A Mail-Order Groom in Disguise (Preview)


Grab my new series, "Brave Hearts of the Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

Chapter One

Shadow Ridge

Mia sat at the window, staring at the church across the way. From where she was, she could see the graveyard, where the two gravediggers were filling in the hole they had made earlier that day. The weather was balmy with no sign of clouds, so they weren’t going to be rained on and have their grave turn into a muddy slush.

At least her father wouldn’t have the indignity of being buried during a storm; having his coffin potentially washed away by the floods Shadow Ridge got whenever the rain decided it was going to be a huge downpour.

Mia still couldn’t believe what was happening. How was it possible that Pa was dead? He had been so full of life and appeared to be healthy, going about his business on the ranch as usual. Mia had seen him get up and carry on even when he was sick, until recently when he was struggling to get out of bed. Mia had been very worried about him, but Pa had simply shrugged off her concerns, telling her that it was nothing. He didn’t like anyone making a fuss over him.

Then he was suddenly so ill that he was barely conscious toward the end. Mia had been at his bedside almost the whole time, scared that he was going to die. Doctor Petrie had been just as worried, having known Pa for years, but neither of them were prepared for his death to come so suddenly. Mia had been there when her father took his last painful breath, and it was still a struggle for her to allow it all to sink in. Even as his coffin was lowered into the ground, Mia couldn’t believe it.

It couldn’t be happening. She was hoping to wake up and find out it was a hideous dream. But it was reality, and wasn’t changing anytime soon.

Mia felt sick. She would do anything to get her father back. She didn’t want anything except him. She felt broken, alone; a sensation that wasn’t going to leave her anytime soon.


Mia looked up. Eliza Caldwell was in the doorway, still wearing her black dress and her hair pinned up tightly on her head. She gave Mia a prim nod.

“Mr. Redding is here. He wants to speak to us.”

“Oh. Right.” Mia stood up, dusting herself down. “I’ll be right down, Eliza.”

“Well, don’t take too long. We’ve got plenty to do with this place, and we can’t sit around moping over someone we’ve lost.”

Mia frowned. Her stepmother didn’t have any tact at all.

“Eliza, Father’s just died. Shouldn’t you have some more respect?”

Eliza shrugged.

“We can’t get him back. He would want us to go forward with whatever we were doing, wouldn’t he?”

“I don’t think he would want us to be acting in the manner that you are. He would be disappointed that you’re treating him as a commodity you’ve lost, rather than your husband.”

“People deal with grief differently, Mia. You let me deal with it my way, thank you.” Eliza turned smartly on her heel. “Anyway, don’t be too long. I want to know when we can get moving with changes to the house and the ranch.”

Mia wanted to say that she didn’t want to change anything to the Caldwell ranch. It wasn’t prosperous but it worked well, plus there were many loyal workers who were prepared to carry on as normal. Just because Pa had died didn’t mean everything else had to go the same way. Mia was grateful about that; she didn’t think it would be able to cope if they left as well.

But Eliza was behaving as if they had some big changes to manage. Mia wasn’t surprised, though; she had had her suspicions about her stepmother simply marrying her father for his money. He was relatively good-looking, but nothing that stood out to people. The fact that he was very wealthy, though, was important. At thirty-two, Eliza was almost twenty years younger than her Pa, and she had been adamant about being with him despite objections from everyone around them. While there had been a few people who had warmed up to the idea of Eliza being Pa’s second wife, Mia was not one of them. She didn’t like Eliza, as she was sure the older woman was after money. What she planned to do with the ranch once she inherited everything, Mia had no idea, but she was certain that she would do what she could to get rid of her.

That wasn’t going to happen. Mia would not go quietly. She would not make it easy for her stepmother, although Mia didn’t see her as that; Eliza had only been married for a year, by this point, so she wasn’t exactly a motherly figure for her. The tension between the two of them was always there, as if Eliza knew that Mia had figured her out.

Mia was bracing herself for Eliza telling her that now she was the mistress of the ranch that Mia would have to leave. Mia would be powerless to do anything if that happened.

Maybe her father’s death was a good thing; it meant that she could be rid of Eliza, albeit in a way that wasn’t ideal.

Dusting herself down and bracing herself to face the family solicitor, Mia left her room and headed downstairs. Eliza was already in the drawing room with Mr. Redding, talking loudly about what she planned to do with the house.

“Of course, we’re going to need an extension on the first floor, and the decor needs to be changed completely.” Even with her back to Mia, she could see Eliza’s nose wrinkle. “It’s so outdated in here. I can’t wait to have everything so bright and cheery. Richard never let me change anything.”

“That’s because our mother designed the interior of this house,” Mia said coolly as she moved further into the room. “Pa wasn’t about to change anything she had done. And it’s not as dreary as you think, Eliza.”

Eliza snorted.

“You and your father didn’t have any taste, Mia.”

Mia wanted to snap at her and tell her off for being so rude, but that was just a waste of time. Mr. Redding hadn’t come here to see them argue. Settling down in her favorite chair by the fire, Mia ignored her stepmother and nodded at the solicitor.

“Mr. Redding. Thank you for coming out here.”

“Miss Caldwell.” Jacob Redding adjusted the spectacles on his nose by his way of greeting. “I know I said this at the funeral yesterday, but please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. He was a good man, and he will be sorely missed.”

“Thank you.” Mia saw Eliza roll her eyes and ignored her. “I understand you’re here about my father’s will. I don’t know if he actually had a will, but I’m guessing you’re here for that.”

“I am, yes.” Mr. Redding opened up his briefcase and brought out a yellowed envelope. “Your father brought it in earlier this year, signed and witnessed by two of my clerks. Would you like me to read it to you or read it yourself?”

“Oh, just tell us what it entails,” Eliza said before Mia could answer. “I want to know who gets what.”

She didn’t say anything more, but Mia knew exactly what she wanted to say: how much of my husband’s money am I going to get? Mia felt a stirring of anger in her chest, wanting to scream at Eliza for reducing the man she claimed to love to coins in a bank account. Eliza had tried so hard to show everyone that she wasn’t after Pa’s money, but it had been clear from the outside what she was up to.

And it appeared that she wasn’t interested in hiding it anymore.

Mr. Redding glanced at Mia, who nodded at him.

“I think it’s best that you read it and give us the summary, Mr. Redding. It will sink in better if you simply tell us.”

“Very well, then.” Mr. Redding cleared his throat, and laid the envelope on top of the briefcase on his lap. “There’s the land, along with the ranch, the house, and the remaining funds left after his debts and funeral expenses were paid for. Mr. Caldwell had a couple of debts, but not much, so that’s already been taken care of. All that remains is to pass on everything else to Mr. Caldwell’s next of kin. Which is you, Mia.”

Mia let that sink in. She had expected that she was her father’s next of kin—she was his daughter, after all—so this wasn’t a surprise. But it felt like something was missing from it. It came to Mia a moment later what was missing when Eliza spoke sharply.

“And what about me?” she demanded. “What do I get? I was married to him, after all.”

Mr. Redding coughed and shifted on his seat. Now he looked uncomfortable.

“There was no mention of you in the will at all, Mrs. Caldwell. You weren’t left anything.”

It took a moment for the words to resonate in Mia’s head. Pa hadn’t given his own wife anything of his? Eliza looked like she had been slapped in the face.

“What? I’ve not got anything?”

“There is mention that you will be given an allowance by Mr. Caldwell’s next of kin, at their discretion, but that’s about it. You’re not mentioned anywhere else regarding inheriting anything.”

What!” Eliza shot to her feet, her eyes blazing with fury. “Are you telling me that my husband didn’t see me worthy enough to have anything?”

Mia watched as Mr. Redding cowered a little bit under Eliza’s fury. She couldn’t deny that it was entertaining to see Eliza lose her composure in this way. The solicitor stuttered.

“Well… Mr. Caldwell was sure that his next of kin…”

“I don’t want to hear about his ‘next of kin’ tripe!” Eliza snapped. “I’m his wife! I should have been given half!”

She snatched at the envelope, but Mr. Redding kept it out of reach, putting it back in the briefcase. He shook his head.

“I’m afraid I am not at liberty to let you look at the will, Mrs. Caldwell. But I can assure you that this is what your husband wanted. I cannot change it now.”

Eliza’s face was bright red, and her nostrils flared. Mia would have laughed at the sight if the situation was different. Breathing heavily, Eliza glowered at Mr. Redding and then at Mia. Her eyes narrowed, her lip curling in a snarl. Then she stormed from the room, slamming the door behind her.


Mia let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding as silence settled in the room again. She turned back to Mr. Redding, who looked a little bewildered.

“When did you say the will was written and witnessed, Mr. Redding?”

“Earlier this year. The end of January, in fact.”

“But Pa’s been married to Eliza since last June. Why wouldn’t he put her into his most recent version of the will?”

“I believe that he did change his will shortly after he married, to include Mrs. Caldwell, but then he changed it back to how it was a few months ago. He never gave a reason for it, and I wasn’t about to ask about something that wasn’t my business.”

Mia frowned. She did recall Eliza and Pa having an argument at Christmas, because Eliza had wanted a slightly more expensive gift than the one she had been given, but that was it. Surely, a more expensive Christmas gift couldn’t be the reason to change the will back. Maybe Pa had had his own doubts about her. It wasn’t something he shared with Mia, though.

It sounded like Pa knew that his daughter would do what was needed better than his own wife.

“Do you want to see the will yourself, Miss Caldwell?” Mr. Redding asked. “I can allow that for you, at least.”

“I presume you’re going to keep the original copy with you, Mr. Redding?”

“That’s what your father wanted. He said you could look at it yourself, but I have to keep it with me otherwise. Again, I didn’t ask.”

Although Mia had a pretty good idea. She shook her head.

“No, it’s fine. I’m going to trust my father’s judgment. There isn’t anything shocking that I need to know about, is there?”

“No, nothing. Everything will carry on as normal, but you will be the one in charge rather than your father.” Mr. Redding grimaced. “Of course, there are going to be people who aren’t going to be impressed with that. You know, women having property and all…”

“I’m very much aware of societal expectations, Mr. Redding,” Mia said coolly. She knew just where this was going. “But I can assure you that things are not going to change around here. I know what my father wanted, and I’m not likely to change what is working right now.”

“I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that, Miss Caldwell.” The solicitor got to his feet. “Well, that’s all I needed to come and tell you about. If you want to look at some more personal papers, I have them at my office in town.”

“I’ll try to visit you at some point next week,” Mia said, also standing and following him into the hallway. “But I think I’ll be able to manage. Jethro knows how to run the ranch if I’m not around, so I don’t believe I’ll have any struggles in that regard.”

“Yes, Jethro is certainly a dependable man.” Mr. Redding put on his hand and fiddled with his gloves before bowing to Mia. “Good day, Miss Caldwell. Again, my condolences.”

Mia stood at the door and watched him walk toward the gate. It was quite a walk from the ranch to the town of Shadow Ridge, but Mr. Redding insisted on walking everywhere. He was scared of horses, and he didn’t like driving a cart on his own. Mia was surprised that a man who was scared of animals would choose to start a new life out in what was pretty much the middle of nowhere, but it wasn’t her place to be concerned about how he traveled around.

“Is everything alright?”

Mia turned. Lavinia Talbot, the housekeeper, stepped out onto the front porch alongside her mistress, the short, pleasantly plump woman wearing a white apron over her black dress, her out-of-control red hair coming out from the many pins keeping it close to her head.

“I’ve inherited everything, and Eliza inherited nothing,” Mia said with a shrug. “That’s pretty much it.”

“I had a feeling it was something like that when I heard the scream.” Lavinia wrapped her arms around her middle and frowned. “I didn’t see Mrs. Caldwell shed a tear for her husband, not even when she was sobbing at the front of the congregation during the funeral. I swear it was just for show.”

“We shouldn’t speak so ill of her, Lavinia,” Mia pointed out quietly.

“But you know that I’m right, Miss Mia. That woman has been trouble since she got here, and your father sadly paid the price for it.” The housekeeper shook her head with a scowl. “He would still be alive if that woman wasn’t sucking the life out of him.”

Mia wanted to scold the housekeeper for speaking in such a manner about Eliza. She might not like Eliza, but she couldn’t have the household staff speaking about her in such a manner. But she was too tired to tell the other woman off, especially after finding out that she was the sole benefactor and had inherited everything. While Mia had been expecting to get a decent share, she hadn’t thought that it would be everything. Not when Pa was married.

If only she could speak to him and figure out exactly what he was thinking when he changed his will back again. Maybe he had suspected something and didn’t want to give Eliza the satisfaction. Mia would never know. It could even be something completely innocent and looking out for his daughter, who wouldn’t have any relatives after his death, whereas Eliza would still have her family back on the east coast. She could move back if she so wanted.

“She’s still ranting around in the kitchen,” Lavinia went on. “I thought she was going to grab a knife and start swinging it around, so I made myself scarce.”

“I’ll get her to stop, if you want.”

“I don’t think you’re going to get her to calm down, Miss Mia. She’s really incensed that she didn’t get anything.” Lavinia gave her a rueful nod. “She’s going to find a way to get you to hand over your inheritance, you know that don’t you? She’ll say that you’re too young to be looking after something so big as this place, and she’ll look after it in your place.”

Mia frowned.

“She can’t use that ploy, can she? I’m twenty, and I know that’s young, but people have taken charge of things at an even younger age.”

“But that was with men and boys. You’re a young woman, and an unmarried one, at that,” Lavinia pointed out. “While we might think that you’re capable of taking charge, there are going to be others who are going to see you as an obvious target and come after you for money.”

It took a moment for Mia to understand what she was saying.

“Are you suggesting that I’ll have people at my door asking to court me to get their hands on my fortune?”

“It’s happened before. You saw what happened with your father.”


“I know, we shouldn’t speak in such a way about a woman who’s lost her husband.” Lavinia shook her head. “You know I don’t have any love for that woman. She’s so rude and obnoxious. I’m glad she got nothing because she would make trouble for everyone. Although I’m sure she’s going to make trouble for everyone anyway, now she’s inherited nothing.”

Mia knew she should stop this way of thinking. Lavinia had been in the family for years, since Mia was a baby, and Mia was fond of her, but they had to be careful with what they were saying. Eliza might not have inherited anything, but she was still a part of the household. She was going to make things very difficult for everyone, and the thing Mia needed right now was to keep the peace.

Because, deep down, she knew that Lavinia was right. Eliza was going to try whatever she could to get Mia to hand over her inheritance, either in bits or all in one go. Mia wouldn’t be doing that willingly, so Eliza would try different ways. The thought of the lengths she could go to made Mia feel nauseous.

While she was feeling a little smug that Eliza’s obvious attempts to get her hands on her husband’s money hadn’t been successful, she knew it would just make her shift her attention onto Mia. And Mia didn’t want to be around to find out what she had planned.

The only problem was she didn’t have a clue what to do to ensure that Eliza left her inheritance alone.

My new novel “A Mail-Order Groom in Disguise” is coming soon! Stay tuned for the announcement!

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Hoping to improve her family’s finances, Lily moves to Dodge City to become a companion to her aunt. Instead of being treated well, her aunt makes her work for free and tries to set her up with an arrogant cattle driver Lily can’t stand. Lily’s only comfort is her friend Emily, but things change when a mysterious and handsome man comes to town…

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As their romance grows, Ethan’s past catches up with him, and Lily’s situation gets more complicated. How will Lily react when she learns the truth about Ethan? Will Lily and Ethan’s love be enough to improve their lives, or will it tear them apart?

“Escaping her Gilded Cage” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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Grab my new series, "Brave Hearts of the Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

One thought on “A Mail-Order Groom in Disguise (Preview)”

  1. Hello my dears, I hope you enjoyed the preview and that you are as excited as I am for this upcoming release! Make sure to leave your comments here. I’m so looking forward to read them 🙂

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