Baltimore, Maryland 1859
Marge Chandler shook her head, wishing it were so easy to shake away the sudden image springing to life in her mind. “No more bows, Daisy.”
“Well. . .” Her cousin nibbled on the edge of her naturally rosy lower lip and fingered the velvet trimmings before her. “Perhaps you’re right.”
“Nonsense, darling --- it’s your wedding dress!” Daisy’s mother, the aunt who’d raised them both since Marge’s parents didn’t survive the crossing to America, bustled over and snatched up the ribbons. “Besides, you know better than to ask Marge her opinion on matters of fashion.”
True. Daisy should know better by now. A wry smile tilted Marge’s lips. Aunt Verlata will always override me. Not that it mattered --- Daisy could wear a rainbow of gaudy velvet bows and still entrance any audience.
Her smile turned rueful as Marge caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the dressmaker’s looking glass. Aunt Verlata’s sense of style didn’t hamper Daisy’s charm, but somehow Marge couldn’t manage to carry off the same fussy furbelows with any panache. While feminine touches showcased Daisy’s graceful build, her own more generous frame made such flourishes conspicuous. And never before had her relatives indulged in so many fripperies as for Daisy’s much-anticipated wedding. Marge’s gown for the affair --- a light blue silk that had done nothing to deserve such treatment --- drooped toward the ground, overburdened with tiers of ruffles.
“They are lovely,” she soothed her aunt’s ruffled feathers. “But the Belgian lace is so exquisite, I can’t imagine drawing attention away from it.” Not to mention the flounces and crystal beading. . .
“Well, there’s truth in that.” The older woman snatched her fingers away from the bows as though they’d attempted to scald her. “It might look overdone.”
“There’s a possibility of that.” Ruthlessly strangling the smile that threatened at her aunt’s comment, Marge moved to take the ribbons away. Far, far away.
“Wait!” Daisy surveyed the ribbons then cast a speculative glance at Marge.
Oh no. Closing her eyes couldn’t halt the inevitable. She’d learned that when she was six --- and they buried Mama and Papa at sea --- and kept relearning it every time something came along she desperately wanted to change.
Like Daisy’s marriage. Her beautiful, vibrant, loving cousin --- the woman who could wed any man in town --- had chosen Mr. Dillard. Trouston Dillard. The Third. Marge wrinkled her nose. She’d cover every garment she owned in bows if her cousin would choose a man who cared more about Daisy than himself, but she had a sickening suspicion she’d only get the bows.
“Mama, don’t you think Margie’s dress could do with a few bows? The things she usually wears are so very plain.”
“It’s foolish for a teacher to dress up, Daisy. My clothes are serviceable, as is appropriate.” It was a wonder her cousin didn’t mouth the words along with her, the discussion had been so oft repeated.
“Yes, but my wedding will be a good opportunity for you to. . .” A delicate shrug completed the thought.
“To. . . ?” This wasn’t something to let pass by. Daisy never censored herself, so something left unspoken made alarm bells chime.
“Dress up and. . .” Oh dear, there she went quiet again. This had to be bad.
“And?” Marge didn’t miss the furtive glance between mother and daughter.
“And show to advantage, dear.” Aunt Verlata lifted one of the bows out of its case and held it up to Marge’s bodice. “With Daisy getting married, your time will come soon enough.”
“I see.” She blinked against a stinging dryness in her eyes. Now that Daisy’s unavailable, the men will have to settle. I have the chance to be someone’s second choice. “In that case, Auntie, by all means, add those bows.” Anything to chase away my cousin’s old suitors!
Buttonwood, Nebraska Territory
“It’s smoking, son.” Grandma Ermintrude’s raspy chortle made Gavin Miller pull his hand away from his pocket in a hurry. “You ought to just post it already.”
“Next time I’m at the mercantile, I’ll pass it on to Reed.” He finished his eggs and pushed away from the table. “It’s not a pressing matter.”
“Men don’t bother writing letters if it’s not something important, boy. Fact you got an unnatural attachment to this one makes it even more suspicious. Now, drink your coffee before you leave the table.” She tapped a gnarled finger on the smoothed wooden surface. “I’m not going to drink it, and no grandson of mine is coward enough to run from breakfast and a few questions.”
Gavin raised his mug and scowled into brew bitter enough to strip whitewash. Grandma made her coffee the same way she made her conversation.
And that’s a blessing, he reminded himself. If his father’s mother weren’t such a strong personality, his mother’s father wouldn’t have sponsored his move west to set up his own mill. Gavin and Grandma Ermintrude got along tolerably well most days, so bringing her along worked out well --- most days.
He set down the mug only to have her refill it lickety-split.
“So, who’s the gal?”
“Don’t play dumb with me --- that’s the question I asked you.” Her eyes narrowed, the lines spidering around them deepening to webs.
“Marguerite?” For a fraction of a second, Gavin didn’t place the name he’d written on the envelope.
“What’d I tell you about playing dumb? I saw your scrawl on there plain as day --- Marguerite. No skin off my nose you’ve swapped sweethearts from that Daisy you used to mention.” The things the old woman tucked away in her memory never ceased to amaze him. How many times had he mentioned the woman he’d left back in Baltimore? Twice?
“Marguerite is French for daisy,” he explained to forestall any more coffee. “She has her grandmother’s name, but no one calls her by it.”
“Fancy.” She lifted her pinky just so as she took a sip of milk. “And just like youngsters these days to disregard the better choice. Goes by Daisy instead --- she must be a plain one, your gal.”
“Anything but.” Not that he planned to wax poetic about Daisy’s fine looks. Grandma would turn right around and accuse him of being blinded by beauty. She did things like that --- latched on and poked until she moved things to go her way. Which made as good a reason as any to post the letter today. She’d nettle him about it until he took care of the thing.
“Oh?” When one lifted brow failed to elicit a reaction, the other winged its way upward. “Mouse brown hair, straight as a pin, most likely.”
“Black ringlets.” That bob when she walks or tosses her head to laugh. Her easy laughter had attracted him in the first place.
“Dull, dishwater gray eyes?”
A martial glint lit Grandma’s eye as she flung more challenges. “Too tall for a woman, I’ll wager.”
“Petite.” The brims of her fanciful hats only reached his shoulder.
“Ungainly shape, lurches when she walks.” A smirk brought the closest thing to a smile Gavin typically saw on his grandmother’s face as he shook his head. Looked like she was enjoying herself. “Teeth browned and breath foul?”
He couldn’t hold back a guffaw at her hopeful tone and the contrast of his memory to the portrait Grandma painted with her words.
“A widow saddled with squalling brats?”
“She’s never been wed and is young.”
“You’re certain about all this?” Her merriment sharpened to a thin edge of a smile at his agreement. “In that case --- you have no reason not to send the letter.”
Lifting his mug, Gavin took a swig of coffee in admiration of how she sprang her trap shut with the type of precision he prided himself on with his mill. “True.”
“Now you’re thinking straight.” Belying her earlier words, Grandma poured a hefty measure of coffee into the splash of milk covering the bottom of her cup. “After all, besides her saying no, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“Daisy, I picked up the post while I was out.” Marge tilted her head toward the study as they passed each other on the stairs. “You’ll find a few late responses to your wedding invitations on the writing desk, when you find a moment to take a look.”
“Thank you, Margie.” Daisy gave her cousin a quick hug before continuing down the steps, making a side trip to the dainty escritoire she favored by the study window.
Settling herself on the matching chair, its seat upholstered in her favorite shade of green --- to match her eyes, though she would never admit it --- she caught sight of a tidy stack of letters. The sight brought a smile to her lips, not only for the basic joy of receiving mail but also for how thoroughly Marge-ish the orderly pile seemed.
Largest letters lay at the bottom, smallest resting atop them, with all the corners squared to make straight lines. Marge supplied a system for everything, created order out of chaos, and made the world make sense down to the tiniest detail. Daisy didn’t know quite how her cousin managed these feats, but she long ago accepted it as fact and determined what it meant in life.
Firstly, no matter how hard she tried, Daisy would never be half so capable as her slightly older cousin. Not so clever, not so useful, not so good at making things work the way they should. As her letter opener sliced through the first missive with a satisfying tear, Daisy remembered the time she’d wasted trying to measure up --- back when it bothered her that she couldn’t seem to be as practical as Marge.
Another acceptance to the wedding. How lovely. I’ll have to adjust the reception numbers. . . . She set it aside and reached for the next, allowing her thoughts free rein. Eventually, that whole setup had led to her second realization: So long as Marge made things run smoothly, Daisy didn’t need to.Things got done better when Marge did them, and they were both happy enough so long as Daisy did her job --- which was, of course, to drag Marge into some sort of social life.
Oh, regrets. . . She set that one off to the other side of the desk and continued going through the letters, putting them into whatever mound seemed appropriate as she thought of all the fun her friends who couldn’t attend her wedding would miss out on.
Because, of course, that’s what Daisy excelled at. Fun! Always ready to laugh, she loved the social swirl. Her duty, in return for Marge allowing her this carefree sort of life, was to make sure Marge didn’t give in entirely to her serious side and experienced some enjoyment of life.
But with Daisy’s upcoming marriage, a third realization plagued her. She’d failed her cousin. Daisy would waltz off into a merry marriage with Trouston, whose stolen kisses grew more insistent by the day, and leave Marge behind to a life without laughter or passion. Their whole lives, since Marge’s parents didn’t survive the crossing to America, Mama had tried to hide the fact Daisy, as her true daughter, was her favorite.
And Daisy had tried to make up for the fact that Mama made a hash of trying to hide something so obvious. She knew her cousin better than anyone alive, and Marge needed a family to call her very own. But if Daisy couldn’t find something --- and soon --- Marge would sink into the role of spinster schoolmarm for the rest of her born days.
With a deep sigh, she sliced open the final letter --- addressed ever so formally to “Marguerite.” Which must have been why Marge put it in Daisy’s pile --- wedding responses might be more formal than everyday letters, when most people spoke and wrote to either of them as either Daisy or Marge. It made it less confusing, since they shared their grandmother’s name.
Her eyes widened as she read the message. A proposal! From Gavin Miller. . . But Daisy was affianced. And surely Gavin knew. . . . The banns were posted, notices sent. Good heavens, she winged wedding invitations to just about every person she’d ever met. Surely the son of Baltimore’s richest miller, who’d been a good friend to both her and Marge, had received one?
She’d kept a list somewhere. . . . A search of all the drawers and cubbies of the escritoire finally yielded the list. Sure enough, Gavin Miller’s name appeared. He’d received an invitation to her wedding.
Daisy gasped and jumped to her feet. That meant this letter had to be for ---
Excerpted from THE BRIDE BLUNDER: Prairie Promises Series, Book 3 © Copyright 2011 by Kelly Eileen Hake. Reprinted with permission by Barbour Books. All rights reserved.