Authors: Lisa Page
Copyright © 2013 Lisa Page.
All Rights Reserved.
Other books by Lisa Page:
A Pretty Bride
Josie Birch hated being pretty. Though most folks would consider it a blessing, to Josie it was a curse. It had only brought her pain, from jealous girls who shunned her to boys whose stares and whistles made her uncomfortable. Life at home was even worse with a stepfather who makes her life a nightmare.
Out of desperation, she contacts a mail order bride agency to find a husband. She starts writing to Sam Dawson, a rancher from Texas and through letters, they fall in love with each other and Josie makes plans to marry him and move to Texas.
Just when she thinks things are looking up, she arrives in Texas to find a new nightmare waiting for her in Sam's brother, Luke, who is the one thing standing in the way of her happiness. Sam is forced with a hard decision between his brother and his new bride.
A Pretty Bride
is a sweet western romance story. It is the
perfect length to read over a lunch break, waiting for an appointment or on a lazy weekend afternoon.
Josie Birch hated being pretty. She'd always been acutely aware of her looks ever since she was a little girl. People were always making comments to her mother, saying things like, “She'll never have to worry about catching a husband, that one!” and “She'll have an easy life, it's always easier for the ones who have a pretty face.” They spoke with admiration and envy of her dark, silky hair, her sapphire eyes and smooth skin. .
Though most people saw the possession of a pretty face as a benefit. To Josie, however, it only brought problems. What people saw as blessings, Josie saw as a curse. She had few friends because most of the girls in her small Pennsylvania town were jealous of her, partly because of all the attention she got from the boys in town. The last thing that Josie wanted was attention; she was shy and didn't like standing out. After school, she'd hurry home and hide away in her room, reading books, her only solace.
Unfortunately for Josie, though, the unwanted attention carried over to her home life. Her widowed mother had married a man named George Prentiss, and she and Josie had moved into his house in town. After living through the nightmare of having lost her father, she thought that she and her mother had found happiness at last. Little did Josie know that her nightmare was only beginning.
At first, it started with the way he looked at her, staring at her a little too long. Josie could feel his eyes on her, making her uncomfortable, burning a hole into her. Then it was the kind of look he'd give her, a hungry smirking look, eying her as if she weren't wearing any clothes at all!
After that, to her horror, he would find ways to be close to her and touch her, whether it was brushing too close to her when he passed by, or touching her hair, they were encounters that made her skin crawl and they started occurring more frequently.
In the beginning, Josie felt that she could not tell her mother what was happening. Her mother had been through so much, they both had, after Josie's father died. The sickness that had ripped him out of their lives had made Josie sick, too, and her mother worked herself tirelessly nursing Josie back to health while grieving the loss of her husband. They used up their savings to pay funeral expenses, doctor bills and living expenses until the money went out. Her mother took jobs as a laundress and a seamstress, teaching Josie how to sew, too, so that she could help bring in money as well. But it wasn't enough and they had to sell their home, the only home Josie had ever known.
Her mother had taken the move very hard, losing their home was like losing the last piece of her husband, and she sunk into a depression. They rented a room at a boarding house in town, her mother taking on another job as a cleaning lady there to pay for their room. But after falling into the pit of depression, she could no longer work and would she'd sleep all day. Josie took over cleaning the boarding house for her mother as well as taking in sewing jobs, while her mother would spend her waking hours staring at the wall or crying, no matter how Josie tried to console her. It was a bleak existence and Josie's loneliness consumed her.
Then, something happened. It seemed as if her prayers had been answered. Josie wasn't exactly sure what had caused it, but something sparked a change in her mother's behavior. She was able to work again, she would sit and eat with Josie, help her with her homework, talk and laugh with her again. Josie couldn't believe the change. Soon after, she figured out why her mother was acting this way...she was being courted by Mr. George Prentiss.
George was an attorney from Philadelphia who wished to live a quieter life in a small town after losing his first wife. While he was setting up his practice and having a house built for himself, he was staying at the boarding house and that's how he met Charlotte, Josie's mother. Josie usually took her meals in their room, she didn't like eating in a room full of people she didn't know, so she didn't realize her mother had met him and had been spending time with him. Both being widowed, they felt a connection to each other, they'd understood the loss of losing a spouse. Once his house was finished, he proposed to Charlotte and she accepted.
After that, life changed drastically for Josie and her mother. They went from sharing a cot in their little room at the boarding house to living in a sprawling Queen Anne home that was twice the size of the whole boarding house!
George took Charlotte on a honeymoon trip, bring Josie along with them as they shopped for furnishings for the new home, went sight-seeing and ate at fine restaurants. It was a whole new world for Josie and she felt like she was living in a fairy tale, George even took her to a bookstore and let her pick out as many books as could fit on the new bookshelves in her room. That was her favorite part of her new life.
But her fairy tale didn't have a happy ending as the ones she read about in storybooks. It was on the trip to Philadelphia that she first noticed the inappropriate way that George would look at her. The first time, she looked away, thinking it was just an innocent, awkward exchange. But when she looked back, he was still looking at her, in a way that made her skin crawl. She spent the whole train ride back trying to decide whether or not it was just her imagination but after arriving home, she realized it wasn't her imagination and it only got worse.
Whenever she'd get the courage up to approach her mother about the subject, she would end up changing her mind. Her mother was so happy, she didn't want to take that away. Of all people, her mother deserved some happiness in life. And it wasn't as if George mistreated her, he treated her like a queen. He was kind to her, lavishing her with attention and gifts, and was a perfect gentleman to her. In fact, it was very out of character for George to act the way he did to Josie, which is why she had a hard time deciding if she was overreacting or not. But the more it continued and the worse it got, the more she knew it was not her imagination.
She'd reached a turning point one night when she went to her room to retire for the evening. She took off her dress and was in her camisole and petticoats when she heard a noise, a very slight noise, behind her. She turned around and there, for a moment, she saw an eyeball peering at her in the cracked door. She shuddered in horror, feeling a shiver crawl down her spine. She jumped in bed and pulled the quilt up around her neck. She didn't realize she needed to lock her bedroom door in her own house but apparently that was the case from now on, after this encounter. To think that her stepfather saw her in her camisole was a burning embarrassment, a violation of trust. She didn't feel safe. If he could violate the privacy of her bedroom, what was next?
Josie decided that it was time to confront her mother, it was something that must be done. One afternoon, while George was still at his law office, she gathered her courage and approached her mother, who was sitting in the parlor doing embroidery work and humming to herself. When she saw Josie come in, she looked up and smiled at her.
“Hello, Josie. How was school today?” she asked.
Josie didn't want to talk about school. Then she'd have to tell her mother how much she disliked school and was glad that now that she was eighteen, this would be her last year of it. However, the school talk would have to wait for another time, now she needed to focus on the conversation she needed to have with her mother about George.
“Fine,” was all she said about school before changing the subject. She looked down at her mother's fingers skillfully moving the embroidery needle for a moment before going on.
“Mother, do you have time to talk with me for a few minutes?”
“Why, of course I do, I always have time for you, dear.”
Josie walked in and sat down on the settee next to her mother, smoothing her skirts and looking down into her lap. She was second guessing herself again, but she got this far, she needed to go through with it.
“What is it, Josephine? You looked troubled?”
Josie felt a lump growing in her throat and her eyes were tearing up. She needed to hold herself together. “I am troubled mother, and I can't bear this burden on my own any more. This is just something that is really hard for me to say, I'm not sure how to do it. I don't want to make you sad and I don't want you to hate me.”
“Hate you? There is nothing in this world that would make me hate you! A mother's love is unconditional.”
Josie nodded and smiled. She didn't want to take away her mother's happiness, but she had no other choice.
“Mother, it's about George?”
“George? What about him?”
“He...he...he really makes me uncomfortable.”
“Yes, it's how often he stares at me and the way that he looks at me mother, I feel that it isn't an appropriate way for a stepfather to look as his stepdaughter. It's almost as if, well,...it just makes me uncomfortable. And at first it was just the looks, but now, I feel as if he is always trying to find a way to be close to me, to touch me...”
As she spoke, Josie noticed her mother didn't have the look of shock on her face that Josie had expected her to. Instead her jaw was clenched and she listened with no emotion, almost as if....as if she already knew. Josie wondered if her mother had picked up on George's behavior towards her and had kept it to herself.
“Oh, Josie, I think you are mistaking the honest affections of a stepfather to his new stepdaughter. He wants to make you, to make
, feel welcomed here. He has gone out of his way to give you everything, a lifestyle most girls your age could only dream of.”
Josie tilted her head and looked her mother straight in the eyes. “I know he's been good to me, and he's been good to you. That's why this is so hard for me mother, after everything you've been through, you of all people deserve happiness. I honestly don't think I'm mistaking his intentions. Do you think that I'm making it up?”
Her mother shook her head. “No, it's not that I think you're making it up, dear, it's that I know you have an active imagination, probably from always having your head buried in a book,” her mother smiled nervously as she spoke.
Is it possible, Josie,” she went on, “that you are reading too much into this? Because I think that is exactly what is happening here. We owe him so much, child, for everything he's done for us. He is a good man, he treats me like a queen and he has taken you in as if you were his own.”
Josie shivered at the thought. She was
not his own. She wasn't sure how to take what her mother was saying, it seemed she was just dismissing Josie's concerns. She hoped that her mother didn't think that she
him her own daughter. The very thought was horrifying.
Henry the eighth treated Anne Boleyn like a queen, too, look where it got her.”
It's been getting worse, Mother. I saw him, spying on me, when I was in my room changing.”
Maybe just thought you heard something, perhaps it was nothing. Why must you assume the worst?”
Did you hear what I said? I saw him, I saw his eye through a crack in the door, there was no mistaking that he was trying to peek at me while I was undressing. He was a regular peeping Tom. I've never felt so violated in all my life. I'm afraid of him, Mother.”
Her mother was getting agitated. “Afraid of him? Has he ever hurt you? Has he ever laid a hand on me? Do you know how lucky we are to have him? What exaclty would you have me do with this information?”
Josie was heartbroken, this was not how she had hoped this conversation would go. “I just wanted to let you know that it was happening. I guess what I'd like to happen is that I'd like you to speak to him about it, to ask him to stop. I can't take it any longer. You just told me that you loved me unconditionally. Please help me, Mother, I want it to stop.”
Oh Josie, I do love you unconditionally, always and forever and that's exactly why I will not speak to George about this. Look at where we've come from, everything we've gone through...do you want us to lose it all? Do you want to end up back in that cold, dingy little room at the boardinghouse? Do you want to see me work myself to death cleaning and laundering to save us from living on the streets?”
Of course not, mother,” Josie said quietly, looking down into her lap. Her eyes were welling with tears. This had been a mistake It had not gone as Josie had hoped.
Everything I have ever done is for you, Josie, starting when you were born. You were breech and your birth almost killed me, it was physically the most painful thing I've ever endured in my life. It was why I could never have any more children. I nursed you back to health after your father died and then when we'd lost everything, I did everything in my power to provide for us so that I didn't have to leave you at an orphanage.”
Josie didn't know what to say. Though her mother said that she loved her unconditionally, she had chosen George over her. Her cheeks burned as tears silently rolled down over them.
“Mother, if you wish to do nothing about this, that is your choice, but then I'll have to make my choice. I can not stay here anymore.”
Her mothers brows furrowed as she looked at her daughter with confusion. “Whatever do you mean, you can't stay here? Where on earth would you go?”