When Stephen McCoy leaves the Indiana farm he shares with his brother Daniel, Daniel’s wife Rosemarie, and their four children to go into town to load up on supplies, he never expects to return with a bride.
Indiana, May 1867 ~ Calliope Bender arrives in town and steps off the stagecoach in a wedding gown, carrying a wilted bouquet. She is running from an unwanted marriage but still in need of a husband – one who will agree to a marriage of convenience. Eager to build a home for himself, Stephen agrees to Calliope’s conditions, despite the fact that the idea of a “marriage in name only” doesn’t sit well with him. Neither one of them is looking for love, but will it creep up on them when they aren’t looking?
Stephen McCoy tightened the final strap on the wagon hitch, and happy with his work, headed to the white clapboard farmhouse. He pushed open the front door and strode to the kitchen. Rosemarie McCoy, his sister-in-law, sat at the kitchen table shoving mashed potatoes into his niece, Lucy’s eleven-month old mouth.
“I’m ready to go. Do you have your list ready?”
She nodded at a piece of paper on the table. “Right there.”
He picked up the list and looked it over. “All right, I’m headed out, then.” He touched Lucy on the tip of her nose, the baby smiling at him as mashed potatoes ran down her chin. “Where’s Daniel?”READ MORE
“He’s trying to tame that new stallion he bought last week. I swear he won’t be happy until he breaks his fool neck.” She stood and dropped the bowl of potatoes and the spoon into the sink. Then grabbing a cloth she ran it under the water spout and proceeded to clean up the baby.
Stephen watched her efficient movements as she tended to her baby and prepared to put her down for her nap. Once again he felt like the fifth wheel on a wagon. She and his brother had made a good life for themselves after the War Between the States had ended. Rosemarie’s three children, Chandler, Amelia and Jace, along with the addition of their daughter, Lucy completed their family.
Daniel worked hard on the farm Rosemarie had been left by her late husband, and Daniel had managed to put away enough money to start his own horse farm. Although Stephen was more than grateful for Daniel and Rosemarie taking him in when he’d returned from the War sick, wounded, and exhausted, the last few months he’d had the urge to have something of his own.
He knew exactly what that something was, too. He wanted his own horse farm. He and Daniel had been raised on a horse farm in Kentucky, which their mother had been forced to sell during the war to pay the taxes. Now Daniel was settled with a beautiful wife, four wonderful children, a thriving farm, and the beginnings of a horse farm.
Stephen’s dream, one he’d been saving for ever since he was able to rise from his sick bed and join Daniel two years ago. Every single penny he didn’t need he tucked away, along with money he’d picked up by doing odd jobs in town.
He slipped the list of supplies he was to get in town and headed for the door. Rosemarie stood with Lucy on her hip, ready to put the baby down for her nap. “Don’t forget to pick up Chandler and Amelia from school before you return home.”
“Have I ever forgotten my niece and nephew?” he asked as he opened the door.
“Yes,” his smart-aleck sister-in-law with a fantastic memory said.
“Once.” He grinned at her and the baby and left the house. Four year old Jace ran toward him from the barn where his papa was working the horses. “Can I go with you, Uncle Stephen?”
He ruffled the boy’s fine brown hair. “Sorry, partner. Not this time. After I get all the supplies your mama is wanting into the wagon, along with your brother and sister, there won’t be room.” He squatted and viewed the boy. “Next time, okay, partner?”
Damn. He shouldn’t have done that. The bullet he’d taken on a bloody field during the War still rested near his hip. The surgeon at the time said it wasn’t worth taking out, and now he suffered pain in that spot and had to be careful about getting on his knees.
At the glum expression on Jace’s face, Stephen leaned in close. “How about I bring you a licorice stick?”
The boy’s eyes lit up, and he nodded furiously. “Yes. I like licorice sticks.”
Stephen rose to his feet with a groan and climbed onto the wagon bench. “You stay here and take care of your mama while your papa is working with the horses, okay?”
“Yes, sir.” The little boy actually saluted which had Stephen grinning. He snapped the reins at the horses and started toward town.
The hour ride in the old wagon was taken up by him talking nonsense to the horses and pondering his life. He’d met a couple of women at church and church picnics, but no one took his interest. He’d like to have a family and a place of his own someday, but he still wasn’t sure he wanted to put his heart at risk.
The letter he’d received from Jenny Foster when he was recovering from his bullet wound had hurt more than getting shot. Although she’d promised to wait for him, she wrote that she was not getting any younger, and the war seemed to be dragging on forever. Consequently, she had accepted a proposal from Martin Devin, a store owner in their home town and had married the man before she’d even sent him the letter.
No, he would like to marry and settle down, but he wouldn’t marry someone he had fallen in love with. Once was enough for him. Maybe he could find a nice spinster, or war widow and marry to give her his name and financial support. She, in turn, would help with the chores and provide him with children.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. And offer her what? Room in his bed in his brother’s house? He really needed to make some plans. With four children, Daniel could certainly use the bedroom Stephen now occupied.
The road became smoother as the town came into view. Bartlett Creek had been passed over and forgotten during the war, but now that so many Confederate soldiers were returning to empty plantations and burned out cities in the south, they headed north, and the sleepy little town had grown quite a bit.
Not necessarily in a good way, either. Vagabonds, derelicts, and flat out criminals had taken up residence in the southern part of town, making areas of the once safe and comfortable town almost as dangerous as the bigger cities.
The wagon rolled to a stop in front of the General Store. Stephen climbed out and headed into the store.
“Good morning, Stephen. Come for supplies?” Mae McFadden, owner of Bartlett Creek General Store greeted him as she dusted items on the shelves with a feather duster. A clean white apron covered her bulk. “Mr. McFadden will be down in a minute to help you with loading when you’re ready.”
Stephen pulled the list from his pocket and placed it on the counter. “Be sure to throw in some licorice sticks for the little ones.”
“Is that darling little Lucy ready to have one, too?” She grinned at him as she perused the piece of paper.
“Nah. I’m afraid not. If Rosie caught me sneaking one of them to the baby she’d have my head.”
“She’d also have your head if she heard you call her ‘Rosie.’”
He winked at the store owner. “Let’s keep that our little secret, eh? I like to call her that when she’s mad at me.”
“Now what would she ever have to be mad at you about? You have to be the easiest going fella I’ve met in a long time.”
“I think I’m too much like my brother.”
“She loves your brother.” Holding the list, Mrs. McFadden began to pull items off the shelves. She turned to him, two tins of tea in her hand. “You need a wife of your own, Mr. McCoy.”
He placed his hand over his heart. “Now why would you say that, when my heart belongs to you?”
“Go on with you. Not only am I married to Himself, but I’m old enough to be your grandmother.”
He grabbed a licorice stick and bit down on it, harder than he meant to. A wife. A place of his own. A family. All the things his older brother had. Would they always be just out of his reach?
“I have my great-niece, Barbara Sue coming to visit me at the end of the month. She just buried her husband.” Mrs. McFadden eyed him speculatively. “She needs some cheering up.”
Great, just call on Stephen McCoy, the cheerer up of recent widows. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He shoved the rest of the licorice into his mouth and headed for the door. “I need to see Hans about the wheel I left with him to repair the last time I was in town. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“No hurry,” she waved at him. “It will take me some time to get this all together. Leave your wagon and Mr. McFadden can load it up for you.”
The heels of his boots tapped a cadence as he strode down the boardwalk. He doffed his hat to several women who walked along, shopping bags dangling from their arms, some with little ones hugging their skirts. He stopped briefly to allow the afternoon stagecoach to pass in front of him before he crossed the street to the smithy.
After conducting his business there, he returned to the boardwalk just in time to hear a sweet voice. “May I have your attention, please?”
Stephen stared across the street and grinned. A young woman dressed in a wedding gown, holding a bouquet of wilted flowers had climbed onto the roof of the stagecoach and shouted from the top of her lungs. “I need someone to marry me.”COLLAPSE
Caroline C., Amazon wrote:
"Stephen's Bride" is an adorable story with a sassy heroine. Would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good western romance.
Sooze, Amazon wrote:
I loved this book from the surprise beginning when Calliope stands on the stagecoach and asks for a groom. Fortunately for her, Stephen is the one who takes her up on her offer. This book offers humor, romance, and adventure--all the things I love in a good read. You don't have to have read "Daniel's Desire" first, but you'll want to read everything Ms Hutton has written. She's that good.
Quick read, good story line even with an odd " for the times" beginning. Two strong willed people in a quirky and quick marriage. It's an enjoyable read and a Happy ending. You can't ask for more.