Title: Lucie: Bride of Tennessee
Author: Heidi Vanlandingham
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Overwhelmed with responsibilities after the death of her parents, Lucie Croft accepts a mail-order bride contract. When she and her twelve-year-old brother arrive in Chattanooga, Tennessee, life throws another hitch into her dreams when she learns her groom is dead. Homeless and desperate, she accepts help from a handsome hotel owner.
Sebastian McCord understands what it takes to own and run a successful hotel, but he has no idea how to raise a child as a single father. When pressured by his own mother to accept the role as Lucie’s groom, he skeptically agrees. He truly needs help with his willful six-year-old girl, but will Lucie accept his offer?
Two people overwhelmed with responsibilities. Will they find love and create a family or will life conspire to keep them apart?
Chattanooga, Tennessee, October 1890
Lucie Croft stared out of the window, the glass covered with a hazy film of ash and smoke from the locomotive’s smokestack. Occasional sparks of red-hot cinders hit the outside, leaving a darker circle of soot in its place. She fought an overwhelming urge to jump off the train as the landscape sped by and her new life in Chattanooga drew closer.
She sighed. Agreeing to be a mail-order bride had been a ridiculous idea. How was she supposed to find happiness with a complete stranger? But agreeing to marry an unknown man had been her only viable option. No matter where she and her brother ended up, she would make sure he was taken care of.
The man sitting next to her on the bench seat slowly tilted toward her. For the fourth time since he’d boarded the train in Knoxville, he’d fallen asleep. His body pressed against hers and his head dropped onto her shoulder. She scowled at the top of his balding head in disgust. How could anyone sleep so much?
To get her mind off of her own troubles, she glanced around the still-crowded car. Most of the people were well dressed with a definite air of wealth as they turned up their noses at the few who weren’t. A little girl lay curled up on the seat closest to the door, her head resting on the thigh of the man next to her. Lucie raised her gaze from the little girl’s to the man’s very handsome face. She couldn’t help but notice the resemblance between them. His brown hair was the same shade as the little girl’s. Their skin was lightly tanned.
They were definitely related, yet Lucie hadn’t seen a woman with them. She wondered if they, too, were traveling to Chattanooga, and if the little girl’s mother was already there waiting for them to arrive.
The man looked up from the paper he’d been studying and met her gaze. Her heart did a strange flip-flop in her chest, which seemed unnaturally tight. She fidgeted in her seat, but the pressure remained as she stared into his brown eyes.
“Lucie! Lucie!” Alex exclaimed, pulling her attention away from the man. Her brother’s eyes were bright, and excitement filled his voice. He pointed at the houses passing by through the train’s large glass window.
She raised her brows, loving his enthusiasm, inhaling the calming, wood-scented air. It would do neither him nor her any good if she became maudlin.
The man lying against her mumbled something then jerked, his elbow jabbing her in her side. She scooted closer to Alex, but what she really wanted to do was shove the bald man to the floor. She rubbed her sore ribs, mentally tallying how many times he’d done that—four or five at least. At this rate, she was going to be black-and-blue before reaching Chattanooga.
She bit back a sigh and rested her head against the back of the seat, not wanting Alex to see how worried she was. She forced her gaze on the narrow door leading to the next train car…but she wanted to look at the man again.
At nineteen years, she felt old and worn. She could only hope and pray that their new home was an improvement over the filthy tenant room they’d lived in. Eating real food would be a nice change as well.
She picked at her only dress, the baggy fit unbecoming. Alex’s clothes weren’t much better. Not only had he outgrown them, but there were holes in the knees and elbows, and he was missing a button. Even his shoes were too small, but she had no extra money to buy him anything new.
Staring down at her tightly clasped, gloved hands, she let out a small sigh. She was tired of trying to provide and miserably failing.
Alex tugged on her arm, again pointing to something outside. “Look, sissy—look at all the trees. And there’s mountains here, and the train looks like it’s headin’ straight for them. Are we gettin’ close to our new home?” He turned and gave her a big grin. “Do you think your new husband will let me have a horse?”
She chuckled. “From what Mr. Crenshaw wrote in his letter, he lives in town, so I think you will have to wait on the horse.”
“Figures.” His smile slipped then widened again. “Maybe I’ll find somebody my age who has one. Maybe even two!”
“That’s a good possibility. We’ll get you enrolled in school and before you know it, you’ll have lots of friends.”
His attention moved back to the passing countryside. “I know. Not worried ‘bout that much. Had me a ton of friends back home.”
Lucie followed her brother’s gaze, but the green and blue blur of trees and hills held no real interest. She wondered what her new husband was like. In his letter, he’d written that he was a businessman…but hadn’t stated what his business was. Other than his impersonal description of himself—slightly overweight with a full head of blond hair and mutton-chop whiskers—she knew nothing about him other than his name. Harold Crenshaw. Even his name didn’t stir any interest.
The train jerked and the constant clacking of the wheels slowed. “Sissy, we’re here! We’re here!”
“Shhhh. I can see that, and now everyone else in the car knows too.” She glanced at the handsome man in the seat ahead of her, the hint of a smile on his lips. Her heart did the strange flip-flop again, and she dropped her gaze to her brother’s small face.
He gave her a chagrined look, one side of his mouth raising. “Sorry. I’m just excited is all. We’ve never gone on a trip before. Papa always promised he’d take me on a train, but…”
She pushed the lock of light brown hair off his forehead. “I know.”
His shoulders drooped a bit. “He would’ve though.”
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
Part of what I love most about writing is immersing myself in history- visiting museums, researching library archives, even watching period documentaries. I weave these facts into my stories to create a reading experience that is rich in authentic detail so readers feel like they are transported through time to share the adventures and emotions my characters experience on the page.
Enter to win an e-book bundle of all 26 books featured in the Celebrate Mothers Bookish Event:
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I was the type of kid who, if my parents mentioned the word ‘trip’, was already sitting in the car with my bag of books. Now, trips are a little different. I still pack several books, but I rarely read them on the drive because that’s when I write. I lose myself in the story while my husband (Super Dave) drives. Of course, if we’re blazing new territory, I have to stare at the scenery because I might miss something amazing.
I write historical western, World War II laced with magical realism, and paranormal with a hint of mystery—all with romance, of course. I hope my stories make you laugh out loud, think outside the box, or cry through a box of tissues along with my characters.
I was born and raised in Oklahoma and always had a book in my hand. My parents were always reading as well (and still spend more money on books than anything else). I was around ten when my mother handed me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I’ve read so many times my copies fell apart. When I was twelve, my father gave me Sitka by Louis L’Amour and I read every book he ever wrote.
I still live in Central Oklahoma with my husband and youngest son while he attends college. My oldest son is in the autism spectrum and is working hard to achieve his own dreams.
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