Authors: Shanna Hatfield
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Victorian Era, #Western, #Fifth 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, #North Carolina, #Conniving Mother, #Reluctant Groom, #Family Plantation, #Past Issues, #Asheville, #New Beginning, #Simple Farmer, #Misunderstanding, #Unknown Existence
“Pastor Whitting.” Erik forced himself not to stare at Aundy. She was young, tall, and much prettier than he’d anticipated. Not that her looks mattered, but her smooth skin, dusted by a few freckles across her nose, golden hair, and sky blue eyes made him glad he’d placed an advertisement for a bride.
Although most of his friends thought he had lost use of his mental faculties, Erik was tired of being alone and didn’t have time to find a wife or properly court a woman.
He vowed to make it up to Aundy by spending the rest of his life showing her she was special to him. He’d fallen in love with the girl in the letters she wrote. It was easy for him to see he’d love the woman beside him even more.
Erik grinned at her. “I thought we could get married, have lunch, and then head out to the farm. I wanted to have time to show you around the place before it gets dark.”
He laid out his plans so plainly, as if getting married was an ordinary occurrence, that Aundy needed a moment to absorb his words. It looked like her mother’s wedding dress would stay packed in the trunk and a bath would have to wait. Resigned to exchanging vows with Erik in her current state of disrepair, she smiled at him and put a hand on his arm. “That sounds fine.”
“Good.” Erik grinned at her in such a way he resembled a happy boy as he turned the horses down a side street. Aundy could see the church ahead and tried to calm her nerves. The warmth of the sun beating down, despite it being February, forced her to remove her coat. Erik tucked it behind the seat, placing it on top of one of her trunks.
After he stopped the horses close to the church steps, Erik walked around the wagon, and reached up to Aundy. When she started to put her hand in his, he gently placed his hands to her waist and swung her around, setting her down on the bottom step.
The breath she was holding whooshed out of her and she looked at Erik with wide eyes. She’d never been handled so by a man and wasn’t sure if she liked it or not. Part of her thought a repeat of the experience might be in order for her to make up her mind.
“Shall we?” Erik asked, offering her his arm as they went up the church steps.
Before she could fully grasp what was happening, she and Erik exchanged vows. He slid a plain gold band on her finger then the pastor and his wife offered congratulations on their marriage. They exited the church into the bright afternoon sunshine. Aundy had to blink back her disbelief that she was finally a married woman.
“We can eat just around the corner, if you don’t mind the walk,” Erik said, gesturing toward the boardwalk that would take them back toward the heart of town.
Aundy nodded her head as Erik placed a hand to the small of her back, urging her forward.
Soon, they were seated in a well-lit restaurant, enjoying a filling, savory meal. Several people approached their table, offering words of congratulations. Aundy smiled when a few of the women invited her to stop by for a visit sometime soon.
It appeared that Erik was a well-liked member of the community and for that, Aundy was grateful. She’d never lived in a rural town, but assumed getting along with your neighbors spoke well of a man’s character.
Aundy watched Erik finish his piece of pie and hoped this marriage would be a blessing to them both. She didn’t know what had prompted her to act so boldly, writing to a stranger, but right at this moment she was glad she sent Erik that first letter.
“Well, Mrs. Erickson, are you ready to go home?” Erik asked as she took a last bite of cherry pie and wiped her lips on a linen napkin.
“I suppose so.” Realization that she was no longer Aundy Thorsen but Erik’s wife struck with a sudden force.
Erik left money for their lunch along with a tip on the table. He stood and put on his hat, offered Aundy his arm, and escorted her back to the wagon.
Although Aundy expected him to help her into the wagon, she was surprised when he pulled her into his arms, right there in front of the church for any and all to see as they passed by.
“Thank you for coming, Aundy. For marrying me.” Erik kissed her quickly on the lips. He seemed unable to stop himself from giving her an affectionate hug. “I promise to be a good husband to you.”
She looked into his eyes and saw the questions there. Aundy tamped down her unease at having a man who was still a stranger kiss her. She placed a hand to his cheek and patted it with a growing fondness. “I know you will be. And I’ll do my very best to be a good wife to you.”
“You could start by giving me a kiss,” Erik teased, waggling a blond eyebrow at her.
Aundy smiled and kissed his cheek, grateful that Erik seemed to have a fun, playful side. “You’ll have the town gossiping about me and I haven’t even been here two hours.”
“Everyone knows I came into Pendleton to marry you today and I can’t see a thing wrong with a husband kissing his lovely new bride.”
Cheeks filled with bright color, Aundy accepted Erik’s help into the wagon and sat down, pleased at his words.
Once they headed out of town, she relaxed as the noise and activity of Pendleton fell behind them, and the rolling fields opened before them. She released a sigh, gazed up at the sky, and breathed in the fresh air.
“Anything you want to know? Any questions?” Erik asked, watching Aundy as she settled against the wagon seat.
“I don’t think you ever told me how old you are.” Aundy studied Erik’s profile, trying to guess his age.
“I’ll be thirty-nine next month,” he said, turning to look at Aundy with a soft light in his eyes.
“And you’ve never been married?”
“Never. I got so busy building the farm after my parents died, I kept putting off finding someone to court. I woke up one day and realized if I wanted to have a wife and a family, I had better do something about it. So I placed the ad and you know the rest of the story.”
“I guess I do.” Aundy looked with interest at the fluffy clouds drifting across the azure sky overhead and the fields that surrounded both sides of the road. If the land had been flat, she was sure she could have seen for miles. Instead, the gently rolling hills provided their own unique perspective to the landscape. Unfamiliar with wide-open spaces and such clean air, Aundy breathed as deeply as she dared and soaked up the sunshine.
“How old are you?” Erik asked, breaking into her thoughts.
“Twenty-one, although people often mistake me for someone older.” Aundy laughed as a memory that surfaced. “Someone once asked if Ilsa, my sister, was my daughter. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or pleased.”
Erik chuckled. “Pleased, I would think. People can’t help but see the way you carry yourself with confidence and strength. That’s a good thing.”
“It is?” Aundy liked the sound of Erik’s laugh. Although she’d only just met the man, it wasn’t hard for her to imagine spending her future with him. Since stepping off the train, what she'd seen and experienced led her to believe Erik was gentle and mannerly. He might not be handsome or young, he might not make her heart pound or butterflies take flight in her stomach, but she thought he would treat her with respect and care. If they were fortunate, they might even come to love one another someday.
“Certainly, it is. I wouldn’t want some flighty young thing, so wrapped up in herself that she wouldn’t take proper care of a home or her husband. It’s easy to see that you’ll be a good wife, Aundy. You’re a sensible girl and I appreciate that.” Erik looked at his new bride with a teasing smile. “I also appreciate your fine figure, beautiful eyes, and that sweet smile.”
Her cheeks turned pink and felt exceedingly warm from Erik’s words of praise. Aundy lifted her gaze across the fields, dotted with a few skiffs of melting snow.
She heard Erik chuckle again before she felt his fingers on her chin. He gently turned her face toward his.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but I want you to know I think this marriage is going to work out just fine.” Erik leaned over and pressed another quick kiss to her lips.
Aundy closed her eyes and waited to feel something, anything. Instead, Erik pulled back and she opened her eyes to find him studying the road ahead.
“Do you think… if it isn’t… what I…” Aundy stammered, trying to figure out a way to ask if she could take a bath when they reached his farm.
“What is it? Go ahead, Aundy. Don’t be afraid to ask me anything.”
“May I please have a bath? I feel like I’m wearing dust from way back in Wyoming and half a train car of soot.”
“Yes, you may,” Erik said, bringing his gaze back to his bride with an indulgent smile. “You can do that while I take care of the evening chores, after I show you around the farm. How does that sound?”
“Wonderful,” Aundy said, excited at the prospect of being clean. “As soon as I’m finished, I can fix the evening meal.”
“No need. One of the neighbors said she’d have a basket waiting on the table for a cold supper so you wouldn’t have to cook on your wedding day.”
“How thoughtful.” Aundy decided Erik must have nice neighbors. “I’ll have to thank her later for her kindness.”
“It’s Mrs. Nash. She and her husband and son live on the farm to the south of us. They’re good folks. Ol’ Marvin Tooley lives on the farm to the west but he’s cantankerous on a good day, so stay away from him if you can.”
Aundy nodded her head, wondering what made Mr. Tooley crotchety.
When they passed a lane that turned off the road, Erik inclined his head that direction while the horses continued onward. “That’s the Nash place. Been here for many years. Raise mostly cattle and wheat. Good folks and good friends as well as our closest neighbors.”
Aundy again nodded her head and gazed up the lane, catching a view of the top of the barn over a rise in the road. Pole fences ran along a pasture down to the road and she could see dozens of cattle grazing lazily in the sun.
“Are those…” A sharp crack resonated around them, spooking the team. The horses lunged forward and the wagon began flying down the muddy road.
“Whoa, boys! Whoa!” Erik called, pulling back on the reins, frantic to get the team under control.
Aundy clung to the side and back of the seat, praying for the runaway horses to stop.
“Get down, Aundy,” Erik yelled, motioning for her to climb beneath the wagon’s seat. She followed his orders, wedging herself into the space as she listened to the thundering of the horse’s hooves and Erik’s shouts for them to stop.
The wagon veered sideways then slid back before hitting the side of the ditch bank and flipping over, sliding in the mud.
Aundy’s screams mingled with Erik’s shouts before everything went black…
on Amazon today!
Set in the western town of Pendleton, Oregon, right at the turn of the 20th century, each book in this series bears the name of the heroine, all brave yet very different.
Aundy Thorsen, a stubborn mail-order bride, finds the courage to carry on when she's widowed before ever truly becoming a wife, but opening her heart to love again may be more than she can bear.
— Running from a man intent on marrying her, Caterina Campanelli starts a new life in Pendleton, completely unprepared for the passionate feelings stirred in her by the town's incredibly handsome deputy sheriff.
(Book 3) —
Desperate to escape her wicked aunt and an unthinkable future, Ilsa Thorsen finds herself on her sister's ranch in Pendleton. Not only are the dust and smells more than she can bear, but Tony Campanelli seems bent on making her his special project.
(Book 4) —
Beyond all hope for a happy future, Marnie Jones struggles to deal with her roiling emotions when U.S. Marshal Lars Thorsen rides into town, tearing down the walls she’s erected around her heart.
(Book 5) — Bound by tradition and responsibilities, Lacy has to choose between the ties that bind her to the past and the unexpected love that will carry her into the future.
The next adventure in the Pendleton Petticoat Series — coming in 2016!