E.E. Burke's BEST OF THE WEST featuring Holly Bush

Today, I have a new BEST OF THE WEST guest, Holly Bush. She writes layered, emotional stories, tackling tough subjects and wounded souls--just the kind of books I love to read. You might recall Holly is listed as one of blogger/reviewer Kim Rocha's top picks in Western Historical Romance for her book Train Station Bride. Today we're featuring the next in the series, Contract to Wed.

1891 . . . Jolene Crawford Crenshaw, heiress and Boston socialite, went from her family home directly to Landonmore upon her marriage, the mansion she shared with her handsome and charismatic husband. She’d never in her life worried in the slightest over anything as crass as the dollars required to maintain that home or the lifestyle she’d been born to.  Her extensive yearly wardrobe, the stables and the prime horseflesh within it, even the solid silver forks and knifes that graced her table, were expected and required to maintain the social standing that she’d cultivated over the years. But suddenly she was a widow with little money and just her pride and her secrets to keep her upright.

Max Shelby made his fortune in oil wells and cattle, but lost the love of his life the day his wife died. Now, his happy, carefree daughter needs instruction and guidance as she grows into a young lady and his dream of becoming a Senator from his adopted state of Texas seems out of reach with few political or social connections. The right wife would solve both problems. As it happens, his sister knows of a woman, a recent widow, charming, beautiful and socially astute, but in reduced circumstances, who may want to begin again. Max signed the wedding contract sight unseen.

Will Jolene be able to shed her sorrows, anger and fears to begin anew away from the censure and hidden tragedy that marred her life? Is her new husband, confident, strong and capable Max Shelby, the man, the only man, to see past her masks to find the woman beneath?

Here's an excerpt:

Boston, October 1891

Jolene Crawford Crenshaw sat on one of two chairs just feet from the burial plot. Graveyard attendants held the ropes suspending the casket above a deep hole in the ground and began to let loose their ends, inches at a time. Jolene watched the casket disappear as it was slowly lowered into the ground. Her husband’s mother shuddered when the box was no longer visible above the grass, then lurched forward, and sobbed aloud.
Jolene sat back in her chair and stared straight ahead while her brother-in-law knelt on the ground to embrace and comfort his mother. Jolene listened to the drone of the minister’s final words. The netting on her hat whipped against her face as mourners moved away and the wind was free to chill her.
“Come, Jolene,” her sister Jennifer said. “Turner’s brother will attend Mrs. Crenshaw. Come away, dear.”
Jolene looked up at her younger sister, giving direction to her, and very nearly corrected Jennifer aloud. But that would not do. No one must think her as anything but a grieving widow. She nodded at Jennifer, stood, and allowed her father, William Crawford, to wrap one arm about her and hold her other arm, as if she were going to crumble at any moment. They were stopped, almost immediately, by Evelyn Prentiss. She clutched Jolene’s hand.
“My dear, I am so terribly sorry about this, especially considering . . . well, I’m just terribly sorry.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Prentiss,” Jolene said. “We are bearing up as best we can.”
“Of course you are,” she said and looked away for a brief moment. “Where is Jane? Where is your mother today?”
“Not feeling well, I’m afraid,” her father said. “We didn’t think this chilly weather would be good for her. She is, of course, devastated that she was unable to attend.”
Evelyn Prentiss nodded. “I will wait a few days and call on her then.”
“She will be happy for the diversion, Mrs. Prentiss,” Jennifer said.
Her father turned to the waiting carriage and handed her and her sister inside. Jolene leaned her head back against the tufted leather seat and closed her eyes. How long until she was in her own rooms and able to shed this façade?
“Will you be checking in on Mother before you go home to Landonmore?” Jennifer asked. “She has letters and telegrams that have arrived for you.”
“I won’t have time to visit with Mother,” she said. “I’ll be accepting visitors this afternoon and imagine there will be a significant number of them.”
“There will be, I’m sorry to say,” her father said. “Even with Turner’s sometimes curious behavior as of late, his Boston connections are sterling. There will be some from Washington, as well.”
“What time should I arrive, Jolene? I’m going to stop in to see Mother and then will make myself available to you. Are you coming, Father?” Jennifer asked.
“If Jolene wants me there, I will,” he said and faced her. “What would you prefer?”
She would prefer that she was far, far away from the questions. That she was somewhere no one knew her. She could not take the pity, she thought, with some anger. She could not! Jolene took deep breaths to calm her racing heart and looked at her sister.
“You’ve no need to trouble yourself, Jennifer. Certainly there is something you would prefer to be doing other than holding my hand, and making dreadfully repetitive small talk.”
Jennifer stared at her incredulously. “Jolene,” she said softly. “You are my sister, and your husband has just died. A young man, no less, a tragedy. I will stay with you while you make your greetings to Turner’s friends. Julia would as well if she were able to be here.”
Julia! Their sister Julia would as likely poison her wine as comfort her or share the burden of greeting guests. “Highly unlikely, Jennifer.  Julia would pay me no kindnesses, as you well know.”
Jennifer shook her head. “That is not true.” She looked to their father for affirmation, but he was determinedly staring out the window of the carriage.
The coach was silent until Jolene heard Jennifer sniffle, and she watched her sister wipe her eyes. “Turner is with little William now, and of that, I am glad,” Jennifer said.
There was a buzz in Jolene’s ear so loud that she could not think for a moment. Did not remember that she was to be the grieving widow. She leaned forward, the muscles in her face tight and pinched, and she was uncertain if she would be able to speak. But she found her voice, albeit strident and cruel, even by her own standards.
“Do not mention my son’s name in the same sentence as my husband’s ever again. In fact, do not ever say my son’s name again, you silly, ugly girl. Such sentimental drivel is, no doubt, why you are still unmarried.”
Jennifer blinked furiously, and her lip trembled. She looked away, and Jolene settled back in her seat. She was surprised when Jennifer spoke again.
“You may push away anyone that loves you, Jolene, for as long as you want. I love you, you see, and so does Julia. And I loved little William with all my heart. I will mourn him, choose to think of him, and speak about him when I wish. I was not his mother and could not imagine the pain you were, and are in, but grief is not a thing to guard jealously, as if you are the only one to feel it.”
The carriage rolled to a stop, and Jolene barely waited for the servant to help her step down. Her hands shook and her stomach rolled over as she entered the marbled foyer of Landonmore. She yanked the black satin ribbons of her bonnet and dropped it as she climbed the stairs. She entered her sitting room, dismissed her maid, locked the door to her apartments, and tore at her black jacket till buttons flew and it was off. Jolene dropped to her knees and struggled for breath.
She pictured her son William, at three, running and laughing, his chubby little legs churning. She could still feel when he climbed onto her lap, when they were alone and held her face still with his hands. He would say, “Mother! Look at me. Mother!” And Jolene would pretend to look elsewhere until they both dissolved into giggles.
Jolene crawled to a trunk near her reading chair and pulled a key on a ribbon from within the folds of her dress. With shaking hands, she unlocked the trunk and pulled a worn blanket from inside. She buried her face in William’s blanket and breathed deep. Jolene rocked back and forth on her haunches and held the tattered wool to her nose. 

Meet Holly

Holly Bush writes historical romance set on the American Prairie, in Victorian England and recently released her first Women’s Fiction title. Her books are described as emotional, with heartfelt, sexy romance. She makes her home with her husband in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Connect with Holly at www.hollybushbooks.com and on Twitter @hollybushbooks and on Facebook at Holly Bush.

E.E.: What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Holly: Ang Lee’s 1995 Sense and Sensibility is my all-time favorite. From the music to the casting to the costumes to the script. The acting was superb as was the cinematography. Is there a more nuanced depiction of love and love’s foes, money and power, ever told? Emma Thompson’s screenplay triumphs. I have a top ten movie list compiled and haven’t had a change on it for some time.

E.E.: Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
Holly: I do read reviews of my books. I also make a conscious choice to not let the best and the worst of them take me too high or too low. But when someone has taken the time to write about what they cared about and what didn’t work for them, it can be very valuable to me as a writer. Sometimes I’m very surprised at what hit a reader emotionally or what made them understand a character more fully. If I can approach reviews unemotionally, there are often plenty of learnings to be had.

E.E.: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
Holly: I’ve always worked full time and have been in my current job for about six years, although I’ve been working for the same company for many more than that. I actually love my job, although some days I want to bang my head against a wall as I’m sure everyone wants to do once in a while. I write technical manuals and training documents in addition to managing regulatory compliance for a large farming company and have the greatest boss I could have ever asked for. Last fall the income from my writing allowed me to go to four days a week and I’m hoping to go to three days next year. Having three full days to write has been a dream of mine for a long time and it finally came true!  

E.E.: What drew you to write in the genre(s) you do?
Holly: While I am thrilled that more women in the world have control of their own sexuality, and their bodies, and I’m fond of penicillin and modern medicine, I nonetheless love to read historical works of fiction and non-fiction above any other. I imagine that is why I love to write them. Thankfully, I don’t have to describe the lack of modern plumbing or any of the many really icky or uncomfortable realities of life in the 1800’s, unless of course I want to. What does draw me is my perception of mores and modesty common at the time.

E.E.: What is your hope for the future of romance publishing? 
Holly: The romance community is wonderful place for writers. The readers are voracious, and the writers are supportive and willing to give a leg up to a new writer. Other genres do not have this type of community and many writers I know have said how much more difficult it is to connect with readers without the easy communication we have with blogs, writer’s groups, romance book sites, and conventions. I hope the romance community continues this way, and we’re able to get past the inevitable ugly moments, and stay focused on our commonalities, and stories of love. 

E.E.: What has been your most rewarding publishing moment? 
Holly: Hmmm. I’ve had a few, maybe because I really didn’t expect any of them. Many of the books I’ve published over the last three years were written years ago and I wrote query letters for them and researched publishers and agents for hours on end. Many, or most, did not take email submissions, so I printed each query, along with a SASE, crossed my fingers and mailed them off. Some took years to be returned, most took months, and they were all rejections, mostly because the stories I wrote did not fit in any publishing house’s categories. It was a massive leap to self-publish, knowing at that time that self-published authors were never picked up by a publisher or agent. But with the encouragement of my husband, I took the plunge and my books started to sell. I was stunned, and when I realized that people, lots of them, were buying and reading my book, it was a real affirmation that after twenty years of rejections my stories were appealing to a wide audience. Lately, I’ve begun to get a pretty steady amount of feedback from readers by email and through my website. It is gratifying beyond words to talk to readers about my books.

Today, Holly will give away her books, Train Station Bride and Contract to Wed, to one lucky commenter. Just answer the question and enter the drawing.

Put yourself in the past for a moment. What would induce you to sign a contract to wed "sight unseen?"  

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Sounds like a good book. Love the cover. Who created it?

    1. Hi Charlene! Jenny Q at Historical Editioria does all my covers and I think she is fabulous! She always catches the heart of my books.

  2. I guess if I was desperate to start a new life somewhere else, I would sign a contract to wed sight unseen. You have to hope for the best.

  3. I enjoy mail order bride and western romances too. Thanks for the giveaway! I've not read any of Burke's books... yet...

  4. Welcome Back to GLIAS, Holly !
    Thanks for sharing today.

  5. I'd have to be in a desperate situation with no other options

  6. What a beautiful cover! Hmmm, I guess if I had no family... it could have been an option back then... not sure if I would be brave or adventurous enough to do it though. greenshamrock at cox dot net

  7. depends on the situation

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  8. Hi, Holly, and welcome to GLIAS! Your story premise and excerpt are wonderful. Congratulations on your book.

    1. Thanks for having me, Vicki! It's a real pleasure!

  9. Congratulations on the release!! I think I would be a mail order bride if there was a reason to "get out of town fast", or after the war and there were few good men. If I was a mother and needed help with my children I would also be willing. Things weren't like they are now. No, or VERY few jobs for women, and NO women protection laws.

  10. Hello all! I think Nancy has got the gist of this. Choices were limited for women, widow or not, and I think the mores of the time dictated marriage in a more practical arrangement to join families or property, to insure a child's wealth, as companionship for a considerably more difficult life than most of face now, most likely still focused on the basics such as food on a table and a roof overhead.

  11. I meant to say thank you all for the kind words in my last post!

  12. Holly, I'm delighted I've had the privilege of featuring you today as my Best of the West guest on GLIAS. Your book sounds fascinating and I'm eagerly diving in. I've always been interested in what motivated these "mail-order brides" to leave home and go hundreds of miles from everything familiar to marry men they'd never met. They were women of rare courage.