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The Mail-order Bride Who Stole His Heart

She answers a mail-order bride ad to escape her past. He only needs someone to take care of his baby nephew. Will those different people redeem their souls through a newfound family?

When Bessie’s fiancée leaves her at the altar and flees with part of her fortune, her reputation is shattered. With false rumors about her spreading and her strict parents blaming her for the scandal, Bessie starts anew and runs away chasing her freedom. Will she find the love she deserves in an isolated ranch in the West?

James is a mountain man in need of a marriage of convenience. He is not interested in romance but only in someone to take care of his brother’s son. But when Bessie shows up at his doorstep drenched from the rain, and he needs to take care of her, something changes in his shattered heart. Will he be able to find love in the most unexpected places?

As trouble looms on the horizon with Bessie’s deceitful ex-fiancé looking for his next mark, James is ready to do anything to protect his newfound family. Will Bessie and James find love amidst the chaos and danger that follows?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

Prologue

Maryville, Tennessee

April 1876

Bessie Webb stood at the altar, dressed in her beautiful white gown. Her red hair was styled in loose curls and her bright blue eyes scanned the room anxiously. The white sanctuary of the little church was so familiar, with its floor-to-ceiling windows along the sides and the big wooden cross hanging at the front, behind where the preacher now stood nervously chewing his lip. But she had never looked at it from this perspective. Looking out on the rows of long wooden pews from the altar, the room seemed cavernous. Every cough or shuffle of feet seemed to echo off every wall.

Where is Clarence? She thought to herself, wringing her hands.

It was traditional for the groom to be waiting at the altar before the bride, but he was nowhere in sight. The guests were starting to murmur amongst themselves and Bessie could feel her heart racing.

Why is he not here yet? Is something wrong?

Her father, who was standing beside her, leaned in and whispered, “Don’t worry, Bessie. He’ll be here. Just a little bit of nerves, I’m sure.”

Bessie nodded, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. As the minutes ticked by, she slowly realized that he was not coming. Her heart broke as the reality of the situation hit her.

She was being publicly humiliated in front of everyone she knew. And by a man who swore he loved her.

“Bessie, we should go. We can’t stay here,” her mother said, tears streaming down her face, turning her beautiful porcelain skin into a blotchy pink mess.

But Bessie couldn’t move. She felt like her legs were made of lead. The stares of all their guests, all of their friends and neighbors, and her father’s business partners at the bank, seemed to burn through her pale skin like the sun in the middle of July. She would not be surprised if she left this church covered in freckles and sunburn.

I can’t believe this is happening, she thought. Why would he do this to me? How could he be so cruel?

The guests started to get up and leave, casting sympathetic glances in her direction. Bessie’s parents tried to comfort her, but the damage was done. Her reputation was destroyed and she would forever be known as the girl who was left at the altar.

Bessie tried to focus on the idea of a happy ever after that she had in her mind as she walked out of the chapel. Her parents, John and Mary, were by her side, trying to comfort her, but she could not shake the feeling of betrayal and embarrassment. She could hear whispers all around her, but she tried to ignore them.

Bessie’s mother turned to her and said, “Bessie, we will get through this. We’ll find you someone better. Someone who will truly love and appreciate you.”

Bessie nodded, but inside she was thinking, how will I ever be able to trust someone again? Will I ever have a happy ever after?

As they walked home together from the church, Bessie saw the townsfolk staring at her with pity and judgment in their eyes.

Bessie had been imagining her dream wedding for years. She had always dreamed of a grand and romantic ceremony, filled with love and happiness.

In her mind, she would be dressed in an elegant white gown, with a long train and a delicate veil. Her red hair would be styled in loose curls and adorned with pale pink flowers. She would carry a bouquet of daisies and hyacinths, her favorite flowers, and her blue eyes would sparkle with joy.

The ceremony would take place in the small white chapel her family attended every Sunday. It would be decorated with more flowers and hundreds of glowing candles. The guests would be dressed in their finest attire and would witness her exchange vows with the love of her life, Clarence.

He would be waiting for her at the altar, looking dashing in his gray morning coat and top hat. They would exchange heartfelt vows and rings, promising to love and cherish each other forever, as their eyes glowed with love and adoration.

Her parents would host a reception afterward. It would be a lavish and joyful event, with a delicious and decadent meal, music, and dancing. Her family and friends would be there to celebrate their love and happiness, and the event would be filled with laughter, love, and memories that would last a lifetime.

This was Bessie’s dream wedding, the perfect fairytale ending that she had always hoped for. A fairytale that had just been shattered.

***

Bessie sat in her parent’s living room, staring blankly at the pristine, oak plank floor. Her mother fussed around her, trying to comfort her with tea and beautiful shortbread that had been prepared for the reception that should have been happening in the yard at that very moment, but Bessie could not even bring herself to even take a sip of the chamomile tea.

Bessie watched her mother, Mary, flit about the room nervously. Mary was a petite woman with a kind face and gentle demeanor. Her soft, curly brown hair was often pulled back in a bun, and her bright blue eyes sparkled with warmth. She was a gentle soul, always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.

Her father, John, was tall with broad shoulders and a strong build. He often had a stern face, with a thick mustache and bushy eyebrows that clearly conveyed his opinions of others. His dark brown hair was starting to gray at the temples, which Mary said only made him appear more dignified. John could be described as a no-nonsense kind of person, practical and level-headed. He worked hard to provide for his family, but could also be strict and demanding at times.

Their house was a small, two-story home with a white picket fence and a rocking chair on the front porch where Bessie liked to sit on warm summer evenings to watch the fireflies dance about the yard. It was where she and Clarence had shared their first clandestine kiss, and now it was tainted with that memory.

Bessie considered the living room where she now sat as the heart of the home, with a large fireplace that crackled with a lively fire, a comfortable couch, and a worn blue armchair that her mother sat in as she knitted. The mantel over the cozy fireplace was filled with small trinkets and knick-knacks that her mother had collected over the years. Bessie’s favorite was the music box that she would play with as a child.

Even now, she could hear the tune in her head, though the small porcelain box was closed and still. The walls of the living room were adorned with hand-stitched samplers and family portraits that had been passed down through the generations. Bessie could see the kind blue eyes of her grandmother smiling down at her sympathetically.

From the kitchen, the familiar scent of home cooking met Bessie’s nose. Lit by the soft glow of oil lamps, the large farmhouse table where the family ate their meals together shined where it had been made smooth from repeated use.

As she looked around, Bessie thought that she lived in a home that had seen a lot of love and laughter, and it was a comfort to Bessie to be surrounded by all these familiar things in this time of trouble.

She thought of the bedrooms upstairs that were simple but comfortable, with warm quilts and handmade curtains. Bessie’s room, in particular, had the special touch of the quilts she and her mother had made together and a small writing desk where she had spent hours scribbling in her journal about Clarence.

Bessie sighed to herself as she thought of how she had been swept off her feet by Clarence. He had presented himself as charming, funny, and attentive. He took her on fancy dates, bought her gifts, and make her feel like the most special woman in the world. On top of his charisma, his dashing good looks would have swept any woman off her feet. Bessie thought now of his piercing, icy blue eyes and how she had once compared them to the clear winter skies in her journal. She had also used every poetic word she could think of for black to describe his dark hair.

Bessie was smitten from the first moment he smiled at her, and soon they were engaged. Bessie and her mother set to the exciting work of planning the wedding, and Bessie had been so excited to start her new life with Clarence.

They would sit together on the front porch in the evening, and Clarence would tell her how much he loved her and how he couldn’t wait to spend the rest of his life with her. Bessie foolishly believed every word he said. She felt so sure that she had found the love of her life.

She shook her head at her childish notions, seeing now how he had used his charisma to charm her. To fool her. To trick her.

Bessie’s father entered the room swiftly with a folded piece of paper in his hand. The creases on his forehead and his pursed lips told her that something was wrong.

“Bessie, there is something you need to know,” her father said, his voice heavy with sadness, as he looked down at the note in his hands.

Bessie looked up at him, her heart pounding. “What is it?”

“It’s Clarence,” her father said. “He has run off with his mistress, Sara Jones.”

Bessie felt like she had been hit by a train. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What? That can’t be true,” she said, her voice shaking.

“I’m afraid it is,” her father said. “We received a letter from his parents, confessing everything. He has been secretly seeing her for months, and they left town together yesterday.”

Bessie snatched the letter from her father’s fingers, warm tears streaming down her face. She attempted to read the words on the page, but she had trouble making out anything through her grief and tears. She held it back out to her father.

“I can’t read it,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “What else does it say?”

Her mother came to sit beside her, taking her hand. “Bessie, I am so sorry,” she said. “We had no idea he was capable of this.”

Bessie felt a mix of anger, betrayal, and humiliation. She felt like her heart was breaking, and she could not even imagine how she was going to move on from this. All the planning, the dream of a happy ever after, it was all gone.

“How could he do this to me?” Bessie said, her voice filled with anguish.

“I don’t know, Bessie,” her father said, sympathy in his eyes as he gently patted her on the back. “But we will get through this. We will not let this blackguard ruin your reputation.”

Bessie nodded, but inside she felt like her world had crumbled. Not only had Clarence betrayed and humiliated her by abandoning her at the altar, but he had made it so that no man could possibly marry her. He had all but announced to the entire town that she was undesirable, tainted.

Every man who may have been interested before would now believe that there was something terribly wrong with her. And to make matters worse, he had left her for the person who had always bullied her, Sara Jones. Bessie could not believe that the person who had made her life a living hell for years was now the person that Clarence had chosen over her. It cut her deep, and she felt like the betrayal was even more painful because it was coming from someone she considered an enemy.

She felt anger and resentment towards Sara, who had always belittled her and made her feel inferior. She could not understand why Clarence would choose someone like that over her.

“I can’t believe it,” Bessie said, her voice filled with anger. “That woman has always been my enemy, always made my life a living hell, and now she’s the one who gets to have my dream life with Clarence?”

Her mother hugged her tightly and whispered, “I know it hurts, but you deserve so much better. You do not need a man who would choose a girl like that over you.”

Mary Webb was a firm believer that if you do not have anything nice to say, you should say nothing at all. But the way she sneered the words “a girl like that” clearly illustrated the woman’s distaste for the young woman who had tormented her daughter for years.

Bessie knew that her mother was right. She deserved a man who cared about her and loved her, but the betrayal and the fact that it was coming from her enemy, Sara Jones, made it even harder to accept.

Bessie’s father went on to explain that the letter also said Clarence had taken a significant amount of money from her savings, as well as some of her most valuable jewelry. He had taken her mother’s pearl necklace, a diamond brooch that had been passed down from her grandmother, and a gold bracelet that her father had given her for her eighteenth birthday.

At the mention of the pearl necklace, Mary clutched her neck, as if the jewels had just that moment been yanked from their rightful place.

Bessie felt a wave of anger and betrayal wash over her as she realized the extent of his deception. “He said he was taking my pieces to the jeweler so that he could find something to match them,” Bessie said, her voice quiet but filled with despair. “Instead he took my family’s heirlooms, my savings, everything.”

Her mother tried to comfort her, “We will help you through this, Bessie. We will make sure he doesn’t get away with it.”

“I will make sure he pays for what he has done,” John said with determination, his hands clenching into fists “I will not let him get away with it.”

Bessie attempted to steel herself, but she still felt shaky. She knew that she had to be strong and move on from this, but it would take time and effort to heal from the betrayal and the loss of her savings and family heirlooms. She would not let Clarence’s actions define her and she would do everything in her power to make sure he faced the consequences of his actions. She would not let him get away with stealing from her and breaking her trust.

“He took everything from me,” Bessie said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I gave him my heart and my trust, and he took everything else, too.”

Chapter One

Maryville, Tennessee

April 1876

Bessie walked down the main street of her small town, her head held high. The streets were noisy with the sounds of horses and men calling to one another, along with the jaunty piano music flowing through the open door to the saloon. The wooden boardwalk creaked beneath Bessie’s feet as she passed the shops that had been the same for her entire life – the barber shop, the greengrocers, the general store, the jeweler, the lawyers, the blacksmith.

She had always loved this place, the familiar buildings and friendly faces. But today, something felt different. As she passed by the bakery, she heard snippets of a conversation that made her heart drop.

“Did you hear about Bessie? Left at the altar by that no-good Clarence.”

“I can’t believe she fell for his lies.”

“Such a shame, she was such a lovely girl.”

Bessie’s face burned with embarrassment as she quickened her pace, her pale blue skirts flitting about her ankles. It seemed that news of her failed engagement had spread like wildfire.

As she walked, she could not help but think again of the way Clarence had swept her off her feet. He had been charming and attentive, always bringing her flowers and writing her love letters. She had been convinced that he was the one for her, but it turned out that he had only been after her family’s money.

Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes as she thought of her parents, who had been so excited for her to marry Clarence. They had trusted him, and he had broken their hearts as well as hers.

Bessie shook her head, determined not to let the town’s gossip get to her. She would find a way to save her reputation and move on. She squared her shoulders and walked on, ready to begin a new chapter in her life.

***

A few weeks had passed since the incident at the altar, and Bessie’s life only got worse. The rumors in the small town of Maryville were spreading and twisting into incorrect versions of the truth. People were quick to blame her for Clarence leaving. The rumors varied from her being pregnant with another man’s baby, to her being a gold digger who had forced Clarence to leave, to even worse rumors of her being promiscuous with multiple men. People in the town had made up their minds about her and it was clear that they did not believe her version of the events.

Bessie tried to ignore the whispers and the sidelong glances, but it was hard. Everywhere she went, she felt like people were judging her and talking about her behind her back. She had never felt so alone and misunderstood. Her friends had even stopped talking to her, in fear that they too would be shunned by the rest of the town. Bessie felt more isolated than ever before.

To make matters worse, no man in the town would even consider courting her, as they were all swayed by the rumors about her. She felt like she had been cast out of society and had no chance of finding love again.

The rumors and the fact that people in the town were treating her differently were making it hard for her to go out and be a part of society. She knew she needed to clear her name and move on from this, but it was hard to know where to start. She was determined to not let Clarence and the rumors define her and to find a way to start over.

But the situation at home was no better. Her parents, who had always been supportive, started to treat her differently. Once word got around town about how Clarence had treated her, they had been shunned by the town as well. Her father’s business at the bank was hurting, and her mother’s friends had stopped inviting her to their quilting circle.

Because of their own suffering, Bessie’s parents would avoid talking about her situation and it seemed to Bessie that they would sometimes even avoid her company. Bessie could see the disappointment and embarrassment in their eyes, breaking her heart further. She felt like she had lost everything and everyone she had ever cared about.

The whole situation seemed impossible. She felt like the rumors and her reputation had taken over her life and she didn’t know how to break free from it. She was determined to not let Clarence and the rumors define her and to find a way to start over, but it was hard to see a way out of this situation.

***

Bessie walked into the general store with her mother, trying to keep her head held high despite the whispers that followed her wherever she went. The store was small and cramped, with narrow aisles stacked high with cans, jars, and crates. The air was thick with the smell of lamp oil and cedar, the sound of customers chatting, and the bell over the front door ringing. But as soon as they entered the store, she could feel everyone’s eyes on her and she knew they were talking about her. She could hear snippets of their conversations, “That’s her, the girl who was left at the altar,” “Can you believe she had the nerve to show her face in public?”

She tried to ignore it, but it was hard. Everywhere she went, she felt like people were judging her and talking about her behind her back. She had never felt so alone and misunderstood.

As they walked through the store, they ran into the pastor’s wife. The woman quickly turned away and walked in the opposite direction.

Bessie was embarrassed and ashamed, she could feel her face turning red. Even the pastor’s wife, a woman of God, wanted nothing to do with her. She turned to her mother for support, but her mother avoided meeting Bessie’s eyes, instead staring at the items on the shelf in front of them. When Mary did look up, she looked at her daughter with disappointment and embarrassment, making Bessie feel even more isolated and alone.

“I can’t take this anymore,” Bessie said to her mother, her voice shaking with emotion. “I feel like I am suffocating in this town, and no one will give me a chance to explain my side of the story.”

Mary looked at her daughter with disappointment in her eyes. “You should have thought about that before you let that man take advantage of you.”

Bessie felt a wave of anger and resentment towards her mother, “You are not helping, you are just adding to the problem.”

Mary shook her head, her voice downtrodden, “I just don’t know how to protect you or our family’s reputation.”

Bessie knew her mother meant well, that the family reputation was important to her parents, but she felt like she was not getting the support she needed. She felt like she was stuck in a never-ending cycle of rejection and disappointment, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the grocery store that once felt comforting but now felt suffocating.

As Bessie and her mother walked home down the familiar streets of the town, the weight of the day’s events seemed to hit Bessie all at once. She felt embarrassed, ashamed, and alone. Her mother walked a few steps ahead of her, not speaking a word.

As soon as they walked through the door of their home, Mary turned to Bessie with a stern look on her face. “Bessie, we need to talk,” she said.

Bessie braced herself for the lecture she knew was coming.

“I know you’re going through a hard time, but you have to understand that your actions have consequences,” Mary said, the words quiet but biting. “You should have been more careful. You should have seen the signs. Now, our family’s reputation is being tarnished because of your mistake. Your father’s business at the bank is suffering.”

“It is not my mistake, it’s Clarence’s. He is the one who left me at the altar and took everything from me,” Bessie said, her voice shaking with emotion.

“But you’re the one who let him do it,” her mother said. “You let him take advantage of you, you let him take your money and your jewelry. You let him ruin your reputation and our family’s reputation.”

Bessie felt like she was suffocating, her mother’s words were hitting her hard. She felt like she was alone in this and no one wanted to help her – like she was stuck in a never-ending cycle of rejection and disappointment, and now even her own mother was blaming her for what had happened.

Bessie turned swiftly away from her mother and ran up the staircase and into her room, feeling overwhelmed by the day’s events. She sat down at her desk and opened her trusty journal, the feel of its dark brown leather cover and crisp white pages bringing her comfort. She began to write, pouring her heart out onto the page.

I feel so hopeless. I thought my happily ever after was finally going to happen, but now it’s all gone. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust another man again after what Clarence did to me. I feel like I’m stuck in this town and no one will ever give me a chance to explain my side of the story. I feel like I’m suffocating.

As she wrote, she began to dream about escaping this place. Not just this house, but this town. She imagined herself on a train, heading west, leaving her small town and all the rumors and judgment behind. She dreamed of starting over in a new place where no one knew her and she could finally be free.

Maybe that’s what I need, she wrote. An escape. A chance to start over. A chance to finally be free.

She closed her journal and sat there for a moment, lost in thought as her fingers absent-mindedly traced the familiar texture of the leather. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she was determined to make it happen, to not let Clarence and the rumors define her, and to find a way out of this suffocating small town and start a new life.

***

That evening, Bessie sat alone at the kitchen table, looking through the newspaper. She was desperate for a way out of her small town and the constant judgment and rumors that followed her everywhere she went. As she flipped through the pages, her eyes fell on a small ad in the classifieds section. It was an ad for a wife.

Wanted: A young woman of good character and strong work ethic to come and be a companion and helpmate on my ranch. Must be willing to take on the duties of a wife and mother to a young boy. The successful candidate will have a kind heart and be able to adapt to life on the frontier. Responsibilities include cooking, cleaning, and general household management as well as assisting with the care of livestock and crops. In return, I can offer a comfortable home, financial security, and a chance to start a new life. Please send a letter of introduction to the address provided. Serious inquiries only.

She couldn’t believe her luck. This could be her chance to start over, to leave her small town and all the rumors and judgment behind. She ran to her room, quickly grabbed a pen and paper, and began to compose a letter.

Dear Sir,

My name is Bessie Webb and I am writing in response to your ad for a bride. I am a 22-year-old woman from Maryville, Tennessee. I am in search of a fresh start and a chance to leave my past behind. I am hardworking, kind, and eager to start a new life. I am excited about the opportunity to help you with your ranch and to become a mother to your son.

I understand that this arrangement may not be traditional, but I am confident that we can make it work. I am willing to put in the effort and dedication to make our marriage a success. I look forward to hearing from you and getting to know you better.

Sincerely,

Bessie

She sealed the letter and resolved to put it in the mail the very next day, her heart was racing with excitement. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she was determined to make it happen. This could be her chance to escape and start anew.

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  • I enjoy reading your stories Ms Ross. The mail order bride ones are well written, characters are well developed and the story lines are interesting to read. In this book I think it might be a little bit better if the parents appeared to be more sympathetic to Bessie. Standing behind her a little more, but encouraging her to strike out for a new beginning knowing that it would be better for her in starting over. They should express how they will miss her but want her to have a chance to find happiness. Also the father should say that he will continue with his fight to find Clarence and bring him to some sort of justice for what he had done to their family!

    • Thank you for your kind words about my stories and for taking the time to give me feedback, Dawn.

      Regarding your suggestion that the parents in the book should have been more sympathetic and supportive to Bessie, I can see how that would have added more depth and complexity to the story!

      Thank you again for your feedback, and I hope you continue to enjoy my stories in the future! 🤩❤️

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