He expected a new pair of trousers for Christmas. Instead, a mail-order bride arrived on his doorstep. Will she manage to show this wounded man that it was God’s gift to find each other?
Lottie never expected that her journey to the West would be that of a mail-order bride’s. She finds herself on a mountainous ranch with a stranger who also didn’t want to get married. It was a set-up and now, she must hold tight and trust in God’s will that this was His plan all along. How can she show this lonely cowboy that meeting on Christmas day was a heavenly gift?
Benjamin, the seventh son of a family of brothers and the sheriff in town, leads a solitary life. He’s been betrayed time and again and he’s in no mood for love. When the spirited Lottie ends up in his home, wounded and alone, he has no other choice but to take care of her. He has a long way ahead trusting God and His plan though. How can he let go of his fear and get hold of this accidental love?
To save themselves and enjoy Christmas, Benjamin and Lottie must move mountains to accept each other. Will the season of wonders bring two wounded hearts together in the end?
St. Mary’s Orphanage for Girls October 23, 1873
Dear Sister Mary Elizabeth,
I hope this letter finds you and the other Sisters in good health and even better spirits. Please give the Reverend Mother my best wishes as well. Nebraska is a definite change from Chicago, but I am happy and healthy, which is all one can expect. My husband Stephen sends his regards and has promised me that we will take a trip north and come visit everyone there sometime soon.
I look forward to that day.
I’m writing to you today to ask for your help, and I know that I can trust your wisdom and discretion in this unusual request. I would normally not even consider trying to play matchmaker, but in this instance, I feel strongly that God wanted me to reach out to you and see if maybe there is a solution that will help everyone involved.
As you know, after leaving St. Mary’s Orphanage, Sara Jane and I stayed together and were lucky enough to marry men of integrity and Christian values. Moving West was its own adventure, and we finally ended up in Kansas for a short while. While I was never blessed with children, Sara Jane had seven. I was with her when she passed right after giving birth to her seventh child and was consoled with the knowledge that she was in the loving arms of our Savior the instant she left this world.
It still pains me to look at Sara Jane’s sons and know that she never got to see them grow up, but I believe that also saved her from considerable grief and sorrow. Only three of them are still living, two serving time in jail for their crimes.
It is Sara Jane’s seventh and youngest son Benjamin that prompts me to write this letter today. He is floundering all alone. Sara Jane’s beloved husband passed away just a few short months after watching his youngest son deal with his older brothers’ criminal behavior. As the sheriff of the town, Benjamin didn’t have any other choice if he wanted to fulfill his calling and uphold his oath, and I know that he still questions whether there might have been another way to handle things. I believe Charles died of a broken heart, but then, I guess only God can truly know the reason one is called from this Earth to their heavenly home.
In the aftermath of burying his beloved father, Benjamin appears to have suffered a complete loss of faith and trust in God. I have watched his spirits continue to sink, even as he shoulders the burden of being the town’s sheriff. He is a man of upstanding values and moral fortitude; however, he is alone. Where there used to be a young man who enjoyed life, he seems to be just going through the paces now without any emotional investment.
That is where I believe you can help. You have many young women under your tutelage, some of whom are most likely getting ready to head out into the world on their own. If there is a young lady who models Proverbs thirty-one, has the strength of character to survive cold winters and warm summers, and is blessed with the fruits of the Spirit by the Almighty Creator Himself, I beg of you to send her to us. I am including a hefty donation to the orphanage and trust your judgment on how it will be dispersed.
I can think of no better Christmas present than Benjamin happily married to a woman who will tell him about God’s enduring love and affection for His children. He believes God has turned His back on him, but you and I know that is not even possible. I genuinely believe I act in God’s will by writing to you and placing my need before you.
Please pray for guidance from the Father, and if you can send someone to us, please let me know as soon as possible. We have rail service all the way into Greenwood these days, and my husband Stephen and I will happily meet whomever you send and ensure she is blessed and happy in her new life.
Clara James, formerly Clara Smythe
St. Mary’s Orphanage for Girls, December 1873
“Lottie,” Sister Mary Elizabeth called her name from the door of the small library. It was one of the warmest rooms in the large brick and stone building due to the floor-to-ceiling fireplace that encompassed a portion of the wall adjacent to where Lottie currently sat. After adding a few logs to the glowing coals, she was soon basking in the warmth the fire emitted. She’d heard nuns whispering about other orphanages and convents they’d lived in, and she always felt very grateful that the one in Chicago did not promote physical deprivation in the form of living in a cold, drafty building. Rather, the common rooms of the orphanage were often overly warm, not that Lottie would ever complain. She seemed to run much colder than others, and she loved nothing more than sitting before a fireplace whilst she engaged in her daily devotions in the Good Word.
Reading several chapters in the Psalms, she’d felt a sudden urge to write a new story. The small writing desk sitting a few feet away from a large window gave her an excellent view of the falling snow outside, and she spread out her papers. It was the twelfth of December, and the weather had been anything other than pleasant. Several inches of snow had fallen in the last week, and already added another two inches today. The streets and sidewalks were covered with fresh snow that quickly turned to gray slop and ice while the wind howled through the leafless trees standing like silent sentries up and down the long drive from the main road to the front of the building.
The two-story structure was set back and less than a mile from the city’s center, but the trees and surrounding open spaces made it seem as if it were placed in the country. The church attached to the orphanage was a very elaborate structure made of local limestone and boasting a large bell tower. When the bells were rung, it echoed for blocks, the sounds proclaiming the arrival of each hour between eight o’clock in the morning and six o’clock in the evening.
She longed for the arrival of spring, for the possibility of robin blue skies, for the warmth of the sun to melt the ice and snow covering the grassy lawn and the roses in the courtyard. Anything would be better than the persistent gray sky filled with snow clouds and the biting wind that no amount of cloth covering seemed capable of shutting out. It was simply too cold to venture outside, keeping Lottie and the other residents indoors day after day.
Charlotte Anne Tompkins, otherwise known as Lottie to her friends and the nuns at the orphanage, put down her pen and looked up with a smile. Lottie came to the orphanage at the tender age of six after her parents were killed. Her mother had been a well-known prostitute who caught the attention of a wealthy banker, about whom her mother said little good. Even at a young age, she’d known the only reason her mother pestered the man at his place of business was because of the money he could provide. Lottie had almost no recollection of her biological father, having only vague memories of an older gentleman who always smelled of cigar smoke. Unfortunately, the memories of her mother were more vivid and always left her feeling unworthy and ashamed on her mother’s behalf. A sought-after prostitute, her mother had often paraded a variety of gentlemen through their small home.
A robbery gone wrong saw both her mother and the banker dead. Her mother had simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time. The wealthy banker’s wife had wanted nothing to do with the evidence of her late husband’s infidelity, so Lottie was hustled into the orphanage on the outskirts of the town.
A few years later, Lottie became a lovely young woman who loved God and the Good Word. She was to turn eighteen in three more days and was still undecided about her future.
The Reverend Mother of St. Mary’s Orphanage for Girls offered Lottie the same choice as those before her: become a novice nun and take the vows in two years, or leave the orphanage to make a life outside the protective environment the nuns and church provided.
For the most part, Lottie was certain that she didn’t want to spend her life cloistered away in a convent or the teaching rooms of the orphanage as a nun. Though she had nothing against the women who played a significant role in her upbringing these last twelve years, she couldn’t see herself dressing in a black habit for the remainder of her life. She longed to write. Stories of adventure and all the things her imagination could conjure up. There was only one problem—she was female, and becoming a writer wasn’t something society would readily accept.
Briefly, she toyed with the idea of writing under a masculine pseudonym, as several other marvelous ladies had successfully done in recent years. When she’d hesitantly mentioned the possibility to the Reverend Mother, she was reminded that intentionally deceiving anyone was a sin. While Jane Austin, the Brontë, and Louisa May Alcott may have been able to get away with such a ruse, Lottie wasn’t willing to risk her soul over stories. She’d rather pray that society’s views on what constituted proper work for women changed before her lifetime ran out.
Sure, they didn’t mind schoolrooms being overseen by women, but when it came to published works of literature, that field was still deemed a man’s domain. Being a poor orphan left her with only a few occupational choices. She could become a maid, a nanny, or some poor man’s wife.
As to the first option, Lottie could sweep floors and wash dirty clothes, but doing so for the rest of her life was enough to bring tears of defeat to her eyes. The second option wasn’t necessarily a bad one, but Lottie didn’t want to spend the next ten years of her life watching other people’s children. She hoped that someday she might have one or two of her own. Which brought her to the third possibility—marriage.
Lottie knew very little about the institution. Her own mother was the worst example, as was the man who sired her. Growing up inside the orphanage hadn’t yielded her any living examples to follow either. She’d never really spent much time around members of the opposite sex, only the priests and occasional workers who made repairs on the buildings. She didn’t have even the faintest inkling of what being a wife entailed.
If the other young ladies who resided at the orphanage were to be believed, her brown curly hair was plain, her features were pasty, and her green eyes were too large for her face. Several years earlier, Sister Mary Aaron overheard the other girls listing all of Lottie’s failing attributes and ensured they would not be so free with their comments in the future. They were given extra chores, and their free time was removed for two whole weeks. As for Lottie, Sister Mary Aaron refuted all the other girls’ opinions regarding her appearance, telling her that they were jealous, and while they might be pretty on the outside, they were stained on the inside. Lottie, however, was beautiful inside and out, just how the Good Lord designed.
The Reverend Mother referred to her as a “lovely young woman” any man would be proud to call his wife. Lottie wasn’t so sure about that assessment and had merely inclined her head in response. She’d hoped speaking with the Reverend Mother might present a fourth option for her future, but that had not been the case. It seemed she was destined to leave the only home she truly remembered very soon, but to do what? The nuns ensured everyone who left had the best education they could possibly provide, but that would only get her so far once she left the orphanage behind.
“Lottie,” Sister Mary Elizabeth repeated, bringing Lottie back to the present in her mind.
“Here, Sister. By the window.”
The nun moved forward, her long robes swinging around her feet as if the woman glided across the brick floor. Lottie had no idea what color hair the nun had because they kept their hair completely covered outside their private rooms. Given the wrinkles around the woman’s eyes, Lottie imagined her hair was most likely turning gray or white. Her blue eyes always seemed full of compassion and never judgment, unlike Lottie’s peers. It was also why Lottie felt closer to Sister Mary Elizabeth than any other nuns in residence at the orphanage.
“I’ve been looking for you since morning prayers were over.”
“Sorry, Sister. I came here directly from the chapel,” Lottie replied, looking at the pages she’d written in the last two hours and doing her best to control the sense of pride and accomplishment that rose up within her.
Pride goeth before destruction: and the spirit is lifted up before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
Lottie was a star pupil, effortlessly memorizing Bible verses and remembering them months and even years later. At times, she found the almost instant recall of appropriate verses annoying, as she knew her peers also did. So much so that she’d learned to keep her comments to herself unless she was with the nuns.
Pride is a sin. Be humble. Be charitable. It costs you nothing.
Lottie also had a very active inner voice that always recalled scripture verses and cautioned her about her behavior or interpretation of the events around her. This situation was no different.
“What are you writing about today?” Sister Mary Elizabeth asked, coming around the small desk and peering over her shoulder.
“A simple story about a tree. How it was once planted in a beautiful garden, but then the owners of the garden moved away, and there was no one to take care of the tree.”
With a raised brow, the nun suggested, “I hope before you write the ending, the tree will find new caretakers.”
Lottie considered her words and then nodded. “Yes, a happy ending for this tree is just what I was pondering. What did you need to see me about, Sister?”
“The Reverend Mother asked me to come and offer some counsel, should you need it, regarding your future.”
Lottie gave a small sigh and then shrugged a shoulder, feeling anxiety rise in her chest. “I’m not sure what my future looks like.”
“Come and sit with me,” Sister Mary Elizabeth requested, moving toward the sofa sitting before the small fireplace.
Lottie followed the nun and seated herself on the edge of a chair. She folded her hands in her lap and waited for the nun to speak again.
“Lottie, if you could do anything in the world, what would it be?”
Lottie thought for a moment before smiling softly. “I’d become a writer.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth beamed and nodded slowly. “Thank you for confirming what I already knew.”
“It’s a silly dream to keep alive.”
“How so?” Sister Mary Elizabeth asked.
Lottie raised both brows and asked, “I don’t mean to be impertinent, Sister, but I’m a female. Only men write books.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth nodded her head, but there was a spark in her eyes that had Lottie couldn’t possibly miss. She waited patiently for whatever bold statement she felt was coming. The nun took a moment and then a grin broke across her face. “What if I told you there was a place where women could become writers?”
Lottie was shocked and whispered, “Really? Where is this place?”
“Out West,” Sister Mary Elizabeth told her, her smile still in place.
“West.” Lottie swallowed back her disappointment. She was nothing but a poor orphan. There was no way she could afford to travel to the West, even though the need to write the stories that filled her head was almost as strong as the need to breathe. Instantly, Lottie was filled with excitement. Though she longed to ask all sorts of questions, she realized she was only setting herself up for a big disappointment. She exercised some of the self-control the nuns were always preaching about and inclined her head slightly. “Thank you, Sister. Perhaps one day I will be able to read some of their books.”
The nun frowned, shaking her head. “Lottie, I didn’t tell you this to depress you.”
“Then why did you tell me this?”
Sister Mary Elizabeth gave her a tender look and reached across the distance separating them to touch her hand. “Because I want to see you happy. I know the Reverend Mother gave you a choice to make, and I also know that you would make a horrible nun.” Lottie opened her mouth to argue, but Sister Mary Elizabeth shook her head and squeezed her hands. “I know your life here hasn’t been easy, but you’re turning eighteen in a few days, and more than anything, I want you to have joy in your future. I’ve taken the liberty of making arrangements for you to travel West—”
“Sister?” Lottie asked, shocked, almost speechless.
“Yes, Lottie. You’ll leave in three days’ time. I’m sorry you will have to travel on your birthday, but I don’t control the railroad schedules.”
“I’m leaving here?” Lottie asked, concern in her voice even as a strange excitement warred in her mind.
The nun nodded enthusiastically. “I’ve spoken with Reverend Mother, and she is in complete agreement that this is a great opportunity for you.”
“She wants me to leave?” Lottie asked, unable to mask the hurt in her words.
“No, dear. No one wants to see you leave us—you have been a part of our small family for many years now. But it would be selfish of us to keep you here when your destiny is elsewhere. God has great things in store for you, and it’s time for you to step out in faith and follow the path He’s laying out for you.”
“West,” Lottie murmured to herself. “Women actually can become writers there?”
“Yes, there is a school there, and they teach young women to write.”
Lottie frowned as reality set in. “Sister, thank you for telling me of this place, but you and I both know that I’m only a poor orphan and have no funds to pay for such a school.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth’s smile softened, and she reached out a hand and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I’m afraid I haven’t made myself very clear. Please forgive me. This school does not require any fees. Some help with daily chores and such is payment enough.”
Lottie’s grimace deepened, and her head dipped in denial. “Surely your information is wrong, Sister. No offense, but a school like that can’t possibly exist.”
“Lottie, you’ve never been out of Chicago. How can you possibly know what opportunities await you in the West?”
“But…a school that teaches young women to write? That just seems so—”
“Unbelievable,” Lottie added.
Sister Mary Elizabeth chuckled as she stood. “O ye of little faith. Your future is going to be a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness. Now,” Sister Mary Elizabeth clapped her hands and gestured toward the papers scattered atop the small writing desk. “Gather your things. We have much to do before the train departs the station three days from now. The Reverend Mother declared you need several new dresses, and I’ve composed a list of additional things you will need where you are going. I will meet you in the front foyer in twenty minutes, and we will see about procuring what is needed this afternoon.”
Lottie’s head was spinning as she watched the nun leave the library, and she sank back on the chair.
God, can this truly be happening to me? Can I really become a writer by merely traveling West?
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way (Psalms 37:23).
The familiar verse brought her comfort, and she bowed her head and offered up a short prayer. “Heavenly Father, please forgive my unbelief and my hesitancy. Thank you for the opportunity You’ve brought my way. Make me worthy of Your gift and give me whatever strength or wisdom I will need as I head in this new direction.”
At a slight tap of fingers on the library door, her eyes popped open to see Sister Mary Elizabeth grinning at her from the threshold. “Fifteen minutes, Lottie.”
Mirroring her smile, Lottie nodded, anticipation and a surge of excitement forcing her to her feet. “I’m going right now, Sister.”
Lottie gathered her papers together, not even caring to keep them in order. A new future awaited her, and she felt faith rise in her as she hurried out of the library and rapidly ascended the staircase leading to the dormitory-style rooms. As one of the oldest orphans still living at St. Mary’s, Lottie had a small chamber toward the end of the hallway. The younger girls all slept in the room directly across the hallway, and she oftentimes assisted the little ones during the night when bad dreams or illness disrupted their sleep.
It was but a small way that Lottie gave back to the nuns who took her in and provided her a nurturing environment to grow up in. They had become her best friends, the other girls her age tending to keep themselves apart from the prostitute’s daughter. Lottie had gotten used to their snide comments and attempts to put her down, choosing rather to involve herself in her stories and imagination rather than try to infiltrate her peer group and cause discord. She was a lover of peace, and bickering and fighting caused her anxiety and sleepless nights. It was better off to spend her free time alone than deal with the aftermath of trying to fit in with the others in her age group.
She stashed her papers away and reached for the wool coat and hand muff hanging on the corner of the bedpost. She slipped on the coat and took only a cursory look in the hallway mirror before rushing back down the stairs. She’d seen her reflection often enough to know that she didn’t look a complete mess. As for presenting an image that the society matrons would find acceptable, Lottie couldn’t be bothered. She’d long ago decided not to give any attention or importance to what others thought of or about her. Knowing what God thought about her was all she needed to be content.
She reached the landing just as Sister Mary Elizabeth and Sister Mary Aaron exited the Reverend Mother’s office. “There she is. Ready to go shopping?” Sister Mary Aaron asked.
“Yes, Sister. Are you to accompany us as well?”
The younger nun smiled and nodded. “Yes. I can see you are excited about your future, and I wanted to help get you ready to travel.”
“Thank you, Sister. I’m still trying to process this blessing, but I am excited,” Lottie told her.
“As you should be,” Sister Mary Elizabeth chimed. “Let’s go before our driver decides he’d rather have another piece of Sister Mary Catherine’s pumpkin pie than chauffeur us around the shops this afternoon.”
Their driver was James Allen, an older man who performed chauffeur duties and handyman services around the orphanage and the church. He was a friendly sort, and Lottie had always thought of him as a grandfatherly figure, not that she’d ever known any of her relatives aside from her mother. It was still fun to imagine that she had an enormous extended family that loved and cared for one another, including her. She assumed it was the dream of every orphan, but given her penchant for storytelling and writing, she felt that absence in her life more than most.
Maybe one day, God will give me a family to call my own. After I become a famous writer.
That thought put a smile upon her face that remained there throughout the long hours of picking fabric for new dresses, purchasing a new sturdy pair of leather boots, and various other items the nuns assured her she would need at her new home. Having no knowledge of such things, she forced aside her guilt for how much money was spent on her and left everything in their capable hands. After all, they were instruments of the Lord, and she knew from past experience that when they got something into their heads, it wasn’t coming out anytime soon. It was better to just roll with everything and give God thanks for His abundant blessings.
They arrived back at the orphanage just before the evening prayers were about to commence. Lottie hurried to her place in the chapel, determined to offer her prayers of thanksgiving and gratefulness. The future loomed before her, but she trusted that God’s ways and this path would help her obtain the desires of her heart or that God would change the desires of her heart. Either way, she was ready to step out in faith toward an unknown future with great promise.
You just read the first chapters of "A Surprise Bride for the Cowboy's Christmas"!
Are you ready, for an emotional roller-coaster, filled with drama and excitement?
If yes, just click this button to find how the story ends!
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.