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The Clerk's Bride

The Clerk's Bride

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After her friend moves out west as a mail-order bride, Annabelle decides to do the same and leaves for the same town. After all, no man can be worse than the factory owner who won't leave her alone.

Colten couldn’t understand why someone would be crazy enough or desperate enough to order a bride through an advertisement. When Annabelle arrives to marry the worst possible man Birch Creek has to offer, Colten decides to help out. He just never expected to end up married to her.

Without any plans or preparation for a wife, Colten has to figure out how to take care of a woman he didn’t want while Annabelle has to come to terms with the new direction her life is headed. Can the two of them grow to love each other, or will her fears from her past and his concerns for the future keep them from finding love in the moment?

Intro into Chapter One

The train ride to Idaho would take about a week and Annabelle knew she couldn’t change her mind. She’d made an agreement with Lester and he’d sent the details about what ticket she’d need to buy. He’d sent a small amount of money that she would use for food on the long trip. Annabelle turned around and hugged her friend one last time.
“I can’t believe you’re going.” Grace held her tight and whispered the words into her ear.
“I know,” Annabelle said. “I thought Susan was foolish to do it, but she’s there, and things worked out well for her.”
“You keep in touch,” Grace said.
“You could come with me,” Annabelle said. “Susan would have a place for us.”
“I can’t.” Grace shook her head. “Who would watch the boys if I left?”
Annabelle nodded. “Maybe when I get out there, and things are more settled, I can find a place where you and your brother can come. Susan said there is a lot of land out there. You could become farmers.”
Grace laughed. “I couldn’t do that with my bad leg. Besides, I don’t know a thing about farming. And neither do you.”
“I know,” Annabelle said. “But I can learn. Besides, I’m going to be there to cook and clean and keep house for him. He’s not a farmer. He works for a businessman out there.”
The whistle on the train blew and Annabelle turned to look at the doorway she would be entering.
“I wish you all the best,” Grace said. “Be careful and make sure you write.”
“Tell your brother and the boys goodbye for me.”
“Will do.” Grace waved and stepped back, leaving Annabelle nothing else to do but board the train and look toward her future. She said a prayer that things would turn out well. Anything was better than putting up with the snide remarks and inappropriate touches or disgusting offers from Mr. Staley.
She could be a wife to a man out in the west. As long as he didn’t abuse her, she could handle most anything else.


Colten could practically smell the man the moment he walked in the door. Though there wasn’t a saloon here in Birch Creek, Lester Olsen was able to find any source of liquor and pour it down his gullet.
“Need me something.” Lester’s words were slurred enough to prove he’d found some alcohol already today.
Colten didn’t want to even venture a guess at what the man wanted this time so he waited as patiently as he could for the cogs in Lester’s brain to begin turning.
“I got someone coming and I need to get her something purty.”
“Who’s coming?” Colten asked.
“Don’t know. Just coming today. Said she wants a place.”
Colten looked at the man, wondering if he was so intoxicated that he was imagining things. “What kind a place?”
“A place. Not a factory.”
Colten shook his head. “Lester, you’re drunk. You should go home and sleep it off.”
“Nah,” Lester shook his head, then grabbed it as if it pained him. “Coming today. I gotta get something purty.”
“What kind of thing?” Colten decided to just go along with it and try to get rid of the man. It was doubtful Lester had any money anyway. Not with the way he smelled right now.
“Purty. Like a woman. Flowers!” Lester shouted.
“There are some flowers, right outside.” Colten took his arm and turned him around, then gently pushed his shoulder to get him to move back toward the door. Colten hoped there would still be a few wildflowers to send the man to pick.
“Good.” Lester moved over and bent to pick a flower, but missed and had to adjust his feet before trying again. The poor flower he grabbed was crushed in his hand and Colten nodded in mock support when Lester held it up high. “Perfect. Now to find her.”
Colten laughed under his breath at the antics of the drunk. He pitied the poor woman Lester would try to woo. Of course, any woman in her right mind would steer clear of Lester. As Lester staggered away toward the edge of town near where the train station lay, Colten returned to the store and picked up where he’d left off when Lester arrived.
A few minutes later, Colten looked up at the sound of the mercantile door opening, dreading the possibility of Lester again. But instead he was pleased to see who’d arrived. “Good morning, Susan. How are things coming with your building?” He still wasn’t sure why she was so adamant about the need for a boarding house. It’s not like all that many people wanted to come out to Birch Creek and live in the town itself. Most of the new residents of the valley were here to set up farms and even do some ranching with either sheep or the occasional beef herd.
“It is almost to the point we could live in it. Though there is still a lot to be done.”
“Glad to hear it’s getting closer. And how are things with you?”
Susan placed a protective hand on her belly. “Same as yesterday. This baby is still way too far from ready.”
“What can I help you with today?”
“I was wondering if there was any mail.”
“Nothing’s arrived yet, but the stage coach hasn’t reached us yet either. Are you waiting for something?”
“Nothing particular. I had hoped to hear from a friend of mine. She’s not written back yet. It’s too bad the letters aren’t as regular as what I’m used to.”
“Maybe it’ll be on the train coming later today. You ever think of sending her a telegram?”
“I should look into it I guess.” Susan moved over to the counter and pulled out one of the hard candies. “Could you put this on our tab?”
Colten smiled. “Sure thing. Want to take one for Jessie and Michael?”
Susan laughed. “No. It wouldn’t make it that far. I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to butterscotch.” She turned around and headed back to the door. “Thanks, Colten. Tell your mom hello for me.”
“Will do.” Colten glanced in the back room where his mother was going through the inventory. They’d need to request a larger order of supplies in the next week or so in order to have everything restocked before the winter season hit. She was much better at keeping all the details organized and Colten was happy to let her write it all down. When the train arrived later, he’d be the one to take the wagon and pick up the crates that had been shipped to them.
As if thinking about it made it appear, Colten heard the familiar whistle of the train, still a few miles out but done as an alert to the people in town. Those who were expecting something, or just curious to see who might be arriving left their homes or shops and headed to the station.
“Mother, you in a place you could watch the front? I’ll go get the wagon hooked up.”
“I’ll keep an eye out. Thank you, son.”
Colten left the store and headed around to the stable. “Hey, Pa. I’m going to head to the station. How’s the colt doing?”
“He’s on the mend. I’ve almost got the fence repaired as well. Sure hope the wire I ordered was sent this time. If not, it’ll be another two weeks before the next train arrives.”
“If it doesn’t come, someone might have some they’d be willing to part with.”
His father chuckled. “Yes, I’m sure they would, but when you’re the owner of the mercantile, you should have everything everyone needs.”
“True,” Colten said. “I’ll be back soon.”
Once the horse was harnessed to the wagon, Colten climbed atop and allowed the horse to move at its own slow pace toward the station. The people would exit the train first. Since they were delivering a load of supplies, the passengers on the train would have a few minutes to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. It would take close to a quarter hour to unload the boxes for the store and whatever other things they had. Michael and Susan had sent for some things to help with their boarding house when it was finished. Colten might even be able to take their items as well.
He pulled the wagon up to the station platform just moments after the train came to a complete stop. The doors hadn’t opened yet so Colten remained sitting on his wagon bench.
“Where is she?” Lester yelled, the poor flower still held tightly in his fist.
Colten shook his head. He hoped Lester wouldn’t antagonize any of the poor passengers who might get off to move around a bit. Debating for a moment on whether he should go try to move Lester along again, Colten wasn’t sure he really wanted to deal with the man. He would watch from the wagon and if things got rough when the passengers got out, Colten would act then. There was no use riling up the drunk any more than he already was. He was mostly harmless until he got a hornet up his nose.
Lester dropped the flower and bent to pick it up, then lost his balance and fell. He got up enough to turn around and sit with his legs bent in around him and watched. Colten chuckled again. That would keep him out of the way for now.
When the doors of the train opened. Three young ladies and an older woman stepped off the train onto the stool that was placed for them by the conductor. Lester struggled to stand and Colten knew he’d have to get up there and stop him before any embarrassment occurred.
“Which one of you is mine?” Lester asked and Colten jumped off his wagon and ran to the stairs of the platform, taking the steps two at a time.
The women turned around in confusion and stared open mouthed at Lester. Colten tried to apologize to the women but Lester just shouted again. “Danged if I can’t remember yer name. It’s a pretty one. Sounds like a bell.”
The women hurried away in the other direction and Lester tried to follow them. Colten stepped in front of him but Lester tried to push him out of the way. If the man hadn’t been drunk, he might have been able to do something, but as it was, Lester merely knocked himself off balance.
“Now Lester,” Colten said, trying to calm the man. “Let’s think about this for a moment.”
Lester stopped trying to get past Colten and just shook the busted flower in his face. “Don’t need to think about it. I already paid for her. She’s coming today.”
Colten stared at the man, trying to understand what he was talking about. “Paid for her?” The only women who got paid for weren’t the kinds of women like the three Lester had tried to get to. Colten turned around just enough to look behind him while still keeping Lester on the other side away from the passengers still leaving the train.
“That might be her!” Lester tried to push his way past Colten, but Colten kept hold of the man’s shoulder. “Honey! Are you my bride?”
The little thing that stood in the center of the platform away from the others had a look of horror on her face. Colten turned back to Lester, trying to get the man to quiet down, but instead Lester took a swing at Colten and managed to place a solid strike to the jaw.
Colten lost his hold on Lester and the man tore past him right for the girl in the blue dress. She placed her hands over her mouth as if trying to draw in closer to herself and when Lester was ten feet away, she began shaking her head.
“Oh no. It can’t be.” She took a few steps to the side away from the train as if trying to look for something else. Lester’s direction changed, but he didn’t manage to correct his steps enough to head toward her anymore. Instead, with the momentum he had, and his unsteady gait, Lester managed to walk right off the edge of the platform and fell flat on his face in the dirt four feet below.


Annabelle gasped at the sight of the man disappearing from view. She rushed over to the side of the platform and reached it just as the other tall and handsome man who’d been talking with him jumped down and checked him over.
“Is he all right?” Annabelle asked.
The man looked up and Annabelle got a full view of his face. The dark blue eyes, framed in thick lashes were partially hidden by the hair that had fallen into his face. “Don’t worry, miss. Lester has had falls worse than this one. He’ll be fine. He just needs to go sleep it off.”
Annabelle felt the color drain from her face. “That is Lester?” She asked. “Mr. Lester Olsen?”
The man below her nodded.
“Oh dear,” Annabelle said, suddenly feeling faint. The man below must have seen her distress because he placed his palms on the platform and jumped up in time to steady her.
“Whoa there, miss. Are you all right?”
“I uh. I’m fine. I just… This is Birch Creek?”
“Yes. I’m Colten Howard. My parents own the mercantile. Are you here to visit someone? Or do you need some help getting back on the train?”
“I’m staying here,” Annabelle said, though she wondered if she really could do it. “I have a friend who moved here. She married someone and told me I could do the same. I answered a letter. I uh.” Annabelle looked down at the man still lying in the dirt beneath her.
“What’s your friend’s name?” Colten asked.
“Susan,” Annabelle said. “She married a man named Michael. I don’t remember the last name.”
“Susan and Michael Clark are good friends of mine. They are building a house over there.” Colten pointed toward a brick structure that was nearly finished and Annabelle searched the people that milled about it for any sign of Susan.
“Is she there?” Annabelle asked. “I need to talk to her.”
“I’m sure she’s either there, or at the church teaching school.”
Annabelle looked back down at Lester then up to Colten. “Should we help him up? Make sure he’s all right?”
“I’ll come back for him once we get you to where you need to be. I’m only sorry he was bothering you when he showed up. He kept raving about some woman he paid for…” Colten’s voice trailed off and Annabelle watched as he seemed to be putting things together. “You said you came out here to marry someone?”
Annabelle nodded, feeling the weight of that decision settle heavily on her.
“You are here to marry Lester?” Colten asked. “Why on earth would you pick him?”
Annabelle’s nerves and fear and concern turned to frustration and she glared at the man in front of her. “How dare you judge me? Everything he said in his letters sounded legitimate. There was nothing that could have told me he was unsavory.”
“What kind of agreement did you come to?” Colten asked. “When will the marriage take place?”
“That was to be decided after I arrived.”
“But you came out here intending to marry the man? Did you have any kind of backup plan?”
“I was hoping I wouldn’t need a backup plan,” Annabelle said. “But I knew Susan lived here, and she told me I would have a friend in her if I needed. Apparently I need it. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll gather my trunks and find her.”
“Hold on,” Colten said. He turned his head to the side and let out a whistle. A young boy carrying a crate from the back of the train lifted his head. “Matthew, is Mrs. Clark at the schoolhouse?”
“I think so,” Matthew said.
“Will you keep an eye on Lester? He’s gonna be out for a bit. Just check on him in between your crates? I’ll be back for the boxes in a bit. ”
“Will do,” Matthew said.
Colten took Annabelle’s arm, surprising her at the familiarity, but even more surprising was that she wasn’t bothered at all by his touch. Unless of course the pounding in her heart and the flutter in her stomach meant anything.
“Which cases are yours?” Colten asked.
Annabelle pointed out her trunk and the other small case that had been set to the side. Colten took the large trunk after handing her the small case then led her down the stairs to his waiting wagon. It wasn’t that far to walk on her own, but it would have been difficult with the trunk. Having him take it in the wagon would make things so much easier, but she felt like she was a huge inconvenience to him.
“You really don’t have to do this,” Annabelle said. “I can look for Susan on my own.”
“We need to get you out of sight of Lester. Don’t want him telling anyone he paid for you. That will cause all kinds of problems.”
“He didn’t pay for me,” Annabelle said. “But he did send some money to help with my trip here.”
“Lester will see that as him owning you. Why would you take money from a stranger?”
“That’s not really your concern is it? And if you’re going to be this unpleasant about it, I’d appreciate it if you’d take my things off your wagon and just be on your way.”
Colten shook his head, but didn’t keep talking. Instead he just helped her up into the wagon seat without even consulting her, then snapped the reins and led the horses down the long dusty street. He stopped at a red brick church and hurried up the steps, telling Annabelle to stay put and before she could decide whether she wanted to get off the wagon just to spite him, he’d spoken to someone inside and came bounding back down and onto the wagon again, flicking the reins once more.
He guided the horses over to the unfinished building with all the construction happening and called out to one of the men there. “Michael, where’s Susan?”
“She’s around back.” The man, heavily muscled from constant physical labor, looked at Annabelle with a questioning gaze but didn’t say anything else before Colten moved the horses once more and directed them around the building. As soon as the wagon cleared the edge and the people in the back came into view, Annabelle stood up with relief to see Susan.
Before she could call out to her, the wagon stopped suddenly and Annabelle lost her balance, falling backward and landing directly on Mr. Howard’s lap.

She flees one problem only to find the alternative is just as bad, until he steps in.

Main Tropes

  • Mail Order Bride
  • Damsel in Distress
  • Marriage of Convenience
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