I finished the first round of edits and sent the draft of Aundy off to my wonderful proofreaders Friday!
Coming in at 86,041 words, I can’t wait to share the book with you all.
Look for it around the first of June!
In the meantime, here’s the beginning of the story:
1899 – Eastern Oregon
Clickety-clak. Clickety-clak. Clickety-clak.
The sound of the train kept perfect time with the runaway thumping of Aundy Thorsen’s heart. Each beat took her closer to an uncertain future and she wondered what madness possessed her to make such a rash decision.
“Miss?” A gentle tap on her arm brought Aundy’s head around to look into the friendly face of the porter. “We’ll be in Pendleton in soon. Just wanted to let you know.”
“Thank you,” Aundy said with a smile, nodding her head. The porter had been helpful and kind, answering her many questions and making two rowdy salesmen intent on bothering her relocate to a different car.
Aware that she was asking for trouble traveling alone, Aundy figured since she was taller than most men and far from beautiful, she wouldn’t have any problems. So far, the persistent salesmen had been the only nuisance in an otherwise uneventful, yet exciting, adventure.
Growing up in Chicago and never traveling any farther than her aunt’s stuffy home across town, Aundy was trying to commit to memory each detail of her trip that would soon end in Pendleton, Oregon. Once there, she would marry Erik Erikson, a farmer who wanted a Norwegian bride.
Her betrothed, a man she had yet to meet, offered to travel to Chicago so they could wed there then make the trip back to Pendleton as a married couple. Aundy assured him she would be safe traveling alone, although she was grateful for the train ticket and generous sum of money Erik provided to cover her expenses. So far, Aundy had saved most of it, used to living frugally and making each penny count.
Wishing she’d purchased something to eat at their last stop, Aundy willed the rumbling in her empty stomach to discontinue.
Suddenly overcome with the thought that she would soon be meeting Erik and become his bride, nerves replaced her hunger.
Although Erik wasn’t the first man to whom Aundy had been engaged, he would be the first she married. Not willing to think about the tender glances and gentle smile of the playful boy who had stolen her heart, she instead focused her thoughts on the man awaiting her.
Six months ago, desperate to make a change in her life, Aundy happened upon a discarded newspaper and her gaze fastened on an advertisement for a mail-order bride.
Normally one to ignore such nonsense, Aundy was drawn to the words written by a farmer named Erik Erikson.
Wanted: loving wife. Seeking woman with a kind heart and gentle spirit. Must be willing to move to Pendleton, Oregon. Hard worker, good cook, and Norwegian ancestry preferred. Farm experience helpful, but not essential. Outward beauty irrelevant. Please reply to…
Ripping the advertisement out of the paper, Aundy carried it around in her pocket with her for two weeks, debating if she should send a reply. Finally, she sat down and composed a letter to Erik Erikson of Pendleton, Oregon, a place she’d never heard of and certainly never dreamed of seeing.
She wrote about her life, how she worked as a seamstress at a factory during the day and helped cook and clean mornings and evenings at a boardinghouse in exchange for her room and board. Explaining she was not beautiful by any sense of the word, Aundy assured him she had a strong constitution, a tender heart, and a willingness to work hard. She described how her parents, both from good Norwegian families, made certain their three children knew their heritage.
Not expecting to receive a reply, Aundy was surprised when a letter arrived from Erik. He invited her to correspond with him so they could get to know one another better before making any decisions or commitments.
Writing back and forth, sharing bits of information about themselves, their families, their hopes and dreams, Aundy came to like the man in the letters, penned with a confident hand.
Erik wrote he wasn’t much to look at, had never been married, and owned a farm that was on its way to being prosperous. He shared how lonely his life seemed and how much he wanted to have a family of his own.
When he wrote saying he was in love with her letters and asked if she’d agree to marry him, she quickly replied with her consent, setting the wheels in motion for changing the course of her future. Bespoken for the second time in her young life, Aundy had no delusions about being in love with Erik. Love died along with her beloved Gunther two years ago.
Admiration and respect, though, she had plenty to share with Erik along with her devotion, care, and loyalty.
Bringing her thoughts back to the present, Aundy took a shallow breath in the train car filled with the mingling odors of stale food, unwashed bodies, and smells from the washroom.
Longing to press her warm cheek against the cool glass of the window, she instead turned her head so she could see over the sleeping woman who sat beside her to admire the brilliant blue sky, pine-dotted mountains, and snow-covered ground outside.
As the train chugged through the rugged Blue Mountains of Oregon, Aundy realized she was farther away from her familiar world than she ever thought she would be.
Tamping down her fears of what waited ahead, she pulled a handkerchief out of her reticule, carefully rubbing at her cheeks, hoping to remove the worst of the soot. Convinced grime covered every inch of her being from the long trip, she couldn’t wait to soak in a hot tub, wash her hair, and dress in clean clothes.
She sincerely hoped Erik wouldn’t mind if she did that before she put on her wedding dress and exchanged nuptials with him. He didn’t mention his plans for when they would wed, but Aundy assumed Erik would want to do so as soon as possible. If that was true, she supposed she would most likely be Mrs. Erik Erikson before the end of the day.
That thought made her grip the reticule so tightly in her hands, she felt her fingers cramp through her soft leather gloves.
Feeling a light touch on her arm, Aundy turned her gaze to the woman who sat beside her for much of the trip.
“You’ll be fine, dearie,” Mrs. Jordan said, her kind brown eyes twinkling. “Nothing to worry about at all.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Aundy said, patting the hand resting on her arm and offering the woman a small smile. With mile upon mile of nothing to do but stare out the window and watch the incredible changing scenery, Aundy and Mrs. Jordan discussed their individual reasons for being on the train. The elderly woman was going to Portland to live with her only daughter.
“You’re a smart, brave girl,” Mrs. Jordan said, sitting up straighter in her seat. “I have no doubt that everything will work out for the best. If it doesn’t, you know how to get in touch with me.”
“I’m sure all will be well,” Aundy said, grateful she did have a slip of paper in her possession with Mrs. Jordan’s new address. If she ever needed somewhere to go, at least she had one friend on this side of the Rocky Mountains.
Shaking herself mentally, Aundy adjusted her hat, brushed at her skirt and the sleeves of her jacket then moistened her lips. Although Erik said looks didn’t matter to him, she certainly hoped he wouldn’t be terribly disappointed when he met her. Perhaps she shouldn’t have refused when he asked for her photograph.
Afraid he would break off their commitment once he realized she was no beauty, she figured he would take her as she was or she’d be in an even bigger mess than the one she was leaving behind in Chicago.
If she looked anything like her younger sister, Ilsa, men would be falling all over themselves to do her bidding. Although both blond with blue eyes, that was where the similarities ended.
Gathering her belongings along with her courage, Aundy glanced out the window to see the snow disappeared leaving random patches covering the ground as the train made its way out of the mountains. The sky was so blue and wide open, she wondered, briefly, if she could see up to heaven. Would her father and mother be looking down and giving their approval to what she was about to do? She prayed if Gunther could see her, he wasn’t chastising her for marrying someone she would never love.
Trapping a sigh behind rolled lips, she brushed at her skirt one last time and sat back to wait as the train rumbled to a stop, willing her heart to slow down as well.
The porter finally announced their arrival and stood outside the car, helping the women disembark.
Giving Mrs. Jordan a quick hug, Aundy slipped on her coat, grabbed the Gladstone bag that had been her mother’s, and stepped off the train into the bright sunshine and brisk air.
“Best wishes, Ms. Thorsen,” the porter said as he helped her down the steps.
“Thank you, sir,” Aundy said, tipping her head at him before turning her attention to the platform where a sea of people churned back and forth. How was she ever going to find Erik?
Cowboys and farmers, businessmen and miners, Indians covered with colorful blankets, Chinese men wearing long braids and strange hats, and women dressed in everything from plain calico to ornately stitched dresses milled together, all blending into a mass of varied colors.
Taking as deep a breath as her corset allowed, Aundy wished, again, she had exchanged photographs with Erik when he asked. His description said he was tall, blond and plain. She’d basically written him the same portrayal of her own appearance.
Looking around, she counted four men who were several inches taller than the majority of the crowd. One had dark hair that fell down to his shoulders, one was an extremely handsome cowboy, one wore a nice suit, and the last one appeared to be a farmer in mud-splattered overalls who was not only dirty, but had a mean look about him. She certainly hoped he wasn’t her intended.
When the man in the suit removed his hat, clutching it tightly in his big hands, his white-blond hair glistened in the mid-day sun. Although his boots and the hem of his pants were flecked with mud, he wore a crisp shirt with a vest and tie.
Studying him a moment, Aundy hoped he was Erik. Despite his obvious nerves, he had a kind face, even if it was older than she anticipated. Erik never stated his age, never asked hers.
Considered a spinster at twenty-one, she guessed Erik’s age closer to forty from the lines time and life had etched on his face.
Although not handsome, he had a gentleness about him that held Aundy’s interest. If this was, in fact, her betrothed maybe she hadn’t lost her mind after all.
Squaring her shoulders and straightening her spine, she marched up to the man as he continued to search the sea of faces around him.
“Mr. Erikson?” Aundy asked, stepping beside him. The surprised look on the man’s face when he turned his attention her direction made her smile. “Erik Erikson?”
“Yes, I’m Erik Erikson,” he said, studying Aundy cautiously. “May I assist you?”
“I certainly hope so,” Aundy said, with a teasing smile. “You did say you needed a bride and asked me to marry you.”
“Oh! Ms. Thorsen? Is it really you?” Erik asked, sandwiching Aundy’s gloved fingers between his two work-roughened hands.
“It is, indeed.”
“I had no idea… I didn’t think…” Erik stuttered, trying to chase his thoughts back together. “You said you weren’t comely and when I saw you get off the train, I thought you were way too lovely to be my bride. You look like one of the Viking queens in the stories my mother used to read me at bedtime – tall, strong, and beautiful…