Atlanta, Georgia, 1892
The early morning light shone brightly through the slanted opening between the kitchen window’s curtains, lighting the room in an illuminating grey and orange patterned hue. It was just enough to glint off of the hay-colored hair pulled so haphazardly by the only moving figure in the kitchen.
Flora stood at the counter, moving slowly as if her limbs were still heavy-laden with sleep. It certainly felt as if they were. She didn’t particularly feel as if she had fully woken up, despite having already tied her hair back at the nape of her neck and having changed from her dressing gown into her dress for the day. They were all routines that she went through every day, making them easy enough to accomplish even in the state she was in.
Wake up, get dressed, make breakfast for her siblings, wake them up, and get everyone started for the day. It was like a mental checklist that she ran down as she moved, half relying on muscle memory in order to do so. The other half was what little of her brain she had already forced into consciousness.
The oatmeal was still steaming when she pulled the bowls out, staring at them uncertainly before adding some cream to cool down the food. First one thing, then the other, if she got ahead of herself she’d start mixing up steps, and then who knew what would happen. There was order in routine, and routine in order.
Even if her green-brown hazel eyes were blinking wearily as she moved through the motions.
“Flora! What are you doing?!”
The harsh voice from behind her was the only thing that was out of the ordinary, surprising her enough to cause her hands to jerk as she turned to look over her shoulder. Her stepmother, Hattie, stood in the doorway to the kitchen, her beautiful emerald eyes sparkling in indignation to match the tone of her voice. She seemed to be the antithesis to Flora in every way possible, her raven hair perfectly coiffed and her dress so immaculately pressed that Flora just knew she had to have woken up early in order to get it done before dressing.
“That is entirely too much honey for a single bowl of oatmeal,” Hattie bitingly informed her. She came to Flora’s elbow, moving as if to take the honey from her and raising her eyebrows as Flora pulled the bottle further away in shock.
Her brain was still hazy from sleep, her own eyes narrowing as she finally comprehended what all the uproar was about. Hattie’s words settled within her chest like hot coals, burning her from the inside out. Whatever remnants of sleep clung to her brain fled all at once in the face of her fury, her lips setting into a thin line as she stopped Hattie from removing the bowl of oatmeal in front of her.
“That’s just the amount of honey that John likes in his oatmeal, Hattie,” she returned through clenched teeth. She had to force the politeness into her tone, knowing even then that it missed the mark of respect that she had been aiming for. “And Aurora likes even more than that still! I have been making their breakfasts for years, I know how much honey goes in them!”
Flora had to bite down on her tongue to keep from continuing, instead turning her face away from the scrutiny in her stepmother’s gaze and focusing back on the task of getting breakfast together.
“Let me fix it,” Hattie muttered, sounding cross as she stepped up as if to do so. She reached again for the bowl that Flora held, seemingly oblivious to how much tighter Flora’s fingers tightened around the honey in response to even just those words.
“I told you—” Flora started, her voice tight. She cut off as Hattie took the bowl from in front of her though, her words dying in an awkward inhale that caught in the back of her throat.
“Too much sugar will ruin your siblings,” Hattie hissed, taking the honey from Flora’s hands as well and going to mix the bowls so that she could avoid adding any further honey to the others. “Sugar leads to indolence. Do you want them to be fat and lazy? It may not seem like it to start with, but that is just the sugar rush,” Hattie lectured.
She nudged Flora out of the way without so much as a pause, much less an apology. Flora stared at the perfect posture of her stepmother as she took Flora’s place at the counter, putting away all the additions that had been put out to add to each child’s oatmeal specifically. The way that Flora had always done it, and the way that her mother before had done it as well.
It would be one thing if it was the first time that Hattie had discounted Flora’s knowledge of how the house ran since moving in several months prior, but it wasn’t even just the hundredth. It had started out small at first: changing the way that the plates were arranged at dinner, taking the flowers and vases and putting them in different places, adjusting the schedule to better fit what she considered normal… The list had just continued to grow with every day that the woman inserted herself into their lives though.
Flora’s jaw tensed, her fingers curling into her palms at her sides, her nails biting crescents into the soft flesh of her hand as she turned on her heel and stormed off. The heated coal of her anger only burned brighter as she forced herself to walk away instead of respond. It wasn’t like it mattered, her opinion was becoming less and less important the longer Hattie was around.
The clinking of the spoon in the bowl as she walked off only added fuel to her ire.
Hattie had seemed nice enough when Flora’s father had begun courting her. She was pretty and prim, and her fastidiousness at the time had seemed like just the sort of thing to suit a house as full as the Button household was. That had been before she’d actually moved in though.
Since her father had married Hattie, it was like everything that Flora did was wrong. Everything she’d done in the years she had been caring for her four siblings was just the wrong side of acceptable for the older woman. Flora was too lenient, Flora didn’t watch them closely enough, Flora took too much upon herself. Over and over and over, each issue led to another and another after that.
No amount of either one of them talking to the other ever seemed to solve the problem.
It was enough to make Flora see red.
“Did she do it again?”
The voice that shocked Flora this time wasn’t harsh and grating to her ears. It was soft, with just the right amount of concern in it to bring Flora up short. She blinked in surprise at the sight of her oldest younger sibling standing in the door of his room, his hand curled around the doorframe and a frown marring his thoughtful expression.
John’s brown eyes were so similar to her mother’s that it sometimes brought her up short, they both had amber flecks that would glow from even the low light from the hall. He didn’t have the same problems with Hattie that Flora did, being only fifteen, but he was far more aware of the power struggle going on between the two of them than any of the younger ones were. He had complained on more than one occasion that it gave him stomach trouble.
“Do what again?” Flora asked, feigning ignorance. “I just realized that my hair was a mess, I didn’t want to wake you all up before I’d had a chance to fix it… Hattie was just nice enough to take over getting breakfast ready for me so that I could do so.” The lie slipped out almost too easily, the smile that she coerced her lips into feigning feeling as if it could slide off at a moment’s notice.
It didn’t though. Especially not once she saw John’s troubled expression clear, the evident relief at her words almost too much for her to bear.
That was the biggest problem, wasn’t it? No one but Flora seemed to have any issues with Hattie. They all adored her just as much now as they had early on when their father had begun bringing her around. The fresh-faced, pretty daughter of his colleague that had only just moved to town.
“Mm mm, breakfast,” John mumbled. He pushed past her without another word, humming happily on his way down the hall.
Flora only allowed her own smile to slip from her face after he had rounded the corner, her stomach clenching in discomfort. It had only been several months, but she wasn’t an idle-headed ninny muggins. She could see the strain that her and Hattie’s strife was putting on everyone else. And she knew, as much as the woman was annoying her, that she wasn’t just some fabled evil stepmother either.
Hattie had been good for Flora’s father. Each week spent with her, in the beginning, had brought about changes that Flora hadn’t even been aware were possible to be made. He smiled more, the corny quips that he’d quit sharing quite so often since her mother’s passing once more becoming a thing of regular occurrence. He had even taken to playing a song or two on the grand piano in the foyer once more.
Flora could hear it now, her father playing a tune downstairs to coax those children still in bed into waking, the volume and tempo rising slowly with each note. Soon it would thunder through the house, giving no one a choice on whether to roll back over or not. Flora turned down the hall into her own room, closing the door behind her and wandering over to her vanity mirror. She hadn’t been lying, her hair did need to be re-plaited. She just couldn’t pull her thoughts away from the problem of Hattie…
It wasn’t as if her father’s constitution was coincidental either. Hattie and he seemed to share their own special language, comprised of the soft touching of their hands as they passed one another and even softer glances between what actual words that they shared. She was the light that Mr. Buttons had needed, sparkling back at him with her tinkling laughter that only he could seem to coax into an unladylike snort whenever he boyishly tickled her.
She accompanied them to their bi-weekly visits to her mother’s grave as well. Without complaint or apparent discomfort, she even asked the children what memories they had of their mother and encouraged them to talk about her often…
Hattie wasn’t just good for her father, but for her siblings as well. She was always ready to settle a dispute between the girls over who had been allowed to have more time with a doll and offer a compromise to end it as well. She made no fuss over kissing injuries and caring for colds, and seemed to take a particular delight in tucking the younger ones in at night.
“Because the problem isn’t Hattie,” Flora whispered to her reflection, her lips dipping into a frown as she stared at her disheveled frame in the mirror. “The problem is me…”
The admission was soft, the sadness in it drenching every word in kind. Hattie was a wonderful wife and mother… it was just that Hattie was taking the place that Flora had grown to fit after her mother’s death… And Flora didn’t know how to be anything but the role that she had taken on any longer. There were too many years between her childhood and now for her to know how to return…
Or how to adjust to Hattie taking over those duties that had always been her own.
Her father deserved to be happy, with how much he had given up over the years, and Hattie made him happy. Her siblings deserved to have the same tender care from a mother that Flora had received from theirs… and Hattie was ready and offering to fill that role.
“Where, though, does that leave me?” Flora asked of her reflection again, her hazel eyes flashing in the mirror.
Reston, New Mexico, 1892
The sound of tinkling glass filled the small, bright room, echoing off of the wooden walls like the chiming of bells. The two men that sat inside of the small room were surrounded by a cloud of smoke, a whiskey bottle on the table between them, and a glass in front of either of them. Only one was adding to the cloud drifting indolently over their heads, while the other waved at it any time it dropped too close to his face.
Both men held a hand of cards, both wearing large grins. Each man also sat as far back in their chair as possible while still keeping one leg up on a stool kicked out to the right. It wasn’t a sight often found in the Reston sheriff’s department, but it was obvious that both men were enjoying being a part of it.
“I’m about to make this a smoke- free business establishment,” the blonde man with the scarred lip complained, again waving his hand over his head as if to banish the perfumed cloud from around him. His nostrils flared, his eyes narrowed despite the grin twitching at the corners of his lips.
“And what would you tell all the men who come smoking their cigars when talking to you then, Calvin?” The darker haired of the two snorted as he lifted his cards, concealing the lower half of his face and the smirk that stretched his lips as he did so. “Will you offer them mints and hard candies like you do me? It doesn’t work, old man. I’ve tried telling you.”
“Old man?” Calvin laughed, snorting as Ethan pushed his glasses back up his nose. “I’m not the one in need of spectacles, my friend.” His lips twitched as he sank into the chair he was leaned back into. He wasn’t going to tell Ethan that he had been thinking about his own age a lot lately, or give rise to more jokes being made concerning it. He wasn’t old, yet, but he knew that he was getting up there by the creak to his bones come morning that hadn’t been there just the year before.
“Hey now, I’ll have you know I’ve needed these for better than half of my life, if not longer,” Ethan replied indignantly. “Which you should know, being that you were there the last time they were broken!”
Calvin’s lips split into a full grin then, his hand lifting from around his cup and scratching the stubble that was beginning to bud along his jawline, to try and hide his laugh at the memory. “If by been there you mean saving both those frames and your sorry butt…” he teased, trailing off and biting back another chuckle as he rearranged the cards in his hand.
“I do not mean. If that was what I had meant that is what I would have said,” Ethan argued, his good-natured tone never once lowering. “I’ll grant that you saved both my butt and my frames, but Calvin, I will not cotton to you calling my butt sorry…”
Both of them snorted with laughter at that, Calvin’s head dipping to try and control the way that his chest shook with his amusement. He didn’t mean anything by what he was saying anyways, the day they were referencing was so long ago that he wasn’t even sure how many years it had been. Back before either of them had been working for the sheriff’s department, back before they’d even gotten out of the schoolyard themselves.
“I’ll tell you what,” Calvin chuckled, his laughter calming somewhat. “I bet old Bud Hanson never thought he’d see a day where you grew to be so much taller than him.” He shook his head at the thought mentioning the main ringleader of larger boys who had picked on Ethan back before his growth spurt.
“Y’know, I always thought that the son of a gun would grow up to be at least eight feet tall… and now, what is he? At most five-foot-seven?” Ethan slapped the tabletop, not bothering to hide his glee at the turn of events, shaking his head and taking another drink before grinning. “It’s us quiet ones you gotta watch for. Just like now, I bet you weren’t expecting me to have a pair of kings, huh?”
Ethan laid his cards down proudly on the table, his chest swelling as he grinned triumphantly at Calvin, and Calvin had to bite back his own grin. He took a drink to buy himself a moment of time, and to swallow that loud laughter that wanted to be let loose, before shaking his head as if disappointed.
“That is a mighty fair hand there, Ethan. I sure do hate to spoil your fun though.” He readjusted the cards in his own hand, watching the grin slide off of his best friend’s features as he allowed himself to sit a bit straighter in the chair. “But I do believe that this’ll make those kings a sorry sight, in comparison.”
Calvin laid his hand down between them as well, the three queens standing out proudly, nestled in the middle of the other two number cards. “Trips takes it, right? Refresh my memory,” he teased. He knew darn well that three queens beat the two kings that Ethan had been so proud of, and he wasn’t at all sorry for the fallen expression on his friend’s face in light of that early celebration. It had been a rare string of good luck for him today in poker, and he wasn’t about to go apologizing for it.
Ethan huffed, the sound more of a complaint than any set of words used in its place could have been. His face creased in frustration, one hand lifting to push through his perpetually mussed hair before pushing all of the cards back together and working them into a pile. “You sure are an arrogant son of a gun today, Calvin Cooper.”
“Aw, don’t be that way,” Calvin laughed. “It’s just a bout of good luck, that’s all. It’s my day.” He thumbed the bottom half of his nose, stopping himself from adding more fuel to the fire, and focused on pouring them one more drink for what he was sure was about to be their last hand. Ethan was a sore winner and a sore loser given the right set of circumstances, and today seemed to be ripe with those.
“Y’know what, fine. Today’s your day, huh?” Ethan’s blue eyes flashed behind the lenses of his glasses, a mischievous tilt pushing over his lips. “You wanna bet on that?”
“Now, Ethan, you know as fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizens, and as the men this town have chosen to uphold the law, we can’t be partaking in such a sinful pastime as gambling…” Calvin answered slowly, his voice raised in faux sanctimony. “What would we wager on anyways? You gonna come do my household chores for me next?” He snorted, biting down on his tongue to keep from laughing any louder and spoiling his ruse.
“Well, now, Calvin… I never said we had to go making it any kind of monetary bet. We’re two, single men in a town where the women are either taken or we’ve known ‘em for so long they might as well be our sisters. And I happened to notice your sister done went and added a bridal catalog in there with your mail.” Ethan looked up from his shuffling of the deck of cards in front of him, raising his eyebrows.
Calvin snorted, his gaze moving to the catalog that Daisy had indeed included in with the stack of mail for him, sighing. “You want the catalog to look over the pictures you can have it,” he snorted.
“Now, Calvin, how’s that interesting?” Ethan returned, shaking his head as if he was disappointed in his friend’s lack of ingenuity. “No, now what I’m proposing is that whoever wins the next hand gets to write one of those brides in there on behalf of the loser.” His teeth flashed white as he started dealing the hand out, jauntily making sure that they each had the right number of cards.
Calvin eyed Ethan with a combination of disbelief and amusement, blinking at his friend as if he were trying to make sure he wasn’t growing a second head. “You want the winner to write one of those ladies on behalf of the loser?” he verified, his eyebrows rising. He’d never imagined that Ethan was so hard up for a woman’s attention to stack the deck against him. Ethan had lost every single hand since they started playing.
Ethan’s lips twitched, his eyes dropping as he finished setting the cards up between them. “Sure do,” he whistled. “That is… unless you’re scared?” His eyes flashed back up to Calvin, one eyebrow lifting higher above his spectacles than the other, and the challenge therein was plain as day.
“I’m not scared,” Calvin snorted. “If you want me to write to one of those aspiring brides for you, you don’t have to lose a hand to ask,” he mumbled, picking up his cards and almost snorting for how good a hand he had already.
“I said the loser,” Ethan replied evenly. “Which means if you lose I write one of them on your behalf. Again, unless you’re scared?” He sing-songed the last part, waggling his brows up and down animatedly.
Calvin glanced down at his hand again, keeping his face as neutral as possible and readjusting the cards in his hand. He bit back the triumphant smile, shrugging idly and changing two cards out unnecessarily. Or at least he had thought it was unnecessaryily. It only made him even more confident and had him humming noncommittal in the back of his throat as he sat back.
“I guess if that’s a bet you’re willing to make, Ethan, then I will be game for it.” Calvin raised his brows in question as he looked back up, only just catching Ethan’s expression shifting at the last minute. Ethan’s game face, while obvious, was still impossible to discern actual emotion from.
Ethan traded only one card out, pulling a face that did nothing to ruin Calvin’s confidence. Ethan’s lips almost seemed to fall, the skin around his eyes tightening, and his shoulders hitching up towards his ears. He was obviously trying to hide his emotion and Calvin was willing to bet actual money on the fact that it wasn’t the outcome that Ethan had been hoping for.
“Well, this is a fantastic hand,” Ethan enthused, forcing his voice to sound even more cheery. “Are you sure you don’t just want to fold?”
Calvin exhaled roughly, the amusement plain in the noise, and leaned the chair he was sitting in back on two legs. “Nah, but I’m willing to bet that means I get to call the hand,” he chuckled, laying his cards out flat and finally allowing his grin to crease the lower half of his features. “And call myself the winner to boot.”
Calvin watched as Ethan’s eyes fell to the five cards laid out face up on the table, reading those four kings with what seemed like a sour realization. His lip quivered, his eyes widening, but it wasn’t a frown that broke out across his face like Calvin had been expecting. Ethan’s face, instead, broke into an overly excited, gleeful expression.
Ethan slammed his cards triumphantly down on the table over Calvin’s, cackling at the disbelief on his partner’s face.
Calvin, in turn, could do nothing but stare. The straight flush staring back at him seemed otherworldly in the face of all of Ethan’s losses before. He blinked, leaning forward and moving the cards himself as if to prove that it was an illusion or a trick, but the cards stayed firm. Ethan’s laughter in the background seemed like a cruel joke, the red and black cards staring up at him almost accusingly, as he finally sat back.
“How did you know you were going to win?” Calvin finally muttered, shaking his head and rubbing his chin in his perplexion. There was, clearly, no other option. He hadn’t offered to wager anything before this hand, or even offered it as an option, and what he was offering had seemed so farfetched that there had been no reason for Calvin to consider the consequences should he lose…
“Oh, it’s the gambler’s promise, Calvin!” Ethan cried merrily, pulling the bridal catalog that the entire wager had been centered around onto the desk in front of him in his celebration. “I just knew if I made the stakes good enough your sister’s prayers would sway the luck of the cards my way! She’s only been wishing you to have a wife for the past four years now.” He practically giggled in his delight.
Calvin couldn’t wipe the incredulity from his face, staring at Ethan and the catalog instead of the cards as his two front chair legs hit the floor with a resounding thud. Ethan wasn’t just teasing him either, and that realization hit him with a sudden, inescapable awareness. Ethan wasn’t laughingly holding the catalog aloft and asking Calvin what his preferences were…
No, Ethan was thumbing through the pages, reading each little blurb with an avid, focused interest. He poured over the pages as if Daisy herself was watching him and demanding he be fastidious. It was too much for Calvin, even just watching, his breath huffing out of him all at once and worry sinking into the pit of his belly.
He knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that whatever farce he had considered Ethan’s bet to be was already being proven as more than that. Just as he knew that, whatever this was, was going to be more than just a slight aggravation for him. He could feel the headache and preoccupation that it was going to cost him already coming on.
Atlanta, Georgia, 1892
“But Flora,” Maddison whined, her head thrown back and her pretty blue eyes widened to the point that the whites around them seemed to stretch almost too far. “I don’t want to be the caboose! Why do I have to be the caboose? I’m always the caboose!” Her voice lifted petulantly at the end, her lower lip quivering from the effort it was taking her not to continue in her complaint.
Flora, amidst the groaning of her other siblings, dropped to her knees in front of the five-year-old, her own eyes shining with a kind of repressed mirth. “And how old are you, Maddison? Five, right? Every one of us here has served as the caboose in this story, and all of us have worked our way up. When you are six years old you will no longer be the caboose!”
“I don’t believe you!” Maddison whimpered. “You’re the oldest! Who made you be the caboose? I think you just make me be the caboose because you want me to be.”
Flora chuckled, taking her thumb and brushing away the thin line of moisture that had gathered beneath the little girl’s lashes. “Our father made me be the caboose, because that is how the story goes. The little caboose, who saves the day. Do you grow tired of saving the day, sweet caboose?”
Maddison’s chin wobbled, her eyes darting between her siblings before shaking her head no. “I not tired!”
Without pause Flora shifted forward on her knees, wrapping Maddison up in her arms and faux growling into the side of her younger sister’s face as she swept her off of her feet. “I think you are,” she growled. “I think you are a very tired caboose. A very, very tired caboose in need of a quiet moment. You know who else needs a quiet moment?”
“Me!” John interrupted, yawning even through the one word as he came up to Flora’s side. “I need a quiet moment! Never mind the tired caboose. If she’s not wanting to nap she can come sing to me until I fall asleep.” He took over the reins without batting an eye, scooping Maddison from Flora’s arms and winking at her over the mess of honeyed curls tucked under his chin.
“Well, I’m not tired either!” Lisa groused, staring defiantly at Flora as if she were about to be sent for a nap as well.
“Well, good then, we can sit here and you can read the rest of the book to us!” Flora exclaimed, clapping happily as she sat back onto the nest of pillows that they had pulled out and into the sitting room before starting their reading earlier that afternoon. It had been a quiet afternoon with her siblings up until Maddison’s outburst. She settled back into the nest with Lisa and Albert in the hopes that it would go back to one once more.
She could hear the tired giggles from upstairs signaling John’s success in getting their youngest sister down, but within minutes that too faded out as Lisa picked up at the sentence that Flora had left off at, doing her best to copy the voices and the drama that even their father used during his storytelling.
She didn’t honestly know if five minutes had passed or a half of an hour, before the reading was interrupted once more. She didn’t know anything more than the fact that they were still on the same book and that Lisa’s voice was beginning to tire and Albert’s eyelids to droop when the door to the sitting room opened. Hattie bustled in with her arms laden with groceries.
“Don’t you all look cozy!” Hattie greeted, her lips tilting in a smile before her eyes came to rest on Flora. Flora waited for the usual tightening of the skin around her eyes, or the sigh that would accompany her being noticed, but all Hattie did was smile even brighter. “Flora, I’m sure this was your marvelous idea, but would you mind terribly coming to help me with dinner? I’m afraid I’m running behind and four hands are always quicker than two.”
The request was so friendly and so sweet that Flora almost had to blink to make sure that it was her being spoken to. “Yes, of course, Hattie,” she mumbled, pushing up from the floor and smoothing her skirts down reflexively. Hattie had never asked for her help doing anything before. Actually, come to think of it, she had dismissed Flora from the kitchen more often than she had accepted her help.
Hattie didn’t seem to be having the same preoccupation with the abnormality of it all though, walking through the sitting room and into the adjoining dining room without so much as a backwards glance. She was even humming under her breath as she did so, leaving Flora to follow haltingly behind her.
“That really did look cozy, I’ve never seen those pillows before. Where did they come from?” Hattie asked around a smile as she unloaded the groceries from her baskets, lining them up on the counter and putting away what items they weren’t going to be using for dinner.
Flora only had to see what was being left out to know that she was making rosemary chicken and potatoes. Seeing as much she shifted, rolling her sleeves up and taking the extra apron that had been placed on the counter. “They were my mother’s ‘sitting’ pillows,” Flora explained after a moment. “We keep them in the bottom cabinets in the library.” She finished tying the apron and moved to begin deboning the chicken.
“Oh,” Hattie muttered, glancing over somewhat apologetically. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Her voice was all at once more genuine and softer than Flora had ever heard it in relation to herself. Flora had heard her use her soft voice with her father before, with her siblings, even with other children that they came into contact with… but for months everything directed towards Flora had been nothing but tense or cautious.
“No, it’s fine, you should know where they are. There’s a red one in there that you’d probably particularly like.” Flora offered her own olive branch almost brokenly, the words stilted on her tongue despite how much she wanted to mean the warmth behind them. It was just… difficult.
She stretched the muscle of the meat between her fingers, pulling the breast off and handing it over to where Hattie was already whisking eggs and spices together to dredge it through. “Well, I appreciate that. Speaking of appreciation, you do so much here… I picked you up a little something while I was getting the groceries.” Her smile widened as she jerked her chin towards the papers left on the counter.
Flora was expecting a set of fancy postcards, or maybe a leaflet of local art, what she wasn’t expecting was a catalog. Her eyebrows furrowed, her neck craning so that she could see what the typeface read, her breath catching beneath her ribcage as she made out the words.
“A bridal catalog?” she asked incredulously. Her eyes flashed to Hattie in suspended disbelief, her lips parting and the rest of what she had been going to ask dying out on the second half of her exhale. What use did she have of a bridal catalog? What would she possibly…
“Oh, no,” she laughed, disbelief coloring the two words so ardently that it sounded half like a plea. “What interest would I have in entertaining the idea of being sold off like livestock to a man I not only don’t know, but also had never even seen?” Each word lay on the edge of laughter, hysteria circling the back of her throat as she shook her head.
The smallest sliver of regret entered her upon seeing Hattie’s smile falter in the manner that it did on her lips at Flora’s words. Not that Hattie allowed for it to stop her, her hands rolling the chicken over and over again in the spice mixture in the bowl in front of her as she jerked her chin once more at the catalog she had indicated.
“Don’t be so judgmental, Flora,” she reprimanded, obviously forcing her smile back onto her lips. “You never know what a gift such a thing might be. Look at it why don’t you, page four.” She waved one of her egg- covered hands at it only briefly before transferring the chicken onto the sheet in front of her.
“Judgmental?” Flora echoed emptily, keeping the hysteria from her voice that time. Something had lurked in Hattie’s words, something that gave her pause, and forced her to reach for the catalog in front of her without first washing her hands. She could see the chicken juices staining the pages as she flipped to the aforementioned page, her eyes scanning it briefly and then coming up short.
“What is this?” she whispered, her voice carrying through the room despite its volume. She stared at the catalog in front of her, unable to comprehend what it was she was looking at. Her picture stared back at her, cut from the family portrait that her father had ordered. The blurb beside it was to the point, and yet still somehow flowery, but it was where it was located and what it meant that resonated within her.
“What is this?” she repeated, raising her voice and spinning about to face Hattie in a fury. Her eyes burned with the outrage coursing through her, her chest heaving as Hattie’s eyes rounded in what appeared to be surprise. As if she could have predicted any outcome other than this one.
“You are crazy if you think that this is going to happen!” Flora continued, her voice shrill as she clutched the bridal catalog between her fingers until the paper wrinkled. She spun about on her heel, not bothering with taking the apron from around her waist, and hurried from the room.
“A Patient Kind of Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Flora Button may be a shy and obedient girl, but when she opens up, her intelligence and wit shine through. When her harsh stepmother places a mail-order bride ad on her behalf, she’s distressed and infuriated. Unable to find a way out though, she dutifully moves to Reston, where everything is new and confusing… including her husband-to-be, Calvin. Even so, the more she is around him, the more she feels like a chance at love could actually be within reach. Still, she finds it hard to get through to him and can’t help feeling like something is missing… Can Flora breach those iron walls Calvin has built around him and be the one to claim his heart?
Sheriff Calvin Cooper is a solitary man, focused on his job and struggling to get over a hurtful feud with his father. When a woman arrives in town expecting an engagement from him, he is caught by complete surprise. What he thought was a harmless wager between friends, has ended up putting him in an unexpected predicament… Even though marriage is the last thing on Calvin’s mind, meeting Flora brings out feelings he never thought possible for him. As he gets to know her, the situation becomes increasingly complicated and he finds himself questioning everything. Will Calvin manage to come clean about his intentions and earn Flora’s love or will past secrets keep him from following his heart?
As Calvin and Flora grow closer, they experience a connection beyond anything they could have imagined. Even though fate seems to have meant for them to find each other, the pieces they are hiding from one another finally come to light… Will hurtful secrets drive a wedge between them and tear them apart forever? Can they overcome the shadows that threaten their relationship when all cards are on the table?
“A Patient Kind of Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.