The Bride Bargain

Sofia Hunt
Available in December from Siren-Bookstrand

Chapter 1

Lucy's Journal, May 28, 1865, Port Steele, Washington Territory:

One year ago today, a group of 24 adventurous women from the East Coast set sail for the wilds of Washington Territory. We contracted to be brides for the lumbermen who inhabit this rugged land. Today, all but five of the women are married. All around me, weddings are happening. Last month there were four weddings, one every weekend.

Despite my best efforts, I've yet to find a suitable husband. Being a wife and mother is my greatest ambition, but I fear I am prey to petty jealousies and being undermined by some of the remaining unmarried women, not to mention some married women. I'm no stranger to jealousy as I've experienced such emotions throughout my life in regards to my extraordinary singing voice. As my mother once told me, a talent like mine often attracts catty remarks from those less fortunate.

I cannot help that I've been blessed with a voice like an angel any more than I can stifle my talents for cooking, sewing, and playing the piano.

You would think these talents would net me a man, but men are often swayed by a pretty face. While I am pleasant to look upon and have a witty personality, I cannot compete with Amelia Prescott's beauty or Constance Kendall's shapely curves. Furthermore, my stringent requirements for a husband presents some challenges: handsome to a fault, financially comfortable, ambitious, charming, and industrious. An added plus would be a pillar of the community, but with my drive, he'll become one regardless.

Now, where to find such a man?

* * * *

Tate McTaggert would never be late for church again.

Whenever Lucy Riley was scheduled to sing a solo, the back of the church filled up fast. The further away, the better for your ears. Forced to sit in the front row, Tate's ears paid the price for his tardiness.

Turning slightly he aimed his best "you're in deep shit" expression at his brother in the back row. Except Jason didn't notice in the least. His younger brother by three years had commandeered a seat next to the most sought-after single woman in town. No way would Jason move to the front just to suffer with his brother. Who said blood was thicker than water?

Tate forced a pleasant expression on his face as Lucy belted out an unrecognizable hymn, which could have been "The Old Rugged Cross" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Damned if he knew. Resigned to his fate, Tate rubbed the scar on his face, which itched whenever it was about to rain, which was often.

Reverend Reece stood behind his pulpit, a heavenly smile on his face, as if listening to the voice of angel, not the destroyer of ear drums. Rumor had it the man stuffed his ears with cotton whenever Lucy sang. Tate would've given his left nut for some cotton right about now.

He resisted the urge to stick his fingers in his ears. Unfortunately, his saint of a grandmother taught him to treat a lady with respect. Lucy was a lady, despite her gossiping and abominable voice. She didn't swear, drink, or smoke, and certainly was as pure as the virgin snow on Mt. Rainier, which constituted a lady in his book. Hell, she didn't even need to possess those qualities to be considered a lady in these parts.

Despite her atrocious voice, Lucy had all the right parts to be considered attractive in his book. Tate eyed the lush fullness of her breasts, liking the extra softness that filled out Lucy's curves. She might not turn too many heads, but she turned Tate's. He liked his women sturdy and resilient, not willowy and fragile.

Staring too long at Lucy, Tate grunted as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Tate sighed. He'd never be more to her than an occasional dance partner. While they'd enjoyed a casual acquaintance, her actions made it clear he didn't suit her needs as a marriage prospect. Not that he'd ever propose. He'd been down that painful road before.

It didn't matter. No decent woman would have him with the ugly scar marring his once handsome face. Instead, they cringed at the sight of him. He knew his face scared people, except for his logging crew. They respected him, and his disfigurement actually added to their awe. His refusal to talk about the incident cast a certain air of dangerous mystery, which further kept the men in line.

His lumberjacks dismissed the jagged scar starting above his left ear and zigzagging across his cheek and under his chin. Women did not. And vain as it might sound, Tate hadn't gotten beyond it either. He'd spent the better part of his twenty-eight years enjoying the benefits of being a handsome man. He'd spent the last three repulsing, rather than attracting, beautiful women. A weaker man might wallow in self-pity, but Tate wasn't a weak man. Maybe his ego suffered, and his dreams of a family faded, but he still had his work.

Tate looked up when Lucy hit a particularly ear-splitting note. Tipped back on her heels, Lucy flung her arms wide and thrust her chest forward. She belted out the last few notes with such passion Tate was mesmerized. He swallowed in an attempt to clear the obstruction in his throat. Her one-size-too-small dress hugged her curves, as her lush, pink lips parted in a near perfect O.

Despite being in God's house, Tate's wayward thoughts centered around various methods he could use to stop her singing. The good Lord knew if she made that kind of sound in his bed, he'd obligated to shush her up.

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