The Mail-Order Brides Collection: 9 Historical Stories of Marriage That Precedes Love
What kind of woman would answer an advertisement and marry a stranger?
Escape into the history of the American West along with nine couples whose relationships begin with advertisements for mail-order brides. Placing their dreams for new beginnings in the hands of a stranger, will each bride be disappointed, or will some find true love?
The Brigand and the Bride by Jennifer Uhlarik
Meribah, Arizona Territory—November 1876
Heart pounding, Jolie Hilliard glanced back, scanned the street behind, then hurried through the afternoon crowds of Meribah. Tucking her groom’s letter with instructions for their nuptials under her arm, she shifted her nearly full satchel to her other hand. She must hurry, or their carefully laid plans would be for naught.
Seeing the Seamstress shingle outside a Meribah storefront, she took another glance around. No sign of her brother, Brand, though she couldn’t be lulled into complacency. He and his men were too wily to be fooled for long. A chill gripped her as she darted inside the shop.
“May I help you?” a woman called from the back of the room.
At the counter, Jolie dropped her satchel. “My name’s Jolie Hilliard. I’m to pick up a suit for Mister—”
“Oooh.” The woman squealed, a broad smile lighting her face as she laid aside her sewing and approached. “You’re the blushing bride.”
Jolie’s cheeks heated. “Yes, ma’am. How’d you know? I didn’t give you his name.”
“You’re just as he described. That, and…in my business, ain’t too often someone sends another to pick up their clothes.”
Jolie nodded. It was odd, but the tight timeframe between her groom’s expected arrival and the preacher’s impending departure meant this was the only way they could pull off the quick ceremony.
“Your man is such a charmer,” the woman blathered.
Jolie glanced toward the windows, scanning for familiar faces.
“He’ll make a fine husband. And so handsome, to boot.”
She nodded. “Not to be rude, but …I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
“Oh, of course. Forgive me. I love weddings.” She left and returned momentarily with a paper-wrapped parcel. She snipped the string and peeled back the crinkly paper to reveal a costly-looking suit coat. The woman pushed it nearer. “This’ll be striking on him, won’t it?”
Jolie nodded, mute. She’d trust the woman’s assessment. Her groom’s letters described him as slightly taller than average with blond hair and blue eyes. Until they met, she couldn’t judge. She touched the fabric. “You do fine work. What do I owe?”
“He paid in advance.” She retied the package and handed it over. “Best wishes on your marriage, young lady.”
Young lady. Hardly. At twenty-six, she was a spinster, but only for another hour. Jolie tucked the package under her arm with the letter, retrieved her satchel, and faced the door. “Thank you.”
Once more, she scanned the street and, certain Brand and his men weren’t around, stepped outside. She paused at a nearby bench to tuck the suit inside her bag and adjust the Colt Peacemaker she’d hidden inside for easy access.
Jolie hurried, scanning faces and shadows on every side.
Lord, help me reach the church and get married without my good-for-nothing brother finding me. I beg You.
No sooner had the prayer formed than someone hooked her elbow and spun her around. A screech clogged her throat as she fumbled for the pistol. Before she reached it, a kindly gray-headed gentleman waved a paper at her.
“Beg pardon, but you dropped this.” He shrugged. “Called after you, but you didn’t hear.”
Heart hammering, she relaxed. “Thank you, sir.”
Grinning, the gentleman handed it over and moved along. She eyed the nearby faces, then glanced at the letter.
After exchanging a few notes, sweet Jolie, I’m confident I’d like to marry you. I understand our union would be in name only, but you strike me as intelligent and hardworking, and I’m successful in my chosen profession. It would be a smart match.
Could becoming a mail-order bride ever be considered smart? Not when she’d dreamt she’d marry for love. But with Brand’s gang dominating her life, she had no other choice.
Jolie reread the directions to the church, then scurried toward it, happy to see the whitewashed steeple come into view as she rounded the corner. One last time, she scanned the street, then nearly ran to the double-doored entrance.
As she entered, a stout little woman pushed herself out of a ladder-backed chair. “Jolie Hilliard?”
The woman grinned. “Come. The rooms you requested are this way.”
She followed. “Please take me to the groom’s room first. I’ve brought him some things.”
The woman stopped halfway down the hall. “This is his.”
Jolie entered the room and placed the requested towel, razor, shears, and grooming items next to a basin of water, then unwrapped the suit. She draped it over the chair to prevent wrinkles.
“And my room?” As per their agreement, she deposited her satchel near the door so her groom could store the toiletries and his in it.
Mrs. Carter led her back to the first doorway and motioned her inside.
“I’ll be about, should you need anything.”
“I appreciate your kindness.”
“The reverend and I are happy to oblige where young love is concerned.” She waddled from the room.
Eyes closed, Jolie squared her shoulders. There was no love. Within the hour, she would wed a stranger and hopefully leave the Hilliard name behind. Forever. Lord, please let this man be as kind and gentlemanly as his letters portray. And please…please don’t let Brand find me—us. Ever.
Del Adler ducked into the church, pulse galloping. He must hurry. The vestibule empty, he darted down a hallway and peeked into room after room. All empty but for some chairs or a desk. Halfway down, he hesitated. On the desk lay a basin, towel, comb, straight razor, strop, and shears, and draped over the chair, a suit. Just waiting—for him. His heart beat even faster.
He cast his silent thanks heavenward, then entered. Locking the door, he removed his tattered hat and slicked his hair with water, then combed it. He cut his shaggy blond locks into a neat style. Not the easiest thing, but he’d clean up as best he could—and quickly. Task accomplished, he combed his hair again, then lathered his scraggly beard and shaved his whiskers. Hurrying, he wiped his face and changed clothes. The small mirror revealed a much different-looking man than when he’d entered.
“Just what I prayed for, Lord. Thank You.”
He wrapped the clumps of hair he’d cut in the towel, then rolled his clothes around it. Near the door, a satchel caught his attention. He unfastened the top but before cramming his clothes and hat inside, he spied the butt of a pistol peeking at him. He grasped the gun. A Colt Peacemaker. Del checked the loads, grinned, and stashed it and his things inside.
Again, Lord, thank You. You’re taking better care of me than I deserve.
Bulging satchel in hand, he opened the door and scanned the hall. Empty. Tiptoeing, he headed toward the vestibule. At the intersection of the hall and foyer, he squinted through the window. He gulped as several familiar figures approached.
“Oh, goodness, you startled me!” a feminine voice blurted from behind him.
Spooked himself, he spun.
“It’s a good thing you made it.” A stout woman pulled him toward what had to be the sanctuary. “We’ve just enough time.”
“Time?” He stalled, though she wouldn’t be deterred.
“As my letter stated, our schedule is very tight. The reverend and I must take today’s stagecoach, which leaves town in fifteen minutes. We were about to cancel. Miss Hilliard is close to tears.”
For a short woman, she was mighty strong, dragging him down the aisle toward a lanky, gray-headed fella and a fetching auburn-haired beauty in a shimmering blue ensemble. Quite a good-looker, that one.
The redhead cupped a hand over her mouth, looking for all the world like she might cry, but quickly composed herself and met his gaze with striking blue eyes. “Thank God you made it. Are you ready?”
Dread skittered down his spine. Ready…for what? Surely not what it looked like. His belly knotted.
The round woman snatched his bag and shoved him into position beside the beauty.
The redhead smiled. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Frank. I’m Jolie. Hilliard.” She shrugged. “I guess you knew that.”
Astonished, he stared. “I…I…” He glanced at the tall drink of water facing them. Clammy sweat covered Del’s skin. Good Lord above, what had he gotten into?
Heavy footsteps and familiar voices sounded at the back of the room. Fear gripped him. “Sorry ’bout the delay. Nice to meet you, Jolie. I’m…Frank.” He clamped his eyes shut and faced the man. “Reverend? Don’t wanna hold you up.”
The man nodded. “I’ll make this brief. Do you, Franklin Thomas Lovell, take Jolie Ann Hilliard to be your lawful wife?”
Del dared not look back as the voices drew nearer. “I do.”
“Do you, Jolie Ann Hilliard, take Franklin Thomas Lovell to be your lawful husband?”
Miss Hilliard’s brows furrowed as the plump woman spoke a few sharp words to the intruders behind them.
Del nudged her. “Well, my sweet? Do you?”
She raked wide blue eyes toward him before facing the reverend. “I…do.”
“By the power vested in me by the Territory of Arizona, I pronounce you husband and wife.” The preacher grinned. “You may kiss your bride.”
Del faced the bride. One of the interlopers stood far too close for comfort. In a heartbeat, he swept the woman into his arms, angled his face toward the cross on the front wall, and pressed his mouth to hers in a deep, abiding, and passionate kiss.
She stiffened, panting, but quickly relaxed and returned the affection.
Mind spinning with the intensity, Del forced himself to focus—listening for hints the lawmen he’d escaped that morning might’ve moved on. Lord, forgive my deception. You know I’d never play such a foul trick under normal circumstances. Help me, and I promise I’ll make it right.
“Deputy Kagan!” Marshal Connor Benson’s voice boomed. “That’s not Adler. Let’s go before we lose him for good.”
The deputy clomped toward the door.
When the footsteps died away, Del broke the kiss. Miss Hilliard stared, wide-eyed and breathless. Truth be told, his lungs labored to draw air too. He grinned at her.
Stunned, she turned to the preacher.
“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Lovell. Now if you’ll excuse us, my wife and I have a stage to catch. Please leave so we can lock up and git.”
“Happy to oblige.” Del took his bride’s hand and led the thunderstruck gal from the sanctuary, pausing only to grab the satchel.