Suzanne Ferrell – Why I Love Mail-Order Bride Stories

Years ago, okay decades ago, when I started reading romances I fell in love with the mail-order bride books. Mind you I had just finished reading a series of Dame Barbara Cartland’s books where the young virgin married the dashing rake because he needed a wife and she needed protection. So a shift to the American historical where a woman needs a marriage and the farmer/miner/lumberjack needed a wife was a natural progression for me.

Being a lover of American history I knew these women weren’t going into a life of privilege and ease like Ms. Cartland’s heroines. No, these heroines were going to an unknown, unsettled world to bring civilization not only to their environments, but quite often to the men they’d wed. Just looking at old photos from the late 1800’s homesteaders shows the harsh reality these women must have faced. That alone should tell you what kind of women they were.

Courageous. That’s the first word that comes to mind. Someone who was willing to leave the world they knew in the East to travel west to a land almost as foreign as another country had to have guts. 

Hopeful. Many women who became mail-order brides were looking for something different than the lives they were living. Whether they were widows or spinsters these women left all they’d ever known in hopes that their new lives and potential mates would fulfill their needs for a home and family of their own.

Determined. To work side-by-side with the stranger they married to carve out a life would take determination, as well as physical and emotional strength. They would have to face natural disasters, renegades and wild animals in order to protect their families and homesteads.

When I started writing Cantrell’s Bride and it became apparent my heroine was in an American version of a marriage-of-convenience I had to determine how she ended up there and what caused her to be a mail-order bride. My heroine would need to be strong, determined and hopeful.

“Laura Melborne is a spinster librarian in Washington D.C. who witnesses the murder of a senator. In order to escape the murderer, she becomes a mail-order bride to Nathan Cantrell, a Colorado farmer with a strangely silent child. Laura must use all her courage, determination and hope to forge a life with Nathan even as the murderer closes in on her.”

Copyright Suzanne Ferrell, 2012
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.

     Nathan studied the young woman seated on the wagon seat.
     Damn. What had Neil been thinking?
He’d assumed from the list of requirements he’d given Neil his brother would send him an older woman like the governess they’d had growing up. Older, strict, unappealing. Certainly not this round-faced miss with the warm brown hair pulled back in a serviceable knot, flushed pink cheeks and excitement in her eyes.
     Dammit, Neil. 
     His brother knew he wasn’t in need of a wife for his own physical desire and he certainly wasn’t ever falling for the foolishness others called love again. No, he’d learned his lesson the first time. Women—especially young, beautiful women—couldn’t be trusted.
     Nathan ground his thin cigar under his boot toe before stepping forward to offer a hand to the woman. She hesitated, a look of fear darkening the excitement he’d seen in her eyes. For a moment he thought she’d refuse him. Then something in her changed. Whatever frightened her—him or the new town—she shoved it aside, took a deep breath, sat a little straighter and put her hand in his.
     “I’m Laura, Mr. Cantrell.” She gave him a determined look as he helped her down from the wagon.
     Standing on the ground she came only to the top of his shoulders and had to tilt her head back to look up at him. For a brief moment he was caught in the clear appraisal of her deep emerald eyes. A hint of roses, reminiscent of his mother’s garden, wafted up to him.
     A movement to his right caught his attention. He glanced around and stiffened. The townsfolk had stepped out of their businesses to watch.
     Anger flared inside him. It wasn’t idle curiosity that brought them out like rats searching for food. They wanted to make his business fodder for their gossip mill once more.
     Damn. He hated their scrutiny, had his fill of it while Kirsten lived and then again when he’d brought Rachel home. He needed to get out of here. He’d be damned if he’d discuss this situation with his new wife on the streets of Doverton.
     Grasping his bride’s elbow, he half hauled, half led her to his wagon.
     “Mr. Cantrell.” Her prim voice stopped him before he actually tossed her up onto the seat. “I think I can manage this myself, if you wish to get my belongings.”
     “Your belongings?” He released her and glanced back at Zeke’s wagon where the old coot had unloaded two boxes.
     “Yer wife done brought a few things with her, Nathan.” A large carpetbag landed beside Laura’s wooden boxes. Zeke leaned against the wagon’s tailgate, grinning like an idiot.
     Nathan glanced around the street. Everyone stood watching him to see if he’d accept Laura as his wife or send her packing. Getting a complete stranger to marry him in order to have someone to care for Rachel was a mistake. He never should’ve listened to Micah’s crazy scheme.
     With a look up at his wife, he saw her staring ahead, her back ramrod straight and her lower lip caught between her teeth. She knew everyone was watching them. Her quiet dignity doused his indignation.
     Muttering an oath, Nathan hefted up the first of the boxes. What the hell does she have in here? Bricks? He nodded at Zeke. “Don’t just stand there, help me get it all loaded.”
     The wiry mule skinner lifted the carpetbag and set it in the wagon. He walked around to the side where Laura sat. Nathan shoved a heavy crate onto the wagon as Zeke doffed his worn raccoon hat and offered his hand to Laura.
     “Ma’am, it sure was a pleasure makin’ yer acquaintance. You ever need anythin’ at all, you just give old Zeke here a holler.”
     Without hesitation, Laura took his hand and shook it once. “You were a delight to travel with, Mr. Zeke. Your stories made the time pass quickly. Thank you for bringing me safely here.” She settled a very sincere and tender smile on the old man. The smile lit up her eyes, softened her features and transformed her face into beauty that struck Nathan so hard he nearly dropped the box he was lifting onto the wagon.
     “Yer most welcome, ma’am.” The mule skinner’s weathered skin turned a deep red under his beard and he actually scuffed his boot in the dirt as if he were a smitten pup.
     Recovered from his reaction to her smile, Nathan rolled his eyes and settled in the seat beside the woman. She had the old man blushing – great. He’d married another flirt. He flicked the reins and set the horses into motion. His new wife grabbed hold of the seat to keep from falling out. Zeke jumped out of the way.
     Heading west out of town, Nathan stewed for the better part of the five-mile trip. No way was he keeping another flirt for a wife. His gut instincts told him she was nothing but trouble. But then, weren’t all women?
     He glanced at the woman beside him. She sat stiffly, looking off to the side. The only clue the town’s rudeness had upset her was the way she clutched at the wagon seat with one hand and fingered a locket hanging on a chain against her coat.
     She sure was a quiet one. Totally unlike Kirsten.
     From the moment they’d met, Kirsten chatted and flirted with him until she had him married to her and her hands on his money. He’d done anything she wanted, loved her with all his heart and given her every dime he had. It was never enough.
     Now he knew better than to trust a woman with anything – even one that appeared different from his she-bitch first wife.
     The team turned the bend in the road just below his farm.
     “Is that your home?”
     Instinctively Nathan bristled. He’d heard those exact words before. His farm might not resemble a Southern plantation, but it was all his and he was damn proud of it. He turned to inform the woman at his side just that.
     The words died on his lips.
     Instead of sneering with a look of disdain as Kirsten had when she’d first seen his farm, Laura’s face softened with the same smile she’d given Zeke. Again it struck him how much it transformed her looks. It wasn’t a flirty smile. No, it appeared to come from her heart. Focused on his home, she seemed to drink in the sight before her – just like he had the first time he rode into the valley nestled between several mountain peaks.
     He stopped the team for a moment to admire the picture his home presented. The sight never failed to please him. The road led down between pastures fenced by logs to the white clapboard house.
     Now in the middle of winter, it nearly blended into the snow except for the dark roof and windows. Other dark shapes dotted the landscape the landscape. The chicken coop, outhouse and lower barn spread out in a crescent shape within walking distance of the house. In the upper fields stood a second barn for housing grain and cattle throughout the winter.
     Behind the house, far enough to prevent flooding from the spring runoff, the creek cut a meandering path through the evergreens farther down the valley to join other creeks that fed into the South Platte River.
     “It’s lovely,” Laura whispered.
     Her awed appreciation at his home eased some of the tension humming through him. Nathan started the team up the narrow lane to the house. He drove around back and stopped the wagon next to the porch. While he hopped off his side, Laura scrambled to lower herself down before he could help her.
     For some reason, it bothered him that she wouldn’t want his help. It couldn’t be that he’d enjoyed her nearness when he helped her from Zeke’s wagon.
     “Come on inside and warm up.” he held open the kitchen door and allowed her to pass into the house first. The scent of roses again. How did she smell like roses in the middle of winter? Nathan followed her inside, going to the wood-burning stove. He stoked up the fire then stood and studied her under that hooded gaze of his. Finally he stalked to the door. “It should get warm enough for you to take off your coat in a few minutes. I need to see to the animals, then I’ll be back to talk.”
     Laura caught the tobacco scent from the cigar as he passed. A shiver of awareness ran over her body, followed by a moment of apprehension. Never in her life had she been this alone with a man. Given his surly greeting, she wondered if she’d jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
     As the door closed behind him her shoulders slumped. Things weren’t going as well as she’d hoped. On the cross-country trip, she’d prayed Mr. Cantrell would accept her, if not with open arms, then at least with gratitude for her help. What if the trip had been for naught?
     After setting her carpetbag on the table, she moved around the stark kitchen. The windows were bare, the walls painted white. No decorations of any kind hung anywhere. Opening the cupboards, she found chaos among the dishes and cookware, as if someone had just thrown them inside and slammed the doors shut. A layer of dust covered most of the shelves. She glance down at the floor. It had been swept recently, but she doubted it had seen the use of a mop in some time.
     Through the window she watched her husband drive the team of horses and wagon between the barn’s wide doors. He closed the doors and disappeared behind them. She might a well look about the rest of the downstairs.
     The hallway led to the front parlor. Here a small settee and two wingback chairs sat beneath dust-covered sheets. Two end tables that hadn’t seen dusting in years flanked the chairs. The mantle clock’s hands stood in idle disuse. Otherwise the windows had no curtains and the room was as empty as the kitchen.
     Shaking her head, Laura closed the door and returned to the kitchen. Were the bedrooms as bleak? She didn’t dare go upstairs to find out until she’d been invited.
     The kitchen had warmed considerably so she removed her coat and both the sweaters she’d needed for warmth during the wagon trip over the pass. She laid them on the back of a ladder-back kitchen chair and sat at the table to consider her situation.
     Mr. Cantrell might not want her as his wife, but he certainly needed her, even if he didn’t know it yet.


So that’s my reasons for loving mail-order bride books. Strong heroines in a fish-out-of-water sort of story. Do you like these kinds of stories? If so, what draws you to them?

Suzanne is giving away on $10 Amazon gift card — so the winner can get a copy of CANTRELL’S BRIDE for themselves.

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60 thoughts on “Suzanne Ferrell – Why I Love Mail-Order Bride Stories”

  1. Hi Suzanne,

    First let me say…I’m hooked and can’t wait to read about Nathan and Laura.

    I do love mail-order bride stories. I haven’t written one yet, but I enjoy reading them. I think for me it’s that they’re stories of two people who usually don’t belong on the same street let alone the same house and yet they grit it out and fall in love despite all their differences that in the end make them stronger together.

    Also, as you mentioned it really is a fascinating piece of Western history for two people to have that much hope and determination to take a huge risk and marry a stranger.


  2. A long time ago, I enjoyed the book and TV presentation of mail order bride Sarah and Jacob’s story in SARAH PLAIN AND TALL and SKYLARK!

    I like the marriage of convenience/mail order bride theme as initially both partners are getting something out of the relationship. The close quarters lead to finding out likes and dislikes, grows to friendship and eventually love blossoms along with hope, happiness and contentment.

    What’s not to like.

    I’d love to read your book with Laura and Nate’s mail order bride love story!

  3. Hey, Kristen! Glad to see you this morning and am smiling gleefully that I’ve hooked you with Nathan and Laura’s story.

    You’re right, these two probably never would’ve come together if they’d just “bumped” into each other on a street somewhere. And I have to confess, even though he’s attracted to her, he gives her hell at the beginning of their marriage!

  4. Hey Laurie G!

    I loved SARAH PLAIN AND TALL and SKYLARK, too! Wasn’t Glenn Close so perfect as Sarah?

    Laura and Nathan have a big obstacle to overcome on their road to HEA and I think it adds that sense of immediacy to the book, too.

  5. I’ve always been a fan of the Mail-Order Bride .. women determined to take some sort of control over their life and head out into the unknown! Thanks for the great excerpt!

  6. Hey anon1001!

    It is a story with big focus on the couple, no matter the situation you put them in, first and foremost they have to learn to get along and then fall in love, don’t they?

  7. Mail order bride stories appeal to me greatly for their uniqueness and the brave and strong characters. The women have the strength of character to succeed.

  8. Hi Suzanne. I love mail order bride stories too. The women are so courageous to do this and it is always great to follow the couple’s journey of getting to know each other and falling in love.

  9. Thanks for the great excerpt. This book sounds fantastic. Can’t wait to read it to see more of Nathan and Laura.
    I love mail-order bride stories. The books focus on the couple meeting, getting to know each other, and eventually falling in love.

  10. The women in Mail Order bride stories deserve recognition for the hardships which they encounter. It is fascinating to learn about their travails.

  11. I LOVE mail order bride stories! And I must say this one has me roped in. Have to have it!

    I also was a fan of Barbara Cartland and recently found an old, old copy of one of her books gathering dust on my book shelves.

  12. great excerpt.Mail order bride stories are meaningful, filled with struggles which are real and genuine relationships.

  13. I have always loved mail-order bride stories. These women were such gamblers with their lives. Of course, I know that a lot of them had no other choices. I put myself in their shoes, and I can imagine the feelings of fear and worry. I am so glad that in the romances I read, all of the women get happy endings!

  14. Hi Suzanne…….Welcome to the Junction! We’re so happy to have you. Always great finding another western romance author.

    I LOVE mail order bride stories. They captivate my sense of adventure. I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to apply if I’d lived back in the old West though. That fear of the unknown probably would’ve stopped me. Those women had to have lots of courage and determination. And I’m sure for every successful marriage story there were those that ended miserably. I guess it would’ve taken being willing to roll the dice.

    I loved the excerpt of your story. It shows how strong Laura is and her determination to make the best of the situation. Wishing you much success.

  15. Hi Suzanne,
    I loved reading your post and excerpt of your book, Cantrell’s Bride. I too love mail order bride stories. I guess there’s just something so satisfying about two people meeting who are strangers, and then falling in love. Your book sounds wonderful and I look forward to reading it.

  16. Your are not alone. I also love mail order bride stories. They are some of my favorite reads. Your book sound fabulous and I would love to read it.

  17. Oh wow, I love the sound of your book! Love the EC books, definitely a fan of mail order brides… It is wonderful to see what journey a character takes to get a fresh start, to leave the bad behind and find happiness.

  18. I love mail order bride stories. A favorite of mine was both a book, and later a TV movie starring Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich called The Magic of Ordinary Days.

  19. I like all kinds of stories about women and their challenges and how they met them. Your book sounds really good and I have added it to my TBR list.

  20. Hey Ellie!

    Thanks for stopping by! Laura’s sense of hope floats to the surface despite the circumstances that sent her into hiding in the west, so I think you’ll enjoy reading her story.

  21. Hey Joanie B!

    While most of Cantrell’s Bride is about Laura and Nathan’s relationship, there is the external element with a murderer tracking Laura throughout the book, so I hope it’s a mail-order-bride book that stands out!! 🙂

  22. Hey Anne!

    I’ll let you in on a little secret, the hardships of women settling an untamed world was one of the easiest parts for me to write. My mother grew up in the mountains of Tennessee back in the Depression years without electricity or running water. I’ve listened to her stories about keeping house and doing laundry and raising crops similar to what my heroine does my whole life! Amazing how far her world has changed over the years!

  23. Hey Connie!

    Another Barbara Cartland fan? OMG!! Didn’t you just devour her? I was 12 when I read my first book by her and I read them like a starving kid in an M&M factory!!! Good on you finding one on your shelves!

  24. Hey Karen!

    I have grown to love the name Suzanne! When I was little I was only EVER called by my full name when I was in trouble. But as a nurse I realized how professional it is and of course as a writer, I love the rhythm of it!

  25. Thanks Linda! I’m delighted to be here today. I’ve loved the P&P blog since it first started. Y’all give great research information!!

    Laura was my first heroine, (this was my first ever book, that I love so much I’ve rewritten it now that I know my craft better!) and she set the stage for the core of inner steel all my heroines seem to have.

  26. Hey Sharon!

    Mail-order-bride stories do force two strangers to learn about each other quickly, doesn’t it? The potential for those intimate quarters would make you notice everything about your partner. I imagine the little idiosyncrasies would also drive you nuts!

  27. Hey Colleen!

    That was one of the things I had to figure out when I wrote this book and knowing my heroine was a mail-order-bride, was WHY she’d come west and agreed to such an arrangement. Since I love RS books, she of course, was in hiding from a murderer. I needed a strong man to not only protect her, but get the truth from her and fall in love with her. I think Nathan very much fits the bill!

  28. Wow! From the number of comments you’ve received I think that answer to your question is a resounding YES. Readers love mail order brides.

  29. Hi, Suz! I’m sure I’ve told you before that I *adore* mail-order brides! I also read at least one mail-order groom story that was also really good. Like you, I sped through about 100 Barbara Cartland’s before I ventured on to other romances. I got tired of those wimpy girls, too! 🙂

    I’ve also read some non-fiction, like ‘Letters of a Woman Homesteader’ be Eleanor Pruitt Stewart that have given me a keen appreciation of just how hard life was on the frontier, especially for a woman. The thing I never realized as a kid in the 70s was that “the frontier” had been completely unsettled as little as 50 years earlier! That would have freaked me out, I think. It’s weird enough now!

  30. I love reading about strong women and they would have had to have been! I also like variety and this sounds like something I would love to read about. Great excerpt!

  31. I too love mail order bride stories…They are always so fun….The women are always strong willed….I love your excerpt and I want the book….

    Walk in harmony,

  32. Hey, Suzanne! So glad you made it to the Junction, my friend. (I’ve known Suzanne for–gosh–a LOT of years.)

    You know how much I love Nathan & Laura. Who came first for you–the hero or the heroine?

  33. Hey Caren! One of my Romance Bandit buddies!!!

    A mail-order-groom, huh? Gonna have to look for that one! And thanks for the heads-up for Letters of a Woman Homesteader. I’ll be loading that onto the Kindle. I love biographical history!!

  34. Hey Tracy!!!

    Thanks for hosting me! Y’all have been so gracious!

    Who came first? The heroine. I had this scene in my head of a woman in a mercantile shopping for stuff and then she hears a voice from her past…a voice she’d hoped to never hear again!

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