‘That’s him now,’ Marie said. ‘Amélie, are you ready?’
Amélie replaced her teacup, trying not to let the cup clatter against the saucer.
‘He wasn’t supposed to arrive until Pa was home,’ she murmured. ‘He’s early.’
The Delacroix home was a sweet little cottage, nestled among nice homes in a good part of town. It always seemed far too small and delicate for Mr. Brown, as if he could break the whole place down with his bare hands. The path to the front door led past the parlor window, and for an instant, Cole Brown’s form filled the window completely, blocking out the light.
Then came the expected hammering on the door. They heard Sally swear somewhere in the depths of the house and hurry to answer the door.
Marie glanced around wildly. ‘Is everything in place? Is it tidy in here?’ she whispered. ‘Amélie, put that novel away; you know what Mr. Brown thinks about novels. Slide it under the cushion, quick.’
That was all the preparation they had time for before the parlor door opened. Mr. Brown elbowed past Sally and stepped into the room, ducking his head to get through the doorway.
‘I’ll introduce myself,’ he said shortly. ‘You can go, Susan.’
‘It’s Sally,’ Sally murmured, but not loudly enough for Mr. Brown to hear.
‘Ah, Mr. Brown, how lovely to see you,’ Marie said, smiling placatingly. ‘Sally, fetch some tea. Please, sit down, Mr. Brown.’
Amélie had done her best to discourage Mr. Brown from sitting next to her. Marie was sitting in one armchair and had insisted that Amélie stay in her usual seat, a two-seater sofa. There was, of course, another armchair available, where Terrence, her father, usually sat on an evening. Amélie had placed several cushions on the second half of the two-seater. Any polite guest would take the path of least resistance and sit in the armchair instead of beside Amélie on the two-seater.
Mr. Brown, of course, had no such reservations. He scooped up the cushions, pausing as he saw the novel that Amélie had hastily pushed underneath.
‘What’s this? What trash are you reading now?’
‘It’s a novel by Mrs. Radcliffe,’ Amélie answered stiffly. ‘This is the fourth volume.’
‘Fourth? You’ve already finished three volumes of this nonsense? For shame, Amélie. I’m surprised Mr. Delacroix allows you to read such things. He always seemed like such a sensible man. I might mention it to him.’ Mr. Brown set the cushions and book carelessly down on the floor and sat next to Amélie on the two-seater.
He was too large for the delicate two-seater, taking up a third of Amélie’s seat as well as his own. Mr. Brown wasn’t a portly man, not by any means. In his thirties, he had brown hair and small blue eyes, and a nose that had been broken more than once. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on his frame. He jokingly referred to himself as “the tallest man in New Orleans,” and that might well be true. He was probably the strongest man, too. Not the richest, but he was well on his way to that. Which, of course, was why Terrence Delacroix was so eager to build a friendship with him.
Besides, Mr. Brown had made his fortune in fabrics and textiles, making him an ideal friend for a milliner like Terrence.
Friends were good, but family was better. Amélie had no illusions about why she was being pushed towards the recently widowed Cole Brown. She was her parents’ only child, and it was up to her to marry well.
There was no denying that Mr. Cole would make a good match, in theory, at least. That didn’t change the fact that Amélie would rather cut off her own hand than marry him.
Mr. Brown began to talk, not needing any help in his conversation, only two pairs of listening ears. He thankfully paused for a breath when Sally came in with the tea.
‘So, Miss Delacroix,’ Mr. Brown said, turning to face Amélie. They were already too close, and Amélie cringed at his hot breath fanning across her face. ‘Not married yet? You’re on the brink of spinsterhood, I should think.’
Marie sucked in a breath. ‘Amélie is barely twenty-seven, Mr. Brown.’
‘Twenty-seven? Heavens, I could marry a dozen sixteen-year-old chits by this time next week. You’re getting past it, you know. Better hurry.’
Amélie took a sip of tea. It was far too hot, but she needed something to do while she composed herself.
‘I’m in no hurry to marry,’ Amélie answered finally. ‘What’s the saying? Marry in haste, repent in leisure.’
‘That’s only for men,’ Mr. Brown said decisively.
Amélie knew that she shouldn’t react to his comment. If her father were here, he’d laugh enthusiastically at whatever Mr. Brown said and change the subject. But only her mother was here and judging by Marie’s wide-eyed, terrified expression, there would be no help from that quarter.
‘And why do you think that, Mr. Brown?’ Amélie asked, knowing fine well that she wouldn’t like the answer.
He leaned back in his seat. ‘A woman’s opinion in a marriage hardly matters,’ Mr. Brown said. ‘Perhaps you might balk at that, but it’s the truth. Women only need to marry to find a man to care for them. They risk nothing, not really. It’s the man who ought to be careful. After all, men don’t need to marry. If they marry the wrong woman, they’ll end up with a disobedient, headstrong, nagging woman who makes their lives a misery. Then they’ll repent – at their leisure. Do you understand now?’
Amélie forced herself to smile. She wondered whether Mr. Brown enjoyed being condescending or whether he genuinely thought that she understood nothing.
‘I think the saying applies to both men and women. After all, women can be unhappy in their marriage.’
Mr. Brown waved dismissively. ‘Yes, but that’s hardly important.’
‘A woman’s happiness in marriage is not important?’
He smiled coolly. ‘An unhappy woman has only herself to blame. Her life should be her husband, her feelings his feelings, her goal to make him happy. This is well-known, Miss Delacroix. I am, however, starting to understand why you’re still not married.’
This was the final straw. Amélie stood abruptly.
‘I have a headache, Ma,’ she said, ignoring the shock on her mother’s face. ‘Do excuse me. I beg your pardon, Mr. Brown.’
She turned and headed towards the staircase. Amélie was already imagining the cool peace of her room. Perhaps it was a good thing her father wasn’t here – he would never have let her sneak away so easily.
Amélie was so caught up in her own thoughts that she never heard the soft footsteps behind her until she heard the loud, tell-tale creak of the top stair.
Amélie turned. ‘Ma, I …’
The words died in her mouth. It wasn’t Marie at all. Mr. Brown had followed her upstairs.
‘Mr. Brown, you can’t …’ she began but was cut off abruptly. He grabbed her shoulder with bruising force and slammed her back against the nearest wall.
The impact knocked the breath out of Amélie’s body. Marie must have seen Mr. Brown leave; she must had heard the commotion from upstairs. But there was no sign of Marie.
‘You listen to me, you whining little brat,’ Mr. Brown murmured, his voice low and dangerous, ‘this is all decided.’
‘If by “this” you mean me marrying you, I’m afraid you’re very much mistaken,’ Amélie said, teeth gritted. She gasped as Mr. Brown’s powerful fingers dug deeper into her shoulder.
‘Your dear Pa and I have a business arrangement. Or at least, we will. I will have a lucrative new buyer for my fabrics, and he will have a wealthy son-in-law able to get him the latest styles. I want to get married again, and while you’re a little old for my taste, the deal with your father makes it all worth it.’
‘I won’t marry you,’ Amélie insisted, but in a lightning-quick movement, Mr. Brown’s huge hand clamped around her throat and squeezed.
Amélie’s eyes bulged. He wasn’t squeezing hard enough to cut off her air supply, only to create an uncomfortable pressure. Enough to imply that he could crush her throat as easily as anything.
‘If my dear, departed wife were around,’ Mr. Brown mused, ‘she’d give you some good advice. Start as you mean to go on, Miss Delacroix. Be a quiet and well-behaved wife. Don’t nag, don’t whine, and accept your fate with dignity. You see, your darling papa has already got it into his head that I’m the son-in-law he wants. He won’t side with you, I’m afraid. As I said, it’s all decided. Don’t irritate me; otherwise, I might be spoiling for revenge by the time we get married. You see, I won’t get my business deal from your papa unless I marry you. I’d drag you off to the church right now, but he wants to believe it’s all natural. I’ve got to court you, my dearest Amélie. But make no mistake – this will only end one way.’
He released her throat, and Amélie drew in a deep, shuddering breath.
‘Now,’ Mr. Brown said, smiling like a crocodile, ‘Let’s go downstairs and finish our tea, shall we?’
When Amélie reappeared in the sitting room, propelled by Mr. Brown’s painful grip on her upper arm, Marie was sitting rigidly in her seat, looking as though she hadn’t moved a muscle. She probably hadn’t heard what Mr. Brown had said to Amélie, but she must have seen him follow her upstairs and could now see Amélie’s terrified face. Amélie waited for realization, for outrage, for something, but Marie only sat there.
‘More tea, Mr. Brown?’ she asked.
‘Am I to understand,’ Amélie said, voice quivering, ‘that you don’t care about Mr. Brown being violent towards me? He threatened me, Ma! He hurt me! He left bruises! I can’t marry him, and I won’t!’
Marie wrung her hands. She was a terribly anxious woman; Amélie knew that much. She’d never known her mother to raise her voice or even venture an opinion. She had no faith in herself or her own thoughts, and Amélie had no doubt that she kept her husband’s opinions as her own.
‘I told your father what you told me,’ Marie whispered, ‘And … and he seemed to think it was romantic, Mr. Brown running after you and begging you to marry him. He likes Mr. Brown; you know that.’
‘Romantic? Mother, I …’ Amélie paused.
It was a nasty feeling to realize that one’s father didn’t care about one’s happiness. Their business had been struggling along for a while, and a deal with Mr. Brown could be their lifeline. Staring into her mother’s frightened eyes, Amélie realized that she wasn’t quite as in control of her own destiny as she had thought.
Terrence Delacroix and Cole Brown had arranged her future for her, and it ended at the altar.
‘I’m sorry,’ Marie whispered.
Amélie turned away without another word.
She caught sight of the papers on the hallway table as she moved towards the stairs – no doubt to pace her room and think vainly about escape – and a heading caught her eye.
The paper was open on the “personal ads” section. One ad had a bold heading reading: BRIDE WANTED TO COOK, CLEAN, AND CARE FOR A WIDOWER AND SIX CHILDREN. IF INTERESTED APPLY TO ADDRESS BELOW. MARRIAGE IS PROMISED AT ONCE, WITH A COMFORTABLE HOME AND PLENTY OF LUXURIES.
Amélie didn’t particularly want to cook, clean, and care for some man and his brood of children, but the heading sparked an idea in her head.
She snatched up the paper and took it upstairs.
The personal ads section was flooded with bride requests. “Correspondence brides” they called them. The ads varied. Some men only had a sentence or two, brusquely requesting a glorified maid, cook, and nanny under the guise of a wife. Others wrote paragraphs about themselves and the sort of woman they hoped to meet.
Amélie rejected most of the ads, but one caught her eye. She read through several well-written paragraphs in which the man introduced himself and expressed a wish to begin a correspondence that would hopefully lead to marriage.
With a shaking hand, Amélie wrote down the name and address. The man lived in Texas, but he didn’t seem to be much older than her. He talked about needing someone to help with chores, but he didn’t emphasize that as much as some of the other ads.
Even his name sounded nice. Doctor Benjamin Pacer. Amélie felt a jolt of hope for the first time in weeks.
Several Months Later
The post was late. Amélie half raised a cup of tea to her lips, only to notice that her hand was shaking, so she hastily replaced it. She couldn’t afford to fall apart here at the breakfast table.
Terrance and Marie Delacroix had a very strict morning routine. Breakfast was a detailed affair, and they insisted upon it being as French as possible. Or at least, how they imagined French people took their breakfast.
Since Amélie’s grandmother, the famous Mrs. Delacroix, all the way from Paris (or, most likely, a small provincial town that was disappointingly less interesting than Paris) had died before she could make much of an impression on her family, Amélie could only assume that her parents had never, in fact, visited France, and only liked the idea of France.
‘Amélie, dear, are you all right? You seem distracted.’
Amélie blinked out of her uncharitable thoughts and mustered a smile at her mother.
‘Of course, Ma.’
‘Mother,’ Terrence corrected sternly. ‘It’s more proper.’ He punctuated the point with a loud slurp of tea.
Marie smiled fondly at her husband. ‘Terry, dear, really. Amélie, are you all right? You’ve done nothing but stare out of the window since you sat down. Are you waiting for a letter?’
Amélie flinched, her gaze automatically moving to her father. Fortunately, Terrence was far more interested in his newspaper than the breakfast table conversation.
‘No, of course not.’
Marie nodded, seeming satisfied with that. ‘Well, your father plans to open the store after breakfast, and you and I will complete chores around the house. Mr. Brown is coming for dinner tomorrow, and we want everything to be perfect.’
Amélie choked on her tea and tried to turn it into a cough. Bile started to rise in her throat, and she was suddenly grateful that she hadn’t eaten any breakfast, as it would likely resurface.
‘Yes.’ Marie beamed at her. ‘Are you excited?’
Terrence tore his eyes from his newspaper. They lingered on Amélie, the same greenish-blue eyes they had both inherited from the indomitable French Mrs. Delacroix.
‘Very,’ Amélie managed. ‘I am tremendously excited.’
At that perfectly timed moment, a silhouette passed by the window, heralding the arrival of the mail.
Amélie’s heart leapt into her throat.
‘I’ll get the post,’ she said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.
Amélie lingered in the hall, swiftly flicking through the different-sized envelopes. Her breath caught when she saw the familiar square, dull yellow envelope. The handwriting on the envelope was smooth and even, like someone with a fast, spiky hand trying to write slowly and carefully.
She slipped the envelope into her apron pocket and took the rest of the mail into the parlor.
‘Excuse me for a moment, Ma,’ Amélie said, ignoring Terrence’s outraged cry of, “Mother is more proper!”
Amélie darted upstairs to her little room, the white attic that had been her solace for years.
Her room was nothing special. The parlor where they ate their choreographed breakfast every morning and entertained guests, that was a special room. It had been lovingly decorated and papered, leaving the rest of the house rather the worse for wear. Terrence and Marie’s dressmaking store didn’t afford them the sort of affluence they would like others to think they had, and New Orleans was an expensive place to live.
In short, the white paint in Amélie’s little room covered many sins. It was a small, bare room, enlivened only by the colorful quilts on her bed and the canary yellow curtains hanging at the window. The small writing desk in the corner, an antique with uneven legs and drawers that scraped terribly, had a neat little bundle of letters in it, with square, yellowish envelopes with a round, careful hand on them. That was the only drawer in Amélie’s room that could be locked, and she kept it locked all the time.
This latest letter could make or break Amélie’s future. She sank onto her bed (the little writing desk came with a chair that had collapsed several years ago) and held the envelope for a long minute. She allowed herself only a few seconds of mingled anxiety and excitement, and then she tore open the letter.
My Dear Miss Amélie,
I was delighted to receive your latest letter. I’m sure it would make you laugh to see how I went running down to the mailbox early every morning, hoping to find a letter from you.
I will answer your question immediately with a resounding yes. I have loved our correspondence, and I can hardly wait to see you in person. I can only pray that when we meet in person, I do not disappoint!
I can purchase a marriage license in my town, and there is a very pretty little chapel where we can be married. Please travel down to meet me whenever you can, presumably as soon as possible. Bring any friends or relatives you would like – I daresay you don’t wish to come all the way to Texas alone! – and I will find accommodations for them all.
I do hope you’ll forgive a shorter letter this time. I’ll be counting the days to when I can reasonably expect to see you at my door. Send a telegram before you leave, and I shall meet you and your luggage at the station. I have added my address to the beginning of this letter as well as at the back.
Your friend and (hopefully) soon-to-be husband,
Dr. Benjamin Pacer
P.S. My friends call me Doc.
Amélie drew in a deep, shuddering breath and clutched the letter.
What had she expected? Had she expected that this man, Benjamin Pacer, who had put an ad in a newspaper for a bride, would refuse her request to meet and finalize their relationship? Would he have continued to send letter after letter, telling her about himself and asking questions in turn, if he had not ultimately wanted to marry her?
Yet now the moment was here, Amélie felt … odd. She felt afraid, excited, and just overall strange.
Was she really going to marry a man she’d never met?
Very much in need of reassurance, Amélie got up, unlocking her writing desk with shaking hands, and took out the little pile of letters. She read through her favorites again, the passages that seemed, to her, to carry real kindness and gentleness, a kind of understanding that she didn’t often encounter at home.
Oh, Terrence and Marie were wonderful people, and they loved Amélie, but they didn’t understand her, and they didn’t wish to do so.
If they had understood her, they would never have pushed her engagement to …
Amélie forcibly ended that thought in case it brought the familiar panic back again. She had been so, so afraid that Benjamin … should she call him Doc? … wouldn’t reply in time, wouldn’t agree to the match before the engagement was finalized.
Or worse, the wedding. Amélie knew that he was pushing for a date to be set as soon as possible.
None of that mattered now. He who must not be named no longer factored into the situation. She was all but engaged to another man. Why should it matter that she had never met him, and her parents didn’t know that he existed?
That, of course, brought Amélie nicely to the next situation she needed to deal with.
‘You want to what?’ Terrence said incredulously. ‘Amélie, I cannot … How can you do this to us?’
He was shouting now, the rafters trembling with his rage. Marie was weeping quietly, huddled in her easy chair and dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.
‘We worked so hard to get that match for you,’ Marie whispered. ‘He’s a good man, Amélie.’
Amélie clenched her teeth. ‘You know that’s not true, Mother. I don’t wish to marry him. Mother, Father, please!’ Amélie implored, glancing from face to face.
‘Quiet!’ Terrence thundered.
Amélie fought down the instinct to flee at a raised voice. Terrence wasn’t a cruel man; he never struck out with his fists. But then, he never had to.
Mr. Brown wouldn’t be quite so restrained.
‘You are not running off halfway across the country to marry some redneck farmer that none of us have ever met,’ Terrence continued, face red with rage. ‘Not when such a lucrative match is right here for you in New Orleans.’
‘I will not be interrupted, Amélie! Do you understand how hard I have worked to secure your future? Do you understand what you are throwing away? There will be no more talk of this ridiculous marriage. Burn that man’s letters – burn them, I say! – and never communicate with him again. You will marry Mr. Brown, Amélie.’
‘It’s for the best,’ Marie put in, blinking tearfully. ‘You’ll see that in time, darling.’
‘What is more,’ Terrence continued, eyes like gimlets, ‘you have done serious damage to our family relationship by suggesting such a terrible thing. This will not be forgotten. Go to your room, Amélie, and think on what you’ve done.’
That was that. There was no more to say, and Amélie knew she would not be heard if she tried.
She was surprised to find that her eyes were dry. Normally, Amélie cried easily at the slightest provocation, yet this time, Terrence’s bellowing barely raised a tear.
Amélie returned to her room and paced the small space, chewing her fingernails.
Marie hated that habit. Hated it with a passion. Even now, in the privacy of her room, Amélie found herself guiltily snatching her fingertips from her mouth.
She would not marry him. She could not. But now, there was another option. Amélie stopped in her pacing, her mind made up.
She crouched down and reached under the rickety old bed, pulling out a steamer trunk almost as large as the bed itself.
The steam train came puffing into the station. Nobody was on the platform but a sleepy-eyed porter, yawning and cursing his luck at getting the night shift.
The train pulled to a halt, and a bright-eyed porter leaped off. He glanced around the platform as if expecting hordes of passengers to approach at four in the morning. The wretched sun wasn’t even up yet and wouldn’t rise for another few hours.
He seemed vaguely surprised to see only Amélie, sitting alone, her steamer trunk sitting beside her.
‘Are you boarding, ma’am?’
‘Yes, I am.’ Amélie rose stiffly to her feet. She’d been sitting there for almost an hour, fighting every urge to drag the impossibly heavy steamer trunk home and climb into bed, as if nothing had happened. She could crumple up the letter she had left for her parents and burn it along with Benjamin’s letters.
Amélie did not run. She smiled at the porter who came to take her trunk but kept a firm grip on her parasol, folded with the tip resting on the ground.
‘Gee, miss, this weighs a ton!’ the porter exclaimed, turning red in the face as he tried to lift the thing. ‘What’ve you got in here, bricks? Stones?’
Amélie smiled awkwardly. ‘Just a few essentials, that’s all.’
Offering no more information, Amélie turned to board the train alone.
“On the Run from Destiny” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Amelie Delacroix’s parents are pushing her into marrying a man she dreads. In her desperation, she accepts a proposal of marriage from Benjamin, a man she’s never met, and leaves her hometown as a mail-order bride. Being the spitting image of her grandmother who was a “Casket Girl” makes things more complicated as she enters her new life. But what actually scares her is the man she’s left behind and his future intentions…
Will Benjamin be someone she can trust or will she regret her decision?
Although Doctor Benjamin Pacer is tired of living alone, the prospect of marrying a woman who is a total stranger both terrifies and excites him. Hoping to find a lifelong companion and someone to help him take care of Nellie, his younger sister, he feels blessed that Amelie proves to be more than just a beautiful presence. However, Nellie gets suspicious of Amelie and decides to investigate her life…
How can he find happiness while his own sister is doing everything she can against it?
Forging a life together seems like a real possibility for Benjamin and Amelie until the appearance of a mysterious man who threatens everything they have built… Will the past catch up on them before they have time to begin a life together?
“On the Run from Destiny” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.