A Convenient Christmas Wedding
November 8, 2016 (ISBN 978-0-373-28382-8, Love Inspired Historical)
Proposing a marriage of convenience to a rugged logger is the boldest move of Nora Underhill's sheltered life. In return for Simon Wallin's protection from her overbearing family, the unassuming seamstress offers prime frontier farmland. But their paper marriage changes when Nora's greedy brother tries to draw her back into a life of drudgery. Her only option: move to Simon's farm, and into the center of his loving, unruly family.
Years of shouldering responsibility have left Simon cynical and reserved. But little by little, Nora's warmth opens his shuttered heart to joy. With their marriage claim under threat, can this practical arrangement blossom over the holidays…and become a love for all seasons?
Fifth book in the Frontier Bachelors series, following The Bride Ship, Would-Be Wilderness Wife, Frontier Engagement, and Instant Frontier Family. Frontier Bachelors: Bold, rugged, and bound to be grooms.
Top Pick! "This is a sweet marriage-of-convenience tale and Scott's love of history is apparent. Along with the fully fleshed out storyline and characters, the vivid descriptions and balance between the hero and heroine make this an engaging and truly enjoyable read. The drama will keep the reader turning the pages until the end, which comes all too soon." -- RT Book Reviews
5 Stars! "This story targets the readers who enjoy a Christmas romance story without a lot of danger and tension. After a rough week at work, this was exactly what I needed to help me relax over the weekend. If you have read the other titles in this series, you will see familiar names as secondary characters. However, you do not have to read any of the other stories to fully enjoy this one. It stands alone. And so does this author! I cannot recommend this novel highly enough." -- Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews
"Another sweetly captivating romance that also beautifully celebrates the importance of faith and family." -- John Charles, Booklist
"Tender yet laced with humor, this well-researched, faith-suffused Christmas romance should please both inspirational and sweet historical fans; a worthy addition to this popular series." -- Library Journal
"I had a hard time putting this book down." -- Wren's Thoughts Review Blog
"What a wonderful story! This is the fifth book in the Frontier Bachelors series and I have enjoyed each novel. Yet, I think this is my very favorite so far! I love the situation of a marriage of convenience and the logical way Simon and Nora entered into their arrangement. It set the stage for a romance to blossom between these two characters whom I liked so much." -- Britt Reads Fiction
"Regina Scott is a wonderful storyteller, and I reveled in her delightful twist on the marriage of convenience trope! Simon and Nora’s story is engaging, entertaining, and sure to make you smile." -- Buzzing About Books
"I love Christmas stories like this. This is a sweet and clean book that will make you smile as you read. It’s fast-paced and an easy read. Even if you haven’t read the other books in the series, you’ll be able to keep up just fine. I definitely recommend you read A Convenient Christmas Wedding this Christmas season." -- Christy's Cozy Corners
"This is a perfect book for readers who enjoy frontier settings, marriage of convenience stories, feisty women, and sweet romance. Highly recommend!" -- I blog for books
"This book is like drinking a mug of thick, chocolatey hot chocolate on a cold winter's day--it'll warm your insides, melt your heart, and leave you with a contented feeling." -- Katie's Clean Book Collection
Seattle, Washington Territory, December 1866
What better time than a wedding to ask a man to marry you?
Nora Underhill stood in the corner of the Occidental Hotel's fine restaurant, watching as toasts were raised. Behind the head table draped in white, her friend Maddie O'Rourke looked beautiful in the embroidered spruce-colored wool gown Nora had sewn for her. The other ladies wore their church clothes, soft wools and a few velvets in rich colors that glowed like jewels in the golden lamplight.
Everyone seemed so happy, particularly Michael Haggerty as he gazed down at his bride, whose blush was nearly as red as her hair. Nora liked seeing people happy. She liked making people happy. A shame she'd never managed that with her parents or her brother and sister-in-law. If her brother's socially astute wife were here, Nora could imagine what Meredith would say.
You are quite right to hide in the shadows, Nora. These people will only judge you and find you lacking. I can't imagine what your friend was thinking to name you maid of honor. No doubt she was only being kind.
And Maddie was kind. Nora knew that. The outspoken Irishwoman had befriended her, trusted Nora to teach her little sister Ciara how to sew. Maddie had even complimented Nora on her dress today-lavender crepe with a scalloped overskirt, fitted bodice and embroidered amethyst-colored hearts along every edge. Quite fitting for a wedding, she'd thought when she'd finished it. And she'd managed to tame her unruly black hair back behind her head in a bun that was at least a trifle fashionable. Even Meredith would find her satisfactory today. But then, it wasn't Meredith she was trying to please.
Let him look with favor on my proposal, Father.
Immediately, guilt gnawed at her. She tried never to ask for things for herself. When her parents had sickened, she'd prayed for them as she'd nursed them. The Lord had seen fit to bring them home to heaven.
When her brother Charles and his wife Meredith had taken her in, she'd prayed at first for their strength. They'd always seemed terribly burdened by her presence.
When she'd decided to leave home and venture to Seattle with the Mercer Expedition, she'd prayed for its success, for the health and safety of the ladies sailing all the way around the continent to make a new life. God had delivered them to Seattle, where nearly all her traveling companions, including Maddie, had found employment and husbands.
Surely, just this once, He'd consider it appropriate for her to pray for herself.
And she certainly needed His help. She wasn't brave or bold like Maddie, but today she would ask the bravest, boldest question a lady might utter. Her entire future depended on how Simon Wallin answered. She couldn't return to the life she'd led back in Lowell, Massachusetts. She'd thought she'd escaped by coming to Seattle with Asa Mercer last May. She'd fallen in love with the wide sweeps of fir, the massive mountain in the distance, the gentle call of the waves on Puget Sound. Even the cool, damp air smelled like freedom here!
And then her brother Charles had written that he and Meredith were also coming to Seattle. It seemed they'd suffered a financial setback and thought to reestablish themselves here. Charles had instructed her to secure a home for them and furnish it, the costs to be paid with his remaining funds. Of course he didn't ask her to find a cook or a maid. She knew who would be cooking and cleaning and helping his wife dress.
She shuddered and had to paste a smile back on her face as more of Maddie's friends rose to cheer her good fortune. Maddie and Michael made a fine couple, and the way Maddie's little brother and sister beamed, the four were already on the way to becoming a loving family.
That was not her experience of family. Family clutched at you, pecked at you, bared each of your faults and made you feel small, stupid and vulnerable. Neither her parents nor her brother had ever loved her. Perhaps the only love she'd have was that of her Heavenly Father. There was a certain contentment in that. No one could steal it from her.
But Charles and Meredith could certainly try to steal her happiness, her prosperity. She could attempt to stand up to them, but they were like a stream running down a mountain. The mountain could stand as tall and proud as it liked. The water was still going to cut a canyon.
Like her parents, her brother felt it his duty to protect her from a world that was unkind, condemning a lady who lacked fortune, figure and face. What he saw as protection, she felt as a swaddling blanket, tight, smothering. Meredith had, surprisingly, been the one to encourage her to leave Lowell. Why couldn't Charles understand that Nora had done well for herself here, with no help from him? There wasn't a man or woman in the room who hadn't come to her to either repair or create clothing.
She could see him now, standing against the opposite wall as if he too had other matters on his mind. Though his strong arms were crossed over his chest, tightening the wool of his plain brown suit, there was nothing hesitant or shy about Simon Wallin. He burned with the intensity of an oil lamp's flame, barely contained by the glass. He alone was as tall as his older brother Drew, who had married Catherine Stanway of the Mercer Expedition, and Simon held himself with his head high, his gaze firm as he watched his family nearby.
They too seemed terribly happy together, enough so that a sigh came out of her. Mrs. Wallin, the matriarch of the family, her graying red hair curling, had linked arms with her blond-haired daughter Beth, who smiled up at her. Towering over them, Drew exchanged glances with his pretty wife Catherine as if remembering their own wedding day, as did the regal Alexandrina and her dapper husband James Wallin. Younger brothers John and Levi jostled each other good-naturedly as if they couldn't wait to get out of the suits and into the more comfortable clothes they likely wore when logging.
She supposed she might have approached John. He was by all accounts studious and kind, even if he was a few years her junior. But Simon, she thought, held greater possibilities when it came to strengths. Surely that high forehead was testimony to intelligence. The long lanky body certainly spoke of hard labor, and the firm fingers told of days wielding an ax and nights cradling his father's violin. She'd heard him play at Catherine's and Rina's weddings. A man capable of bringing such joy must have the capacity to understand her hopes.
But there was another reason she'd chosen Simon. Maddie had confided that he was a man who could be utterly fixed on a course of action, and he was focused now on a goal to help his family. With two new brides and babies on the horizon, the Wallins needed more farmland.
And that was something Nora could offer.
She raised her head, determination stiffening her spine and forcing her feet across the room to his side as the other guests came forward to accept pieces of the wedding cake Maddie had created in her bakery. Nora felt Simon's gaze shift to her and nearly wilted under the considering look. She reminded herself that whatever he thought of her, whatever he said, it could be no worse than what she would endure once Charles and Meredith arrived.
"Mr. Wallin," she said, the sound of her thundering heart nearly eclipsing her voice in her ears. "I'm Nora Underhill, and I have a proposal for you."
He frowned. His brows were a shade darker than his short, light-brown hair. They made a firm slash across his tanned skin. Those green eyes were like chips of jade as he gazed down at her. "A proposal?"
"Yes," she said, amazed at her own audacity. "An actual proposal. Simon Wallin, I want you to marry me."
Simon blinked. Even in primitive Seattle, even at a reception where weddings were on everyone's mind, a lady didn't ask a gentleman to marry. She had no reason, for Seattle boasted ten men for every lady of marriageable age. Instead of offering, a lady generally had to fend off too many offers.
And it wasn't as if he was well acquainted with the woman. He had met her only once or twice. He might not have remembered her name if she hadn't reminded him now.
Besides, she certainly didn't seem the forward type. He'd noticed her, standing against the far wall, one hand hugging her waist, her face first brightening in a smile, then darkening. Now her gray eyes were growing misty in her expressive face, and her generous lips were trembling.
He could not imagine what would have driven her to make such a bold request, but he wasn't about to grant it.
"I think," he said, keeping his voice kind and respectful, "that you are talking to the wrong man. Any number of fellows would no doubt be delighted to pay you court, Miss Underhill."
She shook her head so strongly her hair flew out of the bun in which she'd attempted to bind it, thick black tendrils curling like smoke around her broad cheeks. "No. It must be you. You see, I don't want a husband, and from what I gather, you don't want a wife. We'd be perfect for each other."
He could not follow her logic, but that was nothing new. He struggled to understand even his brothers' choices. Drew was myopic, so focused on raising their brothers and sister after their father's logging accident that his oldest brother sometimes forgot most of them were grown now and able to make their own way. His younger brother James was too spontaneous, leaping into action without considering the consequences. John had his head in the clouds, always dreaming, and Levi was young enough that he tended to think only of himself. They all saw the world as they wanted it to be. He saw what it could be. Was it any wonder none of them realized the problems looming over the farm?
"I appreciate your faith in me," Simon told the woman in front of him as the rest of his family headed to accept a piece of Maddie's no-doubt delicious spice cake. "But I must decline."
He pushed off the wall to follow them, and she darted in front of him once more. She was short; the top of her head came below his collarbone. But her figure in the lavender gown was sturdy, solid.
"Please," she said, her gaze turned up to his and her face pinched. "Hear me out. You need land. As your wife, I can bring you one hundred and sixty acres."
About to brush past her again, Simon paused. She was right, of course. He'd already tried to convince Drew and James to file for their wives, to no avail. With Catherine four months pregnant, Drew didn't want to chance making her travel to Olympia to claim the land the law allowed her as his wife. And James, the only other one of them besides Drew and Simon to have earned his patent, was determined to claim the bluff overlooking the lake for the town site they had planned to honor their father's memory. That land was no good for farming.
So it was all up to Simon to find a way to gain the much-needed farmland, even if the family budget would not extend that far. He had even identified the property-a good stretch of flat acreage running above his claim, his mother's and Drew's. He'd prayed for guidance, but as usual, he'd heard no answer.
But to marry a stranger? He'd never planned to marry, despite the fact that he'd threatened Drew with courting Catherine when his brother had proven reticent to add the pretty nurse to the family. Simon tended to bump heads with anyone close to him, no matter how hard he tried. Perhaps that was why God so often remained silent. It seemed Simon's role in life to spot the flaw in any plan, to point out the error in misconceived ideas. Love, and faith, did not grow in that environment.
Yet here stood Nora Underhill, biting her lower lip, gazing up at him as if he alone had the capacity to make her dreams come true. If it had been one of his brothers or Beth suggesting that he marry for the land, he would have told them they were being idiotic. But she had obviously taken a risk by approaching him, and he could only respect her for that.
"I'm not the most patient and tolerant of fellows," he admitted instead. "You might call me a cynic. I doubt I'd make a good husband. I like things just so, and I can't abide senseless frivolity."
"I am not the least bit frivolous," she assured him, waving both hands so that he caught a glimpse of the entirely frivolous hearts embroidered along her equally frivolous scalloped cuffs. "This would be a simple bargain. You would continue to live as you always have. I intend to stay in my room at the boardinghouse in Seattle. I'm a seamstress, and I should like to keep working."
A practical consideration, he'd give her that. But any number of things troubled him about this bride bargain, the largest being her motivation. Why would a woman surrounded by bachelors need to approach him?
"And what do you gain from this marriage?" he challenged.
She drew in a breath as if for fortification. "Protection."
Simon stiffened. "Protection? If someone is threatening you, Miss Underhill, tell me his name, and I'll put a stop to it. And if you don't wish to confide in me, I know a dozen men in Seattle who would be happy to oblige. You have no need to sell yourself in marriage to escape unwanted attentions."
Color sprang to her cheeks, making them as red and round as the apples on the tree Ma had planted their first spring at Wallin Landing. He had to fist his hands to keep from reaching out to touch the no doubt warm skin.
"That is very kind of you, Mr. Wallin," she said. "But it isn't a would-be suitor, I fear. It's my brother."
The concept of a brother harming a sister was so far from his reality that he could only stare at her.
"He doesn't strike me, if that's what you're thinking," she hurried to assure him. "He merely feels strongly that I should be sheltered from the world. And he has the law on his side. You see, my father's will names my brother Charles my guardian until I turn five and twenty, which is nearly a year away. I believe Washington territorial law will allow me to wed without his permission."
"So you're running away," he said, not sure why the thought disappointed him.
"I prefer to think of it as a strategic retreat," she told him. Her little chin jutted out as if to prove she had some spirit. "Please believe me when I say that only a man of character and conviction can fend off my brother." She glanced up at him. "You might say I'm buying courage for those one hundred and sixty acres."
"And at the price of your future," Simon pointed out, his mind still trying to grapple with the concept. "Even here divorces aren't easy to come by. They have to be approved by the territorial legislature. If you marry me, Miss Underhill, you'll most likely be stuck with me. What if you find another fellow you truly love?"
She rubbed at the fancy embroidery on her cuff. "That's not likely to happen," she murmured. "I don't seem the sort men fall in love with."
And why not? She had a certain intelligence-she'd certainly thought through her surprising plan. She was industrious-look at her work as a seamstress. She might not be the prettiest member of the Mercer Expedition, but there was something sweet about that round face, those wide gray eyes. Surely any number of loggers and miners would cherish such a wife.
Of course, they didn't need one hundred and sixty acres.
And soon. By his calculation, if his family was careful, they would just scrape through this winter with enough food for themselves and the animals. By next winter, Catherine and likely Rina would each have a baby. The members of their extended family would only increase from there. He needed time to clear the land and prepare it for spring planting. Winter was coming, and with it the Christmas celebrations. Every day counted. He'd been racking his brain trying to find a way to secure the claim.
Here was Nora, offering it to him. All he had to do was fend off her brother. If the man was half as controlling as she claimed, Simon looked forward to the confrontation. Any brother who denied his sister love deserved to be put in his place.
Still, marriage? Out here, a man took a wife to continue his line and raise children to help in taming the wilderness. It certainly seemed to him that's what his father had done. But it didn't fall to Simon to continue the Wallin name. He had four brothers to take care of that.
And it wasn't exactly convenient to marry in Seattle. Even with Asa Mercer bringing his brides, there were still too many lonesome bachelors for every lady. He'd watched Drew fret over courting Catherine, seen James turn himself inside out to please his bride. But Simon wasn't a man who changed easily. Just ask his family. They'd called him proud, stubborn and downright fussy on occasion.
She must have sensed his vacillation, for she lay a hand on his arm. "Please, Mr. Wallin? I don't think I could be so bold as to ask a stranger. I know I can trust you. Maddie speaks so highly of all your family."
Did she? Certainly he admired the feisty redhead who had achieved her dream of opening a bakery. But surely even she would not condone this marriage of convenience.
"Did you ask her about this?" he replied.
She shook her head, eyes solemn. "No. Never. She'd try to talk me out of it."
He should do the same. Nora trusted in him on the thinnest of connections. And how was he to know she wouldn't abuse his trust? She wouldn't be the first to disappoint him.
But she may be the first to truly understand you.
Where had that thought come from? He'd yet to find anyone who shared his views on life. His was the lone voice of reason some days at Wallin Landing. Therefore, he should evaluate this proposal on logic, not emotion.
She was offering one hundred and sixty acres he badly needed and could get no other way. He was offering protection from an overbearing brother. They didn't have to live together, make a family. He had enough problems with the family he had.
It was all strictly platonic. They both achieved their goals with relatively little effort. What was wrong with that?
Glancing up, he saw that nearly everyone else was busy eating. Not a one realized that two more lives were about to change forever, if Simon could bring himself to agree.
His oldest brother laughed then, his deep voice like the toll of a bell. It had been a long time since Drew had laughed so freely. He'd sacrificed years of his life to raise his brothers and sister. Could Simon do less for his family?
"Very well, Miss Underhill," he said. "I'll make the arrangements for us to wed. A lumber schooner is scheduled to arrive in Seattle on Tuesday. Meet me at the Brown Church that morning at ten, and we can travel to Olympia after the ceremony to file the claim."
She offered him her hand. "To our bargain."
Simon took it, felt the tremor in her fingers. She wasn't any more sure of this marriage of convenience than he was. Had he just agreed to something they'd both live to regret?