BRIANNA: A Sweet Western Historical Romance (Mail-Order Brides Club Book 4)

BOOK: BRIANNA: A Sweet Western Historical Romance (Mail-Order Brides Club Book 4)
Mail-Order Brides Club
Ashley Merrick

BRIANNA, Mail-Order Brides Club

Copyright 2015, Ashley Merrick

All rights reserved

Edited by Cindy Tahse

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BRIANNA, Mail-Order Brides Club, is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is purely coincidental.

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Chapter One

hey asked
me for your address, which I thought was a bit odd. I told them I wasn't at liberty to share that information. I did let them know that your current address is temporary and that you were planning to move out of state, to be with family out west somewhere." Mr. Powers, Brianna Sullivan's attorney, rubbed one eyebrow and looked at her with concern.

Brianna shifted nervously in the soft leather seat. It was worse than she'd feared. She was glad that she had taken his advice to not attend the closing, and to let him handle all the paperwork. The house had sold quickly, which was a relief, at first. She glanced around the office, at the polished dark furniture and elegant, oriental rugs. She sensed that the less that she told Mr. Powers, the better, for his own safety.

"I moved into the female boardinghouse the day after Ted died." Her voice broke as she added, "I just couldn't stay there without him." She didn't add that the morning after the accident, when her husband had been run down by an out-of-control buggy, there had been a knock on her door and two serious-faced men asked if they could speak to her. She couldn't explain why, but she felt a sense of foreboding as she invited them in. They looked vaguely familiar but she couldn't quite place either one of them. Both were average height, with dark brown hair and olive-toned skin. One had a mustache, and the other wore glasses. If she had to guess, she would say both were in their early thirties.

"We won't keep you more than a few moments," the one with the glasses began. "I am Tony Caruso and this is Bobby Spinelli.” They both extended their hands and she shook them.

"We know this is a terrible time for you. Such a tragedy to lose someone so young," Bobby added.

"We are former business associates of your husband," Tony went on to explain. "We're wondering if he ever discussed his work matters with you. And if you recall him mentioning anything at all unusual lately."

"Unusual?" Brianna had no idea what the two of them were referring to.

"Out of the ordinary, something perhaps that might be best kept secret, if you know what I mean."

Brianna felt strange prickles on the back of her neck. She didn’t like their tone. It was low and sneaky and seemed to imply that she knew something of interest to them.

"I'm afraid that I don't.”

The two men exchanged glances.

"He never discussed anything unusual about his work? Anything at all?" Tony asked again.

Brianna was becoming both flustered and annoyed. "I've already told you, Ted never said much about his work to me."

After an awkward moment of silence, Bobby spoke. "We certainly didn't mean to upset you. Please accept our condolences."

As they turned to leave, Tony said, "We will return in the near future for another visit. Perhaps by then your memory will have improved. Good day." His tight smile and cold tone gave her the chills.

Later that day, she moved into the female boarding house and had been looking over her shoulder ever since. She returned her attention to Mr. Powers.

"That is correct. I am hoping to move out west very soon. I sent a letter to some friends in Montana and just heard back yesterday. I am planning to be on the first train leaving the station tomorrow, and it won't be soon enough."

Mr. Powers nodded his approval of her plan. “It's fortunate that your house sold so quickly. The money will be helpful, I'm sure. I do think it's a good idea that you opted to let me handle this alone, as I must say, those two men were most unsavory."

"What did they look like?" Brianna asked.

Mr. Powers described the two men that bought their home. Brianna felt the prickles again as the description matched that of the two men who visited her. What would they possibly want with her house?

"What is it that they are after, do you suppose?" she asked.

"I have no idea, but I must say it does make your husband's death seem just a bit suspicious. For your own safety, the sooner you leave the state, the better. This should help." He handed her a check for what was left over after paying the bank what was owed.

Mr. Powers wished her well when she left his office, and she stepped out on Hanover Street, the main street in Boston's North End neighborhood. Her first stop was a block away to the bank to cash the check and deposit it for the night. She didn't feel safe having that much money on her person. She could stop back there in the morning, before going to the train. Once the money had been safely deposited, her next stop was to meet the girls at the boathouse along the bank of the Charles River. It was their favorite spot to meet as the boathouse sheltered them from the wind and the central location was convenient for everyone. The Charles River separated Boston from Cambridge and there was always activity on the water—sailboats gliding along and if they were lucky, sometimes they'd catch the Harvard College crew team practicing, rowing their long boats by.

When she arrived at the boathouse, most of the girls were already there. Brianna had grown up with them. They all met in a Catholic orphanage when they were small, and due to the rules of the orphanage had to leave as soon as they turned eighteen. Most of the girls worked for wealthy families in Boston and their jobs included housing, but Brianna was a teacher and before she married Ted, she lived in a female boardinghouse in Boston's Copley Square area. Fortunately, it had been a simple enough matter to move right back in. They had several vacancies, and it hadn't been long since Colleen had lived there. She was the last one to move to Montana. So far, three girls had moved out west to be mail-order brides. Emma, Julia, and Colleen had all married into the Donovan family and there were still five more eligible brothers. Brianna had once joked that if it wasn't for Ted, who was the perfect boyfriend and then husband, she would've been tempted to move, too, to meet one of the brothers.

Colleen's letter had arrived just the day before. Brianna had written to her, wondering if she thought there could be a possibility that one of the brothers would ever be interested in a widow who was expecting another man's child. She didn't mention anything else to Colleen about the strange men and sense of danger she sensed that she was in. She didn't want to unnecessarily upset her, when there might be nothing at all to it. As soon as the letter had arrived yesterday, Brianna went to the train station to purchase the ticket. The only thing she had to wait around for was the final closing of the house which was now done, so she couldn't wait to leave.

"Are you in some kind of trouble?" Maeve asked as she drew near.

They were gathered in a circle and had quite obviously been discussing her. Brianna hadn't said anything to the girls yet, but the question gave her pause.

"Well, hello to you, too." Brianna laughed lightly and then added, "Whatever are you talking about?"

Maeve and Katie looked at each other and then Maeve said, “I was shopping in the North End yesterday afternoon, picking up some cheese and meats for party that my employer was planning. Two men came up to me and asked me if I knew you. When I said yes, they asked me if I knew where you lived and where they could find you?"

The prickles were back. "What did you tell them?" Brianna asked.

"I said that I had no idea where you lived and that I didn't know when I would see you next. I also added for good measure that I knew you were terribly upset about your husband's death."

“Well, I am terribly upset about all of this. Especially as I am beginning to seriously wonder if it wasn’t an accident." Brianna had already told the girls about the strange visit shortly after Ted’s death and now she filled them in on the meeting with her attorney.

"But you sold the house so now you have money to stay here as long as like at the boardinghouse, right?" Katie asked.

"No, it's not safe for me to stay in Boston. I've written to the girls and Colleen has invited me to come and stay with her and David. My train leaves tomorrow.” She looked around at the group of them. "If any of you see either of these men again, please just tell them that you have no idea where I am."

"We will," they all assured her.

Because the departure was so sudden, this goodbye gathering was very different from the one Brianna had attended when the other girls left Boston. There were no cupcakes. There was no excitement. It was just a lot of nervous energy as the girls peppered her with worried questions and then finally wished her a safe journey out west.

rianna barely slept that night
. It didn't help matters that she was experiencing annoying bouts of morning sickness. It was constant and happened morning, noon, and night. The ever-present stress hanging over her probably didn't help matters much, either. She finally breathed a sigh of relief when the 7:00 a.m. morning train pulled out of the station and left Boston behind her. She had a long journey ahead of her but hoped that once she reached Montana, she could finally relax. She tried not to think about the fact that once she did arrive in Montana, would have a whole new situation worry to about.

Colleen said in her letter that her husband David’s brother and best friend, Paul, was very interested in meeting her. She hoped that she wouldn’t be a terrible disappointment. But she couldn't imagine that she wouldn't be. After all, she was nearly three months pregnant with another man's child.

The thought of marrying someone else seemed impossible. She and Ted had been madly in love and she couldn’t imagine that she would be fortunate enough to find that kind of true love again. But she was open to marrying again, at least for the baby’s sake. Colleen had said that there was no hurry and she could stay with them as long as she liked. If it was just herself, then she wouldn’t hesitate to go off on her own somewhere, maybe even all the way to San Francisco. She could try for a teaching job there, but there was the baby to think of and she had to always put his or her well-being first. Going off on her own, a newly widowed woman expecting her first child, wasn’t a wise course of action. She knew this.

Perhaps Bozeman could use another teacher? She still had six months of time before the baby came. If she wasn’t able to teach, what would she do with herself all day? Colleen said that she could help out around the farm, but she didn’t know a thing about farming. She hoped that she could find something to do to keep busy and to earn her keep.

She thought about this and about her new life in Bozeman, wondering what it would be like and if she and her baby could build a new life there. She was looking forward to seeing the girls again, and meeting their husbands and the rest of the Donovan family.

The ride to Montana was a long one. At first, she was fascinated by the changing scenery as they made their way across the country. But after a week, she was much less interested and simply wanted the journey to end. Finally, several weeks later, it did.

Chapter Two

hen the train
pulled into Bozeman, Brianna knew she looked like something the cat refused to drag in. It was that bad. Dealing with occasional morning sickness was inconvenient enough, but as it turned out, she also suffered from motion sickness. She knew she'd lost several pounds, which wasn't good for the baby, but she just hadn't been able to keep anything down except for water and the occasional piece of bread. The lack of a shower bath certainly didn't help matters, either. All she wanted to do was sink into a hot bath and then crawl into bed. She hadn't had a good night’s sleep once during her journey west.

It was about three in the afternoon when the train arrived at the station. A small crowd was gathered outside to meet the passengers. Brianna scanned the people waiting, but didn't see Colleen. Everyone lined up to exit the train and as she stepped out, she saw a buggy going a bit faster than it probably should, and guessed that it must be Colleen. Sure enough, while she stood waiting for the bellman to remove her bag from the luggage car, Colleen came rushing over.

"You're here! I'm sorry. I was running a few minutes late." She pulled Brianna in for a hug and Brianna immediately pulled back.

"I'm thrilled to see you, but I must smell something awful!"

Colleen chuckled. "I remember that feeling. All I wanted when I finally left the train was some hot water and soap, and a soft bed—in that order. I already have everything waiting for you. We just have to heat up the water."

"Wonderful." Brianna was glad that her friend understood. Colleen had been in her shoes, and not so long ago. She had only just recently married David Donovan, one of the many Donovan brothers. Emma was the first of their friends to come to Montana to be a mail-order bride. She married Ethan Donovan and then Julia fell in love with another Donovan, Liam. When Colleen went out to stay with Julia, there were two possible suitors for her, Paul and David Donovan, but then she also met their cousin Ricky. Once it became clear that both David and Ricky were interested and Colleen was intrigued by both, Paul withdrew and Colleen chose David. Brianna wasn’t even thinking about Paul or whoever it was they were thinking of matching her up with. She was just happy to be out of Boston. It felt safe here and she couldn't imagine anyone would still be looking for her this far west.

Colleen insisted on carrying Brianna's bag because of her condition.

"I'm only just a few months in. I'm perfectly capable of carrying my own bag," she protested.

"Don't be silly. You look like you're about ready to fall over. You must be exhausted. When did you last eat?"

Brianna realized she had a point. "I haven't been able to eat much. Between morning and motion sickness, it was a challenging trip," she admitted.

Colleen put her bag in the back of the buggy.

"Well, we'll get you fixed up. I made some fresh bread this morning. Maybe a slice or two of that with some jam will settle your stomach."

"That sounds wonderful."

Colleen pointed out Donovan's pub as they left the station. That was Julia and Liam's restaurant, and Colleen worked there as well, as a hostess and back-up waitress.

Brianna was impressed with the town. It was bigger somehow than she'd expected. There was a relatively new and impressive-looking hotel, The Bozeman, and around the corner from that, an opera house.

"I haven't been to a show there yet, but we recently attended an event at The Bozeman. It's a lovely hotel. Over a hundred rooms and they all have electric lights and hot water. Can you imagine?"

Hot running water on demand sounded like a dream come true to Brianna.

"It was a charity benefit, to raise money to expand the town library. It was really a fun night and I had the chance to make several beautiful dresses."

"You must have loved that." Brianna knew how much Colleen enjoyed sewing and how gifted she was at it.

"I did. It was really nice to create something again. The best part was that I now have a steady sewing business going on the side. Several people wanted dresses made right away after they saw the ones we were wearing and I have been busy ever since."

"Is there that much demand for custom dresses here?" Brianna was surprised.

"No, not a huge demand for dresses. More like a steady trickle. But lots of demand for other things, like men needing trousers mended or created, things hemmed, lots of repair work. It keeps me busy and I like the variety."

"That sounds fun for you." Brianna was glad that Colleen had found a way to use her skills here.

"It is, and I have a new venture, too. An idea that I ran by David a few weeks ago and he thought it sounded brilliant. I'm going to be designing and making some ready-to-wear clothes—shirts, jackets, maybe even pants. But shirts and jackets to start, and I’ll be selling them at the mercantile in town. David's brother Joshua and his wife Hannah own the mercantile and they've agreed to carry a few samples."

"So, people will just buy the ones in the store?" Brianna was impressed. It was such a clever and creative idea.

"Yes, or if the size isn't right and they don't mind waiting, I can take orders and make one to fit."

"That is a really good idea. I don't suppose many men sew and if there's a shortage of women here…"

"Exactly. It seems like there could be a need for this. I'm excited to find out."

"I'd offer to help, but my sewing skills are useless," Brianna said with a chuckle.

Colleen laughed. "Yes, I remember a few of the projects you started at the orphanage."

"That's right, started." Brianna was so hopeless at sewing that she'd abandoned the few attempts that she’d made over the years when it was apparent things were not going well, and not likely to improve.

"That's all right, though. You have other gifts."

"I suppose." Brianna wasn't so sure that her gifts would be of much use in Bozeman. Unless they needed another teacher.

"There actually might be something for you," Colleen began.

"Really? A teacher vacancy?" Brianna was surprised to hear it.

"Yes, but not for another month or so. Callie Brickman is expecting her first child and they will need a new teacher to replace her."

"Will she be coming back?" Brianna wondered.

"I can't imagine that she would. People don't usually, do they?"

"No, not that I recall. I wasn't sure, though, if it might be different out here?" In Boston, once a teacher had a child, she generally gave up teaching.

"No, it's the same. Bozeman and Boston aren't really that different, aside from the physical things—size and layout of the city.

"You really like it here, though. Was it hard to get used to?" Colleen and the other girls always sounded so happy in their letters home.

"I love it here. It was an adjustment, but not a hard one. It's beautiful here. I think you'll like it."

Brianna glanced around at the green fields and mountains in the distance. The air was crisp and clean and the sun felt warm on her shoulders.

"I'm liking it already."

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