The Bowen Bride
Katie Schmidt runs The Bowen Bride, a wedding dress shop in charming Bowen, Nebraska. Rumors abound that a woman who wears a Bowen Bride creation stays married forever, drawing hopeful brides to the heart of farm country in search of a dream dress.
Katie plays into the rumor because it's good for business, keeping the real magic behind her custom gowns a secret. However, when sexy single father Jared Porter enters the shop, looking for a wedding gown for his engaged—but far too young to be married—daughter, Katie wonders if a little rumor control might be in order.
Or will she and Jared give the residents of Bowen something to talk about?
Release date: November 16, 2018
Print pages: 142
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The Bowen Bride
“What’s with the thread, Oma? You need me to put it away?”
Katie Schmidt watched from beside the bed as her grandmother cradled a brownish, oversize spool between her arthritic fingers, then set it in her lap as delicately as if it belonged in a museum case.
‘‘No, Katarina.” The older woman smiled to herself, then lifted her head to focus clear blue eyes on Katie. “This thread is the story of our family. I had your father get it from my cedar chest for you. You will listen to me now, ja? It is very important you listen.”
“I’m listening.” Katie flashed Oma a smile, then busied herself smoothing the afghan at the foot of Oma’s bed. Oma was dying—Katie’s father had broken that news to her several weeks ago—but not of any illness that would affect her thinking.
“Come, schatzi.” The gray-haired woman patted a space near her hip just wide enough for eighteen-year-old Katie to occupy. “I will tell you the truth about this old thread. It has saved our family many times, and now I give it to you. This thread, you see, it is magic.”
Katie didn’t smirk or roll her eyes, though she knew most of her friends would. From an early age, her father had taught her that Oma deserved serious respect. Oma’s grandparents came over from Germany in the late 1800s, along with the rest of Bowen, Nebraska’s first settlers, to work for the railroad. Their son, Oma’s father, became the town’s second—and still most beloved—mayor. The brick fire station, built during his time in office, still bore a huge plaque with his name.
Oma’s mother, whose family emigrated from Germany just before World War I, raised most of the money to build the town’s first multiroom school. She’d made certain Oma would be the first person from Bowen, male or female, to attend college, even though Oma hadn’t even learned English until high school. Oma went on to run The Bowen Bride, a fabulously successful bridal gown design shop, until just a few years ago, when arthritis forced her to close the doors and rent out the space.
So even though Oma told some strange tales, Katie had learned long ago not to question a word. Someone like Oma, whose entire life story paralleled Bowen’s past, spoke the gospel on matters of history, at least in the mind of town residents.
And, as far as Katie was concerned, the expectations resulting from Oma’s reputation were the number one reason to get out of town and go live in a big city. Someplace you didn’t have to speak and act and believe exactly the same as your neighbor or risk being the subject of gossip. Someplace you weren’t subjected to constant retellings of how your grandfather was chosen to lead the Bowen Fourth of July parade back in the Mesozoic era.
Someplace where a girl’s main goal in life was something more than simply marrying a good Nebraska man. That was the worst expectation of all.
But until she graduated high school, Katie didn’t have much choice in how she lived her life. Thank goodness she’d already been accepted to college in Boston. Only three more months and she’d be free. Of course, she still had to break the news to her father.
She straightened the crocheted armrest covers on her late Opa’s wing chair, then plunked onto the bed next to her grandmother. “All right, Oma. Why’s the thread magic?”
The old woman placed the spool in Katie’s hands, then wrapped her knotted hands around Katie’s. “What most people would find magic is that this thread, it never runs out. When my own Oma, and then my father, told me its secrets, of course I did not believe them. Such a thing cannot be, ja? But it is true. My Oma and Opa brought this spool with them from the old country. For hundreds of years before they came to America, the family used this thread, but still it is here.”
“Interesting.” Katie tried to sound as if she believed every word, but wishing to believe for Oma’s sake wasn’t the same as actually believing. “So how did this never-ending thread save our family?”
Oma’s face crinkled into a smile. “That is the true magic of the thread. It has the ability to bring lifelong love. Love that lasts through everything, through loss, through pain, even through deception. You might not understand how powerful love can be now, since you are still a child—”
Katie raised an eyebrow, making it clear she did not consider herself a child, but her grandmother merely shook her head.
“What is eighteen when compared to eighty or ninety? You will see. You will experience what the world offers, and you will see that love has incredible power. And this thread, it gives that power. I do not know how it works, exactly, but it does. I used it all the years in my shop, on every single gown I ever made. When stitched into a wedding dress, a couple will stay married forever. I never had a bride who—”
“Katie!” Katie’s dad strode into the room, then shook his head when he spied the thread in his mother’s lap. He turned to Katie. “You’re supposed to be straightening up in here.”
“She did. And now I am talking to her,” Oma said, defiant. From the expression on her father’s face, Katie gathered that he didn’t like Oma waxing poetic about a spool of ratty thread.
"If she’s done straightening, then she can help me get you ready for your doctor’s appointment. You’re supposed to be there in twenty minutes.”
Oma frowned, but nodded. Katie’s dad ducked back out of the room, presumably to find his car keys or use the restroom. Once he left, Oma again squeezed her hands around Katie’s. “Take the thread. I want you to have it. And believe in it.”
“I’ll keep it in my sewing box, all right? Would that make you happy?”
The old woman nodded, then closed her eyes and relaxed back against her pillows. “You will not throw it away? Never?” Her voice came out in a whisper, making Katie wonder if she would fall asleep before her appointment.
“No, Oma. Never.” Dad would kill her if she let Oma go to sleep now. “Come on. You need to get up.”
“Promise me that you will use it. Just a little will do. In the hem of your wedding dress. Definitely your wedding dress. Promise.”
Ha. That’s what Oma knew. As if Katie would ever get married. That’d be a one-way ticket to Trapped.
“I promise, Oma. If I ever make a wedding dress, I’ll use your thread in the hem.”
“Good girl. I’ll be watching, just to be sure.” Oma cracked open one eye. “In the meantime, you take good care of your father. He acts as if he needs no one—just the way you act—but I know better. You both need family. Your town, your roots. You will see. And you will teach those values to your own children someday.”
Great. More expectations. The meantime was going to be a long time, and her dad definitely didn’t want or need to be taken care of. Neither did she. Katie walked to the corner to get the wheelchair. “Let’s deal with first things first, Oma.”
“First things are unimportant. The thread, Katie, the thread is important.”
Katie rolled the wheelchair up to the side of the bed. “Gotcha. Thread is important. Don’t trash it. Take care of Dad. Now, let’s go.”
She tossed the thread in her backpack, helped her grandmother into the wheelchair, then let her mind drift to Boston and the adventures that waited there.
The last place Jared Porter wanted to be at 9:00 in the morning on his thirty-sixth birthday was staring through a Main Street shop window at two mannequins wearing wedding gowns. He despised shopping, for one, and for two, flowing yards of silk and lace made his stomach pitch and roll.
Especially when the person needing—no, make that believing she needed—the gown was his seventeen-year-old daughter.
How could Mandy do this to him? Or worse, to herself? She was an intelligent girl, with a promising future all mapped out. In all these years she’d never argued with him, not about anything serious. The fact she picked a fight on this topic gnawed at him. Hadn’t she learned anything from his mistakes?
A warm breeze riffled Jared’s black T-shirt, lifting it just far enough above the warm surface of his skin to make him aware of what a scorcher the day promised to be.
Better to get this over with so he could get back to work. He’d already wasted enough time trying to talk himself around it, through it, and out of it. If he didn’t get to the Kleins’ new house soon, Stewart would start asking questions Jared didn’t want to answer.
And then Stewart—well-meaning, but irritating in the extreme—would assume Jared was having problems at home, and he’d want to step in to be sure Mandy was all right. He’d volunteer to help fill out her college applications, go over the quizzes from her AP Physics class—all the academic things Stewart believed Jared didn’t understand, though he’d never say as much. Things that weren’t the problem in the first place.
Jared huffed out a breath, then slid his hand along his waistband to make certain his shirt was tucked into his jeans. He hated working for his younger brother, but he’d brought the situation on himself, and it had taken him this long to position himself to get out. Now he had to figure out how to convince Mandy she could come to regret her teenage choices.
What happened to the days when a parent could lock a seventeen-year-old daughter in her room and simply tell her no? Of course, that’s what his parents had wanted to do with him, and the gulf it created between them still existed.
He wasn’t about to do the same with Mandy, even if he could.
After taking a quick glance at the store hours posted in the front window, Jared jogged up the three brick steps, then pushed through the glass door, ignoring the overhead clatter of bells that announced customers.
For five minutes, all he needed was his American Express card and a smile, right? He could hold it together for five minutes, as long as he could keep himself from picturing Mandy standing on the round platform in front of the shop’s three-way mirror, giggling about her so-called future with Kevin Durban while some ancient dressmaker crouched beside her, straight pins held in her pinched mouth as she marked a seam.
Or worse, picturing Mandy walking down the aisle at Bowen Lutheran.
He turned back toward the front windows and, glancing at his thirteen-year-old blue pickup, parked at the curb with its rusted wheel wells and chipped windshield, he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Had all his hard work and sacrifice raising Mandy been for naught? All the careful saving he’d done for her college education a waste?
Don’t be like your parents, Porter, he warned himself. That’s the one thing that’ll make her go through with it for certain.
“I’ll be out in just a sec,” a feminine voice called from the back room. He could hear the rat-a-tat of a sewing machine with its foot pedal pressed, then a rustle of fabric. “That you, Amy?”
“Um, no. Jared Porter.”
The sewing machine abruptly cut out. “Oh, sorry. I was expecting Amy Cranders for a fitting.”
He turned to see a striking blonde in her late twenties or early thirties emerge from behind the thick blue curtain that functioned as a door to the shop’s back room. She raised a can of black cherry diet soda with beads of condensation clinging to the sides. “Can I get you one?”
If the woman were splashed across a billboard holding that can, not a man would continue down the highway without at least tapping the brakes for a second look. This was definitely not the elderly woman he’d imagined running a place like this.
He angled a look at the wall clock. “Um, no thanks. If this is a bad time—”
“No, it’s fine. Amy’s not due for another half hour.” She set her drink on the shop’s narrow Formica counter, and though her mouth formed a welcoming smile, her hazel eyes betrayed her curiosity. “I’ve seen you around town a few times, but I’m not sure we’ve ever formally met.” She extended her hand, and he noticed as he took it that she didn’t wear nail polish or rings. Probably part and parcel of her profession. “I’m Katie Schmidt. You’re Stewart Porter’s older brother, right? Stewart was in my high school class.”
“Yeah, I’m Stewart’s brother.” Once again, identified by his younger brother. But when she’d mentioned school, he remembered what Stewart had said about “that Katie girl.” Or, more accurately, “that gorgeous Katie girl.”
Stewart had the gorgeous part right.
“I remember him mentioning you. You’re the one who moved to Boston for college, right? Worked in the theater?”
Her freckled cheeks flushed an attractive pink as she let go of his hand. “For a while.”
He wondered briefly what could make a person who lived in Boston want to return from that life to run a dress shop in rural Nebraska. Especially someone like her, who looked as if she could slide right into city life. He’d never had the urge to leave Bowen, but in his experience those who left didn’t come back, no matter what—or who—might be waiting for them back home.
“So what can I do for you, Jared? If you need to rent a tuxedo for an event, I’m afraid I don’t handle menswear. I can direct you to a great place in Blair, though. Mention my name and Rosalie will give you a ten percent—”
“I’m actually here for a wedding dress. That is, to pay for one.”
“You are?” Katie didn’t mask her surprise. “Well, congratulations, then. I hadn’t heard you were engaged.”
No, of course she hadn’t, since he wasn’t. Despite spending a big chunk of her life living across the country, she would know news like that would be around Bowen inside an hour. When a town’s population numbered just under three thousand, everyone knew who was single and exactly who was dating whom…or getting married. Women usually learned their boyfriends were ring shopping long before the actual proposal.
‘‘Actually, I’m not. But my daughter is. Well, she might be.” He shifted, shoving his hands into his pockets. This wasn’t going quite as planned. “If she does, I want to make sure the dress is already paid for so she won’t have to worry about it.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! Her name’s Amanda, right?” Without waiting for confirmation, she explained, “She babysits for my mailman, and he’s told me all about her. But are you sure she’d come to The Bowen Bride? There are dozens of shops in Omaha—”
“She’ll come here. She keeps busy, and going to Omaha would take up an entire day. Plus, even if you weren’t local, your reputation alone would make her want to come here.” He tried not to let sarcasm slip into his tone as he added, “She was very excited by last week’s Gazette.”
Excited being an understatement. The front-page article claimed that no woman who wore a gown from The Bowen Bride ever divorced, and of course Mandy took that little piece of crazy marketing as a sign. It didn’t help that her boyfriend had received application materials from the University of Nebraska two weeks before, and they’d happened to contain a flyer on housing that mentioned married student options. Then, the day before the Gazette article appeared, Mandy’s best friend, Ashley Harston, announced her engagement, with the full support of the Harston family.
Jared accepted that the Harstons were entitled to make their own choices, and he’d merely raised his eyebrows when Mandy suddenly changed the Friday night dinner subject from Ashley Harston’s engagement to the myriad housing choices available in Lincoln.
But then the Sunday newspaper arrived, and Mandy and Kevin got marriage-happy. As they stood in the living room announcing their plans, he’d remained immobile, sitting on the couch too shocked to speak and unable to believe they were serious. After Kevin left, Mandy went into a convoluted argument about how the article was a third sign, and that threes were lucky. “Kismet,” she’d said more than once.
He heard her out, all the time trying to figure out a delicate way to tell her to wait, that urges like this pass when you’re seventeen. But she’d slammed out of the house, crying, insisting that he didn’t understand.
On the upside, though, Mandy’s belief in the article meant she wouldn’t elope as she’d threatened to do. She was too intent on having a dress from The Bowen Bride, and from what Jared knew, fancy dresses like those Katie made took time.
Katie smiled past Jared, toward a framed copy of the article, which he now noticed adorned the wall beside the three-way mirror. “Well, thank you. I thought it was a wonderful piece. My grandmother would’ve loved it. This shop used to be hers.”
Ah. So that’s how he’d gotten the image of an older woman into his head. Her picture, rather than Katie’s, ran beside the article.
Katie’s gaze flicked toward the door, as if a movement caught her notice. Before turning her attention back to Jared, she stepped between him and the door, then leaned her hip against the counter. The subtle change of position was enough to block a passerby from seeing the customers in the shop. Without looking, Jared knew who had to be walking past. Either one of the Montfort sisters, who ran the deli three doors down, or Fred Winston, delivering mail while simultaneously collecting his daily allotment of gossip.
There were days he hated that facet of life in Bowen. Apparently, Katie understood his concern for privacy, which scored her bonus points, though not quite enough to make up for the Gazette article. Five bucks said the paper took the content straight out of a press release she’d sent them.
He yanked his flattened leather wallet from the back pocket of his Levi’s. He needed to fork over his credit card for the dress and get out of there before he became the topic of town gossip. He’d bring up the whole thing with Mandy again tonight, and if he approached it the right way, maybe she’d stop being mad at him long enough to remember she loved him.
Because if she remembered she loved him, maybe she’d realize he loved her, too, and that even though he strongly disagreed with her, he would always do the right thing—like pay for her wedding gown—no matter what the circumstances. He needed to regain her trust long enough to get her to listen to him, slow down for one minute, and decide on her own that marriage at seventeen wasn’t a smart move, after all.
“How about this” —Katie pulled out a ledger— “let me get your address and phone number. If Mandy does come in, and if she decides she’d like me to make her gown, we’ll talk about money then. Generally, I take one-third deposit when we agree on the style and fabric, a third when we do the first fitting, and the rest when the gown is finished.”
“Sounds fine to me.” He’d hoped to have the task over and done with as soon as possible, like yanking a splinter from his palm, but apparently that wasn’t how one bought a wedding dress. This was going to be more like removing a bunch of splinters. He’d have to go over the area with tweezers several times before all the pieces emerged and the process of healing could begin.
After Katie took down his information, she asked, “So they’re still talking about the wedding date? Nothing’s set?”
“Nothing firm.” At least, he hoped not.
“That’s fine. If you can let me know once it’s finalized, that’ll help with scheduling. Things can get tight, especially during the summer.” She looked as if she wanted to say something else, but stopped herself.
“What is it?” Against his better judgment, he leaned forward, putting one hand on the worn countertop. Beneath it, the cabinet frame wobbled slightly.
He shouldn’t have opened his mouth—it would just mean staying in her shop longer. But now that his task was accomplished and the knot twisting his gut had eased somewhat, he realized that standing in the air-conditioning, talking to an incredibly good-looking woman— how had he not noticed her around town before?—might be worth a five-minute delay in arriving at work. Nothing would ever come of it, but every once in a while he craved the freedom to talk—just talk—to a woman other than his sister-in-law or daughter about nothing in particular.
She hesitated. “Can I ask something personal?”
“Go ahead,” he replied, though his brain automatically retorted, No, Mandy's mother isn’t going to be involved in the wedding. But Katie probably knew that already, or at least knew from the mailman, Mandy’s mother wasn’t in the picture and hadn’t been for years. The dressmaker was going to ask the question anyway, though. People always asked about Mandy’s mother. Everyone had loved Corey when she’d lived in Bowen.
“Who’s Mandy marrying?”
“Oh.” Not the question he was expecting. “Kevin Durban.”
Katie’s eyes widened in surprise. “Wow. Shows you how fast time flies. I thought Kevin was still in high school. How old is he now? Twenty? Twenty-one?”
“He’s seventeen. Mandy, too.” Kevin was still in high school, for another nine months, anyway.
The knot returned to Jared’s gut. He hated thinking about the whole thing, let alone talking about it, but Katie would figure out Mandy’s age pretty quickly once the teen sashayed into the shop, fantasizing about marriage despite the backpack full of BC Calculus and AP Physics homework slung over her shoulder.
He wanted to stay and chat with Katie about anything other than Mandy and Kevin, but unsure of how he could turn the conversation to something more interesting—like why Katie had gone to Boston, what she’d thought of life in a busy city, or what had made her return—he thanked her, told her he had to get back to work, then did a quick scoot out the door.
It wasn’t until the warm autumn air hit his face that he realized Katie hadn’t made any of the comments he’d expected to hear, either the positive comments about young love being a wonderful thing or the not-quite-negative ones about how she was sure Mandy and Kevin loved each other very much.
He wondered if Katie was the type to keep her true thoughts to herself or if she planned to discuss them later with her neighbors. Normally, he wouldn’t care. He’d been the subject of gossip often enough. But for Mandy’s sake, he hoped Katie was the type to keep the wedding plans private. Mandy might still change her mind about marrying Kevin. But if the whole town already knew about their plans, she might not reconsider. She would get even more caught up in her wedding fantasy, not to mention that her pride might drive her to go through with it just to save face.
And maybe he hoped Katie’d keep mum for his sake, too. Deep down, he wanted to believe a woman like Katie Schmidt could be the upstanding type.
He grabbed the armrest on his pickup and groaned inwardly at the tinny squeak of the hinges as he pulled the door shut. He jammed his key into the ignition and turned it, but kept his foot on the brake, allowing a silver sedan to pull into the spot next to him before he moved the truck. Inside the sedan, he spotted Amy Cranders and her older sister, Joan. Two more single Bowen women now off the market, since Joan had married last month and Amy was now engaged. Not that he’d have dated either of the Cranders, but seeing them pull up to the dress shop made him wonder if life had passed him by.
Raising Mandy on his own meant that dating hadn’t been a priority. How bad would things be with Mandy now if he had gone on anything more than a casual date these last years? If he hadn’t given Mandy every ounce of his energy once he left work each evening? If he’d allowed himself to just be himself, and asked out women like Katie Schmidt whenever the urge struck?
Jared snorted aloud. Since when had he gotten introspective about this stuff?
Probably when he’d flipped over the calendar this morning to see the date.
“You’re doing the right thing, birthday boy,” he said to himself in an attempt to shake his mood. He backed the pickup onto Main Street, then shifted into drive and headed to work.
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