Emma (Mail-Order Brides Club, #1)

By: Ashley Merrick

Boston, 1896

Emma Byrne glanced out the kitchen window, which overlooked tony Louisburg Square. She loved this view and her friends had envied her when she landed her position as a cook's assistant with the Chapman family. They were one of the richest families in Boston, and Emma knew she was fortunate to live in one of the grandest mansions in all of Beacon Hill. Even though her room was a tiny one on the fourth floor, one of several in the servants’ quarters, she was still lucky to have it. Jobs for young Irish women were hard to come by and she didn't know what she would do if she lost this one.

When she finished polishing the silver, Miss O'Brien nodded at her and said,

"You'd better go ahead and go, then. Just take care to be back by five. They've added a few last minute guests and I'll need you to serve as well." Miss O'Brien was in her late forties and had never married. She had the largest of the small rooms on the fourth floor. Emma realized that was likely to be her future, if she was lucky enough to hold on to her job. She sighed. Today was supposed to have been her day off, free and clear, but because of the dinner party, she could only take half a day.

"I'll be back before then."

Mrs. O'Brien turned her attention back to the dough that she was kneading and Emma glanced out the window once again. The sun was shining, but still she knew it could get chilly by the Charles River, so she grabbed a warm wool shawl on her way out the door.

The air was crisp and clear as she headed off to meet Julia and a few of her other friends at their usual spot, along the water’s edge of the Charles. It wasn't far, maybe fifteen minutes or so, and as she walked, Emma admired the stately brownstones that lined Louisburg Square and the cobblestone streets throughout Beacon Hill.

Eight girls were waiting patiently for her when she came around the corner and when they saw her, they all yelled, "Surprise!" and "Happy Birthday!!!" She couldn't believe Julia had managed to round up almost all of their friends from the orphanage. Julia, Katie, Colleen, Maeve, Finola, Cara, Dana, and Mary were all there. The only ones missing were Caitlin and Jane. Usually, it was just two or three of them who managed to meet each week, on their day off.

"I can't believe you're all here! It's been so long since we've all been together." Emma hugged each girl hello and then they shifted to the side of the building where the boats were stored and huddled together there to block the wind.

Julia set down one of the two baskets she was carrying and lifted a gorgeous, pink-frosted cake out of one and handed it to Colleen to hold, while she took out a knife and plates from the other one. After a quick chorus of "Happy Birthday" was sung, she sliced up pieces for everyone. Katie spread a large blanket on the chilly grass, and they sat in a tight circle to eat and catch up.

"I saw Mrs. Richardson the other day in the North End," Katie said. "I was running an errand at the cheese shop and she was there. Said to say hello to you all." Mrs. Richardson was the head mistress at the orphanage they'd all grown up in. Though she wasn't the most outwardly cheerful person, she was a bit of a softie and very protective of her girls. She'd helped most of them find their positions as the rule at the orphanage had been very strict—once they reached age eighteen, they had to leave.

"She said something else that was interesting." Katie looked around the group to make sure she had everyone's attention. "She recently started a new side business, a match-making service, to pair up young women who want to get married with men out west who are looking for wives."

"Mail-order brides? Who would do that? I can't imagine traveling so far to marry a man I'd never met," Julia said.

"I don't know, I think it sounds a bit romantic," Colleen joked. "It's not like any of us have been swept off our feet by any local men. When would even have time to date?"

They fell quiet at that. It was true. None of them had serious boyfriends. In their positions as nannies, maids, and cooks, they all lived in-house with their employers and there wasn't much of a social life to be had. They were all between the ages of twenty and twenty-four and their prospects for marriage were dim.

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