mail order bride ink dear mr. turner

Dear Mr. Turner
Mail-Order Bride Ink Book 2
Kit Morgan
Angel Creek Press
Contents

Copyright

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Epilogue

Also by Kit Morgan

About the Author

Copyright © 2016 by Kit Morgan

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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Prologue
Denver, Colorado, 1901


F
antine
!” a voice called from another room. The accent was odd – Deep South overlaid with French. “When you’re done dusting, do prepare a pot of tea!”

Fantine Le Blanc, assistant to the eccentric matchmaker Adelia Pettigrew, sighed. “
Oui, Madame!

she called back in her native French accent.

Fantine had been in Mrs. Pettigrew’s employ not three weeks and had already become the brunt of many a joke around town. She knew her mistress could be, shall we say, a little odd, but there was no need for name-calling. Unfortunately, every time she went to the nearby mercantile or butcher shop or when she picked up the laundry, she heard whispers behind her back as she passed. At least they weren’t telling them to her face.

Okay, a few had … but she really didn’t know what the problem was. Besides, if the folks in town doing the name-calling would take the time to get to know Mrs. Pettigrew better, they’d see she wasn’t so bad. Fantine didn’t think she was. The woman was just … different.

So she smoked cigars – what of it? So she dressed somewhat … flamboyantly? When one had as much money as Mrs. Pettigrew, one could dress any way one pleased, Fantine supposed. And having tea with her dog,
Monsieur
Pickles, along with a few neighborhood pooches shouldn’t be counted as unconventional. Mrs. Pettigrew saw it as a charity, feeding the poor things seven days per week at precisely four in the afternoon. She couldn’t let the pups starve. Not that they were – most belonged to some neighbor or another.

But no one else saw things the way Fantine had come to during her time at the Pettigrew mansion on the hill. Granted, the first week was a bit rough …

“Fantine!”

Fantine jumped and almost fell off the chair she’d been standing on. “
Oui
,
Madame.

“Tea, I said! Tea! The doggies are waiting!” Mrs. Pettigrew entered her home office.

“But I thought I was to finish the dusting first?”

“Oh. I did tell you that, didn’t I?”

Fantine turned on her perch and stared at her employer, wide-eyed. Mrs. Pettigrew had changed out of her day dress and now wore a gown of the brightest pink she’d ever seen. “Are you going to a party?”

“Of course not, only tea. Now if you would be so kind as to prepare it?”

“Right away,
Madame
.” She turned back to the framed letters she’d been dusting on the wall, and one in particular caught her eye. “
Madame
Pettigrew?”

“Yes,
ma cherie
?”

“Do you remember the story you told me of
Monsieur
Weaver and his bride Ebba? It was the first day I was here.”

“Yes, what about them?”

Fantine tucked the feather duster under one arm then carefully removed the framed letter from the wall. “You were going to tell me the story of this one, but never did.”

“Oh?” Mrs. Pettigrew took a few steps closer. “Which one are you referring to?”

Fantine smiled as she climbed off the chair. “This one.”

Mrs. Pettigrew took the letter from her and began to read. “Ohhhh yes, Mr. Turner! I’d quite forgotten. I am so sorry,
ma belle
.”

“When it is convenient for you,
Madame
Pettigrew, I would very much like to hear it.”

“Then fix our pot of tea and join us. I shall then regale you and our guests with the whole story!”

Fantine tentatively smiled as she pictured sitting at the low table where Mrs. Pettigrew served the dogs tea. It was obviously made for children, and Fantine often wondered if Mrs. Pettigrew had purchased it for the child she never had, her husband having died before they were blessed with any. “I will hurry to prepare the pot,
Madame
.”

Mrs. Pettigrew smiled. “See that you do.”

Fantine curtsied and hurried to comply.

When the tea was done, she put everything she needed on a tray, brought it into the sitting room – one of several – and set it on the low table. Several dogs were running around, barking and playing. Mrs. Pettigrew gave a loud whistle, and Fantine watched in fascination as the hounds gathered around the table, tails wagging. They knew what was coming.

“Don’t dawdle, Fantine,” Mrs. Pettigrew scolded. “Serve the tea!”

Fantine poured Mrs. Pettigrew a cup, then handed her the pot. The woman deftly placed saucers in front of each dog and poured a small amount of tea into them. Fantine tried not to laugh as the animals sniffed at the tea and tried to lap it up, but it was still too hot. She’d seen this many times by now and each time it was just as hysterical. Several of the dogs didn’t bother at this point, knowing that if they waited, the tea would be cooler. The rest were more interested in the treat that would come next. Some, being dogs, didn’t care for tea at all.

Mrs. Pettigrew motioned to Fantine to serve the cookies. She went around the table and placed one next to each dog’s saucer. Mrs. Pettigrew had her put them in the tea cups a few times, but too much china got broken when the dogs pushed them off the table trying to get to their treat. This new method worked much better.

Fantine finished her task, poured herself a cup and sat on a cushion on the floor as Mrs. Pettigrew was doing. The dogs went silent except for their tails thumping on the carpet as they looked intently at Mrs. Pettigrew. She smiled, gave a low whistle and they attacked their treats with gusto.

“Now,
ma petit
, you wish to hear the story of
Monsieur
Turner?”

Fantine fought the urge to cringe as dogs licked the table to get every last crumb. “Yes,
Madame
, I would.”

“Well then, we must begin at the beginning!”

Fantine pulled her gaze from the dogs and looked at her. “Of course,
Madame
.”

“If you recall,
Monsieur
Turner lived in a town called Clear Creek in Oregon. Sheriff Hughes from my last story was also from there.”

“Yes, I remember. He married Mary Weaver, and the young deputy Tom was to replace him as sheriff in Clear Creek.”

“Right you are, my dear. And so he did.”

“Is this story about Tom Turner? I thought he was already married.”

“Indeed he is. No, this is about his younger brother. Eli.”

“Oh,” Fantine said with a nod. “And who was his bride?”

Mrs. Pettigrew smiled as two of the dogs started lapping up tea. “Pleasant Comfort.”

Fantine’s entire face screwed up. “Pleasant … who?”

“Comfort. That was her name.”

Fantine’s mouth fell open. “Who names a child such a thing?”

“A clever woman, that’s who!”

Fantine sighed. Naturally Mrs. Pettigrew would think it clever.

“But it gets better. Some of Pleasant’s brothers – she had six brothers, you know – also had clever names. The oldest was Major Quincy Comfort –”

Fantine’s eyes grew wide. “Are you serious?”


Oui.
That is his name to this day.”

Fantine fought the urge to roll her eyes. If she’d been given such a name, she never would have kept it? “He never changed it to something else?”

“Of course not, why would he?” Mrs. Pettigrew asked in shock. “Her other brothers’ names were not so special,” she continued with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Let’s see … Benedict, Darcy, Zachary … I think one was called Michael – what’s so spectacular about that? But then my favorite – Peaceful!”

Fantine closed her eyes and cringed. “Peaceful?!”


Oui
! Is it not astounding?”

Fantine opened her eyes to Mrs. Pettigrew’s wide smile. “The poor man …”

“Nonsense, he came from a very rich family. Or at least they were at one time. But the war, you know …”

Fantine shook her head, a hand to her temple. “I am confused.”

“You won’t be once I tell you the story.”

“But what do the girl’s six brothers have to do with anything?”

“Everything!”

Fantine nodded weakly. “Of course.”

Mrs. Pettigrew smiled and readjusted herself on the cushion. “This happened not long after Tom Turner returned to Clear Creek to take over as sheriff.”

“And it begins here in Denver?”

“Not at all. It begins in Savannah, Georgia!”

Fantine nodded again. “Naturally.”

Mrs. Pettigrew smiled. “And this,
ma cherie
, is what happened …”

Chapter 1
Savannah, Georgia, early March 1877

B
uford Ulysses Comfort
paced his study, his heavy jowls trembling every time he turned on his heel and stomped to the other side of the room. After several moments of this he went behind his desk and spun toward his eldest son. “I don’t care how long it takes you!” he bellowed in a heavy Southern accent. “Take your brothers and scour the countryside! Find her, Major, confound it, or we’ll be ruined!”

Major sighed in resignation. “Perhaps if you’d found another way to get us out of our current financial difficulty, Father,” he said in his own deep, smooth drawl, “my sister would not have deemed it necessary to run away.”

“Ungrateful, that’s what she is!” his father barked. “Haven’t I given her everything she’s ever wanted, bent to her every whim? And
this
is how she repays me? Now that her family needs her, she abandons us!”

“Rupert Jerney is, in my opinion, a bit of a cad – and I would say that even if he weren’t a Yankee carpetbagger. I believe if I were Pleasant, I’d have run too.”

“Well, you’re not your sister, are you? And I don’t care what you think of Mr. Jerney. He’s our only way out of this mess and I fully plan to take him up on his offer. Now go find your sister, no matter what it takes, and bring her back! She’s going to marry Rupert Jerney whether she likes it or not!”

Major put his hands behind his back and sighed again. “You do realize, of course, that you’re sacrificing her happiness for your bank accounts?”

His father’s lips formed into a fine line as his eyes bulged. “You’re one to talk!” he exploded. “This plantation has been in our family for generations! And if you’d like to inherit it lock, stock and barrel, then I suggest you find your sister. Her sacrifice is going to save us all!

“Except her,” Major pointed out.

“Get going!” His father shouted. “I will not lose Comfort Fields!”

Major took one last look at his father’s flustered face, shook his head, turned and headed for the door. “Then may my brothers and I be forgiven for what we’re about to do,” he muttered. He let the door slam on his way out, ignoring the furious shouts of his father from the other side.

On the one hand, he couldn’t blame him for being so upset. Comfort Fields
was started by his great-grandfather and had grown into one of the biggest plantations around Savannah. But the War Between the States took its toll, not to mention the carpetbaggers and everything else that came after it to suck the life out of the once proud South. Twelve years later, though, one would think his family would have recovered by now.

But no. The Comfort family, Major had recently come to find out, was deep in debt. Buford wasn’t the best at managing the plantation’s money – that had been their mother’s area of expertise. Even as eccentric as Olympia Comfort had been, she still mastered the plantation’s books like a fine artist, not to mention being a superb hostess and incredibly kindhearted. Her gifts helped balance some of her eccentricities, such as her penchant for bestowing upon some of her children her ideas of distinguished names.

Major shuddered at the thought and continued to the drawing room where his brothers waited.

He had been the first to suffer her creative mind by being dubbed Major Quincy Comfort. Only his father called him Major, his siblings mercifully referred to him as Quince. There was nothing wrong with the name Major – it had been rather fashionable at the time – but when coupled with his surname … needless to say, he’d learned how to use his fists at a tender age. She’d given more normal names to others of his siblings. Michael John was the second son, followed by Darcy Jefferson (okay, so she was reading Jane Austen novels while she carried him) and Zachary Nathaniel and Benedict Andrew.

And then, disaster. Mother died giving birth to the youngest siblings, the twins. Before she passed, she’d chosen their names, and their heartbroken father hadn’t been able to refuse her last wish. She’d told him to raise them to be pleasant and peaceful children. Thus they became Pleasant Anne and Peaceful Mathias Comfort. Pleasant was just called Pleasant, as her brothers thought Anne too boorish. Peaceful, on the other hand, was simply Matt, which in turn kept the house … well, peaceful.

But once he informed his brothers of what Pleasant had done, things might not stay that way.

Major stepped into the drawing room where his brothers–and an unexpected guest, waited. “Mr. Jerney,” he said as he entered, suppressing a wince. “What a … pleasant surprise!”

Rupert Jerney, a tall, thin, conceited man, looked down his nose at him. “I see nothing pleasant about it,” he said in his flat, nasal New England accent. He sniffed a few times, one of his many annoying habits. “Which is why I’m heah to begin with. Where’s yaw sister? I wish to speak with her.”

Major glanced at his brothers. “Our sister is otherwise engaged at the moment,” he advised in his most sophisticated manner. He knew Rupert prided himself on proper decorum at all times – at least in public. “Perhaps if you’d sent word that you wished to call on her?”

“No mattah – she’ll see me soon enough. Where is your fathah, then? I have business with him as well.”

Major clasped his hands behind his back and raised his chin ever so slightly, a silent signal to his brothers. Darcy and Zachary’s eyes began to dart between him and their guest. “He’s in his study.”

“Fine.” Rupert headed for the drawing room’s double doors. Benedict and Michael, the only two brothers sitting, stood as if to escort him. “I know the way,” Rupert informed them haughtily and marched from the room.

As soon as he was gone, Michael asked, “What is it? What’s happened?”

“This has to do with Pleasant, doesn’t it?” Darcy added.

“Indeed it does,” Major said. “For one, she’s missing. Probably left sometime in the night.”

“What?” several of them said in surprise.

“Quince,” Benedict inquired. “Are you saying she ran away?”

“Wouldn’t you if you had to marry …
that
?” he said with a toss of his head toward the doors.

“Rupert?!” The brothers said at once.

“Unfortunately for poor Pleasant, yes.”

Michael stepped forward. “She can’t marry Rupert!”

“Our father thinks differently and has assigned us the task of rounding her up to do so.”

“Why Rupert?” Zachary asked, suspicious. “We all know she can’t stand the sight of him. None of us can!”

“Nor should we,” Michael added. “I’ve met a few honest and forthright Yankees, I admit, and several more who weren’t so bad.” Unconsciously, he rubbed the stumps on his right hand, where he’d lost two fingers to a Minie ball at Milledgeville. It had been a Union doctor who’d patched him up. “But Rupert Jerney would be a blackguard even if he were born and raised in Virginia. So why him?”

“Because he’s rich, that’s why,” Major said in disgust. “His sawmills in Maine and New Hampshire didn’t suffer as our plantations did. He’s only grown richer in the war’s aftermath, and offered to bail Father out of debt. Problem is, he wants Pleasant as collateral.”

His brothers stared at him in shock. “So it’s true,” Benedict finally said. “Father has run Comfort Fields into the ground.”

“I’m afraid he has,” Major said.

“But wasn’t Father grooming you to take over?” Darcy asked.

“He said he would, years ago, but he never really did,” Major said. “I think perhaps he was hiding our situation in hopes of pulling us out of it before showing me how to operate things.”

“Pride cometh before destruction,” Zachary quoted.

“Indeed,” Major agreed. “Apparently Rupert will pay off most of his debts, so long as he can have Pleasant as his wife.”

“That’s diabolical!” Benedict said in shock.

“I don’t think it sounds so bad,” Matt put in.

His brothers looked at him, aghast. “And if it were
you
that had to marry Rupert, how happy would you be about it?” Michael asked.

“Well … yes, I see your point.” Matt glanced at the double doors of the drawing room, then back at his brothers. “Maybe he’s nicer at home.”

“From what I’ve heard, quite the opposite,” Benedict said. “But then, what else can we do? We’ll lose everything.”

“Right you are,” Major agreed. He eyed them, his face an expressionless mask. “So do we sacrifice our sister’s happiness to continue in the life we’ve grown accustomed to, or do we stand by her side and refuse Rupert’s – as Benedict put it – ‘diabolical’ offer?”

His brothers stared at him as they thought on their answer. It didn’t take them long to decide.

* * *

D
enver
, Colorado, later that same month …


B
ut Aunt Phidelia
,” Pleasant begged, “why can’t you listen to reason?”

“Because there
is
no reason to this madness! Your father has clearly gone ‘round the bend, my dear, and lost all his mental faculties. I haven’t the faintest idea why he would write such an outlandish letter and demand I send word to him the moment I see you. Of course I haven’t. I won’t stand by and see you marry that sniveling Yankee weasel Rupert Travel!”

“Jerney,” Pleasant corrected with a grimace.

“Even worse!”

“Yes, I know,” she agreed. It was bad enough her Christian name was Pleasant Comfort – to become Pleasant Jerney would be too much to bear. It was one of the reasons she’d run away in the first place. The only place to go was Denver to see Aunt Phidelia. Her mother’s sister was a kindly soul who would be willing to help Pleasant escape her current circumstances.

“You realize, of course, he’ll send
them
after you.”

“Them?”

“Your brothers, you silly girl, who else?”

Pleasant paced to the other side of the parlor and back. “Oh yes.
Them
.” She turned to her aunt. “Major, most likely. I can’t see the others coming with him.”

“With what’s left of your family’s fortune draining away? Trust me, my dear, they most certainly will. And they’ll drag you back and use you to keep Comfort Fields going.”

Pleasant cocked her head to the side, the action sending a dark, loose curl across her face. “How do you know all of this?”

“Because your father wrote it in his letter!” Aunt Phidelia said, waving the missive in the air. “Your only hope is to keep going. You can’t stay here.”

Pleasant’s eyes misted with tears. “But Auntie, where will I go? We haven’t any relatives west of here!”

“True, we don’t,” she said solemnly. “Which means we’ll have to resort to drastic measures.”

Pleasant paled. “What sort of drastic measures?”

Her aunt narrowed her eyes. “You’ll have to learn how to work!”

Pleasant fell into the nearest chair. “No!”

“Yes!”

Pleasant gripped the chair’s arms. She’d never worked a day in her life in any conventional sense. She was just a little girl when the War Between the States broke out, and an admittedly spoiled one at that. But after she’d witnessed the cruel suffering of others, the “comforts” of bearing the Comfort name didn’t mean much anymore. People had died all around her, and her father, God bless him, had done all he could to shelter her from that horrible storm.

But this was something else entirely. He might as well march her out in front of a Grand Army firing squad and give the command to shoot her himself! Rupert Jerney, indeed.

“There is another solution,” her aunt continued. “You’ll still have to work, but at least it would be in the domestic realm.”

Pleasant stared, her mouth half-open in shock. She was still getting over her aunt’s earlier revelation. “What?”

“Pay a visit to Adelia Pettigrew.”

Pleasant straightened in her chair, a puzzled look on her face. “Who is Adelia Pettigrew?”

“She runs a mail-order bride agency in town. I wouldn’t suggest her at all, seeing as how she’s a … well, a crackpot. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I do hear all her brides are blissfully married.”

“Blissfully?” Pleasant said, a hint of hope in her voice.

“Indeed. We’ll pay her a visit first thing in the morning. If we’re lucky, she’ll have a nice Southern groom wanting a wife someplace like California – that’s about as far from here as you can get!”

“But Auntie … marry a complete stranger?”

“It’s a complete stranger or Rupert Jerney. Which would you prefer?”

Pleasant looked at her hands. They were creamy and smooth, the skin soft to the touch. If she married Rupert, she’d not want for any material thing, but she’d be stuck in a loveless marriage with a man she didn’t like to begin with. Set aside that he was a Yankee – there were good Yankees, she knew. But Rupert wasn’t one of them. He liked to boast, was a complete boor, thought himself better than everyone else and reportedly had more than a passing interest in the bawdy houses. So what if he was rich? Money did not make the man.

She glanced at her hands again. Better to marry a stranger and pray he was kind than risk a life with Rupert. True, she might have rough, dry hands with a stranger, but if he was kind and of good moral character, how much did that matter?

Speaking of matter … “Auntie, what about Comfort Fields?”

“What about it? Your father has nothing left to keep it going. From the sounds of it, the banks are going to take it if he doesn’t pay his debts. And they will, mark my words. But your brothers are all talented enough. They’ll get along.”

“And Papa?”

Phidelia sighed wearily. “I suspect he’ll come here to live with me.”

Pleasant stood. “I can’t ask you to do –”

“It’s no trouble, child. I’ve always enjoyed his company – when he wasn’t being an unreasonable goat, that is. Right now he’s beyond reason.”

“But my brothers’ inheritance …”

“… was lost by your father a long time ago. The war more than anything took it from them. All your father has done these last few years is forestall the inevitable.”

“But what will they do? Where will they go?”

“They’re a resourceful bunch, my dear – they won’t be completely penniless. You’re the one that will be in the long run. You’ve got to marry!”

Her aunt was right, of course. There was no help for it. If she didn’t marry and fast, she’d be forced by Father to wed Rupert. Pleasant massaged her temples a moment, eyes closed. When she opened them, she said, “Very well, Mrs. Pettigrew it is.”

* * *

M
rs. Pettigrew tapped
her fingers on her desk as she looked Pleasant up and down. Aunt Phidelia sat nervously in a chair off to one side, as if expecting the finely carved piece of furniture to explode at any moment.

Pleasant stood before the desk, still as a statue. “Well?”

Mrs. Pettigrew met her gaze. “Well what,
ma cherie
?” She had been throwing around French phrases all morning. Pleasant had initially thought she might be from Louisiana, but no, the accent wasn’t right …

“Are you going to sit there and stare at me all day, or are we to get down to business?”

Mrs. Pettigrew arched an eyebrow. “What a lovely accent you have,
ma belle
.” She looked at her aunt. “Speaks her mind, doesn’t she?”

“She always has,” Aunt Phidelia agreed.

“Hmmm,” Mrs. Pettigrew mused as she went back to studying the prospective bride.

Pleasant fought the urge to roll her eyes in impatience. It wouldn’t do to upset the woman. Her reputation for perfect matches surprised even Pleasant. In the year Mrs. Pettigrew had been in business, she’d sent out dozens of brides, all of which, according to Mrs. Pettigrew herself, were now happily married.

If that weren’t enough, the writing to prove it was on the wall. Literally – Mrs. Pettigrew had taken to displaying the letters she’d received from her happy customers on the wall behind her desk. A perusal of them had convinced Pleasant and her aunt they’d made the right choice in coming. But was Mrs. Pettigrew as impressed with them as they were with her? The way she was looking at Pleasant made her feel as though she was about to be dismissed without a second thought.

“Well,” Mrs. Pettigrew finally said. “I believe I have a gentleman that will be able to handle you.”

Pleasant’s eyes bulged. “What?
Handle
me?!”

Mrs. Pettigrew didn’t bat an eye. Instead she pulled out a drawer of her desk and extracted a few sheets of paper. “You’ll want to write him while you’re here and let him know you’ve accepted his proposal.”

“Proposal? You haven’t so much as shown me a letter!”

“Oh,
ça va
.” Mrs. Pettigrew smiled, removed one sheet and shoved it across the desk. “Here is
Monsieur
Turner’s proposal.”

Aunt Phidelia cleared her throat. “Er, isn’t it customary they write to one another first, to see if they suit?”

“Considering your situation, I wouldn’t think there was time. This particular gentleman seeks a wife now. He isn’t looking for lengthy letter-writing.”

Aunt Phidelia gasped. “We’ve not said a word about our situation. How would you know …?”

“By the way you’re fidgeting about in your chair,
Madame
.” She looked at Pleasant. “And this one – she stands rigid, with no hope of love in her eyes.”

Pleasant exchanged a quick glance with her aunt. Good grief, did they really look that desperate?

“I suggest that if you’re in a hurry, you read
Monsieur
Turner’s proposal,” Mrs. Pettigrew said, drawing her attention.

Pleasant’s mouth dropped open. “How did you … I mean …” She straightened. “How dare you insinuate that I may be guilty of …”

“I insinuate nothing. I know only that you are acting in haste, and therefore must have reason. I am not worried about why – that is entirely your affair.
My
affair is to help speed you on your way.” She gave the letter another shove. “Read,
s’il vous plaît
.”

Pleasant looked at Aunt Phidelia, who shrugged. If Mrs. Pettigrew wasn’t concerned with the whys and wherefores, so much the better. She swallowed hard, steeled her nerves and picked up the letter.

Chapter 2

T
o my future bride
:

M
y name is Eli Turner
. I am writing to tell you how much I look forward to meeting you. I am a stable man with a stable job. I have a small cabin outside of town that I am sure you will find most comfortable. Clear Creek is a wonderful place with plenty of fresh air and perpetual beauty. I do not know you yet, but I will. On the recommendation of one of my closest friends, Sheriff Harlan Hughes, not to mention one of my relations, I am putting my full trust in Mrs. Pettigrew to find you for me.

I am tall with brown hair and hazel eyes. You will find me an amiable man capable of decent conversation. I require a wife who can cook, clean and sew, but that goes without saying.

In closing, will you be my bride? If so, I have enclosed train and stage fare and look forward to meeting you in person when you arrive.

S
incerely yours
,

Eli Turner

P
leasant looked
up from the letter nervously. “What does
decent conversation
mean, exactly?”

“What do you mean? What did he say?” Aunt Phidelia asked as she stood. She went to her, peered over her shoulder at the letter and quickly read it. “That is a rather odd phrase. What sort of man is this?”

“One that can deal with
Mademoiselle
Comfort here,” Mrs. Pettigrew said dryly. “You can either accept or reject his proposal.”

Pleasant’s face twisted with indecision as she stared at Mrs. Pettigrew. “And this man trusts you to choose a bride for him? Does not the bride choose the husband?”

“You’ll find me quite adept at what I do,
Mademoiselle
Comfort.”

“I … I … oh, what if he’s a gentleman of four outs?” Pleasant had heard some of her friends in Savannah describe undesirable men that way – being without money, without wit, without credit and without manners.

Mrs. Pettigrew smiled. “Does his letter not state that he has a steady job? Therefore he must have money. And look at what he writes! He has a mind, this one, and manners. He is not some witless stump. As to his credit, I cannot say. Clear Creek is a small town, as I understand it – who knows if the mercantile there gives credit or not? So.” The woman tapped her nails against the desk. “Are you interested in this man or not?”

“Is he the only applicant you have?” asked Aunt Phidelia.

“He is the only applicant I have for
Mademoiselle
Comfort. The others will not do.”

“And may I ask why not?” Pleasant inquired, her tone bordering on haughtiness.

Mrs. Pettigrew placed a silver monocle over one eye and studied her a moment. “Because you are not suited to them.”

Now she did get haughty. “Who are you to tell me if they will suit or not?”

“Pleasant, dear,” Aunt Phidelia said in warning. “If Mrs. Pettigrew says this Mr. Turner is the best choice, then I don’t think we should argue.”

Mrs. Pettigrew let the monocle fall from her eye. It was attached to her dress by a silver chain. Pleasant noticed a tiny pocket had been sewn into the woman’s dress for it – she noticed when Mrs. Pettigrew made use of it and placed the monocle inside. “Mr. Turner is your best chance of escaping … whatever it is you need to escape from.”

Pleasant sighed. “Very well. My brothers aren’t likely to follow me across the country.”

“Ah,” Mrs. Pettigrew said. “How many brothers?”

“Six,” she said flatly.


Sacre bleu!
” Mrs. Pettigrew said. “Let us hope you are right, for it would not bode well for your brothers should they follow you as far as Clear Creek.”

“Why is that?” Aunt Phidelia asked.

“I have heard that the residents there are very … close-knit. In other words, your brothers wouldn’t be taking on just one man, but the entire town. And the man I’m sending you to is the brother of the local sheriff, a man of some renown. At least in the Far West.”

“Does
he
need a wife?” Aunt Phidelia asked.

“No, he already has one. One of the brides I sent out last year wrote to tell me she had the pleasure of meeting the couple. She has since come to know them quite well. I trust
Mademoiselle
Comfort will too.”

Pleasant spied a nearby chair and sat in resignation. “Very well. Where do I sign?”

“Not sign,
ma cherie
. Write. Tell him you are coming. A few words about yourself would be advisable.”

Pleasant couldn’t believe it. She felt her jaw shake in her effort to hold back tears. This was it. She’d be leaving her beloved Georgia forever to marry some stranger out West! And all because her father got some notion in his head that Rupert would bail him out of his debt if he married her. Ha! She knew Rupert – he’d never do it. Once he had her he’d probably sit back and
enjoy
watching the last of her father’s legacy crumble into ruin. If only Father would listen to reason. But a desperate man rarely listened to anyone once his eyes were set on what he thought was a solution.

“Fine,” she said at last. “I’ll write him a note. When should I say I’m leaving?”

Mrs. Pettigrew thought a moment. “Considering your current circumstances, is tomorrow too soon?”

* * *

C
lear Creek
, Oregon, three weeks later

D
ear Mr. Turner
,

I
have read
your letter and accept your proposal of marriage. By the time you read this I will be well on my way to Clear Creek. I should arrive on the stage Friday, April 13 at noon. I will endeavor to make you a good wife. I trust you will do the same as a husband.

S
incerely
,

Miss P.A. Comfort


T
hat’s it
?” Sheriff Tom Turner asked, scratching his head. “She didn’t say nothin’ else?”

“Nope.” Eli turned the letter over to check if anything was written on the back. “That was it.”

“Strange, don’t ya think? She didn’t even describe herself.”

Eli blanched. “Tarnation, yer right! Ya think that’s a bad sign?”

Tom stared at the letter a moment. “Ya described
yer
looks … well, Colin Cooke did, anyways.”

“Maybe I shoulda wrote that letter myself. But ya know how bad I spell and all.”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, I know. She might not be too happy to find out yer not as, whatcha say …
eloquent
in person.”

Eli took off his hat and ran a hand through his brown hair. “What am I gonna do, Tom? Maybe she read Colin’s fancy talk in that letter and jumped at the chance to be with a real country-gentleman-type fella.”

“But ya are a country-gentleman type.”

Eli held his hands out from his sides. “No, I ain’t – look at me! Country, sure, but Colin and Harrison done explained to me what it means to be a gentleman in England and I ain’t
that
!”

“Of course not. We’re not in England.”

“Oh, ya know what I mean. I ain’t nothin’ but a lowly deputy workin’ for my older brother.”

Tom sighed and put an arm around him. “Yer a fine deputy, workin’ for a sheriff that sorely needs yer help.”

“Ya already had Bran O’Hare and Henry Fig helpin’ ya. I dunno why ya hired me on too – unless ya felt sorry for me.”

“I hired ya on ‘cause Henry’s gettin’ ready to retire. He’ll be gone soon, ya know that – and he don’t get around so fast even when he’s here, what with his lumbago.”

Eli rolled his eyes and smacked his forehead. “Doggone it! This whole mail-order bride business has me more addled than I thought – I plumb forgot about Henry retirin’! Maybe sendin’ away for one wasn’t such a good idea.”

Tom chuckled. “Eli, yer twenty-six years old. It’s high time ya got married. You’d already be hitched if’n ya took my advice and gone for Honoria Cooke.”

“Honoria? No way – she scares me!”

Tom placed his hands on his hips. “Scares ya? What for?”

“She’s … well she’s … opinionated. And once she gets started on a subject and thinks she’s right, she goes until she proves it! Besides, I don’t think I could handle havin’ Harrison as a father-in-law. I feel sorry for the poor fella ends up with her.”

“Well, no chance of that happenin’ anytime soon. Ain’t no one else ‘round here for her to court.”

Eli shrugged. “She just ain’t the right girl for me, that’s all. You of all people should know ‘bout that.”

Tom’s mouth formed into a firm line as he nodded. He’d gotten as far as the altar with the wrong bride – only by his own fortitude, and that of Matty Quinn, did he end up with the right one. “How I ended up married to Rose took some guts. Like not givin’ in to what everyone in town says about ya marryin’ Honoria – that took guts too. Ya did the right thing sendin’ away for a bride, brother.”

“Maybe so, but my bride not puttin’ no description of herself in that letter still makes me nervous. What if she’s hard on the eyes?”

Tom blew out a breath. “Then I guess ya take the time to see if’n ya like the rest of her better.”

“But the way Colin wrote that letter, I proposed right away. She’s comin’ here ‘spectin’ to marry me right off, not court first.”

“Who says ya gotta?”

Eli opened his mouth to speak then shut it. His brother was right – he didn’t
have
to marry the girl right away. He ought to court her a little, just to make sure. But then what if he decided he didn’t like her, hard on the eyes or not? Worse, what if she wasn’t bad on the eyes, but was on the temperament? If she was beyond beautiful, he might die trying to get past a bad temper, like beating his head against the woodpile over and over and …

“You okay?” Tom asked.

Eli nodded. “Yeah, just thinkin’.”

“Well, best not think too long,” Tom said. “Friday’s just a few days off.”

“What?” Eli said in shock. He looked at the calendar on the wall, then rolled his eyes and looked at his brother. “Friday the 13th. Figgers. I’m telling ya, this was a bad idea.”

“And I’m tellin’ ya I think it was a great one. Now stop fussin’ and make yerself a list of things ya need to get done. Yer Sunday best need ironin’?”

“No, I got em’ hangin’ up at home.”

“Good, that’s one less thing ya have to do. Is the house clean?”

“Well, it could do with a good dustin’.”

“Eli, why ain’t ya takin’ care of this?”

He shrugged. “Just didn’t think of it, I guess. I’ve had other things on my mind.”

“Like what?”

Eli’s mouth twisted up into a lopsided smile. “Like if’n I’m really the marryin’ kind.”

“‘Course ya are – what man ain’t?”

“Look at Sheriff Hughes – he was a bachelor for years. Decades.”

“Was,” Tom pointed out. He put his hands on his hips again. “Ya ain’t scared, are ya?”

“Me, scared? I ain’t afraid of no woman!” He looked away and mumbled, “Except maybe Honoria.”

“Good – then ask our sister Emeline to help ya clean up that sorry excuse of a cabin of yers. Heck, I bet Lena Adams might help – she ain’t far from yer place. She could bring her sister Fina.”

Eli nodded. Even though his cabin was built only a couple of years ago, it wasn’t the most organized. He didn’t concern himself with housecleaning – he was the only one living there, and he didn’t care how it looked. “Fine, I’ll ask Emeline and Mrs. Adams if they’ll help.”

“I’ll tell Rose – she can pitch in too,” Tom said. “Between the three of ‘em, yer place ought to be shipshape by the time yer bride arrives.”

Eli glanced at the calendar again. It was Tuesday the 10th. If the women started tomorrow that would give them two days. Land sakes, would they really need that much time? He wasn’t that messy, was he?

* * *


E
li Turner
, this house is a pigsty!” his older sister Emeline said in disgust. “Ya’d think Ma never taught ya to pick up after yerself!”

It was early Wednesday morning and Eli didn’t have time for this – he needed to get to work. “I sleep and eat here, Emeline. I don’t pay much attention to what happens in between with the place.”