Train Station Bride: Prairie Romance
Train Station Bride is a beautiful tale of love, family and redemption and takes the reader back to a time period now lost to us where decency, honor and truth prevail. The settings are described with enough detail that you can easily picture the grand home in Boston or the charming farmhouse in South Dakota. I could smell the bread baking in the oven and hear the corn stalks rustling in the field. Train Station Bride is the perfect historical romance.Deanna Lynn Sletten
Jake Shelling was sixteen and grew up quick when his parents died from influenza on the South Dakota prairie. Left with a half-cleared farm and two young sisters, he spent little time on his own needs . . . until now. At thirty-five, he figured it was high time to have some sons and a mail order bride would suit him just fine. No expectations of love, just a helpmate from sturdy stock, ready for farm life.
Will fate and chance play a trick on Julia and Jake?
The Crawford Family Series
Book #1 Train Station Bride
Book #2 Contract to Wed
Companion Novella to Book #2 The Maid's Quarters
Book #3 Her Safe Harbor
Release date: February 22, 2014
Publisher: Holly Bush Books
Print pages: 202
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Train Station Bride: Prairie Romance
“Really, Julia, do hurry,” Jane Crawford said to her daughter, who was still seated at the ivory lace-covered vanity. “The guests are arriving, and you should be there to greet them.”
Julia Crawford smiled up at her mother with resignation. This was a battle she didn’t need to win. She would make no argument.
“I’ll be down shortly, Mother. Jolene and Jennifer are there. Our guests are here to see them, not me. Has Jillian gone down?”
“She is standing with your father at the door,” her mother replied.
“I’ll be down in a moment, then. Do go down to the guests. You know how father fusses when you leave him alone,” Julia said as she spun a blond curl around her finger.
Jane glided to the door and closed it softly. Julia cocked her head, waiting for the soft patter of her mother’s slippers on the steps. Only then did she pull the gold chain from her neck and insert the key that hung from it into a gilded jewel box. With a final glance at the door, she pulled a white envelope from the box and removed and unfolded the letter it held.
Dear Miss Crawford,
I will be at the train station to meet you on the appointed day. My mother and I look forward to your arrival. I will stay above my shop until the day of our marriage. My mother has graciously allowed you to stay with her during that time. She is pleased to know you do needlepoint. Her arthritic hands no longer allow her to sew, and she is most anxious to have another woman about. I am anxious as well . . .
Julia read to the last line even though she could have recited the letter as if it were the Lord’s Prayer. Very truly, Mr. Jacob Snelling. The day of her departure would arrive sooner than she both hoped and dreaded. Mr. Snelling was a successful shop owner in a small South Dakota town, near fifty years old, with an aging mother. He had never married. His mother had begun to complain of a lack of company, and he admitted he was lonely. Those two forces had led him to place an ad for a wife in the Boston Globe nearly a year ago. To Julia’s shock, she had answered it. Their correspondence had been proper, more formal than she’d expected from a merchant in the Midwest.
That formality had been a great comfort to her—it was what she was accustomed to. He sounded like a truly nice man. He had great regard for his mother, of that she was certain. His letters were filled with news of the aging Portentia Snelling, and that always calmed Julia when she was most terrified of what she was embarking on. A man so devoted to his own mother would certainly be kind to her. She rose from the vanity seat with a smile on her face. One more formal evening with her family could not deter her.
Julia greeted a few guests and then found an unoccupied chair in a corner of the library. She had spent much of the day arranging the fresh flowers that now filled the room. It had kept her mind and hands occupied while her sisters fussed over their wardrobe and their mother scolded the servants over some small matter. Without distractions, the day would have dragged on, and she would have dwelled on a decision her mind had yet to grasp fully. She gazed absently about the room.
Her older sister, Jolene, married now ten years with a beautiful, fair child, sashayed about on the arm of her husband, Turner Crenshaw. Julia’s younger sister, Jennifer, nearly twenty-one, sat amidst a bevy of Boston’s first sons, laughing sweetly and tilting her head just so. It was most certainly the sin of envy that would lead Julia straight to Hades in the afterlife.
She felt no jealousy, though, as her eyes found Jillian. Dressed in navy velvet with a cream-colored lace collar to match her hair, Jillian was the fairest of the Crawford family. The baby of the family at only ten years old, she was already beautiful enough to turn male heads. She’d spend the first hour of the party with the adults and then be whisked away to her rooms. Even at her young age she was a model of deportment and graciousness, with a gay laugh. Julia would miss her most of all.
The Crawford women were all tall and slender—except Julia. She’d been no higher than her father’s tiepin at fourteen and still exactly the same height at twenty-seven. She snatched three shrimps from the young serving girl’s tray as she passed and laid them beside four chocolate bonbons in the napkin on her lap. Julia preferred to refer to herself as pleasingly plump or, on the days before her monthly courses, as a fat, frothy, ugly spinster with perfectly beautiful siblings and parents.
She was licking chocolate from her fingers when she saw her mother staring. Jane Crawford excused herself from her guests gracefully, as she did everything in life, Julia had long ago decided. Gracefully floating, serene and above the clutter and clamor of normal living. She had attempted to instill that elegance in each of her children. Julia was certain her mother considered her second daughter her greatest failure.
“Julia, use a napkin,” Jane chided and turned her head to view the crowd in their formal sitting room. “Alred McClintok has been hoping to speak to you all evening. Why don’t you quit hiding in this corner and go talk to him?”
Julia dabbed chocolate from the corner of her mouth and looked at the man her mother was referring to. Did everyone assume that plump women were only attracted to fat men? One of the reasons Julia had continued writing Mr. Snelling was his description of himself in an early letter: I am of medium height and very thin. Dear Mama worries I am ill, but Dr. Hammish assures me . . . Alred McClintok was busy stuffing canapés in his mouth, leaving a trail of grease around his fleshy red lips. He reminded Julia of a large black ball propped on two very stubby sticks.
“I’m perfectly happy here, Mother. Your party seems a rousing success.” Changing subjects had been a tactic Julia had used successfully when conversation turned in her direction, especially with her father and Jennifer. Her mother and Jolene, however, rarely allowed such a diversion unless it was to their advantage.
Julia knew she had failed when her mother gave her a glare she was long accustomed to. The icy blue of her mother’s eyes and the pinched shell of her mouth screamed “spinster,” “on the shelf,” and a long list of other shortcomings without saying a word.
“Mr. McClintok is a customer of your father’s, dear. We must always endeavor to make your father’s bank prosperous. Household expenses only seem to rise, rather than fall,” her mother said.
The veiled reference to Julia’s dependence on her parents’ home did not escape her. She also knew the Crawford Bank was very successful. Feeding and clothing her would never send them to the poorhouse. Julia glanced at the shrimp still lying in the napkin on her lap. Maybe she’d best go speak to the man. Nothing would come of a quick introduction, and it might keep her from expanding her waistline yet another inch. If he spat lamb on her gown, she could go to her rooms to change and not emerge until morning. Or she could slip away via the servants’ staircase in the kitchen and check her bags, which were already packed and stacked in her dressing room. On the morrow there would be only three days until she departed.
Julia had hoarded every bit of silver she could for her trip. The letter to her family was written, as well as a separate one for Jillian. Their housekeeper, Eustace, would give them out when she didn’t arrive home from a purported weeklong visit with Aunt Mildred. By that time she would be married, and there would be nothing her family could do.
Jolene would roll her eyes. Jennifer would be sad—not for long, though. Her father would rant and rave. Her mother’s fury would be hidden behind a glassy stare. Though, all in all, Julia was sure they would be glad she was gone. They would never voice the sentiment, for certain. It would be gauche to admit this final lapse in her judgment would, thankfully, be the last, in their company at least. They would tell friends she was on an extended holiday at Aunt Mildred’s, just as they had done before. Soon no one would inquire as to when she would be coming home. Her family least of all.
The only person other than Eustace who would miss her would be Jillian. No more long walks in the park. No more reading together by candlelight with the rest of the household long abed. No more brushing the silken hair ’til the child’s eyes drooped. Jane Crawford supposed Jillian preferred Julia’s company because Julia often acted with the sense of a ten-year-old rather than that of a woman. Julia would insist that Jillian loved the freedom to just be herself in Julia’s company. For whichever reason, they would miss each other desperately.
But it was long past time that Julia did something for herself. Made something of herself, even if it was only a wife to a thin, balding Midwesterner and a companion for his mother. She could have lived indefinitely with Aunt Mildred. Her aunt had written her as much. Julia loved her, and her aunt adored her, but Mildred at seventy-two had an active life with other widows in the seaside town she lived in. And a beau in his eighty-fourth year. As Mrs. Jacob Snelling, Julia would be someone of her own making. Someone’s wife. Something no one could take away from her.
Awakened from her daydreaming, she realized her mother had drifted on. She let out a sigh of relief and rose from her chair, having made her obligatory appearance and feeling quite content to reread Mr. Snellings’s letter until she fell asleep. Her escape to the kitchens was thwarted by Jolene.
“Julia, come here,” her elder sister said hurriedly. When Julia was within arm’s reach, Jolene pulled her close. “I do believe Mr. McClintok would love to talk to you. Stay right here with Turner, and I’ll fetch him.”
Before she could form a reply, Jolene was off in a whirl of pale blue silk. Julia looked at her brother-in-law from the corner of her eye. “Hello, Turner.”
“Ah, how are you, Julia?” he asked.
Turner Crenshaw was strikingly handsome. And rich. He and Jolene made a very attractive couple, much in demand at social functions. Jolene’s throaty laugh and elegance combined with Turner’s good looks and business success made them the couple to emulate. Turner was always comfortable and in command, other than when he was forced to converse with his wife’s rather eccentric spinster sister.
“I’m fine, Turner. Thank you for asking. How is William?” Julia asked.
“Quite the little man, already,” he replied with a smile.
The ensuing silence stretched on. As usual they had little to say to each other. Julia never pictured Turner as the brother she never had. Exactly the opposite, in fact. There was nothing sisterly about how her heart raced when his face broke into a beautiful smile. This was the most compelling reason to board that westbound train. She wasn’t eccentric. She was pitiful. Pining after her sister’s husband, year after year.
“William is so handsome already. He’ll break hearts all over Boston, I fear,” she said.
Turner agreed with a nod and gazed over the crowd, stopping as his wife leaned her head back to laugh. “With a mother as lovely as Jolene, I had little fear our children would not be beautiful.” He stared at his wife with passion and reverence. “She is the perfect mother, the perfect hostess. I am indeed a lucky man.”
Julia swallowed and turned to him with a shaky smile. “My sister is accomplished. The essence of all my mother’s work. But Jolene is lucky as well.”
Turner’s face reddened slowly from his neck to his ears. “Julia, I did not mean to go on so about her.”
Jolene arrived with her prize in tow. “Julia, darling. Have you been introduced to Mr. McClintok?” she asked as she clutched Julia’s arm. “I know you would just love to meet him.”
Jolene loved everything. Her new hat. Her son. Crisp stationery. Hardworking servants. Her husband. Julia didn’t understand how her sister bandied about a word such as love without an ounce of insight into its meaning.
“A pleasure, Mr. McClintok,” Julia said.
Alred McClintok shifted his plate overflowing with teacakes to the hand already holding a crystal champagne glass. “Miss Crawford,” he said with a meaty smile.
Julia smiled wanly as the rotund man rubbed his tongue over his gums. Turner and Jolene’s measure of success was money and what it bought. They always introduced people with a clear indication of their status in the financial world. As if she cared one fig how many bedrooms the piggish man had. She would never be in any of them.
“I hear your stables are extraordinary,” Jolene added for good measure.
The fat man’s head bobbed. “Yes, yes. I’ve managed to assemble some of the handsomest and most valuable stock in Boston.”
The three of them turned to Julia expectantly. As if she should respond, “Yes, I’ll marry you. You have nice horses, and I’m twenty-seven, unmarried and a hair overweight.” Julia watched her sister’s mouth turn from a beautiful smile to a grim, expectant line. She had to say something. Hopefully something as witty and charming as Jolene or Jennifer would.
“You don’t say,” she replied.
Jolene’s shoulders dropped, their alabaster skin sinking farther into white lace. Turner glanced absently around the room. He had done his duty, Julia supposed. She tried to suppress the embarrassment she always felt when Turner was witness to one of these humiliating scenes. Her head snapped up when Alred McClintok belched. He smiled at her and drank the rest of his champagne. Her mouth tightened, and she supposed those up-and-coming souls with Turner and Jolene Crenshaw at their sides had no need of good manners.
“A ‘pardon me’ would do just fine,” Julia suggested icily.
Alred McClintok sputtered and hurried away as Turner reached for his wife’s arm. Jolene faced her sister. “Really, Julia. Is it necessary to be rude?”
“Rude?” Julia snapped. “He belched in my face without so much as an ‘excuse me.’”
Turner took hold of Jolene’s elbow as if to guide her away, but she glared at her husband. “I believe Father needs you, Turner.” She dropped her head for a moment and looked up to present her husband with a charming smile. “You do know how he loves to show you off.”
Julia watched Turner clip off a nod to his wife. The two sisters stood in silence. Jolene used the same tactics their mother did. Stony, unrelenting silence until the suspected party blubbered out all of their transgressions.
“Say your peace, Jolene,” Julia finally said when the quiet became overwhelming.
Jolene nodded to a passing guest and turned a cold face her sister’s way. “Is it absolutely necessary for you to chase off every possible suitor? Is it your grand design to be an . . . an . . .”
“An embarrassment? Jolene, I have humiliated this family in more grandiose ways than the simple observance of an appalling lack of manners.”
“Have you no pride left, Julia? Do you wish to live in your parents’ home until your old age? Don’t you want a home of your own? A husband?”
Tears clung stubbornly to Julia’s lashes. She whispered for fear of screaming her reply. “Yes, no, and yes. I had dreams, too, Jolene. Dreams of a handsome man and a house of my own. My dreams died with one glance at my older, thin, tall, beautiful sister. And because I have pride left, I have no intention of marrying the only man left in Boston who would take to wife a short, fat spinster with well-heeled relatives.”
“You are attractive in your own way, Julia. You are not thin, granted, but certainly not the fat, round spinster you make yourself out to be. The only reason Mother and I keep introducing you to eligible men is because we want you to be happy. Have a home and children of your own.”
“I have a home, Jolene.” The subject of children was more than Julia could speak about without tears and hysteria. “I have given up everything for the good of this family. I will not sacrifice my self-respect.”
Jolene’s cheeks tightened. She stretched her arm out to a guest and glided along with a smile to greet them.
The stars shone brightly as Julia lay in her bed and stared out the window. The last guests had finally left, and she could hear tidbits of conversation from the foyer. Jolene, Jennifer, and her mother were reviewing the evening. Delicious food. The right people. Jennifer’s way with the bachelors. Turner and Jolene’s invitation to the governor’s mansion. A smashing success. Then a prolonged silence. “Rude to Mr. McClintok?” “Oh dear.” “What’s to be done?” Heavy, thoughtful sighs followed.
As if she were nine years old again and had spilled a glass of milk on her mother’s Belgian lace tablecloth while the mayor and his wife dined with them. Or as if she’d torn the hem of her Christmas dress just as the family alighted from the carriage in front of the church steps and all of Boston’s good society. Or as if at fourteen she’d slapped the son of her father’s business partner for kissing her. He’d told everyone she had been trying to kiss him and the mark on his face was left when he’d tried to avoid her lips and bumped into the doorjamb. The shattering of a priceless vase had been her fault as well.
Julia pulled the coverlet over herself and rolled onto her side. Soon the plague of the Crawford family would be one thousand miles away. And maybe, just maybe, she thought, she would find a peaceful, useful existence away from censure and judgment, without constant reminders of her failures. South Dakota could not have seemed more like the promised land than heaven itself.
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