Angel Creek Montana was introduced to you last year in the Angel Creek Christmas Brides Series I co-wrote with several authors. We’re back this year with even more! My book, Caroline, is the first to be released. Read more about it, including the entire first chapter, then click on the link to pre-order your copy for automatic download on November 1st!
Caroline: Angel Creek Christmas Bride Book 6
(Sweet Historical Romance)
She’s a woman who dreams of hearth and home…
He’s a man with dreams as big as the Montana sky…
Together they could make those dreams come true…if she wasn’t promised to another.
Caroline Bishop leaves war-ravaged Charleston behind to be a mail-order bride for a man she’s never met. Meeting handsome Adam Larsen, a man who makes her pulse race with a single glance, along the way seems like a cruel twist of fate, especially when she learns he lives in the same small town she’s headed to. But fate isn’t through with them yet. When circumstances beyond her control once again leave her afloat, she’s convinced destiny put her in Adam’s path so why hasn’t he asked for her hand in marriage? And why does it look as if he never will? Can a little bit of Christmas magic bring them together? Or will she once again spend the holidays alone?
Caroline: Angel Creek Christmas Bride Book 6
Caroline Bishop braced her hand on the wall to keep her head from slamming into it. A moment later, her entire body bounced, then rocked from side to side. The man across the seat from her grabbed the door frame, and they both stared at one another for a few seconds.
Her face heated as she blushed, something she’d been doing every time he looked at her. She couldn’t help it. He was perhaps the most handsome man she’d seen in ages and they’d been alone inside the stagecoach for the better part of the day. Had her circumstances been different, his attention would have been welcomed. Today, it was a constant reminder of her rash decision, one her father had still been fuming mad about when he saw her onto the train in Charleston.
The stagecoach rocked more gently this time and Caroline settled back into her seat. They must have hit every hole in the road for the last twenty miles. As sore as she was from bouncing in her seat, it kept her mind occupied and made her forget, if only for a few moments, the argument she had with her father at the train station. She hated disappointing him and she knew agreeing to be a mail-order bride to a man she’d never seen would be a sore spot between them for years to come. Their conversation and his questions of “What if he’s dangerous? Or cruel to you?” were still fresh on her mind and had her second guessing everything.
Julia had assured her the man she’d found to marry her was a good and honest man and she hoped he was. She’d never let her father see how badly his words affected her. He’d made her doubt the decision more than once on the trip but there was little she could do about it now.
She glanced out the window. As uncertain as she was, all it took was a simple glance at the passing landscape to calm her nerves. The scene outside her window grew more beautiful by the day and the closer they drew to the mountains she could see in the distance, the more nervous—and oddly, resigned—she became. Surely nothing this beautiful could be a mistake.
The stagecoach lurched to the left, then bounced again. Hard. If her insides weren’t jarred loose before the day was through, it would be a miracle. She righted her hat and smoothed out her skirts before taking a shy glance across the seat at her traveling companion. She’d first seen him board the boat headed up the Mississippi River in St. Louis. He’d looked back in her direction when she made it onto the boat deck and she’d been struck motionless for a whole minute while staring at him. She’d snapped out of her stupor though and tried to ignore him the rest of the trip and was surprised when he ended up on the same stagecoach she climbed into—and in every one since. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say he was following her, but she had no idea who he was or why’d he’d be inclined to do so.
Father may have hired him.
That was possible, but unlikely.
He looked her way, and she turned her head not wanting to get caught staring at him. It was hard not to do so. He was so unlike the men she knew. He looked—rugged, like she assumed the men out west would be. His suit jacket wasn’t like those she was used to seeing men wear. It was a simple cut and light brown. It would have looked out of place in the circles she ran in, especially with the trousers he wore. They were blue denim, his hat a plain brown material and both articles of clothing looked well worn.
He was nothing like the men in Charleston. Perhaps that’s why she couldn’t stop sneaking peeks at him. He wore a short beard, something most of the men who ran in the same social circles she did in Charleston did without, and his blue eyes were a nice contrast to his dark hair.
He was looking at her now. She knew it without even glancing his way. The heat of his stare was like a living thing against her face and she reached into her reticule to distract herself from him. The letter she’d received from Julia was in her hands and unfolded before she glanced up at him. He looked away when she did. He had indeed been staring at her.
Caroline’s cheeks flushed with heat again and she bit her lip to keep from smiling. Had she been more adventurous like her friend Ginger, she would have already known his name, where he was going, and if he was indeed following her.
She smoothed the wrinkled pages in her hand and scanned the letter for what seemed like the hundredth time.
My Dearest Caroline,
I hope this letter finds you well. I have thought of you often over the long winter months. How are things in Charleston? Are Emma and Ginger doing well? Charity was asking about them just the other day and I told her I’d ask about them.
It’s still cold here, even though it’s officially spring. I’m told it may be some time before all the snow melts. This is beautiful country, but I miss the sea. I’ll miss the magnolias as well, and the way the flowers of the crape myrtle trees covered everything in a shower of color.
Caroline looked out the stagecoach window. Montana was indeed beautiful, but the sky was a cloudy gray. The snowy peaks of the mountains she saw in the distance were a constant reminder of what was to come. It rarely snowed in Charleston so she hoped she liked it once it started to fall and remained for months at a time. Being late November, she was sure she’d find out soon enough.
A chill wind blew against the stagecoach. She pulled her cloak tight around her and looked back down at her letter.
What is the latest gossip? Did Mrs. Duncan ever recover from her illness? Is your father well? What of Abigail and Melody? Have you talked to them lately?
Things here in Angel Creek are—different. Good, but different. Matthew is a dream come true. I do believe I am the luckiest of us all but to hear Anna and Sarah talk, their husbands are the best of the bunch. I suppose we are all a bit bias in thinking we married the best man in town.
She could picture them sitting around their sewing circle lamenting on the finer qualities of their new husbands. She’d envied them even though she’d thought them all mad when she heard they were moving across the country to be mail-order brides, and missed them so terribly once they’d gone, she’d wished she had joined them.
The man sitting across from her shifted in his seat. They both looked up at the same time, their gazes meeting. He smiled and Caroline’s pulse fluttered so fast she felt dizzy. He gave her a small nod of his head and looked away. Caroline laid her hands flat across her legs when she saw the letter in her hands was shaking. Butterflies danced erratic patterns inside her stomach from nothing more than a simple glance from him. What in the world was wrong with her? She’d never reacted to a man like this, but there was no denying he made her nervous in a way she shouldn’t be. Not when she was on her way to meet the man she’d agreed to marry sight unseen. A man she knew next to nothing about.
She flipped the letter over.
Speaking of husbands, I overheard a conversation in the mercantile the other day. Dale Simmons was speaking with Phillip Gregory—he’s our neighbor and a local rancher here in Angel Creek—about how different Levi Jackson was now that he’d married Anna. They’d gone on about us southern belles until it sounded as if we were a different species all together. I was about to turn away when Dale asked if they should send away for brides themselves and that was all I needed to hear for me to wonder—are the prospects in Charleston any better than when we left? Have they improved any at all or are they still dismal? If so, I’m sure we could line up more than enough men who are willing to marry. Dale seemed interested and Phillip didn’t seem opposed to the idea. If you yourself aren’t available—although I selfishly hope you are as I miss you terribly!—perhaps you can ask around and see if maybe some of our other friends are willing to move to the wilds of Montana to start a new life. Write me back and let me know and I will talk to the others to find you suitable matches. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The last line of the letter had barely registered before the stagecoach hit another hole, this one deep enough the entire coach rocked from side to side. Caroline let out a startled scream as she lost her seat, popping up into the air before landing in a heap on the floor with her traveling companion sprawled on top of her. They both laid there staring at one another for long moments before he finally sat up and reached out a hand to help her up.
“Are you all right?”
Caroline watched him stand and nodded her head, reaching up to take his hand. “I think so.” He helped her back onto the bench seat and she straightened her cloak before reaching up to make sure her hat was still secure.
He bent over, reaching for something on the floor. She saw him scoop up her reticule and the letter. She’d dropped them both. He lined the papers back up, pausing to look at the envelope before handing everything over to her.
“Thank you.” She gave him a smile and folded the letter, shoving it back into her bag.
“You know someone in Angel Creek?”
Caroline stilled at his words. How did he know where she was going? Has he been following her?
Her face must have shown her fear for he said, “I saw it on the letter. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to pry.”
Oh. She blew out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “Yes. My friend Julia Bailey lives there.”
He smiled suddenly and her pulse started leaping again. “I know Mrs. Bailey. She and Matthew are expecting a little one last I heard.”
“Yes, she is.” She relaxed and leaned back into her seat. “How do you know Julia and Matthew?”
He gave her another one of those fabulous smiles. “I live in Angel Creek.”
“You do?” Her surprised reaction made his smile grow wider. The butterflies in her stomach started dancing so fast at the sight of it she wondered if they’d ever settle.
“Yes, ma’am. My father runs the land deed office there in town.”
“Well, it really is a small world, isn’t it?” This explained why she’d seen him on every leg of her journey.
“Indeed it is.” He glanced out the window and Caroline did the same. She could just make out the fuzzy outline of what looked like buildings in the distance. Was that Angel Creek? Had they finally arrived?
“Is that where you’re headed?”
His voice drew her attention back to him. His question made those dancing butterflies die an instant death. She’d been so enamored with him that she’d forgotten why she was even on the stagecoach. She glanced at her hands, digging her fingers into her reticule before meeting his gaze again. She’d not shied away from telling anyone why she was headed west but now she wished it was for a totally different reason. “Yes,” she said. “I’m headed there to be married.”
His smile disappeared in an instant, his shock evident on every line of his face. “A mail-order bride?”
A half-formed smile curved the corner of his mouth a moment later. “Well, there certainly is a need for marriageable women in Angel Creek. Who is your groom?”
He nodded. “I know Phillip. He owns a small ranch a few miles outside of town.”
“Yes, that’s what I was told as well.”
“He’s well liked. He’ll make a good husband for you.”
Of all the stinking luck. Adam kept smiling and bit his tongue to keep from cursing a blue streak.
“I’m Caroline Bishop.”
Her dainty hand stretched toward him and he took it, shaking it before reluctantly letting go. “Adam Larsen. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Bishop.”
“And you as well.”
She leaned back in her seat and glanced out the window again. Adam looked away but found his gaze on her an instant later. He couldn’t seem to look away. He hadn’t been able to when he saw her standing by the boat’s rail on the long journey up the Mississippi River or when he stepped onto the stagecoach and saw her sitting inside it. Fate seemed to keep her on the same road he was traveling and as the miles stretched on, he’d tried to speak to her several times but never found the right words. Seeing Angel Creek on the envelope she’d dropped had given him a moment of joy and an opening to start a conversation with her but his delight died the moment she said she was traveling there to be married. To Phillip Gregory of all people—the man who’d bought the property he wanted out from under him. And now the man was marrying the most perfect woman he’d seen in years.
You have to be the unluckiest person in all of Montana.
She shifted and Adam took in her traveling dress and fur-lined cloak. It was much too fancy for Angel Creek. Her knowing Julia Bailey, and her distinct southern accent, told him she was probably from Charleston. Julia and the Southern Belles, as everyone in town called them, had arrived the Christmas before. Seeing Caroline and knowing she was headed to Angel Creek to be married told him there would be more Christmas brides arriving. Were they all as beautiful as Caroline?
He peeked at her again and had a hard time looking away. Small wisps of honey-brown curls framed her face. Long, sooty lashes made her large tawny eyes more vibrant and her lips were so rosy pink his eye was drawn to them every time he glanced her way. She was simply mesmerizing. And engaged to be married.
The stagecoach lurched again. The road into town had been bad when he left home eight months ago. It seemed to be worse now.
Caroline threw a quick glance his way. He tried to think of something else to say to her but everything he thought of sounded intrusive. He cleared his throat and asked the first thing that popped into his head. “How did Charleston fare during the war?”
Those luminous eyes landed on him again and his pulse leaped. “Not very well, I’m afraid. Much of it was reduced to rubble. It’s one of the reasons I decided to leave. The scars the war left behind will forever be etched into the city, as well as the hearts and minds of those who live there.”
He nodded. He’d passed through a few cities on his trip back home that hadn’t fared well either.
“Did you fight in the war, Mr. Larsen?”
He shook his head. “No. By the time we heard about it way out here, it was in full swing. My father refused to let me leave to join. I’m all the family he has left.”
“Oh, well, that’s understandable. Did you say he owned a business in Angel Creek?”
“Yes. He owns the land office there and sees that the surveyors go where they need to be. He’s getting on in age though, so I’ve taken on more of the work. He sent me to school out east so I could get certified and take over for him.” A pang of regret twisted in his gut. He’d been living over top of a land office most of his life and although the work was a decent days pay, writing up legal documents wasn’t how he imagined his life would be. He’d dreamed of wide open prairies and buying a ranch to work—the ranch Phillip bought out from under him—but was instead confined to a small wooden building with a single window.
The stagecoach slowed moments before buildings came into view. They’d arrived in Angel Creek. The sights and sounds of home assaulted him as the coach came to a stop outside the station. He was out of his seat and on the ground before the first trunk was pulled from the cargo area up top and dropped onto the sidewalk.
He turned and looked inside at Caroline. She was gathering her skirts as she stood. Their eyes met, and it seemed as if the entire world vanished. There was nothing but her. He reached up to help her down, his breath catching when she smiled at him. In a move bolder than he should have been, the moment he could reach her, he placed his hands on her waist and lifted her down before she could get a foot on the step. She squealed, her hands falling to his shoulders, then laughed when her feet touched the ground. Her cheeks were stained pink when she looked up at him and he wished a thousand times and again he’d met her sooner.
His thoughts went to Phillip Gregory and Adam wondered if the man knew just how lucky he was. He imagined once he took a look at his bride, it would become clear in an instant.
“Thank you, Mr. Larsen.” She blushed prettily and let go of him. He mourned the loss of the contact instantly.
“My pleasure, Miss Bishop.” He glanced down the sidewalk in both directions. He didn’t see Phillip but Julia Bailey was hurrying their way as fast as she could go, her protruding belly making her otherwise small frame very noticeable.
He looked for his bag, bending to scoop it from the ground as Julia yelled Caroline’s name. Adam saw Matthew behind his wife when he straightened. He turned away but stopped when Matthew said his name.
“Adam. It’s good to see you back. Your father didn’t say you were coming home today.”
“That’s probably because I’m early.” He tried to keep his attention on Matthew but Caroline and Julia’s happy chatter drew his gaze. She truly was lovely. “I was able to book passage earlier up the Mississippi than I had expected and knew I would probably make it home before a letter announcing me coming back would.”
“I’m sure Albert will be pleased to see you, letter or not.”
“I imagine so as well.”
“Well, don’t let me keep you.” He looked at the two women and shook his head. “From what I hear, there are five more ladies on their way here. More friends from the same social circles as Julia and the other Southern Belles.”
“I suspected as much.”
Caroline turned and looked at him, a pretty smile on her face. She blushed suddenly and clutched her reticule tightly in her hands. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Larsen.”
“The pleasure was all mine, ma’am.” He tipped the front of his hat at her and said his goodbyes before reluctantly walking away, leaving the girl of his dreams standing on the sidewalk waiting for her future husband. A man that wasn’t him.
Caroline Releases on Novemeber 1st! Pick up your copy at the link below.