Authors: Linda Bridey
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Mail Order Bride: Westward Holiday
Montana Mail Order Brides: Book 8
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The early September day in Savanna, Georgia dawned hot and humid. As she walked the four blocks to the Preston Estate, Rebecca Walker cursed the suffocating weather. Though she had piled and fixed her coal black hair into a becoming style on top of her head, small tendrils had come down to curl around her face. The humidity was the enemy of her thick curly hair and Rebecca knew that by the end of the day, she would have a frizzy mass to brush out.
Rebecca tried to push away her dejection so she could get through one more miserable day. The past year had brought about devastating changes in her life and she was still having a hard time adjusting.
She arrived at the estate and walked around back to the servants’ entrance. Humiliation was her companion as she walked through the door. Simmons, the head butler, stood in the kitchen and smiled at Rebecca as she came into the room.
“How is our Rebecca this morning?” he asked kindly.
Rebecca returned his smile and said, “Terrible. The same as yesterday and the same as I’ll be tomorrow.”
“Now, now, Rebecca. You have to try to look on the bright side,” the gray haired man said. “No sense wallowing in self-pity.”
Rebecca speared him with a bad-tempered glare from her green eyes. “Easy for you to say, Simmons. Your family didn’t lose their fortune and plunge you into poverty. Ya’ll weren’t forced to take a lowly menial job that doesn’t even pay enough to make ends meet.”
Simmons inclined his head. “True, but you can’t change the past. You can change the future. You’re a beautiful young woman of good breeding. Finding a rich husband shouldn’t be difficult.”
Rebecca washed her hands and began to gather the supplies cook would need to make breakfast for the Preston family. She slammed things down angrily on the counters. “Ya’ll don’t know what you’re talking about. No man of good station will have anything to do with me now that my family has fallen into disgrace. It would be scandalous for him to marry someone like me. No, Simmons, I’m afraid that is an impossible solution.”
“Why must it be someone from the elite society? Why not a successful businessman of some sort?”
She sighed in frustration. “All he has to hear is my last name and he will run in the opposite direction because of Daddy’s checkered business dealings. He is a pariah and any of his offspring are also considered such. I tire of this conversation, Simmons. Please leave me to do my job and not think about such things.”
Simmons felt sympathy for Rebecca and decided not to press the issue any longer. “I’m sorry for causing you distress, Rebecca. I’ll check on the family and be back after a while.”
Rebecca nodded but didn’t say anything more as she bent to her work.
Ellie Merrill’s bubbly personality made her a favorite among the servants and the family alike. Unlike Rebecca, Ellie hadn’t been born into privileged society so she didn’t mind her work as a housekeeper. She was happy to be able to walk through the beautiful Preston home and touch the fine things within it. Ellie was especially happy to be near Matthew Preston, the handsome young son of Lawrence Preston.
It was well known that Matthew and Ellie carried on, but everyone turned a blind eye to the relationship as was often the case in high society. Ellie had no dreams of marrying Matthew because while they shared a passionate relationship, she was not in love with him.
Since she was able to move around the house, Ellie always brought gossip to Rebecca at their noon meal and this day was no different. Normally Rebecca was happy to hear of the failings of the family with which her family used to associate, but she was only half-listening to Ellie chatter on.
Ellie noticed and asked, “What’s the matter, Rebecca?”
“Have you ever felt trapped, Ellie? As if you are in this horrible, ugly box with no way out and you have no future?” Rebecca said.
Ellie’s friend had a flair for the dramatic and sometimes Ellie didn’t understand what Rebecca was talking about. “No, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that. Why do you?”
“Imagine that you are a beautiful butterfly, Ellie, and you’re flying free. Suddenly someone comes along and captures you in a net and puts you in a box where you can never see the sunlight or smell the flowers again. That’s what I feel like,” Rebecca said to the redhead.
Ellie’s brow furrowed. “But Rebecca, you are beautiful, and can see the sun, and smell the flowers.”
Rebecca groaned and put her head down on her forearm. “Never mind, Ellie. Never mind.”
On the way home that evening, Rebecca stopped by the newsstand she frequented. She bought two papers, one of the small luxuries she could afford. Although Rebecca was no longer a part of high society, she enjoyed keeping up with the well-to-do families. After paying for the papers, Rebecca continued on to the nondescript apartment building in which she lived. Climbing the stairs to the second story, Rebecca started reading an article on the front page about a town official who’d been caught having an extramarital relationship with a socialite that Rebecca knew. As she unlocked her door, Rebecca laughed with glee over the article.
She put the newspapers on her tiny kitchen table and looked around her two room apartment that could have fit twice inside her room in the former Walker residence. Rebecca once again felt the cloying quagmire of her lowly station pulling her down further into depression. Then she reminded herself that she was a Walker and that they didn’t quit. It was a daily internal battle she went through.
Since she’d eaten supper at the Preston’s, Rebecca wasn’t hungry. She took the newspapers into her combination bedroom and sitting room and sat in one of the worn wingback chairs in it. Poring over the pages, Rebecca eventually came to the classifieds. Thinking there must be a better position for her somewhere, Rebecca looked intently through the many employment listings.
Most were menial jobs that wouldn’t be any better than the one she had. The personals were always fun. Recently there had been an increase in mail-order-bride ads and Rebecca played a game with them. She would close her eyes and put her finger down on the paper and then see what horrible ad it had landed on. Laughing to herself, Rebecca closed her eyes and twirled her index finger around before touching the paper. Then she opened her eyes and read:
Listen up, ladies! Successful saloon owner in search of wife. She must share his interests in good liquor and late night fun. 6’ 1”, 170 lbs., with blue eyes the color of a Montana sky and deep brown hair, this thirty-one-year-old bachelor barkeep keeps the good times flowing and the games going. Get in on the game now before someone else wins the jackpot!
“Oh, my,” Rebecca said. “Now doesn’t he sound intriguing?”
The mention of Montana also caught her attention. It would certainly be far enough away that no one there would know who the Walkers of Georgia were. A saloon owner sounded like someone fun to be around, although, Rebecca had never visited such a place. It didn’t sound as though she’d be required to work or anything. Other than some rudimentary culinary skills, there was really nothing else for which she was trained. It was the main reason she couldn’t find another job. No one wanted to hire someone without experience.
Rebecca wasn’t an overly impulsive person, but she didn’t think she had anything to lose by sending a letter. If nothing else, it would be a little distraction from her miserable existence. She found some of her good stationary and settled down at her kitchen table to write.
“There’s nothing wrong with my shoulder, Marcus,” Jake Henderson said.
Marcus Samuels asked, “Then why are you here?” He had recently taken over as the town doctor, but had grown up in Dawson.
“Because I needed to talk to you, but it’s hard with our schedules being so different. Making an appointment was the only way I could see you,” Jake said. “I had to tell Hannah something because this is private.”
As the owner and operator of the saloon in Dawson, Montana, Jake tended to keep late hours. The Watering Hole drew big crowds since it was the closest saloon for most of Dawson’s residents.
Marcus gave Jake a disapproving look and said, “Ok, but hurry it up. There are real patients to see.”
“Ok. Can you run that ad again? I only got three letters and let’s just say that I don’t think any of the women would be right for me. One was the daughter of a pastor. I don’t think it would be appropriate for her to marry a bar owner,” Jake said.
Marcus smiled. “You never know, she might be a rebel.”
“Oh, no. I don’t need an angry preacher comin’ after me because I corrupted his little girl. I’ll pay you more to run it again,” Jake said.
“Ok. I will. Now get out of here,” Marcus said.
“Thanks, Doc,” Jake said.
Hannah, Marcus’ nurse and sister-in-law was in the hallway when he came out of the examination room. “That was quick,” she said.
Jake smiled. “He fixed me right up. I’ll see ya.”
Hannah watched him go and shook her head a little.
Jake had barely stepped outside of the clinic when he heard, “Hey, boss!”
Across the street, his bouncer Sammi Jameson stood waving. Jake jogged across and joined her. “What’s up?” he asked her.
“Nothin’ much. How come you were at the doc’s?” she asked.
“I had to talk to Marcus about a personal matter,” Jake told her. “How come you’re not working?”
Sammi worked part-time as a deputy for her husband who was the sheriff. She worked full-time for Jake at the Watering Hole.
“I’m going home for some lunch. Wanna join?” Sammi asked.
“Nah. I got some stuff to do at the bar before I open up in a while,” Jake said. “Thanks, though.”
Sammi nodded. “Ok. Can you pay me tonight?”
“I didn’t pay you last night?” Jake asked.
“Dang! Sorry, Sammi. Remind me, will you?” Jake said.
Sammi laughed at his frustrated expression. “It’s a good thing for you that I’m honest and didn’t try to get paid twice. I’ve never seen anyone as forgetful as you.”
“Shut up. That’s why I write stuff down,” Jake said. “I hate it.”
“I don’t think writing it down helps you much,” Sammi said.
Jake laughed. “No, I guess it doesn’t. I will definitely pay you tonight,” he said and jogged back across the street. He wanted to stop at the post office before he went back to the bar. He chatted with Wally the postmaster for a few minutes and then went on his way. It was always like that for Jake. It seemed like he was stopped a hundred times whenever he ran errands. That was the price he paid for being a well-liked bartender.
He ran around the back of the Watering Hole and up the outside stairs that led to his apartment above the establishment. It was chilly in Dawson at that time of year and the warm apartment felt good to Jake. He threw his coat on a chair and flopped down on his sofa.
Sifting through his mail, Jake flipped it onto various piles scattered throughout his parlor. He knew what each pile contained. It was his version of a filing system. Halfway through the small stack, Jake found an envelope that didn’t belong on any of the piles.
“Rebecca Walker? I don’t know—oh! Holy smokes! Maybe I shouldn’t have asked Marcus to run that ad again after all,” Jake said as he opened it.
Dear Mr. Henderson,
I never thought I’d answer one of these advertisements, but when I saw yours I couldn’t help myself. It was very unique and I’ve never seen one for a saloon owner before. Your profession must be very interesting with all of the different people you meet. How did you come to own it? I’m very curious to know all about you and your establishment.
As for me, I’m twenty-five-years-old and I am a very social person. I enjoy a good party and it sounds like you have one every night. My eyes are green and my hair is black. I’m slender in build and pleasing to the eye, or so I’m told. At this time I am employed by a good family in Savannah, but I would like to be doing something different than assisting them.
I have also tired of Savannah and would like to see somewhere different. I’m afraid that there aren’t many good men to be found here since most of them are married or betrothed. Therefore, I would not be opposed to being a mail-order-bride as long as we are a good match.
What exactly are you looking for in a wife? I’m interested in a man who is kind, honest, and intelligent. I look forward to hearing from you.
Jake wasn’t sure what to think about the letter. It was a little bland and the woman didn’t give a whole lot of information about herself. She seemed nice, but Jake wanted to know more about her. He looked at his watch and swore. He needed to get a move on to get his work done before opening up. Stuffing the letter in a pocket, Jake ran down the inside stairs to the bar.
While his apartment upstairs might be in disarray, Jake’s bar was spotless and all of the alcohol and supplies in their places. Jake liked to keep things clean and all of his mugs and glasses were washed every night. He kept the floors swept and mopped and the windows sparkled in the early fall sunshine.
Jake opened the door to the cellar and started lugging barrels up the steps. This was where he kept the beer in the summertime because it stayed cold down there. Over the winter, Jake was able to keep it in the storeroom that he’d built. The storeroom was purposely made with three outside walls so that the frigid Montana winters helped keep his brew cold. It stayed fresh longer.
However, he hadn’t moved his supply to the storeroom yet because it was still a little too warm out some days. So for now, he still had to bring it up from the cellar. Once he was done with all of the prep work, Jake went back upstairs to clean up and change into fresh clothes. He usually wore a nicer pair of jeans and a black Western shirt because it hid beer spills so he didn’t look sloppy.
No sooner had he opened the door at one o’clock than a few of his usual daytime customers started wondering in. There were some saloons that were open twenty-four hours a day, but Jake didn’t subscribe to that kind of schedule. He figured that having the place open for twelve hours a day was plenty. He didn’t open on Sundays out of respect for Pastor John and it was the same for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. If there was something special going on in town, he had no trouble closing up early to attend another event.
Gus McHale, one of Jake’s best friends and customers sat down at the bar. Jake knew what everyone in town drank so he poured the first of Gus’ many beers and sat it in front of the man with a gaunt frame and brown eyes.
“Thanks,” Gus said. “How’s Jake today?”
“Jake is good, thanks,” Jake said. Gus often talked to people that way. “So how’s that sick pig?”
Gus raised pigs and he had a sow that had developed milk fever. It was important because he now had a litter of piglets that needed hand fed. The loss of the sow or any of the piglets would cut into Gus’ profits.
“A little better, I guess. It’s hard to tell. The girls have their hands full feeding those piglets,” Gus said.
“Well, you tell them to fatten me up one because I plan on having a nice juicy Christmas ham,” Jake said.
Gus smiled into his friend’s dark blue eyes. “Sure thing. Why are you gonna cook a ham all for yourself?”
“It ain’t for me, stupid. I’m gonna make it and serve it here. People will eat it and then drink up a storm. On second thought, I want two. Some of the guys around here like Luke eat their weight in food,” Jake said. “It’s the only time of the year I’ll do it, so get that thought out of your head.”
“Ok. Two it is. You’re sneaky, Jake,” Gus said.
“No, I’m just a good businessman,” Jake countered. “Oh, hey, I got a letter from a woman today. Wanna read it?”
“Sure. It’s been a while since you got one, ain’t it?” Gus said.
Jake pulled the letter from his pocket and slid it over to Gus. “Yeah. Matter of fact, I just asked Marcus to run my ad again, but then I got this. See what you make of it.”
Gus read the letter while Jake moved further down the bar to pass out beers to a few men. When Jake came back, Gus said, “Seems nice enough, I guess.”
“That’s what I thought, too. It’s nice, but seems like something’s missing,” Jake said.
“You gonna write back?” Gus asked.
“Oh, yeah. It’s the only decent letter I got so far,” Jake said.
Gus said, “I’m hungry. How come you don’t serve a free lunch like some places do?”
Jake frowned. “I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned that ham. Because I’m only one man and I’ve got my hands full with runnin’ this place. I keep telling you that. The only free lunch you’re gonna get is at home.”
“So hire someone to cook,” Gus said. He enjoyed getting Jake riled up and this particular argument never failed to do the job.
“Are you gonna pay them? Not to mention I’d have to pay for all of the food, too. There’s no guarantee that people are gonna buy enough booze to cover the cost of making food. Nope. I’m just gonna stick with serving drinks. Go up to the Grady House and get something,” Jake said. “Or go to the bakery. Or go to Elliot’s.”
“Nah. I’m fine,” Gus said with a smile.
“I’ll tell you what. You watch the bar for a little while so I can write that letter and I’ll give you a couple of free beers,” Jake said.
“All right. Deal,” Gus said.
“Great. I won’t be long,” Jake said and went to his office in the back. Gus had tended bar for him on numerous occasions and Jake knew the place was in good hands. Jake settled behind his desk and then had to run back out front to get the letter that he’d forgotten on the bar. Back in his office, he started writing.