Read Dacey: Bride of North Carolina (Amercan Mail-Order Bride 12) Online

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

Dacey: Bride of North Carolina (Amercan Mail-Order Bride 12) (7 page)

“Is he a good man, Dacey?” he asked as they strolled across the entry toward the stairs.

“Who?” Confused, she looked at him.

“The man who won your ranch in the card game? Will he take good care of it? Of your ranch hands?”

Dacey shrugged. “He isn’t a bad man like Luther, but I don’t think he really wanted the ranch. He has his own place on the other side of town and it would be hard for him to take care of both. Most likely, he sold it to someone else.” Slowly, she meandered her way up the stairs to the third floor. “It breaks my heart to think of all the blood and sweat my father put into building up the ranch for nothing. If Mother hadn’t been so worried, so weak…”

Abruptly, Dacey snapped her mouth shut.

Although she wouldn’t say anything negative about her mother, Braxton could read Dacey’s thoughts.

He’d thought them himself. The woman hadn’t trusted Dacey to handle the job her father had spent years training her to do in his absence. Instead, she ran to the first man she could find to take over without a thought to the consequences.

With insight, Braxton stopped at the top of the stairs and grasped Dacey’s chin in his hand, lifting it so she looked into his face. “It’s okay to be angry and disappointed with her, honey. What your mother did wasn’t fair to you, to everything your father worked to build.”

Dacey shook her head and pulled away, on the verge of tears. Rather than let her go, Braxton wrapped his arms around her in a hug.

All the emotion she’d bottled up since the day her mother announced her plans to wed Luther Goss surged to the surface, seeking release.

She hadn’t cried when the horrible man took over their home, when he lost the ranch, or her mother died.

Sentiment wasn’t something she’d had the time or energy to express when Luther tossed out his despicable threats. Before he could make good on them, she poured all her efforts into running away.

Tears were kept in check as she traveled across the country to start a new life, only to lose her job a few days later when the factory burned.

With dry eyes, she’d accepted the proposal of a stranger and found herself in Asheville, North Carolina. Even when she’d discovered Beatrice’s deception and no husband awaiting her, she hadn’t cried.

Yet, she struggled to maintain her control with Braxton holding her so caringly and telling her she had every right to be upset with the stupid choices her mother made. Choices that left her homeless and at the mercy of strangers.

From deep inside her soul, the fear, frustration, anger, doubt, and heartache bubbled to the surface, spilling out in salty tears and anguished sobs.

Unable to stop, Dacey clung to Braxton as she cried out the bitterness, pain, and disappointment.

Nearly undone by her raw emotion, Braxton lifted her in his arms and carried her to a bench in the hall where he sat with her across his lap. He let her cry until she’d soaked the front of his shirt with her tears.

Upon hearing the heart-wrenching sobs, Beatrice hurried toward them, but Braxton gave her a look that let her know he would handle the situation.

Soundlessly, she retreated to her bedroom, secretly pleased by her son’s affectionate care of Dacey.

Although she hated to see Dacey in such a state of distress, Beatrice smiled as she thought how well the evening had gone. Just as she planned, the bothersome presence of Ernie Howell and his blatant interest in making Dacey his next conquest had stirred every protective instinct Braxton possessed.

With a little more effort on her part, Beatrice was sure he would realize what she’d known all along — Dacey was the one meant to be his bride.

 

Chapter Eight

 

Leisurely stretching in her bed, Dacey slowly opened her eyes, feeling better than she had in a very long time.

The weight that had pressed against her very soul seemed to have dissipated as she sat up. Without the burden of it, she hopped out of bed, skipped across the floor, and pushed the button that bathed the room in soft light.

Continually amazed by the wonder of electricity, she jigged her way to the closet. As recollections of the previous evening flooded over her with sudden clarity, she tripped on the rug and caught herself on a chair.

What had she done?

Not only had she shared the whole story of her past, but she’d also soaked Braxton’s shirt with her tears, sobbing like a helpless baby.

He’d held her and crooned words of comfort until she was so spent, she slumped against him in exhaustion.

With great care, he’d carried her into her bedroom and summoned Cornelia to help her undress. Once she was ensconced beneath the warm covers, he returned to the room and tenderly brushed the hair back from her face, staying with her until she fell asleep.

Mortified that she’d broken down in front of Braxton, of all people, and let him tuck her in like a needy child, she didn’t know how she’d face him.

“Good gravy,” she muttered, sinking down on the chair and holding her head in her hands. “I sure enough stepped in it this time.”

The last person she wanted to see her as weak was Braxton Douglas. In the weeks she’d been at Bramble Hall, she’d come to admire him for his strength and kindness, as well as his gentleness.

What would he think of her now? Now that he knew she was an emotional wreck, resentful of the fear-driven decisions her mother had made.

Only Dacey didn’t feel like a wreck. She didn’t even feel as resentful of her mother.

Perhaps she’d needed to release all the emotions she’d bottled up for so long so she could move forward into her future, whatever it held.

Regret that Braxton happened to be the one present when her tears spilled all over added haste to her actions as she dressed.

On quiet feet, she made her way down the stairs to the kitchen where she begged Cook to give her two biscuits spread with a thick layer of apple butter. She planned to sneak outside before the rest of the house awakened. Eventually, she’d have to face Braxton, but she hoped to put it off until dinner.

With the biscuits in one hand and a tin cup of coffee in the other, she rushed out the back door. She stood on the step as the mere hint of a glorious sunrise began to lighten the sky. The edge of the cup brushed her lip as a warm hand settled on her back, making her squeal and jump, spilling coffee down the front of her skirt.

“Botheration!” she fumed, turning around to look into Braxton’s smiling face. In the dim light, she could still see humor flickering in his mesmerizing gray eyes.

He smirked and took the cup from her, offering her a snowy white handkerchief. She handed him her biscuits then wiped her hand and brushed at her skirt.

“If you planned to scare the dickens out of me, you succeeded, Brax. What in thunderation did you do that for?”

Braxton smiled, biting into one of the biscuits before replying.

“I saw you come outside and wanted to make sure you were well after last night.”

In the cool morning air, the warmth of his breath turned into white, feathery plumes as he spoke. His deep voice did strange things to Dacey’s insides.

A shiver that had nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with Braxton coursed through her, making her tremble.

Braxton noticed and assumed she was chilled. He tossed the biscuits to one of the dogs lounging on the porch and took Dacey’s arm in his, pulling her back inside the warmth of the house.

“Where’s your coat? Why don’t you have on your gloves? Are you trying to take ill?” He peppered her with questions as they walked through the kitchen. He thumped the empty tin cup on a counter as they passed through then urged Dacey up the back stairs to the third floor. “What were you thinking? Do you always run around in the cold without adequate covering?”

“Just hold your horses, buster.” Dacey stopped partway up the steps and glared at him, fisting her hands on her hips. “I leave my chore coat at the horse barn, my gloves are in my pocket, and if I take ill it’s because you made me soak my skirt with coffee. Since I rarely get sick, I ain’t gonna worry about it. And I planned to eat those biscuits, you know. They had apple butter on them.”

Braxton held back a smirk as she took two more steps upward until she stood on eye level with him.

“While you’ve got me riled up, I reckon I better speak my piece.” She drew in a deep breath and continued. “I was heading to the barn early so I wouldn’t have to apologize to you first thing this morning, but it looks like I get to do it anyway. I reckon that’s a good lesson learned, to not put off something unpleasant just because I don’t want to face it.” A long sigh escaped her and she looked to Braxton with an expression of sincere regret. “I’m sorry about last night, Brax. I didn’t mean to cry all over you like some simpering fool. And I appreciate you staying with me until I fell asleep. In addition, I’m sorry for losing my temper a minute ago. You just…”

“Scared you spitless?” Braxton teased. His index finger traced along the smooth line of her jaw and over the sweet arch of her cheek. “Apology accepted, Dacey, although you shouldn’t be concerned about last night. I think you’ve needed to do that for a while and I’m glad I was there.”

Frightened by the flames flickering in his eyes as he studied her, she nodded her head in agreement. Before she threw her arms around his neck and discovered how wonderful it would be to kiss his inviting lips, she spun around and raced the rest of the way up the stairs.

“I’ll see you at breakfast,” she called over her shoulder before disappearing down the hall.

Braxton rolled his eyes heavenward, wondering how long he could keep his desire to kiss Dacey, to own her completely, under control.

 

~~*~~

 

“Oh, Ernie. How wonderful to see you.” Beatrice greeted Ernie Howell as he made a delivery to the kitchen. She’d been watching for his arrival, excited to implement the next phase of her plan to open Braxton’s eyes to the treasure he had in Dacey, if he’d just accept her.

“It is providential I happened to catch you this afternoon,” Beatrice gushed, guiding a befuddled Ernie down the hall toward the blue parlor where Dacey worked with her tutor.

“It is, ma’am?” Ernie asked, clearly confused.

“It most certainly is, young man. Miss Butler is in need of a dance partner and here you are.”

“Miss Butler?” Ernie warmed to the idea of dancing with the lovely Dacey. Although she’d been polite to him, she hadn’t appeared won over by his good looks or charm. Most women had a hard time resisting him, but Dacey seemed to be an exception.

With a little effort on his part, he was sure he could convince her to share at least a few kisses.

“I’d be happy to help Miss Butler,” he said, smiling at Mrs. Douglas. She led the way into a large room where a harried little man attempted to instruct Dacey in the fine art of dancing the polka.

Ernie immediately took Dacey’s hand in his and pulled her into the lively dance as the surprised tutor watched.

Beatrice worked to keep from rubbing her hands together in glee as her plans fell into place.

While the couple danced, Beatrice sent Caroline to round up a few of the house staff so they could practice a Virginia reel.

No doubt, Dacey had never even seen one and it would require more than two people to illustrate the dance.

Caroline soon returned with Cornelia and a housemaid, along with the butler, one of the kitchen helpers, and two of the gardeners.

When the polka ended, they all took their places as the tutor explained the Virginia reel to Dacey.

Partnered with George, Beatrice watched as the others stepped into line. As they went through the steps, she kept one eye on Dacey and the other on the door, waiting for Braxton to appear.

At the end of the dance, Beatrice insisted they practice again. As she spun around, she caught sight of her son’s frown as he stood just inside the room, watching Ernie’s every move as he guided Dacey through the steps.

“Thank you all for your wonderful assistance,” Beatrice said as the staff dispersed to return to their work. She looked to the tutor. “Doesn’t she need to practice the waltz?”

“Yes, ma’am, most certainly. It is nearly impossible to tutor her and dance at the same time. If Mr. Howell would like to assist, it would…”

“Not be necessary for him to stay.” Braxton strode across the room until he stood next to Dacey.

Ernie had yet to relinquish his hold on her hand. At Braxton’s arrival, he’d tightened his grip and dared to place a possessive hand at Dacey’s waist.

Braxton’s fist unknowingly clenched at his side. He wanted to pop Ernie in the nose, but somehow refrained from surrendering to the primitive urge.

“I have a few moments of free time. I’ll help Miss Butler with her dancing lessons. I’m sure Mr. Howell has other deliveries to make. We’ve detained him long enough.” Braxton took Dacey’s free hand in his and gave it a gentle tug.

Rather than admit defeat and leave, Ernie yanked on her hand, pulling her closer to him. Braxton shot Ernie a warning glare and again tugged on Dacey’s hand.

Fed up with the childish behavior of both men, Dacey jerked her hands free and stepped away from them.

“I believe I’ve danced all I care to today,” she said, giving Beatrice a pleading look.

“Very well, darling.” Beatrice settled an arm around her shoulders and gave her an indulgent smile. “Ernie, we appreciate your help. Let me walk you to the kitchen.”

Before the young man could protest, Beatrice looped her hand around his arm and rushed him out of the room.

Braxton stared at Dacey, wondering what she’d do if he took her in his arms and danced with her. The sudden desire to glide her across the floor drove him to nod to the tutor. The man began playing a waltz on the phonograph.

With no time to protest, she found herself swept into the dance with Braxton’s arm around her. A scent that put her in mind of spicy autumn air and rich leather invaded her senses.

Lost in the splendor of being held in his arms, of being near him, she tipped back her head and looked into his face. She took in his wavy, unkempt hair. No doubt, he’d forked his fingers through it many times already that day. He wore a gray shirt and waistcoat that accented the color of his eyes with black riding breeches tucked into knee-high black boots.

Braxton Douglas cut quite a dashing figure, one that nearly stole her breath away.

Although Dacey knew very little about dancing or men, she decided she could happily spend hours waltzing with Braxton. Not only was he a wonderful dancer, but he patiently instructed her without making her feel silly or stupid.

When the song ended, Braxton looked to the tutor. The man nodded and played it again. By the third time they danced to the song, Dacey had mastered the steps.

The tutor excused himself, mindful of the charged atmosphere in the room as Braxton continued to dance with Dacey long after the music had stopped.

Ever so slowly, he applied slight pressure to her waist and she stepped closer to him, head swimming while her limbs grew languid.

“Braxton,” she whispered on a plea, leaning her forehead against his solid chest.

“What do you need, honey?” he asked in a husky rumble against her hair.

Dacey closed her eyes and breathed in his scent, let his warmth penetrate clear down to her soul as their movements stilled and she rested in the circle of his arms.

What did she need?

You.

Unable to verbalize her longing, the only thing she needed or wanted was Braxton. Nothing else mattered. No one else existed to her in that moment.

Only him.

His arms tightened around her. “Dacey Jo?”

“Hmm?”

“Look at me,” he ordered. She obeyed, tipping back her head to stare at him.

He smiled and lowered his head toward hers.

She held her breath, anticipating the moment their lips would connect. Unlike the other day beneath the copper leaves of the weeping beech tree, Dacey wouldn’t run away. She ached to taste his kiss.

Keen disappointment settled over her when Beatrice breezed into the room with the tutor, startling them both.

Dacey stepped away from Braxton while he muttered darkly under his breath.

“Darling, I believe you’ve almost mastered all the dance steps. You’ll be the belle of the ball next week,” Beatrice said as she took Dacey’s hand and led her from the room.

Dacey paused for a moment in the doorway and glanced back at Braxton before following his mother down the hall.

Frustrated, he scowled at the tutor and strode from the room, intent on saddling a horse. A long ride would help clear his head and cool the fever Dacey had innocently stirred.

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