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Cover for The Perfect Mail-Order Bride by historical romance author Regina Scott, showing the back of a woman with long hair, staring from the deck of a steamship at a frontier town

The Perfect Mail-Order Bride, Book 1 in Frontier Matches

April 18, 2022 (Edwards and Williams)

Close to perfection

Ada Williamson lived her whole life in the shadow of her charismatic, capricious sister. But when the beautiful Melinda decides to jilt her mail-order groom on the way to meet him in Seattle, Washington Territory, Ada's conscience demands that she continue the journey and tell Thomas Rankin the truth. After all, she wrote most of the letters the couple exchanged, and she's already halfway in love with the man herself. Yet somehow, one look at Thomas and the future he offers, and the truth never comes out. Suddenly, Ada finds herself not only out of the shadows, but living the life meant for her sister.

After making his fortune on the goldfields, Thomas "Scout" Rankin found he could buy almost anything he wanted, including the perfect mail-order bride in a territory where women are still few and far between. But past betrayals have left him wary, so he immediately notices that the woman who claims to be his mail-order bride doesn't quite act the part. Still, someone wrote those letters that spoke to his heart. If getting to know Ada better will reveal the truth, he's willing to try, even if he must protect his own secrets along the way.

But someone knows both their secrets and aims to use them to advantage. Can Thomas and Ada discover the truth, about their enemy, about their pasts, and about the love they both yearn to share?

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Reviews

Five Stars! "One thing is certain, if the author, Regina Scott, penned the story, it is sure to satisfy. Marvelous!" -- Huntress Reviews

"Scout is everything I remembered and more. He grew into the man that we hoped he would become and someone that we can fall in love with for himself." -- Hott Books

"Such a sweet story!" -- Britt Reads Fiction

Five Stars! "I totally enjoyed this book." -- MCris Hoxie Review Blog

"This story resonated and entertained! I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in this series. Yes, this is a story that I'm eager and excited to recommend!" -- Susan Marlene, author and reviewer

5 Stars! "Readers who enjoy historical romance set in the West will enjoy this lovely story! I can't wait to read more from this series." -- Among the Reads

 

Excerpt

Seattle, Washington Territory, June 1876

Somewhere out there was the man waiting for his bride.

Ada Williamson swallowed the lump in her throat as she stood on the deck of the steamer Frances Downing from San Francisco. The sailor on the helm blew the ship's horn twice, the blasts echoing across the blue-gray waters of the bay until it bounced off the forested hillside beyond. Clapboard houses grew more elaborate as they climbed the hill, stretching across the arc of the town with a line of tall firs behind them, and businesses crowded the waterfront.

"Adds another few establishments each week," one of the businessmen behind her murmured to the balding Mr. Clancy, who had made a point of making her acquaintance on the trip. "I hear they have more than three thousand inhabitants now."

"And nearly forty saloons," Mr. Clancy joked.

Ada shifted farther away from them along the rail as the steamer cruised into port. The rumble beneath her feet slowed, stopped, as the massive engines ramped down. The anchor rattled as the crew released it to splash into the water. Across the bay came the unmistakable sound of a cheer.

Odd. She'd thought steamer service from San Francisco was a regular occurrence. Was the ship carrying important cargo?

She shifted again, clutching her carpetbag in front of her auburn traveling dress as sailors moved past to man the small boats. Her other belongings were already packed in her trunk, which waited to be offloaded.

"Take any dress you like," her sister had said with a toss of her golden curls. "I'm sure Bertrand would be glad to buy me more."

If not Bertrand, then Frank or Peter or George or any one of the two dozen men who had attempted to capture her sister's heart in the last year. It didn't matter that proper ladies would not allow such extravagant gifts. Melinda Williamson deserved better, at least in her own mind.

Ada grimaced at the unkind thought. Melinda couldn't help that she was beautiful and charming, that she could sing to the second A above middle C without trying, that she glided across the ballroom floor like a swallow on the breeze. When she entered a room, everyone knew it. When she left, the very air seemed to follow. Ada had never met anyone-male or female-who didn't immediately want to make her sister's acquaintance. And it was entirely Melinda's doing that many eventually wandered away, disheartened.

"Jealous," her sister would claim of a lady friend's defection.

"He bores me," she had insisted of the man she'd thrown off for another. Melinda went through acquaintances nearly as quickly as gowns.

And nothing Ada had done could convince her sister she must mend her ways now that they had been left nearly destitute.

She patted her black feathered hat into place on her hair, wishing as she often did that the light brown had half the luster of her sister's curls. At the moment, it felt as dull and heavy as the clouds overhead. Rain would entirely fit with the news she was bringing. Surely Mr. Rankin would mourn.

She swallowed again as the small boats began their way down the side of the steamer for the salt water below. In a moment, the little craft would be ferrying passengers from deep water to the piers that jutted out into the bay like fingers eager to grasp hold. One of the piers looked particularly crowded-people all jostling to stare out at the ship.

Ada glanced around at the whiskered gentlemen, the mothers holding firmly to their children's hands. The steamer only carried a dozen passengers, and many were newcomers to Seattle like her. She hadn't met anyone on the seven-day journey from San Francisco who had claimed a large family waiting. She had sent a telegram to ask Mr. Rankin to meet the ship and a solitary Miss Williamson, for she would be leaving the sister he thought would be accompanying her in San Francisco. He couldn't know that the sister left behind was the one he intended to marry.

What, or who, were those people on the dock expecting?

The second mate stopped beside her. "Would you care to take the first boat, Miss Williamson?"

Her? She glanced at the businessmen. One was frowning as if he couldn't understand why she'd be given such an honor. Mr. Clancy was regarding her as if she must hold hidden depths. She should demur, allow those with more important business to disembark first.

But the sooner she got this over with, the better, and the less likely she'd beg a return passage to San Francisco instead.

"Thank you, Mr. Tilden," she said. "That would be lovely."

A short time later, she was seated with chubby Mr. Clancy, his colleague, and three other men as two sailors bent the oars to send them bobbing across the waves. Her hat was securely pinned, but already the tangy sea breeze tugged at strands of her hair, whipping them about her face as the boat approached the pier. She should try to tame them, but it didn't really matter what she looked like. She'd come to break Thomas Rankin's heart. He'd soon despise the very sight of her.

Which was such a shame! The letters he'd written in response to the ad Ada had convinced Melinda to place as a mail-order bride had been so heartfelt, so poignant. He deserved the charming beauty he thought he was marrying.

Melinda didn't seem to care. She'd been certain a letter would suffice to inform him she had changed her mind. He'd paid her passage from New York, but she preferred to stay in San Francisco rather than the rural hamlet she considered Seattle. Because of Ada's respect for him, she had used a good portion of her remaining money to come tell him the truth. And after that, she prayed she could start a life of her own.

Another cheer went up as the boat bumped the pilings. Hands reached down to help secure the ropes. A band started playing, brass melding with strings.

"Someone important must be on the boat," Mr. Clancy told his colleague.

Burley dockworkers bent to offer Ada their calloused hands. They both grinned as if it were a great honor. Mystified, she allowed them to lift her to the planks. The cheer that went up this time was deafening, drowning out the music from the band. Dozens of faces, male faces, beamed at her. From senior fellows with grizzled locks and gap-toothed grins to lads with barely the scruff of a tawny beard, they clapped their hands, stomped their feet, and whistled, until the pier trembled.

Ada glanced back into the boat, where Mr. Clancy and the others waited their turn to climb onto the pier. They frowned back at her. And no one reached down to help them ashore.

Her gaze was drawn to a movement in the crowd. A lean man with deep brown hair brushing the collar of his fine wool coat stepped forward. She didn't need to see his smile to know his name. She'd read about the bump on the bridge of his nose, how he'd gained the faint scar that marked his left cheek. She knew his hopes for marrying and had shared his dreams for a future.

He must have planned the band, the crimson carpet that stretched up the pier to the golden-yellow carriage on the shore, and the banner overhead, hand-painted with blue and yellow iris and the words "Welcome, Melinda Williamson." He'd done all this for the woman he'd hoped to wed.

The lump in her throat felt as large as the snow-capped mountain in the distance.

He stepped forward, a bouquet of red and gold blanket flowers in one long-fingered hand. "Miss Williamson?"

Those two words held so much hope and so much doubt. Around him, men doffed their hats and waited for her answer. How could she tell him, shame him, in front of them all?

Ada pasted on her best smile. "Yes. You must be Mr. Rankin. It's a pleasure to meet you at last."

***

Thomas "Scout" Rankin blew out a breath, then hastily bowed to cover it. She was here. She'd come. He hadn't really believed she would.

"You mustn't judge Miss Williamson by Mrs. Jamison," Beth McCormick had insisted when she'd come by this morning to check on him. She'd carefully straightened the trailing ends of the blue silk bowtie at his collar, her own pink skirts impeccable as always. "She sounds quite reasonable from her letters."

He should have trusted Beth. They'd known each other since they were children, and she had a knack for matchmaking, having helped each of her five brothers find love. She'd been one of the first to cast doubts on the beautiful widow he'd been drawn to last year. But Evangeline Jamison had proved herself false. That didn't mean Miss Williamson would do the same.

He still remembered the ad Beth had drawn to his attention.

Interested in matrimony to a kind, considerate gentleman who is a good provider: Boston beauty of fine family and education. Hoping to make a family and share a faith. Willing to travel for the right man.

He wasn't so much interested in beauty as character. The Good Book said that beauty was fleeting, but a woman of good character was to be praised. It was the character of Melinda Williamson, as expressed in her letters, that had made him believe love stood a chance. Still, the photo she'd sent hadn't hurt.

And the woman standing in front of him now resembled that photo very little. Instead of bright, thick curls, her hair was sleeker and a warm brown. Instead of a rounded-cheek face, hers was nearly as narrow as his. And she seemed to have lost weight, for there was no sign of her lush figure.

But that smile-tremulous, full of awe--he could bask in that admiration for quite some time.

The other men around him weren't so willing to wait. Despite his best intentions to keep this meeting private, word had gotten out. Beth's insistence on adding the carpet up the rough planks, as if he was ushering Miss Williamson to a coronation rather than a possible wedding, and the presence of the Seattle Brass and String Band had guaranteed notice. Now half the male population of the town was crowding the wharf and lining the shore. Sawmill workers in flannel and denim, merchants in calico and wool, and even a local banker in a tall beaver hat stood around him, watching his every move.

"What are you waiting for, Scout?" someone shouted. "Give her the flowers!"

"Forget the flowers," someone else yelled. "Give her a kiss!"

The word flew through the crowd, until they all sounded like a flock of geese hissing at a stranger. His cheeks felt hot.

Her cheeks turned pink, and she thrust out the hand that wasn't holding her carpetbag. "Thank you for the flowers."

Thomas handed her the bouquet, picked from the hillside near his house. Then he took the bag from her and offered her his arm. "May I escort you to the carriage?"

"Why are you asking her?" someone demanded. "You paid for her to come. Tell her who's boss."

"You may be a Rankin, but you can still act like a man."

"Act is the right word!"

He ignored the gibes. So did Miss Williamson as she placed her hand on his arm.

"Will they know where to send my trunk?" she asked.

"I've left word at the booking office," he assured her.

Several men moved to block their way, hands on their hips and grins cocky. What, did they think they deserved to kiss the bride too?

Thomas hardened his face as he met their gazes. Their grins faded, and they stepped aside with respectful nods. He led the woman he hoped to marry up the pier for his waiting carriage.

Bobby sat in the driver's seat, holding the horses ready, eyes wide, as they approached. Why was his seventeen-year-old ward nervous? He wasn't the one contemplating marrying a stranger.

Only she wasn't a stranger. Through her letters, Thomas had felt her sorrow on the loss of her parents in a carriage accident, her eagerness to travel around the Horn to meet him. He enjoyed the same books she did-adventure stories of valiant men and visionary women. They both shared a passion for maple sugar candy, nearly impossible to get out here on the frontier. They both believed in a merciful God, who stood by to help in times of trouble.

That woman--that warm, kind, intelligent woman--was who he hoped to make his bride.

"Melinda Williamson," he said, "allow me to introduce my ward, Robert Donovan."

He'd told her about Bobby in his letters too, though not everything. Bobby deserved to be judged on his own merits, not those of his conniving older sister, who had been convicted of instigating the murder of three men.

Bobby removed one hand from the reins to yank his tweed cap off his black hair, leaving strands sticking out at odd angles. "Ma'am."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Donovan," she said.

The tops of Bobby's ears turned red.

"Bobby offered to drive so I could devote my attentions to you rather than the horses," Thomas told her.

Her color seeped away. Were his attentions unwanted at the moment, or was she daunted by the hill rising behind them? The streets of the town were steep, and those streets were more mud than hard-packed dirt some days. At least they'd had good weather this June, the gray skies today notwithstanding. That boded well for the upcoming Centennial Celebration.

"Very kind of you," she murmured, and he wasn't sure if she was thanking Bobby or him.

He motioned with his hand, and she nodded permission for him to help her up into the carriage. The movement set the black silk fringe on the skirts of her dusky red gown to swinging. Mindful of the men still watching from the wharf, Thomas went around to the other side of the carriage to climb in beside her. The Seattle Band played them down the street and around the corner to the Occidental Hotel as his other impromptu guests began making their way back to their homes and businesses and Mr. Mercer, the longshoreman, began rolling up the carpet before taking down the banner Beth had painted.

"I booked you a suite," Thomas explained as she looked right, left, straight ahead at Bobby's slender back, anywhere but at him. "I thought that would be easiest for you. And I asked my friend, Mrs. McCormick, to act as chaperone."

"I remember Mrs. McCormick," she said, look brightening. "She answered the ad for you. She was ever so nice."

"She is," Thomas agreed, admiring the way the black lace lining the edges of her hat called attention to her fluttering lashes.

Bobby pulled up the team of dappled grays in front of the white-washed two-story building. "Here you are, Scout."

Thomas shook his head. No matter how he'd tried, he couldn't seem to outgrow his childhood nickname. Some-like Beth, her brothers, and Bobby-used it fondly. Others held it over him.

He hopped down and came around to offer a hand to Miss Williamson. She had little hands, dainty, like the rest of her. He hadn't expected that. He'd been a little afraid she might tower over his five-foot-seven frame. But her head came just about to his shoulder, and his arm would have fit around her waist easily. He made sure not to confirm that as they entered the lobby.

The Occidental was one of Seattle's finest hotels. Wingback chairs with crimson, tufted upholstery dotted the lobby, and the clerk's stand was of polished mahogany. Thomas led her up to the clerk.

"We have Miss Williamson's suite all ready," the fellow assured them as he handed her the brass key. "I'll have a porter show you right up."

She glanced at Thomas, smile slipping just the slightest. "Will you be coming too, Mr. Rankin?"

The clerk was watching avidly, and Thomas felt as if everyone in the lobby had stopped and held a breath to hear his response.

"No," he said. "A lady deserves her privacy. But I'd love to have dinner with you later, after you've settled in. Say six?"

"That would be lovely," she said.

He handed her bag to the porter and watched until they disappeared up the stairs, then turned to go.

"I thought she was supposed to be a great beauty," one of the other guests said to another. At least his friend had the good sense to look abashed, gaze flitting away from Thomas. He ignored them and headed for the door.

She might not be a great beauty, but if she was the woman who had written those letters, she was the perfect mail-order bride.

Now he just had to convince her he needed a little time before becoming her groom.

 

Buy Now

Smashwords
Amazon (affiliate link)
Barnes and Noble
Apple Books
Kobo
Overdrive
Indie Bound, an independent bookstore near you
Bookshop, benefitting independent bookstores
The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)

 

Extras

You can learn more about some of the real-life Seattle pioneers in my article.

And remember the other books in the Frontier Matches series: