Mail-Order Bride Ink: Dear Mr. Vander, page 1
Dear Mr. Vander
mail-Order Bride Ink Book 4
Angel Creek Press
About the Author
Also by Kit Morgan
ANGEL CREEK PRESS
Dear Mr. Vander
(Mail-Order Bride Ink, Book Four)
by Kit Morgan
© 2017 Kit Morgan
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without permission in writing from the publisher. All characters are fictional. Any resemblances to actual people or livestock are purely coincidental.
Cover design by Angel Creek Press, The Killion Group and Hotdamndesigns.com
Denver, Colorado, 1901
Fantine LeBlanc hurried out of the butcher shop before Mrs. Anderson, the butcher’s wife, could pester her with more ridiculous questions regarding her employer. Mrs. Pettigrew was odd, that much was true. But to slander the woman – the nerve!
She hurried around a corner to her next stop. She’d been running errands and was almost done. When she got to the door of the milliner’s, she blew a wisp of hair out of her face, took a deep breath and went inside.
The shopkeeper, Mrs. Green, smiled. “Here for your order, Miss LeBlanc?”
“Oui, and I do hope you put enough feathers on this one. Madame Pettigrew was upset about the last hat you made for her.”
“I told my assistant to see to it, but she’s frugal, that one. I’ve a right mind to fire her.”
“No, no, you mustn’t do that! Madame Pettigrew would be more upset about that than a few silly feathers. Besides, she found some of her own to add.”
Mrs. Green’s eyes flashed with something – fear, perhaps? “I can only imagine,” she said, bending down beneath the front counter. She produced a large hatbox and set it before Fantine. “Here is Mrs. Pettigrew’s new hat. Would you like to inspect it?”
“Certainly,” she said, not wanting to chase after the neighbor’s peacocks again. Poor birds. She hoped the milliner had put enough feathers on this one!
Mrs. Green pulled off the lid, took out the hat and held it up for display. “What do you think?”
Fantine’s eyes widened and she smiled. The hat was for summer, with a wide straw brim, bright green ribbons and multicolored feathers. “Oh, Madame Green, you have outdone yourself!”
“Let’s hope your employer thinks so too. I rely on her recommending my shop to others. She’s in good social standing, Mrs. Pettigrew is. She’s sent me a fair share of business over the years.”
“Mais oui, Mrs. Green, I know. She does the same for everyone – the butcher, the baker, even the livery stable.” She thought of the butcher’s wife and her foul accusations. “There are some, though, that do not think as highly of Madame Pettigrew as yourself. They upset me.”
Mrs. Green put the hat back in the box. “If you’re referring to Mrs. Anderson, I totally agree. That woman …”
Fantine took a step back in shock. “You mean she has done this before?”
“I’m afraid so, child. Mrs. Anderson has no family, you see, no children. She gets worse and worse every year. I feel for Mr. Anderson. How would you like to sit across the supper table from that every night?”
Fantine cringed. “Not to mention go to bed with. She has a sharp tongue, that one. Sometimes I go in the butcher shop and feel as if I have been stabbed through the heart.”
Mrs. Green looked her over as if to check for damage. “You poor child. Have you told Mrs. Pettigrew?”
“Oh no, Madame, I could never do that! It would hurt her feelings to hear of Mrs. Anderson’s words.”
Mrs. Green stared at her moment, thinking. “I can’t imagine what she’s saying. Is it really that bad?”
“Oh yes, very bad.” She glanced this way and that to make sure they were alone, which of course they were. “I think she is jealous.”
“My dear girl, half of Denver is jealous of your employer. Of her bank account, to be more exact. You are very lucky to be working for her.”
“Which is why I feel it is my duty to defend her reputation, don’t you think?”
“Of course, my child, you should endeavor to do so. She’s a good woman, though a little … you know.”
Fantine smiled. “It is all right with me if you say she is eccentric. But with all that money, why not?”
“Indeed,” Mrs. Green chuckled.
Fantine giggled. She liked Mrs. Green. She was a kindly woman of middling age, brown hair and blue eyes. Her husband was a schoolteacher who sometimes helped in the hat shop. “Where is Mr. Green?”
“He’ll be home soon. Poor dear, I asked him to stop by the butcher shop on his way,” she finished with a giggle.
Fantine put a hand to her mouth to stifle her own laughter. “Poor Mr. Green. He is in for an earful today. Mrs. Anderson not only complained about Madame Pettigrew, but several others too. Does the woman not know her words will reach the ears of those she condemns?”
“Gossips seldom do. And, unfortunately, there are plenty of gossips in the world, Miss LeBlanc. Just be sure you don’t become one of them.”
Fantine looked shocked. “We are not gossiping now, are we?”
“No. I wouldn’t call this gossip. Let’s call it ‘an exchange of information.’ You simply told me what happened at the butcher shop, not what Mrs. Anderson said word for word.”
Fantine smiled in relief. “Rest assured, I will not speak that. That way no one can call you a gossip.”
“Why, thank you my dear,” Mrs. Green said with a bemused smile. “That’s very generous of you.”
She giggled again. “Think nothing of it, Madame Green.” She reached into her reticule, pulled out some money and paid for the hat. She bid the woman good day, left the shop and headed home.
When she arrived she took off her own hat and put it on the table near the front door. “Madame Pettigrew? I am back with your new chapeau!” She went into the parlor, but her employer wasn’t there. She went into the sitting room, and it too was empty. She tried the library next, then the solarium. Nope. She put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot a few times. “Where can she be?”
She ventured outside and found Mr. Tugs the gardener trimming a hedge near the back of the house. She also found Mrs. Pettigrew attempting to trim Mr. Tugs. “Madame! What are you doing?”
Mrs. Pettigrew, a pair of shears in her hand, was bent over Mr. Tugs, who in turn was bent over a low hedge. Both were snipping away. “Is it not obvious, ma petite? I am giving him a haircut.”
“While he’s working?!”
“What better time? After all, he is holding still.”
Fantine tried not to groan. Mr. Tugs rarely moved as it was, and no wonder – he had to be at least ninety years old. “Does he know what you are doing?” She had to ask – his hearing wasn’t that good. For all she knew, poor Mr. Tugs was unaware Mrs. Pettigrew
“Of course he knows I am here. He asked for the haircut.”
“What does it matter?” Mrs. Pettigrew asked. “Either way, he needs one. Besides, it gives me something to do. This afternoon has been rather dull.”
“Not so with me,” she muttered to herself.
“What was that, ma cherie?”
Fantine pressed her lips together. Mrs. Anderson’s words still burned. If Fantine wasn’t a lady, she’d have thrown a lamb chop at her. “Nothing, Madame. Where would you like me to put your hat?”
“On my head, of course. Why did you not bring it here?”
Fantine blinked a few times and wondered if she’d ever get used to this. “It is in the parlor.”
“Well, don’t just stand there, go and get it!” She returned to Mr. Tugs, who’d moved a few inches to his right. “You missed a spot,” Mrs. Pettigrew pointed.
Locked in his hunched-over position, Mr. Tugs inched his way back to the left, snipped a few times and slowly shuffled to the right again.
Fantine ran back inside, took the hat from its box and returned to the back lawn, glad to find that the poor man wasn’t laid out face first in the verge. “Here it is, Madame. Is it not magnificent?”
Madame Pettigrew clapped her hands together in delight. The shears fell from her hand and landed on poor Mr. Tugs’ posterior. “Ohhhh!” he said in surprise, turning his head like a turtle to see what was going on.
“Forgive me!” Mrs. Pettigrew cried. “Here, let me make it up to you.” She helped poor old Mr. Tugs straighten up (via several creaks and pops of his spine), put the hat on his head, then tied the ribbon beneath his chin in a lovely bow. “There, now the sun will not redden your poor little head. I shall trim your hair later, oui?”
Without a word, Mr. Tugs slowly returned to trimming the hedge. At least the bright green feathers on the hat matched his waistcoat.
“Come now, ma belle, we have work to do!” Mrs. Pettigrew turned with a flourish and headed back into the house.
Fantine glanced between her retreating form and poor Mr. Tugs, threw her hands in the air and followed.
Once inside they went straight to the office. “Did you get all the errands done, ma petite?” her employer asked.
“Yes, Madame.” Fantine sat in a chair across the desk from Madame Pettigrew. “Though I was kept overlong at the butcher’s.”
“Mrs. Anderson?” Mrs. Pettigrew sighed as she leafed through a sheaf of papers.
Fantine stared at her in shock. “How did you know?”
Mrs. Pettigrew looked up. “My precious child, everyone knows.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Then you know she has started to say vile things about you?”
“Of course. Next week she may be saying vile things about you.”
Fantine gasped. “She would not! The woman barely knows me!”
“Ma douce, when it comes to people like Mrs. Anderson, they don’t have to know you. They simply make things up.”
A hand flew to her mouth. “That is terrible!”
Mrs. Pettigrew straightened the stack of papers and put them in a drawer. “Everyone agrees with you. But the world is full of terrible people – some not so terrible as others, but still.” She placed her silver monocle over one eye and peered at Fantine’s horrified expression across the desk. “You cannot allow yourself to be naïve. You will not get far in this world if you do.”
Fantine let her eyes wander to the rows and rows of framed letters on the office walls, each one from a mail-order bride her employer had sent off to be married. How many of those women were naïve when they headed west into an unknown future with a perfect stranger? She gulped at the thought. “Madame Pettigrew?”
Mrs. Pettigrew looked up from a paper she’d been scribbling on. “What is it, my dear?”
“All those letters,” she said with a sweep of her hand at the walls. “How could those women do such a thing?”
Mrs. Pettigrew glanced at the nearest wall. “Get married? It’s quite simple really. Go before a preacher, exchange some vows, eat some cake and there you are.”
Fantine shook her head. “No, no, no. Were they naïve like me?”
“I never said you were naïve. I said to not allow yourself to become that way.”
“But I am.” Fantine insisted.
Mrs. Pettigrew put down her pen. “Fantine, who said you were naïve?”
“Well … Mrs. Anderson –”
“My dear girl,” Mrs. Pettigrew interjected. “We have already established that Mrs. Anderson is not the best person to listen to.” She smiled, shook her head and stood. She went to the nearest wall, studied several different frames, then plucked one from its nail and returned to her desk. “Sophie Baxter,” she sat. “She was naïve.”
“How so, Madame? What happened to her?”
“She went west not so very long ago. Let me think …” She drummed her fingers on the frame. “She came to see me two, perhaps three years ago.”
“So recent?” Fantine said in shock. “Where did you send her?”
“To Independence, Oregon.”
“Is that near Clear Creek? Where Mr. Turner and the Comfort brothers live? I so love their stories that you told me.”
“No, Independence is closer to the ocean in the west. Clear Creek is on the eastern side of the state.” She ran a hand over the frame and smiled. “Poor Sophie. She was so upset about getting arrested.”
“Oui, but everything turned out in the end. Eventually. Well, more or less.”
Fantine quickly glanced at the clock. With any luck she could coax the story out of her employer before teatime. “What did she do to get arrested?”
“Oh, she was accused of murder,” Mrs. Pettigrew said casually.
“Don’t look so alarmed, ma chere. She found a good lawyer.”
Fantine stared at her in shock, then said weakly, “He must have been a very good lawyer. She obviously did not go to prison… did she?”
Mrs. Pettigrew smiled. “He was a very good lawyer.”
Fantine paled. “Was?”
Portland, Oregon, June 1898
“Fletcher Vander, you are the worst lawyer I have ever had the displeasure of working with!”
Fletcher cringed and held his leather briefcase to his chest like a shield. Mr. Woolley, of the law firm of Woolley, Holmes & Shunk, was balding, red-faced (a lot redder at the moment) and about to throw a paperweight at him. Fletcher raised the briefcase in front of his face instead.
Mr. Woolley pulled his arm back, remembered the paperweight was a gift from his wife and thought better of it. “Get out!”
The briefcase came down. “Mr. Woolley, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying, you’re fired!”
“Fired! But … you can’t fire me!”
Mr. Woolley planted his fists on the desk and leaned toward him. If not for his big belly, he’d have been able to lean a lot farther. Not that distance mattered, considering what he said next. “I believe I just did. So take your ill-educated hide out of our office, go back to that flea-bitten little hometown of yours and stay there! If you want to practice law, do it someplace else!”
“But Mr. Woolley, all the evidence in this case points to…”
“To you leaving my office. Now!”
Fletcher ran a hand through his light brown hair and shoved his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. He was sweating, which made them slide. “If you’ll give me another chance…”
“Which I won’t.” Mr. Woolley sighed. “Son, did you ever consider that you’re just not cut out to be a lawyer?”
“But … my father’s a lawyer. My grandfather’s in politics …”
“Your grandfather has been the mayor of that tiny burg for how long? He’ll die in City Hall, for crying out loud, and the rest of the world none the wiser!”
Fletcher shrugged. “Everyo
“And you can’t help being a rotten attorney, I suppose?”
Fletcher pressed his lips together and ran a hand through his dark hair before he said something he shouldn’t. Not that it mattered now. “Could I at least get a letter of reference?”
Mr. Woolley sat heavily in his chair. “Fine. Not that you’ll need it in Independence.”
“What makes you think I’ll head back home? Maybe I’ll go practice law in Seattle or head to Chicago or New York.” Fletcher straightened for good measure, shoulders back, head high.
“Son,” Mr. Woolley began. “Heaven help any town where you decide to practice.” He reached for paper, ink and pen, scribbled out a paragraph, signed it and shoved it across his desk.
Fletcher met his ex-employer’s rock-hard gaze, picked up the paper and glanced at it. His gray eyes went wide as his eyebrows shot sky high. “This is to my father!”
“Yes. As he’s the only lawyer in that town, I thought he should be warned.”
Fletcher took a deep breath and put the paper in his briefcase. Mr. Woolley was obviously through with the conversation and wouldn’t listen to reason. Fine – he’d find employment elsewhere. Better yet, he’d start his own practice! It’s not like he hadn’t been thinking about it. In truth, he’d thought about it a lot lately; Mr. Woolley was simply forcing his hand.
The question now was, where should he go?
Fletcher left Mr. Woolley’s office and closed the door behind him. Mary, the firm’s secretary, cast him a sympathetic look. She was a matronly woman, older than any of the attorneys and, as the saying went, knew where all the bodies were buried. “The old man sacked you, huh?”
Fletcher blew out a lengthy sigh and leaned against the door. “You heard?”
KIT MORGAN SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Love Comes Home (Cutter's Creek Book 24)Dorcas: An Independence Day Bride (Brides of Noelle Book 6)Reading the Rancher (Cowboys and Angels Book 28)Lula (Cowboys & Debutantes: Historical Book 5)Trail to Clear Creek (Thanksgiving Books & Blessings Collection One Book 3)Montana Sky: Anson's Mail-Order Bride (Kindle Worlds) (The Jones's of Morgan's Crossing Book 1)Montana Sky: Gifts 0f Love (Kindle Worlds Novella) (The Jones's of Morgan's Crossing Book 4)Holidays with the WeaversMontana Sky: Christmas With The Jones's (Kindle Worlds Novella) (The Jones's of Morgan's Crossing Book 5)Montana Sky: An Unexpected Gift (Kindle Worlds Novella) (The Jones's of Morgan's Crossing Book 3)
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