Mia's Misfits: An Orphan Historical Western Romance
She wants to teach. He dreams of having a family. When outlaws attack, will their love be strong enough to protect their future?
Stepping off the train, Mia Bradley, orphan and teacher, has now become a mail-order bride. She has a new home, a new Choctaw-Creek husband, and new children of her very own. Will the scars of her past ready her for the difficult life in Indian Territory?
Josiah West has scars of his own. The handsome preacher must battle his demons to provide for his new family. Will his past and local outlaws destroy his plans for love, family, and happiness?
The preacher and the orphan. Nothing in common but pain, loneliness, and hope. Will that be enough?
Mia's Misfits is the adventure-filled fifth historical western romance novel in the Western Trails series and also the thirteenth in the Alphabet Mail-Order Brides series. If you like secrets and intrigue, endearing characters, and page-turning adventure, then you'll love Heidi Vanlandingham's exhilarating series.
Release date: January 13, 2019
Publisher: Shadowheart Press
Print pages: 164
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Mia's Misfits: An Orphan Historical Western Romance
New York City, New York 1880
Mia Bradley finished writing the last sentence of her history lesson on the large chalkboard at the front of her classroom. She laid the short chalk stub on top of the others in the small tray on the wall then wiped the white dust from her fingers on the damp rag hanging from the hook beneath the chalk tray. She turned to face her students.
Hearing the other classroom doors open and the older students begin their trek toward the dining room, she glanced up at the clock. She turned to her five small charges and walked around to the front of her desk. “All right, my dears. Before you leave to go to supper, I want you to tell me what I’ve written on the board.” She glanced at each of the children’s faces as they stared at the block letters behind her. “Can anyone tell me what it says?”
One little girl hesitantly raised her arm, and Mia bit back her smile. Of all the children, she hadn’t expected Amanda to volunteer. Normally, the shy blonde-haired five-year-old stayed silent while the others answered her questions.
“Amanda? Can you tell me what I’ve written on the chalkboard?”
“Am-America’s fight for indi-indi-pen-independence,” she stuttered in her soft voice.
Mia gave her a wide smile. “Very good, Amanda! That’s perfect! Tomorrow, we will learn about how America fought a terrible war against England to become the great country we are today. Now, put your primers in your cubicles by the door and you are all dismissed for supper.”
“Thank you, Miss Bradley,” the class said in unison. At once, five sets of feet scurried and scuffed across the scarred wooden floor as they raced to the door. Chuckling to herself, she walked around her desk again, plucked the rag from the hook and wiped the chalkboard clean. Rubbing away the cramping pain in her right arm, which usually appeared with any repetitive work, she organized her lessons for the next day. With a quick glance around the room, she turned the light switch and closed the door behind her.
Not hungry, she returned to the room she shared with Katriona, who taught life skills to the other students, as well as Jessamine and Leanna, two other teachers at the orphanage. She lay down on her bed. The news Madam Wigg had given them earlier that afternoon had been beyond unsettling. How could someone as vibrant and full of life as Wiggie be dying?
Mia pressed her face into her pillow and sobbed, letting loose the tears that had threatened to make an appearance all afternoon. Wiggie was the only mother she had ever known. Nothing ever seemed to stand in the woman’s way. She had never seen her sick a day in her life. How could she be dying? And for her to suggest they should leave to find new schools to teach in? It was preposterous!
Mia lay on the bed, exhausted from crying, exhausted from feeling. From what seemed like far away, she heard footsteps and the opening and closing of doors as she made a vow to herself. She refused to accept Wiggie was dying and would stay and make sure Wiggie had everything she needed for a full recovery. She couldn’t leave to become a mail-order bride just to find a new position, knowing that Wiggie faced a death sentence, although deep down, Mia couldn’t help but wonder if this was simply a ploy to get them to move on with their own lives. Her last thought before she drifted off was that quite possibly Wiggie wanted ‘her girls’ to find out there was something more to life than just teaching…like love? Mia wrapped the blanket around her tighter with a tiny smile playing over her lips. Of course, she would. That’s exactly what Wiggie would want.
A constant pounding intruded and Mia jerked in her sleep, the recurring nightmare refusing to release its hold on her. She lay curled up on the floor of a large, unfamiliar room. Someone close by yelled, hollering nonsense words, but she knew the pain was about to begin and braced herself. One, two, three—there it was. The first stabbing kick, then another. The agony breathtaking.
The pounding returned, this time louder and more insistent. Voices intruded. Familiar voices. She felt as if she were trying to breathe under water. She thrashed out with her arms and legs, fighting for air, fighting against something she couldn’t even name.
“Mia!” her roommate, Katriona’s, voice hissed in the darkness as she shook her.
Mia shoved her friend’s hand away from her shoulder. “I’m awake. I’m awake.” She grabbed Kat’s hand, her eyes wide. “Is it Xenia? Has she come back?”
“No. As far as I know, she’s still missing.”
Mia pulled her hand away, wearily rubbing her eyes. “I was sure she’d have returned by now.”
“We all were, and I thought you’d never wake up. Poor Brian has been knocking on the door for almost ten minutes.”
Mia sat up and swung her legs to the floor, automatically reaching for her night rail. “And why didn’t you answer it sooner?” she asked, shoving first one arm then her other into the sleeves. She tied the silk sash around her waist and slipped her feet into her slippers.
“Because I was trying to sleep, too. I couldn’t take the knocking any longer, so I answered the door.”
Mia ignored her friend’s flippant remark and tried to finger brush her hair into some order. “It must be serious for the children to have been awakened.” She opened the door to see Brian standing there wringing his hands, his cute freckled face scrunched tight in worry. Even his normally slicked back coiffure stood on end, a telling sign to the poor child’s agitation.
She dropped to her knees in front of him and opened her arms wide while Katriona hurried past them and down the hall. With a stifled whimper, he stepped into Mia’s embrace, his small body shaking like a leaf in a high gale. She rubbed his back and rested her cheek against his soft curls.
“Whatever’s happened, I’m sure will work out just fine. You’ll see. Miss Katriona, Madam Wigg, and I will make it all right in no time.” She gently pushed him away, held him by the shoulders and gave him a smile as Katriona hurried back toward them. “Let me talk a moment with Miss Katriona and then we will go.”
He nodded but didn’t say anything, only bit his lower lip and continued wringing his hands.
Mia turned around and frowned at Katriona, noticing for the first time that her short blonde hair was in a bit more disarray than usual. “What has happened?”
“Amanda seems to have broken her arm. The story told so far is that everyone was asleep when suddenly she fell from her bed to the floor and must have landed on it wrong.”
“Which is quite possible,” Mia agreed.
“It’s just that the break is in the middle of the bone and doesn’t look right to me,” Katriona whispered.
Mia frowned but didn’t say anything as she turned to Brian and held out her hand. “Come with me, my dear. Let’s go see how Amanda is doing, shall we?” The little boy hesitated then took her hand and let her lead him toward the girl’s room. “You know, Madam Wigg told me when I first arrived here, I had a broken arm, much like Amanda’s.” She held out the arm, pulling up his hand with hers. She was glad he couldn’t see the crooked curve in her forearm from the previous break, which wouldn’t calm the child’s nerves at all. “And now look at it. Good as new. Amanda’s will be, too. You’ll see.”
“That’s quite right,” Katriona agreed from behind.
The stench of fear and sour bodies attacked Mia’s nostrils, and she jerked to a stop in front of the room Amanda shared with the three other girls. Her abrupt stop surprised both Brian and Katriona, who ran into the back of them with a thump, as she muttered something very unladylike under her breath.
“You could have warned me beforehand, Mia, and saved my nose.” Katriona glared as she gently pushed and pressed the bridge of her nose. “I don’t think it’s broken, but the back of your head is incredibly hard.”
“I’m sorry.” Mia glanced down at Brian, his face twitching each time Amanda’s whimper could be heard from inside the room. “I know you are worried about your friend, but I need you to go wait in your room. Do you think you can be brave for me and do that? Madam Wigg will be sending the girls to other rooms once the doctor arrives.”
“But I want to be there for her and help her be strong. She’d do that for me.”
Mia squatted down in front of him. “What a true friend you are, Brian, and I am so proud of you for that. And you’re right. If it were you in there with a broken arm and in pain, I would be out here consoling Amanda and telling her the very same thing. It’s one thing to want to help someone and quite another to actually see the person you care so much about hurting. Just knowing how badly you wanted to be there for her will give Amanda the strength to get through this. I promise.”
Mia waited while all sorts of emotions passed over Brian’s small face as he made up his mind. Finally, his wide-eyed expression lessened, and his lips pinched together in a firm line of decision as he gave her a nod.
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll be brave for Amanda in my room…on one condition. You must come and tell me the moment the doctor finishes up and says she’s going to be all right.”
Mia smiled and held out her hand, which the five-year-old solemnly took and gave one solid shake. “You drive a hard bargain, Brian, but I agree.” She turned the young boy around by his shoulders and lightly swatted his behind. “Now, off with you to your room. I’ll be there with good news before you know it.” She watched until the wood door closed behind him.
“I don’t know how you do it, but those young ones adore you.”
“And I feel the same about them. Maybe that’s what they sense? Something as simple as that?” Mia took a deep breath through her mouth and tried not to breathe through her nostrils. For some strange reason, she had never been able to deal well with being in a sick room. She entered the room and quickly glanced around the space, taking in the smallest details. Everything was in its place and spotless, which in and of itself was suspicious, especially knowing the other three girls who roomed with Amanda. The oldest girl was always in trouble for one thing or another and never kept her area clean.
It was the feigned look of worry on two of the girls’ faces that verified it for her. Katriona was right. This had not been an accident. Right now, though, her first concern was getting Amanda through the ordeal. Tomorrow would be soon enough to take her suspicions before Madam Wigg. It was one thing to be slovenly and irresponsible, but quite another to harm someone else.
Madam Wigg entered the room as Mia sat beside the poor girl. “I have called for the nearest doctor. He should be here any minute, but I am glad you’ve arrived, my dear. You have such a gentleness, and the little ones are drawn to that, especially Amanda,” she whispered then turned and immediately shooed the three other girls from the room.
Mia smiled at her silver-haired benefactress, grateful for the woman’s kind words. Madam Wigg had taken her in and raised her like her own daughter, just as she had for so many other children in the orphanage. She owed this woman so much. She loved her like a mother and could never repay her for all that she had done for her. Mia’s smile widened as she watched how Madam Wigg handled the three girls, marching them from the room without a single argument. The woman truly was amazing.
Keeping her touch as gentle as possible, she smoothed back Amanda’s damp, blonde hair. She leaned in closer, laying her cheek on the pillow beside the girl’s pale face. “Everything will be all right, my sweet, I promise.”
Amanda’s eyes opened, their bright blue dulled with pain. Her lower lip trembled and tears welled, streaming downward into the already soaked pillow. “It hurts so much, Miss Bradley.”
Mia glanced down at the girl’s obviously broken arm. The limb lay propped on a pillow to keep it stable, but the bone was bent at an angle in the middle of the forearm. She would’ve had to have landed on top of something in order to snap the bone in such a manner.
Mia glanced down at the area around Amanda’s bed. As usual, not even a dust mite was allowed to rest on the floor surrounding the girl’s living space. The five-year-old was meticulous and everything was spotlessly cleaned once, if not twice a day, regardless of her other chores or schoolwork. It was Amanda’s way of coping with her inner turmoil and feelings of abandonment, feelings Mia knew all too well.
“I know your arm hurts, sweetie. I do. I broke my arm when I was your age and remember the pain. I won’t lie to you, Amanda. It’s going to hurt for a while, but I’m going to tell you a secret. Every day the pain gets a little bit better, and then one day you will wake up and it will be gone. You won’t even notice until much later, and the realization will stop you in your tracks. You’ll look down, stare wide eyed at your arm, and smile your beautiful smile and think of my words to you tonight.”
The edges of her lips quivered and she hiccoughed. “You promise?”
Mia slowly nodded and made the sign of a cross over her heart. “I promise.”
“You have a way with children, my dear.”
The deep, rumbling male voice startled them both, but more than that, it sent a shaft of fear through Mia’s chest as if she had been stabbed with a real knife. The pain was so intense, she actually reached up with her hand and covered the area and pressed, thinking there was an open wound, and it took everything for her to slowly turn around.
“Mia, this is the doctor summoned to take care of our little Amanda,” Madam Wigg said and wrapped her graceful fingers around Mia’s arm, pulling her from the chair so he could sit.
“Well now, let’s see what we have here. Fell out of bed, did you? I’ve treated lots of little ones who have done that very thing, and they’re now juggling and dancing and doing all sorts of things. Healed up right nice, they did, and so will you.”
Mia took a few steps back and watched as the doctor continued his examination of Amanda’s arm. Her concern grew when he never mentioned the location on her arm where the break occurred, but he was the doctor and she was not. He, himself, had stated seeing many such broken arms, so maybe they had jumped to the wrong conclusion and Amanda had, indeed, fallen off the bed at an awkward angle.
She couldn’t help but notice the doctor’s slightly slurred speech and every now and then, she smelled a faint whiff of liquor, but he didn’t seem to be inebriated and Madam Wigg hadn’t shown any concern, so Mia stayed silent, fighting the strange urge she felt to run from the room. It was the man’s voice that made her skin crawl. The longer she stood there, her fear became a living, breathing entity. She closed her eyes and didn’t realize anything was wrong until Madam Wigg nudged her.
“Mia,” Madam Wigg whispered. “Whatever is the matter with you? I have never seen you so upset. You are practically colorless—and you were whimpering, my dear.” She tugged on Mia’s arm just as the doctor stood, wiping his plaster-caked hands on a rag.
“There. Good as new. The cast will need to dry for about six hours. She must lie here, unmoving, for the rest of the night. Someone should stay with her to make sure the arm remains immobile.” He turned and, looking fully at Mia for the first time, his mouth dropped open. “Rebecca?” His face flushed red and he took a step toward them.
Mia’s eyes widened as Madam Wigg stepped between them. “I’m sorry, sir, you must be mistaken. This is one of my teachers and her name is not Rebecca…”
Mia didn’t stay to hear the rest and raced from the room, terror nipping at her heels, although she had no idea why. All she knew was that she had to get away from that man.
Eufaula, Indian Territory
Josiah West tossed his line into the river one last time. His ability to catch supper was running parallel to his ability to do most things lately. It wasn’t happening.
Like his youth, his life plans hadn’t worked out either. He had left the Jefferson farm, his home for the last eighteen years, with plans of having his own church and being a good Methodist preacher. Instead, he had nothing, just like when Clay Jefferson and his wife Sophia had taken him into their home. He had been a lost ten-year-old boy whom they had treated as their own son after his parents had been massacred in a Kiowa attack. It had taken almost a year after that, but Josiah slowly began participating in life again, although he never felt as if he truly fit in. He still didn’t.
As his father’s cousin, Clay had tried everything, even raising him in the Choctaw tradition, but it hadn’t been the same as having a father. Clay had done an admirable job, at least, as much as Josiah had let him, but it hadn’t been easy. Even though Josiah had grown up experiencing his Choctaw heritage, he’d missed out knowing his mother’s people and learning his Creek lineage. It was for that reason he’d come to Eufaula, to learn about the Creeks and find out if he still had any living relatives among his mother’s people.
Now he questioned that decision. As a Methodist preacher, humility and patience had been a given. He had taken to his profession as a fish to water. Clay and Sophia had questioned the wisdom of his decision, but he’d won them over. He lifted the limp line from the water and smiled. Well, he amended, as a fish would take to water if there were fish in the water, which there didn’t seem to be in this river today.
He leaned back against the sturdy trunk of an old oak tree and stared across the glistening sheen of the water and waited. For what, he had no idea. This land settled him, he knew that.
Josiah turned his head as his only friend made his way toward him, fishing stick in hand, the silver badge fastened to his vest catching the sun’s light and almost blinding him. Harjo was a few years older than he and a member of the Creek Tribal police. Working as a lighthorseman was a worthy profession and one he himself would have been interested in had he been qualified for it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. Nor, it seemed, was he qualified to be a preacher in Eufaula either. Truthfully, he wasn’t qualified to be much of anything in the Creek’s eyes.
Harjo sat and tossed his line into the water. “You have no word yet?”
“No. There will not be a church opening for me here, so that door has been closed. I thought I knew what I was supposed to do with my life and now I have nothing.”
Harjo shook his head and pulled his line from the water, a fish dangling from the end. “That is not true, my friend. When you arrived in Eufaula, you had nothing but the shirt on your back. Thanks to your grandfather’s sister, Onawa, you now have a home with land. Maybe not quite a place within the clan, but once you take a bride, you will be part of the Creek clan.”
“Easy for you to say, Harjo. You have a wife and children. You grew up here and have been part of this clan since birth.”
“And, if my wife tires of me tomorrow, I would have nothing just like you. Creek women control the family, the children, the homes, and the food. The men hunt and do everything else. If my wife decided she didn’t like how I provided for our family and wanted a divorce,” he snapped his fingers, “just like that, I would be divorced.”
“Your wife loves you and would never divorce you,” Josiah said, and rolled his eyes as Harjo pulled another fish from the river. “And why are the fish lining up to impale themselves on your fishing line and mine remains empty?”
Harjo shrugged. “It’s all in the wrist?”
Josiah chuckled. “Sure, it is. You probably have a secret Creek fish food you rub on the end of your line.”
Harjo’s black brows rose. “Not a bad idea. I might have to sell that to the white men who come in on the train and make some money. “You haven’t heard anything back on your bride letter either?”
Josiah slumped down, the thick tree bark lightly digging into his back. “No. I’m beginning to think no one wants to put up with me. Maybe I should have added something in the letter about being an Indian.”
“Why would you do that? Don’t you want to be married? Even the Creek women look at you with suspicion—and you’re part Creek.”
“They look at me? I haven’t noticed. From what I’ve seen, they’re avoiding me.”
“You aren’t one of us. Not yet. Give them time. A wife will help, even if she is white.”
Josiah gave his friend a doubtful glance. “You believe this?”
“No. I was trying to make you feel better. Did it work?”
Josiah groaned. “Just for that, you’re going to give me two of your fish…after you’ve cooked them. I can’t believe I call you my friend.”
Harjo smiled. “You call me friend because I’m the only one who talks to you.”
Josiah leaned his head against the tree and relaxed, one side of his mouth rising in an answering grin. In truth, he was happy. He had to believe things would work out. Whether or not it was as he wanted was another thing altogether.
End of Chapter One
The preacher and the orphan. Nothing in common but pain, loneliness, and hope. Will that be enough? To read more about Mia and Josiah, click or go to the link below.
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