Read Darby: Bride of Oregon (American Mail-Order Bride 33) Online

Authors: Bella Bowen

Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Victorian Era, #Western, #Thirty-Three In Series, #Saga, #Fifty-Books, #Forty-Five Authors, #Newspaper Ad, #Short Story, #American Mail-Order Bride, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Marriage Of Convenience, #Christian, #Religious, #Faith, #Inspirational, #Factory Burned, #Pioneer, #Oregon, #Imitate Accent, #Scotswomen, #Brogue Lilt, #Temper, #Portland, #Shanghai Tunnels, #Dangerous Game, #Phantom, #Charade, #Danger, #Acting

Darby: Bride of Oregon (American Mail-Order Bride 33)

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DARBY:

Bride of Oregon

American Mail-Order Brides Series

(Book 33)

 

 

By Bella
Bowen

 

 

AMAZON KDP EDITION

 

 

PUBLISHED BY

Lesli Muir
Lytle

 

www.bellabowen.weebly.com

 

 

Darby:
Bride of Oregon © 2015 L.Lytle

 

 

All rights
reserved

Amazon KDP
Edition License Notes

 

This ebook is
licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or
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permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotation
embodied in critical articles and reviews. Thank you for respecting the hard
work of this author.

This ebook is a work
of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s
imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.
Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or
organizations is entirely coincidental.

DEDICATION

 

To the authors of Pioneer Hearts

A generous group of writers…

 

who welcomed me

into their bosom

like a handful

of peppermint sticks.

 

*wink wink*

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Oregon?


Might as well be the other side of the
world,” Darby muttered, and allowed her eyes to move on to the next
advertisement for mail-order brides. The print was small, so she concentrated
and pulled
The Groom’s Gazette
closer, content to remain on the floor of
the small attic room she shared with Margaret. Closer to the floor, the air was
slightly cooler.

“That one’s spoken for,” a long slender arm draped
over her shoulder and pointed at the ad she’d been trying to read. “And that
one.” Her roommate pointed to another, and another. “And those two.” That left
very few ads that hadn’t been crossed out.

Darby sighed impatiently and pointed to the Oregon
note again. “What about this one?”

Margaret snorted indelicately. “O’course it’s
still available. How many well-bred British women do you know who are willing
to go marry an
American
just because he put a notice in a magazine? The
fellow’s off his nutter, if’n you ask me. Reaching for the moon. May as well
ask for one of the Royals from Buckingham Palace.”

“I was well bred—for a wee while,” Darby muttered,
though not truly up for a fight with her friend.

Margaret shrieked and pulled the
Gazette
out of her grasp, jumped up on the bed and held it high over Darby’s head.
Seated on the floor as she was, it would be pointless to reach for the thing.
After all…she felt an urgent need to freshen up her well-bred manners.

“My dearest Margaret,” she said in her best
imitation of Queen Victoria herself, “it is unbecoming of you to bounce on the
bed. I insist you come down from there at once.” She snapped her fingers. “Where
are my ladies in waiting?” She looked at her lap and gasped. “And how, may I
ask, did I happen to be sitting on the floor?”

Margaret collapsed on the thin mattress in a fit
of giggles—which brought
The Grooms’ Gazette
back within Darby’s reach.
She had no trouble snatching it away while her roommate laughed herself
senseless. But just in case her friend thought to steal the magazine again,
Darby scooted around and pressed her back against the far wall to search for
the ad again.

It wasn’t a problem, really, to keep up a high
falutin’ accent. She’d grown up near the English border and was well accustomed
to the feel of the arrogant inflection on her tongue. She’d mocked her English
neighbors often enough.

No. Maintaining the charade wasn’t the worry.
Convincing the American gentleman that a last name like McClintock was as much
English as it was Scottish wasn’t much of a worry either.

The only thing that might jeopardize a rather
agreeable business/marriage agreement was a minor thing, really. And it might
never be a problem at all if the man truly treated her as if she were a well-bred
Englishwoman. He needed a wife to complement his position as a public official,
the ad said. So there was no doubt his bride would live a life of refinement.

So it stood to reason that, while living this
refined life, the chances of losing her temper would be slight.

Truthfully, it wasn’t the temper so much that was
the problem—it was the fact that, when she did lose that temper, her Scots
brogue came to the fore, and she wasn’t afraid to give any man a genuine Scotch
blessing if he deserved one. But how likely was that to happen if she were to
lead such a demure and docile life of the truly advantaged?

What she dared not examine too closely, however,
was her foolish desire to find happiness in marriage like the bliss her parents
had known—before her father had died in the coal mines trying to rescue his
men. Soon after, when greedy business partners had cheated Darby’s mother out
of everything, the woman had died of a broken heart at the thought of leaving
Scotland, and leaving her husband’s grave behind.

And if Darby were lucky enough to find true
happiness with this Oregon man, she would one day be able to tell him the
truth, that she was really just a Scottish lass at heart. But
one day
sounded so far away.

“Margaret?”

“Mm?”

“How long does it take, do ye reckon, to make a
man fall in love with ye?”

Her roommate rolled onto her back and sighed at
the ceiling. “I don’t rightly know, Darby, girl. More than a morning—I’ve tried
enough times to know—but less than a night, if the trollops are to be believed.”

Though Darby knew it wouldn’t be as simple as
that, the idea gave her hope.

Margaret snorted. “Doesn’t matter, though, does
it?”

Darby frowned and lowered the Gazette to peek over
the top. “What do you mean?”

Margaret rolled up onto her elbow to level a stern
look at her. “I mean, it doesn’t matter if you get that fella to fall in love
with you or not. He’ll promptly fall
out
of love with you the moment he
hears that brogue.” She made a tisking sound with her teeth and shook her head.
“I read the whole page, love. I know the ad specifies
no Scotswomen need
apply
.”

“He’ll never know—”

“Hah! You lose that temper of yours six times a
day and seven on Sundays. The only way you’ll fool him is if you cut out your
tongue!” Margaret reached over to the small vanity between their two beds and
plucked up the shears. “‘Ere, now,” she teased with a Cockney accent. “Open up,
love. I’ll be real quick like.” She rapidly snapped the blades together and
grinned.

Darby feigned a pout. “I don’t need to cut it off,
Margaret. I can just…bite it when I need to.”

 “You don’t need shears, then.” The girl tossed
the blades back to the table and sprawled out on the bed again. “You’ll cut it
off with your teeth before he gets you a mile away from the train station.”

Darby chewed on her tongue a few times, wondering
how much it would hurt to have it cut off, then stopped before Margaret might
notice and start teasing again.

Six times a day? Truly?

She crawled up onto her own bed and turned to face
the wee round window. But her Sunday afternoon nap would be better spent
finding a way to tame that temper. In the morning, she would take the train to
Beckham, to see this Miss Miller, the woman who helped place mail-order brides
with the right grooms. If Darby put her acting skills to the test, and could
convince a discerning woman she was a well-bred English lass, then convincing a
man should be easier still.

On top of that, Portland, Oregon was hell and gone
from Lawrence, Massachusetts. The ride would take a week, at least. And it
would take even longer for Miss Miller and the Oregon gentleman to correspond.
So, if Darby were to cut back, lose her temper once fewer each day, she would
be free of the vice before she ever boarded the westbound train. Then she could
practice a cool head all the way there.

All the way to Oregon.

Hell and gone from Lawrence. More than hell and
gone from Scotland.

She could almost imagine the sound of her mother
weeping, standing next to the cross that marked her grave in a lush, green
glen—weeping for the fact that her child considered putting even more space
between them.

But what choice did Darby have? If she remained in
Lawrence, she might end up in the oldest profession just to stay alive. With so
many women needing work all at a go, there was no respectable employment to be
found. And since she’d stayed at Margaret’s side when she’d fallen ill, that
first day after the mill fire, Darby had lost the chance to fight for what few
opportunities there might have been.

She bit her lip and asked God to forgive her. She hadn’t
meant to sound bitter and ungrateful, even in her private thoughts. It hadn’t
been Margaret’s fault she’d fallen ill, and Darby was glad she’d had no work at
the time, so she could care for her friend. One day, she’d be rewarded in kind,
she was sure.

Luckily for her friend, Margaret had family in the
south. She would be leaving in the morning for Atlanta, Georgia, where she
would be caring for an aging aunt whom Margaret adored. At least that was one
friend Darby wouldn’t have to worry about.

However, there were many, like Darby, whose only
alternative was to take a chance as a mail-order bride. It was barbaric, truly.
But she was coming to believe the only difference between modern times and
medieval…were the fashions.

When the day came that Darby needed someone to
care for her, she trusted the Lord would send her someone. And if Darby was a
very good lass and learned to quell her temper, that someone might even be a
gentle, loving husband from Oregon.

A gentle, loving, and
forgiving
husband.

She imagined a handsome gentleman sitting next to
her bed, worrying at a wet cloth draped over her forehead, taking her hand in
his and gently stroking her fingers while he murmured happy thoughts and lulled
her to sleep.

She imagined him falling asleep in his chair,
so worried he’d be for her well-being.

She stirs.

He wakes.

She mumbles.

He moves close to listen in case she is asking
for water, for
him
.

But all that comes out of her mouth, in her
delirious state…is a string of Gaelic curses!

“Damn!” Darby flung the magazine forcefully across
the small room. It spun and flew to the top of the door before falling straight
to the floor with a smack.

“That’s four,” Margaret said without opening her
eyes.

Darby stuck out her tongue in the girl’s
direction.

“And that’s five.” Margaret pulled her elbows behind
her and lifted up to look at the magazine now in pieces by the door. “But don’t
fret, Darb. It’s Sunday. You’ve still got two left.”

CHAPTER TWO

 

Rand stood by helplessly while another poor sod
was lifted into a dingy. This one, he couldn’t save. As the Phantom of
Portland, he had to let some slip through his fingers or he would lose
credibility as a diabolical figure in the underground community. And
unfortunately, he had to instigate some other crimes to maintain that
reputation.

That night’s victim possessed the three qualities
Rand required from all his Shanghaied victims. First of all, he was without
family. With the help of a clever-tongued lady of the evening, he’d learned the
man had left a sister back east and never planned to see her again. That was
good enough for Rand, especially since he’d stalled so long since he’d last
sold an able body.

Secondly, the man was guilty of a handful of sins,
including striking a woman. That incident, Rand had witnessed himself from the
large picture window of his office. He’d ordered the man followed, which led to
the decision to earmark him for a dead drop.

And finally, the victim was relatively healthy. If
there was one thing Rand refused to do, it was sell a scrawny, weak man to the
vicious sea captains who demanded new members for their crews bound for China.
It was an awful life, a difficult life, and few survived more than a year or
two. A healthy man had a better chance. Rand liked his victims to have some
hope.

It helped him sleep at night.

But selling able bodies to the captains directly
also helped the Phantom’s reputation. A man with a strong back and a strong
constitution meant Rand earned not only a pretty penny for each of his
offerings, but also a reputation as an excellent judge of the flesh.

The unexpected benefit of this was that his
competition in the villain department grew more particular about the able
bodies they chose too. Children had disappeared from the market. And if one did
appear, he had one of his men buy the child outright. Then they either got the
child and parents out of town, or, if the child’s parents couldn’t be found, a
new family was located outside of the city.

Of course his rivals still preyed upon any bloke
they could get their hands on. The captains weren’t picky by any means. But
thanks to Rand’s improvement in viable products, those rivals often threw back
more pitiful blokes that were likely to die after a few strikes of a lash.

So, in a roundabout way, Rand had saved some of
the scrawnier, more pitiable creatures who wandered into the wrong part of
town, and by some miracle, wandered back out again. A little more worse for
wear, a severe ache in their heads, but often oblivious to the horrid fate they’d
escaped.

The hardest parts for Rand was when a woman was
caught in the web of traps below the city. It happened on a regular basis.
Nothing he could do to stop it. But what he could do was save as many of them
as possible.

It was rumored the Phantom had a taste for female
flesh. And, thanks to his daylight persona, he was able to spread whatever
gossip he wished. But this particular rumor provided an excuse for buying as
many female Shanghaied victims as he did. They, too, would surface in another
town where no one would know how close they’d come to being the plaything of an
entire crew.

He’d saved lives. Every night he saved as many as
he could. But he would never be able to save them all as the Phantom.
Eventually, his public and political persona would save them by the thousands.

But when he was unable to save one…

When he failed, for one reason or another, he
almost wished he’d never heard about them. Of course, with his ear to the
ground and a small army of spies in his employ, he knew every cage below
ground, and each time a soul was placed inside one. There might have been one
or two a week he didn’t know about, whose captors were too quick. But it was
almost a relief not to have known about them, so he couldn’t regret what he
could not do to save them.

But the women…

It didn’t matter what choices the woman had made
in life, whether she was an innocent wandering down the wrong street, or lured
through the wrong doorway. Or whether she was a trollop who had acquired a
serious illness or disease, and her boss wanted to be rid of her. No matter
what the story, a woman was a woman and should be protected from the vices of
men.

So when he could save them, pay a pretty penny and
take them to his secret den of iniquity—only to be sneaked out of town at a
later time—he would do it. And when he was unable to free a girl because he
couldn’t pay the asking price, or because her captor refused to deal with him,
the following days were hard to bear. At least twice a month, sometimes more,
he had to lose himself in strong drink and dark rooms until the guilt faded.

His elegant bride, if he ever found one, would
just have to turn a blind eye when he didn’t come home at night, and still wasn’t
in his bed in the morning. But if he held out for the right woman—a well-bred,
aristocratic woman—she would know better than to meddle in her husband’s
business.

They were trained that way, as he understood it.
They were born and bred to be silent, dignified dolls who spent all their free
time planning social events and studying fashion—none of which would get in the
way of his real work.

But what if none of those women had a reason to read
his advertisement, let alone answer it?

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