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A Bouquet of Brides Collection

By Mary Davis, Kathleen E. Kovach, Paula Moldenhauer, Suzanne Norquist, Donita Kathleen Paul, Donna Schlachter, Pegg Thomas

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Chapter 1

Maryland, November 1890

“You did what!” Holly Harrison scurried down the servants’ hall after her sister. “You’re going where?”
“I already told you. Washington Territory.” Ivy slowed, and her voice chirped out like a little bird’s, happy yet small. “I’m getting married.” Not quite convincing.
Yes, yes, Holly knew that. She’d asked the wrong question. “Why?”
Ivy stopped and spun around. “Why? Why does anyone get married?”
Holly could think of many reasons. But instead of answering, she planted her hands on her hips, waiting for her sister to give her reason.
The sigh Ivy released spoke volumes about her exasperation. “So they don’t have to grow old alone. So they always have someone. So they can be happy.”
Marriage held no guarantees.
“You’re not alone. You have me, and I have you. We are all each other has.”
“It’s not the same. I want more. Your logic renders us both old maids. I’m nineteen already. I have two, maybe three, years before I’m completely overlooked and am written off as unmarriageable.”
What did that make Holly four years her senior? She had felt her own hope waning and accepted that service might be her lot in life. “But you have a good job here.”
“Good?” Ivy held out her red cracked hands. “Washing other people’s clothes all day every day is not good. I want a home and a family of my own. Don’t you?”
Of course Holly did. But for now that wasn’t possible. “Why not find a husband here? Why go clear across the country?” She didn’t want her only relative to be so far away. “Why marry a man you don’t know?”
Her sister threw her hands up. “If you haven’t noticed, young men are scarce around here. Most of them have gone west. The ones left are either married, too young, or too old.”
“But you know nothing about this man.”
Ivy pulled three letters from her apron pocket and waved them in the air. “We’ve been corresponding. He’s told me everything about himself.”
Holly doubted that. “How do you know it’s all true? How do you know he didn’t leave important things out? Did you tell him everything about yourself?”
Her sister worked her mouth back and forth before answering. “What purpose could he have in lying?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe to get a naive young lady to travel all that way. By the time she realizes what she’s gotten herself into, it would be too late.”
Ivy jammed her fists onto her hips. “I am not naive. I have put a lot of thought into this. And I am going.”
Yet she had kept her plans and correspondence a secret for quite some time.
Why did the callow young never acknowledge their lack of experience?
“I leave the day after tomorrow. I will miss you, Sister.” Ivy spun with a flourish and stormed back to the servants’ bedroom they shared in the large mansion.
Holly couldn’t believe her sister. How could she convince Ivy to reconsider? When her sister set her mind on something she wanted, she wasn’t easily dissuaded. Holly would need to come up with something else to distract Ivy. And fast.
Two days later, at wits’ end, Holly sat opposite Ivy on the westbound Union Pacific train. Having been unable to persuade her sister out of her foolish impetuousness, Holly had needed to resort to drastic measures. She’d taken a leave of absence from her job as a cook in the same well-to-do household as her sister—with the promise she and Ivy would return soon, before Christmas—and booked passage west. The week-long trip would give her ample time to coax Ivy into rethinking her folly and to make her see reason. Hopefully, success would come in not more than a day or two, then she could return with her job and sister intact.
As the Maryland countryside rolled by, Holly worked her crochet hook in and out of her half-completed doily. Complete a stitch then glance at the countryside, another stitch, a glance. She had never seen anything beyond Bethesda, other than traveling into the District of Columbia and Alexandria, Virginia, once each.
Holly was grateful for the cast-off clothes of their employer that she and Ivy had remade for themselves. One would hardly know them from the originals. She and her sister appeared quite respectable. Neither did they look as though they were putting on airs. Except they were servants, and one of them was running away.
“Good afternoon, ladies.” A man in a smart blue suit stood in the aisle at the end of their seats. With one hand on the back of Holly’s bench, he tipped his derby hat with the other. “I couldn’t help but notice you lovely ladies are traveling without an escort.” He had the gall to slip onto the seat next to her.
Holly clutched her crochet work and scooted as close to the window as possible.
Ivy glanced up from her novel, eyes wide, and stared hard at Holly.
Good. Maybe this intrusion would make her sister reconsider her rash decision and realize she could end up with an ill-mannered man such as this one.
Holly tilted her chin up. “Sir, you have sat down uninvited.”
He gave her a sly smile. “You don’t mind, do you, darling? My name is Jonas Miller.”
The audacity of this man. She would not give him her name as he obviously wished. “I am not your darling! Please withdraw yourself.”
He leaned toward her. “And if I don’t?”
There wasn’t much Holly could do. Gathering up her crocheting and handbag, she stood. She would sit next to Ivy. But when she tried to move to the facing bench, the interloper put his foot up on it, trapping her and Ivy next to the windows.
Ivy pulled at her skirt fabric caught beneath the man’s shoe.
“Sir, remove your foot and yourself.” Not that Holly expected this insolent man to comply. Still standing, she gripped the handle of her crochet hook, determined to jab this man if necessary.
But suddenly, he stumbled to his feet and backward.
A tall, rugged man dressed in denims with a black canvas duster, black leather vest, and black hat held the other by his coat collar. “I think your seat is up there.” He shoved the intruder, who staggered forward and tumbled into a seat in the first row.
The cowboy took off his hat, revealing dark wavy hair, and pointed with it to the seat Holly had vacated. “Do you mind?”
She did. Why would she want to replace one pest with another? And this one prone to violence. But he had just run off the annoyer. Would he be just as tiresome? Did he think that by rescuing her and Ivy, they now owed him something? His deep blue eyes held no emotion—no lingering vexation he’d had for the interloper, no lechery, no impatience for her to answer quickly—but still said so much. Say yes. Trust me. I’ll wait you out. Nodding her consent, she slipped onto the seat next to Ivy. She would keep an eye on this man. And keep her crochet hook handy.
The cowboy stretched his long legs across the facing seat with his feet and ankles hanging off the end of the red velvet bench into the aisle. He leaned his head back against the window and covered his face with his hat.
Holly stared at him. That was it? No explanation of his actions? No forced conversation? No words of warning?
Apparently, he didn’t plan to be obnoxious after all. But what were his intentions?

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