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Excerpt for Mail Order Bride: Love Shines Bright by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Love Shines Bright

By Mary L. Briggs

Smashwords Edition

COPYRIGHT © 2018 Mary L. Briggs


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com to purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Cover Image: “Snow for Christmas.” Original art, “Young woman reading book” by Chaoss. Used with permission. http://www.dreamstime.com/

Table of Contents:


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

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 1



“You look beautiful, Jenny!” Olivia said.

Jenny Timmons stared into the large oval mirror. Olivia’s shining face behind her told her that the words were true. Jenny sighed. “I never thought it would look like this,” she said, her hands gently smoothing the skirt. The soft material was barely pink, with tiny white sprigs embroidered over it. The high collar had an embroidered border of the same. The fitted waist showed off her lovely shape, and the sleeves were full with embroidered cuffs and pearl buttons that matched the ones running down the bodice. “You’ve made this dress more beautiful than I ever imagined.”

Olivia laughed and spun her around to face her. “I do my best to make all the brides a special dress.”

Jenny nodded. Maybe it wasn’t fair that Olivia had spent so much time on her dress. After all, she wasn’t a young, first time bride. Widowed four years now, with a young son still back east, her trip to Silver Ridge had been part of the hope for a new life for her and Kurt.

She offered a big smile to Olivia. “It will be your turn soon, I’m sure.”

It was too bad that Olivia hadn’t found a husband, yet. Maybe the fact that she was a successful business woman was part of the trouble. Were they intimidated by her accomplishments? She was pretty, smart, and fun to talk to. Some man out there was missing the perfect wife!

Olivia shrugged. “I’m content to wait until the right man comes along.”

Jenny laughed and turned back to the mirror. “If only you were an expert with hair, I might look presentable,” she grinned. Her fly-away auburn hair had been a thorn in her side since she was a small girl. Why couldn’t she have straight hair, like so many of the other girls?

Olivia pinned a section of the collar, then began unbuttoning the bodice. “No need to worry about your hair. Inez will take care of it.”

Jenny nodded. It was Inez’s gift to each bride to do their hair before their wedding. As if the woman hadn’t all ready done enough for each of them. She had paid their way out to Silver Ridge, then housed and fed them in the Mail Order Bride Express Boarding House. And she was always there for each of them with wisdom and sound advice when they needed a mother’s insight in their lives. The woman truly had a heart of gold. None of them could ever begin to repay her.

“I know she will make it look nice,” Jenny answered, reaching for her everyday blue calico dress that she had worn in to the fitting. Today was the last time she would try on the dress before her wedding. Only two days from today.

“That will be all,” Olivia grinned. “It’s almost wedding time!”

Jenny’s heart gave a small skip. It was hard to believe that in only forty-eight hours, she would be Mrs. Isaac Warden. Inez had promised all of the mail order brides the chance to find a husband. Love had not been specified, however. A twinge passed through her and she ignored it. She had loved Michael so much. But he was gone. That part of her life was over. She must be content with friendship and companionship. And maybe, in time, love would grow.

Dressed, she stepped into the front room of the store. The little cottage Isaac had rented for them was sitting empty up on the hill above the town. She could see it now, as she glanced out the window. Isaac had spent all of his spare time last week giving a coat of new paint to the five small rooms. It was fresh and ready for them to move inside. And once they were married, they would send for Kurt. She blinked back a tear at the thought of her child. It had been over six months since she had seen him.

Yesterday, she had finished the last of the curtains for the windows. Blue checks in the kitchen and living room, green paisley for the bedroom, and a soft brown plaid for Kurt’s room, and yellow calico for the smallest room. A room that they both prayed would someday serve as a nursery, and hold a crib for the child they hoped to have.

Only last evening, Isaac had stopped by the boarding house with a wagon full of furniture, some given to them as gifts; a few other pieces had been purchased second hand from a mining family leaving town. She closed her eyes for a moment. Thank you, Lord, for giving me another chance at happiness. And for making Isaac’s dreams come true.


Chapter 2



Jenny took a deep breath as she stopped outside the door of Olivia’s Dress Shop. It had been two weeks since she had last stepped through that door. Two weeks since the mine had exploded on the eve of her wedding. Twenty miners, including Isaac had been killed. Though the accident was fresh in her mind and heart, there were things to be taken care of. Like the dress she had inside the paper tote. Her friend, Olivia, would be loathe to accept the return, but it had to be done. Putting her hand on the handle, she pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Stopping in the doorway, she listened to the chatter of women, busy cutting fabric, some sewing with the new machines that Olivia had purchased. Mrs. Granger, wife of Markus Granger of The Granger Mine, was standing in front of the mirror near the front windows, busy trying on hats, fussing whenever she felt one didn’t suit her.

Jenny smiled. Despite the subdued atmosphere in Silver Ridge, it was nice to hear happy conversation. But most of the time, her presence had seemed to dampen any signs of uplifting conversations these last two weeks. People were trying to be considerate, she knew, but it made it hard to find any joy when she was excluded.

Jenny took another few steps inside. She had worked for Olivia before accepting the teaching job last term at the Silver Ridge school. She had given up the position when the term was over. By now, she should be keeping house for Isaac in the little cottage he had found for them to rent. She took a deep breath and pushed away the disappointment in her heart. There was no need to dwell on what might have been. At least her son had arrived a few days ago from Kansas City. He was the one bright spot in her life.

“Jenny!”

She could see the surprise on Olivia’s pretty face as she hurried toward her, pin cushion tied on her wrist, a cloth tape measure draped behind her neck and dangling in front of her.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, her eyes anxious.

Jenny held the paper tote toward her. “I’m returning this, Olivia.”

Olivia shook her head and used her hands to push the item back toward her. “It is yours to keep, Jenny. It can be worn for many different occasions. I made it especially for you.”

Jenny sighed. “I know that it is not strictly a wedding dress, but I would always think of the event that it is meant for. Please, take it back.”

Olivia sighed and reached for the bag. “Jenny, I’m so sorry that things worked out this way. But, I’m sure that God has a plan for you. You just don’t know what it is, right now.”

She forced a smile. “I’m sure He does.” He had had a good plan for her. So why had He changed it? Now once again, she was suspended in life, with no real place for herself, or her small son. If God really had a plan for her, He was taking His time in showing her where it was.

She closed the shop door behind her as she stepped out on the sidewalk, averting her eyes from the little house on the hill above. The heaviness in her heart prodded her conscience. Forgive me, Lord. I know that You know best.

For a moment, she considered turning and walking to the cemetery located two blocks behind Main Street. It was where Isaac and the other miners had been laid to rest last week, a simple wooden cross adorning each of the graves. But no, Isaac was gone. It was her son that needed her, now. She turned left, toward the Mail Order Bride Express Boarding House. Kurt was probably still asleep, but he would be awake, soon.



***



Inside the boarding house, it was warm from the afternoon sun shining through the windows. She glanced toward the parlor door, thinking it might be nice to go in there and sit for a little while, but the doors were closed. And besides, Kurt was upstairs trying to rest, worn out from his trip west. She should check on him.

Her foot was on the first step, when the parlor door opened and Inez Pollard stepped out. “Good afternoon, Jenny,” she greeted her.

Jenny stopped and turned to her, smiling. “Good afternoon to you, Inez. How are you today?”

“I’m just fine. If you’re not too busy, there is someone I’d like you to meet.”

“I. . .now?” Inez knew that she was making plans to return to Kansas City and live with her sister. Surely the woman wasn’t already starting to match her up with another miner. Her relationship with Isaac hadn’t been quite love, not yet, but she still had fond feelings for the man. And her heart was rather raw with disappointment. It seemed her life had no place to go.

Inez stepped toward her. “Yes, now. If you don’t mind.”


Chapter 3



Jenny stepped into the large, sunny room behind Inez. The gold curtains swayed in the slight afternoon breeze wafting from the open windows. A tall, lanky man, dressed in jeans and a blue checked shirt , his steel colored hair almost white in the bright light, had his attention seemingly intent on the scenery outside. He turned and faced her.

He must have been some years her senior, but his face held not only the lines of time spent outdoors, but the exuberance of youth, and his blue eyes caught hers. Her heart skipped a beat and she found it hard to look away from his handsome face.

Inez seemed not to notice their intense gaze. “Mr. Cooper, this is Mrs. Jenny Timmons. Jenny, this is Weston Cooper. He owns a ranch about a hundred miles north of here. He has something that he wishes to speak with you about.”

Jenny managed to pull her gaze from him and turned to Inez. “Of course.” She shook her head just a turn. Only a moment ago, she had thought to have no interest in meeting another man, and here she was ready and waiting to spend time with the one in front of her.

“If you’ll both be seated, I’ll fetch some tea,” Inez said with a slight nod, giving neither of them a moment to protest, as she swept out the door.

Jenny sat on the small couch, and Mr. Cooper took a seat in the blue velvet armchair across from her.

“Howdy, ma’am, it’s nice to meet you.”

Jenny nodded. She liked his smile and his easy way of speaking. “It is nice to meet you, too, Mr. Cooper.”

His face shadowed and his eyes narrowed a bit. He leaned forward. “First off, I’d like to say how sorry I am about the situation you’re in. Miz Pollard told me about your fiancé. We heard about the accident all the way up north of here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cooper. But, as for my situation. . .”

He looked down at his hands that held the rim of his tan felt hat. His fingers slowly began circling the edge, sliding around the curve of the brim. “What I mean about your situation is that Miz Pollard explained about you not being able to get your teaching job back.”

She felt herself relax. Isaac had only been gone a short while, and discussing her engagement with a stranger was not exactly in order. “That’s correct. I had already declined to sign the contract for another term. In the mean time, the position has been filled.”

He nodded, his eyes still on the hat, studying it as if he’d never seen it before. Finally, he looked up at her. “I’m looking for a teacher for my son.”

She blinked. It seemed an odd request. “You mean at a school?” She had put in inquiries at schools in nearby communities, but there had been no positive responses.

“No, ma’am. I mean at my ranch. Our house is a good two hours ride from town. At least, any town that has a school. And that’s on a fast horse. Joseph has some problems with his leg. . .a birth injury. He’s not able to ride for long distances. Even if there was a school in Violet Springs, the town nearest us, he would not be able to go.”

A private position. She had never thought about such for herself. She had heard that that type of job paid well. Still, she had Kurt to think of.

Weston Cooper’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “I won’t lie to you, ma’am. It’s an isolated spot. No women folks for you to visit with, other than my housekeeper and cook, Mrs. Kelly, and the woman that helps her out, Mattie. Both of them fine women, but a mite older than you. When the weather is good, we go into town twice a month during the summer and then, in the early fall. Other than that, we’re always at the ranch.

“I’ve got several hands, but they’re nothing for you to worry about, as they’re all out in the bunkhouse, though they do come to the house for breakfast in the mornings, and supper on Sunday night. Gentlemen, all of them, I assure you.”

Jenny smiled. It was hard to imagine the place Weston Cooper was describing, but it already appealed to her. “Yes. Go on, Mr. Cooper. Tell me about your son.”

“My boy, Joseph, is eight years old. He’s been crippled since birth. It was a hard birthing for my wife, and the doctor broke one of the baby’s legs in the process. My wife, Margaret, only lived two years afterwards, all but bed-bound, most of the time. She’s been gone six years, now.”

Jenny nodded. The pain in his voice was palpable. “I’m sorry.” Would she still be grieving for Isaac six years from now? Maybe. But mostly for what could have been. She still longed for Michael, at times. At least wishing that he had known his son.

Wes Cooper cleared his throat. “And Mrs. Pollard mentioned that you have a boy that you brought here, thinking you were about to be married.” It was a statement, not a question.

She nodded. Now did not seem like the time to tell him that she had already planned to head back to Kansas, once things were settled and Isaac’s possessions were sent off to his family back in Virginia. A few more days, and she would have everything packed.

She had been too long in leaving the burden of raising her son to her widowed sister. Her heart had longed for her boy, after all of the months apart, and she had sent for him a few days before her wedding date, thinking he would arrive a week after the day of her marriage. “That’s correct. In fact, as you say, he is already here.” By the time he arrived, she and Isaac would have been married and settled in the little cottage on the hill. Now, where the two of them were going to live and how she was going to support them until they left for Kansas, was another matter. It was best to leave as soon as possible.

He took a deep breath. “That sounds like a good thing, Mrs. Timmons. I’d like for you to bring your boy out to the ranch, too…if you accept my proposal, that is.”

Her heart softened. “Are you saying that my son could come and live on your ranch?” It would be a dream come true for Kurt. His main goal in life, according to his many letters, as well as his conversations, was to be a real cowboy.

His big, steel-blue eyes widened. “Why, of course, Mrs. Timmons. There’s plenty of room in the house and he’d be company for Joseph. I’d never think to separate a mother from her child. You would be able to teach them together. And it would be good for my boy. He’s never had a friend.”

Jenny swallowed. She’d barely met the man and he was already breaking her heart when he spoke about his son. He and the boy must live a lonesome existence on their spread. Was it something that she and Kurt could come to appreciate?

Olivia’s words of advice floated through her thoughts. God’s plan might be something very different than she had assumed. And, maybe heartache called for the wild loneliness of the isolated mountains. A time of peace and quiet from the bustle of the world. There would be no more having to assure others that she was fine, forcing a happy face, when her heart was heavy. Yes. Maybe this was the answer.

“I accept, Mr. Cooper. I would be happy to come and teach your son.”

A slow smile spread across his handsome face. “That will be fine, ma’am. Real fine. I’m not an educated man, Mrs. Timmons, but my Margaret set great store by book learning. So, I’m going to do my best to see that Joseph has the kind of education that he needs.”

Jenny nodded. But something in his eyes told her he was not finished. “Is there something else, Mr. Cooper?”

He took a deep breath, as if he was working up courage to speak. He cleared his throat. “There’s a little more to it, ma’am. I know you came out here to be a bride, and, well. . .things haven’t worked out for you. I’ve been a widower for six years, now, and it’s about time I found a mother for my son. What I’m proposing is you come out as a teacher, and, if by the spring, we seem to get along, and all, we could be married.”

Jenny stared. She had known when he mentioned being a widower that he would probably be looking for a wife sometime soon, but still, it had surprised her, just the same. “I. . .yes, Mr. Cooper. I will consider your offer of marriage.” Thoughts spun in her head as she stared at the man in front of her. Had she practically accepted a marriage proposal from a man she had met fifteen minutes ago?

He smiled. “Thank you, ma’am.”


Chapter 4



Jenny stepped out of the post office and headed toward the boarding house. That package she left behind was all that was left of Isaac’s personal possessions. It had occurred to her to keep at least a small memento, but in the end, she had packed it all. The dream she and Isaac had together had never really begun. It was time to start anew. Again. But this time, her heart was hopeful that things were going to be better. And maybe Mr. Cooper was going to fit into that new hope.

“Look Ma,” Kurt’s sweet voice called to her, as she entered the boarding house. He had listened intently when she’d told him about Mr. Cooper and introduced him, minus any mention of the marriage proposal. It was obvious that the excitement was still blazing within him at the thought of moving to a ranch.

She walked into the parlor to find him there alone, a large book in his lap.

“Do you think Mr. Cooper’s ranch looks like this?” he asked, pointing to a picture in the book.

She laughed. At least he wasn’t still standing at the window, looking out at all the cowboys that passed. “I don’t know what his ranch will be like. But I’m sure it will be nice.”

Kurt nodded his blond head and kept his eye on the picture. “He says it’s real big and he has lots of horses.”

She reached over and ruffled his hair. “I’m sure you will love it once we are there, Kurt.” And I hope I will, too.

He nodded and shut the book, letting his blue eyes meet hers. “How much longer until we go?”

“Two days. That’s when Mr. Cooper will be finished with his business here in town.”

“I can’t wait. And just think, Ma, we’ll get to camp out on the trail on our way there!”

She laughed. It had been many years since she had slept outside, but Mr. Cooper had assured her that the wagon he had purchased would be comfortable for her and Kurt. Mr. Cooper and his two ranch hands would be sleeping out under the stars. They had come with him to drive back the small herd of new breeding stock for the cattle at the ranch, as well as a few horses for the same purpose.

“And we’ll be taking horses back with us, too!” Kurt exclaimed. “I wonder if I’ll get to ride any of them. Do you think I will?”

She laughed and stood. “I don’t think they’ll be quite ready to ride. Now, put away that book and let’s go upstairs and get the rest of our things organized. And then, Mr. Cooper is going to come and get us and take us out for supper. I’m sure he will tell us more about the ranch while we eat.”

“Yippee!” he yelled, running to return the book to a shelf near the windows. “I can’t wait until it’s time for us to go.”



***



“Stop fidgeting,” Jenny insisted to her son, doing her best to straighten his crooked tie. She had warned him to be on his best behavior. It was a nice favor to her that Inez had agreed to move out Jenny’s roommate and let Kurt stay with her in the room, until they found another place. She could not afford the cottage that Isaac had wanted to rent, and boarding house rooms were hard to come by in this busy town.

“I bet I won’t have to wear any old tie out there on the range,” he complained, making his neck stiff while she adjusted the string.

“Probably not,” she agreed, concentrating on her task. “But there’s no need to forget how to look like a gentleman in the mean time,” she told him. “There, now. You look fine. Go look out the window while I finish with my hair.”

Her auburn hair had just enough curl to give a nice curve when she pinned the sides back. She stared at her reflection for just a moment. She was still young enough to be pretty, but her days of youth were past. Those tiny lines around her blue eyes gave away the fact that she was no longer a youngster. She smiled. Whatever lines she had, she had earned them. This was her life and she meant to make the most of it.

A knock sounded at their door. She opened it to find Inez, dressed in a pretty yellow muslin, standing in the blue carpeted hallway.

“Your dinner companion is here,” she announced with her usual sweet smile, her blue eyes shining with happiness.

“Oh, boy!” Kurt shouted and darted past her.

“Kurt, sto—”

Inez touched her arm. “Don’t worry about him. He’s just being a boy. May I speak with you for a moment before you go down?”



***



Jenny invited Inez into the room. After they were seated on opposite beds, Inez cleared her throat.

“I’ve had word from some people about Mr. Cooper. I want you to know that he is a very respected and successful rancher. He has an excellent reputation and is well-known for his generosity.”

Jenny stared. Had Inez gone to all this trouble for her? “Inez, thank you for telling me this. I. . .knew it was a chance I was taking, going off with him like this. But he seems a very sincere man.”

Inez nodded. “I had heard his name before, so I wasn’t too concerned. Still, I thought you might like to know what I found out.”

They both stood and Jenny reached for Inez’s hand. “Like I said, thank you. I now have peace of mind for my venture. It gives me more confidence to face whatever is ahead for myself and Kurt.”



***



Dinner was at the Red Corral Hotel, the place where Mr. Cooper was staying. His ranch hands, Charlie and Curly, were there as well. Both young men, Jenny thought they looked uncomfortable seated in the pretty dining room.

Curly, dark headed, his hair a bit too long, had worked hard to comb the thick mass back from his forehead. Charlie, a little older and taller, was sitting so stiffly in his chair that Jenny was worried he might fall out of it.

“It’s so nice to meet you, ma’am,” they both chorused together when she came to the table.

Jenny nodded. “And very nice to meet both of you, too.”

“Me, too!” Kurt added, and everyone laughed.

“That’s right,” Coop nodded. “This boy’s gonna be one of our best ranch hands, once we get back.”

Kurt glowed and Charlie and Curly grinned.

The rest of the evening was full of pleasant conversation.

“That’s right on the acreage, ma’am. And, we’ve got six thousand head of cattle and probably a few hundred horses. I sell the horses to the Cavalry every year. Good business for the ranch.”

Jenny found herself liking Weston Cooper more and more. Whether it was the smile on his face or the twinkle in his eyes when he spoke of his son, she wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, she was convinced he was going to be easy to work for, once they were out at the ranch.



***



When they stepped inside the boarding house door, Jenny turned and looked up into his beautiful cobalt eyes. “Thank you so much for dinner, Mr. Cooper. It was a fine night out and we enjoyed the conversation.” He nodded and she noticed the pink in his cheeks.

He cleared his throat. “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about for a moment, ma’am. If you can spare the time,” he added.

“Of course.” She turned to Kurt, busy trying to climb astride the staircase banister. “Kurt! Get down from there this minute. Now, you go on up and start getting ready for bed. I’ll be up soon.”

They both watched as he raced up the staircase.

Jenny shook her head. “I’m sorry. I know he’s a bit noisy, Mr. Cooper.”

He grinned and shook his head. “Just being a normal boy.”

“We can talk in here.” She motioned to the parlor doors and walked that direction.

Inside, there were several oil lamps lit that were left that way until eleven p.m. every night. Jenny took a seat on one of the chairs, and Mr. Cooper sat opposite her.

Wes Cooper cleared his throat and once more stared at the brim of his hat, just as he had done when she met him.

Jenny found herself fidgeting. Had he changed his mind about the offer? Kurt’s heart would be broken if he had.

He cleared his throat again and looked up at her, a determined expression on his face. “Ma’am, I’ve thought it over since last night and I think I’ve been unfair to you.”

“In what way?” She waited, her heart sinking, as he paused.

“If you were an older woman and not so. . .so young and pretty. . .well, things might be different. But, as it is, I don’t want folks to talk.”

Puzzled Jenny waited. Then finally urged him on. “I don’t understand.”

He took a deep breath and his eyes met hers. “I’m not going back on the proposal about having the preacher out next spring to marry us, but I’m thinking it might be better if we go ahead and make it legal before we leave town. That way, you’ll already be Jenny Cooper. I understand if that’s too sudden for you.”

Jenny felt a smile forming on her lips. He looked so worried and concerned. And, hadn’t she come west to find a husband? The thought of going back east held no appeal for her. “I accept, Mr. Cooper.”

Relief flooded his face. “Thank you, ma’am. I figure we can get the sheriff to marry us on Thursday, before we leave. If that is all right with you?”

Jenny felt a twinge. It would be unfair to the other brides if she married in such a hasty service. Maybe, she could convince Weston Cooper of something else.


Chapter 5



“I thought it might give you a little time to finish up on your packing, ma’am. And give the boy a chance to get better acquainted with me and the hands.”

Jenny smiled. The truth was that she really didn’t need any extra time to pack. Most of her belongings had been ready for her move with Isaac. But the look in Kurt’s eyes told her she should let him go. “That will be fine, Mr. Cooper. I’m sure that he will enjoy the day out.”

If nothing else, she could finish her letter to her sister, explaining her new circumstances. No doubt, Rhoda would be appalled that she was, once again, accepting a proposal from a man she ‘barely knew’, as Rhoda had so bluntly put it. At least it would be another month before she would have to explain anymore of the situation. She sighed. Her older sister was more like a mother, at times.

“We’ll be back before dark, ma’am,” he nodded, tipping his wide-brimmed hat. “I’ll take real good care of him, so don’t worry.”

“I won’t,” she promised, following them out the door. I’m trusting a lot to him, Lord.

With a boost from the rancher, Kurt pulled himself into the small wagon that Wes Cooper was driving, and she stood and watched as the tall rancher climbed up himself. He took the reins, urging the black horses out into the traffic. She refused to move until they were no longer in her vision, blended in with the other wagons traveling the street.


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