throw a fit worthy of the worst two-year-old at that news. Instead she closed her eyes. "I can do that."
Bernard coughed, obviously covering a laugh.
"Oh, don't hide the laugh. She knows they're my brothers and sisters. Rotten children that they are." Elizabeth patted her belly. "You are going to be raised with rules. I will not have a mannerless hooligan for a child. Do you understand me?"
Meg even giggled a bit at that. "Your brothers and sisters should be beaten. Often."
"I've told my mother the same thing. Often."
Meg couldn't believe she liked the older sister of the demon horde nearly as much as she did. What was wrong with her? She'd expected to hate any member of the children's family on sight.
She wrote the letter, daringly signing it, "Your future bride, Margaret." She had no idea how he'd react to that, but she had to get out. She was willing to be daring and even a bit cheeky if that's what it took.
When she finished she handed the letter to Elizabeth. "I'll send Bernard to the schoolhouse when your letter arrives. Go ahead and tell the school board you're leaving and why. I'm sure they'll have another victim all lined up before you leave."
Meg choked on her laughter. "Victim? Is that what they call teachers around here?"
"Only the ones forced to teach my younger siblings."
Bernard stood when Meg did. "I'll see you home, Miss O'Reilly. It's getting dark, and there's no need for you to walk all that way. It could be dangerous."
Meg laughed. "I just agreed to take a train more than a thousand miles to meet a stranger? What could be more dangerous than that?"
"I've investigated that stranger. I assure you, he's not dangerous as far as anyone can tell. You're in more danger teaching the demon horde. I mean, my brothers and sisters-in-law." He walked over and bent down, kissing Elizabeth on her lips. "I'll be back soon."
"Thank you," Meg said to Elizabeth on her way out.
"You're welcome. I'm happy to help anyone get away from the demon horde."
Lars stopped at the mercantile to pick up his monthly supplies and see if he'd ever gotten a response to his advertisement for a mail order bride. He'd sent his letter out more than three months before, but he hadn't had one single letter in return. Did no one want to marry a Norwegian immigrant farmer who lived in the middle of nowhere and swore he'd never love them?
He chuckled to himself as he realized just what a horrible prospect he was for a husband. Surely someone was in a bad enough situation they'd write him back eventually. He hoped. It probably wouldn't be before winter, though.
He picked out the things he needed before going to the counter to pay. "Any mail for me?" he asked, expecting the owner, George Collins, to say no as he usually did.
"Actually, yes, there is. It looks like a woman's handwriting, too!" George was the only person in town who knew Lars had sent for a mail order bride.
Lars took the letter, half expecting it to bite him. Really? Someone had responded? He opened the letter with his hand shaking a bit. He wasn't sure he could spend the winter alone again. Last year he'd almost gone insane, staring at the endless piles of snow out the window.
He read the letter slowly, and almost laughed aloud at the closure.
"Dear Mr. Borgen,
I'm sure you were trying to scare off potential brides by saying you would never fall in love, but I assure you, after teaching school for over a month, I do not scare easily. I've had snakes in my desk and fist fights break out in my classroom. Being married to you sounds like a veritable paradise in comparison.
I would love to be your bride. I'm nineteen years old, and my parents emigrated from Ireland before I was born. I've lived in Massachusetts my entire life, and I love it here, but I need to be away from the evil children that I currently teach. Well, truly, only four of them are evil, but that's four too many for my taste.
I'm a good cook, and I can keep house like no one you've ever seen. I will lick the floors clean if that's what it takes to get me out of this awful school. Please say you'll take me. I'm tall and slim, and I don't make children run away screaming into the night when they see my face. What more could a man ask for at this point?
Your future bride,
He needed a woman who was desperate. Well, he'd definitely found one this time. "George, I need a pencil and paper to write her back. She's willing to come."
George handed him a pen and paper and watched as Lars quickly scrawled out a letter. He added some money, and then he rushed out of the store to buy a train ticket. When Lar
"No, thanks, George. I got it." He handed George his letter. "Get that out as soon as you can. I'm expecting a bride in a little over three weeks."
"Will do. And may she be as sweet and precious a woman as you've ever seen."
Lars waved on his way out, putting his supplies in the back of the wagon before climbing in to make the two hour drive home. He was thankful Margaret had answered his letter. She seemed like a woman with a sense of humor, and that was important to him. When she found out he really never planned to love her or have any tender affections for her, she wouldn't be pleased.
That was simply not to be helped, though. He'd buried his heart in his back field with his wife and stillborn son. No, there was no love left in him to give her. He'd give her children though. That's all he had left.
He thought of nothing but his sweet Olga the whole way home. They'd married in Norway before he'd found out about the railroad's offer for farmers. There weren't enough men in the West, so the Northern Pacific railroad had offered cheap package deals for farmers to buy land and get transportation all for one lump sum. He'd jumped at the chance, bringing his new bride with him.
Lars had only been nineteen when he'd crossed the ocean with Olga in tow. She'd lost the baby she was carrying while they were on the ship, and had begun to cry and beg him to return home then.
He couldn't though. How could a man pass up the opportunity to work land that was meant to be farmed? The land in all of Scandinavia had been brutal to farmers for centuries. No, he knew he was doing the right thing.
Now he wondered if he'd been closer to home when Olga had first gone into labor if she'd have lived. If their son would have lived?
No more would he worry about those things. Mail order brides were easy to come by here in the United States. If this one died, he'd just send for another. There would be no love involved. There couldn't be. Lars Borgen no longer had a heart.
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