A Promise in Haste
A Promise in Haste
She has no place to go with her sister.
He’s a widower looking for help.
Marla Atwell's life is turned upside down after her parents' death in an accident. With her mother's high expectations for a husband, Marla is left unprepared and unmarried. With no money or home, her only responsibility is to care for her younger sister. Desperate for survival, Marla turns to the idea of becoming a mail-order bride.
Jack Green, a widower, is not looking for love again but his café is struggling after a sickness caused by food at his establishment. His customers are no longer loyal. With the suggestion to find a wife to help him cook, Jack assumes that anyone who answers his ad will be looking for a companion and nothing more. When Marla arrives with a child, Jack thinks the worst of her and threatens to send her back East.
Will the hardships the two of them face bring them together or tear them apart? Get this heartwarming romance today.
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Marla Atwell clutched her grandmother’s locket to her chest as the bank man drove away from her home in his carriage, leaving behind a cloud of dust and despair. He might as well have packed the seat next to him with their memories and dreams. In a matter of weeks, she and her young sister would leave the only home they’d ever known.
The auction flyer would be posted at the general store, the post office, and the dry goods store where her friends would see it when they came with their mothers to purchase fabric and ribbons. Her chin trembled. She would not cry again. There wasn’t a choice. When she went through her father’s ledger and then discovered the box of unpaid bills, first she couldn’t breathe, then she couldn’t stop the tears. There were so many. How would she care for her sister after they’d been paid?
Many of the recorded expenses weren’t even a necessity. Why didn’t her father say no to her and her mother’s demands? They didn’t need new dresses every season along with all the fripperies. It was a bitter day last week when their winter wardrobe arrived, the delight of shopping with her mother was now tainted. Mother insisted that everything be ordered and made at the beginning of summer, so they’d be ready for the first chilly day. They could have made do with last year’s dresses or at least the skirts, but Mother had been intent on Marla marrying someone wealthy. She always said Marla could learn to love a rich man just as easy as a poor man.
Too bad Mother’s plan failed. Their small town was in short supply of wealthy unmarried men and now those who were available thought of her as uppity. Mother had made her refuse any boy she thought couldn’t provide well for her daughter.
Now, time had run out for her to court and marry a local man before the auction.
Everything had been a pretense. Was the lack of money the reason for Mother’s pressure to find a wealthy suitor? When Father was out of earshot, she’d always said that if Marla wanted to have nice things, never marry a doctor. It seemed to Marla that father provided far beyond what her friends’ fathers did.
Now not only was she without funds for a dowry, but any man who married her must also accept her five-year-old sister, Effie. Chances of that happening were slim. She’d always assumed men would want their own children. She doubted a man’s willingness to raise Effie, and she couldn’t bear the thought of doing what the women from the church suggested. Never would she let another family raise her little sister.
Effie had been what Mother called a surprise gift from God. And Effie had been treated like a treasure by all of them. Before her baby sister came along, there had been many losses for her parents. They’d come to believe Marla would be their only child. They doted on her, watching her as if they were memorizing the moments. Mother fussed with her hair, smoothing it and placing the biggest bow she could find in Marla’s hair. Father held her on his lap and read her books beyond her understanding and whispered into her ear how smart his little girl was. As she grew older, she craved independence and wished for a chance to run from the house like her friends without telling her parents where she would be, who she would be with.
When Effie was born, all the attention went to the baby. Marla then understood her parents’ desire to keep their children safe came from love, because she loved Effie as if she were her own.
Her stomach quivered at the thought of someone else taking Effie into their home, even if it made financial sense. Her mother hadn’t lived more than a few days after the accident and as Marla knelt by the bed, she had promised to keep their family together.
But how could she? There wasn’t enough money to take care of either of them. She’d written to Mother’s sister the day after the accident, and again after Mother passed away. Aunt Susannah had never replied. And now, the house would soon be gone.
Taking a job wasn’t out of the question if she could find one. The chances of being hired, though, were nigh impossible. The only women working in the stores were married to the men who owned them. But even if she could find employment, what would she do with her sister? Effie was too young to leave alone.
Effie tugged on Marla’s skirt as she closed the door. “I want to show Dolly to the man. Where’d he go?”
“He had to leave.” Or rather run. It wasn’t his fault he had to tell her the horrid news, but he didn’t stick around to offer her ways to keep their home. Which meant there weren’t any. Tears blurred her vision. She stuck her hand in her pocket for a handkerchief to dab her eyes. As she pulled it out, a piece of paper floated to the floor. The advert from church.
Marla stooped and grabbed it before Effie got to it. “It’s nothing.” She stroked her sister’s cheek. “Go on now, play with your dolly. I’ll read you a book in a minute.”
“You promise, Ma?”
“Marla, not Ma.” Before the accident, she’d loved Effie’s nickname for her, but now it stung worse than one hundred wasp stings.
Had it only been a few weeks since she and her friends stood in the churchyard giggling at the very advert she had stuffed in her pocket? None of them could imagine marrying someone they’d never met. As they read through the men’s requests, they had laughed so hard tears had run down their cheeks. Mother had called her to hurry because clouds were gathering, and she wanted to be home before it rained. Marla had quickly folded the paper and stuck it into her pocket.
No longer did she find the requests humorous. A woman in her position might be desperate enough to answer one of these.
That day at the church seemed ages ago. A lot can happen to a girl in a short time. Father always said that a life could change in an instant, his somber words spoken to her after a farmer was kicked in the head by his horse.
Back then, the carriage carrying her parents hadn’t rolled down an embankment.
Back then, she’d been learning mathematics and studying medicine because her father wanted her to be educated.
Back then, she never worried about eating because mother was an excellent cook.
The paper in her hand shook. Did she dare consider the advertisement for a wife?
“Ma, let’s read!” Effie swung a diminutive dinner bell.
“Euphemia. Put it down now.” The jangle jarred Marla’s nerves. She thought she’d placed it where Effie wouldn’t get it.
Effie twirled. “I like to ring it. It was just sitting on there.” She pointed to the top of the piano.
“Where you aren’t supposed to take things from.”
“I’m sorry. Will you still read to me?” She set the bell on the table. “I won’t ring it again.”
“Yes, Effie. I’ll be there in a minute.” Marla craved her mother’s guidance more than anything. The bell echoed through the house taunting her with all that was lost. She had to do something to take care of her sister.
She perused the paper. A farmer needed a wife to care for his ten children and to be prepared to have ten of her own. There was a request for a widow to care for the livestock and perhaps marry. Another required a red-haired woman who would sing in his church. She shivered, and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed, cover her head and sob.
The last ad caught her attention as she was ready to crumble the paper.
Wife needed to cook. Marry on arrival. Montana Territory.
She snorted. Did the man want to cook his wife? He didn’t say the wife had to cook well, just cook. She could do that. Couldn’t every girl her age? The ad didn’t indicate concern regarding previous marital status for this new wife. What if she were a widow with a small child? The thread of an idea spun before her. Yes, a desperate plea from this man could be precisely what saved her and Effie.