If you've been keeping up with this series, you might recall that Ross Hardt, the railroad agent intent on marrying off the brides, has been a major figure throughout the series. He's not been popular among the ladies, who see him as harsh and unfeeling. But occasionally he exhibits signs that he might just have a heart--something he has to risk in order to win an elusive widow who guards her own heart just as fiercely.
Here's a blurb
When all else fails, try seduction.
Ross Hardt must marry a proper lady to reclaim his inheritance. Among the few remaining prospects is a beautiful, sassy widow who has tantalized him from the day they first met—the same day she slapped his face.
Susannah Braddock journeys west in search of a good father for her young son. On the lawless frontier few candidates meet her requirements, least of all the arrogant, unfeeling railroad agent.
As Fate—and Ross’s scheming—draws them closer, Susannah glimpses unexpected tenderness beneath his harsh exterior, and she’s tempted by the fiery passion that flares between them. But when a secret comes out that threatens to destroy their budding relationship, passion isn’t enough. Only love can weather the oncoming storm.
She finally turned and faced him with her head held high, which still only put her at chin level. “Mr. Hardt, I am here on behalf of Miss Waverly and Miss Bodean, as well as myself. We cannot be held to a two-week deadline. We need more time to find suitable husbands.”
“You need more time…” This had been her refrain from the moment she’d stepped off the train. He had to wonder why she’d signed up for the railroad’s matchmaking program, unless all she’d wanted was a free ride. If so, why come to the least desirable location for a woman of refined tastes? “You’ve had six weeks. There are over a hundred eligible men to choose from. Pardon me if I find it hard to believe that you can’t find a suitable husband.”
“Please refrain from glaring at me.”
He hadn’t realized he was glaring.
“Sir, you appear to be a…gentleman.” Considering the effort it took for her to say it, he didn’t think she believed it. “Put yourself in my position for a moment. If you had to choose from among these men, how quickly would you be able to find someone suitable?”
His gaze slid to the window. Across the street outside a saloon, two settlers engaged in fisticuffs. Street fights weren’t an uncommon sight. Loud curses, though faint, could be heard, along with the jeers of a growing crowd. Well, hell. This was the frontier, after all.
“What kind of men did you expect to find out here, ma’am?”
He didn’t get an answer, likely because she refused to admit her eastern-born ignorance. She was a puzzle to him. On one hand, she paraded around like a fine lady. But on her application, she’d put down that she was a seamstress and had worked in a factory. He couldn’t unify the two images, other than to assume she was a gently bred woman down on her luck, perhaps left widowed by the war, with only a small pension.
If not for the settlers’ unrest and his own obligations, he might have givenin to compassion and offered her all the time she needed to find what she sought. Given the situation, he couldn’t afford to be that generous. Besides, not every man in the territory was a ruffian, and she had her pick. All she had to do was crook her finger.
“You have two weeks to find a husband. I can’t give you more time.”
A flush rose into her face and guilt tweaked him for behaving like an unfeeling bastard.
“If I don’t find a husband within that time frame, will you…send me back?”
“Send you back?” The question surprised him, yet it seemed to confirm the suspicion that she’d only wanted free fare in order to immigrate west. The railroad couldn’t afford to tolerate freeloaders—even beautiful ones. “Why would I do that? If you renege, you’ve agreed to repay your fare and expenses.”
She clutched her reticule so tightly, he wondered how the beads didn’t come off in her hands. Her despair washed over him in waves. An urge he’d thought long dead welled up, an absurd desire to wrap his arms around her and offer his protection.
Madness. He had a job to do, which didn’t include coddling a woman who hated him. Had they met under different circumstances, he wouldn’t have hesitated to pursue her. In spite of the obstacles, if he thought he had a chance…
“Very well,” she said curtly. “I’ll let the others know of your decision.”
Before she could turn to go, he nabbed her arm and she jerked away as if his touch burned. Fair enough. He had been, out of necessity, unkind. Still, he had to know what she’d hoped to accomplish when she had signed that contract and boarded the Bride Train.
“Why did you come out here, Mrs. Braddock?”
She lifted her chin, and her eyes flashed with anger and a challenge. “For one reason, to find an honorable man who would be a good father to my son. That is still my goal, but I won’t be forced into a bad marriage. If you refuse me the time I need, I vow I will come up with the money to repay the railroad.”
Hannah help him, she was magnificent. She had more grit than most men. Even her stubbornness was to be admired. In addition to being beautiful, she was also loyal to her friends, and kind to everyone—with one exception. And he couldn’t blame her for resenting him, despite the fact that he was only doing his job.
“Can you come up with the money in two weeks?” He hoped she had a plan.
Her stricken expression gave him the answer. “What will you do if I can’t?”
The question stumped him. He hadn’t imagined it would come to that. He’d thought she would surrender and he wouldn’t have to finish the battle
Ross moved to the desk to give himself time to come up with a reply. If he did nothing, it would make him appear weak and ineffectual, and a useless figurehead was exactly what the hotheads needed to convert more men to their cause in opposing the railroad. His other choice was to take her to court. That would make him look like a bully and turn his few supporters against him. Not only that, but he had no stomach for treating ladies like criminals.
He picked up his father’s letter. There was another option. He could pay back the money she owed the railroad. In part, that would make up for how he’d treated her earlier, and it would also free her to consider other men—him, for example.
She’d as soon spit on him as take his charity, and he hadn’t yet earned the right to woo her.
On the other hand, if he could win her, he would get a woman he wanted and a wife to take home to Texas. As Val had pointed out, he planned to marry anyway, and it wouldn’t hurt his cause to bring home a lady like Susannah. Downing two birds with one stone seemed a logical move.
“Mr. Hardt, before you decide on a course of action, consider the fact that I have a young son.” Her tone wasn’t pleading—she wouldn’t beg, not her—but he could sense her desperation. That might work in his favor.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m aware of that.” He turned to face her. Two weeks, that’s all he had. He’d set the deadline himself and had to stick to it. How could he free her from her obligation to become one of the settlers’ brides, but at the same time, keep her close enough to woo her?
Offer her a chance to earn her freedom. She would be far more amenable to a discussion about marriage if not forced into it. He understood that about her, and felt much the same way.
“Is your handwriting legible?”
Her angry frown dissolved into puzzlement. “My handwriting is exemplary. Why do you ask?”
“You might be interested in a job which pays enough to cover your fare and expenses.”
Her woeful expression changed to one of hopefulness, making her appear younger and achingly innocent. An illusion. She’d been married and had borne a son, so she was hardly innocent. His deceitful former intended had feigned innocence and turned out to be little more than a whore. But Susannah was nothing like Olivia; she didn’t put on airs and didn’t pretend feelings she didn’t have. He could expect honesty from her—the most important quality in a wife.
“What is this job? When can I start?” She took a step in his direction, no longer wringing her hands. In fact, she appeared willing—even eager—to work her way out of her predicament, just as he’d expected.“You can start right now…as my assistant.”
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The Bride Train rides into history…
The mail-order bride phenomenon in 19th century America spawned personal advertisements, matrimonial newspapers and matchmaking services—even the railroads wanted a piece of the action.
The Bride Train series was inspired by true events that took place in southeastern Kansas a few years after the Civil War ended. In 1869-70, violent riots broke out in protest of railroad land policies, and troops were sent in by President Grant to quell the violence. A more peaceful solution proposed was a program for the immigration of single young women to become brides for the settlers and provide a “calming influence...” When I came across an article about this proposal, it seemed the perfect concept for a romance series.
Other books in The Bride Train series:
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Valentine's Rose: An English lord, an Irish laundress...only in America could Fate be foolish enough to put them together.
Patricks' Charm: A disabled Union veteran down on his luck and a famous actress on the run from danger find shelter in each other's arms and love where they least expect it.
Tempting Prudence: A spinster kidnapped to become the bride for a bootlegger finds an unexpected chance at love.
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
I have quite a few. Here’s one I have pinned up in my office:
“He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the test of greatness.” Hermann Melville (author of Moby Dick)
One of the biggest obstacles I face every day is fear of failure. I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, I think fear of failure is the number one thing that keeps most of us from achieving our potential. What Melville is saying is, go ahead. Reach for that dream. But be willing to fail a few times along the way. That isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Failure can teach us what we need to know in order to do better and do more. I must keep reminding myself every day, which is why I pinned up that phrase.
Do you consider your books plot-driven or character-driven? Is that how you naturally write, or is there a purpose for what you chose?
My books, even the ones with complex plots, are character-driven because they’re romances, and romances are about relationships. I’m not sure I started out that way. I love history and I use actual events in many of my books. In my first book, I got carried away with weaving in all this real history and lost sight of the fact that the setting, the events, the actions, everything, has to serve the story, which is about the characters and their growth and the development of a romantic relationship. Hey, it’s a love story, dummy. Not a thesis.
What’s interesting is that my stories always start with characters. They might be inspired by history, but they are unique “people” who appear in my imagination and talk to me. My difficulty was in taking those fascinating characters out of my head and putting them “on the page.” Through books, conferences, critique and mentoring, I learned the skills I needed to do this…and I’m still learning. If romance is what you want to write, seek out the best romances with the most memorable characters. Learn from the masters.
What do you think about when you are alone in your car?
I should be paying attention to the road! Ha! When I’m on a road trip, I usually mull over my current work-in-progress, figure out how to fix a problem, think of new ideas for books, sometimes I write whole scenes in my head, including dialog, and I talk to my characters. Good thing I’m alone, eh? Nut case!
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I’ve always been a storyteller. Even as a child, I made up stories and I loved to tell them to people. I wrote a few (terrible) plays and penned (bad) song lyrics, drew comics and illustrations. I started out as more of a visual artist, and kind of evolved into a writer in college and ended up in Journalism. Reading romances in the late 80s sparked a desire to write them, but by then I’d gravitated into a marketing job. Frankly, fear held me back. I did a lot of creative thinking and even writing while I was in advertising, but I didn’t start crafting novels until I was 50. What feeds my creative well? History, art, reading, movies, television shows, plays, music, symphonies, ballet, parties, school, church, family dinners, walks around the block. Everything. I see every part of my life as potential seasoning and food for creativity.
There’s some debate about whether you can “teach” creativity. I don’t think it’s something that’s taught as much as something you release and then learn to direct. That takes skills, so I’d say over the past ten years, I’ve evolved creatively as a writer and a storyteller through all those things I mentioned earlier, as well as seeking out learning opportunities and trying new things.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Digging deep to discover the gems, bringing them to the surface and polishing until it shines.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
One of the themes in this book is the power of remaking your life and shaping a new future. This is one of the most difficult, yet empowering, things you can do. Susannah struggles to get past obstacles like fear and doubt, which are the same forces I struggled against when I started down this path as an author. The fear and doubt is still there and always will be, but I've determined I will not let it stop me from pursuing my dreams. That's the advice I'd give my younger self. Don't let fear and doubt stand in your way.
Today to celebrate the release of Seducing Susannah, I'll give away a $25 Amazon gift card and a signed paperback with a silver bookmark. Just leave a comment and enter the rafflecopter below.
I'd love to know what advice you'd give your younger self?