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A Hopeful Path to Change their Fate

She wants to find her own destiny as a mail-order bride. He wants to find someone to unlock his heart. Will the two find the key for their happiness before time runs out?

Leaving her tragic past behind, Emily decides to become a mail-order bride and take life into her own hands. However, marrying a cynical man like James is a challenge on its own. Emily finds herself on an emotional rollercoaster she has never imagined. How can she show this man that all he must do is let open a small door in his heart for their love to bloom?

James is a hard-headed rancher that chooses to live without the influence of people. However, when push comes to shove, he asks for a mail-order bride to share the burden of his ranch. How can he let his heart’s desire lead him to a path of love for Emily and himself?

To belong to each other, Emily and James must take care of their festering soul wounds. Will they fight against people that want them apart when their love is at stake?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.6/5

4.6 out of 5 (65 ratings)

Prologue

Concord, Massachusetts

May 1865

 

My most cherished Emily, I cannot wait to begin our lives together.

Emily read the words of her betrothed for perhaps the hundredth time since his last letter arrived. The creamy, smooth paper and his perfect handwriting showered her with words of love and devotion, of their happy life that would come. It all felt like a dream that she was a princess being whisked off to marry her prince, if princes were New York businessmen named Edward. Once they were married, he even had a castle to live in, a mansion in Long Island surrounded by trees and gardens, and a hundred staff to tend to their every need or want. It would be an absolute dream.

The smell of burning toast pulled her from her daydreams as she shoved the letter in her dress pocket and wrenched open the oven door. Oh, blast. The toast was as black as charcoal down a lampless mine. She could only hope that her parents would be okay with eggs and porridge then. The porridge was a little lumpy, the eggs rubbery, but it tasted fine enough. Emily thought she did alright, all things considered. It took her an hour just to figure out how to light the contraption of a stove.

The kitchen sweltered as she cooked. How on God’s green earth did their maid manage day in and day out in this heat, at the beginning of summer, no less? It was a pity that the maid fell sick, but it must be a lovely break from the hot oven. Emily only wished that the maid wasn’t sick today. Emily had far too much to do, and she would be rushing out the door the moment she finished. She wouldn’t even have time to change into traveling clothes, not that her aunt would mind. Emily was certain that she would never bother with such things as cooking once she was married. Her mother told her it would be suitable for a proper wife to know how to cook, though Emily never saw her mother lift so much as a ladle.

The kitchen of her family home was of a typical sort. The massive wood-burning oven took up the better part of one wall. In the middle of the room, there was a scrubbed wooden table laden with all the things Emily used to cook—or attempted to cook, at least. A door and a large window were to her left, which acted as the staff entrance at most times, but was also the quickest way to the stables. Under the window was a large sink. On the opposite wall, shelves were stacked up to the ceiling with pots, pans, and dishes.

Her mother would have to lift a ladle today, as Emily didn’t have time to stay and eat with her family. To help with preparations for her wedding, Emily’s aunt was making her wedding dress. It was going to be an extravagant gown and a highlight of the social columns in New York. The entire thing was luxurious white satin, the same color in which Queen Victoria was married. Emily’s father even ordered lace from France at great expense. As such, Emily would stay with her aunt for the weekend for her fittings. It had to be perfect; everything had to be perfect. Every time she thought of her upcoming marriage, she was filled with jitters. It was hard to believe, only eighteen, and she had already found her match, a good match at that.

They were going to be married in Edward’s home in Long Island. The gardens would be perfect for it, and last time she visited, she picked out the very spot where they would say their vows. The gardeners were planting special flowers this year to match the colors for their wedding, the scent of lilies and orchids acting the backdrop. It was all so exciting and everything she had ever dreamed of. At the same time, she loved Concord and her family. Once she was married, she would be leaving everything she knew behind.

“Miss, your carriage is ready.” The stable boy, a boy in his mid-teens with ruddy red hair and a freckled face, took off his hat as he stood by the kitchen doors. “And your bags have already been loaded. Will that be all, miss?”

Emily didn’t realize she was taking so long. “Yes, thank you, Timothy. I’ll be right there.” She put down the wooden spoon on the edge of the stovetop and blindly tossed her apron on the table as she rushed through the door.

Her parents were in the dining room, a bright room with white curtains and painted a robin’s egg blue, enjoying a cup of tea to start the day. Her mother was wearing her favorite blue day dress with her pearl cameo. She had green eyes like Emily but curling auburn hair in place of Emily’s straight chestnut. Her father was in his good suit, likely getting ready for meetings in town.

“The carriage is ready; I’m leaving for Aunt Theodora’s now! Breakfast is waiting on the stove when you’re ready.”

Her mother offered a warm smile. “Thank you so much, darling. You enjoy yourself.”

“We’ll see you Monday, Emily,” her father added with a wink.

The carriage was in front of the stables, ready to take her away to the beginning of her future. The house was two stories in the New England style with a small stable for their personal horses next to it. Not only was her father the mayor, but he also owned a large cattle ranch a little way away from the house. They were a little outside of Concord so that the home and her father’s ranch were all on the same land.

The stable boy opened the door for her as she lifted the hem of her skirts to climb inside. Timothy gave the door a hearty slap once she was safely seated, and the carriage jolted into motion. Beside herself with unrestrained excitement, Emily reached in her pocket for her betrothed’s letter again. This was just one step closer to being with him, forever.

Not for the first time, she wondered what it would be like to live in the sprawling, bustling New York. It was a strange thought that soon it would be the last time she would look back at her childhood home in the distance. Soon, it would be the last time she watched her father read his newspaper over breakfast or watch her mother plan their next social event. Sitting back in the carriage, her eyes traced the pattern in the fabric her mother picked for the cushions. The road rolled by through the window, and she felt an urge toward home.

She glanced back for a moment, expecting to see her distant house amid the rolling hills of their extensive property. Instead, all she saw was billowing smoke.

“Stop! Driver, stop!” Emily screamed, slapping the side of the carriage so that he might hear. He pulled hard on the reins, the horses whinnying and bucking at the sudden command. Before they fully stopped, Emily leaped from the carriage and ran back to her home. The sky filled with black smoke as she crested the last hill and saw her home utterly engulfed in flame.

The world was spinning and went frozen all at once. She couldn’t think; she couldn’t breathe. Her parents…her parents were inside when she left. She said goodbye to them, remembered them smiling.

“Mother! Father!” Emily screamed, unthinkingly running toward the fire. A crowd gathered, and a townsperson caught Emily around the waist. “Mother! Father! Let me go! Mother! Father! Please save them! They’re in there! Someone save them, please!” Her voice cracked in her screams, getting stuck on the sobs that threatened to shake through her body. Her face was wet with tears, yet she kept screaming for someone to get her parents out. She fought against the person who held her, never looking at their face. The only thing that seemed to exist was the roaring heat of the all-consuming flames.

Emily screamed until her voice was broken. Men tried fetching buckets of water to put the fire out, but it was no use. The fire moved too quickly, eating through the timbers until nothing was left. The house was gone, and so was anyone left inside.

Chapter One

June 1865

 

It was a month. One horrible month. Emily sat in her Aunt Theodora’s drawing-room, wearing one of the three black dresses Aunt Theodora loaned her. A book sat in her lap, Pride and Prejudice. The book was one of Emily’s favorites, but no matter how hard she stared at the words, she simply couldn’t make sense of them. Everything felt numb, like she was floating apart from the rest of the world. Nothing remained of the house; barely even the timbers survived the blaze. Days later, through careful sifting through the wreckage, men from the town found some remains of her parents, but nothing else. No staff members were inside at the time of the fire. The cast-iron stove alone survived, standing formidable and cursed in the ashes.

Emily only went back once, just once. Standing at the kitchen entrance, she simply stared into the blackness of her home. She did this. She knew it down to the core of her being that she caused the blaze. She was careless and too excited to see her wedding dress that she hadn’t taken proper caution with the oven. She remembered throwing her apron on her way out the door. Had it fallen on the stove and started the fire? Or had it been the wooden spoon? Did she leave a damper open, letting sparks fly from within? She didn’t know and would never know. The only thing she knew was that she had killed her parents. That single fact devoured her night and day. She couldn’t sleep without seeing fire in her dreams, couldn’t eat without thinking of the meal she cooked so carelessly.

The bits of bone found were buried together in the town graveyard, the final resting place of Mayor and Madam Fallon of Concord, Massachusetts.

Emily hated to think about the funeral. Most of it went by in a haze of grief and disbelief. At only eighteen, she was an orphan; her parents were reduced to ash by her own hand. Vaguely, she could remember sitting in the graveyard as the minister read from a book of sermons. She assumed it went something like, “The Lord is my Sheppard,” but even she wouldn’t be able to say for sure. A bouquet of white roses on her lap, the petals fluttered down to the ground as the flowers were slowly crushed in her hands. Afterward, there was a reception. A thousand different townspeople offered condolences as Aunt Theodora tried to encourage her to eat something. How did all those people simply move on after her parent’s death? Why was she the only one who felt the entire world shift?

“It is a lovely day out, why don’t we go pick some flowers for your parents? The goldenrod is stunning,” her aunt suggested, forever trying to give out suggestions to help Emily mourn, to get past this. Aunt Theodora was her mother’s older sister. She was elderly and widowed but still quite beautiful, with auburn hair lined with silver. Her home was a cottage in the village next to Concord, and she had enough money after her husband’s passing to live in relative comfort.

“Mother would have preferred roses,” Emily murmured, even though the season for roses had long passed. She didn’t even get to place the white roses on the casket the day of the funeral, only fallen petals. In truth, she simply had no desire to go outside. Every time she stepped out the door, she felt the stares of the townspeople. There goes the mayor’s daughter, such a pity what happened to them. Or there goes the girl whose parents died in that fire. She couldn’t stand it. She just wanted things to return to how they were. She wanted to get married, move to New York, and pretend her life never changed. She wanted to feel something again, not the gnawing emptiness that haunted her steps. No one in New York knew her, except for perhaps among Edward’s circles, her darling betrothed. The marriage was delayed after the fire, but she needed only wait until after the traditional mourning period. Then she could move on. Then she could let herself get swept up into married life and never think of Concord again. Maybe she would even learn to sleep without nightmares.

Emily met Edward a year previous when visiting New York with her father. She adored him immediately, and he with her. It was love at first sight. After she returned home, Edward wrote her letters nearly every day. He would tell her of his days, his family, but they were letters of love most of all.

Emily picked up the book again, staring at the opening line without absorbing anything. Her aunt’s maid entered and announced, “A letter just came for Miss Fallon,” and set the letter down on the table next to Emily.

Expecting it would be another letter of condolences from some far-off acquaintance, Emily was slow to put her book down and take the letter off the table. However, one glance at the handwriting, and she ripped it open. Her darling sweet Edward finally wrote to her. She understood that he was giving her time to grieve, but she missed his letters. In her last letter, she asked him to visit, or even for her to go to him. She was certain that Aunt Theodora would chaperone, or even his parents. She just needed a distraction away from all the grief and pain in her life right now. She only wanted to live again. She hoped this would be his reply to that, agreeing to whisk her away.

Miss Fallon,

I hope you are well. I send this letter with my deepest and most heartfelt condolences. Your father was a good man, and your mother very agreeable. I would have been honored to call them family.

Emily paused at the beginning of the letter. He always addressed his letters as “My dearest Emily” or “My beloved Emily.” He hadn’t called her Miss Fallon since they first met. She read on.

In light of current circumstances, it is with my deepest regrets that I must call off our engagement. I am, above all things, a man of business. As a lady of high society, I trust you will understand why I must cut ties. Marriage is an institute in which families become stronger together. We could have been the beginnings of a great empire. As that is no longer possible, I must seek my fortunes elsewhere.

All the best,

Edward Williams

Emily read and reread the letter. It didn’t feel real; nothing felt real. He couldn’t mean this. Her Edward, her darling, sweet, attentive Edward. The letter slipped from her trembling fingers and floated to the floor. Her aunt scooped it up, read it once, and pulled Emily into her arms.

She could remember Edward holding her once. He came to Concord to propose, and he took her out into the garden. Her mother’s roses were around as Edward spoke words of love and eternal adoration. She thought she would have died of happiness when he asked her to be his wife. He pulled her into his arms when she said yes, embracing the future they would have together.

“My sweet girl, I’m so sorry,” Aunt Theodora whispered as Emily felt her only hope of escape from her living nightmares shatter.

***

What was she going to do now? She had no bright future ahead of her anymore. She had a bit of money, the little her father tucked away in a bank. She had no connections, at least none that wouldn’t see her as the orphaned mayor’s daughter. She refused to speak of the letter with her aunt for several days, staying in her room most of the time instead. Emily sobbed and sobbed into her aunt’s arms that day, her future crashing down around her.

As the days went on, she looked paler. Since the fire, she barely slept, could rarely eat, and couldn’t go anywhere near the kitchen. Edward’s letter only made it worse. When she looked in the mirror, her cheeks were hollow, her dresses hung off her. Even one of her favorite dresses, the new sapphire blue day dress with the gold embroidered flowers on the hem. Even her glossy chestnut hair  lost its shine, her green eyes less dazzling.

They were out for a walk on the edge of the village one afternoon a week after the letter came, away from prying and pitying eyes. It seemed to be the only way Emily agreed to leave the house anymore. “Edward called off the wedding,” she whispered, surprising herself that she said anything at all. The road was lined with apple trees, the path filled with fallen petals and the rustle of leaves overhead.

“I know, sweet girl,” Aunt Theodora murmured back in a comforting tone. “It was rather heartless of him to do it that way. In a letter, no less, so soon after your parents’ passing.”

Emily made a slight noise of assent. Glancing up at the trees, she recalled how her mother loved the dappled light through the leaves. “I feel as though he used me.”

“May I ask…what was all that about business?” Aunt Theodora asked, “I read the letter; I’m sorry if you wanted to keep it to yourself. You looked so…broken. I had to be sure it wasn’t anything threatening.” She was apologetic, yet Emily could hear the note of anger in her voice. “Your mother never mentioned business in her visits, only that Edward was a nice boy from New York.

“No… it’s fine.” Emily shook her head. “He and father…they were going to go into business together. Edward was planning to expand, and Father, with all his connections, was going to help.” Emily looked down at her hands. “I thought he loved me.” She felt as though she nearly played the role of Lydia Bennet, being duped into marriage with her own personal Mr. Wickham.

“Some men love money more. It’ll always be their first mistress,” her aunt said regretfully. “Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that he showed his true colors. I doubt you would have been happy in a marriage like that. Oh, you would have been shown off to all his business associates and brought to all the fine social engagements, the theatre, the opera, everything. There is little joy in being little more than an ornament.”

Deep down, Emily knew her aunt was right. Her heart clenched, knowing that it was a life she once thought she wanted. “I just feel so blindsided. His letters were always about how much he loved me. But it seems that he only loved what my family could give him. I wish I could have seen that sooner.”

The rows of apple trees soon gave way to the edge of her aunt’s village. Emily fell quiet as they passed the houses dotting the road. Walking back toward her aunt’s house, another couple out for a summer stroll pointed and whispered as she walked past. Inside the house, the maid was laying the table for tea.

“I had a thought,” Aunt Theodora began once they were back inside. “You’ve been with me for a month now. Why don’t you stay with me for good?”

“Wh-what?” Emily was taken aback. While she knew she could stay in her aunt’s home as long as she liked, she never thought it was permanent lodging. “I couldn’t—”

“I insist. I have adored your company, and I have plenty of room. Stay.” Aunt Theodora took Emily’s hands in her own, “I could provide for you until we find you a nice husband. There is no rush for it. You could even marry for love, like in those books you adore.”

It was a nice dream that Emily once thought she could have. She thought Edward loved her once. “I’m not sure I could ever trust a man again to hand him my heart,” she admitted.

“Even so. Stay, please.” Aunt Theodora’s face was beseeching, her tone hopeful. Emily knew how much she adored the company.

Emily didn’t have an answer. She thought back to the whispers, the stares; she couldn’t live in that shadow forever. What other choice did she have? “I’ll give it some thought,” she answered, which seemed to satisfy her aunt for the time. In just a month, she lost everything. She lost her past in losing her parents, her home. She lost her future with Edward. This time with Aunt Theodora felt like she wouldn’t be living again until she found her own way.

“Well, whatever you decide, I’ll help you in whatever way I can.”

Emily embraced her aunt, “Thank you.”

***

          Two months into her stay with Aunt Theodora, Emily was sitting alone in the garden. Her father always liked to take his newspaper outside in the afternoon, whenever he had the chance. He always said that he could read better by the light.

She skimmed through the newspaper on her lap, not really reading it. She just wanted to feel closer to her parents, if just for a moment. She still didn’t know what she was going to do. She didn’t feel she should stay with her aunt forever, but what else could she do? She was a woman; it wasn’t as though she could just get a job and fend for herself.

As she turned the page, her eyes scanned the illustrations and the tiny squares of advertisements. Someone was selling a wagon. Another person was looking for a lost broach they had dropped at a local ball. The final advertisement caught Emily’s attention. A man named James Jackson was looking for a mail-order wife.

Sitting up a little, she reread his words. He was a young man, only twenty-five years old, and he already owned his own horse ranch in Montana Territory.

Emily couldn’t imagine going so far west, out into the wilds of America. Casting the idea away as foolish, Emily folded up the newspaper and went inside. The maid was preparing afternoon tea, and Emily knew her aunt would likely want her company.

***

Later that evening, however, Emily was still considering the letter. It was a foolhardy thing to do, of course. Absolutely ridiculous. Who in their right mind would give up their entire life to move across the country and marry a man they had never met?

At the same time, it was everything she could have asked for. She wanted a place away from here, away from Concord and the stares and the memories. She wanted a fresh start. This Mr. Jackson could provide that.

Emily wrote a reply, not fully believing that she would mail it. She wrote about her qualifications as a good wife but did not mention her parents. It wasn’t until the letter was fully written and in front of her that the realization hit Emily. This really could be the fresh start she was hoping for; it could be everything she needed. It was so different from the life she grew up to expect; it would be a complete reality shift. That was what she needed right now.

***

Three months since the fire, Emily walked into her aunt’s drawing-room. It was a small though cozy room off the kitchen, trimmed in blue and papered with a pattern of green thistles. “Aunt Theodora, do you have a moment?”

Aunt Theodora peered up from her needlepoint. “Have you come to a decision then?”

“Yes.” Emily fidgeted with her hands. “I have answered an advertisement to become a mail-order bride. My husband-to-be is waiting for me in Montana Territory.”

“My sweet girl!” Aunt Theodora rose to her feet. “Why would you ever do such a thing? To leave everything you know behind—”

“That’s exactly why,” Emily admitted. “I can’t stay here in Massachusetts. Everywhere I go, people whisper, and they stare, and I don’t want to keep living in the shadow of my past. I need a fresh start, away from here.”  It was sheer chance that she looked at the newspaper. She usually didn’t bother, but they reminded her of her father. It was as if he was showing her a new future.

“I understand, but you’ll be marrying a man you’ve never met. He could be anyone! I could provide you with the comfort that you are accustomed to,” Aunt Theodora pleaded. “It’s a hard life out there. You don’t need to go.”

“But I do.” Emily took her aunt’s hands, sitting with her on the little couch. “I’ve been sheltered all my life. I can’t keep living that way. It’s too late to change my mind. I’ve already sent my reply.”

Tears filled her aunt’s eyes. “Y-you promise me, if that man so much as lays a finger on you, you come straight back to me. I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you.”

Theodora’s late husband had not always been kind to her, and Emily brushed her aunt’s tears away. “I know. I promise.” She forced a smile that didn’t quite reach her heart, “Once I’m settled, perhaps you could come for a visit. It’s in the mountains. Perhaps the air will be good for your health?”

“My sweet girl, you won’t be able to keep me away.”

Emily embraced her aunt, feeling a familiar spark of hope for the first time in a long time. It was a terrifying concept to uproot her life and move halfway across the country to marry a man she had never met. But she fell in love once from a letter. Could she do it again?

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    • I am happy you are intrigued, Dorothy 😉! Please come back and let me know what you think once you’ve read it. I would love to hear from you 😘💕

    • Hello Carol Ann! I hope you will enjoy the rest of the novel as much as you enjoyed the preview 😊. I would love to hear your comments when you finish reading it!😘❤

    • I am very happy Chanda! ❤ I hope that you will enjoy reading my novel and I am looking forward to hearing what you think after you’ve finished it! 😊 😍

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