Carnival beauty, Sukey Ledbetter is not the marrying kind. She’s forced to take on a temporary alias as a mail-order bride in order to escape her treacherous uncle who is after her fortunes and intent on locking her up in the lunatic asylum.
Nothing prepares her, however, for the sight of the rugged cowboy who’s to escort her to her supposed-betrothed. Her escort is Coltrane Bloom, a man more powerfully compelling than any she had ever encountered.
Olivia Brown was Avonaco Bloom’s best friend’s little sister and off limits. Then she was older and Avon didn’t know how to accept this budding woman, especially when she confessed she loved him. He dismissed her, saying she was too young. He left on a scouting job. When he returned she had married his family’s enemy, a Stark.
Now she’s an elusive divorced woman with secrets in those gorgeous eyes. Can he convince her to confide in him, to trust him again not only with her well-being, but especially with the love he so carelessly tossed aside?
From Smithy Apron to Petticoats…
Arlette Prettie, better known as Arlo, is desperately seeking a temporary husband so she can get custody of her orphaned niece. Wyatt Bloom wants to help Arlo but fears changing the status quo.
However, when Arlo puts on a dress instead of her smithy apron and goggles, he realizes he doesn’t want her to marry anybody else but him.
But can he convince her that his love is more than skin deep, the kind that will last forever?
Hopefully he can convince her she is his everlasting Christmas Bloom.
Brides of Blessings is the name of a series by a group of authors writing about heroes and heroines in a fictitious town during the California Gold Rush. Lynn Winchester, Kari Trumbo, Mimi Milan, Heather Blanton, Danica Favorite and I will be writing the stories. Lynn’s story will be first to be released on January 3, 2018. Mine, which is titled Sweeten the Swindler, is now available.
Maxine Sweeten is a math whizz at keeping her uncle’s accounts on Pasley Miner’s Hats and dabbling in the stock market. She loves all God’s creatures.
When Jake brings Maxine the supposedly lame-legged terrier, she can’t help but soften toward the rugged stranger with his own emotional wounds that shadow his eyes. Once she realizes Jake is out to ruin both her and her uncle, she’s determined to discover why. His reasons open up a whole new bundle of trouble. What’s more, she must find a way to heal not only creatures from the forest, but Jake’s wild heart.
“Looks like Maxine Sweeten just got another box of chocolates from a hopeful suitor.”
At Atherton Winslet’s comment, Jake Stark glanced over the top of a ten-day-old-copy of the San Francisco Tribune he’d been only half-reading to see Miss Sweeten crossing the Main Street of Blessings carrying a brown paper-covered box under her arm. The light spring breeze rustled the straw bonnet she wore, one that was decorated with pink ribbon and lace that matched the dusky-pink roses in the fabric of her dress. Her dress clung to her tiny waist only to flare out over her hips.
Although she was small—maybe a couple of inches over five feet—she had all the right curves. The pink brought out the coral color in her high cheekbones and seemed to emphasize her lips. Her long thick hair was parted down the middle to form pigtails, the long ends curling against her bodice. Richly dark, the luscious strands complemented her milk and cream complexion as did the deep-mahogany color of her eyes.
A tasty package she made.
“You mean another box of chocolates from a hopeless suitor,” Ed Mosier—owner of the only mercantile in town—replied before moving a pawn on the chessboard that sat on a wooden barrel between him and Atherton Winslet. Jake reclined on a nearby rocker in front of the barbershop only half-reading the Blessings Gazette.
With a row of ladder-back chairs sitting on the boardwalk in front of Carl’s Cuts, the barbershop seemed to be the place to go if a person wanted to hear the town’s gossips. Who knew the tongue wagglers would be a bunch of men? Nothing seemed to get by Winslet. The man’s long white hair and matching beard reminded Jake of a professor he’d once met on a gambling steamboat traveling up the Mississippi River. But when Winslet smiled, the missing teeth negated the scholarly look. Even so, Jake had a feeling the icon of Blessings was wiser than he appeared.
Miss Sweeten called out to a boy of perhaps nine years of age, talked with him and then held out the rectangular shallow box she’d been carrying under her arm, the pink bow lopsided and crushed-looking. With a grin, the lad accepted the offer, ran down the street, only to disappear through the trees that lined the road that led to Pasley Miner’s Hats. Jake gritted his teeth, then forced himself to relax.
“What a waste,” Mosier exclaimed. “Who gave her that one?”
Atherton Winslet watched the exchange, his fingers rubbing his chin. “I’m guessin’ Bart Frister since I saw him with the box this mornin’. The boy is love-struck. I think that’s the third set he’s given her. They all end up at Pasley’s.”
“Either Roxanne Boone is going to have to quit making the chocolates, or somebody’s gonna have to shoot the poor fool.”
“Ed, now I know you don’t mean that,” Winslet admonished.
Mosier hefted a sigh. “I just don’t want to see him hurt. Has anybody told Bart she’s not keeping the chocolate for herself?” Ed Mosier shook his head, making his brown hair swish. “What woman doesn’t like chocolate?”
“She doesn’t,” Winslet replied as he moved a rook across the board. “Like chocolate, that is. And yes, she told him she doesn’t like the candy and was givin’ them to customers. Too, she told him she wasn’t interested in him that way.”
Interesting. In Jake’s experience, women tended to string men along to get what they wanted.
“So,” Winslet continued, “you can’t fault her. She’s honest with Bart. The other day I heard her tell him no candy, don’t waist his money because she considered him more like an older brother.”
Ouch. Jake winced for the poor wretch.
“But when she offered to return them to him, Bart refused to take them back. The lovesick dunce was agreeable to her idea of settin’ them out to as a welcoming gift to all the customers at Pasley’s. But I don’t think Bart knows what else to do.”
Jake watched Miss Sweeten walk into Coco’s Chapeaus, a shop with a handsome display of women’s hats in all shapes, colors and sizes.
“No imagination, that Bart.” With another sigh, Mosier shrugged and then moved another chess piece.
Right. Jake needed to use his imagination, to outsmart any other would-be beaus in town—which shouldn’t be difficult since he considered himself quite clever. Yes, he planned on wooing Maxine Sweeten, enough so she would be clay in his hands. Because she was the means to his revenge.
Mosier rested his fingers on top of his knight, then decided against the move he was obviously considering. Then he moved his other rook. “You gotta admire her, though. She’s not afraid to speak her mind.”
Winslet countered his friend’s move by taking his friend’s bishop with his knight. “Talk about Maxine speakin’ her mind. Did you see her lay into that trapper early last week? She found the beaver trap the hunter had set and managed to rescue the critter. Splint the beaver’s leg. Even gave it a small dose of laudanum for its pain.”
“Where is she keeping the animal?”
“In the shed behind the miner’s hats factory.”
So. Maxine Sweeten loved animals. In particular, she had a soft spot for wounded animals. An idea started to form in his mind.
Winslet took his opponent’s knight. “But let me finish my story.”
“Alright. Go on. Your story is more interesting than this chess game I’m losing anyway.”
Winslet chuckled. “She confronted him in front of the blacksmith’s. When the trapper discovered it was her what stole his pelt, I thought he was gonna bust a vein in his neck. I had to intervene to protect the poor girl, although in retrospect she held her own. Got in a few good whacks with her parasol when the degenerate tried to hit her. By that time Worley Bodman had retrieved Pasley.”
Geary Pasley. The man who had murdered Jake’s brother and stole his brother’s idea for making revolutionary miner hats. Earlier he’d learned that Bodman was Pasley’s supervisor at the factory. The man was arrogant, a bully. And frankly, he was surprised the Bodman allowed Bart to give Maxine chocolates. But it was probably because Bodman knew Miss Sweeten wasn’t interested in Bart in a romantic way.
“Ol’ Geary had to appease the trapper with cash comparable to the price of a beaver pelt.” Winslet stopped talking for a moment as he made another move on the chessboard. “And he weren’t too happy about it neither.”
“Nope, I imagine he wasn’t. But that was smart of her uncle to pay the trapper off. Maxine’s love of animals is down-right peculiar.”
The praise for Jake’s nemesis sent cold pricks of ice slithering down his back. The man was a snake, a murderer. If he couldn’t prove it, then he would retaliate in other ways. He would take away everything the murdering swine loved, including his money, and his reputation. And he would start by taking beloved niece.
“Well, that’s it for me. Good game,” Mosier stated and stood with a stretch. “I better get back to the mercantile.”
“I’ll see you later.” Winslet got up and moved to a chair next to Jake. “So, Jake. I see those wheels spinning.”
“Don’t think I haven’t noticed your interest in our Maxine. What would the scout for Whisper Railroad do if he were interested in courtin’ somebody like Maxine Sweeten?”
A prickling sensation stabbed him between the shoulder blades over the lie he’d told Winslet when he’d first arrived in Blessings ten days ago. There was no Whisper Railroad. It was a shell company that he and a couple of acquaintances —one being a banker— had set up last year. But he hardened his resolve against the founder’s gregarious nature and kind brown eyes. Winslet was honest. He wouldn’t appreciate Jake’s plans, even if planning Geary Pasley’s downfall was justified. Winslet was too protective of Blessings citizens. “What would I do? I know what I wouldn’t do. Give her a box of chocolates.”
Atherton Winslet let out a big belly laugh. “So you were payin’ attention.”
“That I was,” he agreed with a slight smile. “An introduction from the founder of Blessings, California would be a start.”
Atherton tilted his head, his gaze intent. “So. You truly are intrigued with our Maxine.”
“Yes,” Jake replied to the statement, purposely keeping his response short.