TEXAS BRIDE, Excerpt
Miranda was afraid to reach for the tickets. She seldom took anything for herself before offering it first to one of her siblings. Her life the past three years had been full of sacrifices. But none of her siblings were old enough to marry. She would have to do this herself.
It didn’t feel like a sacrifice. She’d be going on a grand adventure to a place she knew about only from stories in the Daily Herald. A place full of wild broncs and longhorned cattle. A place full of cowboys. . .and Indians. It all sounded so exotic. And exciting. She’d have a husband and maybe, one day soon, children of her own, two things she’d seen as very far in the future after she’d become a destitute orphan. And with a new life outside the Institute, there was at least a chance she could rescue her siblings.
Miranda didn’t let herself dwell on the possibility that her husband might turn out to be as cruel as Miss Birch. No one could be as cruel as Miss Birch.
Speak of the devil and she appeared.
“What is this!” a piercing voice demanded.
Miranda quickly slid the vellum and tickets back across the table to Josephine, who slipped them back into the pocket in her night shift. As the headmistress descended on them like a whirling dervish, Miranda whispered to her siblings, “I’ll take care of Miss Birch. Go!”
Her younger brothers and sisters grabbed their blankets and scampered for the door in the dark shadows at the opposite end of the dining room, leaving Miranda behind to face their nemesis.
Miss Birch was wearing a tufted robe over her nightgown and had her long black hair, of which she was so proud, pinned up under a nightcap. The headmistress was short and stout, with large eyes so dark brown they were almost black and cheeks that became florid when she was angry, as she was now.
“I presume that bunch who ran off was the passel of brats you brought with you to the orphanage,” Miss Birch said. “I’ve warned you before about leaving the dormitory after lights out, Miss Wentworth.”
Miranda lowered her eyes in submission, knowing that was the best way to conciliate the headmistress. “Yes, Miss Birch. I was saying good-bye to my brothers and sisters, since I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”
“You think the fact you’re leaving tomorrow means you can flaunt my rules tonight?”
“No, Miss Birch. I–”
A slender wooden rod whipped through the air and hit Miranda’s right shoulder without warning. Whop. She gasped at the pain and bit her lip to keep from crying out. She didn’t want her siblings to hear her and try coming to her rescue. There was no defying Miss Birch.
Miranda kept her hands at her sides, aware that if she tried to protect herself, Miss Birch would only hit harder.
“I’ll be glad–whop–to see–whop–you go!”
The pain was excruciating. Miranda felt tears of pain well in her eyes, but she didn’t make a sound, not even a whimper. She refused to give Miss Birch the satisfaction.
She could hear the heavyset woman breathing hard from the effort of whipping her. She raised her gaze, staring into the black eyes that stared hatefully back at her, and said with all the calm and dignity she could muster, “Are you done now? May I leave?”
She watched as Miss Birch resisted the urge to hit her again. Three cracks of the rod. That was Miss Birch’s limit, no matter how bad the infraction. Miranda knew her punishment was over, which was why there had been a taunt in her calm, dignified voice.
Then Miss Birch hit her again. WHOP. Hard enough to make Miranda moan with pain. Hard enough to make the tears in her eyes spill onto her cheeks.
“Now I’m done,” the headmistress said with malicious satisfaction. “Go back to the dormitory, Miss Wentworth, and stay there until it’s time for you to leave.”
Miranda had turned to go when Miss Birch said, “Too bad you won’t be here when those brats get their punishment.”
“You’ve already punished me!” Miranda protested. “There’s no need to punish anyone else.”
“They were here, weren’t they? Where they didn’t belong? Oh, they’ll be punished, all right. Each and every one of them!”
“That brat is no baby! He’s four years old.”
“Only four years old!” Miranda retorted, fear for her youngest brother, whom she would no longer be able to protect, making her bold. “How can you be so mean?”
“Mean?” Miss Birch pressed her lips flat. “I enforce discipline, Miss Wentworth. Without discipline, where would we be? Those children must learn to obey the rules. They must learn there are consequences when they break them.”
“If you must punish someone, beat me instead.”
Miss Birch raised her eyebrows as she tapped the rod against her open palm. “Let me see. Three strokes times five offenses. How many is that, Miss Wentworth?”
“Fifteen,” Miranda replied past a throat tight with fear.
“I’m tempted, Miss Wentworth. Oh, how I am tempted.”
“Who would know?” Miranda said in a voice that was almost a whisper. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Miss Birch laughed. “You’re a fool, Miss Wentworth. I could give you fifteen strokes of the rod tonight and punish the rest of them tomorrow after you’re gone.”
Miranda knew very well that Miss Birch would find reasons to punish her siblings, even if there weren’t any. But the tickets secured in Josie’s pocket gave her courage. “Do it,” she urged. “I trust you will be too tired after the effort to bother my siblings, at least for tomorrow.”
“Very well, Miss Wentworth. Turn around and bare your back.”
Miranda’s eyes went wide. “You can’t mean–”
“Bare your back,” Miss Birch demanded. “Or I’ll have every one of those brats back in here tonight to get three strokes of the rod.”
“Yes, Miss Birch.” Miranda turned and slid her shift off already aching shoulders, securing the folds of cloth against her small breasts.
She focused her terrified mind on the faceless man at the end of her coming journey. The man who would be her husband. The man who would be the salvation of her siblings. The man who would plant the seeds for a family of her own. The man she would somehow learn to love. The man who might someday learn to love her.
Miranda braced herself and waited for the cane to strike.
NIGHT OWL REVIEWS
:Reviewer Top Pick (Score: 5)
“Miranda lost her parents when their house burned down. Her and her five siblings were sent to an orphanage where they were at the mercy of nasty headmistress Miss Birch, who liked to find any reason she could to beat them. When Miranda turned 18 and couldn’t stay there any longer, her and her siblings came up with a plan for Miranda to be a mail-order bride so she could keep the family together. When Miranda met Jake, she had smuggled her two brothers along with her. It quickly became obvious that it wouldn’t be so easy to send for her sisters.
A whole host of characters keeps the story detailed and the interest high. Times were difficult for everyone involved, but as they muddled through, love and kindness prevailed. What a great historical read with an uber-sweet romance. Everyone fought their feelings, but learned to get along and work together for the greater good of the family. They all learned to deal with the fear and tough times and let the love reveal itself as the story developed. This is my first Joan Johnston book and she writes with sincerity and realism. I’m very impressed and I only wish I would have read her books sooner. I very highly recommend Texas Bride. You’ll be sorry if you miss it!”
“This is the first book I’ve read by Joan Johnston and it made me anxious to read her backlist, so I did some research to find out how the books are connected. You’ll want to visit her site for the details but the MAIL-ORDER BRIDE series will introduce a Blackthorne, so it’s a prequel to the BITTER CREEK novels. Also, those who’ve read the SISTERS OF THE LONE STAR series will recognize Cricket Creed, Jake’s mother. Not having read the previous books and not wanting to spoil this one, all I can say from my research is that I believe that TEXAS BRIDE will delight current fans with familiar characters, as well as create new exuberant devotees out of those of us who are just getting started. I know I had a tough time letting go at the end—I wanted more hours, more story and more answers about what’s next. Hooked me completely!
TEXAS BRIDE is charming, full of characters young and old that you’ll bond with immediately, leaving you impatient for what promises to be a tempting series for historical western fans. Fair warning; this novel leaves you craving for book two, WYOMING BRIDE, grinning with anticipation after reading the excerpt included. Great concept for a series that’s sure to please western historical readers who adore the pioneer spirit!”
By Romance Junkies Reviewer: Dorine Linnen