Eva Meyers stared at the camera lens. The square was almost mesmerizing. The lens in the middle reflected her image, but she could only see it vaguely, and she had to focus real hard to see even that.
Eva’s heart was heavy. She had been trying so hard to keep things together, but her family had made it impossible. They wanted her to do what they told her. It wasn’t that she was rebellious. Yes, she had her own mind, and yes, she didn’t mind expressing her views, but that didn’t mean she was rebelling against someone else’s point of view. It simply meant she had a mind of her own. Why didn’t anyone understand that?
“All right, hold on. Stay still. Don’t move.”
Eva had been sitting still for so long, she thought she might fall asleep. Her behind and thighs were definitely well on their way to being so. Those were frightful places to have pins and needles when she was able to stand and move. She tried to hold at least somewhat of a smile. Did this woman even know what she was doing? Did it always take this long?
“Almost finished, almost ready, annnnddd…”
Eva forced her head to stay still when she wanted to shake it in frustration and frown. That wouldn’t look good for the kind of picture she was taking.
After a terrible exchange between her and her family, Eva was now sitting in the portrait room of the magazine that published portrait brides. Her photograph would appear in newspapers and magazines along with details, such as her age and skills for men seeking a bride to choose from. She told herself it wasn’t like going to a cattle auction, but she was certain it was similar regardless.
The woman emerged from behind a black curtain, smiling at Eva. “All right, honey. You can relax. Get up and move if you want. You can take a walk around and come back in about an hour. I should have it ready for you by then. You can approve it, and we’ll publish it as soon as you make your payment.”
Eva nodded. “That’s fine. Thank you, Mrs. Weatherby.”
The woman’s smile remained, and she nodded, reaching out to touch Eva’s soft, chocolate-brown locks. “Pretty little thing like you. You won’t be waiting long for letters. Then you won’t have to worry about choosing from anyone in your local town. Where did you say you were from?”
Eva didn’t want to get into it again. She was already embarrassed enough at the situation. She opened her mouth, but her throat seemed to dry up, and she covered her mouth, coughing harshly.
“Oh my goodness, are you all right?”
Eva nodded, still coughing frantically. Her eyes were beginning to water. She waved at the woman with one arm and ran out the door, dropping to her knees in front of the horse’s water trough that ran along the left side of the porch in front of the magazine office.
Eva scooped water into both her hands and brought the refreshing liquid to her lips, swallowing as fast as she could. She had no idea where the sudden coughing fit came from, but she was grateful to use it to get out of there.
She looked over her shoulder and nodded, grinning through closed lips at Mrs. Weatherby, whose wide eyes and shocked face reflected a look Eva saw quite often for some reason.
She sucked in a deep breath now that the coughing had ceased and looked down. She had given no regard to the lady’s dress she was wearing, which had been clean but was now water-stained and dirty from the porch where she’d knelt. Her face was likely flushed, and her hair was swirling around her face, indicating it had come out of the combs she’d put in that morning. That happened more often than she liked to admit. Her hair wasn’t very thick. It was soft and fine. The combs and accessories she tried to add to her hair always slid out or became disheveled, making her look silly.
She’d even been asked if she’d just come from climbing a tree one time on a slightly breezy day.
Eva vaulted to her feet and attempted to brush off the dust on her dress. It created a curtain in the air that threatened to make her cough again, so she turned harshly and hurried down the street toward the hotel, where she’d taken a room for the night. She’d gotten to the larger town of Nashville, as opposed to her little town of Barker, which was twenty-two and a half miles away, that morning on the stagecoach. Her intention was to place the ad in the magazine and have it distributed to all the other newspapers and wherever else it was sent to. She didn’t care where. She just knew she had to get out of Barker.
Her parents had made it perfectly clear.
Eva’s family was wealthy. She had grown up with all the finer things in life. The house was big, they had additional properties in other locations, and they went on trips together as a family.
But eight years ago, her older brother, who’d been nineteen at the time, had abruptly disappeared, leaving the family devastated and fearful. He’d written to them, telling them he wanted a new life and was changing his name so they would never find him.
It wasn’t until Perry left that Eva realized just how dysfunctional her family was. Her father was an arrogant clown who put his business before his family every time, without hesitation. Her mother was controlling and insisted on always having her way. Her younger brother, William, was an exact replica of their father.
Perry hadn’t been much better than the rest of them. Eva had to give him the benefit of the doubt, though. It must have taken a tremendous coldness of the heart to be able to leave the family the way he did, without so much as a goodbye or a note or anything. It took him six months to write to tell his family he was safe. And her parents still held him up on a pedestal. That would never change.
Two months before her picture was being taken, Eva was sitting on the porch of her family’s large ranch home, enjoying the summer breeze. The cool air of spring was just abating, and the heat was coming in. She enjoyed spring and summer in Tennessee more than the other two seasons. She liked being warm, not cold. Snow was pretty, but she didn’t like it enough to disturb the beauty by actually playing in it like her brothers had always done.
She peered out over the land, watching their dogs, Buster and Bruce, two large hounds with ears that flopped all over when they ran, play in the nearby field behind the barn. The field was a little overgrown because her father had sold their two goats. He intended to replace the goats but hadn’t yet.
The storm door opened behind her, and she glanced over her shoulder to see her mother coming out. Eva could tell by the look on her face she had something she wanted to say. Eva stifled a sigh. She knew what was coming. She’d turned down Eric Corman’s proposal of marriage. She didn’t even want to court him to find out if she wanted to marry him. She knew it from the moment he snorted. He wasn’t laughing when he snorted. He just made the sound out of the blue like it was normal. It had made Eva’s skin light up with chills, and she didn’t want to spend another moment with him afterward.
“Mother, I know what you’re going to say,” she started, turning her head away so she wouldn’t have to look at the woman. She loved her mother, but she was much too controlling. Eva needed her freedom. She was a free spirit, she tried to tell them. She had a good head on her shoulders; she was smart and strong. And the only men asking for her hand would never be able to handle her. They wanted to control her as much as her parents did.
How could she possibly tell them she didn’t want to be married to any of these sanctimonious men? They didn’t listen to her. She wasn’t even sure if they cared what she thought or wanted or felt. They just wanted her to marry someone with money. It was getting to a point where they just wanted her to marry. Anyone.
“If you know what I’m going to say, why do you keep repeating the same behavior?”
Her mother had taken the seat next to Eva, but she still kept her gaze away from the woman. “Because my reasoning hasn’t changed. I’m not going to change my behavior when I’m only doing what I think is right.”
“You are being very selfish. You know your father needs you to marry soon. He is being very insistent about it.”
Eva turned her brown eyes to her mother and blinked softly. She wanted her mother’s approval more than her father’s. But she was dangerously close to never getting it from either one of them. “Why?” she asked, leaving the word hanging in the air. When her mother seemed taken aback by the simple question, she raised her eyebrows. “Why, Mother? Why does he want me to marry so badly? Tell me the truth.”
It hurt Eva’s feelings when her mother blanched and turned away from her.
“You can’t tell me why he wants me out of the house so much, can you?” Eva asked gently. She never raised her voice to her mother. Eva never raised her voice to anyone. If she couldn’t make her point in a soft-spoken tone, she had no reason to speak at all. “I’ll tell you why, then.”
This got her mother’s attention again.
Eva hated saying the words. She didn’t want to admit to herself that she believed what she was saying. Unfortunately, she did.
“He has changed his will, hasn’t he? He is leaving me out of it and wants to make sure I’m married off so his conscience is clear. That’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s about the money. He doesn’t want to spend any more on me, and he isn’t leaving me any in the will. Tell me that isn’t the truth, Mother. Tell me it isn’t.”
Her mother didn’t say anything.
“Your silence confirms what I’ve been thinking. Well, I’m not going to bend to your will just so you can get me out of the house and taken care of.” She lifted her fingers to put the last three words in air quotes. “I will be just fine without some oppressive, snorting, disgusting man telling me what I’m supposed to do day in and day out.”
“You know we care about you, Eva, that’s the only reason he wants to make sure you are taken care of. You knew Perry and Will would get everything in his will anyway. I don’t think he’s even put me in there.”
Eva scowled, shaking her head at her mother. “How can you allow that? You’ve been devoted to him all these years. Perry left the family. Just left. And he’s still leaving everything to him?”
Eva grunted, trying not to say anything she would regret later.
“Don’t get me wrong, Mother. I don’t want the money. It’s okay that I’m not getting any inheritance. A little would have been nice to set me up for a while, but I will manage. Papa isn’t going to die in the next few months, God forbid. But to leave you and William out, too, and to leave everything to a son who didn’t even want to stay with his own family and has, in fact, disowned us all…It’s not right, Mama, and you know it.”
Eva hadn’t called her mother Mama in some years. She was glad to see it did have some impact. Her mother pressed her lips together, finally turning her gaze back to her daughter.
“I want what’s best for you, too, Eva. But you aren’t making it easy on us.”
“I don’t have to make it easy on you, Mama,” Eva replied in the softest voice she could muster. “I am just treating you with respect equal to what I’m given. I have a mind of my own, and I don’t want to be married to any of the men that have come to me so far. I’m sorry. I just won’t.”
Her mother sighed heavily, pushing up from the iron porch chair. She paused for a moment to look at Eva with sad eyes before she went back inside. “You have pushed a wedge into this family, and I don’t think it will be easily removed.”
“It’s okay, Mama,” Eva responded, determined not to let any emotions show. Underneath it all, she felt tears fighting to get to her eyes. “Maybe you’ll see that differently someday. Maybe someday you’ll see things from my point of view. I just want to be happy. That’s all I want in life.”
The month had dragged on, and though Eva thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful Tennessee weather, she felt persecuted by her family members. Her father mentioned every single night at dinner that she had yet to find a man to support her in her later years. Her brother had taken to calling her “The Spinster”, even though she was only twenty-two and had plenty of years left to find the right man, marry, and have a family of her own.
She’d vowed repeatedly in her nightly prayers that she would not treat her own children the way she was being treated. And if, God forbid, she married a man that wanted to act that way, she hoped she would have the strength and fortitude to stand up against him and fight for her children’s happiness.
That was the main thing in life for her. She wanted to smile and feel good and be happy. She wanted to marry a man who could be her companion and smile and laugh with her. That sounded like a heavenly marriage to Eva.
Two weeks before she sat for the portrait, the day came that would change it all. The decision would be made for her. It had started in the morning at breakfast.
Eva could tell the moment she sat down, something had changed. She didn’t ask her mother or father about the new tension in the room because she knew she wouldn’t get a straight answer from them. She would have to subtly listen to their conversations or eavesdrop later when they got together in the study or den like they sometimes did.
The uneasiness she felt was only compounded when her brother came in. William had that look on his face. He knew something, and whatever it was, it amused him. His expression when he set his eyes on Eva was something she’d seen many times in the past. He was excited, anticipating the family argument that was about to begin.
Eva braced herself, looking down at the eggs, bacon, toast, and grits, she’d been served by the cook. This might be the last good meal she had here. For all she knew, they might be about to kick her out. Or what if they were about to sell her to some rich old man who lived in a castle in Scotland? What if he was ancient and bearded and…
“Eva, you look strange,” William said, drawing her attention from her thoughts. Her eyes flipped up to him, and she forced herself to relax.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she responded, picking up her fork. “I’m real hungry. That’s all.”
“Yeah.” William chuckled, also starting his breakfast. His eyes flipped to his father before settling on his plate.
“I’m going to say grace,” her father announced. Eva felt a tingle of apprehension. That would be the first time in about five years her father had said grace at the table. She pressed her lips together to keep from saying anything. It would do no good. It would only create more tension.
She did get the satisfaction of noticing the surprise on her brother’s face. That look was closely followed by irritation. He set his fork down and clasped his hands together in front of him.
After grace, they began to eat, and there was an uncomfortable silence for a while that Eva didn’t want to be broken. She might have found the quiet unpleasant, but it was better than the lecture and punishment she felt was coming to her.
When her father took a breath, Eva braced herself once again.
“I was told in town that you’ve turned down Aaron for the third time.”
Eva opened her mouth, but he continued.
“You will not be able to marry anyone in Barker or anywhere in the nearby counties. You’ve gotten yourself quite a reputation.”
Eva turned her eyes to her father, unsure whether she should have eaten so much breakfast. She was beginning to feel a little sick to her stomach, and it wasn’t the food doing it to her.
“What are you talking about, Papa? I haven’t done anything to deserve a reputation. I have my standards. I don’t want to marry for money or power or anything like that. I want to be in love. That’s all.”
“You are stubborn, pig-headed, and picky. These are not a good combination in a wife.” Her father turned his dark eyes to her mother, looking distraught. “Where did we go wrong, Martha? How could this be our daughter? If only we’d had three sons.”
Eva told herself his words didn’t hurt her. She was resilient, she thought. Nothing he said would penetrate her armor. She was too strong for that.
Eva’s internal words of encouragement continued as her father went on.
“Aaron has told me and the other men at the bank about your numerous flirtations.”
Eva’s stomach turned. Rumors. Lies. How was she supposed to fight against them? She couldn’t prove she hadn’t done something she hadn’t done. It was a vicious circle.
“I have flirted with no one, Papa,” she retorted coldly. “I thought that was the problem to begin with?”
She felt a bit of satisfaction when her father sucked in a sharp breath but couldn’t refute her words. They’d been on her for more than two years to marry. During that time, Aaron, one of the town’s most eligible bachelors and best friend to her brother Perry before he disappeared, was the most persistent.
Eva didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The first time she’d been approached by Aaron, she’d told him she would be delighted to go on an outing with him. That one time had told her enough about him. He was condescending and rude, arrogant and frigidly cold when it came to affection. She knew before it happened that she’d made a mistake going on that outing with him. He’d assumed she was willing to marry him, and that’s what he told everyone the day after.
Eva had to politely tell him, in public, that what he was thinking was untrue. She wasn’t ready to marry, and he wasn’t the man for her anyway. She’d only told him in public because he had started the rumors that they were a couple.
“I don’t want to marry Aaron because he’s insecure, immature, and a reprobate, Papa. I will find the man I’m supposed to be with eventually, and if I don’t, I will not marry.”
“Now, Eva, you know that’s not acceptable.” It was her mother who responded. Her voice was as soft as Eva’s, but her eyes reflected fear. Eva didn’t want to be afraid of her husband. That was what she was destined for if she let them convince her to marry Aaron Branfield.
“I can’t be told who to marry, Mama,” she insisted. “I just can’t. Aaron is not the man for me. I don’t really even like him.”
“He is a fine man who makes good money and works hard!” her father responded loudly, slamming one fist on the table. “He was your brother’s best friend, you know, and Perry had extremely good taste in friends. You should be so lucky to have a man like Aaron asking for your hand in marriage. My permission, by the way, has already been given. You two can marry at any time.”
Eva shook her head. “I’m not marrying Aaron Branfield, Papa. I don’t love him or even like him.”
“Trusting a Stranger’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After a vindictive suitor ruins Eva’s reputation, she seizes the chance to start anew by becoming a mail-order bride. Fate has other plans in store though when she discovers that her husband-to-be is not the successful man she expected, but a struggling businessman who can barely keep his head above water. Despite her growing affection for her new husband, James, she fears that their future together may be doomed.
Her heart yearns for love but her future looks once again unpromising…
Having created a thriving business, James Washington decides to settle down and find a wife, unaware of the storm of trouble coming his way. While he and his bride-to-be start corresponding through letters, things take a turn for the worse changing his plans dramatically. Although Eva’s spirited humor gets him through the hard days he soon realizes she has her own secrets and seeks desperately comfort in his arms…
What will James do when his enemies will try to bring him down, attacking his only chance for happiness?
Surprises succeed one another leaving Eva and James feeling hopeless about their fragile relationship. When a familiar but spiteful face comes knocking on their door will they mark the end of the couple’s dreams? How will they find each other’s soul and stay together amidst these trials and secrets surrounding them?
“Trusting a Stranger’s Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.