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Cover for Sudden Mail-Order Bride, book 1 in the Frontier Brides series, by historical romance author Regina Scott, showing a sassy looking lady standing in front of a ranch house with Mount Rainier in the background

Sudden Mail-Order Bride

April 15, 2024 (Edwards and Williams)

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The charming Jeremy Willets thought writing away for a mail-order bride a wise decision. He just had to find a way to break it to his family. They valued true love, after all. True love wasn't so easy to find in a frontier territory where men outnumbered the women eight to one. He never expected the woman with whom he was corresponding to show up at the door of his family's ranch, unannounced and ready for a wedding.

Spunky Caroline Cadhill staked everything on finding a groom as far away from Cincinnati as possible. The letters Jeremy sent her seemed heartfelt and witty. Yet he hadn't made a commitment. With danger threatening and her brother vanished, her only choice had been to run, right into Jeremy's arms. Now she isn't sure which is more dangerous, the men chasing her or the smile of her cowboy would-be groom.

Between a boisterous matchmaking family and a threat from her past, Caroline and Jeremy will have their hands full. But if they persevere, they may find their sudden romance turning into a forever love.



"Delightful story with great characters! I loved it and can't wait for more in the series!" Kathy Douglas, Reader (used with permission)

"An uplifting, clean romance with a strong plot. I look forward to reading more of this new series!" Luci Jamison, Reader (used with permission)


Chapter One

Near Olympia, Washington Territory, March 1877

If she had to marry a stranger, she'd picked a pretty place to do it.

Caroline Cadhill peered out from the bed of the wagon that was bumping along a muddy road in the middle of nowhere. After leaving Olympia, she'd lost all sense of direction. The sun was masked by puffy white clouds, so she couldn't even be sure of the shadows. But she was fairly sure those larger white things on the horizon weren't clouds. They were mountains.

Real, snowy mountains.

She shivered, but more from excitement. Ready or not, Jeremy Willets, here I come!

The farmer who had been recommended to her to take her the last leg of her long journey called to his horses and drew them to a stop beside a drive that opened to one side of the road. "Here you go, miss. This is the Willets ranch."

He made no move to help her down, but she was used to such things now. Ever since Papa had been convicted of a crime she still couldn't believe he'd committed, everyone she'd known in Cincinnati had kept their distance, as if she'd contracted consumption. And on the way West, most folks had been too focused on their own affairs to pay a stranger much mind.

So, she scooted to the open end of the buckboard, dragging her valise with her. "Thank you very much for the ride, Mr. Abercromby. I hope to see you around."

He grunted. Likely he wondered whether she was going to be staying more than a few minutes.

She wondered the same.

She shinnied off the end of the wagon, then arranged her gingham skirts about her. She'd barely had time to lower the bag before he clucked to the horses and rattled off down the road. Putting one hand to her bonnet to straighten it, she picked up the battered leather valise with the other and started down the drive.

All around her, grasses bright with the green of spring waved in a gentle breeze. Roan cattle raised their heads, chewing contentedly, to watch her pass. To their backs rose the solid, dusky green of a forest, its depths shadowed and mysterious. The air smelled clean, as if freshly washed.

You're a long way from home, Caro.

And wasn't that the point? No more attending society events pretending that she hadn't lost everything and being pitied and shunned anyway. No more living along dusty streets where men shambled about begging for a penny for bread. No more fearing she might not have enough money for bread for herself and Ned.

As always, the thought of her brother raised emotions, both sad and confused. Why had he left without telling her? Where was he now? Was he safe? Fed?

Please, Lord, keep Your hand on him and give me strength to follow this path.

Ahead, a white clapboard two-story house came into view, twin barns rising behind it. The wide porch crossed the front, with chairs here and there under the windows as if to encourage lingering with a book and a cup of tea.

The two young red-headed women out in the yard seemed far more industrious than the porch implied. Aprons covering much of their gingham dresses, they were hanging clothes on a line that stretched from one porch pole to a pole in the middle of the yard.

Jane? Jenny? Joanna? Joy would surely be smaller. Caroline's steps quickened.

"I have a large family," he'd written to her after she'd first emboldened herself to answer his ad for a mail-order bride. "Four sisters and five brothers, although the oldest brother lives north of us quite a distance. There may not be a town near the ranch, but we've never lacked for good society."

That was one of the things she'd admired about Jeremy. He knew how to turn a phrase. And over the course of the next three months, as they'd corresponded, she'd learned all about his siblings, from their ages and descriptions to their personalities. She'd thought she'd also learned something of the man in the process.

He preferred to find the laughter in troubles instead of hanging onto the pain. She had the same philosophy.

He looked for the easiest, quickest ways of doing things, which she had to remind herself to do.

"Some might call that laziness," he'd written. "I see it more as efficiency. You could spend hours tilling, planting, and harvesting your own hay for the winter feeding of the cattle, but why not buy some from the farmer down the road, who will thank you for helping his family?"

And that came through most of all. Jeremy Willets cared deeply about family. He might tease and joke about his, but it was clear he'd do just about anything to make them smile. She suspected that was the reason he hadn't sent for her yet. He wasn't convinced she would fit.

She hadn't truly fit in Cincinnati. She had no real expectation of fitting in here, though wouldn't it be nice if she did? What she really needed was somewhere safe to stay for a while. Surely he'd agree to that, even if he had decided not to marry her.

The taller young lady noticed her first, and my, was she tall! Caroline would have put her at least six inches above her own five and a half feet height. She had managed to tame her hair back into a bun at the nape of her neck, but that couldn't hide its fiery nature. She had to be Jane, the oldest of the Willets' sisters.

The other young lady must have seen her start, for she turned to eye Caroline as well. Her hair was sleeker, her blue gaze surprisingly warm.

"Only Jenny has blue eyes." She heard Jeremy in her head, at least, what she'd come to think of as Jeremy's voice from his letters. "No one is sure how that happened, as the rest of us have either brown, gray, or green eyes."

"Can we help you?" Jenny asked.

Caroline lugged the valise closer. "I hope so. I was told this is the Willets' ranch."

A third girl came skipping around the house just then, only to pull up short, her copper-colored curls bouncing to a stop. "No, it's not," she said as if she had heard Caroline.

Caroline's stomach shriveled.

"Joy," Jane said in a warning.

"It isn't," she insisted, glancing at her two sisters. "Jack said I could name it. I decided on the Jumping J."

Caroline couldn't help her grin. "Because you all have names starting with J! Perfect!"

Now they all stared at her.

"Who are you?" Jane asked, putting herself in front of the others as if to protect them.

Oh, could she have introduced herself any worse? She stuck out her free hand. "Miss Caroline Cadhill. Your brother Jeremy likely mentioned me."

The three exchanged glances, and her hand fell with her hopes. Surely he'd talked about his courtship with his family. Had something happened to him since she'd received his last letter a month ago? Perhaps they'd written to her in Cincinnati, not knowing she was heading their way.

The front door of the house opened, and an older woman with warm brown hair came out onto the porch. About to shake a rag, she paused.

"Girls! You never told me we had company!"

His mother. It had to be. Caroline smiled at her, praying for recognition, acceptance.

"This is Miss Caroline Cadhill, Ma," Jane said, never taking her gaze off Caroline. "She says she's acquainted with Jeremy."

"Well, friends and acquaintances are always welcome," his mother replied. She tucked the rag into the pocket of her apron and motioned to Caroline. "Come on in now. Jane, see about refreshments. Jenny, fetch your Pa. Joy, go find your brother."

As if long used to being directed, the three sisters headed off in different directions.

Still not sure of her welcome, Caroline climbed the steps onto the porch and followed Mrs. Willets into the house. A hallway stretched from front to back alongside a staircase leading up. The room at the right appeared to be the dining room, with a large table and more chairs than she could count at a quick look. The walls were whitewashed, but the strawberry gingham curtains were bright and cheerful.

"How do you know my Jeremy?" his mother asked as she led her into the parlor on the left and took a seat on the horsehair sofa by the stone hearth.

Caroline set down her valise and put on her biggest smile. "I'm his mail-order bride."

Mrs. Willets blinked, then shook her head. "That boy. Is this another of his pranks?"

Pranks? No, please, Lord, no!

"I don't think so," Caroline managed. She nearly collapsed onto the nearest ladder-back chair. "He's been writing to me for months."

Somewhere, a door slammed, and footsteps thudded closer. A minute more, and a man stood framed in the doorway. He was tall, with the breadth of shoulders and length of legs the girls in Cincinnati would have mooned over. His hair was thick and as deep a red as the cattle he tended, and his green eyes caught the light from the window like the emerald ring that had been her mother's. The smile he directed at Caroline could only be called charming. Why, he was nearly as handsome as the view. Was her luck turning at last?

"You wanted me, Ma?" he asked in a voice that sounded very much like the one in her head.

"Jeremy," his mother said sternly. "I have just been introduced to your mail-order bride. What have you done?"


Jeremy Willets gaped at the woman who had appeared in the parlor like a bolt out of the blue. Caroline Cadhill was supposed to be in Cincinnati, more than two thousand miles away. Yet he couldn't deny that she looked much as she'd described herself in her letters.

"I'm not too tall," she'd written in one of their early correspondences. "My brother, Ned, is about six foot, and the top of my head comes just under his nose. He complains there's not enough meat on my bones, but I find it sufficient to keep me strong. At least, I've never been mistaken for a boy. My hair is the color of coal, and it has a few curls in it naturally. My eyes are brown."

Brown and big and staring back as if he were her last hope.

"Caroline?" he asked.

A smile blossomed, transforming her narrow face and tugging at something inside him. "I knew you couldn't be teasing. Yes, it's me. I came to find you."

The scowl on his mother's face was sharp enough to nip the bud of delight at meeting Caroline at last. That reaction was precisely why he hadn't sent for Caroline yet. He and his family didn't always see eye to eye, and never more so than in the matter of love and marriage. Ma and Pa had taught them all to believe in, nay, extoll, the virtues of true love.

He had never been able to convince them that not everyone was cut out to find such a love, especially in a territory where men outnumbered women eight to one.

But none of that was Caroline's fault. She had come a far piece and on her own funding. A young lady alone. She had spunk, but he'd never doubted that, not after her letters.

He stepped into the room. "Well, how nice to finally meet you face to face."

"Yes," Ma put in before Caroline could respond. "It would have been nice if we had had any idea she was coming."

He loved his mother. Truly. But she was a force of nature. Best to calm the storm before it grew any larger.

Before he could smooth things over, however, Caroline jumped in.

"I'm truly sorry about that, Mrs. Willets," she said, smile contrite. "Things took a turn for the worse back home, and the only thing I could think of was to head West. Two trains, a steamer, and a couple of wagon rides later, and here I am."

Her smile was so pleased that even his mother thawed. "Well, you have traveled far. Why don't you rest a spell? I'll just help Jane with those refreshments." She rose and affixed him with a glare. "Jeremy, I'll need your assistance as well."

"Right behind you," Jeremy promised as she swept past him into the hall. He darted to Caroline's side. "Proud of you for getting here all on your own. That took courage. Sorry if the welcome didn't live up to expectations. We can be a cantankerous bunch."

She angled her head as if to spy his mother out the door. "I hope I didn't get you into trouble."

"No more than usual," he assured her.

"Jeremy Dalton Willets!"

He grimaced. Just what every man wanted. To be scolded by his mother in front of the woman he intended to wed. With an apologetic look to Caroline, he strode out the door.

His mother was waiting only far enough from the parlor door that they might not be overheard. "A mail-order bride!" she sputtered. "What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that a man who's reached nine and twenty years of age ought to be able to manage his own courtship," he said, keeping his tone light and smile endearing.

His mother drew in a breath. "I had hoped so as well. Fine. Go talk to your bride then. We'll be along shortly." She headed for the end of the corridor and the door to the kitchen.

Shoulders feeling unaccountably tight in his flannel work shirt, Jeremy returned to the parlor. Caroline was perched on the edge of the chair, as if expecting to have to flee any moment. Or maybe she thought his mother would yank the chair out from under her.

He went to take the seat closest to hers. "I'm glad you came."

Her eyes widened. He knew brown could be a rather drab color, but her eyes swirled with green and gold as well. In fact, he had a hard time pulling his gaze away.

"You are?" she asked.

"Yes, despite the welcome or lack thereof you received from my family," he assured her. "I'm only sorry you felt the need to come all this way with no help."

She shrugged, the movement raising the loose gray wool coat that covered much of her plain blue gingham dress. His sisters begged for any flounce or bit of lace. She didn't seem to have any.

"It was fine," she said. "You wouldn't believe all the sights you can see. At night, the whole sky lights up with stars!"

He nearly winced at the idea that she'd had to sit up all night, but he couldn't help but admire her ability to look on the bright side. That was one of the things he'd liked about her letters.

"I would have been happy to pay for a first-class ticket so you could have had a berth," he said. "And I could have met you in Olympia or Puget City."

She peered up at him shyly, thick black lashes fluttering. "That would have been nice. But I didn't want to put you to any trouble."

He glanced out the door. "Oh, I think I can get into trouble well enough on my own, but thanks."

He looked back at her to find her grimacing.

"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I thought they'd know about me."

They would have known if he'd have screwed his courage to the sticking point and told them. But he'd thought he had plenty of time. He and Caroline were only corresponding. No one had proposed or accepted yet. He could ease the idea into conversation with his family, prepare them for a bride they didn't know.

A marriage built more on companionship to start than love.

She kept gazing at him, eyes moving from his hair to his chin to his clothes. At least he'd shaved that morning. Sometimes after a night in the saddle, he didn't bother. A shame he hadn't dressed in his church clothes, but he'd hardly been expecting to meet his bride. At least the flannel shirt and twill trousers were practical and fairly clean.

But the more she looked, as if studying his very soul, the more he felt like squirming.

Not her too, Lord. Are You the only one who can appreciate me for who I am?

He found himself leaning back in the chair as if to escape the scrutiny and forced himself to relax. "I probably should have told them sooner," he admitted, "but I wasn't sure we'd decided we'd suit."

It was only the truth. Still, she might have taken umbrage. If she'd been willing to travel so far, she must have been far more sure than he had been.

She merely nodded. "I know. We hadn't made that decision yet. And I'm sorry to arrive all of a sudden like this. But I was in trouble, and I didn't know where else to turn."

Jeremy stiffened. "Trouble? What kind of trouble?"

She visibly swallowed. "The worst kind of trouble. Men came to the lodging house, threatening to hurt me if I didn't tell them where my brother had gone. I don't know where Ned is. He ran away a month ago, after Father was put in prison. I've been trying to manage on my own, but I just didn't feel safe anymore. Please, Jeremy, can I count on you to protect me?"

He could feel her fear, her worry. Something warned him he ought to feel as worried for his family. Had he brought trouble to their door? But all he wanted to do was pull her close, comfort her.

A shame they were about to have an audience.

He contented himself with pressing his hand over hers as it lay on her skirts.

"You're safe here, Caroline," he promised. "You can stay for as long as need be."

Even if he had to battle his entire family to keep that promise.


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The Willets' family was first introduced in The Schoolmarm's Convenient Marriage, the fourth book in the Frontier Matches series, in which their oldest brother, Jesse, finds himself in the position of having the marry Alice, the local schoolteacher, after a storm forced them to spend the night together. Look for Leftover Mail-Order Bride to continue the series.