Authors: Autumn Vanderbilt
Mail Order Bride
Brides of River Valley
By: Autumn Vanderbilt
Emma was to be married to Lenny. It might not have been a perfect romance but Lenny had steady income and Emma would be comfortable.
But one day she discovers what Lenny really does for work, and now her life is in danger. With the help of her friend she finds a way out, by answering an ad for a Mail Order Bride. Will she be able to escape and find a new life of happiness and security?
Copyright 2016 by Autumn Vanderbilt
All rights reserved.
Except for review quotes, this book may not be reproduces in whole or in part with the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is purely coincidental, except where scenes are based on historical or real places to provide background for the story.
Table of Contents
Brides of River Valley
“Lenny, it’s so beautiful. You really do spoil me.” Emma Cooper thought she was the luckiest woman in the world. Lenny Gibson, her fiance, was so generous and now he had presented her with a beautiful necklace.
“It looks beautiful because it’s on you, my love.” Lenny smelled Emma’s hair as he fastened the clasp of the necklace. He felt he was the luckiest man alive. She was so pretty and petite with such refined features and manners.
“Now I have some work to do Emma. I’ll call for you about 7 pm. I’ve got tickets for a show so make sure you wear that purple dress I bought for you. It will be perfect for tonight.” He saw the disappointment on Emma’s face as he looked at her in the mirror. Kissing her on the cheek, he then turned Emma to face him.
“Emma, what do you think buys the pretty things I get for you? Cheer up. You’ll see me later, I promise, it won’t be like last night.”
In a flash, Lenny was gone. Despite being engaged to him; Emma didn’t know exactly what Lenny did for a living. But whatever it was it paid very well. He had such good taste in the jewelry and dresses he bought for her and dressed very well himself. She would have liked to wear the gold dress tonight but if Lenny said to wear the purple one, then so be it. After all he was the one looking at her.
Hearing a knock on the door, she called out for whoever it was to enter. Leah Russell, a dark haired beauty, had the room next door to Emma’s. They had moved into the boarding house at the same time and were firm friends. Emma was a seamstress and Leah was a nurse.
“So what trinket did Lenny bring you this time? Another apology gift for not turning up last night.” Leah didn’t like Lenny. She didn’t know why but there was something about him that made her very uneasy.
“Don’t talk like that about him. Lenny is a very busy man and I know he doesn’t like missing our dates but what can he do?” Emma knew that Leah was suspicious of Lenny but Emma only knew his generous nature.
“He still hasn’t told you what he does, has he? I don’t know how you can marry a man and not know where his money comes from. He could be up to something. Perhaps he’s a thief.” Leah was eying up the jewelry in front of Emma, all gifts from Lenny.
“Lenny is a good man. You can tell by his manners. He’s not rough at all. You know, Emma, I think I’ll surprise him and go to his place!” Emma was so in love with Lenny that she never considered that he might not like that idea. He told her what to do more often than Emma realized but Leah had noticed his control. It upset Emma when Leah was too forthright and Leah felt she needed to keep her own counsel. Someday Emma was going to need a friend.
“Help me get ready Leah.” Leah couldn’t refuse Emma, she was so innocent as she accepted people and situations at face value. Leah was a little envious of this aspect of Emma. But Leah knew from experience, life wasn’t always easy and not everyone was as they appeared.
“There you go. You’re as pretty as a picture, Emma. Are you sure you want to surprise Lenny, shouldn’t you just wait here for him to call by?”
“Don’t look so concerned Leah, I know what I’m doing. In any case, Lenny gave me money so I’ll get a cab to his place. I’ll be perfectly safe.”
Leah watched Emma bounce out of her room, so happy and full of love. But something in Leah’s gut was telling her something was very wrong. Emma’s little face that smiled back at Leah as she adjusted her cape and disappeared out of the house.
Emma asked the hansom cab driver to drop her off around the corner from Lenny’s house. As she walked around the corner, she was stopped in her tracks by three men, two were fighting and one was directing proceedings. She didn’t think this was a rough street so she just stepped back into the shadows to watch them. One man was beating up the other and would stop for the man supervising them to ask questions. Emma wasn’t sure what to do. The men had their backs to her so she couldn’t see their faces but then the two men fighting changed position which made the man watching them intervene. There was something familiar about the observer's shoes. As they continued to fight, Emma could make out their faces from the street lamp but she got a big shock when she saw the face of the man who had to join the fight. It was Lenny! It couldn't be but it was, she saw his snakeskin shoes that he was so fond of wearing.
Frozen in fear, she watched him and his accomplice pummel the other man into submission resulting in the man falling to the ground. He didn’t move. Abhorred that she had witnessed a murder and that her Lenny was part of it, Emma screamed alerting the men to her presence. They came running towards her and then she saw Lenny for who he was. He glared at her and catching her by the wrists pinned her to the wall.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Emma. I told you that I’d call by. You don’t say nothin’ to anyone, Emma. Hear me? This is men’s business. You had no right to be here. Arnie, call a cab for my beloved and see her home. I’ll deal with that.” Lenny’s eyes went to the man lying on the path.
Emma’s mind was having trouble reconciling the gentleman Lenny she loved with the brutish thug who had just killed a man. Even the way he spoke was different. She rubbed her wrists and the way he looked at her made Emma understand that she was in big trouble. There was no getting away from Lenny.
Bundled into the carriage with Lenny’s friend sitting beside her, Emma’s mind went to other people’s comments and looks when she mentioned Lenny’s name. She hadn’t understood it at the time but the fear that she saw now made sense. Others knew this side of him. Did Leah know or was she just suspicious? Emma was stuck now. And her dress was torn. Lenny’s man said nothing to Emma. He just opened the door as they stopped outside her boarding house. He watched her go inside and then the cab left.
Emma went straight to Leah’s room. Leah knew straight away that something was wrong. Emma wore her heart on her sleeve and her face was always her giveaway. She held Emma tightly as Emma told her of Lenny’s “job” and what she had seen.
“Leah, should I go to the police? I’m so confused. How can my Lenny be that man?”
“Emma, you must tell no one. Lenny will kill you if you go to the police. We have to find a way to get you away from here but for now you must stay on Lenny’s good side. Let’s get you changed, it’s 6:30 pm and my guess is he will be here by 7 pm. You’ll have to courteous to him, it’s the only way to keep you safe. I’ll figure something out. Now come on.”
Leah was right. At 7 pm precisely, Lenny arrived all dapper ready to pick his lady up. Leah had returned to her room but listened out.
“You look so pretty, my love. Why aren’t you wearing the purple dress?” Lenny spoke as if nothing had happened.
“It’s a little ripped so I chose this one but I can change if you want me to.” It took all of Emma’s energy to remain calm but she was very afraid.
Lenny never discussed the incident with Emma. Instead, he pushed her to set a wedding date, the sooner the better.
Over the next few days, Emma stopped eating, she just couldn’t stomach the idea that the man she loved was a killer and she had no escape. Lenny seemed more attentive than ever, although Leah suspected he was keeping an eye on Emma to make sure she wasn’t talking to anyone, even her as it was harder for her to find time alone with Emma.
Emma prayed for divine intervention. The Lord had been good to her and a source of great comfort but it didn’t seem like he was listening to her at the moment. She felt very alone. Convinced that Emma was back under his control, Lenny relaxed a little. As his “business” required his attention, it gave Emma and Leah an opportunity to hatch a plan but they needed to keep it secret. Mrs. Hodges, the keeper of the boarding house, had fallen under Lenny’s charms and Leah was convinced he paid her to watch Emma’s every move.
“Mrs. Hodges, we’re going for a walk,” Leah called out as they grabbed their coats and left.
“I’m not convinced that Mrs. Hodges is that innocent when it comes to Lenny,” Leah said as they walked down the street. “Anyway, Emma, I have a plan but it requires some action on your part. One of the nurses left to go to Wyoming to be a mail order bride. She answered an advertisement in a newspaper and after a few correspondences, the man sent her a ticket to go to him. It’s your only way out. You can use my name and that way, Mrs. Hodges won’t be suspicious and spy on you. What do you think?”
“Leah, I’m not sure I could do that. Marry a man without meeting him? No, I want to marry for love.” Emma’s eyes glazed over. Leah needed to bring her back to earth.
“And look where love got you. I don’t mean to be harsh with you Emma, you’re such a gentle soul but it’s the only thing I can think of. You have to leave the city. Look you don’t have to marry the man but at least you can get away.”
“You’re right, of course, Leah. I have no choice. Lenny will find me if I stay in the city. I have no other option. Look there’s Mrs. Hodges, is she following us? I think you were right about her.” Leah looked back as Emma spoke and there was Mrs. Hodges trying to look nonchalant as she followed the two women.
Emma had no option. She was going to be a mail order bride.
“Damn and blast. Sorry Lord. I shouldn’t be cursing but I can’t seem to do anything right with this land.” Henry Devine was frustrated. His relationship with the Lord was still developing. He wanted to live more simply, to find a God-fearing woman and raise a family but trying to tame land that didn’t want Henry’s help was exasperating.
“Henry, why don’t you come by my place? I’ll show you what I did. You might be better off with some cattle rather than trying to get the land ready for planting.” Joel Carter, his neighbor, called out to him.
“Okay, wait up then.” Henry got on his horse and rode over to Joel.
“My sister’s here for a visit so we’ll eat like kings while she’s here,” Joel said as they rode along side by side.
“Are you sure she won’t mind? She’s the one married in Texas?” Joel nodded. He was a man of few words but was a good neighbor especially when Henry first arrived.
“Let’s go eat first. Jenny’s always cooking. Her husband wants her back soon. But she worries about me when I don’t have a wife. Like I need someone to nag me.” Joel was set in his ways.
“Jenny, I’ve brung company. It’s that new feller I told you about that bought Greene’s old place.” Joel yelled out as he got off his horse. Henry followed his lead.
“Welcome. Wash your hands men, I’ll dish up.” Jenny Turner was very different from her brother, refined and judging from the aroma coming from the cabin, an excellent cook.
“Howdy ma’am, I’m Henry Devine. I’m pleased to meet you.” Henry tilted his hat at her and Jenny did a curtsy. Her brother’s new friend was very tall and handsome.
“Come on in, Henry and tell me about yourself.”
Jenny was very chatty. However, Henry wasn’t used to talking about himself so kept the conversation general. She wanted to know why he wasn’t married.
“My brother is too awkward to burden a woman, so what’s your problem, Henry?”
Henry wasn’t sure what to say.
“It isn’t that I’m against the idea, I just don’t know where to find me a wife.” It was true, Henry didn’t know where he’d find a good woman. The women at the Church were either married or the single ladies were too old for his fancy. He didn’t want a saloon girl.
“You know what I hear is popular now, it’s putting an advertisement in a city newspaper. You mention what you want and then the women write to you. You pick the ones you want to write to and take it from there. It’s very practical.” Jenny was delighted to have someone receptive to her idea.
“Who’d want to marry a man they’d never met?” It was news to Henry that a woman could be so easily available.
“Some women want to leave the city. Who knows why? But you get a wife and they get a new start. It’s something to consider at any rate.” Jenny cleared away the dishes.
“Come, Henry, let me show you what you should be doing with the land. Don’t let Jenny fill your head with nonsense.” Joel headed out followed by Henry.
Henry didn’t think what Jenny said was nonsense. It made sense. He would pray for the Lord to send him the right woman. It took all that messy love stuff out of the equation. This was practical, like Jenny said.
When he left Joel’s place, Henry headed to town to the Western Union office. His advertisement was simple:
Wife wanted for rancher aged 25 in River Valley, Wyoming. Aged 18-22. Good housekeeper. God-fearing woman. Replies to PO Box 75.
It was simple and the Lord would send him the right woman. He was sure of that. Now he’d just have to wait to see who would answer. Henry was excited. This time last year, he never considered that he’d be in this position and yet here he was in his new life and it was all thanks to God.
As he rode home, he thought about the events that had brought him here. He made good money as a bounty hunter but the life was rough and more often than not, he had to kill his quarry. No one wanted to be taken alive. It’s was getting him down. Henry knew there had to be more to life. But it took being shot for him to come round to the idea of leaving this life behind.
Left to bleed out after a shootout with the outlaw he was tracking, Henry would have died if not for a traveling preacher had found him and cleaned his wound. Henry could only travel a few miles a day with his injury and the preacher prayed over him while taking care of him.
When Henry returned to full health, he knew that God had called upon him and wanted him to change his ways. So Henry listened. He moved to Wyoming to get away from trouble. It took a lot of faith to adapt to change but Henry understood from the preacher that hard work showed commitment and he would be rewarded, if not in this life but the next.
With the same determination that it took to turn down bounty hunter work, Henry was now ready for a wife. He had built his cabin with having a family in mind. He had some cattle but he wanted to grow wheat. A good woman was what he needed to know he was doing the right thing.
As he lay in bed, he wondered what woman would read his advertisement and write to him. The world was full of possibilities and Henry felt happy.