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
Bride of North Carolina
Book 12 in the American Mail-Order Bride Series
Dacey: Bride of North Carolina
Copyright © 2015 by Shanna Hatfield
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
For permission requests, please contact the author, with a subject line of "permission request” at the email address below or through her website.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
On the run from her past, Dacey Butler has nothing to lose when she agrees to travel to North Carolina to marry a stranger.
Unaware his conniving mother arranged for a mail-order bride, Braxton Douglas has no idea what to do with the intriguing woman who arrives on his doorstep, ready to wed.
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To those who look beyond the horizon…
October 1, 1890
Asheville, North Carolina
“Well, if this ain’t just a dilly-dang disaster!” Dacey Jo Butler fisted her gloved hands on her hips and stared at the ticket agent across the counter.
The man nervously fingered a sheaf of papers in front of him, tapping them to straighten the edges.
“I’m sorry, miss, but your trunk was mistakenly taken off the train back in Raleigh. It will come in on tomorrow’s train. You may retrieve it then.” The fussy little man pushed his glasses up on his beaked nose and tapped the stack of papers again.
“I’m much obliged, mister.” Dacey relaxed her stiff posture and worked up a grin. “I’ll be here tomorrow. Does the train arrive about the same time as it did today?”
“Yes, it will, Miss Butler.” The agent glanced at the clock. “Don’t be late, though. I can’t be responsible for keeping an eye on your belongings.”
Dacey nodded in agreement. “I wouldn’t expect you to.” The stuffy condition of the station coupled with the unseasonably warm weather made her wish she could remove her hat, gloves, and jacket and find a cool spot of shade to rest.
Instead, she pulled a telegram from her reticule and smoothed the paper on the counter. She glanced over at the little man and offered him an engaging smile. “Can you point me in the direction of where I might find Braxton Douglas? Doggone if I didn’t think he’d be here to meet me, but I reckon he didn’t get my letter saying I’d roll into town today.”
The man’s eyes narrowed and he studied her from the top of her black western hat to the dust clinging to the hem of her split riding skirt. The barest hint of a smile quirked the thin line of his mouth upward. “Braxton Douglas, is it? I can say with the upmost certainty your arrival will catch him by surprise.”
Dacey frowned when he chortled then cleared his throat.
Aware of her glare, he selected a sheet of blank paper and drew a simple map on the surface. Quickly spinning it around, he gave her directions. “Follow the road through town then stay on it for about three miles. Turn left when you come to a pasture full of horses and go down that road for another mile. Take a right at the big magnolia tree up the lane to the main house. If you get lost and need directions, you’ll want to ask how to get to Bramble Hall.”
“Bramble Hall?” Dacey asked, studying the crude map. “What’s Bramble Hall?”
“Where you’ll most likely find Mr. Douglas. If he isn’t home, his mother or father likely will be. Bramble Hall is the name of their plantation.”
“Plantation?” Dacey squeaked. Mr. Douglas never mentioned anything about a plantation. The advertisement she’d originally read seeking a mail-order bride merely stated he was a farmer in need of a wife. The two telegrams he’d sent after she wrote a letter agreeing to be his bride hinted at a well-educated man, but no mention had been made of a plantation.
“Mercy,” she whispered, feeling faint for the first time in her life.
“Are you well, miss? Your face is as pale as the runny custard Mrs. Lang serves at the boarding house.” The ticket agent fanned his stack of papers at her, stirring the air around her face.
Woozy, Dacey leaned against the counter.
What had she done? Had she made the right decision in brashly agreeing to marry a man she’d never met, only corresponded with twice?
Not that she had many options available.
After escaping the lecherous clutches of her detestable stepfather, she’d traveled to Massachusetts where she’d roomed with four other girls. One of her roommates, Josephine, was the daughter of her mother’s closest childhood friend. When Dacey realized she had to get away from the horrid man her mother had married, she began corresponding with the girl.
Josephine helped her get a job at a factory where all the girls worked long, hard hours sewing. Dacey loathed spending all day inside at a sewing machine even if she was a good seamstress, but the factory burned a few days after she started work.
Desperate, she followed the example of many of the other factory workers and turned to the hope of marriage to save her from her dire circumstances. A few weeks later, she stepped off the train in Asheville, North Carolina, into a world vastly different from the life she’d always known in Pendleton, Oregon.
Overwhelmed by the enormity of everything that had transpired, she glanced down at her skirt. Without her trunk of meager belongings, she had no choice but to meet her intended covered in dust and soot from the long train ride.
Why would an educated man who lived on a plantation seek out a penniless bride? What could he possibly gain from such a union?
Mind whirring with possibilities, she felt sick to her stomach. What if he turned out to be like Luther Goss, her stepfather? She’d learned from that detestable excuse of a man that people weren’t always what they seemed and kind words could easily ring hollow.
Disheartened, Dacey wondered, for the hundredth time, about her future husband’s appearance. There hadn’t been time to exchange photographs, even if she’d had one to send, which she did not.
In the grand scheme of things, what Mr. Douglas looked like was of little importance. The state of his heart and soul held far more concern for Dacey.
Nevertheless, she pictured him as a small, bookish man of middle age. Of course, he was educated, literate, and intelligent. His stature was most likely slight, his hair thinning, and he’d probably have soft hands.
Absently, she gazed over at the ticket agent. Her vision of Braxton Douglas closely matched that of the uptight little man.
Thoughts of those soft hands touching hers made a shudder wrack over her.
On the verge of giving in to her rising panic, she wished she knew why her mother had agreed to marry Luther. If it weren’t for that ill-fated decision, Dacey would be at the family ranch in Eastern Oregon, racing her horse Thunder across the rolling hills of wheat stubble, and helping the hands bring in cattle from the range before the winter snows arrived.
Instead, she stood in an unfamiliar place, about to commit her future — her very life — to a complete stranger who hadn’t even possessed the good manners to meet her train. Miffed, she stuffed the telegram she’d laid on the counter back into her reticule, picked up the map the agent had drawn, and grabbed her leather valise from the floor near her feet where she’d set it earlier.
Perhaps it was providential no one waited to greet her. The walk out to Mr. Douglas’ home would give her time to gather her thoughts. At the least, the walk to Bramble Hall would provide an opportunity for her temper to settle.
She turned her gaze to the ticket agent again. “I thank you for your assistance, mister…”
“Jones. My name is Earl Jones.” The man offered her a genuine smile.
Dacey politely tipped her head to him. “Thank you, Mr. Jones. I’ll be back tomorrow for my trunk.”
“We shall see,” the man said cryptically then turned his attention to the papers in his hand.
With purposeful strides, Dacey left the depot and stepped outside into the early afternoon sunshine. She breathed deeply, inhaling the scents of autumn blended with smoked meat.
Hunger gnawed at her, but she hated to spend any of her precious supply of money on a meal. However, she couldn’t walk several miles on an empty stomach. Moreover, it wouldn’t do at all to show up on Mr. Douglas’ doorstep half-starved.
As she walked down the broad sidewalk along the town’s main street, she glanced upward at telephone poles with wires stretched like ropes of licorice across the sky.
Back in Pendleton, only a few homes in town had such modern conveniences. As she continued gawking at the telephone lines, she narrowly missed bumping into a man standing in front of a business watching her.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” she said, and rushed on her way when he gave her an inviting look.
Unsettled by the gleam in his eye, she hastened her step and crossed the street. A display in a store window drew her interest. She studied the latest fall fashions for women and children before moving on. Clothing boutiques, a bookshop, and a toy store rounded out a surprising selection of places to shop. A grocer’s sign caught her interest. She stepped inside the store, breathing in the scents of dill, cinnamon, and cured meat.
A short, plump woman assisted several customers at a long counter, so Dacey wandered through the store. Heat flamed into her cheeks when her stomach loudly growled. Furtively glancing around, she decided no one heard the telltale sign of hunger her belly so rudely emitted.
“How may I help you, miss?” The jolly faced woman smiled her way when Dacey stepped up to the counter once the other customers left.
“If you sell by the slice, I’d like two slices of cheese, two of bread, and a slice of meat.”
The woman laughed and motioned Dacey over to a case near the counter. “What I think you want is a sandwich. We have some already prepared.” She opened the case and Dacey felt the cool air waft around her face. “Take your pick.”
“Thank you,” Dacey said. She pointed to a sandwich with a thick slice of roasted beef and cheese.
The woman took the sandwich from the chilled depths of the case and carried it to the counter, where she sat it on a square of brown paper. She fished a pickle out of a crock and wrapped it in paper then gave Dacey a long glance before disappearing down an aisle and returning with a small bottle of milk.
“The sandwich is all I need,” Dacey said, opening her reticule, hesitant to spend any more than absolutely necessary on her meal.
“Don’t worry about it, dearie. Our sandwiches come with a pickle and I’m adding the milk because you’re new in town and look like you could use a friend.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Dacey handed the woman the exact change for the sandwich. “How did you know I’m new in Asheville?”
“For one thing, you’re carrying a valise and the train arrived about an hour ago.” The woman’s light blue eyes sparkled with mirth as she smiled. “Besides, no woman I’ve seen in this town wears a hat or skirt like that. Unless I’m mistaken, you’re from somewhere out West.”
Dacey nodded her head. “I grew up on a ranch in the West, although most recently I’ve been in Massachusetts.” She grinned at the friendly woman. “I’m Dacey Butler.”
The woman smiled again in return. “Welcome to Asheville, Dacey Butler. I’m Ellie Howell. My husband owns this store, although if you need anything, you come see me.”
“I will, Mrs. Howell. It’s a pleasure to meet you and I thank you for the milk.” Dacey attempted to pick up her food while holding her valise in one hand.
Ellie snatched up the bottle of milk and pickle as she stepped around the counter. “There’s a table back here by the window. You sit down and eat your sandwich. No one will bother you.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Dacey sank onto the chair Ellie indicated with a relieved sigh and tugged off her gloves.
“You call me Ellie and we’ll get along just fine.” The woman set the milk and pickle on the table then hurried back to the front of the store when a bell jangled on the door.
Dacey bowed her head and offered a simple prayer over her meal then tucked into the thick sandwich and crisp pickle. She drank the milk straight from the bottle, relishing the creamy coolness as it slid down her parched throat.
When she finished, she took a handkerchief from her reticule, wiped her mouth and hands, and then picked up her gloves. Reluctantly, she pulled them back over her fingers and smoothed out the leather. With quick movements, she wadded her handkerchief into her bag and picked up the paper wrappings left from her lunch along with the empty milk bottle.
Ellie waved to a departing customer as she approached the counter. “Did you enjoy your sandwich?”
“Sure did. It was the best I’ve eaten in a very long time,” Dacey said. In truth, she and her roommates had been careful about spending money the last few weeks as their limited funds dwindled.
Although she hated to accept what she viewed as charity, even if she planned to marry the man, Mr. Douglas had sent a train ticket along with additional funds for her trip. Through careful spending, Dacey still had a few dollars left from what he sent. She wanted to save every penny in the event Braxton Douglas turned out to be someone more like her stepfather and less like the gentleman he portrayed.
“I’m glad to hear that, Dacey. Are you going to be in town awhile?” Ellie wrapped something Dacey couldn’t see in a paper packet and tied it with a piece of string.
“I hope to be here for a good long while.” Dacey’s voice cracked as she spoke, thinking of the finality of her plans to wed Braxton Douglas. Once she became his bride, she’d most likely never see her beloved home in Pendleton again, not that she could travel back to the ranch anyway.
“I hope you’ll stop by often. I have a feeling you have all sorts of wonderful stories to share and I’d love to hear them.” Ellie handed Dacey the packet. “A little something for later, in case you get hungry.”
“Thank you kindly.” Dacey accepted the packet and carefully tucked it into the top of her valise. “I appreciate it more than you can know.”
“Oh, I remember coming to this town as a new bride and not knowing a soul. Most people who live around here are friendly, although I recommend staying away from the mountain folk up in the hills. They tend to be a little standoffish.”