A Novelist’s Mail-Order Love (Preview)

Chapter One

Jack Carson was dying.

Logically, Eliza had always known the day would come. But it wasn’t supposed to come before she herself had grown up and had a family of her own. She wasn’t supposed to be losing her father when she was only twenty-one years old.

Yet, she was.

“Excuse me, miss,” Annie said as she appeared in the doorway of Eliza’s large bedroom. “Your father is sending for you.”

“What does he want? I can’t bear to see him like this. I can’t go in there.”

“But miss, you must,” her maid replied. “He’s asking to see you personally, and the doctor says there isn’t much time.”

“Go back in there yourself,” Eliza said. “Find out what he wants. He’s my father; I can’t bear these memories being put in my mind. I simply can’t!”

She closed her eyes and put her hands over her ears as she sat on the foot of her bed. Shaking her head, she tried to erase the image of her father lying on his deathbed.

Eliza was used to her father being strong and capable, ready to handle anything that life threw at him. The fact that he was dying left her feeling not just grief-stricken and alone, but scared and helpless as well.

“With all due respect,” Annie argued, “as you said yourself, he is your father, and he’s dying, miss. If you don’t go to him, you’re going to regret that you didn’t.”

Eliza wanted to argue, but Annie had a point. As difficult as it was for her to see her father in that condition, she would never forgive herself if she didn’t go to him when he’d asked and it was the last chance she had.

“He’s going to get well,” she tried. “He’s going to get well again, you’ll see. Then none of this will matter.”

Annie gave her a sad smile, then stepped out of the way for Eliza to walk past her and into the hall.

The distance between her room and her father’s felt twice as long as usual, and she hated how the cracked door only revealed darkness inside. She reached the door of his bedroom and knocked softly, not wanting to worsen his headache.

“Come in.”

Even Jack’s voice didn’t sound right. It was hoarse and forced, as though it took great effort for him to even be able to speak.

“You wanted to see me?” Eliza asked as she slipped into the dim room. The heavy drapes were pulled across the windows, making the room much darker than it ought to have been.

But the light bothered his head, so the drapes remained in place. It was getting later in the evening, with the sun on the opposite side of the house from the location of her father’s bedroom window, but even that bit of sunlight was enough to drive his migraine to the point of being nigh unbearable.

“Eliza, darling,” he said as he struggled to sit in his bed. “Come to me.”

She obeyed, holding out both her hands for him to take. He grasped them and pulled her down to sit on the bed next to him.

“My child,” he said. “I have something to give you, and I’m warning you this isn’t easy for me.”

“What are you talking about?” she cried. None of this was easy for her, and she couldn’t imagine anything he gave her or told her would make the situation worse.

“These,” Jack said, reaching under his pillow and pulling out several rolled documents. “Do not tell anyone you have them, no matter what happens.”

“What are they?” Eliza asked, her voice quivering.

“Those men who attacked me, they were after these,” he explained. “And they’ll be coming, just like they came for Clay and Pearl.”

“Who are they?” Eliza asked. “And who’s coming?”

“There’s no time to explain everything,” Jack said. “All I can tell you is that there’s a man out there who will stop at nothing until he has these papers in his possession. He’s already proven he’s willing to kill for them—not just two innocent people, but he attempted to have me killed as well.”

“Pa!” Eliza cried. “You’re not making any sense. You said you were attacked by robbers, not some men who were after some papers. Why would they think you had them? Why would they keep coming after you now that you’re in your own home?”

“I’m not safe here, and neither are you!” he shot back. “Listen to me when I say this man is not going to stop until he has his hands on these documents, and you must not let that happen, Eliza. I know it’s not easy for you to hear, but you must leave with these this very night!”

“But where will I go?” she asked. “What will I do with them? You can’t tell me to run away with no direction, without even knowing what these documents are!”

“My spoiled child,” he said with a shake of his head. “You’re smart, but you must not be stubborn as well. These documents hold the secret to something marvelous but dangerous. I fear if they fall into the wrong hands and that person unveils the secret, there’s no telling how many lives will be put in grave danger.”

“Then shouldn’t they be destroyed?” Eliza asked. “Burn them, if they are so dangerous.”

“There’s a curse,” Jack replied. “And I fear even destroying the key to the treasure may be enough to bring that curse to life.”

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Eliza argued, but her father held up one of his hands to silence her.

“I know it doesn’t make sense to you right now, but it will in time. You must trust me and do exactly as I say, Eliza, for your own life as well as the lives of so many others.”

“But where will I go?”

“To your Aunt Matilda’s home,” Jack told her. “I have written to her several times, and she’s eager to have you. She’s aware of what’s happened to me, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”

Eliza shook her head. It was all too much for her to even begin to wrap her mind around it.

She remembered her father’s sister from when she was younger, but she also remembered a time when her father and his sister fought over everything. It hadn’t taken long before her father had packed up his things, including her, and moved her across the country to Little Boston, New York, in hopes of starting a new life.

After the move, her father didn’t speak of his sister or her family again. He didn’t speak much of any of the family, really. Not even her own mother. Life had become just the two of them, and she had been certain it would always be that way.

They had been safe in their little home, where nothing could harm them.

But now, her entire world had been torn apart and flipped upside down. And to make matters worse, her father was telling her she had to leave this place.

“How will I get there?” she asked. “I don’t even know where I’m supposed to go.”

“Tom has gone to the train station to purchase tickets for you and Annie,” Jack explained. “He is on his way as we speak, and tonight, he will take you both to the station where you will get on the train and start your journey.”

“He won’t be going with us, either?” she asked.

“He’s needed here,” her father replied. “The man who’s after me will expect the documents to be here. He’s going to be coming here looking for them. Tom will be needed to, at the very least, keep him distracted for as long as possible to give you as much of a head start as we can.”

“Who is this man?” Eliza asked. “What is his name?”

“Abraham Levitts,” Jack said. “He goes by Abe, and has for years. Once an old friend of mine, now an enemy. He’s already killed two of the six of us, and he made an attempt on my life.”

“Why didn’t someone stop him?” Eliza demanded. “If you know who did this to you, why didn’t someone stop him?”

“He’s cunning, my girl, cunning as a fox,” Jack explained. “I didn’t get a look at those men who attacked me. It all happened so fast.”

His voice drifted off, and Eliza sat up straighter on the bed. She turned to him and clutched his hands to her. He hadn’t told her the details of what had happened, and she hadn’t been sure she’d wanted to know. But if he was going to send her away that very night, she wanted to have closure of some kind.

“How did this happen?” she asked. “You had your gun with you. You had your horse. How?”

He laid back on his pillow, his chest heaving. She could see the exhaustion in his face, and just how worn out he truly was. It came as a stark reminder that he truly was dying. No matter how much she wished for some other solution, he was leaving her.

“I was out on Victor, which would tell anyone watching me that it was me since he’s the only animal I’ll ride. I’ve had that horse for twenty years now,” Jack said, his voice drifting off. “Perhaps it’s his age that prevented him from sensing and alerting me to the presence of someone new, but before I was even aware of what was happening, three men were on us.”

He paused, his chest heaving as he fought to get the words out. “They came down on me with clubs. I tried to pull my gun free and start shooting, but that chance had come and gone by then. It was knocked free from my grasp, and I was knocked out of the saddle, and Victor ran off.”

Eliza nodded. She was the one who had seen the horse coming back to the stable. He’d had his head held high and his tail erect, a key indication that there was something very wrong. Of course, without her father in the saddle, she would have deduced there was something amiss, but Victor had really been the one to tell her something terrible had happened.

“I tried to fight back, but one of the men struck me on the head and it all went black. Of course, I’m told that several of my own men were upon us at that point, and they were enough to scare those men off before they were able to apprehend any,” he said. “You know the rest.”

“The doctor tells me that you have a lot of internal injuries,” she sobbed. “But that doesn’t mean anything, Papa. You can still make it, and you will, you will!”

She clung to his hands as if her own life depended on it, and her heart broke at the sad look he gave her in return.

“Tom will be back later,” he said, not acknowledging her words. “And you must do exactly as he tells you. I know you’re scared, and I know right now you’re confused, too. But trust me when I say he’s helping, and you must trust him.”

Eliza cried harder, and her father pulled his hands away from hers, putting them on either side of her face and having her look into his eyes.

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” she sobbed. “But Pa, promise me you will be coming, too. Promise me you’ll join us.”

“I cannot,” he said. “I would do nothing but slow you down, and it’s important you put as much distance between yourself and this place as you can.”

“Then follow!” she cried. “Promise me you will follow when you are well.”

“My daughter,” he said, keeping one hand on the side of her face as the other fell to his side. “I am so proud of you. I know I haven’t done right by you in giving you everything you’ve ever asked of me, but you’re strong. I know you’re going to make it through this.”

There was a knock at the door before she had the chance to respond, and Eliza’s heart leaped to her throat as she sensed whoever it was would be putting an end to her time with her father.

Sure enough, Annie herself appeared in the doorway and Jack called out for her to come in.

“Sir,” she said, “Tom is back, and he’s got the tickets. He’s asked if there is anything further you need him to do before we leave.”

“Just that he also has procured some cloaks,” Jack said. “Have you done as you were instructed as well?”

“Yes sir,” she said, moving into the room a little more to reveal she was holding a suitcase. “I have this packed with enough for us to be on the road for a few days, which is all it should be, really.”

“If all goes according to plan, yes,” he replied. “Matilda will be meeting you both at the designated location, but until then, stay on the train.”

“But Pa,” Eliza tried, but her father held up his hand.

“You need to go get some sleep. You’re going to need your energy for when you leave tonight,” he said.

“Sleep?” Eliza cried. “How can I possibly sleep when you’ve told me all this? There’s no way I’ll be able to close my eyes even for a minute, let alone hope to actually fall asleep.”

“But you must try,” he said. “Annie, take her.”

“Come with me, Miss Eliza,” Annie said, putting down the suitcase in the hall and stepping over to the bed. She put her hands on both Eliza’s shoulders, her arm behind Eliza’s back as she gently led her from the bed and back to the door.

Eliza looked over her shoulder to her father one last time as the pair reached the hall, but he was lying back on his pillows with his eyes closed. She couldn’t read the expression on his face. It appeared to be a mix of pain and relief, though she wasn’t sure how he could possibly be happy about any of what had just transpired between them.

“We can’t do this,” Eliza told Annie as they walked through the hall and toward her bedroom.

“You must,” Annie said simply. “Come with me. I’ll sit with you in your room until you fall asleep.”

“And if I don’t?” she asked.

“Then I will sit with you until Tom returns and we must go,” Annie said simply. “Your father is right, Miss Eliza. You have to get what rest you can while you can.”

Eliza didn’t argue. It was pointless to try. No one seemed to be listening to her or her desires in any of this, and she knew she was ultimately going to be made to do as her father instructed.

She climbed into bed still wearing her dress from that day. It didn’t make sense to change into her night clothes considering they would be leaving in a few hours.

But as she closed her eyes, she knew there would be little chance sleep would come for her.

There was too much on her mind.

Chapter Two

Bristol was alive with the sounds of people going about their daily lives. It was a far livelier town than what Ethan Goodwin was used to, but over the past six days, he’d grown to appreciate the hustle and bustle of people tending to their business.

As a bounty hunter, Ethan felt he was often a ghost. He never shared much about himself with anyone, and when pressed for details, he was often as vague as possible. He wasn’t ashamed of what he did for a living, but he didn’t want it to be too well-known, either.

“If I go around telling everyone who I am and what I do, then anyone I’m after is going to see me coming from a mile away,” he’d say. “I prefer to maintain the element of surprise.”

“But surely you must tell people what you really do eventually?” he was often asked. “Or how else would someone look you up to inquire about your services?”

“I’m not one who is sought out for my services,” he’d reply. “I decide who I am going after, and I go from there.”

And that would be all he’d give anyone about himself.

But on that day, that Tuesday, May the seventh, eighteen fifty-nine, Ethan had actually been sent on the mission he was currently working. His own stepmother, Matilda Goodwin, had hired him to travel to Pennsylvania with the intent of meeting her niece and escorting her back home with him.

He didn’t know much about the young woman he was supposed to be meeting, only what the letter told him. And, though he’d practically memorized the piece by heart, he still unfolded it and read it to himself yet again as he sat in the saloon that sunny afternoon.

My dearest Ethan,

I hope this letter finds you well. I know it’s been some time since we’ve corresponded, and as always, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Not a day goes by when I do not beg God to keep you safe and grant you success in your endeavors, and each time I read of the men you bring to justice, my heart soars with pride.

I wish I was only writing to you out of the desire to wish you well and tell you I’ve been thinking about you, but I’m afraid that is not the case. I’m writing to you now because I very much need your help.

My brother, Jack Carson, has been writing me, and through our correspondence, I’ve come to learn he’s been attacked. His time on earth is short. I will spare you all the details of why he’s been attacked, as you only need to know that anyone associated with him is now in very grave danger.

Because of this, he is sending his one and only child, his daughter, Eliza, to live with me for her safety. She is traveling with her handmaid, but the two are vulnerable traveling alone. They will both be in danger until they are safely here at the house with me.

I’m asking that you be the one to meet them when they arrive in Pennsylvania, and that you then escort them both here to me. The girl, Eliza, doesn’t have very much information about what is going on, either, and I’m sure she’s going to be very frightened. Please be gentle with her and as understanding as you can be, as this has to be incredibly difficult for her to handle, especially at her young age of twenty and one.

Of course, I will pay you for your trouble though you are my son, and I assure you I will make this worth your time and efforts.

The last I’ve heard from her father is that she and her handmaid will be arriving in Bristol the afternoon of May the eighth. I do not know for certain what time their train is to arrive, as my brother did not want to disclose that information in writing for fear this letter may fall into the wrong hands before it reached you.

I know that doesn’t make this assignment as easy as it could be, and to aid you in your search, I’ve enclosed the only photograph I have of Miss Eliza. It’s a couple of years old, my brother tells me, but he’s sent it for reference, so it must still be an accurate depiction of her.

Write to me and let me know whether you are able to take on this assignment, and if there is any further information I can give you to help you accomplish this task.

Thank you in advance for your help. This assignment is more important than words could express.

I look forward to hearing from you.

All my love,

Ma

Ethan folded the paper and put it back in his pocket, turning his attention back to the whiskey in the glass in front of him. He wasn’t ever much for drinking, but he enjoyed spending time in saloons regardless of the town he was visiting.

Saloons were the place to go to get information, but it was incredibly difficult to spend time in them without ordering a drink. Bartenders didn’t like those who came in and didn’t spend any money, and he had learned early on in his career that it was far better to order a drink and take his time with it than it was to refuse and have more attention given to him than he’d wanted.

“What do you think, Finn?” he said out loud as he nudged the animal beneath his table with his boot.

Two bright eyes flew open, and two pointed ears stood erect as the creature woke, yawned, and stretched. The little red fox then climbed onto the seat next to the bounty hunter and chittered.

“Hey!” the bartender barked from behind the bar. “We don’t allow animals at the table! Get that thing down from there or you both can take a hike!”

“Sorry,” Ethan said as he held up his hand. “This little guy doesn’t always know when he’s not allowed up.”

“Don’t know what sort of crazy bastard runs around with a wild animal, anyway,” the bartender muttered, but Ethan only smiled to himself at the remark.

He’d found Finn a couple of years prior during one of his trips through the Rocky Mountains. The fox had been caught in a trap and had managed to chew his way through most of his leg.

Moved by the little creature’s resilience, Ethan had broken the trap and set him free, then tended to the wound. Unfortunately, the trap and the animal’s own teeth had done too much damage to save the foot, and he’d ultimately had to remove the lower part of the fox’s right front leg.

But once the wound had healed, the little animal got around just fine. Ethan had fully expected the fox to leave him and go back to living in the wild, but ever since that day, the fox had stuck by him as though it were a dog. Ethan had come up with the name, and they had been a pair ever since.

He had grown so used to the fox being a companion, there were times when Ethan himself forgot that the fox was considered a wild animal by many people. He often got reprimanded for taking it into places as he would a dog.

The bartender hadn’t minded Finn being in the saloon as long as he wasn’t on the seats or tables, so Ethan merely directed the animal to go back beneath the table where he had been napping just moments before. It was remarkable how well-behaved the fox was, and Ethan was convinced there were some sort of mystical powers associated with the animal.

Ethan sighed. He still had another day to pass before he could expect Miss Eliza to arrive with her maid, and he was growing restless. He had the kind of mind that enjoyed business, and the lack of that stimulation in his day was driving him crazy.

He wanted to know more about what was going on with this young woman and why his own stepmother had been so vague about why she was on the run. He’d asked a few questions in his letter back to her, but she had been less than helpful in answering most of them, only promising to tell him more about the situation once he had Eliza safe and sound at the house.

Until then, he was left with as many questions as he assumed Eliza herself would have.

“Guess we’d better be getting on out of here,” he said to the space beneath his table. “Let’s go see if Buck is done getting shod.”

He was about to get up and head for the door when his attention was taken by the sound of someone shouting.

“You dirty cheat!” a man roared from the other side of the saloon.

At the same time, the man who shouted flung the table in front of him over, and cards and chips flew in all directions. The glasses that had been on the table hit the floor and shattered, spraying whiskey across the room, too.

“I didn’t cheat!” one of the four men who had been at that table retorted. “I won that round fair and square.”

“Fair and square,” the first man said. “I’ve been playing cards a long time, and I think I know a cheater when I see one. If you have the guts to call me a liar on top of it, you’re going to find yourself in a world of even more pain than you already will.”

“And that’s not saying much,” one of the other men said, cupping one of his fists with his other hand.

“Look, fellas, I don’t want any trouble,” the accused cheater said as he held up his hands. “I’m not looking for a fight.”

“Of course you’re not,” the first man spoke. “You’re looking for an easy buck and trying to pull the wool over our eyes to get it. Well, I’m telling you one thing, Frank, you crossed the wrong men.”

“Is that how we’re going to do this then, Paul?” the man called Frank asked. “You’re just going to turn to Hector and Lars here and try to intimidate me into giving you your money back? That’s as bad as cheating in my opinion, since I’m no cheater and won this money from you fair and square!”

“You can say that all you want,” Paul replied. “But you’re not going to talk your way out of these fists.”

As the men spoke, they worked Frank back into a corner, and no one else in the saloon seemed willing to do anything about it. Ethan looked around the room, surprised that the bartender himself would let such behavior take place inside his business.

Many saloons would force those who were going to brawl out onto the street to take care of their differences, not let them just play out right there in the middle of the room. But then, every saloon was different, and this one may well not care about the image that brawls set forth.

“We can talk about this,” Frank said, holding out a hand, but before he was able to get another word out, one of the other men picked up a chair and threw it at him.

He cried out and dodged, running for the door. But Paul was too fast, grabbing the man by the back of his shirt and shoving him into another table. The men who had been playing cards at that table did nothing to help him, and instead seemed just as angry with him that their own game had been ruined, despite the fact it was Paul who had thrown him onto the table.

“You seem good at making enemies,” one of those men said, clearly getting ready to start beating Frank with his fists, too.

“We can talk about this!” Frank said again.

“We’re past that!” Paul screamed and raised his fist.

Ethan didn’t want to get involved, knowing that it was only going to get worse if he got did. He wasn’t here to deal with bar fights, nor did he much care what happened to men who spent their lives gambling. Especially cheaters.

Those who were stupid enough to cheat at a game of cards would run out their luck eventually, and it never ended well for them when that happened. But Ethan didn’t have it in him to turn his back on someone who was clearly outnumbered like that, and if the bartender himself wasn’t going to do anything to help Frank, then Ethan would have to step in.

By the time he had his gun drawn and sauntered over, Frank had already sustained a number of blows to his face and body, which Ethan figured was more than enough payment for whatever cheating he may have done. He cleared his throat and cocked his gun, taking aim at the man who had Frank’s shirt.

“Enough’s enough, gentlemen,” Ethan said evenly. “There’s punishment for the crime, and there’s murder, and with how you’re going at this, it’s just straight murder.”

“He ain’t dead,” Paul said. “Not yet, anyway.”

“I said that’s enough,” Ethan snapped. “You’re beating on a defenseless man, and I’m telling you right now if you don’t stop, you’re going to find yourself sorry for it.”

It was then that Paul turned and realized Ethan had a gun pointed at him. Paul gave him a look of disgust, but Ethan just motioned toward the door.

“You’d best get out of here before I start firing,” he said. “I’m a really good shot, I’ll warn you.”

“You don’t have the guts,” Paul tried, but to prove his point, Ethan shot the ground not even an inch away from the man’s foot.

“The next one doesn’t miss,” he said.

“Get out, the lot of you!” the bartender shouted. “Or I’m going to have the sheriff in here clearing you all out himself!”

“You heard the man,” Ethan said. “Git.”

“You watch yourself,” Paul said. Ethan wasn’t sure whether the man was speaking to him or Frank, but he just motioned to the door.

“I said the lot of you!” the bartender roared, and Ethan picked up Finn and set the animal over his shoulders. Paul and his companions seemed surprised at the way the fox behaved, and Ethan held his head high as he walked out of the saloon with his fox in tow.


“A Novelist’s Mail-Order Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the picturesque yet secretive town of Horizon Haven, Elaine Hartfield, a once-celebrated romance novelist, grapples with the fragments of her shattered life. Devastated by her sister’s marriage to the man she secretly adored, Elaine reaches for a lifeline—an unconventional marriage proposal via a discreet mail-order bride agency. Upon meeting Frank, a wealthy and enigmatic widower, her heart trembles with vulnerability.

Haunted by betrayal, can Elaine dare to hope that this arrangement might bloom into true love?

Frank Pond carries the weight of his ghosts—shadowed by the horrible demise of his first wife. Drawn irresistibly to Elaine’s indomitable spirit, his secrets loom as vast barriers. As a tentative affection flares between them, Frank teeters on the brink of revelation. Can he afford to expose his darkest truths, or will his hidden past obliterate their fragile future?

Will the weight of their pasts crush their hopes for the future?

Together, Elaine and Frank must confront a formidable adversary who threatens to fracture their tentative bond. As the stakes mount, they are drawn into a perilous struggle against the very essence of Horizon Haven. Will their burgeoning love withstand the relentless tides of adversity, or will the town’s sinister secrets drown their only chance at happiness?

“A Novelist’s Mail-Order Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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