EXCERPT – AVOIDING THE MISTLETOE
1865 – Lowell, Massachusetts
Olivia Rose Baker glanced up from the headlines in the Massachusetts Matrimonial Gazette. With an explosive smack, she slapped the newspaper on top of the breakfast table. “No! I refuse. I absolutely, unconditionally reject this lame-brained scheme!” She set her mouth in a hard line to keep her lips from trembling.
“You’ve been a widow for six months, dear sister, and take a look around you. The war wrecked our town. The men are dead, never to return. The economy is ruined. With the South destroyed they can’t send us any cotton for our textile mills. And without slaves, the South may never recover. Lowell is a ghost town of devastated women, alone with no men to provide for us or offer us protection. No men to give us children.” Darcy strode around the kitchen, her red hair flying, her green eyes ablaze. “No men to love.”
“Please don’t speak to me of love.” Olivia gazed down at the slice of bread and the cup of weak coffee that would have to satisfy her empty stomach throughout the long day until dinner tonight.
“Pshaw! So, Howard Baker didn’t have enough love in his heart to share with you. Not every man is so self-centered and abusive.” Darcy settled into a chair at the table, wet her fingertips, smooshed up the few remaining bread crumbs from her plate, and licked them into her mouth.
“Darcy Davenport, I never told you Howard mistreated me.” Olivia glared daggers at her sister, then nibbled her bread, her stomach rumbling.
“I saw the bruises you tried to hide. I’m no Simple Simon.” Darcy snatched the newspaper and shoved the sheets over. “This Asa Mercer already successfully shipped a boatload of women to Seattle, Washington Territory. He states the ladies all celebrated excellent marriages.” Darcy pointed to some lines of print. “The paper says right here that Mr. Mercer isn’t searching for just any women as mail-order brides. He’s seeking high-minded women who can exert an elevating influence in Seattle, where there are ten men for every woman. Mail-order brides, yes, but of a certain caliber.”
“A mail-order bride is a mail-order bride. You meet a man and if he looks at all decent—that is if he’s not too old, not too rotund, not too bald, and not too poor, then you decide to marry him.” Olivia shoved back her empty plate. “I will never rush into a marriage with a tall, good-looking, and supposedly prosperous male again.” She sipped her tepid coffee. If only she had a smidgen of cream or sugar. “A war bride is not dissimilar to a mail-order bride. Besides, look at me.” She gestured from her face to her toes. “No man wants to marry a widow without means.”
Darcy stamped her button-down shoed foot. “But I want to become one of Mr. Mercer’s mail-order brides. And I won’t move to Seattle without you!”
Olivia gazed past Darcy’s bouncy curls, out the window at the back yard draped in an overcast day that promised even more rain. The overgrown weeds and mud-coated garden with a few wilted stalks of corn poking through the unworked soil attested to the fact that no man had inhabited their salt box style home for over four years. The rumpled tool shed appeared to be held up by their weeping willow tree. If one leaned too hard on the other, both would fall. Their back porch had already collapsed.
“Mr. Mercer wants to populate Seattle with women who will bring culture, education and domesticity to that uncivilized city with thousands…of…single…men.” Darcy’s emerald eyes transformed from flashing to pleading. “Face facts, Olivia Rose, this might be our one chance to marry.”
“I repeat. I don’t want to wed. I didn’t find marriage at all agreeable. I am so happy Howard didn’t leave me with child when he marched away with Captain Joshua Chamberlain’s Union Regiment.” Olivia tried to keep the anger from her voice. No amount of prayer had erased her animosity toward her late husband.
“So, you prefer, at your young age, to remain a widow for the rest of your life? You don’t want children?” Darcy leaned across the table. Her warm fingers grasped Olivia’s wrist, her heart-shaped face intent. “Olivia Rose, I’m pouring my heart out here.”
Olivia sighed and pushed her chair back from the table. So very difficult to deny her younger sister. And until she married Howard, she’d badly wanted children too.
“You prefer to remain here, despite Lowell’s bleak prospects? You expect to remain here in our house that is falling down around our heads? A house we can’t even sell because no one has money enough to buy it, even if they wanted this old wreck.” Tears rose in Darcy’s minty-green eyes. “You choose to remain in Massachusetts even though you know I won’t ever find a husband here. You want me to remain a spinster my entire life!”
A black curtain strangled Olivia’s heart. She rose and wrapped her arms around her sister’s rigid shoulders. “Darling, you know I would do anything for you. Except I refuse to become a mail-order bride.”
Darcy gazed up, her pearl-fresh complexion wet with tears. “Mr. Mercer promised some of the women would garner positions as school teachers. I know you would like that.”
Olivia’s heartbeat quickened. Yes, she would enjoy a position as a teacher. She could influence, teach, and love children without needing to have any of her own. She would have a job, be self-sufficient, and not rely on any man. And Darcy would gain her chance at happiness.
She bowed her head. Truly Lowell offered nothing for either of them except hunger, need, and loneliness. “Are you certain Mr. Mercer advertised for teachers as well as mail-order brides?”
Darcy pointed to the last sentence in the newspaper clipping.
There are many teaching positions available for prospective brides.
A tad cryptic, but she couldn’t jeopardize Darcy’s future by refusing to accept this possibly only opportunity to leave her dying town. A vision of herself and Darcy popped up. Bent with age, hobbling around their tumbled-down home, hair white. Both of them as ramshackle as the house, with nothing to show for the lives they spent. Olivia’s heart bled.
She forced a smile. “Consider this my Christmas present to you, Darcy. We shall travel to Seattle, though we know nothing about the place. And you shall select a suitable husband, and I shall accept a teaching position. And may God bless us and keep us.”
“Oh, Olivia Rose, I knew you would agree to go! Thank you so much for the best Christmas present I’ve ever received!” Her sister’s eyes turned mossy green and sparkled. “I’ve already written Mr. Mercer.” Darcy pulled a rumpled envelope from her day dress pocket. “His reply arrived yesterday. He declared we must meet him in New York City on January 16th. Then we shall travel from there to Seattle aboard the S.S. Continental.” Darcy leaped from her chair and danced around the kitchen.
“January 16th! We’ve only a few days to get ready.”
“Mr. Mercer sent train tickets to New York. We leave January 7th.”
Olivia dropped her forehead into her hands. “How much do we owe for the train tickets and the ship passage?”
“Nothing. The men in Seattle coughed up three hundred dollars per man to transport us.”
“Oh.” Olivia rose from her chair and gazed around the kitchen that she’d known for the last twenty-five years. The coziest room in the home where she’d been born. Did she really want to leave? No. She’d buried Mother in the cemetery that abutted the church, and set up a monument over Daddy’s empty grave. He lay somewhere in a Union burial grave at a place called Gettysburg, killed in the same battle that freed her from Howard. No. She’d thought never to leave home again after she returned from the tiny rented room Howard had provided for her as his new wife. The only goods Howard bequeathed her were her new last name…and a head filled with bad memories. And the title widow.
Certainly, no man in Seattle desired to wed a widow, much less pay for one. The purchasers hoped to spend their money on young, beautiful girls…like Darcy.
Olivia closed her eyes. Bitter to leave her home and all she knew.
But sweet to think of a new beginning, a new life, a new adventure, and a new job. If that actually happened.
Yes, God’s peace spread in her heart. This might be the right decision—certainly for Darcy…and perhaps for herself as well. She straightened her shoulders. Under the circumstances this was the only decision available.
Olivia glanced at a beam of sunlight struggling through the gloomy clouds. She gathered up the long skirts of her day dress, motioned to her sister, and started toward the stairway. “Let’s pack.”
She’d leave the home place to fall into decay. But she and Darcy would grab this chance for a new life. And unlike Lot’s wife, she would not look back.
And she and Darcy would not make horrible choices like Lot’s daughters.
She would proudly wear her title widow.
Or was she hiding behind her widowhood, afraid to venture again into the distasteful realm of marriage?
No matter. She would be the schoolmarm. The beloved teacher. The nurturer. The protector.
What could go wrong?
Oh, so many things.
What about you?
If you were a widow from an abusive marriage, would you be eager to marry again?
The historic Mercer Girls were all mail-order brides who settled in Seattle, Washington. Most ended with happy marriages. Have you ever heard of the Mercer Mail-order Brides?
Anne is giving away an autographed copy of A Groom for Christmas, and an autographed copy of ATexas Christmas, and an autographed copy of A Christmas Belle. Answer one of the questions above to be entered in the giveaway!
ABOUT ANNE GREENE
My home is in the quaint antiquing town of McKinney, Texas, just a few miles north of Dallas. My dear husband is a retired Colonel, Army Special Forces. My little brown and white Shih Tzu, Lily Valentine, shares my writing space, curled at my feet. I have four beautiful, talented children, and eight grandchildren who keep me running.
I’ve traveled in every location of each book I’ve written, and each book is a book of my heart. Besides my first love, writing, I enjoy travel, art, sports, reading, sailing, snorkeling, movies, and way too many other things to mention. Life is good. Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” Whether writing contemporary or historical, my books celebrate the abundant life Jesus gives.
I’ve written several other novellas. AVOIDING THE MISTLETOE, is included in the Mistletoe, Jingle Bells, and Second Chances Collection. My novella KEARA’S ESCAPE is included in the Orphan Train/Spinster Collection. DAREDEVILS is included in the North Carolina, 50 States Collection. SPUR OF THE MOMENT BRIDE is included in the Wyoming, 50 States Collection. A CHRISTMAS BELLE, is included in the Christmas Mail Order Angels anthology. THE MARRIAGE BROKER AND THE MORTICIAN is included in The California Gold Rush Romance Collection. My novellas, A FOOL FOR LOVE, A GROOM FOR CHRISTMAS, and A TEXAS CHRISTMAS MYSTERY are stand-alone novellas.
Moody Press published my first book, TRAIL OF TEARS. I love writing about alpha heroes who aren’t afraid to fall on their knees in prayer, and about gutsy heroines. My Women of Courage series spotlights heroic women of World War II. You might want to begin with the first book ANGEL WITH STEEL WINGS. Read my private investigating series, Handcuffed In Texas. The first book is RED IS FOR ROOKIE. Enjoy my award-winning Scottish historical romances, MASQUERADE MARRIAGE and MARRIAGE BY ARRANGEMENT. I hope my stories transport you to awesome new worlds and touch your heart to seek a deeper spiritual relationship with the Lord Jesus. Buy my books on http://www.Amazon.com. Anne Greene.