She dreams of a new life back East. His heart is planted in the new state of Oklahoma. With their trial marriage ending on Christmas Eve, will she open her heart to a future together?

Hailey Jefferson doesn’t want a husband. Needing to escape her mother’s mortifying reputation, she decides to become a mail-order bride…but only on her terms. Giving her husband a trial marriage seems the perfect plan until she realizes he wants more.

Orphaned as a young boy, Alex Croft dreams of having his own family and figures a mail-order bride is the solution to his life’s void. However, when Hailey announces a trial marriage, he has only until Christmas Eve to convince her to stay. Will his wish come true or will Hailey break his lonely heart?


**This book is connected to Lucie: Bride of Tennessee. Alex is Lucie's younger brother.**


If you want to read more about Hailey's family, check out Heidi's Western Trails series!


Chapter 1

Woodward, Oklahoma Territory, 1907

“Take your grubby hands off me, Clayton Jackson!” Hailey Jefferson yelled, swallowing the panic rising up her throat. The man in question only laughed and pressed her back against the brick wall of the hotel where she’d grown up. She was trapped.

He groped her breast with one hand and leaned forward, slobbering wet kisses along her neck. His whiskey-laden breath burned her nostrils. Her last meal threatened to make an appearance as fear and desperation gripped their icy fingers around her heart.

“Yer not git’n away from me this time. I’m tired of chasin’ you. I’m gonna show you just how much of a man I am.”


She tried to turn her head away from the stench of his rancid breath as it poured across her face. She opened her mouth to scream again when he let out a loud grunt, slowly sliding to the ground at her feet. She stood with her eyes closed and her body shaking, afraid if she looked, she’d find herself in an even worse predicament.

“Oh laws, Hailey, that was a close one!”

Hailey’s eyes flew open and she jerked her head up. Her best friend, Jocelyn Duncan, stood in front of her with a wide-eyed expression, her hand still gripping the neck of a broken bottle. Hailey glanced at the man lying at her feet, a trickle of blood oozing from a gash on the side of his head. “Joss, what did you do?’

Jocelyn tossed the bottle to the ground and wrapped her hand around Hailey’s arm, pulling her down the alley toward the sliver of yellow light spilling over the rocky dirt from the open door of the hotel’s back entrance. “Come on! Before someone comes looking for him.”

They raced up the back stairwell to the third floor where their rooms were. Hailey pulled out the skeleton key the owner had given her years before and unlocked her door. With a quick glance down one end of the hallway to the other, she shoved Jocelyn inside and locked it behind her.

Jocelyn let out a puff of air and leaned against the door. “Hailey, honey, that was too close a call. I only came downstairs to ask if you were going to stop cooking early like we planned. What if—”

“Don’t go there, Joss.” Hailey sat down on the edge of her bed, staring at the threadbare rug on the floor beneath her feet. “If you say it....” She bit back a sob, her eyes filling with tears. Tears she refused to shed. Furious, she blinked several times, forcing her eyes to dry up. She threw back her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I’m not staying here any longer.” She met Jocelyn’s watery green gaze, her best friend’s eyes so similar to her own. “And neither are you or Toby.”

She stood and pulled the old carpetbag from underneath the bed and shoved her few belongings inside: a tarnished silver brush and the matching mirror, which had a crack down the middle, her only nightgown, and her second gray dress. She fastened the closure and moved in front of Jocelyn, holding the bag’s handle with both hands. “Snap out of it, Joss. We need to pack you and your husband’s things.”

Unmoving, Jocelyn stared at her. “And just where do you think we are going to go? This hotel has been your home for most of your life, and now ours. We don’t have anywhere else to go and you know it.”

Hailey twisted the doorknob and jerked the door open. Grabbing her best friend’s arm, she pulled her to the closed door of the room next to hers. Without knocking, she opened it and shoved Joss inside. Toby glanced up from his book, his brows rising as they stumbled into the room.

“Pack your bags. Both of you. We’re going to Dollie’s ranch.”

Toby let out a loud yahoo and reached under the bed for their bags. As quickly as Hailey had, he packed their meager belongings. “It’s about time.” He stopped and turned to face Hailey with a frown, crossing his thick arms over his broad chest. “But why are we suddenly leaving the middle of the night?”

His wife rubbed her hands up and down her thin arms. “Nine o’clock is not the middle of the night. Clayton Jackson tried to accost Hailey again. If I hadn’t gone downstairs—”

“And hit him over the head with a bottle of whiskey.” Hailey smiled.

“And hit him with a bottle. Well, I don’t even want to think about what might have happened,” Jocelyn finished, her voice barely more than a whisper.

Toby’s lips twitched as he stared down at his wife. “You actually hit him?”

She threw her arms up in the air. “I had to! He had Hailey pinned against the wall down in the alley. I grabbed the first thing I saw. Thankfully, Clayton took his bottle with him when he left the saloon; otherwise, I would have had to jump on his back and start whaling on him.”

Toby let out a bark of laughter and slapped his knee. “Always knew your pretty red hair would come in handy.”

Jocelyn hit him in the shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Oh, please....” She grabbed her bag from the bed and marched over to stand beside Hailey, who loved watching her two best friends battle it out. They hadn’t changed in that respect since they were ten years old. She adored them for it. They were the closest thing to family she had left. Why, Joss was more of a sister than anything else. They even looked alike, with similar features and bright green eyes. Their hair was the only thing about them that was different, with Hailey’s being a dark, rich brown to contrast Jocelyn’s vibrant auburn.

They quietly made their way through town and headed south toward Dollie Kezer’s ranch. They walked the four miles in about an hour, but when they arrived, the house sat in total darkness, the green-painted front door only a dark shadow sitting in the middle of the long covered porch. Hailey sat on the wooden planks of the porch, set her bag in her lap, and leaned on it with her elbows, her chin in her hands. “Now what? She’s evidently in bed.”

Jocelyn sat beside her. “Or away. Didn’t she say she was leaving on a trip sometime this month?”

Hailey shrugged, her gaze on the darkness surrounding them.

“One of us could knock, you know,” Toby pointed out.

“What if she’s asleep? That would be rude,” Jocelyn snapped.

“Well, it’s better than sleeping on her front porch.”

Hailey sighed. “Stop bickering. I’m sure Dollie wouldn’t mind if we slept in the barn. We used to do it all the time when we were little. I’m sure it’s not that bad now that we’re grown.”

“How about sleeping in real beds instead?” a soft voice said behind them.

The girls jumped to their feet and spun around. Standing in the open doorway, Dollie’s silhouette against the room’s dark interior was a stark contrast as she faced them in her white robe, her long brown braid draped over her shoulder.

“What are you three doing here so late?” Her gaze lowered to the bags still clutched in their hands, then rose to meet Hailey’s, one sculpted brow rising.

Reviews:Kindle Customer on Amazon wrote:


Excellent Read!

Another excellent story that warms the heart. My emotions ran the gamut with the joy & tears in this story. I laughed & cried. Great book.

Becky Bowen on Amazon wrote:


This is the second book I have read in this series, and I can truly say I just can not put down. I think I have a new favorite author, the storyline and her characters are just wonderful...Cannot wait to find another one of her books.

Andrea B on Amazon wrote:


Great read!

Wonderful book, well written. This book drew me in from the beginning! The characters and settings absolutely come to life!

JoannME on Amazon wrote:


Very special

This author has a special way with writing mail order bride stories, totally engaging and heartwarming with a bit of spice.