Mail Order Melanie
Left penniless and homeless, Beckham socialite Melanie Rutherford sees no other option but to become a mail order bride. Luckily, a wealthy rancher in Colorado needs a wife, and although she’s not entirely thrilled with the idea of going west, at least she’ll be able to live the lifestyle she’s accustomed to. However, when she arrives in Cedar Valley, Colorado, she learns that her betrothed has married someone else.
When Tom Harper’s brother, Earl, elopes with his childhood sweetheart, Tom is elected to break the news to the mail order bride he was supposed to marry. Tom has no intention of getting married, yet something about the woman who arrives on the stage makes his brain shut down and he finds himself offering to take his brother’s place.
With nowhere to go and no way to get back to Beckham, she accepts Tom’s proposal, only to discover that Earl had lied about many things – including the fact that he wasn’t the wealthy rancher she expected, but that he and his family owned a … farm! And she’d be expected to work!
Can a woman who only knows how to host dinner parties and attend the opera ever become a real farmer’s wife? And can a man who didn’t want a wife ever become a real husband? Will Melanie and Tom be able to put their differences aside and allow themselves to acknowledge the feelings developing between them and have a real marriage?
“You can’t do this to me.” Melanie Rutherford’s voice rose to a squeaky tone the way it always did when she was frustrated, angry, or just plain upset. It irritated her that she had no control over it. After all, just because her life was falling apart around her, a lady of her breeding shouldn’t sound like a fishwife.
Horace McIntosh adjusted the spectacles perched on the edge of his nose and lowered his gaze to the papers spread on the table in front of him. “I’m sorry, Miss Rutherford, but the terms of the loan are quite clear. Since the account is in arrears, the bank has the right to take possession of the property and its contents at the end of this month unless the balance is paid in full by that date.”
“But it’s my home … and I’m sure there must be some money somewhere. My father wouldn’t leave me destitute—”
He looked up at her, giving her a glance that she was sure was meant to be sympathetic. Instead it came across as almost a sneer. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, “but since no payments have been made for several months now, my hands are tied. As well, your brother’s debts which were granted based on your father’s excellent reputation are also outstanding.”
“Surely I can’t be held responsible for my brother’s … my half-brother’s debts …” Her voice trailed off, and her temper rose another few notches.
“No, of course you aren’t responsible,” Mr. McIntosh, said, folding his hands on top of the papers. ‘However, I must point out that because of your half-brother’s …” He paused as if he was searching for a term that wouldn’t offend a lady. “Actions—”
Melanie cut him off with a bitter laugh. “You’re too kind,” she said tersely. “You mean his desertion … his abandonment … his disappearance … Stop me when I have the correct term.” At first, she’d refused to believe Martin had actually emptied their father’s accounts and left town without a word, but as time went on, she’d had no choice but to accept the fact that he had no intention of coming back and returning any of the money.
“Any of the above will suffice,” he said quietly.
“Now what was it you wanted to say?” Melanie asked.
“You should know that because of his actions, and once your father’s assets have been seized to try to repay his outstanding debts, it’s unlikely that any financial institution in Beckham, and likely even as far as Boston, will be willing to extend credit to anyone in your family. Add the fact that …” He avoided her gaze, instead focusing on a piece of bric-a-brac behind her. “You are a woman—”
“I’m very well aware of that, Mr. McIntosh.”
Melanie wanted to scream at the unfairness of everything that had happened over the past few months. First, her father had died unexpectedly, then her half-brother had absconded along with every cent in the family’s accounts at the bank, and now she was going to be evicted from the only home she’d ever known.
She slowly let her gaze drift around the mansion’s opulent drawing room. Valuable ornaments graced the mantel above the marble fireplace and the side tables. Thick patterned rugs imported from the Orient covered the ebony floors, and gilt-framed paintings created by some of the world’s most renowned artists hung on the walls.
Gone. Another two weeks and it would all be gone, unless she could somehow come up with the entire amount to repay her father’s loan. Perhaps she could sell some of their possessions …
As if the banker could read her thoughts, he gave her a sympathetic look. “I’m afraid even if you sell everything you own, the proceeds won’t cover the loan.”
“But the paintings … and the—”
“Trust me, Miss Rutherford. Buyers can sense desperation. You’d be forced to sell them for a fraction of their true value.”
“If you could grant me a little more time—”
Mr. McIntosh stood up. He was barely Melanie’s height, and in the candlelight she couldn’t help noticing the shiny bald spot on the crown of his head. Well, she thought snidely, she might not have any money and she’d be living on the street, but she at least still had her hair.
He slid the papers into a leather case which he then tucked under his arm. “I’m sorry, Miss Rutherford, the bank has already been more than patient. I would suggest that you find other accommodations and make arrangements to vacate the premises by the end of this month. I have an inventory of the contents, so I would advise you not to try to hide any of them or take them with you. You may keep your personal possessions, but nothing else.”
“But that’s not even two weeks—”
He crossed to the front door, then plucked his hat from the stand beside it and set it on his head. “Twelve days to be exact, so I suggest you begin immediately. I’ll let myself out. Good day.”
Without another glance behind him, he opened the door and walked out.
Melanie watched the door click shut behind him, then sank into the brocade armchair beside the fireplace. The Louis XIV clock that stood in the corner of the room chimed.
The sound reminded her of a death knell. Which it was, she realized. Death of life as she knew it.
She let out a harsh laugh that soon evolved into a strangled sob.
Her mind spun. Anger, sorrow and fear whirled through her brain until she felt dizzy from it. She leaned back and closed her eyes. What was she going to do?