Bridget O’Grady is a mail order bride, an Irish girl from Boston. She replies to an advertisement for a wife to a man named Seth Masterson, and after a few letters back and forth, she agrees to travel the distance to marry Seth, using her last funds in the world to do so. When the poor young woman arrives at her destination, though, there is no Seth waiting for her at the stage depot in town.
After having to depend on the townspeople for help, Bridget arrives at Seth’s home only to have him deny any knowledge of any letters. The culprits are soon found: Seth’s two young daughters just knew their father needed a new wife, and they have written the letters!
Bridget has no money to return to Boston, and Seth certainly can’t afford to send her back. There’s nothing waiting for Bridget there anyway. Deep down, Bridget would like to stay, but she’d have to be a fool to contemplate marrying a man who on the very first meeting threatened to paddle her for her sharp tongue, wouldn’t she? Problem was, those darling little girls needed a new “Mam,” and she was hard-pressed to say no to them…
Joannie Kay does it again, with a sweet/spicy Western blending old-fashioned romance with old-fashioned discipline.
?You’d better tell him what you done before that stage gets here.? Ten-year-old Sally looked at her sister and spoke softly so the man downstairs wouldn’t hear her speaking. Their Papa got real upset if he heard them whispering after they were supposed to be asleep for the night, and she didn’t want a spanking.
?What I done? You agreed to it, and you helped me write the letters!? Susie argued. She was a year younger than Sally, but at times it felt as though she was the one who should be older. ?Besides, it was your idea in the first place,? she whispered.
?Maybe so, but I’ve had second thoughts about it bein’ a good idea.? Those second thoughts had something to do with their Papa telling them at the supper table that night that he didn’t want either of them acting like Melissa Cummins. Melissa fibbed to her Pa about breaking her Ma’s necklace, and her brother got blamed and taken to the woodshed for a strapping. Their Papa said that Melissa needed to make acquaintance with a switch or two, and Sally started feeling guilty,
?It’s too late to have second thoughts, Sally. Somehow we got to get Pa cleaned up and into town before the stage comes in tomorrow morning.?
?You girls quiet down up there!? Seth Masterson called up to the loft. He listened carefully for the next couple of minutes before turning his attention to his book. The girls were up to something, and if he was a betting man, he’d place a wager that the two of them were in for a good spanking fairly soon. He’d witnessed the guilty look that passed between them when he was telling them about Melissa Cummins’ latest mischief. He would rather raise his two girls than put up with that child for one week! She was a never-ending source of grief to her Pa, and his two little girls were sweet as could be? most of the time. Still, they were in some sort of trouble, and he figured he’d find out about it soon enough. Seth read for a few more minutes and once he was satisfied the girls were asleep for the night, he put the bar over the door to keep out unwelcome visitors, and then he turned the lamp down low and went to bed.
It was this time of night that was hardest for Seth to face. It was when he missed Catherine the most, and some nights the longing for her was nearly unbearable. He couldn’t believe she’d been gone three years now, but as the girls grew up he knew it was true. Catherine had loved their little ladies, as she’d called them. It just wasn’t fair that she’d been taken away from them. Tears made his eyes burn, and he blinked them away. He silently promised his Catherine that he would love her always and take care of their girls the best he could. There could be no other love for him, not after loving Catherine with all his heart.
His girls were too quiet the next morning. ?What are you two up to that has you so worried?? he finally asked.
?Nothing, Papa!? They answered together, and the expression in their blue eyes was one of innocence.
Seth reminded them to eat, and then he set them to work doing the dishes. ?When you get done with the dishes, don’t forget to sweep the floor before coming outside. There is some weeding to do in the garden,? he reminded them, noting that Sally seemed upset at the idea.
?Papa, can’t we ever do something different?? Susie asked, putting her hands on her hips.
?Like what?? he asked, looking from one to the other.
?Like go to town?? she suggested.
?It would be nice to get some peppermint sticks.?
?Or a new church dress!?
?You know we can’t afford ready-made dresses!? Seth was shocked by the request.
?We could get yard goods and sew them ourselves if we knew how to sew,? Susie declared.
?Right. If we had a Mama, we would know how to do that.?
?Have you thought of getting us a new Mama?? Susie asked him.
Seth was crushed. ?Girls, I don’t know what to say. I guess I could ask Mrs. Trimbull to teach you both to sew.? He pondered the idea, but was pretty sure that asking the minister’s wife for help of that sort would be the same as inviting another lecture from the good man on taking another wife to be a mother to his girls. Seth wasn’t interested.
?Papa, we just want to go to town. We’re lonely for women’s company,? Susie insisted.
?Wait a minute, little girl! Just what are you two up to?? Seth demanded suspiciously. ?Susie? Sally??
?We’re not up to anything, Papa. We’re just tired of staying home all the time. What would it hurt to go to town for just one day? We could have lunch at Miss Carolyn’s, and??
?No,? Seth firmly refused. ?I have work to do, and you two need to clean up this kitchen and then weed the garden.? They started to argue, only to stop when Seth looked down at them and said, ?Not another word unless you both want a dusting to start off the day.? As Seth figured it would, his words put an end to the arguing. He headed outside to tend to the work he planned to do that morning, shaking his head.
?You and your bright ideas, Susie Masterson! Papa almost spanked us!?
?But, he didn’t, did he?? Susie reminded her older sister.
?He’s going to,? Sally glumly predicted.
?He probably won’t find out, as long as you keep your big mouth shut,? Susie admonished.
?Oh, you can be sure I am not going to say one thing, Miss Susan Masterson!?
?Oh, you wash the dishes while I sweep up the floor, Miss Bossy!?
?You’re the one who’s bein’ bossy, sister!?
The girls fussed their way through cleaning up the dishes, and they even took the time to start a pot of stew for their noon meal. It was Sally’s idea to do something nice so that their Papa would be in a good mood with them.
Every so often Seth glanced toward the garden to see if the girls were completing the task he gave them, and he was more than a little pleased that they were spending so much time tending to the garden. He shared the produce with neighbors, and in turn, they did all the canning and shared with him and the girls. The situation worked for now, at least until the girls got bigger and could do the canning for all of them.
?This was real good, girls,? Seth complimented his daughters when he went inside to fry up some ham and make sandwiches for their noon meal and found some stew simmering on the stove.
?We would like to know more about cooking, Papa,? Susie told him. ?Then we could cook for you more often.?
?Susie, what is this all about?? he asked, looking at her. ?You and Sally have been making all sorts of comments today, but I don’t get the point.?
?We’re growing up, Papa, and we can’t do anything. Melissa already bakes bread, and we’re lucky if our cornbread is not burned.?
He nodded, and tried to swallow his stew over the lump in his throat. He didn’t think that losing their Ma would be such a big deal until the girls were a lot older, but there were all sorts of things he couldn’t teach the girls. What the hell did he know about baking bread or sewing dresses? He bought bread when they went to town, and a couple times a year he tried to buy the girls a new dress each. Up ?til now it seemed to be enough.
The rest of the noon meal was eaten in silence, with the girls looking at each other every so often. They both seemed to realize that it wasn’t the time to question their Papa, so they ate quietly. ?I’m going back out to work on that new corral, girls. Please clean up in here, and when it’s almost time for supper, peel some potatoes. I’ll make us a real good supper tonight, I promise.?
?Do you want us to bake some cookies, Papa?? Sally offered.
?Sure, if you have everything you need. I’d love some cookies.? He was grateful to Melissa’s Ma for teaching Sally how to bake sugar cookies. She didn’t know how to do any other kind, but it was nice to have cookies every so often.
?I’ll cut off some lettuce and wash it up real good for a salad, Papa,? Susie said, frowning. ?It isn’t sweet like cookies, but I think it’s real good.?
?I think so, too. You girls are such a big help to me,? he told them, and then gave them each a hug. ?I’ll get that corral all finished, and we’ll fry up some steaks and potatoes to go with that salad and cookies.? He headed for the door, and thought he heard one of the girls sniffling. ?What’s wrong, Sally?? he asked tenderly. ?You know you can come to Papa with any of your troubles, don’t you??
?It’s not our troubles we’re worried over, Papa. Preacher Trimbull said it ain’t natural for a man to be alone! Sally and me feel if it weren’t for us, you’d find another woman and get married and you’d be happy and natural.? Susie’s big blue eyes were full of tears, and in an instant both girls were sobbing their hearts out.
?Preacher Trimbull doesn’t always get things right, girls. Now, don’t cry!? He felt so helpless he didn’t know what to do. ?You girls haven’t done anything wrong. I’m not unhappy, either! Awwww, don’t cry!? If that witless Preacher were standing here right now he would beat the crap out of him for upsetting his little girls! He heard a buggy approaching the house and looked outside to see who was coming, and damned if it wasn’t Trimbull, his wife, and someone else he couldn’t make out. The Sheriff was riding along beside them, and somehow Seth knew there was trouble brewing.
?Girls, stop crying now, and wash your faces. We have company, and once they leave, we’ll sit down and talk this through. For now, I just want you to know that you misunderstood the Preacher. I’m not unhappy, and the last thing I want is a wife to replace your Mama. She was the sweetest woman alive.?
?Okay, Papa,? Sally quickly agreed, giving her sister a meaningful look.
Susie went to look out the door and she said, ?You greet them outside, Papa, and sister and I will tidy up.?
Seth had to smile. Little Susie sounded like her Mama right then. Catherine always expected him to stall any unexpected guests they had so that she could tidy up before they hit the doorway. ?You do that, girls,? he agreed, and then went outside to see what kind of trouble there was. He was used to the Preacher and his wife showing up to make their calls, but it wasn’t a bit like the Sheriff to ride out of town unless there was trouble of sort. And, he still couldn’t tell who the other female was. He walked out and waited patiently as the group approached, his attention on trying to figure out the identity of the woman.
The closer they came, Seth felt his eyes drawn to the woman’s pretty face. She was wearing a kelly green traveling dress and jacket, and her bonnet matched. It made her red hair stand out, especially with the sun reflecting off the golden strands. Her eyes were the same pretty shade of green, and Seth literally couldn’t stop staring at her, even when the Sheriff cleared his throat, trying to get his attention.
?Won’t you all come inside?? Seth finally remembered his manners. ?It’s warm out here in the sun, and I suspect the girls have brought up some cold buttermilk to share.?
?Seth! What has come over you?? Preacher Trimbull scolded.
?How can you behave with such a cavalier attitude?? his wife demanded, showing a temper that Seth hadn’t witnessed before.
?This isn’t like you, Seth.? The Sheriff added his disapproval to theirs while the pretty woman just sat there with a hurt expression on her face.
?Is this some sort of joke?? Seth finally asked.
?Joke? Would I be leavin’ me home on a joke??
The woman’s green eyes flashed in pure temper, and Seth thought her Irish lilt was enchanting. He then cursed himself for dishonoring Catherine’s memory. Sure, the redhead was pretty, but she was not his Catherine. ?Miss, I apologize if I offended you. It wasn’t my intention; I am in the dark here. I don’t have a clue why all of you are put out with me.?
?Ahh!? The woman gave a muted scream and then said, ?Take me back to town, Reverend Trimbull. I did no’ come here to be made sport of!?
?Seth Masterson! I’ve a good mind to take this buggy whip to you!?
?Why, I am dismayed that you would speak in such an unladylike manner, Naomi!? The good Preacher was well and truly shocked. His wife rarely lost her temper, and never in public. The fact that she was so agitated was not lost on him, but he was of a mind that he would have to scold her later, and reinforce the scolding with his slipper on her bottom. The thought did not displease him. It wasn’t often that his wife gave him cause to discipline her, and to his way of thinking, it was but one way a man might show his wife his love for her.
?I beg forgiveness, Zebulon. I am just distressed by Seth’s lack of concern for this poor child. I implore you to do something, husband.? She gave him the look that made him feel as though he could do no wrong, the one that expressed her complete faith in his ability to handle any challenge in the right and proper way.
?I understand, my dear, and of course, I shall speak firmly to Seth.?
?Preacher, I wish I knew why you all are so upset with me.? He looked at the man, and his wife, and saw the shocked disbelief in their eyes. ?Sheriff, what the he?heck is going on?? he demanded, his impatience growing stronger by the moment.
?Did ye hear me, Reverend? Take me back to town! I’ll no’ be shamed in this way!? The redhead’s eyes were full of tears; her cheeks were an embarrassed red, and Seth was on the verge of losing his own temper!
?You all can sit out here all day if you wish, but I am going inside out of this sun.? It was unlike his girls not to come outside at the first sign of visitors, and they’d had more than enough time to wash up the dishes from noon. Seth was positive he should go inside and check on them. He hoped they hadn’t picked an inopportune time to ask Mrs. Trimbull questions about baking or sewing. He surely didn’t want any of these people to think he was raising his girls in a pigsty. ?Please come inside,? he added a bit more graciously. ?I’ll see if the girls will get us something cold to drink.?
?I do no’ wish to go inside this mon’s home! I do no’ feel welcome!?
?Miss, I don’t engrave invitations. You can sit out here if you want to, otherwise, come inside and keep a civil tongue when talking to my little girls! They don’t deserve your temper.? Seth turned and stomped inside the house. The kitchen was perfectly clean, and it was obvious the table was scrubbed clean. However, there was no sign of his girls! That upset Seth. It wasn’t like them to simply disappear when they had company. He usually had trouble getting them to go outside and play when he had adult guests and wanted to talk without their little ears overhearing things not meant for children to hear!
?Where are Sally and Susie, Seth?? Mrs. Trimbull asked, looking at him as if he was hiding them in a closet!
?They were here just a couple of minutes ago, ma’am. I’m not sure where they ran off to. I’ll give them a call to come and pay their respects.? He quickly climbed the ladder to the loft. The girls weren’t up there. He then went to the back door and looked outside. There was no sign of them. He called their names, but they didn’t answer. Puzzled, he shut the door. ?This isn’t like the two of them,? he mumbled.
?I should say not. They are such good little girls,? Mrs. Trimbull spoke to the redhead, who appeared ready to run out the door at the first little provocation.
?Seth, we need to get this matter settled,? the Sheriff said bluntly. ?What do you intend to do about Miss O’Grady??
Seth gave the man an exasperated look, but walked over to pull out a chair for the petite redhead. ?Will you have a seat, Miss?? he offered as politely as he knew how. He pulled out another chair for Mrs. Trimbull. ?Ma’am?? he addressed her. At least Mrs. Trimbull took a seat. But not the redhead. She was looking at him with murder in those green eyes!
?I wasn’t talking about your manners, Seth.? The Sheriff’s eyes were full of humor in spite of his stern demeanor.
?Then what are you talking about, Bill?? Seth asked. He was getting pissed off, and he was about to lose his temper? The one that Catherine had taught him to control, telling him he would need patience to be a father! She was right about that, but these people were getting on his last nerve and if someone didn’t tell him what the hell they expected of him, he was going to throw them all out of his house!
?I’m talking about your promise to marry Miss O’Grady,? Sheriff Bill Holmes stated clearly.