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A Bride for Keeps

By Melissa Jagears

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Chapter 1 - First Page

Kansas
Spring 1876

Everett Cline loosened his grip on the mercantile’s doorknob and let the door shut behind him. Kathleen Hampden waddled straight toward him, the white feathers in her hat dancing like bluestem grass in the late March breeze. In the three years she’d been married to the store’s owner instead of him, couldn’t she have bought a new hat?
He hadn’t talked to her alone since the day she arrived in Salt Flatts with those identifying white feathers he’d been told to expect, but he hadn’t anticipated her being married to Carl before she stepped off the train. Why hadn’t she thrown her hat out a passenger car window and pretended she’d never been his mail-order bride?
“Afternoon, ma’am. Is your husband around?”
He glanced behind the long glossy counter cluttered with candy jars and sundry items and saw that the door to the empty back room stood ajar. The two overflowing shelves that cut the store into thirds kept him from being able to see into every corner. The fabric table was a jumbled mess, and a few potatoes lay on the floor in the corner, escaped from their bin. Were they the only ones in the store?
Mrs. Hampden stopped three feet from him, the tang of the wood polish on her rag warring with the leather and tobacco smell permeating the room. She was such a tiny thing, even large with child. Perhaps it was a good thing she married Carl. If she worked outside as Everett did every day, the wind would have blown her away sooner or later.
“Mr. Hampden’s away on business, otherwise he’d have rushed out at the bell. Especially since it’s you.” Her cheeks pinked.
Carl needn’t worry about him. Stealing someone’s mail-order bride was different than stealing someone’s wife.
Everett fidgeted. “He has no reason to be concerned.”
“I know.” She rubbed her swollen stomach. “But he’s still worried your good looks might make me wish I’d chosen differently.”
The skin under his collar grew warm, and he pulled at the strangling fabric. He might be a decent-looking sort of man, but a lot of good that did him.
“I hope you have better luck today than you did with me, and you know . . . the others.” She bit her lip. “I’m sure this time it will be for keeps.”
He swallowed hard and eyed her. What was she talking about? Surely another rumor about him ordering a bride again wasn’t circulating. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“It’s all right. Rachel told me.” Her voice was hushed, as if someone might hear.
He leaned down and whispered back. “Told you what?”
“About the lady coming on the afternoon train. She said you’d need prayer.”

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