Read Mail Order Misfit (Brides of Beckham) Online
Authors: Kirsten Osbourne
"The thing was, with Harriet it just never seemed important. It wasn't overly important to her, so the people around her never thought it was important either." Elizabeth shrugged. "Without your mother around, maybe it will become less important to you as well."
"I hope so!" Elaine hadn't really thought of that. She had spent a lot of time trying to prove she could do just what others could, while her mother told her she couldn't. If her mother wasn't there telling her she couldn't, maybe she wouldn't have to keep trying to show people she could.
The conductor called for everyone to get on the train then, and Elaine stood to hug Elizabeth. "Make sure you write to me as soon as you get there. I need to know you're safe, and everything worked out."
Elaine nodded as she walked toward the train. When she got to the steps, she waved over her shoulder before getting on. It was her first time on a train, and she was excited.
Colin looked over the shelves in the mercantile trying to find something he could cook himself. His specialty was beans, but he was so sick of them he was ready to scream. He looked up at the merchant and made a face. "You got anything easy to cook?" He knew it was pointless even asking, but he had to try. He just wasn't sure he could eat beans for another week without screaming.
"Colin, you come in here and ask me the same question every week. Every week I say 'no,' and you leave here with more beans and crackers. You need to get yourself a wife." Mr. Judd was a middle-aged man who had once had a full head of black hair. It was now liberally streaked with gray and much of it was missing.
Colin wrinkled his nose. He was tall with dark hair and eyes, and wore his black cowboy hat atop his head. He wasn't all that particular about what he ate, as long as someone else cooked it. "I'll be back. I'm going to go to the restaurant and find myself something to eat before I buy my supplies. Maybe something will sound good then." He sighed. He was tired of eating at home, but the restaurant cost so much. He felt funny wasting his money on it, but he needed a decent meal for a change.
"Just find a wife." Mr. Judd grinned at him, his face understanding Colin's distaste with his own cooking. There were many other men in the area who felt the same way.
"Where am I going to get a wife? Do you know of any unmarried women around here at all?" Colin had been in Kansas City for long enough to know there were too many men for the number of women available. All of the women he knew were already married or else they were older than dirt.
"Well, no, but I know that some men are starting to send back East for brides. Have you thought about a mail order bride?" He pulled out a newspaper and pointed to an advertisement. "See? There are people who will find you a bride. You just gotta pay a 'small fee.'"
Colin thought about it for a minute. "I might buy that paper from you when I get back from lunch, but I'm hoping I can just walk into that restaurant and find a beautiful woman sitting there who wants to marry me and only me." He knew the other man was going to laugh at him for even dreaming that way, but he didn't care.
Mr. Judd laughed, his laugh deep and coming straight from his belly. He saluted Colin. "Sure you will, boy. Sure you will!"
Colin waved and walked down the boardwalk to the restaurant and found a table in the corner. If there was a lady to be found in the place, he was going to find her.
Elaine was exhausted by the time she reached Kansas City and her leg ached terribly. She moved off the platform slowly, dragging her bad leg behind her. She looked all over for a man, but there was only one man by himself in the whole station. He was frowning in her direction.
She swallowed hard and walked over to him, stopping in front of him, her hand shaking with her nervousness. "Are you John?" she asked.
She almost hoped he wasn't with the way he was scowling at her, but she had to ask.
The man nodded, looking her up and down. "Why are you limping like that?"
Elaine sighed. She really didn't want to get into a big discussion while standing on a leg that could barely support her. A hot bath would make all the difference in the world, but she couldn't have one just yet. "Is there somewhere we can sit down and talk about it? Maybe get some lunch?" She'd only eaten sandwiches for days on the train, and she was more than ready to eat some real food for a change.
John shrugged. "Sure, let's go talk somewhere." He turned and led away from the station, leaving her to carry her own bags, and not offering her his arm.
She had lost her cane somewhere on the train, and she badly needed it by that point in her journey. She limped along behind him and followed him into a restaurant, watching as he walked back to a table along one wall. She sat down and immediately rubbed her knee. "Thank you." She was relieved to be sitting down and have some leg room. The worst part about the entire train ride had been the lack of room to stretch her leg out..
"What happened to you?" His face was angry as he asked the question.
"When I was ten, I climbed a tree and the branch I was sitting on broke. I fell wrong, and my leg snapped in three places. They were able to mend it, but the leg never grew after that. It's the same length it was when I was ten. So now I walk with a limp." She watched his face, seeing that he was getting angry during her explanation. "I can do anything any other woman can do. It doesn't slow me down. I lost my cane somewhere along the way, and I just need to get a new one and take a hot bath, and I'll be ready to go." She wasn't sure she'd marry him, though. The way he was looking at her made her feel like he wouldn't be the best choice for a husband. She could move into a boarding house and take her time finding a husband.
He shook his head. "I said I needed a woman who could work hard in my letter. It's obvious you can't work."
"Why do you say that? It's not obvious to me. I happen to be a very good cook, and I know how to clean as well as anyone." She didn't know why she was defending herself to him. She could tell he'd never believe anything she said.
"You lied to me, and I really don't appreciate it." He stood up and walked out of the restaurant, obviously not intending to ever see her again.
Elaine took a few deep breaths and wondered what she'd do. She'd only spent a little bit of her father's money, because she hadn't needed more. Surely there was a boarding house around somewhere, and she could find a job once she had a place to stay. She wasn't about to go home with her tail between her legs. She knew she was a strong woman, and she was going to prove it, if only to herself.
A waitress came by and asked, "What'll you have?"
Elaine stared at the blackboard where the menu was neatly printed. "I'd like a glass of water and a bowl of stew please." She hoped there was fresh bread with the stew, because that would make it a delicious meal.
The woman nodded. "Comin' right up."
Elaine was so angry with the way John had treated her that she could think of little else. She wasn't hurt, because she had no feelings for the man, but she was angry that anyone would treat her, or anyone else, as he had.
Elaine looked up at the man's voice and looked at him. "May I help you?" she asked. She really didn't have any desire to be around anyone at that point.
"Is it all right if I sit here, ma'am?" He was tall with thick dark hair and big brown eyes. He carried a black cowboy hat in one hand.
Elaine nodded, not sure what else to say. She didn't know him, but if he wanted to keep her company during the meal, she couldn't think of a reason not to let him. "Please do."
He put his hat on on
e corner of the table and raked his fingers through his hair. "I'm Colin Monroe."
She offered her hand. "Elaine Phillips."
As she looked at him, she couldn't help but wonder what he wanted. She'd never seen a man who exuded so much...raw masculinity as he did. He made her want to just walk into his arms and let him protect her, which was exactly what she didn't want.
"It's nice to meet you." He looked at her for a moment as if he were trying to decide exactly why he was sitting with her. "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation with John."
She looked down, embarrassed that he'd overheard it. "So you know him?" What else could she say?
"We're neighbors. His land borders mine, and we share a fence." He looked at her, watching her face. It was obvious she was embarrassed by what had just happened with John, but he didn't think she should be. "You didn't do anything wrong, you know."
"I didn't?" She peeked up at him through her lashes. This man, an example of male beauty if she'd ever seen one, had heard another man complaining about her faults. How could she not be embarrassed by that?
He shook his head. "I assume you came out here as a mail order bride?"
"Yes," she sighed. "I'm staying here too. I'll find a job somewhere. Do you know if there's a boarding house in town?" She wasn't going to let him pity her. Instead, she'd find a job and show them all that she was a hard worker. Eventually a man would come along who would appreciate her for who she was.
"I don't know, but I'll help you find one if you still want one after lunch."
She eyed him skeptically. "Why wouldn't I?" What did this man have up his sleeve?
"Well, I have a ranch, too, and I was just talking to Mr. Judd, the man who owns the mercantile. He told me I need a wife and was telling me about mail order brides. I was going to go to the mercantile after lunch and get a newspaper that had an advertisement from some mail order bride agency in it." He shrugged. "I think we'd be saving each other a lot of time and effort if we just go ahead and get married."
Elaine stared at him in open mouthed astonishment. "Why would you want to marry me?" He said he'd overheard her conversation with John, but if he had, why did he want to marry her? He'd never seen her work, so it couldn't be that. What did he see in her?
He smiled. "Have you ever looked in a mirror? You're one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen. I couldn't do much better, and I heard you telling John that you can cook." He sighed. "Honestly? Right about now, I'd do just about anything to be able to avoid cooking."
She grinned for the first time since she'd gotten off the train. "You would?" At least the man was honest.
"I hate to cook. All I know how to cook is beans. I eat beans and crackers for three meals a day. Do you have any idea how tired I am of beans?" He shook his head in disgust. "I swear, if I have to eat one more pot of beans, I'm going to break down and cry like a baby. You don't want to see a grown man cry, do you?"
She chuckled as the waitress set their food down in front of them. The waitress looked back and forth between them. "This one bill or two?"
"One," Colin answered quickly
before Elaine had a chance to say anything.
When she'd walked off, Elaine shook her head at him. "You shouldn't marry me out of pity. I know you heard what happened, and I don't want you to feel obligated to do anything."
She couldn't marry a man who just felt badly for what another man had said to her. She had to marry for the right reasons or not at all.
He took her hand in his, holding it tightly. "John's a
jackass. He's the kind who would drown his own kid if he was born with a hair color he didn't like. You'd be much better off with me." He brought her hand to his lips, kissing her fingertips. "You would have married John who was a complete stranger. At least you've seen me." He was very attracted to the pretty girl beside him, and he saw a strength in her that he couldn't discount. She was obviously going to be a hard worker. He could see it in her eyes.
"But...you don't know me at all." She looked down at her stew. "You must not have heard the entire conversation. I have a leg that doesn't work right..."
She hated pointing out her faults to the man, but she couldn't let him think he was marrying a woman with no problems. He needed to understand what he'd be getting out of the deal.
"I heard. I also saw you walk in here, carrying your own bags after how long on a train?"
"Just over three days," she said, her voice tired. She needed to walk around to exercise her leg whenever she could, or it just got worse and worse.
"So you spent three days on a train to come and marry the man, and he couldn't be bothered to even carry your bags for you when you got here? That's not the kind of man a pretty lady like you should marry." Colin looked deep into her eyes, astounded by the clear shade of sky blue they were. "Forget him and marry me."
She laughed. "You don't want to marry me. You just...feel bad for me." She was tempted to say 'yes' and see how long it took him to run from the restaurant.
He sighed, shaking his head at her. "I do feel bad for you. I feel bad that a neighbor of mine left you in a restaurant in a town you'd never been to instead of marrying you like he promised." He took a sip of his water, watching her over the top of the glass. "If you tell me you're going to get on a train and go right back home to wherever you came from..."
"Massachusetts," she said. Why she felt the need to tell this man anything about her, she didn't know, but she was strangely attracted to him.
"So if you tell me you're getting on a train and heading back to Massachusetts, I'll just walk away, and go back to the mercantile, and write the mail order bride agency and ask for a pretty blond with the bluest eyes I've ever seen. I'll insist that she's from Massachusetts, and her name has to be Elaine Phillips." He looked at her. "Please save me the time!"
He felt sorry for her, because of what John had done, yes, but that wouldn't have been enough for him to ask her to marry. She was beautiful, and if she could really cook, then he would be in heaven.
She shook her head at him, laughing softly. "I do believe you're serious."
And suddenly she wanted him to be serious. She wanted to marry this man and stay in Kansas.
"You've never met a more serious man in your life. Please, let's go see the preacher, and then we'll go to the mercantile, and you can pick out all the glorious food you're going to feed me." He grinned at her, and it reminded her so much of a little boy she had to laugh.