Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove, page 1
Twin sisters say “I do” in the Wild West!
SURPRISE BRIDE FOR THE COWBOY by Lauri Robinson
Mary McCary never wanted to be a mail-order bride, but falling off the Oak Grove train into Steve Putnam’s lap changes everything... Could he be the cowboy to tempt her down the aisle?
TAMING THE RUNAWAY BRIDE by Kathryn Albright
Running from trouble, Maggie McCary signs up to be a mail-order bride. She doesn’t intend to actually marry...until she shares one sensational kiss with Jackson Miller!
Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove
From runaways to brides!
When twins Mary and Maggie McCary are caught selling their family tonic without a permit, they’re forced to agree to become mail-order brides to stay out of jail! Taking the train to Oak Grove, the pair are soon separated—but both their adventures lead to unexpected romance... and the promise of wedding bells!
Don’t miss this delightfully warm and funny duet—two stories in one volume—from
Lauri Robinson and Kathryn Albright
Read Mary’s story in
Surprise Bride for the Cowboy
by Lauri Robinson
Maggie’s story in
Taming the Runaway Bride
by Kathryn Albright
A lover of fairy tales and cowboy boots, Lauri Robinson can’t imagine a better profession than penning happily-ever-after stories about men—and women—who pull on a pair of boots before riding off into the sunset...or kick them off for other reasons. Lauri and her husband raised three sons in their rural Minnesota home, and are now getting their just rewards by spoiling their grandchildren. Visit her at laurirobinson.blogspot.com, Facebook.com/lauri.robinson1 or Twitter.com/laurir.
Kathryn Albright writes American-set historical romance for Harlequin. From her first breath she has had a passion for stories that celebrate the goodness in people. She combines her love of history and her love of stories to write novels of inspiration, endurance and hope. Visit her at kathrynalbright.com and on Facebook.
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Tabel of Contents
SURPRISE BRIDE FOR THE COWBOY by Lauri Robinson
TAMING THE RUNAWAY BRIDE by Kathryn Albright
Excerpt from The Debutante’s Daring Proposal by Annie Burrows
thank you for the use of your son’s name.
Steve’s a great guy, and you have a lot to be proud of!
“We won’t go.” Mary McCary wrapped her fingers around the bars separating her from Sheriff Willard Freiday and his spit-polished shiny badge. “We simply refuse.”
“You can’t refuse,” he replied.
She squeezed the bars a bit harder as his grin grew as smug as a cat lying in the sun. “Yes, we can. You can’t make us become mail-order brides.”
He shrugged. “No, I can’t, but I do have orders from Mayor Winsted that you two either agree to go to Kansas as mail-order brides or the town will press charges against you.”
Mary kept the growl that rumbled in her throat as quiet as possible. She’d figured all the bottles of tonic that Mayor Winsted’s wife kept buying would eventually get them in trouble, but not so much they’d be jailed, or exiled. Still, that had happened before. Da had gotten them kicked out of towns all across Ohio and a good portion of Pennsylvania. Or they’d left before they could get kicked out. “We didn’t do anything illegal,” she insisted.
“You are behind these bars because you don’t have a permit to sell those bottles of snake oil your father made. I’d have thought that stuff was all gone by now. He’s been dead going on a year.”
Disrespecting her kin was a sure way to get her riled up, but the good sheriff had already done that. “Our father died six month ago, Sheriff, and if anyone is pressing charges, it should be us. That stagecoach ran Da over in broad daylight.”
“Your father was drunk off his own concoction and stumbled in the stage’s path. There was nothing the driver could do. The judge already told you that.”
Her temper made the top of her head burn. “It’s a medicinal tonic. McCary’s Finest Recipe Tonic, and of course the judge says there was nothing anyone could do. He’s the stage driver’s brother. Furthermore, I already showed you Da’s permit. You have it.”
“Which doesn’t have your names on it, does it?”
“This town wouldn’t give us a permit even if we asked,” Maggie piped in.
“My sister is right,” Mary pointed out. “This town has never been overly friendly to any of us McCarys.”
The sheriff grinned. “All the more reason you should appreciate the efforts the mayor is taking. Oak Grove is a growing community in Kansas and needs women to marry some of the already prosperous men settling in that area.”
“Kansas?” Maggie asked. “Where’s Kansas?”
“West,” Mary answered her twin. Questioning if she was correct, she turned to the sheriff. “It’s west of here, right?”
“Yes, Kansas is west of here, and you aren’t the only women making the trip. There will be a dozen young ladies from this area. A Pullman car has been reserved for your trip. You’ll have beds to sleep in, plenty to eat, and of course you’ll be able to explore the sights of many fine cities along the way while the train makes its regular stops.”
“You can sweet-talk us all you want, Sheriff,” Maggie said. “My sister and I aren’t leaving. We are staying right here. Permit or not.”
Mary laid a hand on Maggie’s shoulder. Life had never been easy, but they’d gotten used to living in a house this past year. Granted the house was owned by the city and every month the sheriff stopped by to collect the rent, which wasn’t always easy to come by. Da had sold enough tonic to cover the bills, but since his death, she and Maggie had had to supplement their income by placing friendly bets they could pick the right card out of the deck or find the rock under the correct cup. It wasn’t too hard to collect a few dollars from local men. The McCary sisters’ shiny black hair and sky-blue eyes was the reason. They’d inherited that from their mother. At least that was what Da always said. However, those dollars were getting harder to come by considering the sheriff didn’t approve of the betting games any more than he did the selling of their tonic. Maybe it was time they moved on.
“I’m not becoming a mail-order bride,” Maggie said. “Marrying a man I don’t know and then living with him the rest of my life. I’m only nineteen. That could be a long time.”
Being twins, they could practically read each other’s minds, and that was what Mary took into consideration right now. The town owned the house they rented, and could evict them as easily as they’d been arrested. They’d had to sell their wagon to pay Da’s funeral bills, so an eviction wo
Lifting a brow, she looked directly into Maggie’s eyes. “Marriage is only until death do we part,” Mary said. There were plenty of towns between Ohio and Kansas where they could part from the others, and a fresh start might be exactly what they needed.
A smile formed on Maggie’s face. Mary’s too.
The sheriff cleared his throat, but the way his gaze shot between her and Maggie was enough to make Mary want to giggle.
“You are right, dear sister,” Maggie said. “Until death do we part.”
“We’ll accept your offer, Sheriff,” Mary interrupted. “When does the train leave?”
Oak Grove, Kansas.
Steve Putnam flipped the reins of his big gray gelding over the hitching post outside of the Wet Your Whistle Saloon and stepped up on the boardwalk in order to get out of the cloud of dust being swirled up along the main street of town. A parade of wagons, buggies and people on horseback and afoot was the cause. All headed in one direction. The train station. The last place you’d find him today. In his opinion, the entire town had gone loco over this mail-order bride scheme.
Turning about, he headed toward the batwing doors of the saloon. The “Closed” sign didn’t stop him from pushing the doors apart and letting them swing shut behind him.
The sight of Chris and Danny Sanders dressed in their Sunday best had Steve pushing the brim of his hat up in order to take a second look at the cousins walking toward him.
“Sorry, Steve, we’re closed,” Danny said. “Didn’t you see the sign?”
“Why?” Steve asked, not bothering to say he’d seen the sign.
“The women are arriving today,” Chris answered.
Taken aback, Steve shook his head. “You two bought into this hare-brained idea?” The cousins had opened the saloon in Oak Grove with the insurance money they’d received after the one they’d owned in Dodge City had burned down. Their business seemed to be flourishing and he couldn’t believe either Chris or Danny was looking for a mail-order bride.
Pointing a thumb at his much taller cousin, Danny said, “Chris here contributed heavily to the cause.”
“Why?” Steve directed his question toward Chris.
The cousins didn’t look much alike, not even with their blond hair oiled smooth against their heads and matching black suits complete with red vests and gold watch chains hanging from their pockets. They didn’t act much alike, either. Danny was shorter and always smiling and joking, while Chris was tall, thin and far more serious, especially when it came to money, and that was what Steve couldn’t believe. That Chris would have made a contribution to the Oak Grove Betterment Committee that had been raising money the past year “to bring suitable women of marrying age to their fine community.” He’d seen so many fliers and newspapers articles about the far-fetched idea he knew the sales pitch word for word.
“For the betterment of the community of course,” Chris answered.
Steve gave him a glare that said he knew the man was lying.
“Fine,” Chris said. “If there’s anyone we can trust with the truth, it’s you. Danny and I aren’t looking for wives, and we don’t believe every woman on that train will make a suitable one, either.”
Danny’s laughter left a sly grin on his face. “But they just might want to work in a high-end establishment such as the Whistle.”
“You’re hoping to get a couple of saloon gals out of the deal?” That was as hard to believe as the idea of getting a wife through this scheme.
“Why not?” Danny asked. “Working here would be far better than marrying a few of those men offering up their hands. Can you imagine any woman wanting to take up residence with Wayne Stevens and that creature he calls a dog? It’s dang near as big as your horse and I hear tell it sleeps in his bed every night.”
Steve had heard the same, and Wayne’s dog was big enough to saddle. Still he shook his head. “I just didn’t expect you two to participate in this idea.”
Chris withdrew his watch and clicked open the cover to check the time. As he poked it back in his pocket, he asked, “If you aren’t here to meet the train, why are you in town in the middle of the day?”
“Rex buried an ax in his knee chopping kindling last night,” Steve answered. “Doc was out and stitched him up, but said he’d be laid up for at least three weeks. I came to see if I could hire Helen Oswoski to cook for my boys for a month or so. With it being roundup time, I don’t have a man to spare.”
Danny let out a whistle. “Rex already has a hunk of wood for one leg.”
Everyone knew Rex Walton had lost a leg in the war, and Steve was worried the man would end up without both legs if he didn’t follow the doctor’s orders. “Unfortunately, it was the other leg he buried the ax in.”
“Sorry to tell you, but Helen Oswoski got married last month,” Chris said. “To Ole Hanson. She’s helping him run his stage stop between here and Dodge.”
“I hadn’t heard that,” Steve admitted. He’d made a mental list of people he could hire to cook for his hands, and Helen, being a widow, had been the only viable choice.
“I sure can’t think of anyone who might be able to help you out,” Danny said. “Maybe you can pick one of the brides off the train.”
Frustration made Steve’s neck muscles burn. “I don’t need a bride, I need a cook.”
“Suppose you could ride down to Dodge, might find some options there,” Chris suggested.
“I might have to,” Steve admitted. “Don’t have that kind of time, but might have to make it. Walter cooked breakfast for everyone and the entire lot said they’d quit if that happened again tonight.”
Chris slapped Steve’s shoulder as the train whistle sounded. “Maybe there’re some other newcomers getting off the train in need of work. Won’t hurt to check.”
The odds were slim, but men working their way west and looking to earn a few dollars had been known to get off the train now and again. For the time it would take, it sure as heck was a better choice than the hundred-mile ride to Dodge City, which could prove just as futile. This time of year, most everyone who wanted to be working had a job.
Steve followed the cousins out of the saloon and up the boardwalk to the train station, which was already packed with people. Of course Josiah Melbourne was in the middle of the crowd, up on a platform that had been decorated with ribbons for the occasion and acting like his pompous self. This entire bride idea had been his. Short and pudgy, he probably knew this might be his only hope of ever acquiring a wife.
As far as Steve was concerned, the mayor could have every bride the town had ordered. He’d seen what this county did to women, and men. There hadn’t been a town here fifteen years ago when his family had left Georgia shortly after the war. He hadn’t known what his father had promised his mother, but he remembered all the things he’d dreamed about while walking alongside the wagon for months on end. A house far bigger than the one that had been burned down by Union soldiers, a barn full of horses, rivers full of fish to catch and woods full of deer to hunt—things ten-year-old boys dream about.
Their arrival to what everyone now knew as the Circle P Ranch, his ranch, hadn’t been what any of them had expected.
Used to growing cotton and tobacco in the fertile soil of Georgia, his father had taken one look at the treeless, dried-up ground and concluded whatever might grow here would never feed a family. But, it would feed critters, so he’d invested the last bits of money they’d had in cattle. His father’s investment had paid off—selling cattle to the army posts and later the railroad as tracks were laid west proved lucrative—but it hadn’t happened fast enough for his mother.
She hadn’t lasted two years out here. Losing an infant son to pneumonia the first winter and a three-year-old daughter
His mother was buried next to his sister and baby brother, and to his father, who after losing his wife had slowly started to die, blaming her death on himself. He’d watched his father drink himself to death for five years. The day his father died, Steve had determined he’d never get married. He’d been seventeen, and in the past eight years he’d never once questioned that vow.
Partly because he hadn’t had time to. He’d been too busy building the Circle P Ranch to one of the largest in the state. He now had a house bigger than the one he’d been born in down in Georgia, a barn full of horses, and more cattle than he could count in a day. What he didn’t have was a cook for the men who worked for him. The men who made it possible for him to be the rancher he was today. The men who counted on him for three squares a day.
Ignoring how the mayor was welcoming the crowd and congratulating everyone on the “betterment of the community,” Steve worked his way to the front of the crowd, where he could watch the passengers depart and hopefully snag a man who knew the difference between salt and sugar to work for him for a few months.
The door of the passenger car had yet to open, and the windows were too full of soot to see through, but he kept his eyes peeled for a suitable candidate to step off the short metal stairs.
“You here to get wife, no?”
Without turning his head, Steve glanced to his right and then upwards. He was close to six feet tall, but Brett Blackwell, the local blacksmith and owner of the feed store, towered over him. With arms thicker than most men’s thighs and an equally thick Swedish accent with touches of the Midwest in it, the blacksmith looked down at him.
“You, Steve Putnam, you here for wife?”
“No,” Steve answered. “I’m here for a cook.”