“I’m sorry, Lizzie, but the girls are getting old enough for a tutor, and we simply don’t need your services any longer,” Mrs. Mays said.
Lizzie sighed. She had known this day was coming, but she had hoped to line up future employment before it happened.
“I understand,” she said, though she felt completely dejected. Her shoulders slumped and she bit her lip to keep her tears at bay. Not only was she losing a job, but she had also grown attached to the little girls who she had been with since they were old enough to be weaned from their mother.
“Here,” Mrs. Mays said, handing Lizzie a small leather purse. “These are the last of the wages we owe you, and a little something extra. You’ve always loved the girls, and we’ve been grateful for your help.”
Lizzie smiled. She was grateful, too, but the extra money would only do her so much good. Her family was poor and large, and they relied on her income to put food on the table. After all, having ten mouths to feed was not cheap.
“Thank you,” Lizzie said, her voice trembling.
“We will be happy to speak to any family on your behalf, though I’m sure you won’t need us to,” Mrs. May said. She gave Lizzie a sly, conspiratorial smile.
A pit formed in the center of Lizzie’s stomach. She knew Mrs. May was referring to the idea that Lizzie would soon be married. After all, Lizzie was nineteen, and most girls her age were either already married, courting, or welcoming their first child.
“Thank you,” she said once more. They were the only words that she could get past the tightness in her throat. “I’ll see you in church.”
Lizzie walked away from Mrs. Mays before her tears got the better of her. She knew she would not find another job like the one she’d had with the Mays. They were the wealthiest family in town and could afford help with their girls. In fact, they had even hired the girls a tutor, which Lizzie had thought was a fantastic idea. The only problem was, that had left Lizzie without employment.
Sighing, Lizzie continued walking off of the Mays’ property, kicking small rocks as she went. The summer sun was beating down on her dark red hair, causing sweat to begin beading across her forehead.
She contemplated what she was going to tell her ma and pa. She had kept the news from them, hoping that she would be able to find employment before they caught wind of anything. They weren’t just going to be disappointed in her; they were going to be panicked.
Lizzie was the eldest of eight daughters. Her income helped to feed everyone and without it, she shuddered at the thought. Food, clothes, shoes, pretty much everything was already scarce, which meant they’d likely have to scale back even further.
And there’s certainly no hope of putting any money away for a dowry, Lizzie thought to herself. She kicked at the dirt a little harder as her dejection and anger grew. She knew she had bigger things to consider than marriage, but truth be told, Lizzie had thought of nothing else for the last year.
It wasn’t that she was desperate for a husband, but Lizzie worried that if she didn’t marry soon, she never would. The problem was that most men in her town would not even consider marrying a girl of Lizzie’s station.
She was penniless, and her family couldn’t even contribute to a wedding, let alone scrounge together enough for a dowry. Lizzie feared that she would die penniless and alone, and it made her angry.
After all, she hadn’t asked to be poor. She was a good person. She attended church every day, adored children, and had worked hard her entire life. She wasn’t a great beauty, but she was attractive enough.
Deep down, she knew none of that mattered. The world spun round on money, and Lizzie was skint.
Her melancholy only grew as she walked from the Mays’ property and toward the small town. She was determined to gain employment before the day’s end.
“Morning,” Lizzie greeted as she walked into the town’s general store. Lizzie lived outside of Bethlehem, which meant that for most things, people would travel to the larger city. Jobs outside of the farm and the schoolhouse were scarce, especially for women.
“Good morning, Elizabeth,” said Mr. Holmes. He was the owner of the general store and knew all the comings and goings of their small town.
If anyone can help me find a job, it would be him, she thought.
“Have you come in for something specific?” Mr. Holmes asked, confusion coloring his voice. It was well known that the Clark family could hardly afford food, let alone the luxury items sold in the store. Lizzie’s family grew or butchered their own food, and her mother made clothes out of every scrap of fabric she could find. She couldn’t even remember the last time they’d purchased anything from Mr. Holmes’ store.
“I was wondering if you knew of anyone looking to hire some help. I’ve been looking after the Mays’ children for the last two years, but Mrs. Mays has decided to hire the girls a tutor,” she explained.
Lizzie wasn’t the type to joke around. She didn’t have the luxury of nice manners, and she lacked the ability to make small talk.
“I’m not sure I know of any families looking for help,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be work with children,” she said. “I’m good with animals and can help with farm chores.”
“Have you thought about talking to the local schoolmaster?” he asked. “You’re young and unmarried, and it seems that the moment we get a new teacher one of the local boys scoops her away.”
Mr. Holmes laughed at his own joke, but Lizzie didn’t find it funny. The thing was that Lizzie couldn’t read or write, which was why she hadn’t been able to stay on with the Mays’ girls. She couldn’t tutor them because she herself needed a tutor. All of this meant that she had absolutely no chance of becoming the local schoolteacher.
Of course, Mr. Holmes didn’t know that, so Lizzie would forgive him his slight.
“Have you heard of anything else?” she asked. “Anyone looking for extra help?”
Mr. Holmes chewed on his lower lip; she could tell that he was considering her question. Lizzie appreciated it. Mr. Holmes barely knew her, but he was genuinely trying to help.
“I’m looking for someone to keep my books—any experience with that sort of work?” he asked.
Lizzie tried not to let her disappointment show. She couldn’t read or write, and she barely understood numbers. Her ma and pa could hardly read and write themselves, and they hadn’t taught any of their girls, assuming they wouldn’t need the skills for marriage.
“I don’t,” Lizzie said. “I’m sorry.”
Mr. Holmes gave her a sweet, sad smile. It was clear to Lizzie that his offer had been one made out of kindness. It’s not his fault that you are lacking skills, she thought to herself.
“If I hear of anything else,” Mr. Holmes promised, “I’ll let you know.”
She tilted her head in acknowledgment. “Thank you,” she said.
“Let me give you a piece of taffy.” Mr. Holmes reached into the jar on his counter and pulled out a small piece of candy.
Lizzie opened her coin purse to grab payment.
Mr. Holmes shook his head. “No payment,” he said. “You look like you could use a sweet treat today.”
Tears started filling Lizzie’s eyes once more, but she held them back. “Thank you, Mr. Holmes,” she said.
He nodded. “Keep your head up,” he told her.
Lizzie said nothing. She simply took her candy and walked out of the store and toward her home. At this junction, she had no reason not to return home, so it seemed that the only thing left to do was to tell her parents that she had lost her employment.
Popping the candy in her mouth, Lizzie allowed the sugar to dissolve on her tongue. She hoped it would give her strength for whatever came next.
Charles Johnson tapped his fingers against the wood of his dining table. It was a large, mahogany table that he had bought from New York. It was big enough to seat up to twelve people, and Charles thought it was a work of art. It was his favorite piece of furniture in his entire house, something that he had purchased when he’d expanded the ranch.
He’d wanted a grand table. At the time, he thought he’d use it to hold great parties and meetings, but that had been years ago, and he had grown out of that mentality.
The table went unused most of the time, and when it was being used, it was generally just Charles and his brother Peter.
“Sorry I’m late,” Peter said, walking into the dining room.
Charles said nothing. He simply took a sip of his coffee that had grown cold.
“I got caught up with Lucy.” Peter gave Charles a wide smile.
Charles rolled his eyes. His younger brother had married six months ago, but he had remained enamored with his wife—so much so that they could barely leave one another. Normally, Charles didn’t mind Lucy flirting about, making moony eyes at his brother. He was glad for their happiness, even if he didn’t understand it. But he didn’t like it when their relationship interfered with work.
“How is Lucy?” Charles asked, trying to make polite conversation.
Peter laughed. “She’s well. She tried to make a tea cake this afternoon and wanted my help.”
Charles said nothing. He didn’t dislike Lucy by any means, but he had things to discuss with his brother that had nothing to do with his wife.
“I can see that you aren’t looking to make small talk,” Peter said.
“The time for chatting was earlier, when my coffee was still warm,” Charles told him.
Peter shook his head. “You are too serious,” he said. He grabbed a johnnycake from the table. One of the maids had left some food out for them. “This is good,” he said as he shoved the cake in his mouth and started in for the slices of cheese.
“Can you focus on why we’re here?” Charles asked his brother.
Unlike Charles, Peter had an easy-going nature. He never felt rushed, which drove Charles a bit crazy. He was much more serious, and he liked things done when he said they should be done. His tenacious nature had contributed to his great success.
“Why are we here?” Peter asked, munching on some cheese.
“I wanted to discuss acquiring some new land a bit west of town,” Charles said. He pulled out his ledger.
“More land?” Peter asked, his eyes widening.
“Yes.” Charles opened his ledger and pointed to one of the spaces on the map he kept. “The land is well-irrigated and will allow us to expand with little problem.”
Peter sighed. He took the ledger from Charles and began looking at it with critical eyes. Peter might have been the younger brother, but Charles valued his opinion, which was why he had made Peter his foreman.
“The land is also not connected to anything that we currently own,” Peter pointed out. “We’d have to build separate structures and hire more men who’d be off the main path here.”
Charles shrugged. He had thought about all of those things, but they hadn’t deterred him. Risk had never stopped Charles before, and it wouldn’t stop him now. If he allowed himself to be put off by difficulty, then he would never have become the largest ranch and landowner in Texas.
“Why do you want the land?” Peter asked. “You don’t need it.”
“Because I want it,” Charles said. It was that simple. Charles wanted to expand the ranch as far as possible. He didn’t just want to be successful—he had a drive to be the most successful.
Peter sighed. “You know that you don’t have anything to prove,” he said. “You’ve taken what Ma and Pa left you and made it larger and more magnificent than they could ever dream of.”
“This has nothing to do with proving myself,” Charles said. “I enjoy the work that we do on the ranch, and I want to continue.”
His brother shook his head. “You need a family,” he said.
Charles scoffed. “I have a family, or have you decided that you aren’t my brother anymore.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Course not,” he said. “We’ll always be family.”
“Then it’s settled,” Charles said, finishing the remainder of his coffee.
“Nothing is settled!”
Charles sighed. He had been hoping that his brother would want to talk business today, but it seemed that was not going to be the case. Peter had been on Charles for the past year about marriage. He simply couldn’t understand why Charles didn’t care to marry, especially since Peter seemed so happy with Lucy.
“I already told you that I have no plans to marry,” Charles told his brother.
Peter shook his head. “You told me that you had no plans to marry several months ago,” he said. “You didn’t tell me that you’d never marry.”
“And I’m not saying that now,” Charles said. “I’m aware that I must marry. I’ll need an heir eventually.”
Pete leaned back in his chair, bringing his hands up against his forehead in exasperation. “There are more reasons to marry than just to get an heir.”
Charles said nothing. He didn’t agree. Unlike Peter, he didn’t believe in love. The women of the town only wanted to marry Charles for greater fortune and better stations. He wasn’t opposed to such a thing; after all, marriage was a transaction. What rubbed Charles the wrong way was how the woman pretended to love and care for him. He didn’t appreciate liars, and pretending to love someone was the greatest lie of all.
“Let this go,” Charles told his brother.
Peter sighed. He opened his mouth, probably to argue, but Charles shot his brother a quick look of condemnation. He didn’t care to keep speaking on this topic. Peter knew his thoughts on this, and he would have to accept them.
I’m not going to budge on this, Charles thought, and it was the truth. Peter could go off and marry for love. He could afford to keep his head in the clouds. Charles could not allow himself the same sort of freedom.
No, his marriage would be well-planned and well-thought-out, and he wouldn’t be marrying any local girl who was looking to make a name for herself.
“Let’s get back to business,” Charles said.
Peter continued to look like he wanted to say something more, but Charles knew that his brother wouldn’t. Peter wasn’t an aggressive individual––that was another way in which the two of them differed.
“I want you to meet with the owner of the land, walk the property, and see if there’s anything I need to be made aware of,” Charles ordered. He knew that he was being a bit high-handed, but he couldn’t stop himself.
He was the bit auger, after all. As eldest son, he had inherited everything—including the responsibility of ensuring that his brother was provided for.
“Fine,” Peter said. He was used to Charles’ gruff manner, especially when it came to business. He had never asked more of Charles than for Charles to be himself, which was why the brothers were so close. “But I think you are taking on too much and that you should be thinking about other things…” He trailed off, making it clear what those other things were.
“I’ll make a note of your hesitations,” Charles said as he closed his ledger.
Peter rolled his eyes. “Can we eat now, or are you against lunch as well?”
This time, Charles laughed. “I’m starving,” he said, grabbing a piece of cheese and some fruit.
For the rest of the afternoon, Charles and Peter continued eating and chatting. They stayed off the subject of marriage, but it was clear that it was on Peter’s mind.
Charles wasn’t going to allow it to bother him. He’d marry when he absolutely had to and no sooner.
Sitting across from her two parents, Lizzie felt like a silly young girl waiting for a tongue lashing.
“What do you mean, you’ve been let go?” her mother asked.
Her father said nothing. He simply sat there quietly, his eyes filled with disappointment.
“Mrs. Mays is hiring a tutor for the girls. She no longer needs my services,” Lizzie repeated. She had tried her best to maintain her composure even as her heart thumped wildly in her chest. Lizzie was worried that she might spill the content of her stomach across the table in her nervousness.
“But…” Her mother seemed unsure of what to say.
After all, it was difficult to be angry with Lizzie, since none of this was her fault. If Ma and Pa had taught me to read, then perhaps I would still have my position, she thought briefly before shaking her anger away.
There was no point in crying over something that wouldn’t change.
“There’s nothing to be done about it,” Lizzie’s father said, echoing her thoughts.
She sighed. Though he didn’t seem angry, she knew he was. When her father was angry, he did not speak it. He simply allowed his anger to simmer below the surface until it became too large for him to contain. It was then that her father took a few coins to the local tavern and spent them on ale.
“I went to speak to Mr. Holmes to see if anyone else might be looking for help,” Lizzie said. Her stomach dropped once more as she watched her mother’s eyes grow wide with hope. Lizzie felt terrible that she would have to squash that hope soon. “But there’s nothing in town that he knows of.”
Lizzie’s mother released a small sob and buried her face in her hands.
“Stop crying,” her father ordered. Her mother’s tears started to dry up.
Lizzie bit her lip. Her father wasn’t a bad parent, but he was a tough one. He had to be. Her mother was kind and soft and became emotional at the drop of a feather. Because of this, her father bore the weight of their difficult life on his shoulders. Lizzie admired him for it even if she sometimes feared him.
“Lizzie,” her father said. His green eyes, mirrors of her own, connected with hers, and she shivered at the intensity of it. She suspected what he would say next, and she knew that she wasn’t going to like it.
“I can get another job,” she said. “I can go into Bethlehem if I have to!”
“Maybe you should,” her father told her.
She hadn’t expected that. Bethlehem was at least a half a day’s journey away. As the biggest city in their area, Lizzie was sure that she might find work there, but she also knew that if she did, she would not be able to commute back and forth. She’d have no choice but to remain in the city. Away from her family, and away from everything that she knew.
“What are you saying?” she asked, her voice so soft that she could barely get the words out.
“I’m saying that your mother and I can no longer house you,” he told her.
“What?” Lizzie felt her jaw drop. She didn’t imagine that her father would kick her out of their home.
Her father sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair. The anger in his posture had fled and, in its place, he appeared to cave in on himself.
“You’re a woman of nineteen. Most girls of your age are long out of their family home,” he told her.
“And married!” she shouted.
Lizzie hadn’t meant to lose her cool. She respected her parents, even if she did have some resentment over them.
“We haven’t stopped you from marrying,” he told her.
Lizzie snorted. She couldn’t stop the sound from coming out of her. Her father’s eyes narrowed upon her.
“You know that I can’t marry without a dowry,” she said. “I had been saving up my wages for a small one, but I gave them to you readily when Annabelle and Cassie ran out of boots.”
Her father’s eyes narrowed in on the table, and Lizzie felt shame at throwing their poverty in his face. She had gladly given up her savings so that her sisters could have boots for the winter, and she would have done it again. Lizzie wasn’t the sort of person to put her own desires above the needs of the ones she loved.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
Her father gave her a small smile, and her mother said nothing but dabbed at her eyes. “You’ve always been a good girl, Lizzie,” he said. “I’d keep you with me forever but…”
“But I’m more than able to work, and it’s time for me to make my own way.” Lizzie tried her best to put a positive spin on it. In truth, her parents were sending her off with nothing and were doing it so that she would not be a drain on their limited resources. It was easier for them to get rid of their eldest daughter than keep her round. They likely would have done the same to her sisters, if they were a bit older.
“We can give you a month,” her father said. “We still have some coin left from selling those cattle at the beginning of the season, so we should be fine.”
Lizzie thought about telling her father about the coin purse in her pocket. It weighed heavily on her, but she said nothing. She feared that if she did, she would end up leaving home with nothing but hopes and dreams.
No, Lizzie thought. I’ll keep this on me. Just in case.
“Thank you,” Lizzie said. She didn’t know what else to say to her parents. She wasn’t angry with them. She knew they were just doing what they thought was best, but she was terrified at the thought of having to survive out there on her own with no money, no skills, and no one to help her should things go awry.
She knew that this was a recipe for disaster, but since she had no choice, she had to hope for the best.
“I cannot believe they are kicking you to the streets!” Jane yelled.
Lizzie rolled her eyes at her best friend’s dramatics. The moment that she had been able to get away from her parents, she’d practically run to Jane’s house. She needed to cry and rage, and Jane was always ready to allow Lizzie to do both.
“They have to look out for the younger girls,” Lizzie explained. She didn’t know why she wished to defend her parents, but she did. She didn’t want Jane to think that they were bad people, because they weren’t.
“It’s not your fault that they had too many girls,” Jane said.
Jane was the type of person who said whatever was on her mind, much to her own father’s chagrin. Ever since they were children, Jane’s father had been praying to God in Heaven that his daughter’s wild mouth wouldn’t keep her from finding a husband. Luckily, God had heard his pleas. Jane was to be married to Thomas Harper, a young man of wealth from Bethlehem.
“Aren’t we supposed to be making plans for your wedding?” Lizzie asked. It had been the excuse that she had made to her parents when she wanted to get away from them. In truth, Lizzie knew nothing about planning events, but she did her best to be supportive of her best friend.
Jane waved Lizzie’s question away. “We can plan later,” she said. “You have more pressing concerns.”
Lizzie sighed. A part of her regretted telling Jane what her parents had said to her, but she couldn’t help herself. Her and Jane had shared everything with each other. They were wildly different from one another, but they had shared a strong bond ever since they had met in Sunday school.
“At least I’ll be able to see you in Bethlehem when you move,” Lizzie said. It was the only upside of her circumstances.
“I shall speak with Thomas the moment he comes back to town,” Jane said. “You’ll come stay with us as soon as we are married, and I will not hear anything about it. I’ll tell Thomas that it will be his wedding present to me.”
Lizzie said nothing. She knew Jane well enough to know that arguing with her would only make her dig her heels in even further.
Jane’s eyes sparkled with mischief, and Lizzie worried about what might be going through her best friend’s head. “Thomas and his dearest friend are due in town this weekend,” she said.
“Oh? That’s nice. You were worried because you hadn’t met many of his people,” Lizzie said. She was surprised that Jane was letting things go so easily. It was unlike her, and it put Jane on edge.
A slow smile unfurled on Jane’s face, and Lizzie grew even more concerned. “His friend is unmarried,” she added.
Lizzie’s heart dropped. She knew exactly where this was going. Ever since Thomas had started courting Jane, she had made it her mission to snag an eligible bachelor for her friend. Like in most things, Jane would not take no for an answer. She was single-minded in her efforts.
“If he’s anything like Thomas,” Lizzie started, “then I’m certain that he will not have an issue finding a wife.”
It was the most diplomatic that Lizzie could be. She loved Jane as if she were her sister, and she knew that Jane simply wanted what was best for her, but she also refused to believe that Lizzie couldn’t marry without a dowry.
Failure was not something that Jane was used to.
“Would you care to join us for lunch?” Jane asked.
“I don’t think so,” Lizzie said.
“Because I know what you’re up to!”
Jane presented mock outrage. She pressed her fingers against her heart and her lovely pale face made a small O shape. “I have no idea what you mean!” she said, though her brown eyes sparkled with mischief.
“Come on, Lizzie!” Jane begged. She walked toward her. “There’s no harm in lunch.”
“He’s not going to be interested in me,” Lizzie said.
Jane pressed her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “Why is that? You’re a lovely woman. Honestly, the loveliest in the whole area.”
Lizzie felt herself blush. She wasn’t used to compliments, and she never seemed to handle them very well, especially compliments about her looks. Lizzie did not agree with Jane’s assessment of her beauty. She was thinner than most men liked, a direct result of her poverty. Her cheeks were freckled, and her skin seemed to be constantly flushed. The only decent feature Lizzie thought that she had was her hair. It was a dark red, unlike any that she had seen on other women, but it didn’t make her the loveliest in the area.
“He’s not going to be interested when he finds out that I have no dowry to my name,” Lizzie said.
“Ridiculous!” Jane said. “He likely has plenty of money. What would he need any of yours for?”
Lizzie shrugged but said nothing. She’d often wondered the same thing, but it didn’t matter. No man would have her without a dowry, especially not a man who was likely keeping the well-off Thomas company.
“You know who wouldn’t be looking for a dowry?” Jane said.
“I already told you that I’m not interested in joining a marriage agency,” Lizzie told her. Jane’s father owned a lucrative agency that paired young ladies who were willing to marry with a man they had never met to move out west.
Lizzie had no interest of doing any of those things.
“My father would find you a wonderful match,” Jane said.
Lizzie moved closer to her friend. She roped her arm through Jane’s. “Why are you so interested in me moving far away? Aren’t you happy I’ll be joining you in Bethlehem?” she asked, trying to make light of the situation.
“Of course, I want us to be together always,” Jane said. She squeezed Lizzie’s arm tight with hers. “I also want you to be happy.”
“I am happy,” Lizzie lied.
Jane pursed her lips. “We’ll see,” she said.
Lizzie said nothing else. She was content to bask in the warmth of the sun and let her problems go. This afternoon, she would focus on her best friend and not on her own problems. It would be a nice reprieve, and Lizzie felt like she deserved it.
My plight will still be here tomorrow, she thought, as Jane started prattling on about her plans for the wedding.
“His Heart’s Whisperer” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When Lizzie Clark loses her job as a nanny, she’s left hopeless and destitute while her family is completely in shambles. Luckily for her, her best friend steps in with the perfect solution that will guarantee her financial security. Before even Lizzie realizes it, she becomes a mail-order bride, traveling off to Texas to meet her husband-to-be. Just when she thinks she’s finally found some hope, Lizzie discovers that her fiancé is expecting a well-accomplished lady, which she is certainly not. Torn between lies, she finds herself trapped in a painful dilemma…Will she go against her own values for a chance at love?
Upon his father’s death, Charles Johnson inherited a small ranch and made it the largest in all of Spring Branch. When his brother announces he is expecting his first child, it is a wake up call for Charles that it’s high time he found a wife too. Charles is no ignorant to women trying to trap him because of his money and status and he has no choice but to employ a marriage agency. While he never expected to actually fall for his bride-to-be, the minute he meets Lizzie, he is captivated. When secrets come to light, will he manage to trust her and succumb to this unprecedented feeling?
Moving to Spring Branch was supposed to solve all of Lizzie’s problems instead of creating new ones. In the middle of a web of lies and confusion, she and Charles will have to learn to accept their untameable feelings. Together they must decide if love is worth the trouble… Can the two of them overcome their differences and let their romance flourish, no matter what the cost?
“His Heart’s Whisperer” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.